Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [28th May],"That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair;" and which Amendment was,
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House, while ready to consider the general subject of a Re-distribution of Seats, is of opinion that the system of grouping proposed by Her Majesty's Government is neither convenient nor equitable, and that the scheme is otherwise not sufficiently matured to form the basis of a satisfactory measure,"—(Captain Hayter,)
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.
§ SIR HUGH CAIRNS
Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Calne, I also desired to discover if I could the principle 1698 of the Bill for the Re-distribution of Seats, and when I saw the hon. and learned Attorney General rise to address the House I thought that although I might, perhaps, not agree with the opinions which he might announce, yet, at all events, I should hear the principle stated in words as to which there could be no mistake. I must own that in this I was somewhat disappointed. The Attorney General, following the speech of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Lowe)—a speech which it will take much more than the lapse of one night to efface from our memories; a speech which was devoted in great part to a comment upon the Bill for the Re-distribution of Seats—the Attorney General, answering that speech, did indeed at the commencement of his observations refer to the Bill. He said that he would not argue the question upon details, but that he would contend for the principle of the Bill. "At last," I thought "we are going to have the principle;" but the Attorney General only said that the principle of the Bill was its adherence to the old methods and landmarks of the Constitution. Then, he said as to details, that he intended to represent to the Government some results of the Bill with which his constituents at Richmond were dissatisfied; and having given that statement of the principle and this comment on the details of the Bill, he left the entire subject. Well, we must take what we have got, and I shall endeavour to find out if I can whether the Bill does adhere to the old methods and constitutional landmarks.
First, let me take the question of the grouping of boroughs. What constitutional landmarks have we got for our guidance in the grouping of boroughs? There is Scotland. Now, as to Scotland I must take leave to say at the outset that the English Parliament has never grouped the Scotch boroughs. The Solicitor General the other night spoke in ignorance upon this subject, and attributed this grouping to the Reform Bill. Not at all. We got the Scotch boroughs grouped at the time of the Union; and if any one will take the trouble of referring to the Act of Union, he will find that it recites a Scotch Act of Parliament, which handed over to us the boroughs of Scotland in the groups in which they have remained substantially to the present day. I say substantially because one alteration has been made. As towns such as Glasgow, Greenock, Perth, Dundee, and Aberdeen increased in size—they have been extricated from the groups to which they ori- 1699 ginally belonged, and that explains a circumstance at which the Chancellor of the Duchy expressed his surprise last night—namely, that close by Glasgow there are certain represented boroughs which have not been incorporated with that city, but belong to other groups. Now, for what purpose was it that the Legislature of Scotland grouped these boroughs? The grouping took place more than a century and a half ago, at a time when the boroughs were small and few in number, and the difficulty was to secure a borough representation. Having regard to the condition of the country, there were no other means of securing the representation of boroughs. Then take the case of Wales. The boroughs in Wales have been grouped for something like 300 years, and have continued in that state to the present day, with the exception of an unsubstantial alteration at the time of the Reform Bill, when a few additional districts were thrown in. Now for what purpose were these boroughs grouped? The object again was to secure a borough representation, because there could not have been such a representation at that time in Wales, except by aggregating the towns which formed these groups. Then what have we in England with respect to the grouping of boroughs? I know of nothing but two examples which occurred at the time of the Reform Bill, which may fairly be called grouping. I refer to the case of Penryn and Falmouth, Falmouth being added to Penryn, which was previously a represented borough; and to the case of Sandwich, to which Walmer and Deal were added at the time of the Reform Bill. There, again, the object was to secure and preserve borough representation, so that Penryn and Sandwich might be made large enough, by the addition of other places, to retain their position as represented boroughs. This, then, having always been the object of borough grouping in Scotland, Wales, and England, observe the three different modes of grouping which are practicable. You may group unrepresented boroughs together. You may take a represented borough and add to its area some adjacent borough which is not represented. Or, thirdly, you may take represented boroughs and group them together. The difference between these three operations is this:—In the first and second case it is an operation with which our Constitution is familiar, and which has been resorted to in order to preserve the 1700 borough representation; but in the third case, which is that adopted by the Bill of the Government, you group boroughs in order to destroy their representation. Taking, therefore, the test of the Attorney General, who tells us that the principle of the Bill is adherence to the landmarks of the Constitution, I find that under the name of grouping an operation is performed, which is exactly at variance with all the constitutional landmarks that we possess upon this subject.
I say, then, that the system of grouping adopted in this Bill in reality means disfranchisement, that it is new in principle, and is vicious in effect. I think I have proved that it is new; and I own that I was surprised to hear anybody deny that it means disfranchisement. The Solicitor General, however, says that it is not and cannot be disfranchisement, because these places are afterwards represented in the groups to which they are joined Now, the test of disfranchisement is not that electors afterwards have an opportunity of voting as a part of some other constituency. If you disfranchise a borough altogether, it is represented in the county to which it belongs, and the votes of all or of many who voted for the borough are afterwards given for the county. But the test of disfranchisement is this—Do you destroy the political existence and identity of the constituency? Of course, if the question were the disfranchisement of an elector, it would be an answer to say that he retained his vote, and could afterwards exercise it in another place; but in the case of a constituency you disfranchise altogether, when you destroy its identity and its life, Well, then, I say that the proposal of the Government is not only disfranchisement in reality, but it is vicious in effect. First, let me take the question of the expense of elections. I am not going to compare the expense which would attend the representation of one of these groups with the expense of a county contest. That is not a fair subject of comparison. The representation of one of these groups must be compared in respect of expense with the representation of a borough of about the same size as the united population of the group, and I undertake to say that the expense of contesting one of these groups will be three or four-fold the expense of contesting a single borough of the same size. I will tell you why. All these boroughs have their traditions; they have what I may call 1701 their establishment expenses, their agents, their various officers, all of whom must be employed at the time of an election. A certain scale of, I will say, legitimate expenditure has become habitual in each of those boroughs, and it would be utterly impossible to reduce or depart from that scale of expenditure by the mere act of adding the particular borough to other boroughs in the group. You would therefore have a treble or quadruple expenditure incurred on every occasion of an election. And not only that, but as we heard the other day in this House, the annual expenses connected with the representation of a borough would be increased. Those sort of expenses I mean will occur not at, but subsequent to the election, which are held to be quite legitimate, which recur year after year, and the nature of which every hon. Member in this House perfectly well knows, These expenses will have to be paid not for one borough only, but for each borough in the group. In addition to that we must remember another circumstance with reference to expenses at elections. Suppose that one borough in the group has been in the habit, when alone, of occasioning a less degree of expenditure at a general election than another. I think I may say of expense as was said the other day of disease, that it is catching. You may rely upon it that if you throw into a group several boroughs with a different scale of expenditure, the expenditure of each borough in that particular group will rise to the level of the expenditure in the highest. You will therefore not only have treble or quadruple the present expenditure, but the expenditure in each group of boroughs will mount to the highest rate in any one of them. We have lately had a paper laid on our table as to the cost of elections in boroughs; and I will take from it one item which, to my mind, is more instructive than any aggregate example. It is the case of a borough which is included in one of these proposed groups. I will not mention its name—that is not necessary; but it is a borough that has not 300 electors. There was no contest there at the last election; and there is an item in the legitimate and sanctioned expenses which I would state to the House, It is this:—"Retainers, £210."There are the usual fees for the election agent, the proper professional fees, but over and above those there is this item of £210 for retainers in a borough not containing 300 electors, and that, too, when there was no contest. 1702 I say that is a very good illustration of the kind of expenditure which will be deemed legitimate in the boroughs of this description, however small they may be. The candidates will have to deal with that expenditure not in one, but in two, three, or four boroughs; and if one candidate is not willing to make that expenditure, another candidate will be; and the man who is willing to do it will be the man to represent the group. So much, then, for the question of expenses.
My next objection to this system of grouping is that it is not natural; there is no harmony between the boroughs that you put together; but as far as there can be antagonism between boroughs of this kind there is that antagonism in the case of many of the places which you group; and here I would make a remark upon the view of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on this matter. The Chancellor of the Duchy, addressing himself to this question yesterday, said, "You make objections on the ground of geography, and of geographical difficulties in regard to these groups." And, in reply to the hon. and gallant Member (Captain Hayter), who moved this Amendment, he observed, "You assume that geographical difficulties are an objection to our mode of grouping. You have not proved that there is any valid objection in a geographical difficulty, or shown that that is any condemnation of the plan of grouping which we propose." Now, Sir, it is not very easy to discover between different Members of the Government any agreement on this question. I take the principle put forward by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the subject of geographical difficulties, and what does he say? Why, that—The second part of our proposal is to group as many of these boroughs as can be joined together with geographical convenience. It appears to us that geographical convenience forms one of the most important considerations in dealing with this subject, although the term must, of course, be understood with a certain latitude.I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that latitude is a very good thing, especially in geography; but then the Chancellor of the Duchy tells us that geographical convenience has nothing to do with it—that if we say it has, we only assume the question and do not prove it. However, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in speaking of eight boroughs containing fewer than 8,000 inhabitants, said—In the case of eight towns, containing less than 8,000, we have not found it possible, having 1703 regard to local reasons and geographical convenience, to form any groups.I should like, therefore, if the two right hon. Gentlemen would settle it between themselves which is wrong and which is right on this point, the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Chancellor of the Duchy. But I think the House will agree with me that geographical convenience has a good deal to do with the matter. I will not enter into the question of the various groups at any length, because that has been done already by previous speakers—and very effectively; but I may take one case which has been mentioned before—namely, the case of Andover and Lymington. Now, Lymington is a seaport town and Andover is an agricultural borough. We are told that they are separated on the map by a distance of thirty miles, but I am informed that in order to pass from the one to the other you must necessarily traverse forty miles, and yet these places are to be grouped together and called the Andover boroughs. Now, although the name of a borough is a very small matter where there is much that is more important than a name, yet the adoption of names is very singular in this case, because here you group places like Andover and Lymington, which are forty miles asunder, nine-tenths of the inhabitants of either one of which I venture to say never saw and never knew the inhabitants of the other, and yet they are to be termed "the Andover boroughs." Why Lymington should be called an Andover borough it passes my wit to imagine; and the same remark applies to every one of the group. Well, what is the answer which the Chancellor of the Duchy makes to that? He says there is nothing in the world better than the admixture of various classes of constituencies—that the agricultural classes occupy the one borough and the seafaring men occupy the other; and, he asks, "Is there anything inharmonious in their voting together for the election of the same Member; is it not the best thing in the world?" He says, in effect, "Why, look at Westminster. The virtue of a great constituency like that of Westminster is that it comprises every class of constituents—the trading men, the non-trading men, the professional men, the educated men, and many others; and what could be better than that they should all join together in returning the same Member or Members to Parliament," I quite agree with him, Sir, that there is a great 1704 advantage in an admixture of that kind. I admit that if, for example, you take a constituency which I will suppose to have 100 men engaged in the cloth manufacture, another 100 men engaged in the cotton manufacture, 100 more men occupied in commerce, another 100 men who are learned and highly educated, another 100 men in seafaring employment, and so on—if, I say, you could have a constituency such as that, living together in the town, knowing each other, acquainted with each other's wants, and in the habit of depending upon each other for assistance in their various avocations, then you would have as good a constituency as any one could desire. But to take 100 men occupied in the woollen manufacture of Yorkshire, and 100 other men occupied in the ceramic manufactures in the Potteries, and another 100 men of learning resident at Oxford, and another 100 men occupied in commerce at Liverpool, and another 100 seafaring men at Plymouth, and then to say, "there is nothing like a mixed constituency, and we shall therefore combine all these persons together for the purpose of returning the same Member to Parliament," is a view of the matter from which I wholly dissent. Yet that is the view of the Chancellor of the Duchy. He thinks that a set of men in an agricultural town like Honiton, and a set of seafaring men living in a seaport town like Bridport, although they may have never once seen each other or interchanged a word in their lives, simply because they would vote for the same Member of Parliament, would form a mixed constituency. I deny that altogether. The meaning of a mixed constituency is a constituency composed of men living together, conversant with each other's pursuits and requirements, and rubbing off the rough corners from each other; and such a constituency consisting of elements all of a homogeneous character is the mixed constituency which possesses a representative advantage; and not the constituency, which has no principle of cohesion but this—that you take one town here, another there, and a third somewhere else, and combine them together in order to elect one Member to this House. So much for that objection.
The next objection I take to this system of grouping, which we are told adheres to the landmarks of the Constitution, is that it leads you, in going from one represented town to another, of necessity to pass over the unrepresented towns situated in the 1705 intervening spaces over which you travel. And here I take but one instance, though many more might be given. I take Westbury, where you have a manufacturing town with, in round numbers, 6,500 inhabitants, and four miles off from Westbury is Trowbridge, another manufacturing town with 9,600 inhabitants. But you pass over Trowbridge that you may arrive at Wells, a cathedral town, twenty miles off, with only 4,600 inhabitants. And that you must do if your theory is to pass over the unrepresented towns.
Then as to the question of bribery, the Chancellor of the Exchequer argued that this mode of grouping would have some advantages, because you would have the electors scattered over certain distances, and polling at towns situate at some intervals from each other, and there would not be the same opportunities in sharp contests for the exercise of unfair means towards the close of an election as present themselves when the electors all live within a narrow space. Now, I believe that to be an entire delusion on the part of the right hon. Gentleman. There might, perhaps, have been some force in that remark a generation ago, before the electric telegraph existed. But in days when you may know the exact state of the poll in each polling district at any given point within a few minutes after the votes are recorded, there is no more advantage in having your polling places twenty or thirty miles apart than in having them all confined to one small town. It is perfectly well known throughout the day of election what progress the polling is making at any hour in any district, and if there is any desire on the part of anybody to make use of that knowledge for corrupt purposes, the opportunity of doing so will equally remain, whether you group these boroughs or whether you do not.
There is another point which I think this House should consider very gravely. I do not say that this measure affords an opportunity for arrangements with regard to groups which are politically unfair. I will not accuse the Government of any desire of that kind. But are you sure that people out of doors will not think there is something unfair in the mode in which these groups are formed, and in the manner in which these boroughs are dealt with by the Government? What did the Chancellor of the Duchy tell us last night? He said that this Bill was made to pass. What does that mean? Do you think that peo- 1706 ple out of doors will not know what that means, or that they will not put their own construction upon it? Do you think that the people out of doors will not say that the meaning of such a phrase is, that the Government in selecting the groups have had but little regard to the boroughs of their opponents, whose votes they had little chance of gaining, but that their endeavour has been to give as little offence as possible to those who sit on their own side of the House—to make, indeed, the measure as acceptable as they could to their own supporters? Now, let me ask the House to consider one or two matters with regard to these boroughs, which I think are worthy of notice. Let us see how many seats altogether are disturbed, because, even when a borough possessing two Members is deprived of one of its Members, both the seats are disturbed in the process. There are, accordingly, seventy-nine seats disturbed. Of these seventy-nine, thirty-one I find to be occupied by supporters, and forty-eight by opponents of Her Majesty's Government. That is at the line of 8,000; but let us go a step further. The line before fixed upon, as we all know, has been 10,000. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us that his definition of small boroughs was boroughs containing 8,000, 10,000, or 12,000 inhabitants. This Bill takes the line at 8,000; but what would have been the result if it had gone up to 10,000? If I have fallen into any error I am quite open to correction; but, as I understand it, there are between the limits of 8,000 and 10,000 eighteen more seats, and of these fourteen belong to supporters of the Government and four to their opponents. Now, let us try it another way. Suppose you were to take one Member from every borough with less than 10,000 inhabitants which has two Members, you would by this process obtain thirty-nine seats, and the boroughs disturbed would be occupied, thirty-eight of them by the supporters of the Government, and forty by their opponents—a division as equal probably as it would be possible to arrive at. Again, there are eight boroughs which are not grouped, but from each of which you take one Member. But among those grouped I find nine boroughs every one of which has a population of between 6,000 and 8,000, and has two Members. These nine boroughs, which are exactly within the line, are grouped, while the other eight are dealt with in an entirely different manner. Allow me to give the House one more 1707 illustration, and it shall be the last. I will take three sets of six boroughs each, just to show the House what different treatment is accorded to different boroughs. Every one of the boroughs I have to mention have populations between 6,000 and 9,000. The first six that I will refer to are Mal-don, Dorchester, Chippenham, Devizes, Cirencester, and Ludlow. These six boroughs are all of them grouped, merged, and annihilated by the proposal of Her Majesty's Government. The next six—Newport, Bridgnorth, Cockermouth, Buckingham, Marlow, and Huntingdon—are not grouped, but lose each one Member. The last six are Tavistock, Malton, Wycombe, Chichester, Guildford, and Stamford. The populations of these last six are within the same line, and yet they each retain their two Members. Now, let us see how far these three different sets are occupied by supporters or by opponents of the Government. The first half-dozen, which are annihilated, have one supporter of the Government among them. The second half-dozen, which retain a Member each, have three supporters of the Government among them; but the happy last half-dozen, which retain their two Members each, return to Parliament eight supporters of the Government. Then, Sir, when we point out these anomalies, and ask upon what principle the Bill was framed, the Chancellor of the Duchy turns round upon us and says, in language which reminds me of the story, too familiar to be quoted, of the seller of worthless razors—"What was it made for? Why, it was made to pass." So much, then, for standing upon the old ways of the Constitution.
Now, what are the other principles announced as the principles of the Bill? The Chancellor of the Exchequer on the one hand, and the Chancellor of the Duchy and the Solicitor General on the other hand, are at variance upon this matter. The Solicitor General the other night characterized these small boroughs as worthless, on account of their being nomination boroughs, and asserted that by the passing of this measure these nomination boroughs will be swept away. Some one suggested across the table that Tavistock came within the number of nomination boroughs, but this the Solicitor General denied. Whether Tavistock, however, is a nomination borough is a matter of opinion. The Chancellor of the Duchy holds an opinion similar to that of the Solicitor General, because he says that if we left 1708 these boroughs untouched we should be perpetuating decayed boroughs. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, however, thinks differently, for he says, "My opinion is, on the one hand, that the small boroughs are not open to any charge of corruption beyond large boroughs, and, on the other hand, I do not think they are of the use I once thought them to be. The Government and I cannot therefore proceed to deal with the small boroughs on any principle condemnatory of them, but we deal with them not on account of any offence which they have committed, but because we find large constituencies not sufficiently represented. We must get Members for these large constituencies, and we cannot get them except we take them from the superabundance of the small boroughs." Which opinion, then, is the true opinion? If the Solicitor General and the Chancellor of the Duchy are right, why are the eight boroughs preserved in the schedule of the Bill? But if, on the other hand, the principle of the Chancellor of the Exchequer be the right one, what possible ground can there be for annihilating no less than forty-two boroughs, when I have shown you that thirty-nine Members can be obtained by taking one Member from boroughs with less than 10,000 inhabitants, and that this could be done without destroying the identity of any political constituency in the kingdom?
But then the Chancellor of the Duchy says that it is absurd for the supporters of the Amendment to complain that the principle of the Bill is not equitable because equity has nothing to do with the matter, and really it would seem that one Member of the Government rose simply for the purpose of answering what another had said. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in stating that the Government had sought to make provision for the representation of large and growing constituencies, said—It has been a great object with the Government to consider in what way they can most conveniently and equitably apply this principle to the small boroughs of the country.And when, accordingly, an hon. Gentleman behind the Government moves an Amendment and complains that the proposal of the Government is not equitable, the Chancellor of the Duchy straightway declares that equity has nothing at all to do with the matter.
But I will take another view of this Bill. I want the House to consider what is pro- 1709 posed to be done with these seats. The first thing that strikes one as remarkable and unprecedented is the fact that with forty-nine seats for distribution, there are only ten new boroughs enfranchised—that is to say, that thirty-nine seats out of the forty-nine are assigned to existing constituencies. This raises an important question, which I venture to think has scarcely met with that full attention from the House which it deserves. I allude to the question of the accumulation of Members in particular constituencies. Do not let us be misled by the idea that the principle is already in operation. We have at present seven three-cornered constituencies, as they are called. How did that happen? We know the principle upon which the Reform Bill of 1832 proceeded. The House was called upon to disfranchise a great number of boroughs, because it was improper that they should retain the representation at all. With the seats taken from those boroughs the Bill enfranchised as many places as from their population and position were entitled to enfranchisement, and when this had been done seven seats remained over. The arrangement made was not effected as a part of the system, or with a view of introducing any new principle into the representation of the country. It is a very remarkable thing that it has never been a part of the Constitution of this country to provide for a perfect representation of minorities; but we have secured the representation of minorities in another and very effectual way, by having varied and numerous constituencies without accumulating Members in any one constituency. The circumstance that some constituencies have two Members does not proceed from any desire to give to one constituency more Members than to another. It is a curious fact that in the first Session of Henry VIII's Parliaments there were 111 boroughs sending to Parliament exactly 224 Members. Each place sent two Members, save London, which for the last 700 years has sent four. At that time a constituency sending one Member was perfectly unknown, and the practice continued unknown, I believe, until it was adopted in Wales. It was by having a uniform number of Members to represent small and large constituencies alike that the representation of minorities was secured, because the party which prevailed in one constituency would probably be in a minority in another. I might illustrate this by supposing that the whole of England was 1710 made into one large constituency returning 500 Members. In that case the majority alone would be represented. And if the whole of the Lancashire Members were returned by the entire body of town and county electors as one constituency, no minority in Lancashire would be represented. It is simply a question of degree. Exactly in proportion as you accumulate on any one constituency a number of members, and lessen the total number of your constituencies in the country, you lessen the representation of minorities in this House. Then let us observe what is done by this Bill, which, it is said, has been framed in accordance with the Constitution. It aims a double blow at the representation of minorities. It proposes to diminish the number of constituencies by seventeen, and in addition to that it gives twenty-five seats to constituencies which already have two Members. Add these twenty-five to the seven already existing and you have thirty-two constituencies on which Members are accumulated, and you have also thirty-two Members who might be made the means of enfranchising thirty-two other districts. In addition to that we have minor objections to the proposal. Any one who has observed the course of these elections, knows perfectly well that in these large over-grown constituencies a very insufficient proportion of the electors vote. Then, again, we find that the large constituencies are the most expensive, both on account of their magnitude and because they are almost sure to be contested. The smaller constituencies escape a contest now and then; but the larger ones have so much at stake, and are so much divided, that the candidate is seldom or never allowed to obtain quiet possession of his seat. Now, I must say that when the noble Lord at the head of the Government introduced his Bill in 1854, he was perfectly alive to the importance of this matter. The House remembers what was proposed by that Bill. Lord Russell proposed to create a number of additional three-member constituencies, but he proposed that each elector should vote for only two out of the three Members, in order to provide for the representation of minorities. I will not now discuss that proposition, but certainly, if you adopted the course of having thirty-two constituencies of three Members each, it would be a matter for grave consideration whether it would not be absolutely necessary for this House to provide a scheme for the representation 1711 of minorities such as that contained in the Bill of the noble Lord.
I come now to the seven remaining Members. What do you propose to do with them? You propose to give them to Scotland. But before I discuss that proposal I would express my great surprise at what fell from the hon. Member for Montrose last night, when he charged me with having said the Scotch Members bargained for those seven seats, and accepted them as a bribe to support the Government Franchise Bill. I never said anything of the sort; I never dreamt of making such a charge. What I said was this:—In the very critical division on the Franchise Bill the majority of the English Members, including those who were Members of the Government, voted against the Bill; the majority of Irish Members voted against the Bill; and the Government attained their majority of five by the votes of the Scotch Members. But it would be most absurd and unjust to accuse the Scottish Members of having given their votes upon that occasion in order that they might secure those seven additional seats, because they always vote for the Government. They are about the most consistent supporters of the Government in this House; and what I said was, that it was very natural to think that the Government, appreciating the quarter from which they obtain so much support, should desire to increase their numbers. I am not going to enter into the question of the claim of Scotland to have more Members; but I want to know why England should be held to have lost her claim to retain her present number of Members. Has any alteration taken place in the population of England, her wealth, or interests, which justifies the proposal that she should lose seven of her Members now, while in 1832 she was permitted to retain them? I believe on the contrary, that the population, wealth, and interests of England as regards representation have increased to an extent which is double in proportion to what the interests of Scotland have increased. Therefore, it is not the abstract claim of Scotland to new Members—the case which has to be made out is the expediency and the justice of depriving England of seven of her existing Members. Now, we may be told that in 1832 we gave five additional Members to Scotland; but let us see upon what grounds this was done? The question was discussed at great length in this House, and formed the 1712 subject of a celebrated Amendment which was carried against the Government of the day. In order to show the principle upon which that proposition was made, I will read what Lord Althorp, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, said—We have all along stated the mode in which we intended to proceed—that is, finding it desirable to disfranchise a certain number of the smaller boroughs, the next point we had to look to was to find out places on which we could confer the franchises thus required. It was in the first instance proposed that these franchises should be given to a certain number of large towns, and by the Amendments which we intended to bring forward in Committee this number of large towns will be increased; so that I believe it will be seen that no place of proper magnitude will require further Representation. With regard to the proposed additions to the Representation of Ireland and Scotland, we have added Representatives to flourishing places in both. This is the principle that has guided us, and the only principle on which we have acted."—[3 Hansard, iii. 1569.]That was the principle. Lord Althorp said we obtained our seats first, and we obtain them because we found it was necessary to disfranchise unsound boroughs. Having the seats to dispose of we looked about to see what places in England wanted them; and when we had satisfied all the claims of England we turned to Scotland, and found it was desirable to give Scotland five more Members. A very eminent man of that day, Mr. Cutlar Fergusson, an able supporter of the Government, made use of the following remarkable words:—I would not sacrifice any part of the sound representation of England for the purpose of giving Members to my own country.Now I say that was a prudent and perfectly unobjectionable mode of proceeding. If you have unsound representation in England, to which it is well to put an end, by all means put an end to it and acquire the seat; and if you can show that England does not want the seat in some other place, then you may give it to Scotland, but not before. I suppose I may be told that Scotland and England are one country. But I say that consideration must not be given too much weight. Scotland, it so happens, is happily joined with England, and I must say that Scottish business in this House is conducted with a degree of harmony and a rapidity which affords a model to the other divisions of the Empire; but, at the same time, we must not forget that Scotland is a country having separate laws, separate judicial systems, and separate municipal and social institutions; and that Scotland is justly proud of these differences, and is unwilling to relinquish 1713 any one of them. I believe that by reason of these differences of interests questions as to legislation upon one side of the Tweed and the other will be continually arising, and it must by no means be assumed that there exists that complete identity of interests between the two parts of the kingdom which would make it a matter of indifference whether Members were now taken from England and given to Scotland. So much for the mode in which this Bill proposes to deal with the seats.
I hope the House will now allow mo to allude to another very important question. I have already endeavoured to show what the Bill does; I shall now try to show what it does not do. Now what was the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon the question of boundaries of boroughs? In introducing the Franchise Bill to the House, the Chancellor of the Exchequer explained why a complete measure could not be brought forward at that time, and he specified what he conceived to be all the parts of a complete measure of Parliamentary Reform. He said that one of the parts was the rectification of the boundaries of boroughs, and he made use of this remarkable expression—This is a question which you cannot avoid dealing with in any complete measure of Parliamentary Reform.It was very true that at that time he was endeavouring to frighten the House from the idea of dealing with the whole question of Parliamentary Reform in one Session. At the same time, it may be supposed that he was serious when he said that the question of boundaries was one that he could not avoid dealing with. The other night the Secretary for the Colonies accused this side of the House of having the desire to eliminate the commercial element from the county constituencies, and he said that nothing was so good as the admixture of the various elements, the agricultural and the commercial, in the constituencies. I must point out that that principle means nothing but electoral districts; the confusion of all the elements which go to make up the country, without reference to localities or to the various interests to be represented, and without reference to town or country, would simply produce electoral districts. Do not let it be supposed that I want any innovation on the Constitution. I agree with the Secretary for the Colonies as to the principle he laid down on this point, although I do not apply the prin- 1714 ciple in the same way he does. I wish to stand on the old lines and the old methods of the Constitution. You can never have a sharp line drawn between boroughs and counties, it is not in the nature of things; you need never be afraid of doing it, all the ingenuity of man could not draw such a line. I contend that you have got your borough and county constituencies, and borough and county franchises, as the Constitution has given you them; and although you cannot draw a very sharp line of demarcation between the two, I apprehend that when the Constitution gives you these different constituencies and franchises, the meaning is that, as far as reasonable and practicable, you should have separate borough and county constituencies, otherwise the difference we make is altogether unmeaning. If what the Secretary for the Colonies said is right, if for admixture's sake it is desirable to have it, what would be say to mixing up 2,000 or 3,000 agricultural electors with those of Birmingham or Manchester? If it is so good in the one case, surely it must be so in the other. I suppose it may be said there are some boroughs which include large agricultural outskirts. Quite true; but what was the reason the outskirts were thrown in? Was it to get an admixture? No; but to enlarge the area of the boroughs and to give a greater number of electors, because the area of the borough proper, under the original arrangement of boundary, did not afford a sufficient number of electors to make a proper constituency. It was not an admixture in order to combine the commercial and agricultural element. You need not be in the least anxious about the question of boundaries for the sake of admixture, because even if it were possible to draw the line sharply, you will always have a large admixture in the borough freeholders. In the West Riding of Yorkshire, a remarkable case, the total number of electors is 22,800; and in that division we find the towns of Bradford, Halifax, Leeds, Ripon, Knareshorough, with ten Members. But, in addition to that, the number of borough freeholders who have votes for the county is 6,127 out of the 22,800 electors. There are two reasons why it has become all important to deal with the question of borough boundaries now; and the first is that the population has increased enormously since 1832. A Return just laid upon the table of the House shows that the population of England has increased 43 1715 per cent since 1832; and that increase has taken place to a very large degree in the suburbs of large towns. The second reason arises out of the alteration of the county franchise. As long as you preserve in the counties a £50 occupation franchise, the question of boundaries is of little consequence, because the franchise makes its own boundaries, the £50 occupier being generally outside the populous suburban district. The moment, however, you alter the franchise and bring it down to £20 or £14 that moment you assimilate it so closely to the borough franchise that you not only do not preserve the old boundaries, but you run the counties into the towns and the towns out into the counties; you practically obliterate the old boundaries, while you make no provision for new ones. I will mention one or two instances. In Middlesex there is a county population of 368,000, excluding the represented towns; the metropolitan population outside the boundaries is 192,000; there are 14,800 county electors, and of these no fewer than 6,700 are borough freeholders, so that very nearly half of the county electors are borough freeholders, and out of a whole county population of 368,000, 192,000 persons are virtually town population. In the county of East Surrey there are 6,700 county voters, and 2,800 borough freeholders; the county population is 209,000; the metropolitan population outside the borough boundaries is 87,500; the populations of Croydon, Kingston, and Richmond give 37,500, which, added to 87,500, gives a total of 125,000 out of 209,000. The population of the Parliamentary borough of Huddersfield is 37,000, and the town population 100,000; in Halifax, the population of the Parliamentary borough is 38,000, while the town population numbers 100,000; and the population of the Parliamentary borough of Nottingham is 74,000, while the estimated population of the town is 130,000. Let the House observe the effect of a change in the county occupation franchise from £50 to £14. In South Lancashire, at a rental of £50 and over, there are 6,399 electors, but between a £50 rental and a £12 rating (the same as the £14 rental in the Bill) there are 14,751, so that that number of electors would be added from the suburbs of the populous towns. In Middlesex, to 7,785 would be added 19,094; in South Stafford 4,949 would be added to 1,721; and in the South West Riding of Yorkshire 8,467 would be added to 3,702; and there 1716 would be the borough freeholders besides. These might be good or bad constituencies, but they would not be county constituencies. It has become too much the habit to refer to the writings of the hon. Member for Westminster and to taunt him with having changed his opinions. Far be it from me to do anything of the kind; he has spoken in this debate, and cannot, therefore, reply to me. If I read a sentence from what he has written, it is because it expresses what I desire to say in language much better than I can command. He may have changed his opinion—I do not taunt him with that—but, speaking of the Bill introduced by Mr. Locke King to reduce the county franchise to £10, he wrote—If, indeed, every elector in the disfranchised boroughs, and every £10 householder in the unrepresented towns, obtains a vote for the county, by the adoption of the new Reform Bill of Mr. Locke King, these objections will give place to a still more fatal one; for such a measure would be little less than the complete political extinction of the rural districts. Except in the few places where there is still a yeomanry, as in Cumberland, Westmoreland, and in some degree North Yorkshire and Kent, there exists in the agricultural population no class but the farmers, intermediate between the landlords and the labourers. A £10 franchise will admit no agricultural labourer; and the farmers and landlords would collectively be far outnumbered by the £10 householders of all the small towns in England. To enable the agricultural population to hold its fair share of the representation under any uniform and extensive suffrage short of universal, it seems absolutely necessary that the town electors should, as a rule, be kept out of the county constituencies. And the sole alternative is to form them, or the great bulk of them, into constituencies by themselves.I say these are wise and judicious words, and they are a strong condemnation of the Bill of the Government.
As to the unrepresented towns, we have got a Return upon the table which shows that there are in England 121 with a population exceeding 5,000 each, and making a total unrepresented town population of 1,117,000. I do not exaggerate when I say that adding the population of the unrepresented towns and the outside boundary town population, you have got an aggregate population of something like 2,000,000. The county population at present is about 11,500,000, and the represented town population about 8,500,000. If, therefore, you want to equalize the two—I do not say that you can do it altogether, but you may do so to a certain extent—take the 2,000,000 that are unrepresented from the 1717 county side of the account and put it to the town side; the better you succeed in accomplishing this, the better you will avoid those anomalies of which so much has been said. But what does the Bill of the Government do? We are told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he could not avoid dealing with the boundary question. The first thing it does is to provide that if the municipal boundary is larger than the Parliamentary, the Parliamentary boundary shall be extended. But for all practical purposes that provision might as well be left out of the Bill. It is all the other way at present. The Parliamentary boundary generally is very much larger than the municipal, and there are very few instances where the municipal boundary is the largest. But the Bill, or rather the statement which accompanied the Bill, went on to say that by the concurrence of inhabitants inside the boundary and of those residing in the district outside—evidenced, I presume, by a majority of the householders in each case—a memorial might be forwarded to the Queen in Council or to the Secretary of State, and such memorial having been assented to, the limits of the town so memorializing might be extended; but the extension was not to have any force until the order was laid on the table of the Houses of Parliament and had been approved of. I want the House to consider the effect of that proceeding. In the first place, I say the great probability is that it will not work at all, for the obvious reason that persons dwelling outside the boundaries of populous towns, though gladly enjoying the advantage of the position, might think it a very different matter to be called on to pay the borough rates. I should be very much surprised, therefore, to find a majority of the householders outside the Parliamentary limit agreeing with the majority inside to memorialize for an extension of the borough. But supposing the scheme did work, the result would be that you would have the inhabitants perpetually in hot water and excitement, wherever politics ran high, with regard to the extension of the boundary, not for municipal but for political purposes. According as one party happens to be in the ascendant or in the minority, you would have struggles, not at one time and then at another, but at all times; you would have a perpetual fret and sore in the borough—a continuous conflict between parties, one seeking to have a particular outside district taken in, another preferring a different 1718 outside district; you would have something like a perpetual contested election going on the borough, nominally for municipal but really for Parliamentary purposes. But that is not all. I heard objections made the other day to a Bill upon which the House was deliberating, because the examination under which the franchise was to be conferred would be held and decided by officers appointed by the Government. But what have we got in the present scheme? The executive Government are to be made the judges of the extension of the franchise by wholesale. You have got the Secretary of State and the Queen in Council—that is to say, the executive Government, and to them is to be sent the memorial, and they are to determine when and how much, and in what direction, these Parliamentary boundaries are to be extended. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: It is to be laid on the table.] You say that the Order in Council is to be laid on the table of Parliament, but what does that amount to? After the matter has been argued before the Council, and after the decision has been arrived at and given by the Secretary of State, or by the Queen in Council, then Parliament is to have an opportunity of undoing what has been done already, if it can make out a case for that purpose. But practically, what has once been done outside the House in this manner is never undone afterwards. The proper mode of proceeding is to bring in a Bill, as was done in 1832, and to alter no boundary without the consent of Parliament. If this measure does work at all, what will happen? The extension and definition of these new boundaries will not take place at once, or it may be, for many years. In the meantime, these men in the outside districts will be voting in the counties; so that five years, or possibly ten years hence, you will be coming forward to transfer by an Order in Council men who have always recorded their votes in counties, and to make them voters for boroughs. It is the height of absurdity to say that a proposition of this kind should ever be seriously entertained by this House. I deny altogether the view put forward by the Secretary of State for the Colonies that the municipal test is the proper test for Parliamentary boundaries. We do not adopt it at present in the great majority of our boroughs; the whole principle of our modern legislation by our Cemetery Acts, Public Health Acts, and Local Government Acts, is to relieve large bodies 1719 of persons dwelling together from the necessity of forming themselves into municipalities with all the pomp and pageant attendant on bodies of that kind, in order to obtain the benefits of local taxation and local self-government.
But the Chancellor of the Exchequer says there is another difficulty that you cannot get over—there are no Commissioners to define the boundaries of boroughs, and no principle on which they could be defined. But if you merely take the line of continuous houses as shown upon the map, you do the great bulk of what requires to be done; and the Chancellor of the Exchequer surely forgets what his own Bill proposes on this question. In the Re-distribution of Seats Bill I find it provided in Schedule F, with reference to Gravesend and other five towns, that the boundaries are to be the existing municipal boundaries; and the 28th clause of the Bill provides that the Inclosure Commissioners shall appoint special assistant Commissioners to examine the boundaries of these very boroughs. These Commissioners are to give the necessary notices, to receive evidence, and to make their report to the Secretary of State as to whether any enlargement of the boundaries of boroughs is necessary in order to include within the area the population properly belonging to such places respectively, and to propose new boundaries. I want to know why, if these Commissioners are capable of conducting the necessary investigations in the case of the boroughs that are named, they are not equally competent to do so in the case of other constituencies.
Well, then, can these defects in the Bill—for such I consider them—be remedied in Committee? You have got a system of grouping which is vicious in principle; you have got a system for the appropriation of seats, erroneous, I submit, both in what it does and what it does not do. The question of borough boundaries, which we were told could not be avoided, is avoided altogether; and no adequate provision has been made for the case of unrepresented towns. If there can be any questions of principle, these are questions of principle; and the Committee is not a place for construction, it is a place for amending a Bill the general outline of which you approve. I have no right, in my position, to offer advice to Her Majesty's Government, but I think I may venture, with great humility, to ask the House to consider what is the position in 1720 which it finds itself. Upon questions of this kind there are two rights which the House of Commons unquestionably possesses. We have a right—especially on a question the most important and the most difficult that has come under our consideration since the Reform Bill of 1832—to have a complete measure; and secondly, we have a right to full and ample time—independently of that annually allotted to the ordinary business of Parliament—for considering the details of the measure. These are rights given us, not for our own convenience, but for the benefit of our Constitution and for the welfare of the country at large, and it is for us to see that these rights are not infringed or diminished. What is the position of the Government? I will not say a word to find fault; I will merely state the facts as I understand them to be. After a silence of five years, the Government resolved to bring in a Reform Bill, and, as far as our information reaches, a space of three months—it could not be more—was taken for procuring statistical information and preparing the measure. That measure should have been a good and complete one, and ought to have been submitted to the House at the earliest period of the Session. In place of that it was not introduced till the 12th of March, and then, instead of being a complete, it was only a partial and imperfect measure. That may have been an accident, or it may have been, as some suppose, an adroit manoeuvre; but, at any rate, it was an error, and the Government have since admitted it to be an error. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: No!] I think it was an error because we have lost nearly three months in discussions arising out of that imperfect measure, and at last the Government have done what originally they refused to do, they have submitted what they call a perfect measure to the House. It therefore appears that the Government must have perceived the error which they fell into in the first instance. Well, after the House had shown their desire to hare a complete measure, the Government took twelve days, and then produced the Bill for the Re-distribution of Seats, a Bill of which no one, as far as I know, approves, which most persons ridicule, and which is directly at variance with the opinions of the Prime Minister, published no further back than the month of August last. If under those circumstances—if in twelve days fifteen Gentlemen had agreed in the Cabinet and produced anything 1721 like a complete measure of re-distribution, I think it would have been nothing short of a miracle; but the Government have performed no miracle. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: What twelve days?] The twelve days to which I refer were the days that elapsed between the critical division—a little before which the right hon. Gentleman said that a Seats Bill would not be produced—and the introduction of the Re-distribution of Seats Bill. But if the Government likes, I will say eighteen days, or I will even give them six more. That, however, matters very little; but there are very great mistakes which—the House will permit me to say it—I think the House of Commons might make in this matter. One is, that we should be driven into passing a hasty and imperfect measure on this subject, merely to escape the reproach of the doing nothing and for the sake of saying we had done something. Now it might be said cui bono should the Bill pass this year? but that question does not represent the whole of the mischief, and I would ask the House to consider the evil which would arise from passing this Bill now, even if we were prepared to pass it. Now, let us see what would be our position. Here is a Bill which cannot come into operation in any of its provisions till after June, 1867. There can be no action under this Bill till after that time. Well, as far as the operation of the measure is concerned, there would be abundant time to pass it before July next year, when notices would be given of registration. But look at the position in which we shall be placed if we pass this Bill. The hon. Member for Birmingham, before Parliament assembled this year, when arguing that it was advisable to bring in a Bill for the extension of the franchise, but which would not touch the question of re-distribution, said that after the passing of such a Bill, you would still have the old constituencies, and that there would be no occasion for a dissolution consequent on the Bill having become law. Now, I do not think that was a sound view; but it was an admission on the part of the hon. Member for Birmingham that if you passed a Re-distribution of Seats Bill, the power of the Parliament would be at an end, and you must have a dissolution. But now, if we pass this Bill for an alteration of the franchise, and also a Bill for a redistribution of the seats, what will be our position during the next Session—during the months of February, March, April, and 1722 May, next year? Does the Attorney General mean to tell me—and my hon. and learned Friend states that he wishes to adhere to precedents—that Parliament can continue to exercise its ordinary powers and functions after the constituencies which elected it are condemned? ["No!"] Yes, I say condemned; for though, under this Bill, they would not be condemned to the same extent as the constituencies of the country were in 1832, the difference is only in degree, because the Bill attacks between forty and fifty boroughs and about seventy-nine seats. Now, suppose this Bill to pass, and that next year, when we come to re-impose taxation, it should be necessary—which may God forbid—that there should be new taxation, and that there should be a very strong feeling out of doors on the subject of such taxation, I say it would be impossible that this House, condemned in its composition, and returned by constituencies which had been condemned, would be capable of legislating on such a subject. And what are you to do? Can you get a new Parliament? No; because your preparations for electing a new Parliament cannot begin till after June next year. The consequence is, that you paralyse Parliament for six months, nay more, you deprive the country of a Parliament during the whole of next Session; because the moment you come to legislate on a question which excites the country, the country will turn on you, and tell you that you are no longer their representatives.
I want the House to consider another thing. Suppose you pass this Bill, which cannot be acted upon till June of next year; after that time it may be supposed the groups will be formed, the boundaries re-arranged, and the new constituencies got into order; but, of course, at the end of next Session there must he a dissolution. What a happy twelve months you will have of it in the meantime! In this new Parliament, I wonder how many Members there are who liked the six months they passed before the last election? but the expense and trouble which they were obliged to submit to during that interval were but trifling when compared with what they would have to endure if this Bill should pass. Pass this Bill; you announce a dissolution for the autumn of 1867, and the canvassing of the new constituencies will commence. The right hon. Member for Calne told us last night that the Government wanted us 1723 not only to commit political polygamy but to marry four widows. But the tender mercies of the Government do not stop there; they are cruel, and impose exquisite torture on the Members of this House, for they not only compel us to marry four widows but sentence us to a compulsory courtship of the four widows for twelve months, and compulsory courtship in the face of a rival. You are not to be left to court alone, and the courtship will be a more expensive one than any you ever undertook in your life. Another mistake, I think, would be made by the House if we passed a hasty and ill-considered Bill for the purpose of what is called "settling the question." The Attorney General thinks you ought to settle it for at least thirty years; but I doubt whether the most sanguine admirer of this Bill, based as it is upon numbers, can imagine that it would settle anything beyond the period of the next census. In 1871, on the principle on which this Bill is founded, the census then to be taken would upset everything settled by this Bill. I want the Attorney General to answer me this—does he think this Bill, in his view of the question, would settle anything beyond the period of the next census? My hon. and learned Friend says he is a convert to household suffrage. To that he thinks we must go sooner or later, and he is prepared to go to it at once. The hon. Member for Birmingham wishes to keep within the lines of the Constitution, and he, likewise, is for household suffrage. But the Member for Birmingham, I must say, stands on different ground at different times. The last time I heard him on this subject he quoted the opinion of Lord Somers, who, he said, was one of the builders of our Constitution, and who maintained, so alleged the hon. Member, that a vote is the birthright of every Englishman. He was for Lord Somers and universal suffrage then; he is for Serjeant Glanvil and household suffrage now. The Attorney General and the hon. Member for Birmingham are agreed—both are for household suffrage; and suppose that the Bill should pass, and that after it had passed the hon. Member for Birmingham or any other person should commence an agitation for household suffrage, would the Attorney General say, "I condemn this agitation and I will not join in it?" I know my hon. and learned Friend has a facility for persuading himself of many things, but I want to know what answer he would make if, after this Bill passed, 1724 some persons should say, "It does not go far enough, you said you were prepared to go the length of household suffrage. If it is a good thing the demand for it must be right, and we call on you to join in unsettling what has been settled." I should like to know what answer the Attorney General would make to such a request as that. The truth is you settle nothing by this Bill, but you create greater anomalies than any which exist in the present representation. In passing this Bill you would act as if you were to pull your house about your ears in consequence of the careless manner in which you attempted to repair it.
Sir, we have heard something in this debate about hypocrisy. Now I confess I do not think the Government gain much advantage by charging those who differ from them with hypocrisy. I should, indeed, have supposed that any Member of the Government who took a retrospective view of what has been the conduct of the Members of the Government during the last five or six years—since 1859—in respect of this question of Reform would have thought twice before he taunted anyone with hypocrisy. But, at all events, let us be careful not to expose ourselves to the charge of hypocrisy in respect of this question. If you think this is a wise, well-matured, well-digested measure of Parliamentary Reform, by all means let it pass; but if, on the other hand, you think and believe that the wise, the statesmanlike, and business-like course to pursue would be to take back the Bill, to prepare your borough boundaries, to complete your statistics, and to renew it at the beginning of next Session, as a complete, well-digested, well-matured measure, then I say do not let us be guilty of what would be rank and fatal hypocrisy, indeed, by refusing to sanction by our votes an Amendment which we know in our consciences speaks nothing but the truth.
§ MR. ACLAND
said, it would be presumption in him who had not that legal training of which the last speaker was such a bright example to follow him through all his statistics and all his able argument. But the hon. and learned Gentleman had touched upon some principles which would form the foundation of the observations he meant to address to the House. After hearing the remarkable speech which had just been delivered, he could not say that the question of grouping alluded to in the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member for Wells, had been evaded by the hon. and learned Gentleman; but, at the same time, he was of 1725 opinion that the speech ought to have been delivered, not on the present Motion, but when the Bill had gone into Committee. Turning to the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member for Wells he found that it contained three propositions. It was a condemnation of the Bill as inexpedient, unjust, and incapable of improvement. He assumed that the Bill was so opposed to the general principles of equity that it ought not to be allowed to go into Committee, for there was nothing in the Bill which by the exertions of both sides of the House would issue in a satisfactory measure. At the same time the hon, and gallant Member refused to discuss the Bill, except in the most vague and general terms of condemnation. Now as an independent Member, and no further interested in the matter than from his sincere attachment to Reform, he must protest against this attempt to stop discussion in the House. After all that had been said about the unanswered and unanswerable speech of the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn—which he (Mr. Acland) thought was an able speech but not unanswerable—it might be presumption in him to say that he was prepared to defend the Government measure. But he had never had a doubt as to the course to be pursued. Before the hon. Member for Birmingham made his speech to his constituents—before the Government had announced their intentions on the subject—he had made up his own mind that the one object that Reformers ought to aim at during the present Session was the expansion and extension of the franchise downwards as well as in a lateral direction. That was not a condemnation of the existing constituency—extension was not condemnation. The hon. and learned Gentleman was so accustomed to Courts of Law that he could not consider this question except in a legal and judicial spirit, and he regarded the extension of the franchise to the working classes as a condemnation of the present constituency. He could not forget what occurred just before and after the dissolution. He thought the Government had acted wisely in not attempting to excite the country at the last election by a cry of Reform, and in leaving that subject to the discretion of individual Members. But when the feeling was manifested in favour of Reform the Government at once faced their responsibility, and told the House plainly that the subject should no longer be trifled with. A considerable quantity of young blood 1726 had been introduced into the Government, which had gained the assistance of Members distinguished for the interest they took in the question of Reform. Well, the Government were of opinion that the different branches of the subject could not be dealt with all at once, and accordingly introduced the Franchise Bill, which was opposed by a considerable portion of the House, including some hon. Gentlemen who usually supported the Government. When the House showed its wish to have the whole question before them, the Government said, we retain our opinion, but if you seek for further information as to our intention we will give it. And then there were shouts of derision and of reproaches raised against the Government for being so weak as to yield to the House of Commons. But there was one point at least on which they were firm. They would not allow this question to be overclouded with irrelevant details, but determined to stand or fall on the decision of the question whether or not the electoral system should be expanded. He looked, for his part, on the re-distribution of seats as a very unimportant point. But he must say that the whole course of this debate showed that hon. Gentlemen opposite were unwilling to put faith in the people of this country. Hon. Gentlemen opposite had shown no confidence in the Constitution. Throughout the whole debate it had been with them simply a question of sight, and, he must add, of extremely shortsightedness, and he had no sympathy with this view of the matter. [An hon. MEMBER: Nor have I.] He did not doubt that there were many hon. Gentlemen opposite who agreed with him in disliking this narrow, short-sighted manner of regarding the question, and he considered that it was a point of great importance to separate the one class from the other, and to induce, if it was possible, hon. Gentlemen opposite who desired to treat this question in a fair and reasonable manner, not to suffer themselves to be made cats'-paws of by those who held other principles. He complained that the Opposition had refused to discuss the question of the franchise, but threw all their energy into an entirely irrelevant question, upon which they forced the division to take place. By the result of that division they obtained what they wanted. The Redistribution of Seats Bill was brought in, and they assented to the second reading, and now they would not let the House go into Committee. ["No!"] Well, but they 1727 knew they would not. On no condition would they permit it. The whole organisation of their party would be brought to play for the purpose of preventing it, so long as they suffered their leaders to pull the strings for them. This was shown by the readiness with which they had been engaged in vague discussions on education, bribery, and other abstract questions, all of which was only a little more of the darkness and fog of the cave into which they had been dragged. The opinions of those who had spoken on that subject from the opposite Benches were remarkable for a fearful, timid suspicion of the upper rank of the working classes, and for a shortsighted determination to retain the exclusive preponderance of the landed interest, and to increase it, if possible, in the county representation, because of their mistrust of the independent middle class. The distinctive principle of the admirable speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire was, that the county constituencies should be a territorial oligarchy, an exclusive and distinctive class representation. He (Mr. Acland), as a county Member, and one who had worked hard in the agricultural interest, ventured to assert that this was the most dangerous principle he had ever heard enunciated by a county Member, and he believed that if the right hon. Gentleman was less of a litterateur and more acquainted with the feelings of the county populations he would not have given utterance to such a sentiment. He would further say that hon. Gentlemen opposite were divided against themselves, and he believed that they dared not discuss the details of the Government Bills. They would not distinctly say whether they would be content with a borough franchise of £8 and a county franchise of £20. They were, in fact, not agreed between themselves on these points. Among them were not a few of what he might call viri consulares, men who had for a short time held high office—not unworthily in many cases—and they were now anxious to come into office again. But seeing that the Government had nailed their colours to the mast, they seemed determined, if possible, by all the strategy that could be devised, to turn out the present Ministry and step into their places. This was the real position, though he yet hoped that, by the assistance of those hon. Gentlemen opposite who really desired to see this question settled, Government would succeed in defeating 1728 the present Motion. He was surprised, indeed, that hon. Gentlemen opposite should be led by a young Member on that (the Ministerial) side of the House into the support of an Amendment that would not ultimately turn out to be either for their true interests or their honour. He believed, as he had said, that those who sat on the front Benches opposite did not desire a settlement of this question, but he was prepared to make a humble representation to them. He did not speak with authority, or in anybody's name but his own, though he had mentioned the matter to many of his private friends, some of whom approved of it while others regarded it unfavourably. Now, it appeared to him that this question could only be settled by the assistance and goodwill of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and that something in the nature of a compromise was quite necessary if this Bill were to pass. Of course the Liberal party, having a majority of seventy according to their own profession, were anxious that it should not be diminished; but he confessed that he would be glad if some hon. Gentlemen calling themselves Liberals would act in a manner more consistent with their professions. Now, any possible compromise must involve two points. He did not know what the Government might do, but speaking as a Member of the Liberal party, he did not think it could fairly be asked to concede the £7 borough franchise. He could not see that it would be for the honour of the Government to ask hon. Members below the gangway to concede this after the sacrifice they had already made of so many of their opinions and wishes, and perhaps their whims, on this question in order not to embarrass or delay the settlement of it. He would deprecate, too, the adoption of the views of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire in reference to the county constituencies; for he, for one, could not consent to the extraction of the urban element out of the county constituencies. He did not think any class could long maintain their influence in this country if they stood apart from the rest of their fellow-countrymen. The hon. and learned Gentleman who had last addressed them, when he was treating of the question with regard to the swamping of the county constituencies, had given them the examples of Middlesex and North Lancashire, and five counties that were eminently manufacturing counties. But he should like to ask whether one of the hon. Mem- 1729 bers of the House who was specially distinguished for his responsibilities in private business did not sit for one of those counties—he referred to the hon. Member for North Lancashire. That hon. Gentleman was a sample of the men whom great counties, combining manufacturing and agricultural interests, sent to Parliament, and who did more than any other class of Members to sustain the character and honour of the House. Well, then, these two points he could not concede—the £7 franchise, and the existence of the urban element in county constituencies. He would not attempt to follow the hon. and learned Gentleman into his detailed objections to this Bill; but so far as he (Mr. Acland) was able to form an opinion it appeared to him that this Bill followed the principle of the Reform Bill of 1832, and recognizing the proportionate advance of the great interests in the country without materially altering the number of Members of the House provided for the wants of the great constituencies. The principle of grouping was not then before the House, and it was simply an attempt to turn the House away from the real question at issue. Without being prepared to say that the groups submitted in the Bill were defensible, he must say that the arguments of the hon. and gallant Member who had proposed the Amendment proceeded on a series of assumptions. Now he (Mr. Acland) would suggest, although it was not strictly the question before the House, that as Ministers maintained the urban element in the agricultural counties, they should be prepared, if the other side should be of that opinion, to introduce the agricultural interest in the small towns. That was the course pursued in the first Reform Bill. But he might be told that was not a parallel case, because the boroughs were not introduced then to improve the constituencies but for the purpose of preserving them. That was the principle of this Bill. It proposed to preserve existing boroughs instead of disfranchising them. Wells, with its small population, had no claim to representation in the face of the demands of large towns, but grouping it with some other place would be the means of preserving it. By moderately extending the area of these boroughs, and introducing the agricultural element into them, they were doing two things. First, they were preserving an important element of the Constitution; and secondly, they were indirectly tending to 1730 improve the constituency—because after what bad been said about grouping with a view to check bribery, he lived too near Totnes to believe they could drive it out of that borough. Three shoemakers in that borough he had heard had received £1,000 for their votes, and the very place stunk with bribery. Whether just or unjust he could not say, but the general opinion with regard to Totnes was, that the boundary was drawn to serve a particular interest, which was a great misfortune. There was a constant wrangling going on there; benevolent objects could not be carried out in consequence, and the overshadowing influence of bribery and corruption went at the root of the society and business of the whole place. He did not wish to mention all he knew about the boroughs of the West of England; but it was a well-known fact that men of moderate fortunes could not show their faces in them through the overbidding of millionaires. They stuck at nothing, and there was always an attorney ready to do their dirty work. Rather than keep these foul boroughs he thought it would be much better to group them, and introduce a mixed constituency. He deeply regretted that by this Bill, if the House did not decide that rural constituencies should be connected with certain boroughs, a very worthy class—the country mechanics, tradesmen, and other residents—would be excluded from the franchise. He thought it was of the greatest consequence that the independent members on both sides of the House should endeavour to take the question out of the hands of party leaders and the drill sergeants on both sides of the House. He regretted to find that one hon. Member, who had made himself conspicuous by his talents, was at all times subject to the sneers of hon. Gentlemen opposite; and he must say it was a shame and a disgrace to the House the name of the hon. Member for Birmingham should be so frequently used as a term of obloquy. They were told that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer was a humble pupil and follower of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham; that the hon. Member dictated to him what he should do with regard to the question of Reform; but if they compared the scheme which the hon. Gentleman propounded in 1859 with that introduced by the present Government, they would find there was no truth in the assertion. The hon. Member for Birmingham 1731 proposed to disfranchise fifty-six towns and partially fifty-one others, and out of the seats thus to be gained he proposed to give eighty-seven to large towns and eighteen only to counties. And if the answer was that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham had become wiser, it was no great reproach to the hon. Member. And if he had become a more practical statesman his name ought not to be mentioned with obloquy to point a sentence and give a sting to an antithesis by an opponent. What they had to consider was bow they could extend the franchise and correct to a moderate extent the existing anomalies in our representation. By this Bill it was proposed to give an additional Member to the county of Devon. Now, that did not influence his vote, because he did not see the necessity of adding one member to the counties, though as it had been proposed he had no objection to support that view. They wished to disturb as little as possible the existing framework of the Constitution, provided they were allowed to recognize the existing wants of the country. He, for one, approached the settlement of this question in a spirit of confidence in his fellow-countrymen, both in high places and in low, satisfied to leave the result to be tested by the judgment of enlightened public opinion.
§ MR. BAILLIE COCHRANE
said, after listening very attentively to the speech of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, he was quite at a loss to discover whether the Government would congratulate themselves on having him as a supporter of the Bill or not. Whilst he gave a general support to the Bills of the Government, he found so many faults with them, and spoke in such harsh terms of the Government itself, that it might almost say, "defend me from my friends." The hon. Gentleman made one extraordinary remark. He said the Opposition wanted to prevent the Bills from going into Committee, because there was so much discretion among its Members. It was an extraordinary thing to hear Gentlemen on the Liberal Benches talking of discretion on the matter of Reform. He had listened to the debates on this question, and no two Gentlemen opposite seemed to agree with reference to the measure, unless those personally connected with the Ministry. The hon. Gentleman complained of the protracted nature of the debate; he thought the Government had themselves to blame for this state of things. The House had 1732 never yet had a debate on the whole question. The question that was debated some time since was the question of confidence in Her Majesty's Government. That was quite a separate question from the question of Reform. They might have a general confidence in Her Majesty's Government, and have no confidence in the Government on the question of Reform; indeed, that was the more natural, because it was perfectly clear, from all they heard, the Government had no confidence in the measure themselves. When a great question was raised for discussion before the country and the House some epithet was usually attached to it—it was called great, comprehensive, liberal, or the like, and this had been emphatically called honest. He, however, thought that on the other side Gentlemen had protested about their honesty too much. The question arose, what were the characteristics of an honest measure, and he would deal with those two Bills as one whole. An honest measure should be the temperate decision of wisdom, the temperate result of profound conviction on the part of the Government. In the second place, it should have a fair prospect of being a final measure; and, in the third place, it should be discussed on its own merits, and not be attempted to be carried by the process of intimidation or menace. Upon every one of these points the Government measure was unsatisfactory. He did not believe the Bill was the result of the conviction of the party; it had not a prospect, if carried, of being a final settlement, and the measure had been a great deal too much forced on by intimidation and menace. Even at a very recent period the hon. Member for Birmingham menaced them with telling them of the force that would be used if the Bill were not passed. Was it an honest measure, or was it viewed as an honest measure in the House? He firmly believed that if they were to ballot on this measure they would not be able to get fifty men in the House to vote for it, and that was the opinion of one of the most extreme Liberals in the House, and one who was known for his liberal opinions—liberal among the Liberals. That hon. Gentleman, whom he saw opposite, told him (Mr. Baillie Cochrane) himself that if they ballotted on the question, not fifty Members would vote for the Bill. No doubt the hon. Member would confirm this if he spoke. He (Mr. Baillie Cochrane) did not wish to indicate who the hon. Gentleman was. 1733 [Mr. WHITE: Hear, hear!] As the hon. Gentleman had now called the attention of the House to himself, no doubt he would confirm that opinion hereafter. They had heard different arguments in favour of the measure, and he must go somewhat fully into the subject, as it was one of vital importance to the country, and which would have the effect of changing its entire Constitution. They heard it said, how could a measure be so mischievous as that was described to be, when it had the support of the great aristocratic families. It was said, could it be supposed that those connected with the great landed aristocracy of the country would support a measure fraught with such fatal consequences. He should say so, too, had not history been written for their learning. Take the history of the French Revolution. What did Louis Blanc say, "Long before the people attacked the crown, the nobility defamed it." And take the history of our own Revolution. Did not Wentworth say that the landed interest was the first to move in Revolution? They never intended to go so far; they intended to make use of the people for their own object. They thought that when they liked they could resist the movement of the people and say, so far but no farther. He thought the argument that these constitutional changes were supported by the great families who had so much to lose was no argument at all, because party feeling and the prejudices and passions of the hour often overshadowed the greatest interests, and led men to adopt principles in defiance of their scruples. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had accused the Opposition Members of a mistrust of the working classes, He could say for himself—he thought he might speak for others and say—they had no mistrust of the working classes, nor were they afraid of giving them power. But what they did distrust was, those who led, or rather misled, the working classes. They mistrusted that organization by which those classes were made use of for purposes most prejudicial to the institutions of the country. He wished the House and the country to consider the grave importance of the organization now existing in trade societies among the working classes, and he thought it was strange that this subject had only been once or twice alluded to in the course of the present debate. He believed that if manufacturers dared honestly to express their opinions they would say 1734 that, in consequence of the organization among the working classes, they dreaded Reform. He was in Glasgow the other day, and he there saw five or six leading gentlemen, all great Liberals, who said that unless Mr. Bright went down and made a speech they never could get up a Reform meeting. They added—We dare not say it before our workmen, but we would look with perfect terror upon the future if this Bill were carried.He held in his hand a curious work, which perhaps no other Member of that House had seen. It was printed for private circulation among the leaders of the trade societies, and contained the laws and rules of the Metropolitan Operative Bricklayers, the Friendly Society of Operative Masons, the General Society of Operative Plasterers, the Pimlico Society of Carpenters and Joiners, the National Association of Carpenters and Joiners, and the Accident and Burial Society of Labourers. It appeared from that work that the number of persons who were members of these societies was as follows:—The bricklayers were 17,000 in number; the masons, 85,000; the plasterers, 18,000; the carpenters and joiners, 177,000; giving a total of 310,000 of the working classes in those trades alone. Of that number there were 270,000 who had joined the trades unions and remained under the influence of the terror which those unions exercised. According to the laws of the masons' society, the local lodges throughout England and Wales had power to make their own bye-laws and regulations, but subject to confirmation by the central society, whose seat of government was the metropolis. One writer on the unions said—A great manufacturer knows that there is a power against which his power and influence are unavailing, there is a control which he himself must implicitly obey, there is an unseen hand that guides and directs; he knows that were he to go among the homes which folly and injustice have rendered desolate he would be met with the reply—'There is no quarrel, but we dare not disobey the union.Now, when they were going to give electoral power to the working classes, it was important to know the rules of these unions, and under what control and discipline the people found themselves. The men who would not join the union were "ticketed," or marked men; they were put upon a black list or "scab" list, as it was called, and were followed and watched, and put to every possible inconvenience and annoy- 1735 ance. This was one of the rules of the masons of London and the vicinity—Should any mason work under the current wages of London, which are 5s. (6d. per day, and be considered by his shopmates qualified to receive 5s. 6d. per day, he shall be deemed 'black' and fined £2.If he works after the appointed hours without receiving "time and half" he is fined 40s. If he be known to work piece-work, except on granite, curb, or York paving, he is to be fined 40s. It is added that—It is hoped that all whom it may concern will think seriously before violating the above.But what would the House think of this with respect to "members on strike?"Where a strike has been sanctioned by this society, and a member performs any kind of labour during the strike he shall be fined"—what did the House think?—"not exceeding £5, the sum to be paid in a month.A gentleman of great influence and importance wrote as follows:—It is a painful and humiliating reflection to think that the working classes, of all men else whose interest it ought especially to be to better the state of society, since they get the least share of its best fruits, should be so determined to stop the growth of capital, out of a spirit where jealousy, envy, and plunder are variously proportioned. There may be a rich man here, and another there, who have accumulated money by the force of sober and industrious habits, since the time they worked as journeymen. 'They are robbers,' say your leaders, for a great portion of what they have ought to be in your pockets, and so you are instructed and tempted to hate those who receive the esteem of all good men, and are an honour to the nation.The writer was no other than Mr. J. Stuart Mill. He (Mr. Baillie Cochrane) had no mistrust of the men themselves. He did not believe there was a better class of working men to be found in the world than the working men of England; but there was an organization of terror spread over the land which might be used by the leaders of the movement. A few days ago at Leeds several of the workmen of Messrs. Croisdale, Brothers, dyers of that town, were charged with intimidating some of their fellow-workmen. A short time back nearly all Messrs. Croisdale's men struck in consequence of the refusal of the firm to allow them to leave off work at two o'clock on Saturdays. Two men, named Stones and Rodley, who did not take part in the general movement, were set upon and savagely beaten and kicked. Their injuries were of a very serious character, and a participation in the assault having been brought home to five men, named 1736 Calvert, Wilkinson, Cullon, Davidson, and Richardson, the first-named was sentenced to three months' imprisonment with hard labour, the last-named to one month, and the remainder to two months. He would now read the House an order of the day issued in the Staffordshire potteries—You are strictly cautioned not to overstep good rules, by doing more work than you are required, in order to obtain the approval of your masters; such foolhardy and deceitful actions keep a large portion of good workmen out of work. Certain individuals have been guilty of this, and will be expelled if they do not refrain.Certainly, the notions of those who drew up these rules of a good and honest workman were very extraordinary. He could not see any reason why, as had been remarked by an able writer during the last week, the same organization which thus controlled and directed the working population as to the disposal of their labour should not be equally effective in controlling them as to the disposal of their votes when they were put in possession of the franchise. It was impossible to deny the danger that might exist at certain periods of giving political power to a great body of men governed by such a system of terror. The hon. Member for Birmingham had changed his tone, and a day or two ago talked of standing upon the ancient Constitution of the country. He reversed the proverb applied to the month of March, and instead of "coming in like a hon and going out like a lamb," the hon. Member "went out like a lion." Remembering the manner in which the hon. Member had spoken of the spiritual peers as "the offspring of an adulterous, nay, of an incestuous origin," and characterized a department of the State as a system of "outdoor relief for the aristocracy," the House had a right to mistrust any Bill brought in under the instigation and advice of the hon. Member for Birmingham. Only two days ago he found in a leading article written in one of the hon. Gentleman's organs—We have now let the cat out of the bag. This Reform Bill is revolution and democracy; and henceforth the democratic element will prevail in the country.The hon. Gentleman said the other day that he anticipated the time, and anxiously waited for it, when class would be opposed to class in battle array, Under these circumstances it was impossible, in discussing this Bill, not to refer to the hon. Member. But he would now turn to a point in which he himself was naturally interested—he meant the Re-distribution of 1737 Seats. Those who, like himself, represented small boroughs, were placed in that discussion in what was thought to he a laughable position. But what was still more laughable, was that some hon. Members who represented that class of boroughs seemed to be prepared to accept the fate marked out for them by that measure. There were "Iambs," it appeared, in that House as well as in Nottingham; and the innocents in question reminded him forcibly of Pope's well known lines—The lamb thy riot dooms to bleed to-day,Had it thy reason, would it skip and play?It skips the lawn, and crops the flowery food,And licks the hand just rais'd to shed its blood.And, turning to those supporters of the Bill who represented boroughs with populations of between 8,000 and 10,000, and which were for the moment to be spared, might he not add—Oh, blindness to the future!What, he might ask them, did they expect would be their own fate after they had helped to carry that measure? Did they fondly think that when the smallest boroughs had been sacrificed their own boroughs would not be the next victims? Why, they might be sure that their turn to bleed would come next, that batch would succeed batch until the whole had been cut off in detail, and the universal battue of small boroughs had been consummated. Yet the Chancellor of the Exchequer was almost indignant with a humble Member for a small borough like himself for throwing any little impediment in the way of such a proceeding. That brought to his mind an anecdote about a Scotch laird, who in the feudal days had the power of life and death. He had sentenced a man to be hanged, and the man very naturally seized an opportunity of running away. But the fugitive was overtaken and advised to go back again and be hanged quietly, in order not to put the laird out. So the Members for the small boroughs were to submit quietly to be sacrificed, that the Government might not be put out. They were asked, in fact, to perform the Japanese operation of "the happy despatch" upon themselves, and the right hon. Gentleman felt quite mortified because they were not all anxious to perform that pleasant operation on the floor of the House at his winning invitation. After the powerful speeches which had been made against the projected re-distribution of seats and grouping of boroughs 1738 it was unnecessary for him to enter upon those points. One of the proposed groups was to be formed of Bridport, Lyme Regis, and Honiton. Why, no one had scarcely ever seen a Honiton man who had been to Bridport. However, those three boroughs, with a population of 1,3,000, and with five Members between them, were to have only one Member. But then the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, "Oh, we don't disfranchise any place." The right hon. Gentleman was almost as wonderful a conjuror as Stodare the magician of the Egyptian Hall. He disfranchised no borough in that group, and yet he found four seats to give away to other places out of five that now belonged to them. While some places that had 8,000 inhabitants were to be allowed to keep both their Members, other towns with populations varying from 10,000 to l5,000 were to have only one Member. Yet the right hon. Gentleman complained because they did not think that was a satisfactory settlement of that question. He had been struck with an article in a New York newspaper giving the impression entertained in America of the probable effect of that Reform Bill upon the institutions and political system of England. The writer held that the measure, if carried, would render our institutions more democratic even than those of America, and showed that it would be fraught with peril to them. He would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer to listen to the good advice that had been given him, not only from the Opposition side of the House, but also from so many of his political Friends on his own side of the House, If this measure were ever carried it would be carried by the influence of party feeling, notwithstanding the opinion of that most liberal of Liberals to whom he had before referred—an opinion which he believed was shared in by the great majority of Members even on the Ministerial side of the House—namely, that if the merits of this measure were to be tested by the ballot, not fifty would be found to vote for it. Now he (Mr. Baillie Cochrane) asked, in sober seriousness, whether that was the way to carry a question of such momentous importance and gravity—by intimidation and menace. The right hon. Gentleman at first declared that the Government could not bring in a Re-distribution of Seats Bill, because the Government had only a very limited number of nights at their disposal. Nevertheless, on a pressure be- 1739 ing put upon him he introduced this measure, and said that the House should sit until October or November, in order to carry it. These were menaces which the House would not endure. Even if those measures of the Government were passed he believed they would effect no settlement of the question. And in this opinion he was corroborated by the statements of the hon. Gentlemen below the gangway. The hon. Gentleman who spoke last suggested a compromise, but he omitted to explain the nature of the compromise which he proposed. He (Mr. Baillie Cochrane) recollected reading an opinion expressed by Mr. Canning in respect to the first Reform Bill. It was to this effect, that if they passed that measure they would either destroy their armaments and ruin their country, or they would place the whole of the taxation upon the upper classes and ruin the Constitution. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer hinted at the good that the Parliament would do when it was better represented, he (Mr. Baillie Cochrane) would say he believed that there never was a Parliament in respect to which the various constituencies, as well as their representatives, had been actuated by higher and purer motives than the one now in existence. That House generally was willing to concede to the wishes of the people in a just, frank, and generous spirit; but, believing that the present measure of the Government was uncalled for, and was founded upon principles injurious to their interests generally, as well as to those of the Constitution, he should offer it his firm and decided opposition.
§ MR. C. WYKEHAM-MARTIN
said, that having the honour to represent the largest and most populous borough (Newport), which would be deprived of one of its Members by the present Bill, he was anxious to explain why he should support the Government and vote against the Amendment. There was no doubt in the borough a large Conservative constituency, which did not exactly approve of a measure that would deprive them of one of their representatives. Nevertheless that portion of the constituency which sent him to Parliament heartily approved of the vote he intended to give in favour of the Government measure. He found the following sentiments expressed by the Liberal paper which circulates in the borough, and he had ascertained that they coincide with the opinions of the Liberal portion of the constituency:— 1740But as the new borough has vastly increased in the number of houses recently erected, and consequently in the amount of its population within these last five years, there can be no doubt that if the census was taken at the present time the numbers would be found to amount to several hundreds over the 8,000 necessary to save both our Members. At the same time we cannot express any very deep regret at our loss under existing circumstances, for we have neither commerce nor manufactures to recommend us to a more prominent position in the councils of the nation, whilst other more important boroughs are wholly unrepresented.According to the last enumeration of the population of the borough it was within seventy of the number which would give it the power of retaining its two Members. His portion of the constituents, however, desired that nothing should be done to impede or embarrass the Government upon this question, and were particularly desirous that the £7 qualification should be adhered to, because they believed that the artizans whom it would introduce were more pure and honest than any other class of the constituency. The conduct of those who sent him to that House was in this matter so patriotic, generous, and disinterested that he was desirous it should be made known and recorded in the debates of that House. On the general question he did not wish to enter. He would, however, remark, with respect to the subject of grouping, that much had been said upon the inconvenience arising from the distance between one member of the group and another; and if the whole arrangement were a res Integra of course no one would propose that places at a considerable distance should be grouped together. But what the House had to deal with was existing interests, and they were bound to act tenderly towards those boroughs which they felt it their duty in part to disfranchise, while at the same time they did not wish to deprive them of all voice in the legislation of the country. The arrangement proposed was therefore necessarily somewhat of a makeshift. But, great as the geographical inconvenience might be in some instances under the new system, it was as nothing compared with that which was encountered by a Member representing a large county, who had to look to the interests of his constituents in the two extremes of an extensive district. When he had the honour of representing West Kent he had considerable experience of this inconvenience. The distance between Tenterden and Greenwich by the most available route, the railway, was as nearly as possible seventy miles. A great 1741 deal had been said also about the dissimilar interests of the new constituencies. But what were they to the dissimilar interests to be found in a large county? As Member for West Kent he had to protect Woolwich and Erith from the nuisance of the drainage of London, to rescue the population of districts which had nothing to do with the metropolis from the City coal tax, to watch over the interests of the employés at Chatham with reference to superannuation, and last, though not least, to guard those of the hopgrowers, who were divided into three parties, each of whom had interests differing from the two others, so that it was impossible to please one without displeasing two. And then as to bribery, some speakers had maintained that the new system would check the offence, while others held the contrary. On this point he would refer to a scene in Pickwick, in which was represented a number of very scrupulous persons assembled about half past three in the afternoon, and quite undecided which way they would vote. At last some convincing arguments were addressed to them, and they were brought up to the poll, when they turned the scale in favour of the successful candidate. But if the towns of the group were situated several miles apart it would be impossible to know at half past three the state of the gross poll; and if the House could prevent money "being let fly," as it was called, at that critical moment, they would do more to put a check on bribery than by any legislation they might resort to for the suppression of corrupt practices. He might mention to the House that this was not his own opinion, but was suggested to him by persons conversant with Scotch elections, who believed that this grouping system of boroughs went far to put a stop to bribery.
§ MR. KENNARD
said, that as the other Member for Newport, he wished to state that the opinion of the great majority of the constituency of the borough was decidedly adverse to this Bill. He might inform his hon, Friend opposite that if he had not had the assistance of the Conservatives of Newport at the last election he would not now be sitting in that House. The Isle of Wight had formerly five representatives. That number was reduced to three, and now it was proposed to leave it only two Members. He must express his opinion that the Isle of Wight had been very unfairly treated. He did not wish to take up the time of the House longer 1742 than to assure them that the opinions expressed by his hon. Colleague were not the opinions of the great majority of the constituency of Newport.
§ MR. LEATHAM
said, the great clamour for the Re-distribution of Seats Bill is now appeased. Any marks of haste which the Bill may bear, may fairly be attributed to the impatience of the House. But we are told that the system of grouping adopted in this Bill is "neither fair nor equitable." The rigid line of entire disfranchisement of any small borough has been avoided in the grouping system now introduced. The disturbance of twenty-five Members on one side of the House and twenty-four on the other side, cannot be considered unfair, in a party view of the matter. But, what is the real meaning of this opposition, springing from Members who sit on this side of the House? I attribute it, Sir, to the long inaction in matters of Reform, which pervaded the mind of the noble Lord who, some short time ago, was the admired leader of this House. I consider it a kind of legacy we have derived from him. I always believed that the Motion of the noble Lord the Member for Chester sprang from the same source. It was a kind of fidelity to the memory of the great man whose personal influence was so great in this House and out of this House. I respect the fidelity of any follower or adherent of the noble Lord to whom I refer; but I must remind the hon. and gallant Member for Wells that that period of inaction has come to an end. Now, the Amendment, Sir, of the hon. and gallant Member is prefaced by a somewhat similar statement to that which prefaced the Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Chester. It says "that the House, while ready to consider the subject of a Re-distribution of Seats, is of opinion, &c." Now, the noble Lord the Member for Chester prefaced his Amendment with an expression "that this House, while ready to consider, with a view to its settlement, the question of Parliamentary Reform, is of opinion, &c." In both cases we are told "that the House is ready, &c," but is there any Member in the House who believes that this House is ready? It is, Sir, because the House is "not ready to consider" that Amendments of this kind are tolerated for a moment. The House is unwilling to Reform itself. Disagreeable things should be done as quickly as possible. Now, I remember when the noble Lord the Member for 1743 Chester moved his Amendment, he said something about "the walls of Jericho falling down at the blast of the trumpet," and "that all the Resolutions but his had failed, because his was founded on a rock." He might have carried his simile further, and pictured the right hon. Gentleman opposite "as Joshua viewing the Promised Land," sending spies into the doomed city of Jericho, for the spies were hidden under the flax on the roof of the house of Rahab. I think I can see something like "the spies lurking under the flax" in the Resolution before the House. Now, Sir, I never could see clearly why the Government were to be blamed for considering each measure separately. One of the first lessons I was taught was, "Be a whole man to a thing at a time." The Government intended, no doubt, to follow that motto, "To be a whole man to a thing at a time," in their consideration of the "Franchise Bill;" and then, "To be a whole man to a thing at a time" in their consideration of the "Re-distribution of Seats Bill; but then came the speech of the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn—and it was a speech of great power and weight—and the Government have since paid him the compliment of introducing the" Re-distribution of Seats Bill, "conjointly with the" Franchise Bill. "But what did the right Baronet the Member for Hertfordshire (whose speeches and writings, we listen to, and read, with the greatest pleasure) say?" A Bill for the Re-distribution of Seats is a correction of abuses. A Bill for the large alteration of the franchise is, and must be, more or less, the transfer of power. "I think, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman might have argued the converse of this proposition and said," that the Re-distribution of Seats was a transfer of power, and the extension of the franchise was a correction of abuses. "At all events, the objection of hon. Members opposite to the Re-distribution Bill appears to me to be founded on this supposition. The right hon. and gallant Member for Huntingdon fights the battle against the Bill like a real Conservative. He will have none of the Bill. I would tell the hon. and gallant General that I consider the Government measure Conservative. That was what I told my friends in the country, and I will repeat it in this House. I consider it Conservative of the affections of the people; Conservative of the rights of the people; Conservative of the laws we must obey; Conservative of the State, by 1744 enlisting fresh recruits into the service of the State. Where, I would ask, do we recruit our array from but from below? Where do the aristocracy recruit their ancient lineage and exhausting fortunes from but from the commonalty? And where, Sir, are we to recruit our constituencies from but from the lower stratum of the middle, and from the upper stratum of the working classes? The way this question will be viewed out of doors is this: Is this House willing to amend the representation, or is it not? I would not wish to say anything offensive to any Gentleman in the House; and surely, Sir, we do not want reminding that we do not come here to represent ourselves, our families, or our pet boroughs. We come here to represent the people of England. If we are not the people's House, what are we? If this Bill pass, we shall be more essentially the people's House than we are now, because we shall represent 400,000 more of the people of England. I shall give my vote against the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member for Wells, because I think his Amendment means a great deal more than it says. It means "want of confidence in the Government—it means a determination to reist Reform—it means postponing the Reform question sine die." Now, Sir, before I sit down I want to set myself right with the House. I mean on a very unpleasant subject—"bribery and corruption." If any hon. Gentleman in this House thinks that I am an advocate of bribery and corruption, he is much mistaken. I am not the advocate, but the victim of bribery and corruption which occurred at the Wakefield election of 1859. I shall concur in any reasonable measure which Her Majesty's Government may think wise to put down bribery at elections. Some mention has been made in this House of Huddersfield in connection with Wakefield. I beg to say that the late Member for Huddlesfield, who is my brother, was petitioned against in 1859, but was declared duly elected, and, as far as I know, came out of that petition without any slur on his character for bribery.
§ COLONEL C. H. LINDSAY
said, that as he was in the position of seventy-eight other Members upon whose constituencies the quarantine hand of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was resting, he felt it his duty to offer a few remarks with reference to the grouping process which the right hon. Gentleman wished to apply to the localities mentioned in Schedule A. No one could 1745 look at the clauses in the Re-distribution Bill without seeing that there had been prepared in the most hasty manner. Seats and constituencies were dealt with as if nothing was more easy or more palatable to the conflicting interests of those particular localities. By their proposed system of grouping the Government had embarrassed themselves, the House of Commons, and all those under whose guidance the interests of the different constituencies were placed. A very serious responsibility attached to the Government in passing a scheme of Reform, on the front page of which no less than forty or fifty English boroughs appeared to be partially disfranchised, in order to create a reserve fund of seats for other parts of the country. He considered it most important that every locality should be equally represented, and did not see the justice of enfranchising one locality at the expense of another. If the Government had gone into the question in a straightforward manner, they might have created a reserve fund without interfering with the rights and privileges of so many boroughs. The inconvenience and expense arising from the new scheme would be endless. To illustrate his meaning, he would take the first group—one of the boroughs of which he represented. There were three boroughs in that group—two of them, Abingdon and Wallingford, in Berkshire, and the third, Woodstock, in the county of Oxford. Between two of the boroughs in that group stood the city of Oxford with 26,000 inhabitants. The farthest borough was Woodstock. That he considered a great anomaly. The Government did not appear to be satisfied with having formed that group out of two slices of counties, but they had intercepted the group by Oxford; so that the group of three boroughs actually consisted of four. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had spoken of geographical convenience, but he seemed to have forgotten that there was in existence such a thing as a map of England, and that a certain amount of respect was due to every town, village, and hamlet in that map, all of which possessed prescribed rights and privileges which had been handed down to them, and which ought not to be dispensed or tampered with by any Government. With respect to the group containing Abingdon, Wallingford, and Woodstock, they did not he in a circle or a triangle, but in a straight line, with the city of Oxford on the line. The inconvenience and expense to which Members 1746 representing that group would be put would be very great. In his opinion the Government had commenced their scheme of Reform exactly where they ought to have left off. If they had proceeded in a straightforward manner, they would have taken up some rule of progress. He would divide that progress into several items. The first should have been, not the extension of the borough franchise, but the extension of the borough boundaries, and also the enfranchising of unrepresented towns in the most convenient manner. Before taking any step with regard to the lowering of the franchise, they ought to ascertain the area of the voting power. The next item in the plan should be the re-distribution of seats, and the third an amendment of the law as to bribery and corruption. He maintained that until they amended the law as to bribery it would be a very dangerous thing to reduce the franchise down to those who would be more susceptible than their neighbours to corruption. Before he concluded he wished to say a few words as to his own particular group of boroughs. He trusted that if ever this Bill went into Committee that the group of Abingdon, Woodstock, and Wallingford, might be properly dealt with. It was now proposed to call that group by the name of Woodstock; but Abingdon was situated midway between the other two towns, and was the largest of the three. The Census of 1861 showed that Abingdon had a population of 5,680; Wallingford 2,793; and Woodstock 1,201; and if the proposed reduction of the franchise took place, Abingdon, with its Parliamentary boundary, would have 534 electors; Wallingford, with its extended boundary, 461 electors; and Woodstock, with extended boundary, 360 electors. Under these circumstances, and also because Abingdon was the county town and the central place, he trusted that some consideration would be shown to it in the proposed grouping, if that group was formed.
§ MR. A. PEEL
said, that he was not in the position of those Gentlemen whose boroughs were affected by this Bill, and therefore he was not one of those dying men whose tongues were said to enforce attention; but it was impossible, occupying the position he did, and being willing to give a loyal, but independent, support to Her Majesty's Government, to cast a retrospective glance over the history of this measure without being filled with many and varying regrets. He regretted from 1747 the commencement—and events had proved that he had good reasons for doing so—that the Government ever departed from the plain, straightforward course which they in the first instance adopted, when they laid upon the table a Bill for lowering the franchise. He accepted the Bill cordially and loyally, not because it was all he desired, but because it was the most he was likely to obtain. He must say that the course pursued by some hon. Members had given to the conduct of this measure an aspect which had been productive of all the complications that had ensued. The party opposite had proved on many recent occasions their great strength; and he was of opinion that if they had allowed the Franchise Bill to pass they could have stamped on the Re-distribution of Seats Bill such a character that it would have been accepted by both sides of the House as a fair compromise. But suggestions had since poured in to induce the Government to alter their course, and he was sorry to say the Government had been constantly yielding. He could have wished that whilst they yielded they had resembled the sword—that bent at will,But kept the native toughness of its steel.All the faults the Government had committed with regard to this measure had been owing to their first fault in yielding to the suggestions of the Opposition. But at length there was a definite Motion before the House. He differed from those Gentlemen who said that the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member for Wells could not be understood. It could not be asserted that it said one thing and meant another. It raised a definite and conclusive issue. Situated as that hon. and gallant Member was, they might have expected he would take a somewhat critical view of the question, but he (Mr. A. Peel) thought it did not require a lens of any great magnifying power to find anomalies in the Bill. He thought it bristled with anomalies, and therefore he was not going to defend its details. If these great geographical alliances were to be made, he thought that geographical convenience ought to be included in the terms of the settlement; but judging from the Bill, he was at a loss to understand how that principle had been preserved. Consequently, he would not for a moment defend such groups as Horsham and Petersfield, and Maldon and Harwich. He thought the distances between the grouped boroughs was too great, and that 1748 the existing evils would be increased rather than diminished by the scheme of Re-distribution. It would be said then what remained to be done; he would say, "The principle of grouping remains." It was perfectly consistent to say that he differed with the details, but agreed in the principle of grouping. He thought that the advantages of grouping were obvious. In the first place, it was an easy method of getting seats so as to give Members to fresh places, and it was also an easy means of extinguishing what nobody now defended, "nomination boroughs." It was also a principle both equitable and convenient, and more than that, it was inevitable. There were so many centres of wealth and intelligence springing up that representation could only be afforded to them by grouping. He was prepared to sweep away nomination boroughs on the principle of Lord Derby himself (then Lord Stanley) in 1832—that however great the abilities or eminent the qualities of the distinguished Members who sat for nomination boroughs, and however advantageous to the country, these advantages were more than compensated by the fact that the country at large did not look on those Gentlemen as their representatives. He, however, thought that a distinction must be drawn between nomination boroughs and small boroughs, and that some of the small boroughs might well retain their representative character, although he must add that small boroughs were now on their trial, and by the experience of the next few years must stand or fall. He agreed heartily with the Government in the principle of the £7 franchise, though he must add that he should like the franchise to go even lower. He also heartily desired to put down bribery and corruption. The body of the Bill was in an unhealthy state because a plethora of principles had been foisted on it, and they were in danger a few days ago of having the principle of an educational franchise superadded. He thought it very probable that that feather would have broken the camel's back. He listened for six hours to the debate on the principle of an educational franchise, but he could not understand what that principle was—whether it was a corrective of, or an incentive to, universal suffrage. Leaving that incident out of the question, he thought he was expediting the question of Reform by voting for the committal of the Bill. He saw no reason why they should not proceed to the committal, and then each detail of the Bill 1749 might be fought, as it was certain to be fought, between the two great parties of the House, who were so equally matched. If the question could not be entirely settled during one Session, he saw no reason—having admitted the principle of lowering the franchise and the re-distribution of seats—why they should not take the measure up again next Session at the point where they left off. They would, at all events, further the question on its road by voting for the committal of the Bill, and he believed that that course would be in accordance with the feelings and with the wishes of the great mass of the people out of doors. By so acting they would facilitate the progress of the question of Reform to a definite, to a conclusive, and, as far as finality might be imported into politics, to a final issue.
§ SIR EDMUND LECHMERE
said, he should much regret giving a silent vote on a measure which was of such great general importance, and which so materially affected the privileges and interests of his constituents, the electors of Tewkesbury. Standing, as it were, on the brink of his political grave, he would address a few words to the House, although he could not but feel that they might be the last, as well as the first, that he should have the honour of offering to the House. Tewkesbury was one of those boroughs which was to be subjected to the peculiar process of grouping, a process which, in the opinion of the right hon. Member for Calne, as well as in the opinions of many others, ought to lead to something harmonious, congruous, and connected. In the Government measure, however, it would be difficult to find anything which showed the skilled hand of the legislator, or anything like congruity or harmony. With regard to the geographical question, the right hon. Member for Calne said the object of the Government seemed to have been to instruct Members for boroughs in the geography of the contiguous country; but he (Sir Edmund Lechmere) thought the framers of the Bill had themselves shown a very defective knowledge of the relative geographical position of the different boroughs contained in the various groups. Tewkesbury, for instance, was twenty-one miles from Cirencester by road, and thirty-two miles by rail; Evesham was eleven miles from Tewkesbury by road and thirteen miles by rail; while Cirencester and Evesham were twenty-six miles apart by road, and forty- 1750 five by rail. There were great railway difficulties in getting from any one of these places to the others, in consequence of their not being connected by one uniform line, and in consequence of breaks' in the gauges of the railways. There was no special community of interests between the three places, and no great trading intercourse. There were no particular sympathies, and none of the ties of trade or of any other description, between these places which would justify an alliance so uncalled for by either convenience or expediency. Yet, by the present measure, these three places were to be grouped together. Why was it that a place like Great Marlow, which had only twenty-four more electors than Tewkesbury, should be allowed to retain its one Member, while Tewkesbury was to be deprived of both its representatives by this process of absorption? It would be a far more convenient and better process to group Tewkesbury with the unrepresented towns in its neighbourhood—such as Malvern, Upton, and Winchcombe—than to effect the grouping in the way proposed. The combination which must be made in that way would be far more harmonious than the one intended. It was fit, also, that Parliament should consider the important question of reducing, as far as possible, the enormous expenses of our representative system, but by this system of grouping the expenses of representation would be immensely increased—perhaps trebled or quadrupled. A few days ago they had heard the hon. Member for Birmingham talking about the precedents of our forefathers, and his desire to stand within the old line of the Constitution, and he was sure that all on that (the Conservative) side of the House must have been both startled and delighted to hear from the hon. Member's eloquent lips such warm expressions of constitutional feeling, and he might almost say of Conservative spirit. It appeared to him (Sir Edmund Lechmere) that this extraordinary reconciliation of jarring and discordant antipathies almost seemed symptomatic of the speedy arrival of that political millennium when the question of Reform was to be settled. He would ask, in the words which the hon. Member for Birmingham applied to another subject, why it was that the ancient practices of our forefathers with regard to boroughs were not sufficient for an adequate and satisfactory representation of the people. The right hon. Member for Buck- 1751 inghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) bad told them that the old system of boroughs was ancient and convenient, while the system of grouping was not prescriptive and inconvenient, and they had had no contradiction of that assertion yet. Granting that the present system of borough representation was not adequate for the present requirements, it seemed to him that it would be far more in accordance with the ancient practices of our forefathers, and more like standing within the ancient line of the Constitution, if, instead of depriving our ancient boroughs of their existing privileges, we invested them with fresh importance by combining them with unrepresented towns, and thus both preserving their ancient privileges, and giving them more extended usefulness and influence. They had heard very little of the working classes lately, although they heard much of them in the early part of the debate, and he could only account for that by supposing that hon. Members opposite felt that the working classes were not so unanimously in favour of the present measure as they had at first been represented to be. Hon. Gentlemen opposite seemed to claim a sort of prescriptive privilege of eulogizing, he might almost say of patronizing, the working classes; while, at the same time, they rather unjustly accused the Conservative party of acting in a contrary way, and of detracting from the merits of that estimable body, and of doing all in their power to restrict and restrain, rather than to assist them in their efforts to obtain increased social and political privileges. He had received a letter from one who had been a working man, and who had risen by his abilities to a high position in the manufacturing establishment of Messrs. Dent and Co., of Worcester, and who had established a co-operative society at that place. The letter was sent in April, about the time that the Franchise Bill was introduced, and the writer stated that the downward extension of the franchise would be hazardous on account of the character and tendencies of too many of the persons whom such an extension would place upon the register; that he viewed with considerable anxiety the proposal to reduce the borough franchise to £7, because while many would exercise it wisely and well, many would also come in whose improvidence, drunkenness, and venality were at present, and would be feared long continue to be, a standing reproach to the class to which they belonged. The writer 1752 further stated that the proposition of the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Clay) had been spoken of in his hearing with approval, as placing the franchise within reach of the intelligent among the working community, and that if such a plan were adopted, it would enable many men to raise themselves, while the present plan, in the writer's opinion, was a mere makeshift, and must lead to discontent. In conclusion, he (Sir Edmund Lechmere) begged to say that on his side of the House they had always been anxious to raise the character of the working man, while holding that the franchise was a trust, and that he should rise to it, and not have it lowered to him. They were not afraid of the working men, they did not regard the class as they would a body of invaders, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said, but would gladly hail their coming within the pale of the franchise, but such only as had proved themselves intelligent, industrious, and provident; while the ignorant, the improvident, and the drunken should be rejected. It was because the Government called upon them to admit the two classes indiscriminately that he intended strongly to oppose the present measure.
§ MR. HOLDEN
said, that many Members for condemned boroughs had spoken of the relentless and pitiless feeling which the Government had shown towards that class of boroughs, and this had led many of them to promise the most vigorous opposition to the measure of the Government. Although he was himself the representative of one of the condemned boroughs he was not disposed to approach the question in the same spirit, but he desired to consider it more comprehensively, as it affected the good of the public at large. Although in one sense Members were sent to that House to represent their respective boroughs, they were not sent to represent them exclusively, but also the whole country. He was disposed to look at the measure, not from the selfish and personal point of view, but with a desire to do that which was for the good of the whole country. He thought the Franchise Bill and the Bill for the Redistribution of Seats were calculated to produce a great amount of good, and although the latter of these might inflict great but unavoidable pain on Members deprived of their boroughs, there would be a counterbalancing advantage in the benefits to be conferred on the new constituent body. He did not consider that the boroughs had much right of complaint. The 1753 borough he represented, that of Knaresborough, was one of a proposed group of three boroughs which now possessed five Members, though henceforth it was only proposed that they should send two Members; but every man who was now a voter in them would have a right to vote for two Members, and thus the voters would continue in the possession of the same power and privileges as they now possessed. It was necessary to take Members from some places, in order to supply representatives to large towns which had a fair claim to the privilege, and in his opinion the Government could not have devised a better plan for the accomplishment of that object. He approved both Bills, and every letter he had received from his constituents encouraged him to support these plans of Reform. He loved the borough of Knaresborough because it had always been liberal. Up to 1832, the noble house of Devonshire had the patronage of the borough, and the noble Duke always nominated Liberal Members. Since then the borough still returned Liberal Members, till by taking advantage of a defect in the Reform Act, the Tory landed proprietors obtained a majority by creating faggot votes about 1850. When he was first applied to to represent Knaresborough he refused, because he understood that it was a corrupt constituency, but he was happy to say he soon found that he was mistaken, and that whilst a Tory candidate could only obtain the seat by feudal coercion or bribery of the pliant, the dependant and the simple electors, the Liberal electors accorded him a loyal, an honest, and a hearty support. He was convinced that there was no need for a Liberal candidate to exercise bribery to obtain a seat for Knaresborough. He said this to show the attachment he felt for the borough. He was very reluctant to entertain a prospect of being parted from it as a separate borough, but he was willing to make the sacrifice if his country required it. He gave his support to the measure more heartily than would have been possible, had he always lived in his own country, but he had lived many years in France, and had mixed with both Conservative and Liberal politicians in that country, and from the experience he had gathered there and at home he was the better prepared to give his conscientious support to the measure of the Government. When he had listened to the light and jaunty speeches from the other side of the House he had had recalled to his mind that serious day in the history of France when some 1754 of the most worthy and intelligent citizens of that country asked to be allowed to meet together to discuss a moderate measure of Reform, but in consequence of the refusal of M. Guizot to grant the necessary permission a revolution occurred, the Minister's house was surrounded by a crowd the same evening, and in the morning the King Louis Philippe, was obliged to escape from the Tuileries without his hat, He would vote for the Bill with an earnest desire to save England from the evils which had fallen upon other countries through the obstinate refusal of their rulers to grant just and moderate measures of Reform. With respect to the Franchise Bill, he could not understand the argument of Gentlemen on the other side, that reducing the qualification from £10 to £7 would entail an obligation ultimately to concede universal suffrage. He could not see any natural connection of cause and effect between the two, any more than there would be between manhood suffrage and a property qualification. He looked upon this measure as a moderate change—an extension of the suffrage consistent with an equally balanced representation of all the interests and communities in the country—and he entertained no such fear as that felt by Gentlemen on the Opposition Benches. He could not understand how any one should be unwilling to pass so moderate a scheme. Hon. Gentlemen professed fears for the landed interests, but was not that interest sufficiently protected by the House of Lords, by whom nine-tenths of the whole land in the country was held. [Laughter.] He might be mistaken, but nearly all the land was held by the Peers and Commoners sitting in this House, and the county representation was exclusively in the hands of the middle classes, whilst only one-half of the borough representation was to be given to the working classes. How could they suppose that so small a share of the representation would give the working classes a preponderating influence in that House? Hon. Gentlemen opposite had said that a small compact minority (say eighty to ninety Members) sent by the working classes to this House would control its legislation. Might he ask those hon. Gentlemen opposite whether they would be content to be that small compact minority? With reference to the Redistribution of Seats Bill, this particular feature struck him—it would tend to put an end to bribery. [Laughter.] Well, it would neutralize to a great extent the pernicious influence 1755 of individual power over certain boroughs, and it would also extend the sphere of the relations and sympathies of the electors of the grouped boroughs.
said, it appeared to him that, though the Government had at length found three or four hon. Members to support their scheme, the effect of the speeches of those Gentlemen was really adverse to it. The hon. Member for Newport had said than when representing West Kent he had to look after the interests of Woolwich and Chatham; but he surely had better have minded his own business, for Woolwich was represented by the Member for Greenwich, and Chatham had a Member to itself. Then the hon. Member for Wakefield had expressed his admiration for the measure, on the ground that it would put a stop to bribery and corruption; but had he forgotten £20 a piece being given for hair brushes, and hon. Gentlemen opposite remaining in that House till half past four in the morning in order to shield him from the consequence of his own own "inadvertence" in that little matter? He could not hear the address of the hon. Member who had just resumed his seat without being reminded of Dibdin's song of "Honest Tom Collins," and without remembering by whom Knaresborough had in the last Parliament been represented. Then, again, the hon. Member for Warwick had spoken with approval of the grouping of boroughs, but did he remember the notice given the other night respecting Tamworth? The shade of one of the greatest Members we ever had might almost be expected to rise at hearing the manner in which the Member for Warwick spoke of the borough of Tamworth. It was not so many years ago that Sir Robert Peel found a refuge in Tamworth; and had Tamworth been the worse for the connection? He did not think it was necessary to say anything on the subject of small boroughs after the admirable speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne; but he should like to hear something in reply to that speech. He might observe that when the Bill of 1859 had been brought in his constituents sent him back to that House, though they knew he was prepared to vote for a Bill which would have taken one Member from Harwich. His opponent was the son of a gentleman who it was expected would be Lord Chancellor, and the walls of the town were covered with placards, calling on the electors "to vote for the son of the Lord 1756 Chancellor that is to be, and two Members for Harwich." He did not believe in the honesty of this measure, and felt assured that if the Government had really intended to bring in a Bill for the reduction of the franchise a measure so full of anomalies as the present would not have been presented. Whenever an honest measure should be brought in it should have the support of himself and of his constituents. As an illustration of the measure he would take the borough which he had the honour to represent. It was proposed to group Harwich with Maldon. Now the President of the Board of Trade might have given his colleagues important information with respect to that part of the country. The distance between the towns, as the crow flies, was thirty miles, but there were six or seven ferries to be crossed, and with a good northeast wind, of which no one had a better knowledge than the right hon. Gentleman, it would take a week to reach the extreme points. At all events, it took three or four hours to cross four miles of the distance, and it would take a week to accomplish the whole. He did not object to forty miles in an express train, but taking into account the long stoppages it would take a day to get from one place to another. Again, there was this difference between the two towns—in Harwich there were no freemen; in Maldon, there were something like 700. In Harwich the women had no vote; but in Maldon all the women had votes, for the freemens' daughters carried their freemanship along with them, and bestowed it on their husbands. The result would be, if the proposed grouping took place, that the candidate would not only have to canvass all the men in Harwich and Maldon, but also all the young women in Maldon who were going to be married, in order to see how their husbands would vote. The President of the Board of Trade was the only Member of the Cabinet who knew anything about that part of the country; but, with his usual placid demeanour, he said nothing, and did less, which was the way he generally conducted the business of his Department. The right hon. Gentleman might have told his colleagues that near Harwich was Manningtree, which was the centre of an important navigation, and he thought it would surprise everyone that neither Manningtree nor a town like Chelmsford, in which the assizes were held, and which was the head-quarters of the militia, should have attracted the attention of the Government when they were considering a 1757 scheme of re-distribution. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, however, on geographical principles, had strangely forgotten the claims of both these places. In their grouping the Government seemed to have forgotten that there was a single railway in the country. They did not seem to understand the changes which the railway system had made in regard of the centres of commerce and business. As to any supposed antagonism to the working man, all he could say was that to working men he owed all he possessed, and that he often envied those who earned by the sweat of their brow that which others earned by the exercise of their brain. He (Major Jervis) did not like to discuss matters of philosophy with so great a man as the hon. Member for Westminster; but whilst he would be glad to give the working men every opportunity of making their views known to Parliament, he could not agree with the hon. Member as to the effect of introducing the working man into the House of Commons. When the Franchise Bill was first brought before the House, although he did not altogether agree with it, he thought there was something handsome in the Government bringing the working man within the franchise. He observed that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stuart Mill) had fallen asleep; but, perhaps, some one else would answer for him. The House of Commons was not fond of hearing any class speak about itself; and he believed that if a working man got up there to tell them what he wanted, he would not receive the same amount of attention as the hon. Member for Westminster "would if speaking on his behalf, because in the former case it would be supposed that the individual was speaking for his own benefit or that of his class, and this was a point on which the House was exceedingly jealous. But he could not understand, if they wanted to bring the working man into that House, why the Government should not have done something to reduce the expenses of the elections. On this point he could not do better than refer to the borough of Chester, in which it might have been presumed the leader of that House would take some small interest. What would it cost a working man to get into the little borough of Chester? In the city of Chester there were only 32,000 inhabitants. The number of electors was 2,474, of whom 2,146 voted at the last election. There were four candidates at that election, and the legal expenditure was £9,476, or £2,369 1758 for each candidate. He wanted to know whether there was any law to limit the expenditure at elections. Had he been a candidate for Chester he should not have liked to send in an account of £2,369. He should have been afraid that he and his account would be sent to a Committee upstairs. He believed that 115 of the electors got paid £18 apiece for acting as messengers, and there were other sums paid to persons who acted as clerks or performed other services. It was quite plain they could not expect any working man to come forward for the city of Chester if so large a sum was to be thrown upon him in the shape of illegal expenses. The same thing was true of the large constituences. In Finsbury, for instance, the expenses of one of the losing candidates (Mr. Cox), as given by the returning officer, amounted to only £159, while the expenses of the successful candidate were returned at £6,142. They had heard a great deal of the anxiety of the working man for the possession of the elective franchise; but the fact was that where there was no great contested election the working men seemed to care very little about what was going on. At the last election in Kingston-on-Hull there were 895 voters who did not vote; in Leeds, 1,129; in Sheffield, 2,646; in the City of London, 4,560; in Lambeth, 9,844; in Finsbury, notwithstanding the great expenditure, he had noticed 12,344 did not vote; and in Marylebone, 12,221 did not vote. He did not think these facts spoke very strongly for the desire of the working men to use their vote. They all knew, speaking conscientiously, that among a certain class of voters there were many who cared very little for the franchise unless they got some immediate benefit from its exercise. There was a wonderful example of this in the borough of Devonport. The small but trivial sum of 10s. paid in the shape of compensation for loss of time in going to the poll induced the dockyardmen to vote. The Committee upstairs unseated the Members upon the ground of bribery; their successors, he supposed, did not follow the practice, and the result was that the men remained in the dockyard and did not vote at all. There was another point that should be considered—had the Government any idea of the extent to which the lodger franchise would be available? He believed they had not. In the boroughs of Westminster, Lambeth, and 1759 Finsbury lodginghouses existed by the thousand the existence of which was little known, and far less of their inmates. The consequence was that they would be wholly unable to control the number of the electors. He had shown that with reference to expense they were not opening the door to working men, and it was evident from the instructions which had been given by the Government for making up the electoral statistics that they rather wished to exclude those who had made their way as working men, for foremen and head men among their fellows were not to be returned. Was this really meant as an honest Bill, or was it not? It appeared to him to be intended rather to keep out the working man than to admit him within the electoral pale. He could not help thinking if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had turned his attention in these critical times, when so many had been thrown out of work, to consider seriously how he could provide profitable employment for the labouring classes, he would confer upon them a much more valuable boon than by attempting to pass a Bill for which many of them cared not a rap.
THE LORD ADVOCATE
said, he would not detain the House long at that late hour, but he was anxious to say a few words in answer to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Belfast. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich said yesterday that he had always thought this question might be taken out of the category of party questions, and left to be settled by mutual arrangement. Following that view, he said the Franchise Bill and the Re-distribution of Seats Bill had been read a second time, and he took credit to the Gentlemen opposite for the fact. Now, that was quite true; yet the right hon. Baronet now supported a Motion the necessary effect of which would be to prevent either the Franchise or Re-distribution of Seats Bill going into Committee. He would take the question out of the category of party, while he refused to go into Committee on the Bill. There could be no doubt of the object of the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member for Wells. It was intelligible; he understood it. It was intended to defeat both parts of the Bill. He did not complain of it. It was not unnatural that the hon. and gallant Gentleman should look with some suspicion and jealousy on the proposal of the Government, although he could have wished 1760 that the Motion had come from some other quarter. But the Amendment was above-board, and it was right that the House should deal with it. If it were carried, in what position would the House be placed? They had been discussing Reform early and late for the best part of three months; a great many eloquent speeches had been made, and the result of it all would be that the country would be unable to draw any conclusion as to the opinion which the House entertained on the question. Whether they wished to reduce the franchise—whether they were in favour of the £7 franchise or not—the country would be entirely unable to judge. Was that a desirable position in which the House should be placed? What was there in this question of Reform that prevented them bringing it to a clear and definite issue, and deciding in one way or the other? The Government had stated their views; why could they not have a definite issue on the other side? There never was an occasion when there was such a contrast between the great principles put forward, the eloquent speeches made, and the positively trivial issues on which the question was to be decided. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne unfurled his brilliant and sparkling banner, but, instead of leading his troops to victory under that banner, he hung it on the nearest hedge within his reach. They were asked to decide the whole matter of franchise and distribution—a measure extending over the whole representative system of the country—on a Motion which really dealt with only one of the least important corners of it—namely, what boroughs were to be disfranchised, or partially disfranchised, or how they were to be grouped for the future? The hon. and learned Member for Belfast had endeavoured fairly enough to lay before the House the views which he entertained upon the question. He enumerated various objections to the Re-distribution Bill with great candour and great calmness, and the Government had nothing to complain of in his speech. It proved, however, that the House was not discussing the principle of the Bill so much as a variety of details which could only be dealt with satisfactorily in Committee, and which as far as the Amendment was concerned did not touch in the slightest degree the question whether the franchise should be reduced or not, or at what figure it should be put. The hon. and learned Gentleman said he had endeavoured to discover the 1761 principle of the Re-distribution Bill, which he imagined to be the grouping of small boroughs. But the first principle of the Bill was the same in 1866 as in 1859—namely, that additional Members ought to be given to large towns and counties, and thus its main principle was one of enfranchisement. But in order to find Members for these populous places, there was a necessity that the smaller boroughs should lessen their representation. And thus it happened that the next principle was one of disfranchisement. The grouping of those disenfranchised boroughs was the third principle of the Bill, but the one comparatively of least importance; and even if the House were to come to the resolution that the proposed groups ought not to be retained as portions of the Bill, there was nothing in that decision that could fairly be said to affect the principle of re-distribution at all. His right hon. Friend the Member for Calne last night employed all his eloquence in favour of the small boroughs, and threw quite a halo round their existence. Into that controversy he would not enter, but must remind the House that a Member without a constituency simply represented power without responsibility, a principle which, if carried out, struck at the root of the whole representative system. The anomalies which sprang up in connection with our institutions served, in many cases, good and valuable purposes, although not the purposes for which they were originally intended. These smaller boroughs, no doubt, had often served as places through which distinguished statesmen might step into Parliament, when, by the turn of politics, or the accident of fortune, they were deprived of seats elsewhere; but this view must be subordinated to the broader principles of the Constitution. To assert that one man, or that many men, might rightly sit in that House on behalf of constituencies to whom he or they were utterly irresponsible, was a doctrine fraught with danger and utterly unconstitutional. These boroughs which were proposed to be grouped were places over which the tide had gone, they were retrograding, and no longer what they had been. The hon. and learned Member for Belfast asked the Attorney General how he was to stand upon the ancient lines of the Constitution in defending the grouping of small boroughs. But why should they not be grouped? His hon. Friend the Member for the Wick Burghs was much cheered 1762 on the first night of the Reform debate when he said that according to the figures in his hands there was much more need for disfranchisement than enfranchisement, and the very same Member had cheered as loudly the defence of small boroughs by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne, As to the principle of grouping there was nothing more unreasonable in grouping boroughs together in order to preserve to them some share of representation than there was in selecting them in the first instance to confer upon them a share of the representation. The proposal of the Government took the middle course between entire disfranchisement and leaving them as they were. The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite said boroughs in Scotland were grouped in order to give a borough representation. However, the right hon. Gentleman's historical knowledge was at fault, or he would have known that every borough in Scotland sent representatives to the Scottish Parliament, and that they were grouped together not for the purpose of enlarging but of diminishing the representation. [Sir HIGH CAIRNS: I said the English Parliament.] But the British Parliament by the Act of Union adopted the Scotch principle of grouping, and therefore his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General was perfectly justified in what he had stated. In dealing, therefore, with a cognate question, and one entirely analogous, what could be more reasonable than to introduce the system of grouping, where the present representation admittedly could not be maintained in its present proportions? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire seemed under the impression that the Scotch boroughs were unrepresented at the time [Mr. DISRAELI: Not the boroughs, the constituencies. The constituencies had never been represented till the Reform Bill. With the hon. and gallant Mover of the Amendment and the right hon. Gentleman opposite it had been matter of complaint that large and populous unrepresented towns had been passed over in the grouping of the boroughs. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Belfast objected on a different ground. He said the system of grouping proposed would destroy the identity of boroughs. But surely, whether a borough were grouped with a represented or unrepresented town its identity would equally be swallowed up. What was this identity of a borough on which so much stress was laid? It was 1763 true that some boroughs lay on the sea coast and others inshore, but the dissimilarity between various classes and the difference in their social positions was even greater in counties than between boroughs, however wide apart. In boroughs again, a man living in one street knew very little of his neighbour in the next; and one of the recommendations of large constituencies lay in the variety of opinions, associations, and sympathies, by which in the aggregate they were animated. Geographical position was supposed to be of great importance in the grouping of boroughs, but this consideration was by no means conclusive. It was some little distance from Ayr to Oban and from Oban to Inverary, and yet in practice no great inconvenience resulted from the circumstance. The grouping together of four boroughs might have a tendency to increase expense, but by no means to the degree which had been represented. He knew something, he was sorry to say, of this question of expense himself, but he knew also that many contests in the Scotch boroughs were conducted at no greater expense than would be incurred in a single represented town. Traditional bribery, he believed, would become most difficult of maintenance in the face of a system of grouping. The system of bribery was traditional in England, and it was because it was not so in Scotland that it prevailed to so much smaller an extent in that country. But when once they united two or three places into one constituency the opportunities of corrupt practices must be very much diminished, and he should expect, as one of the results of the Government measure, a considerable decrease in bribery at elections. The hon. and learned Gentleman—passing from what was a fair and distinct argument—had said that he could not help looking to see what would be the party result of the scheme of re-distribution, and he had made an ingenious statement to show that if the figure had been fixed somewhat higher the Government might have done themselves a little more harm. He said that if the limit had been fixed at 10,000 it would have been so much the worse for them on the Government side of the House. On this, he would remark that when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire introduced his Bill in 1859, he had also drawn a line, and had stated that in order to procure the necessary seats some arbitrary rule must be laid down, and that the only condition which the 1764 House ought to make was that it should be impartially applied. The hon. and learned Gentleman had talked about ignorance, and had said that the Reform Bill of 1832 drew the line under 10,000. The fact, however, was that it drew the line under 4,000. Well, that Bill took away a Member from every borough with a population under 4,000. The Bill of 1859 drew the line at 6,000; that of 1860 at 7,000; and that of 1866 drew the line at 8,000. Now, however, it was represented that the line of 8,000 was entirely arbitrary, because certain party results were supposed to ensue from it. Why, an equally good argument might be brought forward wherever the line was drawn. At the same time, the hon. and learned Gentleman would easily understand that the lower you went in this respect the greater became the Conservative strength, and the higher you went the greater became the Liberal strength. If they went up to 15,000, you would find the Liberal element in greater preponderance, and if they went up to 20,000 it would be still more so. In fact, they would find the boroughs with the largest populations almost entirely possessed by Liberal representatives. The Government had taken a medium line in this matter, and he did not think that it was fairly open to objection. Well, then with regard to grouping. Was there anything so very absurd in this? He could not go into details as to which borough should be tied to which, or whether it was better that it should belong to one group or to another. Surely these were points that could properly be considered in Committee, and it was impossible to pretend that they affected the principle of the Bill. The Bill embodied two principles with regard to grouping. The first was, not to group unrepresented towns with a large town already represented; and the second was, not to group unrepresented towns of considerable size with smaller unrepresented towns. It would not be reasonable, for instance, to tack on Wallingford to a town like Oxford; and, on the other hand, it was not desirable to group the smaller boroughs with unrepresented towns, which had no other claim to representation except the circumstance of their being in the vicinity of some decaying or rotten borough. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire wished to eliminate the urban element out of the counties, so as to leave a purely agricultural constituency. In his opinion, however, that was not consistent 1765 with the Constitution of this country, and it would he the greatest possible evil. It was, on the contrary, the existence of the urban element in the counties which made them a valuable part of the representation. However, he would pass from that subject to what had been said about the three Members for counties. His right hon. Friend the Member for Calne recognized in that the principle of electoral districts, but hon. Gentlemen were always discovering some principle which in reality was not involved in the present measure. They found universal suffrage in a £7 franchise and electoral districts in a simple proposal to add a third Member to certain counties. It should be borne in mind, however, that no fewer than seven counties already sent three Members to Parliament. It was objected that in unicorn counties the minority would be oppressed; but he had always thought that the advantage of having three Members was that the minority would be represented. In fact, it would be found that in the seven counties which now returned three Members there was no contest, while in four of them representatives were in politics two to one. Then it was said that the boundaries of boroughs ought to have been settled first of all. But he would ask whether any Government had ever proposed to do that first? It was not done in 1859; on the contrary, the boundaries were to be settled after the Bill, and, if he was not mistaken, they were to be settled upon a plan very similar to that now proposed by the Government. At all events, that was a question of detail which might be discussed in Committee. Surely they ought not to discard both the Franchise and the Re distribution Bills because the question of boundaries had not been decided. He was quite certain that the House would never come to such a result. The right hon. Gentleman went on to discuss the question of the franchise, and talked of household suffrage as if it necessarily implied universal suffrage. He thought a very erroneous notion was prevalent as to the opinions entertained in former times on the question of lowering the franchise. It was thought that a £7 franchise was the invention of the advanced school of Liberal politicians, and that the old constitutional Liberal party ought to be careful, and jealous, and suspicious how they followed such leading. This was not the case. In the year 1797 there was a Motion made in the House of Commons for the Reform of Parliament, and the proposition was that 1766 there should be household suffrage. That proposition was supported in some most remarkable speeches, one of which was delivered by Lord Grey, the author of the Reform Bill of 1832. Mr. Fox also supported the Motion in one of the most powerful and fervid speeches that he ever delivered. He mentioned these facts to show that the idea of trusting the people did not emanate from the Manchester school. He had listened with admiration and wonder to the brilliant speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne, and he wondered, not only at the consummate ability displaced, but also at the strange doctrines he held respecting the representation of the people. It appeared that the right hon. Gentleman was not simply afraid of democracy, but that he denied the whole virtue of the representative principle. He could not reconcile the views of the right hon. Gentleman with that great life-giving principle which lay at the root of our free institutions. He said that what were wanted were men of culture, of education, gentlemen of good manners and good position to conduct the affairs of this country. That was true, but those things did not flourish except in the free air of popular opinion. It had never been possible to get the best blood of the country to devote nights and days to labour for the good of the country, save in those lands where free institutions existed in the sphere of democracy. His right hon. Friend would act as a forester who would nurse and train up his trees one day merely to cramp the vigour of their flourishing maturity. Without the free air of Liberal institutions and popular opinion they would wither. His right hon. Friend said, "We are all for government by numbers;" well, representative government was government by numbers; and if he did not mistake the House of Commons was simply an embodiment of democracy; for democracy meant the government of the people; and if the Members of the House of Commons did not represent them he did not know who did. He used that term as a distinction from oligarchy and government by classes. Our government was not a democracy, but a mixed government of Lords and Commons. The oligarchial element was entirely excluded. He ventured to say that his doctrine bad never been gainsaid by any writer on the Constitution—namely, that the House of Commons was an embodiment of democracy—an embodiment of government by numbers. It did not follow, however, upon 1767 this that every one should be admitted to the franchise. A man was enfranchised because he was a citizen, and because he was qualified to exercise the franchise; and those were excluded who were not qualified to give an intelligent, independent, and honest vote. Intelligence, integrity, and independence were the things sought, and when found the task was done. That was the true doctrine of a Liberal and free Government; and he ventured to say that in carrying it out to its proper conclusion they would lose none of those ornaments of the culture, and the acquirement of which his hon. Friend was so justly proud. Instead of losing those qualities they would gain them because they flourished in the air of freedom. He was not afraid of the working classes. The House had heard too much about class influence—there was nothing of the kind recognized in the Constitution. The country did not depend merely upon the franchise, but upon other and more subtle elements. This country had its roots deep in the soil of old tradition. It was strengthened, nourished, and nurtured by the atmosphere of free public opinion, and that being the case he had no fear at all. The Constitution would be strengthened by following out or returning to its first principles, and carrying enfranchisement to those who were qualified by industry, integrity, and intelligence to exercise it, and drawing such a line as would best suit and promote the interests of the country.
§ LORD ELCHO
Before the Motion is agreed to I wish to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, in the event of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wells being rejected, it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to proceed with the Bill now before the House, and to endeavour with their whole power to carry it through Parliament during the present Session? I ask this question on behalf of those Gentlemen who, at a great sacrifice, but in obedience to a sense of public duty, have felt themselves obliged to oppose the proceedings of Her Majesty's Government with reference to the question of Reform. They have no desire, I am sure, to place the Government in any difficulty that can be avoided, and it is quite evident that if the Government does not intend to persevere with the measure no useful purpose will be served by forcing those Gentlemen to divide against them on this question. It is currently reported and generally 1768 believed in the House that Her Majesty's Government intend to withdraw or not proceed with their Bill provided they have a majority in the division. Now, if this be so—if this be the intention of Her Majesty's Government—it should be announced at once, in justice to Gentlemen who, as I have said, from a strong sense of duty, have felt themselves bound to place themselves in opposition to Her Majesty's Government on this question, but who still belong to the same party.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
It appears to me that, if my noble Friend had found himself under an obligation to put a question of an unusual character upon the Motion to adjourn the debate, he certainly would have done well to have conveyed to Her Majesty's Government his intention of putting that question. It is not, however, simply on the ground of his having failed to give the slightest intimation of his intention that I shall found the answer I now give. I know nothing whatever of the rumours and nothing of the belief to which the noble Lord refers. What are the means and sources of his information he knows better than I do; but as I know nothing of those rumours and nothing of that belief, I confess I am extremely sceptical as to the existence of the one or the currency of the other, and I am wholly incapable of affording any satisfaction to the curiosity of the noble Lord in regard to the question he has put. Sir, the proper time for declaring the intentions of the Government with respect to the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member for Wells will be when I have the honour of addressing the House in the course of the debate, and I must request my noble Friend to have the goodness to wait till that time comes in order to obtain such information as, in the exercise of the best judgment we can form with respect to the performance of our duty and the public interests, it may then be in our power to give.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Debate further adjourned till Monday next.