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.
said, he desired at the outset to thank the hon. and gallant Member for Harwich (Major Jervis) for kindly giving way to him on that occasion; for, as one of the Members who had been designated "the dying swans," the House would conceive that he was reasonably anxious to say a few words upon the Bill now before the House. The borough he had the honour to represent (Honiton) was one of those small boroughs which were most particularly affected by the Bill; however, though he might speak in its name, 1555 he did not speak in its name alone, but also in the name of a large number of other boroughs which were in a similar position. He trusted the House would believe him when he said that the course he was pursuing was not prompted by any spirit of opposition to Her Majesty's Government; because, since he had had the honour of a seat in that House, and before he was returned to Parliament, in the various contests he had entered into in order to obtain a seat, he had always professed Liberal principles, and desired to act with the great Liberal party. Before he proceeded further he wished to say that there were many hon. Members who held that the principle of population was the guide they ought to take in re-distributing seats. But he thought that principle could not be maintained for a moment. He thought so for several reasons. It was one element only—though certainly an important one—to be taken into consideration in dealing with this subject. It Could not be the only one, for, if it was, the House would be reduced to a very great difficulty. For instance, the metropolitan boroughs, which were now represented by eighteen Members, and, according to the Bill which the Government had introduced, would be represented by twenty-two Members ought to have as many Members as the entire Kingdom of Scotland. Again, the county of Middlesex, which at present was represented by two Members, ought, upon the same principle, to have something like twenty Members. In another point of view the principle of population could not be followed, because he found that, according to the statistics that had been presented to them, Scotland, if it were to have the number of Members to which it would be entitled from the number of its population, would have sixty-nine Members, whereas, at the present moment, it had only fifty-three. In the same way England would be entitled to 467 Members instead of 500, and Ireland 122 instead of 105. He thought that if they were to follow this principle—which many hon. Members appeared to have advocated simply because they were not aware of the conclusions to which it would lead them—they would find they were following, not a guiding star, but an ignis fatuus. In coming more immediately to the Bill before the House it seemed to him to be properly divided into two parts; one was that portion which disfranchised, and the other was that portion which enfranchised. He 1556 would now deal with the first. As he understood it, the proposal of the Government was to take twenty-four Members from the Ministerial side of the House and twenty-five from the other, and to deal with the seats so obtained by distributing them between the counties and boroughs. So far, therefore, as the disfranchising clauses were concerned, it appeared to him that the Government had fairly treated the two sides of the House. [Cries of" No, no!"] It was a matter of opinion. He desired to state his objections to the Bill as it stood, and to suggest, if possible, a course which might be acceptable to both sides of the House. He had endeavoured to consider the proposal of the Government as impartially as it was possible to a Member of a small borough to do. His first objection, then, was that there was no principle in the selection of the boroughs grouped. He understood the proposal to be that all boroughs containing fewer than 8,000 inhabitants were to be grouped; but he found, on looking at the blue book presented to the House by command of Her Majesty's Government, that there were boroughs below that line and yet not grouped. He would give as an example the boroughs of Bewdley and Droitwich, and he cited those places because they were represented by two gentlemen of different politics. According to the Census of 1861, these two places contained a population of little more than 7,000 each; they were in the same county, and he believed they were but a few miles apart from each other. Therefore, according to the principle of the Bill, he did not see why they could not properly have been grouped together, thus constituting a population of 14,000; and that being below the second line the Government had drawn, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would thereby have obtained one more seat to deal with. His next objection was that in many of the groups which were proposed he was not able to discover the principle of geographical contiguity, which the House had been told was the principle which guided the Government in this matter. He would give two or three instances drawn from personal knowledge rather than observation of the map. He had the honour to stand at the last election for the borough of Cirencester, now represented by two Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House, and that borough it was proposed to group with Tewkesbury and Evesham. Evesham was twenty-five miles distant 1557 from Cirencester at the crow would fly, and a hilly country separated the two places; there was no direct communication between them, and he believed the inhabitants of Cirencester were in that delightful state that they hardly knew of the existence of the borough of Evesham. The two boroughs were connected by no direct route, and the time occupied in travelling by a circuitous line of railways from one place to the other was little short of four hours and a half; and consequently, with regard to these two boroughs, he could not discover the operation of the principle of geographical contiguity. He was, however, more immediately concerned with Honiton, which was to be grouped with Bridport, (a maritime town, twenty-one miles distant), and with Lyme. Between these places there was no community of interest whatever. Honiton was the centre of an agricultural district, having a large market where the inhabitants of the country for some miles round made their weekly purchases, and was a fair representative of the majority of our country towns. The advantage of small boroughs had been clearly demonstrated by the leader of this House in 1859—yet now he proposed that these three small boroughs should be grouped together and should only return one Member. Now, he would ask the House to remember that at the present moment they had five Members—Bridport had two, Honiton two, and Lyme one; and if hon. Gentlemen would cast their eyes through the groups, they would find that no other boroughs that had enjoyed the advantage of sending five Members to the House had been treated so badly as these. In every other case where there were more than four Members belonging to the boroughs added together, the Government had given two Members to the group; but on this point he would have more to say by-and-bye. There was only one other group to which he would advert—namely, that consisting of Horsham, Petersfield, Midhurst, and Arundel, which were in about the same state of ignorance with regard to each other as were the boroughs of Cirencester and Evesham. Now, he wished to direet the attention of the House to the line the Government had proposed to draw. The Government drew the line at 8,000, and their principle was, they said, as far as possible, where geographical contiguity allowed, to group the boroughs with a population below that line and give them one Member, except where the population was over 1558 15,000 and then to give them two Members. They also proposed, if a borough returned either one or two Members, and possessed at the last Census a population of more than 8,000, that that borough should remain in undisturbed possession of its representation. He thought he should he able to show that the Government proposals fixing the limit at which the smaller boroughs were to lose their privilege of returning Members to the House were not quite fair in their operation. For if there were vested rights above a certain line arbitrarily chosen, there must also be vested rights below it; and it was not fair to make a difference in the treatment of those vested rights merely because the populations of the boroughs happened to be above or below 8,000. De minimis nan curat lex, said the legal maxim, and the boroughs with less than 8,000 inhabitants seemed to be treated according to this principle; while as soon as they passed the limit of 8,000 they rose into importance in the eyes of the Government. There were nine boroughs with populations between 8,000 and 10,000—namely, Chichester, Guildford, Lewes, Maldon, Newark, Stamford, Tavistock, Windsor, and Wycombe; and it was certainly unfortunate to find that a great majority of the representatives of these boroughs were Liberals—there were fourteen Liberals and only four Conservatives. Another reason given for the line drawn in the Government Bill was that of the boroughs with less than 8,000 residents many were nomination boroughs. But were there not nomination boroughs above 8,000? Influence of this kind depended not so much on any limit of population as on the position which some particular roan or five or six men held in the constituency. He could mention at least three places with populations above 30,000, where practically one man returned the Member. Therefore, by doing away with smaller constituencies below the line of 8,000, they would not get rid of nomination boroughs. The proposition he would at the proper time have to make would obviate many of these objections, and would deal fairly with the boroughs both above and below 8,000. In his opinion adopting the Government proposal, the right method would have been to declare that any borough below the line of 8,000 should no longer enjoy the distinction of separate representation, but should undergo the penalty of grouping; next, that boroughs with between 8,000 and 10,000 inhabitants now returning two Members 1559 should, in future, only return one; and, in the third place, that boroughs with more than 10,000 inhabitants, whether now existing, or to result from the union of existing boroughs, should have two Members. This would be the legitimate conclusion of the Government proposition. If boroughs with more than 10,000 inhabitants claimed, on the "vested rights" principle, to retain their two Members, what could they say of boroughs situated a short distance from each other, and having an aggregate population much larger, yet being allowed to retain only one representative? Of boroughs between the limits of 8,000 and 10,000 there were exactly nine, returning, he regretted for the sake of his party, fourteen Liberals as against four Conservatives, and one Member taken from each of those would exactly supply the nine Members necessary to give a double representation to each of the groups of boroughs above 10,000. The coincidence was so exact that it appeared as if it were arranged by Providence to fill up the gap in the Government Bill. With regard to the second or enfranchising portion of the Bill, that some revision of the Government proposals was necessary was obvious from the fact that while such places as Middlesborough, Dews-bury and Gravesend were to return one Member, Croydon, a place with 20,000 inhabitants, was utterly unnoticed in the Bill. If, again, it was to be the rule to give a third Member to counties having a population over 150,000, why should not the rule be applied to the county of Middlesex and to the metropolitan boroughs? As regarded Scotland, he was in favour of giving the proposed additional Members. The modification of the plan which he advocated did not disturb the general scheme of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; it would be possible to adopt it without interfering with the principle of the Bill. For that right hon. Gentleman, before he entered the House, he entertained a strong personal admiration, and that admiration had if possible been increased by the noble manner in which, upon the second reading of the Franchise Bill, the Chancellor of the Exchequer declared how he had thrown off the trammels and prejudices of his youth, and learned to have faith and trust in the people. If, therefore, he made out to the satisfaction of the right hon. Gentleman and to the satisfaction of the House that injustice had been committed unintentionally upon a portion of the people in order to favour another portion, the right hon. Gentleman, 1560 he felt certain, would go as far as possible in endeavouring to rectify that injustice, and therein the House would support him. The borough which he himself represented (Honiton) might fairly be asked to give up its redundant representation; and, having said last week in the face of his constituents that Honiton was over-represented, he was not afraid to repeat the statement in his place in Parliament; but he did not think it ought to be asked to give up more than its fair share. If the right hon. Gentleman, having considered his suggestion, were able to declare that it was one reasonable in itself, and one to which effect ought to be given by the Bill before the House, he should be happy by his vote to sanction a sacrifice which the country had a right to expect. The result of that vote might be to deprive him of his seat in Parliament, hut he did not think votes of hon. Members ought to he governed by personal considerations. They ought to vote as their party required them (if they could honestly do so) as the representatives of their constituents and the country, and not merely to give effect to their individual opinions. No one valued more than he did the position of a Member, or would do more, legitimately, to retain it, but for that purpose he would never give an unfair vote. He asked the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer not to place him in a position of difficulty by a refusal, but to allow all groups of boroughs having more than 10,000 inhabitants to retain two Members. Even then they would make great sacrifices, as he had shown in the case of his own group. The House had not yet heard the views of the Government on this subject. If any Member of the Government thought it worth while to express his opinion on the suggestion which he had made and other points connected with the Bill he should feel very grateful.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, that before he proceeded to reply more in detail to the arguments of his hon. Friend who had just sat down and to those of the hon. and gallant Member for Wells (Captain Hayter) who had proposed the former Amendment, he thought it was due to the former hon. Gentleman to say there was a great difference between the Amendment which he had moved and that proposed by the hon. and gallant Member for Wells. [Mr. GOLDSMID said, he had not moved any Amendment.] He had thought that his 1561 hon. Friend had concluded with the Amendment which stood on the paper in his name; but he would say that there was a vast difference between the views of the hon. Member and those of the hon. and gallant Member for Wells. The two speeches, also, were of a totally different character. His hon. Friend had addressed himself to two points in the Government Bill, but he had not dealt in vague generalities, such as those of the Amendment of the hon, and gallant Member for Wells, selected to command the consent of hon. Members of different parties and holding different views on the question of Reform. He had not used such words as "the scheme is otherwise unsatisfactory," or, as "the scheme is immature." He thought he was able to touch a blot in the scheme, and to that blot he had directed himself in his speech. And now, what was the position of the Government as regarded the whole question? Their position was this: the hon. and gallant Member for Wells (Captain Hayter) had moved an Amendment with which the House was by this time sufficiently acquainted. In moving it the hon. and gallant Gentleman called attention to certain matters which ought rather to be considered in Committee; and he was followed by other Members who pointed out certain anomalies and certain difficulties which appeared to them to arise out of the Government proposition. Then, on the Motion for the adjournment the other night a speech was delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) in which he said the plan of the Government was now before Parliament for the first time as a whole—that the question of re-distribution had now come to be considered for the first time since the measures relating to Parliamentary Reform had been introduced by the Government. Now the House had the question before it in a third form—one dealing with a particular part of the scheme of the Government. His hon. Friend the Member for Honiton had addressed himself to two points. He said, in the first instance, the line should not be drawn at 8,000, but at 10,000, and that one Member should be taken from every borough having between 8,000 and 10,000 inhabitants, which now returned two Members; and, in the second place, he proposed that the seats thus placed at the disposal of the House should be given to those groups of boroughs which, under the Government 1562 scheme, would only receive one Member. It appeared to him that there was a great difference between those two propositions. As to the first, he was quite prepared to admit that the House had a right to deal with boroughs having a population of 9,000 or 10,000—or 15,000, as suggested by the hon. and gallant Member for Wells—in the same way as they had a right to deal with boroughs simply reaching the figure of 8,000. In such matters it was impossible to adopt any but an arbitrary line; and it was equally impossible to fix upon any arbitrary line which would not have the appearance of establishing certain anomalies and of doing injustice more or less to particular boroughs. Supposing that instead of 8,000 the Government were to draw the line at 10,000, would not a borough with a population of 9,999, or any other very high number over 9,000 be likely to complain of being disfranchised, while a borough with a population of 10,250 was left in the enjoyment of its electoral privileges? It was impossible in this case to lay down any rule which would exclude individual cases of hardship. He was willing to admit that in the case of the borough which his hon. Friend represented there was a particular hardship. ["Hear, hear!"] Honiton, Brid-port, and Lyme Regis had a population which came nearest to 15,000 of any of the boroughs which were to be grouped. If there was the slightest modification made in the 15,000 line, those three boroughs would he the first to get the benefit of it. They lost more than any other boroughs which were grouped, and were nearest the line of 15,000; and therefore he was not astonished that the hon. Member who represented Honiton should say there was a hardship in the case. It was matter for the House to consider whether the line was rightly drawn—whether 8,000 was the proper amount of population at which to draw the line. ["Hear, hear!"] What the Government had endeavoured to do was this, so to draw the line that the Bill might pass. ["Hear, hear!"] The Government would not have thought they were discharging their duty if they proposed the line suggested by the hon. and gallant Member for Wells—namely, the line of 15,000, instead of that of 8,000, because no Bill of even partial disfranchisement up to 15,000 would have a chance of passing in that House; they therefore drew such a line as they thought would be adopted by Parliament. He was 1563 prepared to admit, therefore, that it was impossible to contend that a line of 8,000 was better than one of 8,500 or 9.000, because, whatever the line which might be adopted, it would present anomalies and hardships; and if the hon. Member for Honiton could induce the House to alter the line from 8,000 to 10,000 he could see no objection. The hon. Member had alluded to Bewdley and Droitwich, and if the right hon. Baronet who represented Droitwich wished to move that his borough should be grouped with Bewdley, no objection would be made on the part of Her Majesty's Government. He now came to the second part of the proposal of his hon. Friend, the disposal of the seats to be gained. And he would ask his hon. Friend and the House to consider whether they should compare the grouped boroughs with existing boroughs which were not touched, or whether they should not rather compare them with great unrepresented towns. Here arose a question of principle, not of an arbitrary line. Why should the grouped boroughs over 10,000 inhabitants have two representatives, while the large unrepresented boroughs were to have only one? Why should Honiton, Bridport, and Lyme Regis, with their 14,000 inhabitants, return two Members, while towns with a population of 40,000 or 50,000, or even 60,000, only returned the same number? This was a question which might fairly he asked; and the grouped boroughs had to be considered with reference to the unrepresented towns as well as with reference to those which now returned Members to Parliament. It was very strange that the chief opposition to the Government measure came from the Members for boroughs which were to be grouped. For what must those boroughs have expected? Some of then) must have expected that they would be disfranchised altogether; so that the proposal of the Government was one dealing leniently with them—far more leniently than the hon. and gallant Member for Wells proposed to deal with them. He repeated that the proposal of the Government was a lenient one; and having regard to the small amount of representation which many large constituencies enjoyed, if a population of 5,000 or 6,000 were allowed to return part of a Member of Parliament, surely that was all they Could legitimately expect? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire said that the subject of Reform being 1564 now before the House as a whole, they ought to consider the question of the franchise in conjunction with the question of the re-distribution of seats. Hon. Member would recollect that when the Franchise Bill alone was before the House, it was continually argued that it was impossible to say what would be the result of that measure till the Scheme for re-distribution was before the House. But since this latter scheme had been introduced, how many Members had risen to show how far it would affect the balance of political power, and how the enfranchisement of the working classes would operate? They had heard much of the claims of the grouped boroughs, of geographical distances, and of local inconveniences; but had those hon. Members who were so anxious to see the Re-distribution Bill before the House applied themselves to show how the franchise, in respect of its extension among the working men, would be affected by the Bill for the Re-distribution of Seats? One of the arguments which had been used against the Government was, that by a redistribution of seats it would be possible so to arrange the balance of power as to give a preponderating influence to the working classes. It was said that they already had 25 per cent of the representation, and that when the scheme of re-distribution was brought forward it would be seen what an enormous amount of additional power would he conferred upon them. But had hon. Members since favoured the House with their opinions upon this subject? Had they shown that the Government had so manipulated the re-distribution of seats as to be unfair and unjust to any of the interests of the country? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire had a theory that the Government scheme was unfair to counties, because it did not take the large unrepresented towns away from the county constituencies. That was a very natural and clear objection; but where were the Amendments in which the Conservative objections to the Bill were embodied? Had any Amendment been moved to the effect that the Government scheme did not sufficiently consider the agricultural interest, and that therefore it did not deserve the support of the House; or had hon. Members below the gangway moved that the claims of the towns had not been sufficiently taken into consideration? The Amendments which had been proposed did not raise any question of principle at all. A comparison had been 1565 drawn between the course taken by Earl Russell in 1859 and that pursued by the hon. Gentleman in moving this Resolution. But, in fact, there was a great difference between the two cases. In the Resolution moved in 1859 two distinct principles were affirmed; while the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member for Wells (Captain Hayter), like that moved by the noble Lord the Member for Chester (Earl Grosvenor) on the second reading of the Franchise Bill, raised no question of principle at all, but referred only to procedure and time in vague terms which might gain the support of hon. Gentlemen holding different opinions, and be supported both by Conservatives and Liberals. But the Amendment moved by the noble Lord at the head of the Government in 1859 was a Liberal Amendment, and came from a liberal quarter. Now, however, where were the Conservative Amendments, coming from a Conservative quarter? They were not to be seen; but in their place were Amendments moved by hon. Gentlemen on that (the Ministerial) side of the House, and hon. Gentlemen opposite took advantage of those Amendments in order that they might not pledge themselves to any single principle. Hon. Members opposite rejoiced in any Amendment and supported it, but confined themselves to negative criticism. What was the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member for Wells? It was to the effect "that the House, while ready to take into consideration the general subject of the re-distribution of seats, was of opinion that the system of grouping proposed by Her Majesty's Government was neither convenient nor equitable, and that the scheme was otherwise not sufficiently matured." Now, did not that present a striking contrast to an Amendment which pledged itself to a particular principle? The proposed system of grouping, it was said, was neither convenient nor equitable. To which of the two phrases did hon. Gentlemen opposite commit themselves? [An hon. MEMBER: To both.] Was any question of justice involved? Did hon. Gentlemen opposite think, for instance, that it was unjust to disfranchise or take away a Member from a borough with a population of 7,000, and allow a borough with a population of 9,000 to continue to be represented in Parliament? If such an idea were entertained it would be impossible to move at all in the direction of the re-distribution of seats. The meaning of the word "equitable" was what he had alluded to in replying to the 1566 remarks of the hon. Member for Honiton. If it mean anything it meant this—that it was unfair to disfranchise a borough below a certain line unless they treated a borough above the line in much the same way. It was impossible to avoid some cases of hardship. The hon. and gallant Member had said it was very hard for a borough with a certain population to return only a part of a Member to Parliament, while a neighbouring borough returned two Members. But the hon. Gentleman represented Wells, and how was that borough treated by the Reform Bill of 1832? Frome possessed a population of 10,000, and had one Member given to it, while Wells, with a much smaller population, which was close by, continued to return two. Now, it might have been said that it was very inequitable that Wells should return two Members, while Frome, with double the population, returned only one. In the same way other boroughs with large populations might say it was inequitable that smaller boroughs should return a greater number of Members. It was impossible to deal with these questions on a principle of abstract justice, and no one knew that better than the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli), who in 1859 discovered that it was necessary that certain boroughs should be partially disfranchised in order to make the representation more fitted to the wants of the times. What, then, was the principle involved in the Government scheme, which it had been said was neither convenient nor equitable? The hon. and gallant Member for Wells had remarked that illustrations were better than arguments, and had acted very fairly on his own principle, as he had illustrated a great deal and argued nothing. He had given illustration after illustration to show that the boroughs proposed to be grouped together were widely apart from each other and not locally connected, but he had altogether failed to prove the necessity of their being locally connected. He proceeded on the assumption that the boroughs must be near one another, and that there must be a local connection between them. For example, he had assumed that a town like Oxford would be quite prepared to absorb a town like Woodstock. He contended that the Government proposition involved certain anomalies, but he did not deal with the question of principle at all. Now, it appeared to him (Mr. Goschen) that the scheme of the Government did involve questions of principle which must be fairly 1567 brought before the House. First, there was the question whether the Government was right in dealing as it had done simply with boroughs below a certain line, and in not adding to the groups boroughs at present unenfranchised, but having a claim to be enfranchised. Again, large villages might have been taken in, and in this way decaying boroughs might have been perpetuated. It might, too, have been said that the Government ought to have based their scheme on the number of electors, instead of basing it on the population. If the Government had proposed a measure without a principle, and had merely dealt with the case of every individual borough according to their own view of the merits, hon. Members would have said a great deal, and justly so, about the injustice of such a proceeding. It was necessary, therefore, to adopt some principle, and to deal with all boroughs alike without partiality to a friend or foe. The line of 8,000 had been adopted as a fair and practical one. The hon. and gallant Member had said that some of the grouped boroughs were so distant from each other and had so few interests in common that it was an absurdity to connect them together. That view had been repeated by a certain portion of the press. But was there a greater difference between the interests of the lace makers of Honiton and the sailors and rope-makers of Bridport than there was between the interests of various classes of electors in the borough of Westminster? The leader of the Conservative party had said, and with great justice, that if there were only local constituencies there would be only landowners and merchants in that House, and elaborate arguments had been made use of to show that purely local constituencies were bad constituencies, and that it was desirable to have varied elements. Now, if there were two conflicting elements in two different towns which were together to return one Member to Parliament, was there not a better chance that they would send a Member who represented colonial interests, Indian interests, or the interests of men of letters—in fact, the very class of men whom the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire so much desired to see represented in that House? Another objection was that the boroughs forming a group were, in some instances, situate in different counties; but how that circumstance should prevent their sending a good Member to Parliament he was at a loss to understand. 1568 In the Scotch and Welsh groups the boroughs were frequently at a very great distance from one another. Every anomaly which had been pointed out occurred in the case of the Scotch boroughs. There were enfranchised towns and boroughs lying quite close to Greenock and Glasgow, and yet not taken in by them, as the hon. and gallant Member would take Woodstock into Oxford, but coupled with other towns which had the whole county lying between them. How had the system worked in Scotland? Were hon. Members dissatisfied with it? ["No!"] In England the result, no doubt, would be the same, because the arguments which had been brought forward to show that the system was bad would not hold water. The argument was that grouped towns ought to have local interests in common, and he supposed the clergy of Wells objected to be coupled with the manufacturers of Westbury; but in the great town and county constituencies there were already samples of these anomalies, if they were such, and he did not think these varied constituencies sent to the House worse Members than those Members who specially represented local interests. The view that it would have been fairer to have taken the numbers of electors, instead of the numbers of population, was not one likely to be popular in that House. It might be said that the electors of a borough would indicate its standard better than the whole population; but if, as the right hon. Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe) said, every man could have the franchise if he would not drink too much, it was clear that the population must everywhere be taken as the standard rather than the actual number of electors. He could assure the House, having made the necessary calculation, that, had the electoral test been adopted instead of that of population, there would have been very little difference in the result. Only five of the boroughs touched by the Government Bill would have escaped under the electoral line, and the borough represented by the hon. and gallant Member who moved the Amendment (Wells) was one, and Lichfield, which was represented by the hon. and gallant Member who seconded it, was another. He did not think that the hon. Baronet who had given notice of an Amendment, to the effect that the electoral test ought to have been taken, would be able to persuade the House that the present number of the electors of a borough was a better 1569 test of the merits of that borough for enfranchisement or disfranchisement than the population test. He would defy any hon. Member to bring forward a scheme of disfranchisement that should give satisfaction to those about to be disfranchised, or one that would not present anomalies, for there were so many and so great anomalies that, if they were to be swept away by a single Bill, it would be utterly impossible to pass it. Would hon. Members support the hon. and gallant Member for Wells in drawing the line at 15,000? Were they prepared to go further in the direction of disfranchisement than the Government? ["No!"] It appeared that they were not; and yet they were going to vote with the hon. and gallant Member. Hon. Members opposite would not embody the views expressed in their speeches in a Bill, [Laughter.] Hon. Members must excuse the slip, he meant they would not embody their views in an Amendment; they would not fight the Government on a single point of principle; they would only join in a general and sweeping condemnation. ["Hear, hear!"] He was glad that hon. Members pleaded guilty to that charge. He was glad that they acknowledged that these were their tactics, by which they were gaining as many recruits as they could from the Liberal party under something like false pretences—["Oh, oh!" and cheers]—to vote with those in whose speeches they did not concur. Surely an Amendment ought to be looked upon in the light not only of the words upon the paper but of the speeches of those who supported it. Did hon. Members opposite concur in the general tendency of the speech of the hon. and gallant Member? If they did it was natural they should vote with him and with the party to whom the hon. and gallant Member spoke when he used the word "we"'—though who they were he did not know, unless one were the noble Lord the Member for Huntingdonshire (Lord Robert Montagu), who had told the House that he knew all about the alterations made in the Amendment, made in order to beat the Government. But hon. Members opposite did not agree with those on the Liberal side of the House upon the general question of Reform. Let hon. Members put their views into a Resolution, let them show how the unrepresented towns ought to be taken out of the counties in order to increase the power of the agricultural constituencies, and then let 1570 them see how many M embers on the Liberal side of the House would be ready to agree with them. The Members who sat for condemned boroughs were ready enough to unite with hon. Members opposite in saying that the Government scheme was immature—but where was the immaturity? Let them lay their finger on the particular deficiency. Let them show how the unenfranchised towns ought to be enfranchised. Hon. Members opposite had always claimed that the counties ought to be more largely represented than they were at present, The Government had increased the representation of the counties by their proposal; but were hon. Members opposite satisfied? No; they did not want the representation increased in the way proposed; it was to be in quite a different form. What they wanted was not so much an increased representation of the populous counties as an increase in the representation of the agricultural interest. If on the score of population increased representation were given to the populous counties, they said, "No, we don't mean those counties, but the agricultural counties;" and thus they shifted about from one argument to another, according to the exigencies of their case. The counties had been fairly dealt with by the scheme of the Government. ["No!"] No? Then why was there not an Amendment to that effect? [An hon. MEMBER: Wait!] There was an Amendment on a point of detail announced for Committee, but there was none on principle, and why? Because hon. Members opposite knew that upon this point they were not able to get the support of Members of the Liberal party. The fact was they put the issue upon questions of procedure and upon vague adjectives; they called the measure inexpedient, without showing what the inexpediency was; they called it inequitable, without showing the principle of justice that was violated; they called it immature without showing what a prepared scheme would be; and then hon. Members on both sides could unite in an adverse vote. Such a course was natural for hon. Members opposite; but was it natural for Liberal Members, because the lacemakers of Honi-ton did not choose to vote with the rope-makers of Bridport, to postpone the enfranchisement of 400,000 persons? The Government had introduced a Franchise Bill and a Bill for the Re-distribution of Seats. In compliance with the wish of 1571 the House, the Franchise Bill and the Redistribution Bill were to be united, and surely it was the duty of Parliament to see that the enfranchisement, which it had thought just and expedient, should not be defeated by the incorporation of the two Bills. Surely, questions of distance and local interests ought not to be allowed to impede the progress of a large measure such as this. Surely it would be unworthy of the Liberal party to allow the Bill to be thrown out upon subsidiary questions which ought to be debated in Committee. Every one must see that the adoption of the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member was fatal to the Bill; there was no doubt it was meant to condemn the whole scheme; that was what was meant by the word "otherwise;" it was designed to include everybody who had any objection whatever to make to either of the united Bills. This was the question before the House, and the Government could not accept a defeat upon the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member for Wells. The arguments that had been used were arguments for Committee; the question of grouping was a question for Committee; the question whether the proposed groups could have been more conveniently arranged was a question for Committee. If hon. Members would look at the map they would see that if the principle the Government had adopted of not adding unenfranchised towns to large enfranchised towns were to be carried out, very few changes could be made in the plan of grouping they had proposed; but every case of grouping must be dealt with in Committee, and could not be made the basis of a proposition for condemning the whole scheme as immature, unjust, and inconvenient. Upon that question the Government were prepared to join issue with the hon. and gallant Member. Members of the Liberal party who were disposed to enfranchise householders at between £10 and £7 could not, because in some cases the distances between grouped towns were too large, declare that the scheme of grouping was incomplete, and refuse to support the Bills which, in deference to the views of the House, had been united—they would not consent to have the reduction of the franchise and the granting of new Members to large and important places relegated to a future Session, because of difficulties on minor details, exaggerated in order that hon. Members opposite might be able to unite 1572 with dissatisfied Members on the Liberal side of the House.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
I want to hear some unofficial and independent Member on either side of the House rise and tell us, now that we have the whole scheme of the Government before us, he thinks it is a scheme which we ought to adopt with a view to improve the representative system of this country. The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Goschen) has told us—and I heard the announcement with no surprise—that he liked the speech of the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Goldsmid) very much better than that of the hon. and gallant Member for Wells (Captain Hayter). Now, I take a different view, and venture to prefer the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Wells. I do so for two reasons. In the first place, the hon. and gallant Member addressed to this House a clear and able argument against the re-distribution part of the Government measure—an argument which, I venture to say, the right hon. Gentleman has altogether failed to answer. And if, as the right hon. Gentleman tells us, the Government have adopted their re-distribution plan in order that the Bill may pass, I must say I think they are very unfortunate in the line they have taken. But, again, I prefer the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Wells, because the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Goldsmid) was good enough to suggest that Droitwich should be grouped with Bewdley, and the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Goschen) said that if I had any wish of that kind, the Government would be willing to gratify it. Sir, I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman and to Her Majesty's Government for this offer, but I have no wish for any such arrangement. The fact, however, remains—this is the second night of the debate, and yet up to this moment, except from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the Solicitor General, we have not heard one single speech which has not been made in opposition to the Government measure. It is true that the hon. and learned Member for Southwark (Mr. Locke) made a very amusing speech the other evening, but it was not a speech in favour of the Bill; it was little more than an attack upon my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Sandford). Every other speaker has found fault with the measure of the Government. No doubt it is natural that if Gentlemen find that the boroughs they represent are 1573 placed at a disadvantage by the proposal of the Government, they should rise in succession to complain of the Bill and its provisions; but I agree with my right hon. Friend near me, that, now we have the whole measure before us, the time has arrived when we may fairly consider whether or not the scheme of the Government in all its parts justifies the hope that if we go into Committee we shall be able, upon that basis, to arrive at a settlement of this great and difficult question. I think it right, therefore, that this debate should take a rather wider scope than it has hitherto taken, while restricted to the complaints of hon. Members as to the position of their respective boroughs, and the effect the Redistribution Bill would have upon them. If the House will indulge me with their attention I desire to state the views I have been led to form after listening to the discussions that have taken place, because I think that on a subject of such vital importance and such extreme difficulty a man is bound to state what he thinks and what are the impressions made upon him by the Government measures, and the arguments he has heard; and I think it may possibly be my duty to express some opinions which may not be altogether in accordance with the prevailing views on either side of the House. I am one of those who do very sincerely wish, now that this question has been revived, that we should come to a settlement of it in the present Session. Valuable as the time of Parliament is, pressed as we always are with public business, it is most undesirable that we should be obliged to devote year after year to the consideration of a question of this magnitude and difficulty. But I believe it would be impossible to arrive in this Session at a solution of it, and I think the blame is to be attributed entirely to the Government for the manner in which they approached its consideration. The Government, I think, are deeply to be blamed for having committed that which in my opinion is the greatest fault a Government can commit, in dealing with a subject of this magnitude precipitately, and without due consideration. Their provisions of the scheme before the House are indeed immature. They have not been devised with that care, deliberation, and foresight which ought to have been exercised by the Government under these circumstances. In viewing calmly the plan of the Government I can trace nothing in it of patriotism or of wisdom; I cannot trace in it even the ordi- 1574 nary prudence which ought to characterize men who have to deal with a large public question like this. I remember, in that able essay on Representative Government which has been referred to so often in these debates, a passage in which the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill), departing, I think, in some degree from the calm and argumentative tone which distinguishes the greater part of the work, lays it down that we, the Conservative party, by the law of our existence, and as a matter of necessity, are what be calls the stupidest party in the State. That was the opinion of the hon. Member for Westminster when he wrote his book. I should like to know what he thinks now. He has changed many opinions expressed in that book, and I am disposed to think that when he reflects calmly upon the history of this Reform Bill, he will change that opinion also; for I doubt whether he can recall to mind any measure brought forward by the Conservative party which has been so strangely mismanaged in all its parts, as the Reform Bill has been by Her Majesty's Government. Sir, I deplore these mistakes, for they are grave and serious; and I wonder at them yet more because it appears to me that no Government, feeling called upon to deal with a great and difficult question, ever had before them a clearer and an easier course than the Government had this year in relation to Reform. Looking at the history of the last six years, I quite admit that when Earl Russell found himself again at the head of the Government, it was most natural—nay, it was almost a matter of course that he should try to deal with this subject. I further admit that the Government have done one most wise and prudent thing—they have rendered the House one essential service in providing statistics. Whether they were provided on their own suggestion or on (bat of the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho), I will not stop to inquire. It was wise to call for these statistics, for they placed us in a position of advantage in considering this subject. But when statistics bad been called for, why did not the Government wait till they got them? It seems most unaccountable that the Government should impose on persons all over the country the labour of furnishing statistics, and then rush rashly into the work of framing a Reform Bill without waiting for the information they were to give. If I remember rightly, the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us on the 1575 Friday before the Monday when he introduced the Franchise Bill into the House, that he had been unable to look at the effect of these figures. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: No. no!] The right hon. Gentleman contradicts that, which looks as if he was rather angry at what I said. I did not mean to excite his anger, and, if I have made any misstatement, I am willing to retract it. But I do remember that the Government would not wait for these statistics with the patience which they ought to have shown, and which would have enabled them to have mastered the details and perfected the provisions of this Bill. My opinion, however, is that the Government having called for these statistics ought not only to have waited for their production, but ought also to have called for statistics with regard to the county as well as with regard to the borough representation. Their obvious course, in my opinion, was to have come down to Parliament as soon as Parliament had assembled, and to have said, "We think the time has arrived when the question of Reform should be dealt with, and when dealing with it again we think that it ought to be dealt with in such a manner as completely to settle the whole question. We wish not only to call for statistics, but to verify them, and at the commencement of next year we shall be prepared with a complete measure upon the subject." That is the course which the Government ought to have taken; and I believe that if it had been adopted by them the Conservative party, quite as much as hon. Gentlemen opposite, would have lent their best assistance to the settlement of the question. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Gentlemen opposite appear to believe that we on this side of the House are incapable of doing anything except under the influence of party feeling. Now, Sir, I declare that if there is any one thing which it is more desirable to remove from the category of party measures it is this question of reforming the representation of the people—I say that most sincerely; and I think, moreover, that it might have been taken out of the category of party measures if Her Majesty's Government had dealt with the question in the manner I have indicated, and have waited until the commencement of the ensuing Session, when they could have produced a complete and a comprehensive measure. Unfortunately, however, that course was not taken. And now let me refer to the effect of these statistics. 1576 The effect was simply to show that in every debate we have had from 1852 to the present moment, in every pamphlet that has been published, and in every newspaper article that has been written, there has been a complete ignorance of the real facts of the case. I am not imputing this to Her Majesty's Government merely. It applies to ourselves as much as it applies to them. Those statistics have thus opened our eyes to a state of things of the previous existence of which neither party and no private Member was aware, and that this is so we have abundant proof. I find proof of it in the language employed by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who in 1860 described the proportion of the working classes in the possession of the franchise as being almost infinitesimal, and who again in 1864—I am speaking from memory, and I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will contradict me if I am wrong—said that the proportion of the working classes in possession of the franchise was less than one-tenth of the whole of the constituency. Lord Russell, in the last edition of his work on the Constitution of England, also stated that the working men of this country were kept out of the franchise. The hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright), too, as late as January last spoke of the class grievance as being the exclusion of a great and a whole class from the representation; while the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), in a speech delivered last autumn, after saying that the English workman was entirely deprived of the rights of citizenship, made the extraordinary statement that if the English workman desired to enjoy the rights of citizenship he must go to the United States to enjoy them. Now it is impossible to deny, when one sees these statements of these eminent men in the House, that there was previously no idea of the real state of things as now clearly shown by these statistics. What are the facts? At this moment, without any alteration of your plan, there are eight boroughs in which the number of working men on the register exceeds 50 per cent of the whole constituencies; there are twenty-six boroughs in which the working classes exceed 40 per cent, and sixty-three boroughs in which they exceed 30 per cent. The average of the working classes throughout the constituencies of England at the present moment is one-fourth—speaking, of course, of the boroughs only. The hon. Member for Bir- 1577 mingham, therefore, when addressing his constituency at Birmingham, had no idea that nearly 3,000 of his own constituency were members of the working classes who, as he declared, were excluded altogether from any share in political power. What was the course pursued by the hon. Member for Birmingham on perceiving the facts proved by these statistics? We all know how a man, when driven into a corner by the strength of his opponent's argument, and unable to meet a fact urged against him, gets out of the difficulty by saying "I don't believe it," and to this plan the hon. Member had recourse. He stated on a former night that he did not believe in these statistics. And here is another reason for lamenting the precipitancy of Her Majesty's Government. If they had taken care to verify these statistics they might have brought them forward in a shape and in a manner which would have precluded the possibility of disbelief on the part of the hon. Member for Birmingham. Now what will be the effect of this measure of the Government with regard to the franchise? The result of the Government proposal to extend the franchise to renters of £7 houses will be to add no less than 206,000 voters to the present borough constituencies of England. I will set down the working men at present on the register at 125,000—a number which I believe to be below the mark—and assuming, as I think we are entitled to do, that a very large majority of the 206,000 are working men, the working classes will, in the event of this Bill passing, constitute pretty nearly one-half of the constituency of England. I wish now to refer for a few moments to the effect of this extension upon the representation of property in this House—a most important branch of the subject, and one which, I believe, has scarcely been referred to during the debate. We have had a good deal of discussion with regard to the proportion of the working classes we shall admit to the suffrage, but we have had very little said with regard to the representation of property. I find from a printed paper furnished to the House, giving the amount of the assessment of the country upon a £7 rental, that the aggregate assessment of voters to be admitted by the Bill amounts to £1,692,000, or in round numbers £1,700,000. The aggregate assessment of the present constituency, however, amounts to no less than £25,888,000, or in round figures £26,000,000. I am unable, of course, to deduct from the ag- 1578 gregate amount of £26,000,000 the assessment of the 125,000 working men at present on the register, but allotting to each a £10 rental the result gives us £1,250,000. Adding these figures together we find that in the event of this Bill passing, the proportion of the working class in the constituency will be raised from one-quarter to one-half, and that half, composed of working men, will be rated at £3,000,000, while the other half will be rated at £24,000,000. You would, therefore, be giving as much power to one moiety of the constituency with one-eighth of the aggregate property as you would to the other moiety with the remaining seven-eighths. Now, do not the figures which I have quoted constitute a legitimate reason and a sound argument why these valuable statistics ought to have been more carefully considered before legislation was attempted? Is there not good reason for saying that the Government have acted with precipitation, and that if they really want a reform of the representation such as would do justice to all classes they ought to have taken time to consider the statistics which they have, and to procure others still more extensive? And here I would address a few words to the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill), who has contributed most valuable information on this question in his treatise on Representative Government. There is, in my opinion, much in that work which we may all of us take into consideration, and Her Majesty's Government might have taken into consideration with very great advantage to the Bill now placed before us. The only difficulty under which I labour is to reconcile the language of the hon. Member for Westminster in that valuable book with the course which he is now taking in this House. In the debate which took place yesterday a passage was quoted from the hon. Gentleman's work which I think is unanswerably true. He says—No lover of improvement can desire that the predominant power should be turned over to persons in the mental and moral condition of the English working classes.And in another passage on minorities, the hon. Gentleman, alluding to the existing state of our representative system, says that now different opinions prevail in different neighbourhoods, and in that manner we arrive somewhat roughly, but still we do arrive, at a tolerably fair representation of different sections of opinions, and he goes on thus— 1579But it would be no longer true if present constituencies were much enlarged; still less if made co-extensive with the whole population; for in that case the majority in every locality would consist of manual labourers, and when there was any question pending on which these classes were at issue with the rest of the community no other class could succeed in getting represented anywhere.Well, these are most grave considerations; and, as I said before, I am unable to reconcile his language on this subject with his present course in supporting the present measures of Her Majesty's Government. Does he think it consistent with the passages I have quoted that one-half of the borough electors of England should consist of working men? I say nothing disrespectful of these classes. I only refer to the language of the hon. Gentleman himself. Now, I call upon the hon. Gentleman, as the hon. Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) did yesterday, to tell us in the course of this debate how he would reconcile these passages with the line of action he is about to pursue. And here I would remark that when the opinions of the hon. Gentleman are called in question in this House as opinions of weight, and he is appealed to on the subject, I think it a matter for regret that he should allow himself, as he did yesterday, to be persuaded into sitting still and saying nothing. I think it would be best and most becoming for the hon. Member to do one of two things—either to adhere to these opinions or openly to state that he has altered them. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe) in that most able speech to which they had all listened with delight in a former debate, dwelt a good deal on the subject of trades unions and the conduct by which the working classes connected with them have lately been distinguished. After what fell from him it will be unnecessary for me to go at length into the subject, but I think the House will feel, and every reflecting man must feel, that the history of these trades unions and the conduct of the working classes connected with them, constitute a reason why we should be cautious in admitting them to the enjoyment of so large a share of political power as to form one-half of the borough and city constituencies. I may, however, mention one fact which fell within my own observation. In a late strike in the coal and iron trade of South Staffordshire, which the House must bear in mind, there were several cases in which working men receiving high wages—exactly 1580 the class of men who would be admitted to vote under this Bill—were brought to trial for having committed the horrible crime of setting on fire dwellings containing their fellow-workmen with all their families, and that was done for the purpose of taking vengeance on those who did not join them in the strike. I do not mean to say that this is to be considered as any criterion of the general character and conduct of the working classes. Even in the case of those men charged with so horrible a crime, I am willing to admit that they acted in a period of temptation and under the influence of excited feeling. But still it is a very dreadful state of things, and it shows that when the temptation arises—when, as the hon. Member for Westminster well stated in the passage which I have quoted—a time of difficulty and pressure arrives, you cannot rely on the working classes. I think the time will probably come, and may soon come, when it will be found that it would be most imprudent to allow the working men to possess so undue a share of electoral power in this country as would be conferred on them under the measure of Her Majesty's Government. I will not now dwell upon an argument which had hardly been touched upon in former debates until it was stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne—I mean the argument against extending democracy in this country, founded on the great difference between the Constitutions of England and the United States. In the United States you may without danger extend the elective franchise to classes to which it would be highly imprudent to do so in a Reform Bill adapted to this country. And these truths lead us to the consideration of another subject that has been touched on by the hon. Member for Westminster—whether or not it would he desirable, in reference to a very extensive measure of Reform for this country, to alter our present system of voting. The hon. Gentleman has himself advocated the system of plurality of votes. He would adopt a system, frequently advocated in this country, of giving to those who possess larger property a greater number of votes than they enjoy who have less property. Several other plans to effect the same object have been suggested, and among them one by no less an authority than the late Mr. Cobden. In a speech which he made some years ago, Mr. Cobden contended that if you resort to any wide extension of the franchise in England you ought to make 1581 compensation by some alteration in the mode of voting. Will the House permit me to read the views of Mr. Cobden on this subject? Whatever differences of opinion we may have had with Mr. Cobden when living, now that he is gone from among us we remember him only as one who had been a distinguished Member of this House. This is the language which was used by Mr. Cobden at Liverpool in 1859—And this brings me to the re-distribution of the franchise; and I would say, Gentlemen, I have a very strong opinion that when you have to give—as you would have to give in any new Reform Bill—a considerable number of Members to your large cities—as for instance, Manchester, Liverpool, and the like (and Rochdale, of course, will be included in the number)—I think it would be the most convenient and the fairest plan if you apportioned your large towns into wards, and gave one representative for each ward. I mean that, instead of lumping two or four Members together, and letting them be the representatives of a whole town or city, I would divide that city into four wards, and let each ward send one Member. I think there is a fairness and a convenience about that which ought to recommend itself to Lord John Russell, and to every one who has to handle a new Reform Bill. For instance, you will find in a town generally that what is called the aristocracy live in one part, the working classes in another. If, in dividing a town into three or four wards, it should happen that one of the districts where the working classes predominated should have the opportunity of sending a Member whom they considered most fairly to represent their views, and if another part of the town, where people of another class lived, choose to choose a Member that more completely represented theirs, I do not see why the different classes or parties of the community should envy them that opportunity of so giving expression to their opinions. I think it would be much better than having two or four Members for one borough.Here, then, is a reason for consideration and delay—for no dispassionate man will contend that the plan suggested by Mr. Cobden is not worthy of consideration. Another plan has been adopted in Frank-fort and other great German towns. It is very simple, and is one among many proofs that we ought not to be precipitate in settling this question. I will suppose, for example, that the plan adopted in Frankfort was applied to Birmingham, for the election of two or three Members. One of them would be returned by all the electors rated below £15, another by those above that figure, and so on. You might find that by adopting some plan of this kind you might go much further in lowering the franchise than the Government now propose. It is possible that by some scheme of this kind you might reduce the franchise to the extent advocated, to my utter as- 1582 tonishment, yesterday by the Attorney General. The first and greatest object in legislating on this subject is the public contentment. The more satisfied the people are, and the less disposed to complain, the wiser will be the measure; and, instead of admitting a large number of the working classes without regard to their fitness and qualifications, it is worth considering whether, by the prudent adoption of a plan of this kind, we cannot safely-extend the suffrage far below the present point. That is my answer to the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) in his speech of yesterday, when he assumed the Conservative tone, and said he was content to stand on the old ways of the Constitution. I must say I have not much faith in the hon. Member's advocacy of such a doctrine; I am much more inclined to say we should do well to take a common-sense view of this subject, and to assert that where the old ways of England can be improved, as science, civilization, and knowledge progress, we shall do more wisely not to throw aside a sensible and good suggestion because it is not old The whole of your present scheme, that the constituency shall be composed of one half of working men, is an entire novelty, and a very dangerous novelty, and it will be only prudent to adopt some checks to its operation, although they, too, may be novelties.
This view of the question leads us now to the Re-distribution Bill, which forms the second part of the Government measure. The only one of these proposals for altering our mode of voting that has been practically submitted to Parliament was a proposal of the present Prime Minister, the responsible author of this Bill, when he advocated in 1854 a plan for the representation of minorities. That scheme was suggested—and I beg the attention of the House to this fact—in combination with a proposal similar to that of the Re-distribution Bill for the further representation of a number of towns. In 1854 the noble Lord proposed to give a third Member to thirty-six towns. The present Bill deals with twenty-six counties, and for each of these counties (not already having three Members) a third Member is to be added. A third Member is also to be given to four of the largest constituencies—Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, and Leeds, I very much dislike this plan of a third Member. It was, in my opinion, the worst part of the Reform Act; but if anything could reconcile me to the plan 1583 of a third Member, it is that it should be accompanied by the provision inserted in the noble Lord's Bill of 1854, that each elector should only vote for two candidates, so that protection should be given to the minority. But this protection of the minority is wholly wanting in the present Bill, and I doubt whether I can give my support to the scheme of a third Member for these counties and boroughs, for it has been nothing but a source of discord and mischief. It is entirely unnecessary. It leads to increased expense and a constant struggle in counties and boroughs to see which party is stronger and which will be able to carry the odd man. I wish that, instead of this plan of a third Member, the Government had re-divided these counties, and had given two Members to each. That would be far wiser and more statesmanlike; and if the Government did away with the third Member where this arrangement now exists they would have taken a wise and prudent course. With regard to the grouping system, the scheme of the Government has been so criticized, and so uniformly condemned, and has been so wholly unsupported during this debate, that I need say little upon this point. Not one single Member has risen to say that he is in favour of their plan of grouping, and I should be only wasting the time of the House if I repeat the objections which have been so ably urged against it. I will therefore only touch upon one or two points involved in the question. In the year 1852, the present Prime Minister brought in the first of this abortive series of Reform Bills. He proposed a scheme of grouping; but he grouped represented towns with large and populous places having no representatives. There was not a single case in which Earl Russell proposed to group represented places. He now flies to the opposite extreme, and groups no unrepresented places with those that are represented; but, with a precipitation and rashness that can only be accounted for by the manner in which this plan was brought forward, the Government propose the system of grouping which has been so properly condemned by the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member (Captain Hayter). Let us see what is proposed in two of these cases. Woodstock, Walling-ford, and Abingdon are now represented by three Members. They are to have two Members if this Bill should pass. The Government entirely disregard their interests and feelings, and propose this objection- 1584 able plan which must lead to increased bribery in order to gain only one Member. Then take the case of Evesham, Tewkesbury, and Cirencester. There are now six Members for those three boroughs. The Government propose to group them and give them two Members, by which they save four seats. But it would have been much better if they had dealt with these three boroughs upon the principle that the Government of Lord Derby adopted in 1859. Owing to the smallness of these places there was no objection to taking one Member from each. They were all too small in population and the number of the constituency—and both ought to be considered—to continue to send two Members each. Under the scheme of Lord Derby's Government no feelings would have been outraged and no principles would have been violated. Each would have had one Member. The difference as between the plan of the present Government and that of the Government of Lord Derby is that by the present Bill the Government only gain one seat. Is it worth while to make a proposal so objectionable for so small a gain? But there is another point on which I desire to express my opinion. As an English Member of Parliament, I distinctly object to the proposal of the Government to give seven English seats to Scotland. I am afraid that my Scotch friends will not agree with me in that objection, but whenever the question comes before us I certainly shall be ready to record my vote against transferring seven seats from English to Scotch constituencies. But while I take serious exception to every part of this Re-distribution of Seats Bill, and while in my judgment it would be quite hopeless and useless to go into Committee upon it with the hope of making a satisfactory measure of it, I object still more strongly—and I am glad to be able to state that objection face to face with the Chancellor of the Exchequer—to the mode in which this proposal has been submitted to the House. The right hon. Gentleman told us that the Government would not tolerate the loss of a year in considering this question—that we are to stay here till September or October, if necessary, in order to pass these Bills. Sir, it seems to me that there are two important facts which have altogether escaped his memory. The one is the perfect equanimity with which for six long years the Government allowed this question of Parliamentary Reform to sleep. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 1585 told us something in his speech this evening about "false pretences." I do not want to make harsh accusations, but I think it might be said there was something very like false pretence about the circumstances under which the Government took office, and remained there for six long years, content never to touch this question of Reform—to introduce, indeed, a Bill in 1860 which was talked and laughed out of the House by men of all parties, but then to leave the matter there without again attempting for those six years to grapple with it. But now, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer has presumed to come down to this House, and to say, "There is not a day to lose; we can't afford to wait any longer; you must at once pass this measure, or you shall sit till September or October to do it," I say, Sir, that I hope the House of Commons will not submit to such dictation. But there is another thing which the right hon. Gentleman has forgotten. We never heard of Reform even this year till the 12th of March. Parliament ought to have met unusually early, and it actually met unusually late; and the subject of Reform was never launched until the 12th of March. And what were we told on that day? Why, that we should only deal with the question of the franchise, because there was no time to deal with the question of the re-distribution of seats. Well, the House was not satisfied with that answer, and would not allow the Government to follow that course; and I think one of the most humiliating scenes I ever witnessed in this House was when the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie), from the fourth Bench behind the Government, like "the sweet little cherub that sits up aloft," was dictating to the Members of the Government on the Bench below what they ought to do in their extremity, and when the Government, laying aside all their declared views, eagerly exclaimed, "Oh dear, we shall be very happy to do anything you like!" And what was the result? Why, that a Bill for the Redistribution of Seats, which ought to be the subject of the most anxious and careful deliberation, and to be prepared with a due regard to the gravest public interests, leaving no stone unturned to make it what it ought to be, is put together with the most indecent haste, to keep the Government in their places. Then on the 7th of May it is introduced, although we bad been told in March that there was no 1586 time to deal with it; and we, forsooth, are to suffer for the laches of the Government, by having to stay here until September or October to consider the measure so proposed to us. Sir, I have now sat in the House for a long period, but I do not recollect any leader of the House who ever before held such language to it. There is only one state of circumstances which could for a single moment justify such conduct. If the Government had matured a measure dealing with this great subject in all its parts—if, having well considered and being confident of its merits, they were anxious to propose it—and if they had called Parliament together at the earliest possible time, and within seven days of its assembling had brought forward their scheme—for that is what they ought to have done—if, I say, they had taken that course, and they had found that we, the Opposition, did not meet them fairly, that instead of grappling honestly with its provisions we opposed it by unfair delays and factious manoeuvres, then the leader of this House might have come down and said he would not stand that nor consent to throw away a year. But what was the fact? We interposed no factious delay. Member after Member on this side rose and declared sincerely and deliberately that he would be glad to help them to bring this question to a settlement if the Government would only put their measure into a proper shape. I say, therefore, that we have a right to complain, and as a Member of this House I do complain, of the leader of this House for holding such language to us as that under these circumstances.
I now turn to a point on which I feel some hesitation, because I am afraid that only a small minority of this House will concur in the view I take. But I think it is the duty of those who have formed opinions on this subject not to shrink from fairly expressing them, in the hope that even although the majority may not agree with them, they may at all events contribute something towards the ultimate solution of this great question. I wish, then, to state frankly to the House that I have long felt, and recent circumstances have tended much to strengthen my opinion, that we should do well to consider the advice given by Lord Grey when he suggests whether or not the ultimate solution of this question would not be facilitated by referring it to another tribunal. Lord Grey is for referring it to a Committee of the Privy Council. I do not myself altogether agree 1587 either in Lord Grey's idea of referring the question to a Committee of the Privy Council, or in the sketch of a Reform Bill which he has introduced into his very able work on the system of Parliamentary Government. But I confess, considering the very great difficulty of this question, considering its many branches, considering the suggestions to which I have to-night adverted—I mean, as to the various modes of voting which may well be considered with a view to a large extension of the franchise—I am much disposed to think it is well worthy reflection—I do not pledge myself to any particular plan—whether this great subject might not well be inquired into by a fairly constituted Royal Commission in such a manner as to throw very great light upon it. We have referred very large questions to Royal Commissions. Neither this House nor the Government are bound by the Reports which those Commissions make, but those Commissions do lay before us the results of most valuable and careful examinations of those questions; they afford us the means of seeing the various views that may be entertained in regard to them. My belief is that the greatest service you could confer on the country in connection with this subject would be, if possible, to take it out of the category of party subjects. I wish we could approach it without being hampered by the question whether this or that proposal is favourable to this particular party or to that. My idea is that if a Commission impartially constituted of competent men chosen from both sides were to consider the whole of this question in all its bearings and its details and make a deliberate Report upon it, that Report might be the means of enabling the Government of the day, whatever that Government might be, to frame a measure which might be more comprehensive and might deal in a more satisfactory manner with this subject than it would be possible for the Government to do by their own unaided exertions, occupied, as they necessarily are, by the pressure of their departmental duties.
But there is another point in connection with this question upon which, at all events, I think a very considerable portion of this House will be found to agree. I mean as to bribery at elections—a point much discussed during the last few days. In my opinion there is no one part of this whole subject of our representative system which so much stands in need of reform as that of bribery and corruption. As the hon. 1588 Member for Nottingham (Mr. Osborne) well said, it is the plague spot and the disgrace of our representative system; and I was sorry to see within the last few days the extent to which the Government are disposed to underrate it. I think it is very unwise to underrate it. I am far from thinking that it has diminished; indeed, I believe that it is a growing and increasing evil. Some years ago I myself introduced a measure into this House making it imperative on every man who takes his seat here to make a solemn declaration at this table that he has not obtained it by improper means. The measure was defeated on division; but although there may be a good deal of weight in the arguments urged against it, on the whole I lean to it. When I introduced that Bill I received confidential communications from many hon. Members, who, desiring to assist me, furnished me with the particulars of the practices pursued in the places which they represented. It is difficult to describe the quality of the statements I received; but I must make mention of the fact that I was particularly shocked and astonished to find the extent to which corruption grew in the direction of the upper classes when once it had been introduced to a borough, and men once found that they could bribe their neighbours to sell their votes—how bribery worked upwards, and that even well-to-do men, holding respectable positions in their towns, would condescend to accept a bribe for their votes. But whenever this question is brought before the House, as it was brought by a Motion the other day, the Government meet it with the extraordinary response, "You had better not press this matter; you would do well to leave it in the hands of the Government." Hon. Gentlemen accede the request, leave the matter in the hands of the Government, and the Government permits it to rest. Thus the evil grows; and my belief is that if the Government really wish to serve the country, they would instead of making us discuss the franchise and redistribution of seats, invite us to give our whole thoughts to the question how best we could get rid of this disgraceful plague spot of bribery, which more loudly demands reformation than anything else connected with our representative system. I have no hope of the Government of the day giving this matter proper consideration; and experience has shown me that if private Members introduce it the subject is pooh-poohed; and 1589 the unfortunate result is that an impression exists in the country that we are not in earnest upon this question. That is unjust to the Members of this House: many of us are in earnest upon the subject, and the Government is responsible for the injustice done. And I am of opinion that the course pursued by the Government with reference to the Motion of the hon. Baronet the Member for Northamptonshire (Sir Rainald Knightley) on Monday night was neither fair nor Parliamentary. The Government had no right to say, that"because you have carried your Motion that the Committee shall be intrusted to deal with bribery, you must frame the clauses which you would have attached to our Bills. "The measures are Government measures, and, as the House has by a majority decided that the Committee shall be instructed in accordance with my hon. Friend's Motion, it is the duty of the Government, and not of my hon. Friend, to consider by what clauses this matter can be best disposed of. But, although I voted for that Motion of my hon. Friend, and shall vote in support of similar Motions again and again, I am not sanguine that the matter can be dealt with advantageously in any manner than by a Royal Commission. To deal with such a subject as bribery you require the continuous and concentrated attention upon it of many competent minds; it is obviously most difficult for Members of the Administration, burdened with their official duties, to give this continuous and concentrated attention to the matter; and I can conceive of no machinery whereby it could be brought to bear upon the subject but a Royal Commission. I am, therefore, very glad to find that this view of the matter has been very strongly urged in another place. I arrive, then, at the conclusion that these questions are not ripe for legislation, and that it is premature to send the Bills to the Committee. If the Government had really desired to reform our representative system, they would have approached it in a much broader spirit than they have, they would have had a Bill bearing upon all parts of the question ready at the beginning of the Session, and would have pressed it forward day by day. To do that now is hopeless. To send these measures to a Committee is a mere waste of time. We have already boldly told the Government, in a way which obliged them to attend to our recommendation, that they should not deal with the questions by halves. I hope we 1590 shall now let them understand in an equally unmistakable way that we will not permit them to force their view of the matter upon us by menaces. I hope the result of this division will be that the Government will consent to reconsider the whole matter; and that they will come before us in another Session with a well-considered, impartial, and comprehensive measure. Then I am convinced that all parties in this House will address themselves to the fair and full consideration of whatever the Government may advance, with a view, if possible, to the settlement of this vexed question.
§ MR. J. STUART MILL
Hon. Gentlemen opposite in considerable numbers have shown a very great desire to inform the House, not so much as to their views on the question before us, as with regard to what I have said or written upon the subject, and they have also shown a great desire to know the reasons I have for the course which they suppose I am going to take upon the question. I should be sorry to refuse any hon. Gentleman so very small a request, but I must first of all correct a mistake made by the right hon. Baronet (Sir John Pakington) who has just sat down. I did not allow myself to be persuaded not to speak upon the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Hull (Mr. Clay). I had various reasons for the silence which I observed on that occasion. One of these I have the less hesitation in stating, because I think it is one with which the House will fully sympathize—a decided disinclination for being made a catspaw of. What other reasons I had may possibly appear in the very few observations that I am now about to make, for the gratification of those hon. Gentlemen who show so much friendly concern for my consistency. No doubt it is a very flattering thing to find one's writings so much referred to and quoted; but any vanity I might have felt in consequence has been considerably dashed, by observing that hon. Gentlemen's knowledge of my writings is strictly limited to the particular passages which they quote. I suppose they found the books too dull to read any further. But if they had done me the honour to read on, they would have learnt a little more about my opinions than they seem to know. It may be that I have suggested plurality of votes and various other checks as proper parts of a general system of representation; but I should very much like to know where any Gentleman finds I have stated that cheeks 1591 and safeguards are required against a £7 franchise? The proposals I made had reference to universal suffrage, of which I am a strenuous advocate. It appeared to me that certain things were necessary in order to prevent universal suffrage from degenerating into the mere ascendancy of a particular class. Is there any danger that the working class will acquire a numerical ascendancy by the reduction of the franchise qualification to £7? It is ridiculous to suppose such a thing. The effect of the present Bill will not he to create the ascendancy of a class, but to weaken and mitigate the ascendancy of a class; and there is no need for the particular checks which I suggested. I must, however, except one of them, which is equally desirable in any representative constitution—the representation of minorities; and I heartily congratulate the right hon. Baronet on the qualified adhesion which he has given to that principle. It is not intended specially as a check on democracy—it is a check upon whatever portion of the community is strongest—on any abuse of power by the class that may chance to be uppermost. Instead of being opposed to democracy, it is actually a corollary from the democratic principle, for on that principle every one would have a vote, and all votes would be of equal value; but without the representation of minorities all votes have not an equal value, for practically nearly one-half of the constituency is disfranchised, for the benefit, it may happen, not even of the majority, but of another minority. Suppose that a House of Commons is elected by a bare majority of the people, and that it afterwards passes laws by a bare majority of itself. The outvoted minority out of doors, and the outvoted minority of the Members of this House who were elected by the majority out of doors, might possibly agree; and thus a little more than one-fourth of the community would actually have defeated the remaining three-fourths. On the principle of justice, therefore, and on the principle of democracy above all, the representation of minorities appears to me an absolutely necessary part of any representative constitution which it is intended should permanently work well. If the right hon. Gentleman who has declared in favour of the representation of minorities (Sir John Pakington) will bring forward a Motion, in any form which can possibly pass, with a view to engraft that principle upon any Bill, I shall have the greatest pleasure in seconding him. I desire to make a brief explana- 1592 tion in reference to a passage which the right hon. Gentleman has quoted from a portion of my writings, and which has some appearance of being less polite than I should wish always to be in speaking of a great party. What I stated was, that the Conservative party was, by the law of its constitution, necessarily the stupidest party. Now, I do not retract this assertion; but I did not mean that Conservatives are generally stupid; I meant, that stupid persons are generally Conservative. I believe that to be so obvious and undeniable a fact that I hardly think any hon. Gentleman will question it. Now, if any party, in addition to whatever share it may possess of the ability of the community, has nearly the whole of its stupidity, that party, I apprehend, must by the law of its constitution be the stupidest party. And I do not see why hon. Gentlemen should feel that position at all offensive to them; for it ensures their being always an extremely powerful party. I know I am liable to a retort, an obvious one enough, and as I do not intend any hon. Gentleman to have the credit of making it, I make it myself. It may be said that if stupidity has a tendency to Conservatism, sciolism and half-knowledge have a tendency to Liberalism. Well, Sir, something might be said for that—but it is not at all so clear as the other. There is an uncertainty about half-informed people. You cannot count upon them. You cannot tell what their way of thinking may be. It varies from day to day, perhaps with the last book they have read. They are a less numerous class, and also an uncertain class. But there is a dense solid force in sheer stupidity—such, that a few able men, with that force pressing behind them, are assured of victory in many a struggle; and many a victory the Conservative party have owed to that force. I only rose for the purpose of making this personal explanation, and I do not intend to enter into the merits of the Amendment, especially as I concur in all that has been said in the admirable speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for London (Mr. Goschen).
said, that the system of grouping proposed by the Government would require great consideration, and that its effect would be to entail increased expenditure on candidates seeking Parliamentary honours. The feeling of the majority of the hon. Members who voted for the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Northamptonshire (Sir Rainald 1593 Knightley) was that under the proposed Reform Bill, the only certainty discernible was a great increase in electoral expenditure. Some of the places to be grouped together were many miles apart, they had no community of interest, and very often great rivalry existed between them, and election contests would probably excite great irritation. He had had considerable experience in contests, and the opinion he had formed was that the grouping of the boroughs would multiply contested elections. He could not fancy any position more irritating than that of a borough which, although it might have a majority of votes in favour of a particular view, because it was associated with a larger borough supporting different views was always in a minority. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen) seemed to attach very little importance to boroughs grouped together being in the same county, or to the distance they were apart. Now he thought that such considerations were of great consequence, and the late Sir George Lewis, no mean authority in such matters, had expressed the same opinion. He had laid it down that three principles were to be regarded in representation—property, population, and locality. If locality were properly attended to great evils would be the result—representation would ultimately centre in those places originally strong, while places with but slight representation would be practically unrepresented. The Bill seemed to him to be constructed on what he might call "the something-must-be-done principle." In conversations with people favourable to the Bill, he found that they did not criticize all its parts, but they exclaimed, "But really we want a settlement of this question, and something must be done." Now, in politics that was a very dangerous principle, and it was related of a noble Lord once high in Her Majesty's Councils, that he used to say that he was never so much alarmed as when he heard his colleagues say that something must be done. It might be necessary that something should be done; but that something should be well done; and if a settlement of the question of Reform were desired, a good settlement ought, if possible, to be arrived at. The simple desire to get rid of the question was a great mark of impatience, With regard to the franchise, he entertained one objection to which he thought very little special reference had been made, except by his right hon. Friend the Member 1594 for the University of Cambridge. In dealing with this matter he could not see that the Government had made anything like an attempt at drawing a satisfactory line of demarcation between the voter and the non-voter—a point which he held to be of great importance. The right hon. Member for Cambridge University had proposed a £20 franchise for the counties, and £8 for the boroughs; and there was a principle in this, because £20 was the qualification for jurors, and £8 was connected with the payment of rates. It struck him (Mr. Scourfield) that the inhabited house duty would furnish a satisfactory line of demarcation between the voter and the non-voter. Home Tooke had said that benefit and burden, privilege and obligation, should go together; and, certainly, the person who had to pay should have some consolation in having the privilege of voting. He contended that the voter should not be separated from the non-voter by a mere arbitrary line of 3¼d. or 2d., or the smallest sum that could be named. This he held to be one great fault in the scheme the Government had proposed to the House. He had little confidence of being able to make the required Amendments in Committee, and hon. Members generally were afraid to leave defects to the chance of being remedied at that stage. After long debates on general principles hon. Members became wearied with the subject, and many things were allowed to pass which ought to have been amended. Some of the clauses of the Bill were inconsistent with each other. In the 16th clause it was proposed to disfranchise the labourers in the dockyards; but he could not find any reason for such a course. No charge of corruption had ever been brought against them—nothing except a certain inclination to put a pressure upon their representatives to make an effort for an increase in their wages. Now, considerations of this nature ought not to have any weight in determining who should have the franchise. Then there was a clause which distinctly negatived the necessity of paying rates or taxes in order to obtain a vote. This he (Mr. Scourfield) opposed on principle. It might be said, "Surely there are other means of recovering rates and taxes;" which was very likely, but he wished to encourage their payment. Many of the charities of the country depended upon the collection of rates. To suspend the payment of poor rate for two months would entail great miseries, and possibly starvation in some 1595 parts of the country. The hon. Baronet the Member for Yorkshire (Sir Francis Crossley) was the only person who had advanced anything like a colourable ground for the change, and his argument was based upon the assumption that in particular cases, which must have been of very rare occurrence, the overseers of rates had exercised some partiality with regard to arrears. He could only say, for his own part, that if proof were given of any such undue preference on the part of overseers, he would gladly join in any legislation that might tend to correct the evil. The proposal of the Government seemed to him marked by an undue desire to depress the purely rural element in the constituencies. A good deal had been said about tempering the uniformity of the rural constituencies by infusing into them some of the more active elements of the towns; but surely a reciprocal advantage might be gained by the towns in the introduction of more tranquil elements from the counties. He would take, as an instance, the East Riding of the county of Norfolk. As far as he was aware, no charge of corruption had ever been made against it; but it included a celebrated borough called Yarmouth, which had constantly attracted the attention of Committees, and was even now awaiting the visit of a Royal Commission. Was the House prepared to send an invasion of leaseholders from Yarmouth into the county of Norfolk? He believed that out of 8,000 voters in the East Riding no less than 1,000 would be leaseholders of Yarmouth. If these 1,000 voters were as corrupt as the borough voters their introduction would be a great hardship to East Norfolk; if, on the other hand, they were pure and upright voters, they had better remain in Yarmouth, where they were sadly wanted. It had always struck him that the objections urged to the Bill of 1859 on the ground of the alteration made with regard to the votes of freeholders in towns were much exaggerated. In the case of Exeter, Norwich, Nottingham, Lichfield, and possibly other towns, the principle of freeholders voting in the town if they lived within a distance of seven miles existed at the present moment, having been continued by the Bill of 1831. It would be well if, in some cases at least, this seven miles limit were extended. The hon. Gentleman the senior Member for the City of London (Mr. Crawford) had shown what great alterations increased facility of communication had made in the character 1596 of his constituency. Formerly, seven miles was an ample suburban limit; but now a great proportion of the wealthiest citizens lived at greater distances, and consequently were excluded from the right of voting. Connection by property, and not the actual place of residence, seemed to him the point of importance. For, practically, in these days, nobody knew where he lived. If a residential franchise were being created, the London and North Western or the Great Western Railway would be the place to give it to. Being himself a freeholder by inheritance in the City of London, he should be very glad to have the power of voting in right of it, so that when the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway came to take down the property—a most likely contingency to happen to any one—he might be able to interest one of the Members for the City of London upon the subject. As matters stood, those hon. Members, of course, would have nothing to say to him; and his vote out of property in the City of London went to neutralize that of some worthy farmer in the county of Middlesex, At present the counties were certainly not over-represented. The agricultural element, no doubt, was largely included in that Party of Stupidity of which mention had been made by the hon. Member for Westminster; but, though it might have its vices and its failings, it had also its merits and its virtues, and justice was not done to these when the large towns were able to exercise a double power in the representation. He sympathized with those who desired to see an effective measure; but he agreed with the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) that the Government had been very unfortunate in their mode of dealing with this Reform question. There were two ways in which the question might have been satisfactorily settled. The Government might either have settled it by producing a large, comprehensive, and well-considered measure, recommending itself to the approval of the great majority of the Members; or they might have taken a different course—a course which, he believed, the Government, at one time, had some faint notion of entertaining—they might have introduced the heads of a Bill—the framework and foundation for a measure—trusting to an amicable agreement of both sides of the House with regard to the details. But from the beginning to the end, every hope of such an 1597 amicable agreement had been marred by the course which the Government pursued. In the first place, hon. Members said, very naturally, "We do not complain of your not doing everything at the same time; but if you have got a plan let us know what it is." As soon, however, as this most reasonable request was embodied in a Motion by the noble Earl the Member for Chester (Earl Grosvenor), the Government immediately declared that they would regard it as a Motion of want of confidence. If anything like an amicable settlement was ever to be come to, the Government must avoid the multiplication of votes of "confidence." His own opinion on that subject was greatly strengthened by words which fell from the eminent man whose loss they all deplored, in the course of the discussion upon the Reform Bill of 1859. These were the words of Lord Palmerston on that occasion—For it cannot be maintained in these times and in this House, that whenever a majority of the House of Commons object to a particular measure, or to a portion of a particular measure, which the Government of the day may propose, they are, by expressing that objection, censuring the Government in such a manner as to render it necessary for the Government to consider whether they should or should not resign their offices. If that doctrine were to be laid down in the present state of Parliament since the lie-form of Parliament in 1832, I maintain that it would be utterly impossible for any Government, unless it were far wiser than any that has yet existed, to carry on for twelve months the administration of the affairs in this House.—[3 Hansard, cliii. 1308.]Those words of Lord Palmerston were not only true in themselves but almost prophetical. If Members wished to settle this question, they must avoid all unnecessary fighting points. Words, however, had been used in the recent debates which were not easily forgotten. The noble Lord the Member for Chester gave notice of his Motion in terms which were certainly not offensive, and his proposal had been adopted and acted upon by the House. Yet such words as "foul" and "dirty conspirators" had been used with reference to the noble Lord and those acting with him, whose object was not to damage the Government, but to press a fair and reasonable request. Still more recently the House had listened to phrases like "organized hypocrisy" and "false pretences." Sayings like these might be very witty, very epigrammatic, but he doubted their being very wise, where it was sought to carry a measure of this kind by the co-operation of the House. 1598 When once the passions of the House were excited it became—to employ a phrase much in vogue with a certain class of society—"an awkward customer to deal with." To tell hon. Members that they were to be kept in their places for two or three months, that all public business was to be interrupted, and that they were to be brought up again in November or December to pass this measure, was not a way to conciliate the House. It was always apt to resent anything like a threat, particularly when the occasion calling forth that threat was not of its own making. Personally he had never shown any desire to embarrass the Government; he still entertained friendly feelings towards them: but there was one observation which he felt bound to make. It was intended to erect a monument to the memory of Lord Palmerston. But, meanwhile, a more enduring memorial was likely to be erected by the contrast between his remarkable facility of converting opponents into friends and the remarkable ability of his successors in converting friends into opponents.
§ MR. BAXTER
said, it appeared to him that the speech of the right hon. Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) ought to have been delivered against the second reading of the Government Franchise Bill. Similar arguments had been used during the debates, and had been over and over again refuted. He (Mr. Baxter) trusted that the House of Commons would never consent to the right hon. Baronet's suggestion to refer the British Constitution to a Royal Commission. But he rose to reply to the questions which had been addressed to him by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and he would express in the frankest manner possible the views entertained by himself and by other hon. Members near him with regard to the political situation in which they now found themselves placed. In the month of March in introducing the Franchise Bill, the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the House and the country that the reason why Her Majesty's Government introduced the Franchise Bill alone, reserving all other questions of Reform for subsequent consideration, was, that it was impossible adequately to discuss and fairly to dispose of the main question as to the lowering of the franchise during the present Session of Parliament if the other minor questions were to be brought before them at the same time; and the opinion he (Mr. Baxter) had held from the beginning was that the Chan- 1599 cellor of the Exchequer and Her Majesty's Government were right in refusing to introduce the other Bills, and that the difficulty of the political situation at the present moment was mainly attributable to their having departed from the course they had originally intended to pursue. It was true that they had answered the objection that the country was not in possession of the whole of the Government scheme; but in removing one obstacle they had raised half-a-dozen others much less easy to overcome. It would be no easy task, even in times of political excitement and discontent, with revolution at the there should, to settle in one Session such important questions as the representation of the people, the extension of the borough and the county franchise, the re-distribution of seats, the re-arrangement of the boundaries of boroughs, the checking of bribery, and the reduction of election expenses; and yet hon. Gentlemen opposite called upon Her Majesty's Government to settle all these difficult and important questions during the present Session. In times of comparative quiet like the present, when there was no violent agitation outside the House, to attempt to do anything of the sort was next door to an impossibility, and he thought that Her Majesty's Government had only put their heads into a hornets' nest in trying to settle the Re-distribution of Seats question during the present Session. There was no use in concealing the fact that, without great pressure from without, hon. Gentlemen would never be induced to extend the Session into the autumn months, and thus to give up their shooting. As to settling a great question like this during the two months that yet remained of the Session, it was enough to say that they were in the hands of the Conservative party, and could not do so without their concurrence. He was afraid, however, after their recent remarkable exhibition, that that great party, true to its ancient traditions, was resolved to give the most determined opposition to one of the most moderate and Conservative Reform Bills that had ever been introduced into that House. He believed that in the end that conduct on their part would turn out a mistake such as they had frequently made before. He had no doubt it was a mistake on their part, both in regard to the interests of their party and the interests of Conservatism. Those who knew best the feelings and opinions of the people of this country believed that no chance 1600 would be again given for settling this question on principles so Conservative as the present Bill. The Franchise Bill still excluded thousands of intelligent working men whom they would like to see included; the Seats Bill left untouched numerous rotten boroughs, and left a good share of the representation to others which they knew ought to be placed in Schedule A, and their representatives given to more important constituencies. The first Bill was a moderately Liberal Bill, and the second Bill was a Tory Bill; and yet the Members of the advanced Liberal party were so moderate that they were prepared to accept these two moderate—or rather Tory—Bills as a settlement of the question for a considerable time. The great Conservative party had at last assumed their ancient attitude. They pertinaciously opposed the very small alteration proposed, and he would tell them that in doing so they were paving the way for household suffrage and a very sweeping measure of re-distribution. The hon. Gentlemen opposite said that the country was Conservative, and desired no change; but they had laid that kind of flattering unction to their souls more than once before, and the same thing was likely to happen again that happened in regard to the Reform Act of 1832, the repeal of the Test and Corporation Act, the Catholic Emancipation Act, and the repeal of the Com Laws. They refused to pass small measures, and they were compelled to accept large measures in the end. They were likely to see the party of obstruction obstructing to the last, and eventually making concessions beyond those which they were asked to make. He was willing to accept the proposition of the Government; but if the Bills were not to be permitted to pass, and if the question was again to be raised, he would not say he would be very sorry, for he was not sure that in the interests of advanced Liberalism it might not be the best policy for them to fight a little longer and get a better and more important Bill. Hon. Gentlemen opposite were in the habit of accusing the hon. Member for Birmingham of a desire to assimilate the institutions of this country to those of America; but what were they themselves doing? In this Bill the old system of representation was strictly adhered to; many small boroughs that should be disfranchised were still spared; and yet the hon. Gentlemen opposite not only opposed the measure, but in their Amendments advocated either the subdivi- 1601 sion of counties or the extension of the area of boroughs so as to include the surrounding portions of the neighbouring counties. What was that but the American system of electoral distriets? He had never during the eleven years he had a seat in that House heard any proposition so likely to approximate to the institutions and system of the United States as the propositions made in speeches and put on paper as Amendments by the hon. Gentlemen opposite. He was con-soled for the loss of this Bill by the belief that the next Bill must be more extensive. He was also consoled for the loss of it by the speeches made in reference to the Seats Bill, because the speeches delivered by the hon. Gentlemen opposite cut through into the old system of England, and paved the way for more democratic changes than were now proposed either by the Government or by the hon. Member for Birmingham. The question was, were they to ad here to the old system as nearly as they could, altering it as little as possible to suit the requirements of the time, or to approach gradually the system of equal electoral districts? The Government had adopted the former and more Conservative scheme, and the hon. Gentlemen opposite advocated the latter; and he should not break his heart if in the end the views of the hon. Gentlemen opposite were to pie-Tail. He had listened to the objections to the Bill, but was not aware that any of the arguments applied, at all events, to the principle of the measure before them He could not help referring to some glaring blunders which had been committed in the debates on this subject. It had been stated by the hon. and learned Member for Belfast (Sir Hugh Cairns), that Scotch Members had been bribed to support the Franchise Bill by the promise of additional representatives; but a more preposterous assertion could not have been made, for Her Majesty's Government very properly kept their own counsels, and not one of them knew how Scotland would be affected by the Re-distribution Bill. It was unworthy of the hon. and learned Gentleman's high position to raise a paltry cheer by such an allegation. Then the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Sandford) attributed the absence of bribery in Scotland to there being no close contests there; but though it was true that Conservatism had not so strong a hold in that part of the United Kingdom as elsewhere, very exciting contests often took place. His hon. Friend the Member for 1602 Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren) could bear testimony to the truth of that statement. Scarcely any of them, however, had occurred in grouped boroughs. The same hon. Gentleman had described the Scotch Members as "Puritanical semi-Republicans;" but the fact was that the majority of them were not Presbyterians, but Episcopalians, and with the exception of half-a-dozen advanced Liberals they were, he grieved to say, very moderate Whigs. As for the objections to the Government plan of grouping, it might be that that plan was capable of amendment, but the anomalies alleged were much exaggerated. He had expected to find that in almost every instance the grouped towns were separated by an inconvenient distance, whereas the Return moved for by the hon. Baronet the Member for South Devon (Sir Lawrence Palk) showed that the average distance was only fifteen miles, and greater distances than that had led to no inconveniences in the Scotch groups. He admitted that grouping necessitated a larger expenditure by the candidate in the first instance, owing to that system of agency to which he was strongly opposed; but there was this great countervailing advantage—that the interests of the various towns being conflicting, the Member was perfectly independent of local interests. His seat was consequently more secure, and in the long run less expensive. So far, moreover, from the increase of the constituencies involving greater expense, universal experience showed that large constituencies could not be bribed, and the best way of repressing the organized corruption which was a disgrace to the British name, and which existed in no other country, was to enlarge the constituencies. The statement he made on a former occasion, that no general electoral corruption existed in the United States, had been much controverted; but he had more personal knowledge of that country than most of his critics, and though it was true that corruption existed in the municipalities, in the State Legislatures, and in Congress, among the class who were called politicians by trade—as, indeed, was the case in this and in all other countries—he could assure the House that, with the exception of an attempt in Rhode Island and in a few of the far Western States, where the constituencies were very small, no systematic corruption such as prevailed here was known in America. The hon. Member who spoke last (Mr, Scourfield) had blamed the Government for 1603 not introducing a comprehensive scheme at the beginning of the Session; but he believed that in that case the tactics of 1860 would have been repeated, and the Bill would have been talked to death. But these questions of Reform must be settled ere long, and the longer they were in arriving at a settlement of them the more thorough and radical would the change be.
§ MR. MOWBRAY
said, that when his hon. Friend the Member for the Montrose burghs (Mr. Baxter) rose he thought they had at last found the individual whom the hon. and learned Member for Mal-don (Mr. Sandford) on Monday night, and the right hon. Member for Droit-wich that evening, had inquired for in vain, an independent supporter of the Government, prepared to defend and justify the Reform measures which they had introduced. But in this he was sadly disappointed, for his hon. Friend delivered a speech, the first portion of which ought to have been delivered against the Instruction moved by the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock to unite these two Bills and which had been unanimously adopted by the House. His hon. Friend had condemned the Government for having encumbered the Franchise Bill with the Re-distribution of Seats Bill, and for having referred both Bills to the same Committee; he censured the Chancellor of the Exchequer for having threatened them with an autumn Session, the fatigues and anxieties of which he intimated pretty plainly he was not prepared to undergo; and then he proceeded to lecture the whole Conservative party on the folly of allowing the present opportunity of settling the question to pass unimproved, and told them that they would never have such an opportunity again, and that they would repent of the mistake they were now making as they had often repented before. But his hon. Friend did not refer to former debates in support of this opinion; if he had done so he would have found that the Bill of 1852 contained a £5 franchise, which was rejected; that the Bill of 1860 contained a £6 franchise, which was rejected; and that the present Bill of 1866 contained a £7 franchise, which it was also possible the House would reject. So far, therefore, there was no reason to fear that delay would bring worse terms to the Conservative party. His hon. Friend then proceeded to reply to the observations of the hon. and learned Member for Belfast and the hon. Member for Maldon, for what 1604 he supposed to have been attacks on the Scotch Members. Now he (Mr. Mowbray) was sure, from all he knew of the hon. and learned Member for Belfast, that if that hon. and learned Gentleman had used the language attributed to him he never meant to imply that unworthy and sinister motives had influenced the Scotch Members in giving their support to the second reading of the Franchise Bill. If any suggestion was made it was only this—that the Scotch Members representing as they did for the most part liberal opinions would naturally be anxious to promote any measure which would give them greater ascendancy to those opinions, and at the same time afforded the prospect of an increase to the number of representatives for that part of the country with which they were more immediately connected. When at length his hon. Friend got to the Bill itself he disposed of it in a very few sentences. His hon. Friend was not prepared to defend the grouping of the boroughs, and said that if any anomalies existed they might be amended in Committee. And this after two nights' debate was literally all that had been said by independent Members in favour of the measure, that it might be mended in Committee; and at last they had got a Member of the Government, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy, who said that the merit of the plan of the Government was that it could be amended in Committee. He would pass over the remarks of the hon. Member for Westminster, for his speech was not a defence of the Bill, but could only be regarded as a personal explanation of his own writings, and considering the stupidity, in the hon. Member's opinion, of the party, they were much obliged to the hon. Member for the trouble he had taken in giving them information as to the meaning of his language. He wished to answer within a limited degree the challenge which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster had thrown out. There was, indeed, one challenge which he did not think the right hon. Gentleman was entitled to make. The right hon. Gentleman said, addressing the Conservative party, where are your Amendments? You ought to embody your views in a Bill. And then, correcting himself, he added, you ought to embody your views in an Amendment. But the right hon. Gentleman ought to know that it was not the duty of the opposition to embody their views, either 1605 in a Bill or in an Amendment. When the leaders of the Conservative party were in office, and had the responsibility of the Government in 1859, they did that which the right hon. Gentleman challenged them to do now—they produced their Bill, and laid it on the table of the House; and that Bill, he ventured to say, was in its completeness, in its elaborate preparation, and in its minuteness of detail in favourable contrast either with the Bill of 1860 or 1866. But, in the language of the late Sir Robert Peel, they had no right to ask a physician to prescribe till he was regularly called in. But the right hon. Gentleman threw out another challenge. He said if there is a blot in the Bill point it out. He (Mr. Mowbray) admitted that was a fair challenge; and in reply to it he would say that there were many blots in the Bill. Certainly, a good many had been pointed out with great care and ability by the hon. and gallant Member fur Wells. He was not going to follow the hon. Member through all the grouped boroughs. The right hon. Gentleman evidently shrank from the task—coming from the City of London he turned up his nose at the lacemakers of Honiton and the ropemakers of Bridport. Following up the blots already hit, the objection which he would urge against the Bill was of another character, although coming within the Resolution proposed by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Wells—that the scheme was not sufficiently matured by the Government. There were two faults that might be found in this Bill—one, that there was such an incongruous and absurd grouping, into which he did not propose to go further; the other was the omission carefully to consider and patiently to investigate the state of the country with reference to its claims for increased representation. When his right hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire introduced the Bill of 1859, the principle laid down was that they should first consider the places that required to be enfranchised. The Government ought to have considered what places required additional Members. They should have looked to the state of the country, not as it existed in 1852, 1859, or 1860, but as statistics showed it to be in 1866 The fault which he thought the Government had committed was that in this measure of enfranchisement and disfranchisement they had neglected to deal with the actual state of the country. He would take, for instance, 1606 the county of Durham. Had they considered the increase of population between 1831 and 1861, and the growth of property between 1860 and 1865? The population of the Northern Division in 1831 wag 78,151, and in 1861, 169,643; of the Southern Division in 1831, 75,862, and in 1861, 170,412; showing an aggregate population in 1831 of 154,013, and in 1861 of 340,055. He believed the increase in population within that period had been greater in the county of Durham than in any other part of England except Middlesex, while there was reason to believe that between 1861 and the present year the increase had gone on in a more accelerated ratio than in Middlesex. But while such had been the increase in population, the increase of property had been still greater. Looking to the Returns which had been laid on the table before the Franchise Bill, he found that the gross estimated rental of all property in the Northern Division, excluding boroughs, was in 1860, £496,141, while in 1865 it was £715,918, showing an increase of £219,777; while in the Southern Division it was in 1861, £580,500, in 1865, £988,405, showing an increase of £407,825. The rateable value of all property in the Northern Division, excluding boroughs, was in 1860 £437,371; in 1865, £607,773, showing an increase of £170,382; and in the Southern Division, in 1860, £500.713; in 1865, £840,711, showing an increase of £339,998. And what was the state of the representation of the county of Durham as settled by the Reform Act of 1832? The Northern Division had two county Members and six borough Members; the Southern Division was represented by two county Members only, the boroughs in that Division not having a single representative. In North Durham there was one Member for every 44,000, which was about the average of England. The Southern Division bad only one Member for every 85,000. One would naturally suppose that the Government, in taking a general survey of the claims of all England, would have admitted that Durham, with such an enormous increase of population and wealth, was fairly entitled to increased representation. But what had they done? It was proposed that in future North Durham should have nine Members and South Durham four. They gave one additional Member to the Southern Division and one to the town of Hartlepool. He had 1607 not a word to say against Hartlepool. They had wisely followed the example of Lord Derby's Government in 1859 in giving a Member to Hartlepool, and he was glad to think that the intelligence of that remarkable place was likely to find a fitting representative in the next Parliament. But there were other places that were equally entitled to representation. He would mention two. Did the Government consider the claims of Darlington? Darlington was the chief town in the Southern Division. It was the place where the county Members were returned, and had a considerable future before it; it was midway between the coal-fields of South Durham and the iron-stone districts of North Yorkshire; it was the seat and centre of a widely ramified railway system connecting the east and west coasts of the North of England, it had the greatest agricultural market in the North, except Newcastle; it was full of life, and activity, and intelligence; and its population was increasing from year to year. In 1861 the population was 15,761, and he believed, on reliable returns, it was now 26,000. Was Her Majesty's Government aware of these facts? He asked the question because, in the statistics before the House, the Census of 1861 had been exclusively consulted. Was Her Majesty's Government aware of the increased population of Darlington in 1866 as compared with 1861? But the increase of population in that town had not been more remarkable than the increase in the number of houses, which, he was informed, had been proceeding for the last five years at the rate of 300 a year. He believed that 7,000 of the inhabitants of Darlington had sent up a petition to the House praying that they might have a Member, and he hoped that the Government would take their claim into consideration. There was another point to which he wished to direct the attention of the House. Her Majesty's Government had given a Member to Middles-borough; but he would remind the House that the prosperity of that town was due to the wealth, the intelligence, and the capital of Darlington. But Darlington was not the only town in the Southern Division of the county of Durham which preferred a claim to direct Parliamentary representation. There was Stockton, which dated its charter from the reign of King John, though its claim for Parliamentary representation would rather rest upon the growth of the town in recent years. In 1608 1861 the town of Stockton alone had a population of 13,357, but in 1865 it was estimated that the population had increased to 23,000. And if South Stockton and Norton were added there was in 1861 a population of 19,060, which was now estimated to have increased to 32,500. Nevertheless, Stockton had not been included in the Bill. The number of houses, too, had largely increased; indeed, he had been informed that no fewer than 1,396 had been erected in Stockton during the last five years, and of these 507 were built last year. Notwithstanding all this, Darlington and Stockton were not permitted to have a share in Parliamentary representation, while that privilege was still to be enjoyed by Ashburton and the borough which was situate under the shadow of the ducal castle of Arundel. Then in the county of Durham there was another constituency which ought to have claims upon the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on account of his past career, and also, he trusted, on the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The claims of the University of London, of the Queen's University in Ireland, and of the Scotch Universities, to direct Parliamentary representation, had been recognized by the Government, but why had they not also recognized the claim of the University of Durham? That University, it was true, would not have a very large constituency, but still it was large when the fact was taken into consideration that the charter was only granted about thirty years ago. It would supply a constituency of 600 graduates, 500 of whom were clergymen of the Church of England. It might be objected that such a constituency would be too clerical in its character; but for his part he did not see that there was any force in such an objection—and he might remark that no tests were imposed, either at matriculation or admission to degrees, except theological degrees, so that the University was open to all Her Majesty's subjects. But, though the University was a small one, why should it be more badly treated than the University of St. Andrew's? Why, for instance, could it not be united for the purposes of representation with the University of London? If to the 1,800 constituents of the University of London were added the 600 graduates of the University of Durham, a constituency would be formed which would be fairly entitled to send two Members to 1609 the House of Commons. The hon. Member for Montrose had alluded with a good deal of feeling to the remarks which had been made concerning Scotland. He (Mr. Mowbray) did not intend to follow him into that part of the question; he thought, however, the hon. Gentleman could not be aware of certain facts which had been presented to hon. Members in a Return delivered that morning on the Motion of the hon. Baronet the Member for South Devon That Return showed what a small claim Scotland had for increased representation in consequence of the change which had taken place in the population since 1831, as compared with the population of England. In 1831, when the Reform Act was passed, it was a ground of complaint that the number of English Members was to be diminished in order that the number of Irish and Scotch representatives might be increased. That very question broke up the Parliament, and led to a dissolution, and was, in fact, the cause of much of the excitement which then prevailed. In 1831 the population of England was 13,944,460, that of Scotland being 2,373,561; while in the year 1861 the population of England had increased to 20,119,214, or 437 per cent; and during the same period the population of Scotland had only increased to 3,066,633, or 29.20 per cent. Well, if that were the case, what special claims had Scotland to increased representation? Had the advisers of the Crown these statistics before them when they prepared their Bill which proposed invidiously to give increased representation to Scotland, not by adding to the number of Members in the House, but by taking from England the privilege which she had enjoyed for so many years? He thought this part of the measure would be found to be as inconsiderate as the grouping of boroughs. The hon. Member for Montrose, following a very favourite plan on the Ministerial side of the House, had charged those who entertained a doubt of the wisdom and policy of the details of this measure as being enemies to all change and of opposing these Bills as they did the first Reform Bill and Catholic Emancipation for so many years. But hon. Gentlemen opposite bad no right to charge those who sat on the Opposition side of the House with being enemies to all change, because they were opposed to these Bills, because the opposition to the Government schemes had hitherto come from hon. Gentlemen who sat behind Her Majesty's Ministers; 1610 but no doubt when the time came the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster would be indulged, and gratified to find that Amendments would be proposed from the Opposition side of the House, and, perhaps, plenty of them. Then the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster had said that the Opposition were only endeavouring to catch votes, and gain as many recruits as they could from the Liberal party; but he at the same time forgot that it was the Government who drew the line that had caused the Bill to be opposed, by endeavouring to draw as many recruits as they could to its support, instead of, like wise statesmen, framing a Bill that would have rendered any change in the Constitution for centuries to come unnecessary. Instead of relying on soundness of principle they had framed a Bill which they hoped would have caught a number of recruits and obtained their support. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his Cabinet had, however, pursued the wrong course—they had looked for inspiration below the gangway, instead of support from their old Whig supporters and from those who would have been disposed to assist them in passing a really sound measure. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter) gave them sound advice when he said it was impossible for the Government to carry a measure of Reform without the sanction and concurrence of the Conservative party; and he (Mr. Mowbray) thought that if Her Majesty's Government had taken a comprehensive and impartial view, such as might have been expected from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he having supported the Bill of Lord Derby in 1859, and such as he might fairly have done without discredit to himself—if the Government had taken such a calm survey of the question and considered what would have pleased their more moderate supporters, and propitiated the feelings of Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House, and had not looked exclusively to the inspiration of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, there would have been a much greater chance of settling the question. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Haverfordwest (Mr. Scourfield) whose calm and sincere tone was appreciated by the House, if not by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and of whose support the late Lord Palmerston was indebted in more than one pinch, had 1611 told Her Majesty's Government that they had gone the wrong way about settling the question, that they had not proposed a measure that was likely to conciliate parties or that was intended to be a settlement of the question. Hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House were as sincerely anxious for a settlement of the question as hon. Members on the Ministerial side of the House; but then it must not be like the Church Rate Bill, something which was called a compromise, but which, in fact, was completely one-sided, and without concession. If they expected the Opposition to meet them to pass a measure of this kind they should have met the Opposition in the same spirit; and if they had done so at an earlier period of the Session they would have adopted a wiser course. Admitting that since the death of Lord Palmerston Earl Russell had felt himself compelled by previous pledges, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer by some wild speeches, to introduce a Reform Bill, it would have been much better if they had made a careful and full inquiry into the subject, and have ascertained what would have been the probable result on the constituencies; they would probably have been able by next year to have proposed a measure which would have been acceptable to the House, have done credit to themselves, and they might have gone down to posterity as persons who had conferred a beneficial gift on the people. Not having done so, they could not be surprised that hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House should support a Resolution in every word of which they agreed, and in respect of which he could quote the words of his right hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire that "every word is as true as gospel, and how can I deny it." The Opposition thought that the system of grouping adopted by the Government was neither convenient nor equitable, and that their plan was not sufficiently matured to form the basis of a satisfactory measure. Feeling that to be the case, he felt bound (whatever might be the consequence of carrying the Motion then before the House), without wishing to be factious, or to embarrass the Government, to record his vote in favour of it.
§ LORD FREDERICK CAVENDISH
said, that he would trespass for a short time only on the indulgence of the House while he explained his reasons for cordially opposing the Amendment, and cordially supporting the measure of the Government. 1612 The Amendment moved by the hon. and gallant Member for Wells was somewhat ambiguous in its terms ["No!"], and it was not clear whether it was directed solely against part of the Re-distribution of Seats Bill or against the Franchise Bill, though after the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the leader of the Opposition, he thought it might be assumed that those on whom the Amendment must mainly depend for support, regarded it as a vote directed against the entire scheme of the Government. He did not complain of hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House viewing the Amendment in that light. It seemed to be fair and natural that they should do so, because as far as he could judge, the Government had followed the same principles and had bad the same object in both parts of their measure; that object, as it seemed to him, being to adapt the institutions of the country, while strictly adhering to their spirit of the Constitution, to the changes which had been brought about by time. Those who spoke strongly against the Franchise Bill had expressed their apprehension at the enormous power the working classes would acquire through their means of combination. One of the things that had led to such good results in this country, was the fact that every power had been fairly represented, and when they found a great power had grown up that was not represented, a change had come to pass that required to be acknowledged. Owing to the immense development of trade and manufactures those parts of the kingdom that were formerly most populous and most wealthy, were now but slightly populous and slightly wealthy, as compared with those parts where the existence of vast coal-fields had gathered together the manufacturing industry of the country. These changes had necessarily caused a change in the relative proportions of population and wealth in different parts of the kingdom, and Her Majesty's Government, recognizing these facts, seemed in their scheme to have sought to adapt the old institutions of the country to its present condition. He should not trouble the House with many observations on the first part of the scheme, but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) having entered on the subject be would make a few observations. That right hon. Gentleman had told the House that the working classes were largely represented at present; but he had forgotten to mention who were 1613 their representatives. The right hon. Gentleman also stated that in a few years they would be the majority in a large number of constituencies. The right hon. Gentleman, however, had overlooked the fact that property had not only an artificial and corrupt influence, but that it had also a just influence, and it was not to be supposed that by simply increasing the number of a certain class of voters the just influence of property could be annihilated. In many towns, even where the working classes formed the numerical majority, the just influence of property would be maintained, and the working classes would be found to act cordially with their employers. Were it not so, the Constitution instead of resting on a firm basis, would be lying over a volcano. It was not necessary for him to weary the House by dilating on the necessity of a re-distribution of seats. The hon. Member who last spoke (Mr. Mowbray) had shown that, in consequence of the rapidly increasing population and wealth of certain parts of the kingdom, some redistribution must take place; no one had advised that the number of Members in that House should be increased, and therefore, if Members were to be given to populous and wealthy places, they must be taken away from existing constituencies. The proposals of the Government in this respect had many recommendations in their favour. Though in each of the small represented boroughs the population was but limited, yet there were many of them scattered over the country, and there was no reason why their wealth in the aggregate should be deprived of representation more than when it was gathered into centres. Another reason in favour of the Government scheme was that all hon. Members hoped that before long some Bill would be passed that would effect a settlement of the question. If, however, the Bill passed, left small boroughs with one Member, it would not effect a settlement. If small towns were grouped, and one or two Members were given to aggregate populations of 80,000, while boroughs with 2,000, 3,000 or even 5,000 inhabitants had an equal share of representation, that could not be regarded as a settlement. If, however, small boroughs were brought to gether, and large numbers were united in representation, the matter would not require resettlement in the lifetime of hon. Members. It was said that the boroughs in the proposed groups had not the same interests, and that their populations scarcely 1614 knew each other. But was there any single constituency of any magnitude, town or country, in which this was not the case—in which there were not people who were unacquainted with each other, and who had differing, if not conflicting, interests? Then it was said that the distances between the grouped boroughs would make the trouble and expense of canvassing them enormous. A Return had been delivered that morning, giving statistical information respecting the grouped Welsh boroughs, and showing the distances between them; and the average distance between them was greater than would be the average distance from each other of the boroughs it was now proposed to group. In Wales, instead of there being two or three boroughs in a group, there were four and five, and in one case six; but no one had ever heard that the expenses of the elections for these boroughs were any greater than were election expenses in England. On the other hand, the experience of the Welsh boroughs justified the belief that the expenses to be incurred in the elections for groups of boroughs would not be larger than they were in borough elections now. Although he was one of the youngest Members in the House, he might be allowed to give expression to one hope. Whatever course the House might think it wise and prudent to adopt, he hoped it would not adopt that of putting off the settlement of this question to a more convenient season. There had been measure after measure acknowledging that the unenfranchised portion of the people had claims to a share in the Government of the country; those claims had not been once denied and directly refused; but time after time like reasons had been given for not satisfying them. At one time it was a war in which we were engaged ourselves; at another time it was a war on the Continent; at another time it was war in America; and at another time he knew not what—but unwilling people always found some reason for not doing what was required of them. In every speech that bad been made against the extension of the people's rights hon. Members had declared that they were not afraid of the people, but were rather afraid of their leaders; but he could conceive of no greater assistance being given to eloquent demagogues than to enable them to say that, although the claims of the people were acknowledged to be right and just, yet that that ground was not sufficient for 1615 the House of Commons, but that it required other arguments to overpower existing interests, and that the people must not look to the wisdom and the justice of Parliament, but must wait until they were prepared to urge their claims by arguments to which he would not further allude. He trusted that the House would deal with the question, so that when the time of difficulty and of trouble came, as come it must to us in common with every country in the world, all classes and all interests would be united to defend and advance the general interests of the nation.
§ MR. DU CANE
said, that whatever opinion there might be as regarded the abstract merits of the Government measure of Reform, it must be, at all events, a matter of universal congratulation that at last they stood face to face with a visible and a tangible scheme. The House now knew the best and the worst of the intentions of the Government as regarded the extension of the franchise and the re-distribution of seats, and hon. Members were no longer called upon to discuss the details of one-half of the scheme in utter ignorance as to what the details of the other half was to be—whether it would be in harmony and symmetrical proportion to it. But although the intentions of the Government on these two heads were no longer a mystery, it was still a perfect mystery to him what substantial advantage the Government had really gained, either for the cause of Reform or for themselves, by the production of their measure in that piecemeal and fragmentary manner which, up to Monday last, they had deliberately chosen to adopt. The only result of this extraordinary method of procedure had been to lose two or three months, at least, of invaluable time; and, after all that had been said and done, the House was only upon the very threshold of the main discussion. True, they had read a second time the two Bills for reducing the franchise and re-distributing seats; but it could not be said that in these second readings the Government had gained any very substantial victory, or that the main question of Reform had made substantial progress. All that they had hitherto done had been to affirm two abstract principles, which he did not think any hon. Member, not even the most obstinate old Tory, would now venture to dispute, which were that a re-distribution of seats and an extension of the franchise ought to form a part of any general and comprehensive scheme of Reform. But it was only on 1616 Monday last, by the adoption of the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie), that they had arrived fairly and openly at the discussion of the main question. The responsibility for this arrival at the eleventh hour at the general question rested entirely with the Government; and it was for the Government to offer to the House somewhat of a plainer explanation than had been vouchsafed by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy, why, having two or three months ago declared that the Resolution of the noble Lord the Member for Chester, affirming that the great question of Reform should be treated and settled as a whole, would be considered by them as tantamount to an open declaration of want of confidence, and why, further, after having resisted that Resolution in one of the most obstinate and protracted debates the House had witnessed of late years, they had now virtually adopted its principle at the hands of the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock, and inscribed on their banner, "The Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill." He had not had the opportunity of addressing the House on the Motion of the noble Lord the Member for Chester; if he had, he should have stated as he did now that he voted for it not more because he objected to dealing with the question of Reform in a piecemeal and fragmentary manner than because he also thought the actual measure proposed was unjust and dangerous in its details, and ought not to form a part of any comprehensive scheme of Reform at all. He believed that the measure, if carried, would lead to two mischievous results. He believed then, and he still believed, that the Bill reducing the franchise was one which, so far as the counties were concerned, would destroy entirely the present representation of the landed interest. He believed that in the boroughs it would give to the working classes preponderating influence, and far more than their due share. Such was his opinion of the Government Franchise Bill at that time, and that opinion still remained unchanged. He further believed that there was only one class of politicians who could consistently support it, and they were those who believed the true basis of representation to rest upon numbers and not upon interests, and who also believed that any simple extension of the franchise, unaccompanied by any other condition, was a pure and unmitigated boon to the people. With such opinions he had no sympathy, and 1617 therefore he voted for the Motion of the noble Lord the Member for Chester quite as much because he disapproved the details of the Franchise Bill as for any other reason. But that Bill having been read a second time, he had still entertained some latent hope that its democratic tendencies might have been found to be somewhat mitigated by the Re-distribution Bill, and that the Government would feel, in any material lowering of the county franchise, it was absolutely necessary to guard against the landed interest being swamped by the influence of large and as yet unrepresented towns; and that, instead of a merely specious recognition of the claims of counties to additional representation, there would have been exhibited a general desire to hold the balance fairly between town and country, and while extending the area of the county franchise to preserve the distinctive character of the county representation. Now, he need hardly say that any hopes he had formed on that head had been completely disappointed on the production of the Bill for the Re-distribution of Seats. Whatever might be the anomalies and injustice of the Franchise Bill, the Re-distribution of Seats Bill was simply a measure in confirmation of, he would go further and say, a measure in aggravation of those anomalies and that injustice. The effect of the Franchise Bill, in the first instance, would be to increase to an enormous extent the existing disparity between the electoral bodies of county and borough constituencies, and the relative number of Members assigned to each; while the effect of the Re-distribution of Seats would be to strengthen and confirm that disparity. It proposed, it was true, to add twenty-six Members to the county representation; but what it gave with one hand it took away with the other, inasmuch as it proposed also to take, by a process of grouping and mutilation, no less than forty-one Members from boroughs situated in agricultural districts, the Members for which, although differing, perhaps, from the county Members on broad questions of party principle, yet might be found fighting on their side in cases affecting agriculture and the land. Now, he maintained that in the face of mutilation of that kind and the further transfer of these seats to the great manufacturing towns of the North and of Scotland, the offer of twenty-six Members to counties, even if the franchise were retained at its present 1618 level, was nothing less than a mockery and a delusion. But there was another and a far more serious effect which would be produced by the Franchise Bill, taken in connection with the Bill for the Re-distribution of Seats. The effect of the former, taken by itself, would be utterly and entirely to revolutionize the character of the county constituency. It would sweep away that distinction which had hitherto been maintained between the county and borough franchises—namely, that the one should be based on property and tenure, and the other on occupation. The effect of the Re-distribution of Seats Bill, so far from mitigating, would, in his opinion, strengthen that revolution. The effect of the Franchise Bill would be to give to the larger unrepresented towns in counties complete control over the county franchise; while the Redistribution of Seats Bill would if anything strengthen that change, by leaving, so far as he could judge, the vexed question of the settlement of borough boundaries entirely an open question to be fought over by excited local agitators and squabbling town councillors. The effect of this undoubtedly would be to keep alive a constant spirit of hot water and agitation, and postpone almost indefinitely any settlement whatever of the borough boundary question. But there was also another important point to be taken into consideration—that those twenty-six counties and divisions of counties to which it was proposed to give an additional Member were precisely those to which the largest number of £14 occupiers would be added by the Franchise Bill. The number of registered electors now to be found in those twenty-six divisions of counties was 246,000, out of which 44,000 were borough freeholders, resident for the most part in represented towns and voting for counties by right of property also situated in represented towns. To those 44,000 borough freeholders it was proposed to add no less than 106,000 £14 occupiers, also for the most part town residents to a man, and thus an existing electoral body of 200,000 voters, by no means exclusively country residents, would be confronted with a fresh body of 150,000 almost exclusively resident in towns. So that, in point of fact, the giving twenty-six Members to counties amounted first of all to swamping, by means of the borough freeholders and £14 occupiers, the county voters. And then, when the rural districts were thus converted by the Franchise Bill into largo 1619 unwieldy groups of borough constituencies the Government stepped in and generously, with their Re-distribution Bill, made the counties a present of twenty-six new Members. He had no wish after the elaborate discussion which had taken place to weary the House by dwelling on the proposal of the Government with respect to the grouping of boroughs. The objections to which it was open had been clearly pointed out by several speakers, and especially by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Wells; but he thought the Government Bill for the Redistribution of Seats might be summed up in the very remarkable words used by a great statesman no less than 100 years years ago. He alluded to Mr. Burke, who, in speaking of the Coalition Ministry formed under the auspices of Lord Chatham, described it as—Apiece of joinery so curiously indented and so whimsically dovetailed—so variously inlaid, such a piece of diversified mosaic, such a tesselated pavement, without cement, here a bit of black stone and there a bit of white, that indeed it was a very curious show, but utterly unsafe to touch and unsure to stand on.As he said before, he did not wish to weary the House with statistics; but he hoped they would permit him to point out how the Bill of the Government would affect the county which he had the honour to represent (Essex). It was proposed to group together the two boroughs of Maiden and Harwich, and to take away from that group three of the existing Members—two of whom were to be handed over to the respective divisions of the county; of the third he did not know exactly what was to become. He did not see why that third Member should be taken away out of the county of Essex; but he supposed the seat was one which the Government proposed to hand over either to Scotland or to some large manufacturing town in the North. Of the utter absurdity of grouping Maldon and Harwich together he would say but little, beyond remarking that those two towns were separated by more than forty miles of railway, by two or three large tidal rivers, and that there was not between them the slightest vestige of a common interest. Nor would he say much as to the transparent injustice of leaving those two boroughs with only half a Member each, when many single boroughs which did not possess above half their aggregate population were allowed to retain their 1620 two Members untouched. But as one who formerly represented Maldon, and had therefore some grateful reminiscences of that town, he must say that he thought its case was a particularly hard one. Maldon had at the present moment an electoral body numbering 921 voters—a larger number of registered electors than was to be found in twenty boroughs he could name which were to have their two Members left to them; while the population of Maldon, if estimated as it ought to be in accordance with its Parliamentary instead of its municipal limits, would be found to contain a population of from 20,000 to 30,000. What, however, he wished especially to complain of was the manner in which the county of Essex would be affected by the Bill for the Re-distribution of Seats. In the case of South Essex, for example, large and important agricultural districts would be entirely swamped by the large suburban populations of Stratford and West Ham. That he regarded as extremely unjust; while he had also to complain that the agricultural districts of North Essex would be swamped by the purely manufacturing populations of such places as Braintree and Halstead and Coggeshall. He did not mean to say that he should not like to see those places represented; but, then, he thought it was unfair that they should be allowed to form part of the county constituency, and should thus exercise a predominating influence in returning not one or two but six Members to Parliament. If it was absolutely necessary to take a Member each from Maldon and Harwich, it would, he thought, be a much better course to pursue to give one of the Members so taken in the Northern Division of Essex to the three places he had just mentioned, which were becoming manufacturing towns of great importance; while in the case of South Essex the other Member so taken might be given to Stratford and West Ham, or, better still, those suburban districts might be incorporated with that constituency to which they were bound by every tie, both manufacturing and commercial—he meant the Tower Hamlets. There was also another point in connection with the subject to which he wished briefly to advert. Almost every Member, except those of very extreme views, believed that, if a Reform Bill passed at all, it was of the utmost importance to pass a measure which would be regarded, 1621 at all events for many years to come, as a permanent settlement of the question, and which would leave as few sources of discontent as possible. But both the Franchise and the Re-distribution Bill of the Government appeared to be framed with a desire to keep open every possible source of discontent and irritation. They proposed to reduce the borough franchise to £7 and the county franchise to £14, thus giving to unrepresented towns a preponderating influence in the county representation. At the same time, a large mass of house occupiers between £'14 and £7 would be left in the unrepresented towns in county constituencies without the franchise; and when, after the passing of this Bill, these persons began to ask why the unfortunate accident of living outside the precincts of a represented borough should deprive them of the franchise, the Government would find a difficulty in answering the question. Such a question would present the greater difficulty on account of the narrow gap which would then be left between the county and borough franchise. In maintaining the county franchise at £50 you could say that that was quite as much a property qualification as one of occupation. A man living in a house of £50, or farming land to that value, must be to a certain extent a man of independent means and capital, and therefore had more or less of a property qualification. If, again, the county franchise were lowered to £20, there was a reason for stopping at that point, for at £20 a juryman's qualification began, and you could base that franchise with especial propriety on the principle that taxation and representation should go together. But the limit of £14 gave no such locus standi. In fact, with a borough franchise at £7. a county franchise at £14 would in a few years he untenable, and when you had got a £7 franchise all round the path to electoral districts and universal suffrage would be easy. Disapproving entirely of the proposed grouping of boroughs, he should certainly support the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member for Wells (Captain Hayter). But the Amendment also affirmed that the Government scheme was not sufficiently matured to form the basis of any satisfactory settlement of Reform. He (Mr. Du Cane) took these words to refer quite as much to the franchise as to the Re-distribution Bill; and in this opinion 1622 also he fully concurred. Owing to the loose way in which the whole scheme had been put together, there were many points on which information was essential, hut of which information the House was entirely destitute. In the first place, the question, how many voters would be actually admitted by the proposed extension of the borough franchise, had to be unravelled from the tangled web of uncertainty and contradiction in which it was now involved. Then there was the question of the borough leaseholders, respecting which the Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed himself to have been completely in the dark, inasmuch as he was considerably startled by the revelations of his right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire (Mr. Adderley.) Lastly, it was most important they should know how far the working man was already in possession of the county franchise, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who looked upon the working man in the county franchise as a "fly in the pot of ointment," probably had little idea of the extent to which he had already obtained the county franchise through the medium of building societies. He (Mr. Du Cane) had no wish to weary the House with figures at that late hour, but he had had some statistics put into his hands recently on that head, which he thought would startle the right hon. Gentleman not a little if he had had time to lay them before him. Upon all these grounds he (Mr. Du Cane) should cordially support the Amendment. The House had been told pretty plainly to-night that if the Amendment were carried, it would be a death-blow to the Bill. He supposed it might be gathered from that that one of two results would happen—either the Bill would be withdrawn and a new one introduced, or the whole question of Reform would be postponed till next Session. No doubt the latter contingency would be regarded by many Gentlemen in the House as a very sad catastrophe; but if it were a catastrophe, it was one for which Her Majesty's Government were alone responsible. It was open to the Government at the commencement of the Session to have brought in a measure of Reform based upon a fair and equitable compromise, and to have carried the Bill triumphantly through the stormy waters of this House over the Bar of the House of Lords. But the Government adopted another and a widely different course. They chose to bring in a measure which, revolutionary and danger- 1623 ous in itself, opened the door to further revolutionary and dangerous changes. They chose, also, in the way in which they produced that measure, to show distrust of the House of Commons with which they had to deal, and to ignore the existence not merely of a Conservative party there, but of a Conservative feeling in the breasts of the people out of doors. Well, he thought that up to the present moment that manner of dealing with the question had not been a very successful one. He would say to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the language of Byron—You have the Pyrrhic dance as yet—Where is the Pyrrhic phalanx gone?The Bill of the Government still, it was true, dragged on a lingering and precarious existence, but where was that triumphant majority of seventy or eighty which they possessed at the beginning of the Session? A few weeks ago public attention was called to an historical incident in the life of Julius Cesar. The House heard a good deal about crossing the Rubicon, burning ships and breaking down bridges; and no doubt in the imagination of the Chancellor of the Exchequer the parallel was to be carried further, and these operations were to be succeeded by a triumphant march upon the Capitol. But as regarded the progress of this Bill, he would venture to suggest another parallel as more appropriate, a parallel drawn also from the annals of an Imperial history. He would venture to suggest the invasion of Russia by the first Napoleon; and the victory upon the Resolution of the noble Lord the Member for Chester (Earl Grosvenor) might be compared to the battle of Borodino and the occupation of Moscow. Carrying the parallel still further, he ventured to think that now the burning of Moscow and the real disasters of the right hon. Gentlemen were about to commence. If anything could be gathered from the progress of this debate, the remainder of the existence of this Bill would be nothing but a desperate hand-to-hand struggle until the day came when the Bill, if not it authors, would be obliged to succumb to the foes which the Government themselves had raised. In that hour of disaster, the Government would have at least this melancholy consolation—that they had themselves been the cause of their own undoing. At the commencement of the Session they set sail with a fair breeze and calm water; 1624 but, defying the warning voice both of friend and foe, reckless also of a pretty general expression of public opinion, they steered their Reform vessel straight for the rocks that lay black and frowning before them, and knowingly, wantonly, and deliberately rushed to their own destruction.
§ MR. CANDLISH
said, he regretted to see that it was the intention of hon. Gentlemen opposite to destroy, if possible, the Government measure. It had been described as democratic, dangerous, and revolutionary; but in his opinion a more moderate and conciliatory measure could not have been submitted to the House by any Government. As statistics had been referred to on the other side of the House, he would quote some to the House in support of his view of the Government scheme. In England and Wales, the male population was 5,300,000. Of that number at least 4,000,000 belonged to the working classes. Out of the whole number of the male population only 900,000 possessed the franchise. Of the 4,000,000 of working men it was proposed to admit 200,000, or only 1 in 20, to the possession of the franchise. Of 1,300,000 above the condition of working men 700,000 possessed the franchise, or 1 in 2. Did they propose any revolutionary measure? So far from it, they proposed not to admit 400,000 working men, but 200,000, and 200,000 above the condition of working men, so that the majority would remain as it was before. In their enfranchisement, out of 3,800,000 unenfranchised working men, the Government proposed to add 1 in 19. Of the 600,000 unenfranchised persons above the condition of working men they proposed to add 200,000, or 1 in 3. After the carrying of this revolutionary measure, as it was called, the proportion of the working men admitted to the franchise would be 1 in 9; whilst the proportion of those above the condition of working men would be 2 in 3. And yet this measure was characterized as revolutionary by hon. Gentlemen opposite. In fact it was impossible for any Government who dealt with the subject at all to propose a more limited measure of enfranchisement. He was quite astonished to hear the hon. Member who spoke last talk of a county grievance. He could not conceive that the measure created any county grievance as against boroughs. If the House looked at the relative growth of county and borough constituencies it would be found that 1625 whilst the increase in county constituencies had been 31 per cent since 1832 the increase in borough constituencies had been 67 per cent. And yet the Government proposed to take 26 Members from borough constituencies and transfer them to counties. If there was one part of the Government scheme which called for the forbearance of hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House it was that proposition. There had since 1832 only been an increase of 2,738,000 in the population of the county constituencies upon upwards of 8,000,000, whilst the borough constituencies had increased 3,430,000 upon a population of 5,000,000. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) complained of the system of grouping, but it was impossible for any party or Government to group in a manner which should not be anomalous in the matter of the re distribution of seats. If the measure should become law, as he hoped it would do, there must be a perpetuation and continuation of anomalies which could never be avoided in any measure of Reform, He thanked the House for the kindness with which they had listened to the very few remarks he felt it his duty to make.
§ MR. LOWE
Mr. Speaker, we are now called upon to go into Committee on a Bill which has never been read a second time. The two halves of it have been read, each of them a second time, but the whole measure we have never until this moment had before us. The first half this House was induced—or shall I say coerced?—into reading a second time without knowledge of the other part. The second half was really hurried on so fast to a second reading—only an interval of a week being given to master all its complicated details—that I, for one, was quite unable to take part in the discussion on the second reading for want of time to make up my mind as to an opinion by which I should be willing to stand. I hope, therefore, the House will allow me, even at this stage, to question the principle of the measure. What is that principle? I must apologize to the House for the monotonous nature of my complaints, which are, I think, justified by the uniform nature of the provocation I receive. That provocation is that the Government keeps continually bringing in measures, attacking, as it seems to me, the very vital and fundamental institutions of the country, and purposely abstains from telling us the principle of those measures. I made the same complaint, I 1626 am sorry to say, against the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the Franchise Bill. I make it again now. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in introducing the Re-distribution Bill said that the Government was not desirous of innovation—that is to say, they went upon no principle. Their principle, he said, was the same as the principle of every Re-distribution Bill. Now, that appears to me to be impossible, because Re distribution Bills may be divided into two classes. There is one, the great Reform Bill—the only successful Re-distribution Bill that anyone ever heard of, and then there are the four which succeeded it, and which all failed from one cause or another. The principle of the Reform Bill was one thing, and the principle of the four Bills which followed it was another. The principle of the Reform Bill was, no doubt, disfranchisement. The feeling of the country at that time was that the deliberations of this House were overruled, and the public opinion of the country stifled by an enormous number of small boroughs under the patronage of noblemen and persons of property. That state of things was considered a public nuisance, and one which it was desirable to abate, and hence the principle of the Reform Bill was disfranchisement, and 141 Members were taken away from the small boroughs. The Government proposition was to reduce the number of the House of Commons by fifty, because they were very anxious to get rid of these Members, and they had no means which appeared suitable of filling up the vacancies they had created. It was only on an Amendment carried against the Government that it was determined not to diminish the number of Members in this House. But has that been the principle of any subsequent Reform Bill? I think not; it has been quite the contrary. It has been the principle of enfranchisement; and of disfranchisement only so far as may be necessary in order to fill up the places which require enfranchisement. As I have shown the House, there are two different principles, and the right hon. Gentleman does not tell me which is his, but says the principle is that of all other Re-distribution Bills—this puts me in mind of the story of a lady who wrote to a friend to ask how she was to receive a particular lover, and the answer was, "As you receive all your other lovers." Well, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer will not tell us what the principle of his measure 1627 is, I must, I am sorry to say, with the same monotony of treatment, try to puzzle it out for myself, for it seems to me preposterous to consider the Bill without the guiding thought of those who constructed it. There is one principle of re-distribution upon which it clearly ought not to be founded, and that is the principle of abstract right to equality of representation. The principle of equal electoral districts, or an approximation to such districts, is not the principle upon which a Re-distribution Bill ought to be based. To adopt such a principle would be to make us the slaves of numbers—very good servants, but very bad masters. I do not suppose we are generally eager to see the time—When each fair burgh, numerically free,Returns its Members by the Rule of Three.And yet, though few persons stand up for the principle of equality of representation, I cannot escape the conclusion that it has had a good deal to do with the matter, and that the Government will find it exceedingly difficult to point out what other principle than that of a sort of approximation towards numerical equality has guided them. For if it be not a principle of d priori rights, it must be some good to the State, some improvement of the House, or the Government—some practical good in some way. Now, the House has had the advantage of hearing the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and the Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster, and I ask whether any of these right hon. Gentlemen has pointed out any good of any practical nature whatever to be expected from the Bill. I set myself, therefore, according to my old method, to try and puzzle out what ought to be the principle of a Bill for the Re-distribution of Seats. In the first place, I should like to be shown some practical evil to be remedied, but I give that up in despair, for I have so often asked for it and failed to obtain it that I am quite sure I shall not have it on this occasion. But it seems to me a reasonable view of a Re-distribution Bill that it should make this House more fully and perfectly than it is at present a reflection of the opinion of the country. That, I think, is a fair ground to start from. We have suffered in many respects from the arbitrary-division of these two measures, and in none more than this—that the arguments for the Re-distribution of Seats have been transferred to this Bill for enlarging the franchise. For, although it is quite true 1628 that a Bill for the Redistribution of Seats should aim at making Parliament a mirror of the country, it is also true that there can be nothing more inappropriate than the argument when applied to the enlargement of the franchise. For to pass a Bill which puts the power in a majority of the boroughs into the hands of the working classes is not to make this House a faithful reflection of the opinion of the country, but is to make it an inversion of that opinion by giving political power into the hands of those who have very little social power of any kind. But that principle applies, to a certain extent, to a Re-distribution Bill, and from that point I take my departure. Any one who makes an examination as to the nature of the deficiency will see whether this House fails in any considerable degree to reflect the opinion of the country. I confess I have found it exceedingly difficult to discover in what respects it fails to do so. I have, indeed, observed some tendency of a kind, which, if we are to have a Re-distribution Bill, ought to be corrected. I think there is a visible tendency to too great a uniformity and monotony of representation. I think there is a danger that we may become too much like each other—that we may become merely the multiple of one number. That is a danger which has occurred to thinking men, and I think it very desirable that in a Re-distribution Bill we should find a remedy if possible for the tendency to this level of monotony, and perhaps mediocrity. I think another great object we must have in view in a Re-distribution Bill should be enfranchisement, and by that I mean not the aggregation of fresh Members to large constituencies, but the enfranchisement of fresh constituencies, and by the enfranchisement of such constituencies the giving more variety and life to the representation of the country, and thus making the House what the country is—a collection of infinite variety of all sorts of pursuits and habits. I think the second advantage is that, by making fresh constituencies by fresh enfranchisements, you do the most efficient thing you can do towards moderating the frightful, enormous, and increasing expense of elections. This is one of the greatest evils of our present system. I am not speaking of the illegitimate expenses of elections, but of the legitimate expenses. We had a paper laid upon our tables this morning giving an account of the expenses of elections from "S" downwards. I take the first few large boroughs, and I will read the expenses.
1629 The expense of the election for Stafford is £5,400; Stoke-upon-Trent, £6,200; Sunderland, £5,000; and Westminster, £12,000. These are the aggregate expenses of all the candidates. I take them as they come, without picking and choosing. I wish to call particular attention to the case of Westminster, not for the purpose of saying anything disagreeable to my hon. Friend (Mr. J. Stuart Mill), for we know he was elected in a burst—I will say a well-directed burst—of popular enthusiasm. That was honourable to him and honourable to them, and I have no doubt that in the course of the election all that could be done by industry and enthusiasm was accomplished—gratuitously; and I am sure that my hon. Friend did not contribute in any way to swell any unreasonable election expenses. His election ought to have been gratuitous, but mark what it cost—£2,302. I believe it did not cost him 6d. He refused to contribute anything, and it was very much to the honour of his constituents that they brought him in gratuitously. But look to the state of our election practices when such an outburst of popular feeling could not be given effect to without that enormous sacrifice of money. I will now call attention to two or three counties. This subject has not been sufficiently dwelt upon, but it bears materially upon the question before us to-night. I will take the southern division of Derbyshire. The election cost £8,500, and this is the cheapest I shall read. The northern division of Durham cost £14,620, and the southern division £11,000. South Essex cost £10,000. West Kent cost £12,000; South Lancashire, £17,000; South Shropshire, £12,000; North Staffordshire, £14,000; North Warwickshire, £10,000; South Warwickshire, £13,000; North Wiltshire, £13,000; South Wiltshire, £12,000; and the North Riding of Yorkshire, £27,000—all legitimate expenses, but by no means the whole expense, Now, I ask the House how it is possible that the institutions of this country can endure if this kind of thing is to go on and increase. Do not suppose for a moment that this is favourable to anything aristocratic. It is quite the contrary. It is favourable to a plutocracy working upon a democracy. Think of the persons excluded by such a system! You want rank, wealth, good connections, and gentleman-like demeanour, but you also want sterling talent and ability for the business of the country, 1630 and how can you expect it when no man can stand who is not prepared to pay a considerable proportion of such frightful expenses? I think I am not wrong in saying that another object of the Re-distribution Bill might very well be to diminish the expense of elections by diminishing the size of the electoral districts. These are the objects which I picture to myself ought to be aimed at by a Re-distribution Bill. It should aim at variety and economy, and should look upon disfranchisement as a means of enfranchisement. And now, having done with that, I will just approach the Bill, and having trespassed inordinately on former occasions upon the time of the House, I will now only allude to two points. One is the grouping and the other is adding the third Member to counties and boroughs. This word "group" is very pretty and picturesque. It reminds one of Watteau and Wouvermans—of a group of young ladies, of pretty children, of tulips, or anything else of that kind. But it really is a word of most disagreeable significance when analyzed, because it means disfranchising a borough and in a very uncomfortable manner re-enfranchising it. It means disfranchising the integer and re-enfranchising and replacing it by exceedingly vulgar fractions. Well, now, I ask myself why do we disfranchise and why do we enfranchise? I do not speak now of the eight Members got by taking the second Member from boroughs, hut of the forty-one got by grouping—by disfranchisement and enfranchisement. And I ask, in the first place, why disfranchise these small boroughs? I have heard no answer to this from the Government. All that was attempted was said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer—that he had in 1859 advocated the maintenance of small boroughs on the ground that they admitted young men of talent to that House, but that he found on examination that they did not admit young men of talent; and, therefore, he ceased to advocate the retention of small boroughs. My right hon. Friend is possibly satisfied with his own reasoning. He answered his own argument to his own satisfaction; but what I wanted to hear is not only that the argument he used seven years ago had ceased to have any influence on his own mind, hut what the argument is which has induced the Government to disfranchise the boroughs. Of this, he said not a single syllable. I know my own position too well to offer anything in favour of small bo- 1631 roughs. That would not come with a good grace from me, but I have a duty to perform to some of my constituents. They are not all ambitious of the honours of martyrdom. So I will give a very good argument in favour of small boroughs. What is the character of the House of Commons?
It is a character of extreme diversity of representation. Elections by great bodies, agricultural, commercial, or manufacturing, in our counties and great cities are balanced by the right of election in boroughs of small or moderate population, which are thus admitted to All up the defects and complete the fulness of our representation.I need not say that I am reading from the work of a Prime Minister. Not only that, but he re-published it in the spring of last year, and in that edition this passage is not there. But he published a second and more popular edition in the autumn, and in the autumn of last year he inserted the passage I am now reading. The Prime Minister differs from the Chancellor of the Duchy, for he seems fonder of illustration than argument—For instance, Mr. Thomas Baring (he goes on to say), from his commercial eminence, from his high character, from his world-wide position, ought to be a Member of the House of Commons. His political opinions, and nothing but his political opinions, prevent his being the fittest person to be a Member for the City of London.It would be better to have said "his political opinions prevent his being a Member for the City of London," without saying they prevent his being "the fittest person," which is invidious—But the borough of Huntingdon, with 2,654 inhabitants and 393 registered voters, elects him willingly.Next he instances my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department; but, as he happily stands aside and looks upon the troubles of the small boroughs as the gods of Lucretius did upon the troubles of mankind, I will not read all the pretty things which the Prime Minister says of him. Then we come next to the Attorney General—Sir Roundell Palmer is, omnium consensu, well qualified to enlighten the House of Commons on any question of municipal or International Law, and to expound the true theory and practice of law reform. He could not stand for Westminster or Middlesex, for Lancashire or Yorkshire, with much chance of success.The House will observe that that was 1632 written last autumn. If it had been written this morning, I think very possibly the Prime Minister might have cancelled these words, and said, "The hon. and learned Gentleman would have stood for one of those large constituencies with every prospect of success." Now, is it credible, is it possible to conceive, that the writer of these words should actually be the Premier of the Government which, not six months after these illustrations were given, has introduced this new Reform Bill to group and disfranchise the very boroughs he thus instanced? Well, there is a little more—Dr. Temple says, in a letter to the Daily News, 'I know that when Emerson was in England he regretted to me that all the more cultivated classes in America abstained from politics because they felt themselves hopelessly swamped.'"These last words are given in italics, the only construction I can put upon which is that the noble Lord thought if many of these small boroughs were disfranchised the persons he desires to see in this House would not come here, else I do not see what is the application of the passage. He goes on to say—It is very rare to find a man of literary taste and cultivated understanding expose himself to the rough reception of the election of a large city.There is a compliment here to many of the noble Lord's most ardent supporters. But he continues—The small boroughs by returning men of knowledge acquired in the study, and of temper moderated in the intercourse of refined society"—Where the Members for large boroughs never go, I suppose—Restore the balance which Marylebone and Manchester, if left even with the £10 franchise undisputed masters of the field, would radically disturb.Whether that means to disturb from the roots or to disturb from radicalism I do not know—But, besides this advantage, they act with the counties in giving that due influences to property without which our House of Commons would very inadequately represent the nation, and thus make it feasible to admit the householders of our large towns to an extent which would otherwise be inequitable, and possibly lead to injurious results.So that the proposal of the noble Lord's Government, coupled as it is with the disfranchisement of these small boroughs, is in his opinion inequitable certainly, and 1633 possibly likely to lead to injurious results. He goes on—These are the reasons why, in my opinion, after abolishing 141 seats by the Reform Act it is not expedient that the smaller boroughs should be extinguished by any further large process of disfranchisement. The last Reform Bill of Lord Palmerston's Government went quite far enough in this direction.Now, Sir, what did the last Reform Bill of Lord Palmerston do? It took away the second Member from twenty-five boroughs, and that was the whole of it. It did not break up a single electoral district. The present Bill takes away forty-nine Members from these places, and, therefore, according to the words of the Prime Minister, written six months ago, it exactly doubles what the Ministry ought to do in the matter. After that I think the House will agree with me that it would not become the Member for Calne to add anything in defence of his borough; for what could he say that the Prime Minister had not said a hundred times better, and with all the authority and weight of such a statesman, writing deliberately in his study no less than thirty-three years after the passing of the Reform Act? Well, I shall say no more of that, but for some reason which we have yet to hear I will assume that the small boroughs are to be disfranchised. The next question that we have to consider is what is to be done with the seats to be acquired by that disfranchisement. It does seem to me quite absurd to halt between two opinions in this way. I must assume that there is some good and cogent reason for disfranchising the small boroughs, or else I suppose they would let us alone. But if there be a good and cogent reason for disfranchising them, what possible reason can there be for re-enfranchising them immediately afterwards? What reason can there be for giving them back as a fraction that which you have taken away as an integer? The first process condemns the second. It may be right and wise—I do not in my conscience think it is—to disenfranchise these boroughs; but if you do take that course, your business surely should be to do the best you can for the interests of the country at large with the seats you thus obtain. If you are to be influenced by respect for traditions and by veneration for antiquity, perhaps Calne should have some claim, because it was there that the memorable encounter is said to have taken place between St. Dunstan and his enemies, which 1634 terminated in the combatants all tumbling through the floor, with the exception of the Saint himself. And I may remind you that in our own times Calne was represented by Dunning, by Lord Henry Petty, by Mr. Abercromby, for some time Speaker of this House, and by Lord Macaulay. That might avail something; but if it is all to go for nothing, I ask on what principle, having first broken up the electoral system of these boroughs and taken away their franchise, you begin to reconstruct them into these groups? If you are actuated by a veneration for antiquity, or by an indisposition to destroy a state of things which is if not carried too far in no slight degree advantageous, and eases very much the working of the Government of the country, besides introducing into this House a class of persons some of whom you would do very badly without—if that be so, leave these boroughs alone. If it be not, deal with the question in a bold and manly spirit; but do not take a thing away from them because you soy it is wrong they should have it, and then give it them back again in part because you say it is right they should have it. That involves a contradiction. Look at what you are doing. You take away the franchise from these places and then you limit yourself by giving it to boroughs which have previously possessed it. You unite together boroughs that have been in the habit of engrossing for themselves all the care and attention of a single Member, who is obliged to pay great regard to their wishes, to look after their little wants, to pet them and coddle them and make much of them. That which he has been used to do for one of these boroughs he will still be expected to do, and must do, after they are grouped; and what he does and pays for one of the group he will have to do and pay for all the rest. Not one of the three or four will bate one jot or little of its claim upon the Member or candidate, but everything will be multiplied by so many times as there are separate places in the group. You must have as many agents in each of them, you must give as many subscriptions to their charities, their schools, and their volunteers. Everything of that kind, in fact, will be multiplied by this system three or four fold. Now these boroughs at present give you a great advantage. All must admit that there is an advantage, if it is not bought too dear, in having means by which persons who are not of large fortune can obtain seats in this House. But by 1635 this Bill you take away that one clear ad-vantage of these boroughs, the one thing for which, I think, they very worthily exist—you make them very expensive constituencies; and you then retain them out of veneration for antiquity and from a traditionary feeling when you have stripped them of the very merit which recommends them to the friends of the Constitution! Well, Sir, it is polygamy for a man to marry three or four wives; but that comparison does not do justice to this particular case, because you enforce an aggravated form of political polygamy by asking a man to marry three or four widows. The House need not be afraid of my pursuing that branch of the subject. The best that can he said for the Ministerial Bill—at least what has been said for it—is that it is intended to remove anomalies. I really know of no other defence that is offered for it than that. Well, Sir, mankind will tolerate many anomalies if they are old, and if as they have grown up they have got used to them. They will also tolerate anomalies if they have been necessarily occasioned by the desire to work out improvements. But when people set about correcting anomalies, and so do their work as to leave behind them and to create even worse anomalies than any they found existing, neither gods nor men can stand it. Is not that the case here? I would briefly call attention to two or three of the proposed groups. In Cornwall you have Bodmin, Liskeard, and Launceston, with 18,000 inhabitants between them, thrown into a group; but the towns of Redruth, Penzance, and others, making up altogether 23,000, in the same county, are left without the means of representation. Then, in the county of Devon you are to have Totnes joined with Dartmouth and Ashburton, and by putting the three places together you only get 11,500 people; but there is Torquay, with 16,000, that you leave entirely unrepresented. I should not object to that, because if a thing works well you do not do wrong in leaving it alone; but if you do begin to meddle with it, it is monstrous to turn everything upside down, and then introduce a thousand times greater anomalies than those you have removed. People will bear with anomalies that are old, historical, and familiar, and that, after all, answer some useful end; but they revolt at them when you show them how flagrant an injustice and inequality the House of Commons or the Government will perpetrate in the 1636 name of equality and justice. Then there is the group of Maldon and Harwich thirty miles apart. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was much shocked at our objecting to these boroughs being joined in this extraordinary way; but, Sir, were we not told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that these things were done upon geographical considerations? The geographical considerations referred to by the Chancellor of the Exchequer appear to me to mean, as interpreted by his Bill, that the Members for the towns to be grouped should learn as much geography as possible by having as large distances as possible to travel over. Then we have in Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, Cirencester, Tewkesbury, and Evesham, with 16,000 inhabitants; but in Worcestershire alone you have Oldbury and Stourbridge, with a population of 23,000, which remain utterly unrepresented. Again, there is the case of Wells and Westbury, which scrape together 11,000 inhabitants, while between the two we find Yeovil with 8,000, and for which nothing is done. In Wiltshire, Chippenham, Malmesbury, and Calne have 19,000 inhabitants, but a very few miles from Calne is Trowbridge, with 9,626 inhabitants, the second town in the county, which you leave unrepresented. In Yorkshire, Richmond and Northallerton scrape-together 9,000 inhabitants, while for Barnsley, with 17,000, Doncaster, 16,000, and Keighley, 15,000, you do nothing at all. Such things may be tolerable when they have grown up with you, but they are utterly intolerable when a Government interferes, and introduces a measure which overlooks such cases while professing to take numbers as its guide. The Government have repudiated geographical considerations, but it is more absurd if taken numerically. Here is, however, something worse than an anomaly. It is a gross injustice. The House is aware—with the two exceptions of Bewdley and Droitwich, which are probably to be accounted for by haste and carelessness, the matter being a small one—that all the boroughs having a less population than 8,000 inhabitants are dealt with in some way or other. There are two ways of treating these boroughs. There is a gentler and there is a severer form. There are eight boroughs which are picked out for what I will call the question ordinary—that is, losing one Member, and the remainder, a very large number, are picked out and formed into sixteen groups, this being the extraordinary or exquisite 1637 torture, being pounded to pieces, brayed in a mortar, and then renovated. In judging of the treatment which these boroughs receive, I think some principle ought to be observed. The geographical principle has been ostentatiously set aside, and look at what has happened to the numerical principle. There is Newport, in the Isle of Wight, with 8,000 inhabitants which loses only one of its Members, and is not grouped; while Bridport, with 7,819 inhabitants, loses both its Members and is grouped. There are seven boroughs having smaller populations than Bridport from which only one Member is taken, and they are not grouped; while Bridport, with a larger population, has both its Members taken, and is grouped. Is it on account of geographical considerations that it is coupled with Honiton nineteen miles off? [An hon. MEMBER: Twenty-one!] That is not an anomaly. It is simply a gross injustice. There is Chippenham with 7,075 inhabitants. Chippenham, as every one knows, is a rising railway town. Yet it is grouped; while there are five boroughs which contain fewer inhabitants than Chippenham which will each continue to return one Member. Going a little further, we find Dorchester with 6,779 inhabitants, and three boroughs smaller than itself. Dorchester loses both Members, while the three boroughs smaller than Dorchester retain one Member. They are Hertford, Great Marlow, and Huntingdon. I can simply attribute the cause of this to the great haste, carelessness, and inad vertency which have characterized this measure. I am far from attributing it to any improper motives. I have not the slightest notion of anything of the kind. It arises, I believe, from the mere wantonness or carelessness of the Government hurrying forward a Bill which they did not intend to bring in, and which they were at last compelled to bring in, contrary to all their declarations. Between Huntingdon, the smallest borough that loses one Member, and Newport, the largest, there are seventeen boroughs, nine of them returning one Member each, and eight returning two, all of which have larger populations than Huntingdon, which is allowed to retain one Member while they are grouped. The reason I cannot tell, but there stands the anomaly. This grouping of boroughs cannot, therefore, I say, be satisfactory to any class of gentlemen. Of course, it is not satisfactory to the small boroughs. They are the material out of 1638 which other people are to be compensated, and of course no one likes to be included in such a process. But I cannot imagine that it can be satisfactory to Gentlemen who call for those measures with a view to remove anomalies and promote equality, and make the Parliament a more accurate representative of the population of the country. It seems to me that everybody must be dissatisfied with such a proceeding as this. The House need not take all these groups as they stand because any one of them might be remedied in Committee, but the whole principle of the thing is so bad that it is absolutely impossible to deal with it in Committee at all. I have been assuming hitherto that we have good grounds for getting these forty-nine Members that are wanted, but that depends entirely upon the use the Government make of them when they have them. What do they do with them? They propose to give out of these forty-nine twenty-five as third Members to counties, and four as third Members to large towns, and seven to Scotland. I deny that a case is made out in favour of this arrangement. Hon. Gentlemen opposite with whom I sympathize so much on this question may not perhaps agree with me on this point. I maintain that it is a mere illusion as things now stand, and looking at these two measures as a whole, to talk of county representation; you must look at the two things together, franchise and re-distribution, and you must remember that the counties you give these Members to are to become really groups of towns. Every one knows very well where the houses between £14 and £50 are to be found. They are to be found, not in the rural districts, but in the towns. What you are preparing to do for the county Members is to make a total change in the nature of their constituency. But under the system proposed the county Member would no longer represent a constituency which from its present and peculiar character can easily be worked as a whole. When you lower the franchise as proposed you have taken the power out of the rural districts and given it to the small towns. The Member will therefore have to reckon with so many small towns, with probably an attorney in each. When you speak of giving a third Member to counties you must remember that you are talking of counties not as they are now, but as you propose to make them. It is an illusion, therefore, to say that a great deal is done for the rural districts in thus adding Mem- 1639 bers to the counties, and this will be the more easily understood if you have not forgotten the opinion of Lord Russell, who says how materially the small boroughs assist the counties in maintaining the balance of power. I altogether decline to be caught by that bait. But, putting that aside, on what principle are we to give three Members to counties? It has been the practice to give two Members to counties from time immemorial, with a slight exception at the time of the Reform which is by no means generally approved. I am willing to accept the fact without stopping to inquire too curiously whether this number was fixed upon because they slept in the same bed or rode on the same horse on their journeys to London. But, if you come to make it a general practice to give three Members to counties, I think we are entitled to ask upon what principle this is to be done. For my own part, I can suggest no other principle than the mere worship of numbers. It is quite a new principle that numbers should not only be represented in this House because they are important, but that that importance should entitle them to more votes. The House will recollect that every Member has two separate and distinct duties to perform. He is the representative of the borough which sends him to Parliament, and he has to look after its local interests to the best of his power. That is a small and, in the mild and just times in which we live, generally a comparatively easy duty, but his greater and more pre-eminent duty is to look after the affairs of the Empire. The real use, therefore, of an electoral district, be it small or large, is one more important than the adequate representation of the numbers of any particular place, so long as they are represented. It is that it should send to Parliament the persons best calculated to make laws, and perform the other functions demanded of the Members of this House. This seems to me to go directly against the principle that these great communities are not only entitled to send competent Gentlemen to represent their affairs, but to send as many Members as will correspond with their weight in the country. If once you grant this principle, you are advancing far on the road to electoral districts and numerical equality. I say this is the mere principle of numbers. If the principle be once established, it is very easy to give it extension. Scarcely a meeting is assembled on this subject without some man getting up and com- 1640 plaining that the Member for a small borough, myself for instance, should have a vote which will counterbalance the vote of the representative of a borough containing 200,000 or 300,000. If it was a fight for the good things of this world between Calne and Birmingham, I could understand how such a principle might be adopted; but when it is a question of making the laws and influencing the destinies of this country, the question is not which is the larger body, but which best discharges its duty in sending Members to Parliament. I cannot find a trace of that principle in the whole of this Bill, for it is clear that there is no such idea in giving these three Members to counties. They- are mere concessions to the importance of the constituencies to which they are given, while the small boroughs are grouped in a manner likely to promote mediocrity, because Gentlemen of shining qualities and useful attainments will scarcely be able to contest them, unless possessed of great wealth. I cannot bring my mind to the idea of giving three Members to those large constituencies. We should, on the whole, be far better without those twenty-nine Members. We had better leave matters alone if we can find no better use for them. Now, I have gone through what I have to say upon the details of this Bill; and perhaps the House will allow me to sum up what I think of the whole effect of the Ministerial measure. You say how frightful the expenses of elections are, and declare that they are a cankerworm in the very heart of the Constitution. Yet what is the effect of this Bill with regard to the legitimate expenses of elections? The Government are proposing to increase the size of the constituency of every borough in the kingdom. Will that decrease expense? They propose to disfranchise small boroughs; and instead of subdividing districts with a view to make more manageable constituencies, except in the case of the Tower Hamlets and South Lancashire, a senseless homage is paid to mere numbers, adding to that which is already too much. Then there is another thing. It is the duty of every man who calls himself a statesman to study the signs of the times, and make himself master, as far as he can, of the tendencies of society. What are those signs and tendencies? I suppose we shall none of us doubt that they are tending more or less in the direction, as I said before, of uniformity and democracy. What, then, is the duty of a wise statesman under such 1641 circumstances? Is it to stimulate the tendencies which are already in full force and activity, or is it not rather, if he cannot leave matters alone, to see if he cannot find some palliative? If he cannot prevent the change which stronger powers are working, should he not make that change as smooth as possible, and not by any means accelerate it? But the whole of this Bill is not in the way of moderating, but stimulating, existing tendencies. It is not always wise, and the observation is as old as Aristotle, to make a law too accurately in correspondence with the times, or the genius of the Government under which you live. The best law that could be made for the United States would not be one peculiarly democratic. The best law for the French Government to enact is not one of an ultra-monarchical character. There is sound wisdom in this, and it should be kept well in mind; but it seems to have been by no means considered by the framers of the crude measure before us.But our new Jehu spurs the hot-mouthed horse,Instructs him well to know his native force,To take the bit between his teeth, and flyTo the next headlong steep of anarchy.Passing to another point, I have to remind you that the Chancellor of the Exchequer frightened us the other day by giving us a prose version of Byron's poem on "Darkness," when we were told that our coal was all going to be consumed, and then we were to die like the last man and woman of our mutual hideousness. Upon that the right hon. Gentleman founded a proposition, and never was so practical a proposition worked out upon so speculative a basis. You will have no coal in 100 years, he says, and therefore pay your debts; and, addressing hon. Gentlemen opposite, he says, "Commerce may die, navigation may die, and manufactures may die—and die they will—but land will remain, and you will be saddled with the debt." That was the language of the right hon. Gentleman. Now, if we are to pay terminable annuities on the strength of the loss of our coal, do not you think we may well apply the same dogma to this proposed Reform of our Constitution? What is the right hon. Gentleman seeking to do by this Bill? He is seeking to take away power of control from the land—from that which is to remain when all those fine things I have mentioned have passed away in the future—from that which will be eventually saddled with the whole burden of the debt, 1642 and to place it in these fugitive and transitory elements which, according to the account he gave us, a breath has made and a breath can unmake. I ask, is that, upon the right hon. Gentleman's own showing, sound prospective wisdom? I do not deal myself with such remote contingencies, I offer this simply as an argumentum ad hominem. I should like to hear the answer, I have a word to say with regard to the franchise. We have had a little light let in upon this subject. We are offered, as you all know, a £7 franchise. It is defended by the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon two grounds—flesh and blood, and fathers of families. The £7 franchise is defended by the hon. Member for Birmingham upon another ground; he takes his stand on the ancient lines of the British Constitution. I will suggest to him one line of the British Constitution, and I should like to know whether he means to stand by it. In his campaign of 1858, in which he had taken some liberties with the Crown and spoke with some disrespect of the temporal Peers, he came to the spiritual Peers, and this was the language he employed. He said, "That creature of monstrous—nay, of adulterous birth." I suppose there is no part of the British Constitution much more ancient than the spiritual Peers. Is that one of the lines the hon. Gentleman takes his stand upon? Again, the Attorney General, having recovered from the blow the grouping of Richmond must have been to him, has become a convert, and like most converts he is an enthusiast. He tells us that he is for the £7 franchise because he is in favour, like the hon. Member for Birmingham, of household suffrage. These are the reasons which are given in order to induce us to adopt the £7 franchise. I ask the House, is there any encouragement in any of these arguments to adopt it? The Chancellor of the Exchequer says it is flesh and blood; it is a very small instalment of flesh and blood, and none can doubt that any one asking for it upon that ground only asks for it as a means to get more flesh and blood. The hon. Member for Birmingham stands upon the Constitution, and he puts me in mind of the American squib, which says—Here we stand on the Constitution, by thunder,It's a fact of which there are bushels of proofs,For how could we trample upon it, I wonder,If it wasn't continually under our hoofs.Well, the hon. Gentleman asks the £7 upon the ground that it is constitutional— 1643 that is, upon the ground of household suffrage. He wants it with a view of letting us down gently to household suffrage. The Attorney General, of course, means the same. In fact, he said we ought to do it at once. But see what a condemnation the Attorney General passes upon the Government of which he forms a part. He says, "You have taken your stand upon the £7 franchise. The ground you take is so slippery and unsafe, so utterly untenable, that I would rather go down to household suffrage at once—to the veriest cabin with a door and a chimney to it that can be called a house. There I may, perhaps, touch ground." What encouragement do these Gentlemen give us to take the £7 franchise? Yet the hon. Member for Westminster says that £7 is no great extension, and out of all comparison with universal suffrage; so he excuses himself for having thrown overboard all the safeguards which he has recommended should be girt round universal suffrage. I do not object to his throwing them overboard. Checks and safeguards, in my opinion, generally require other safeguards to take care of them. The first use universal suffrage would make of its universality would be to throw the safeguards over altogether. He says the £7 franchise has nothing to do with safeguards. The Chancellor of the Exchequer goes to universal suffrage, and the other two to whom I have referred profess they go to household suffrage. Do you think you could stop there? You talk of touching ground—would it be solid ground or quicksand? You think that when you have got down to that you can create a sort of household aristocracy. The thing is ridiculous. The working classes protest even now against what they call a brick-and-mortar suffrage. They say, "A man's a man for a' that." The Bill appears to me to be the work of men who—At once all law, all settlement control,And mend the parts by ruin of the whole.The tampering world is subject to this curseTo physic their disease into a worse.What shall we gain by it? I have not, I think, quibbled with the question. I have striven to do what the Government have evaded doing—to extract great principles out of this medley, for medley it is, composed partly out of a veneration for numbers and partly out of a sort of traditional veneration for old boroughs, which are to be preserved after what is beneficial in them has been taken from them. Then we 1644 have to consider the proposed county franchise, founded, as has been said, upon utter ignorance. It is quite evident that this Bill has been framed without information, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as is well known, has told us that the only copy he had—I may be right; at any rate, I cannot be wrong until I have stated it somehow. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us that the only copy he had of those statistics was the one that he was obliged to lay on the table of the House. If I am wrong, let the right hon. Gentleman contradict me.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I spoke of the last absolutely finished copy. The substance of those statistics, as far as regarded the general bases of the measure, had been in our hands for weeks before that time, but was not in a state to be placed on the table of the House until all the columns had been filled in.
§ MR. LOWE
Well, Sir, that finished document is what I call a copy. It may be that the Bill was originally drawn for £6 and £12, and that at the last moment £7 and £14 were substituted, and that it was regarded as a matter of little consequence what the exact figures were. As to the element of time, I suppose, however, I must not say anything, or the right hon. Gentleman will be angry with me. The twelve nights that he gave us for the Franchise Bill are pretty well gone, and we have now got what he never contemplated we should have, a Re-distribution Bill as well. I suppose I had better say nothing about the support the Government will have, or I had better veil it in a dead language and say, Idem trecenti juravimus. I would ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how he can expect to get the Bill through Committee under those circumstances, bearing in mind that most of the newspapers that lay claim to intelligence and write for educated persons, having begun with rather vague notions of liberality, have written themselves fairly out of them, and that educated opinion is generally adverse to this measure. These, Sir, are the prospects we have before us. We have a measure of the most ill-considered and inadequate nature, which cannot be taken as it is, and which, as I understand it, is based on principles so absolutely subversive and destructive—the grouping, for instance—that if we were ever so anxious to aid the Government we could not accept it. Well then, Sir, what 1645 objection can there be to the advice given to the Government by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries—no hostile adviser—to put off the question for another year, and give the educated opinion of the country time to decide on this matter? What are the objections to such a course? There are only two, that I know of. One is, that hon. Gentlemen are anxious, and very naturally anxious, for a settlement. But are there materials for a settlement in the Bill before us? How, for instance, can you settle the grouping? If you retain the principle on which the Government act, that of grouping those boroughs that have already Members, you may do a little better than they have done, because they seem to have gone gratuitously wrong; but you cannot make an effective measure of it, and one that would stand I am convinced it would generate far more discontent than it allayed, and create far more inequality than it seeks to remove. Then, the giving constituencies three Members is a principle of the greatest gravity and weight, not only for its actual results, but because it really concedes the principle of electoral districts. That, surely, is a matter not to be lightly disposed of; nor do I see how it can he compromised, because if the Government gives it up, it must select Borne other apportionment, which can only be done by creating other electoral districts. Then, as regards the franchise; no doubt that we could get through, because it would only be dealing with a figure, and I daresay there are many hon. Gentlemen whose opinions are entitled to great weight who would like a compromise on the franchise. But then you have to consider this, that a compromise on the franchise is a capitulation. Take what I said of the opinions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the hon. Member for Birmingham, and the Attorney General, and it is just as true of £8 as of £7 and of £9 as of £8. If you once give up the notion of standing on the existing settlement, so far as the mere money qualification for the franchise is concerned, whatever other qualifications you may add to it, you give up the whole principle. As the Attorney General himself sees, you must go down to household suffrage at last—whether any further is a matter on which men may differ, though, for my part, I think you would have to go further. I must say, therefore, that I can see no materials for a compromise in the borough franchise part of this Bill, and I 1646 come therefore to the conclusion that, desirable as it would be, weary as we all are of the subject, and anxious as we all are to get rid of it, there is no place for a compromise. The divergence is too wide, the principles are too weighty, the time is too short, the information is too defective, the subject is too ill-considered. Well, then, the other objection to a postponement is that, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary for the Colonies told us, the honour of the Government would not permit them to take that course. Now, I think we have heard too much about the honour of the Government. The honour of the Government obliged them to bring in a Reform Bill in 1860. It was withdrawn under circumstances which I need not allude to, and as soon as it was withdrawn the honour of the Government went to sleep. It slept for five years. Session after Session it never so much as winked. As long as Lord Palmerston lived honour slept soundly; but when Lord Palmerston died, and Lord Russell succeeded by seniority to his place, the "sleeping beauty" woke up. As long as the Government was kept together by having no Reform Bill, honour did not ask for a Reform Bill; but when, owing to the particular predilections of Lord Russell, the Government was best kept together by having a Reform Bill, honour became querulous and anxious for a Reform Bill. But that, Sir, is a very peculiar kind of honour. It puts me in mind of Hotspur's description—By Heaven, methinks, it were an easy leap,To pluck bright honour from the palefac'd moon;Or dive into the bottom of the deep,Where fathom-line could never touch the ground,And pluck up drowned honour by the locks;So he, that doth redeem her thence, might wear.Without co-rival, all her dignities.That is, as long as honour gives nothing she is allowed to sleep, and nobody cares about her, but when it is a question of wearing "without co-rival all her dignities," honour becomes a most important and exacting personage, and all considerations of policy and expediency have to be sacrificed to her imperious demands. But then there is another difficulty. The Government have told us that they are bound in this matter. Now, "bound" means contracted, and I want to know with whom they contracted? Was it with the last House of Commons? But the plaintiff is dead, and has left no executor. Was it with the people at large? Well, wait till the people demand the fulfilment of the 1647 contract. But it was with neither the one nor the other, because the Under Secretary for the Colonies let the cat out of the bag. He said that he himself called upon Earl Russell to redeem their pledge. I suppose he is Attorney General for the people of England. He called upon the Government to redeem their pledge. Now, one often hears of people in insolvent circumstances who wont an excuse to become bankrupt getting a friendly creditor to sue them. And this demand of the hon. Gentleman has something of the same appearance. But there has been a little more honour in the case. The Government raised the banner in this House, and said they were determined we should pass the Franchise Bill without having seen the Re-distribution Bill. Well, they carried their point, but carried it by that sort of majority that though they gained the victory they scarcely got the honour of the operation, and if there was any doubt about that I think there was no great accession of honour gained last Monday in the division, when the House really by their vote took the management of the Committee out of the hands of the Executive. All these things do not matter much to ordinary mortals, but to people of a Castilian turn of mind they are very serious. Sir, I have come to the conclusion that there must be two kinds of honour, and the only consolation I can administer to the Government is in the words of Hudibras—If he that's in the battle slainBe on the bed of honour lain,Then he that's beaten may be saidTo lie on honour's truckle bed.Well, Sir, as it seems to be the fashion to give the Government advice, I will offer them a piece of advice, and I will give them Falstaff's opinion of honour—What is honour?…a trim reckoning.…I'll none of it. Honour is a mere scutcheon, and so ends my catechism.Sir, I am firmly convinced—and I wish, if possible, to attract the serious attention of the House for a few moments—that it is not the wish of this country to do that which this Bill seeks to do. There is no doubt the main object of this Bill is to render it impossible for any other Government than a Liberal one to exist in this country for the future. I do not say that this object would appear an illegitimate one in the eyes of heated partisans and in moments of conflict, for we are all of us naturally impatient of opposition and contradiction, and I dare say such an idea has 1648 occurred to many Governments before the present, and to many Parliaments before this; but I do Bay that it is a short-sighted and foolish idea, because if we could succeed in utterly obliterating and annihilating the power of hon. Gentlemen opposite, all we should reap as the reward of our success would be the annihilation of ourselves. The history of this country—the glorious and happy history of this country—has been a conflict between two aristocratic parties, and if ever one should he destroyed the other would be left face to face with a party not aristocratic, but purely democratic. The hon. Member for Birmingham said with great truth the other day that if the purely aristocratic and the purely democratic elements should come into conflict the victory would, in all probability, be on the side of democracy. The annihilation of one of the aristocratic parties—and I know it is in the minds of many, though, of course, it is not openly avowed—would be a folly like that of a bird which, feeling the resistance the air offers to its flight, imagines how well it would fly if there was no air at all, forgetting that the very air which resists it also supports it, and ministers to it the breath of life, and that if it got quit of that air it would immediately perish. So it is with political parties; they not only oppose, they support, strengthen, and invigorate each other, and I shall never, therefore, be a party to any measure, come from whichever side of the House it may, which seeks so to impair and destroy the balance of parties existing in this country that whichever party were in office should be free from the check of a vigorous opposition, directed by men of the same stamp and position as those to whom they were opposed. I do not believe that is an object of this Bill which the people of this country will approve, nor do I believe that they wish materially to diminish the influence of hon. Gentlemen opposite. There are plenty of gentlemen who do wish it, but I do not believe it is the wish of the country, and therefore I believe they would have looked with much greater satisfaction on the principle of grouping if it had not been so studiously confined to represented boroughs, and if, instead of first swamping the counties by a low franchise and then offering the illusory boon of three Members, it had relieved the county constituencies of considerable portions of the great towns by an efficient Boundaries Bill, and had erected some of the towns which now 1649 almost engross the county representation into distinct constituencies. And while passing by that point, let me say that the provisions with regard to boundaries appear to me to be one of the most delusive parts of the whole Bill, because the effect of them is that no suburbs not now included in the municipal district can be included in the Parliamentary district, unless those who live in these suburbs are content to saddle themselves with municipal taxation. I do not believe the country wishes to see the door to talent shut more closely than it is, or this House become an assembly of millionaires. I do not believe the country would look with satisfaction on the difference of tone within the House which must be produced if the elements of which it is the result are altered. Nor do I believe that it will look with satisfaction on that inevitable change of the Constitution which must occur if these projects are carried into execution—a change breaking the close connection between the executive Government and the House of Commons. I believe sincerely that this House is anxious to put down corruption, and I will say again, at any risk of obloquy, that it is not the way to put down corruption to thrust the franchise into poorer hands. If we are really desirous of achieving this result there is but one way that I know of, and that is by taking care that you trust the franchise only to these persons whose position in life gives security that they are above the grosser forms of corruption. And if you do prefer to have a lower constituency, you must look the thing in the face—you will be deliberately perpetuating corruption for the sake of what you consider the greater good of making the constituencies larger. These are things which I do not believe the people of this country wish to have. And, therefore, I believe you will be acting in accordance with sound wisdom and the enlightened public opinion of the country by deferring this measure for another year. I press most earnestly for delay. The matter is of inexpressible importance; any error is absolutely irretrievable; it is the last thing in the world which ought to be dealt with rashly or incautiously. We are dealing not merely with the Administration, not merely with a party, no, not even with the Constitution of the kingdom. To our hands at this moment is intrusted the noble and sared future of free and self-determined Government all over the world. We are 1650 about to surrender certain good for more than doubtful change; we are about to barter maxims and traditions that have never failed, for theories and doctrines that never have succeeded. Democracy you may have at any time. Night and day the gate is open that leads to that bare and level plain, where every ant's nest is a mountain and every thistle a forest tree. But a Government such as England has, a Government the work of no human hand, but which has grown up the imperceptible aggregation of centuries this—is a thing which we only can enjoy, which we cannot impart to others, and which, once lost, we cannot recover for ourselves. Because you have contrived to be at once dilatory and hasty heretofore, that is no reason for pressing forward rashly and improvidently now. We are not agreed upon details, we have not come to any accord upon principles. To precipitate a decision in the case of a single human life would be cruel. It is more than cruel—it is parricide in the case of the Constitution, which is the life and soul of this great nation. If it is to perish, as all human things must perish, give it at any rate time to gather its robe about it, and to fall with decency and deliberation.To-morrow!Oh that's sudden 'spare it! spare it!It ought not so to die.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
I am most deeply sensible of the difficulty of following such a speaker as my right hon. Friend. To a speech such as has been just delivered it would be upon any question difficult to reply, but upon a question of such moment as this the difficulty is increased immeasurably. It is an intellectual delight of the highest order to listen to my right hon. Friend. He speaks with infinite wit, with wonderful eloquence and power; he raises and conjures up spectres of evil, and he is lost in contemplation of the ruin which is threatening our land. He is so acute a critic that I venture to think no one who hears him can doubt that whatever Bills a Government which does not possess his confidence might lay upon the table for the alteration of the franchise or the redistribution of seats would be dissected and cut to pieces with the same lively imagination, the same profound logic, and the same admirable arguments that we heard to-day. My right hon. Friend reminds me of a painting which the painter thought so good that he exposed it to public view, and invited all who saw it to 1651 take the brush and paint out the part of the picture which they did not admire. My right hon. Friend has taken the brush and painted it all over—and I venture to think that, however good the Bills might be, and however striking their merits, my right hon. Friend would have found in them something to criticize and much to find fault with. Well, after we have heard, with a pleasure which it is impossible not to feel, the observations of my right hon. Friend, we cannot help asking ourselves, What do they all mean? What is the political result my right hon. Friend is driving at, and whether if the House means to identify itself with his conclusions the country will indorse the determination. My right hon. Friend said, "This is the state of the case; what shall we do?" I think I could answer the question somewhat more in accordance with my right hon. Friend's own mind than by the words which he himself used. The answer should have been, "Why, do nothing at all." That is really what my right hon. Friend means—we are all under a mistake in imagining that there is any question here which deserves or requires any settlement. The only thing which will avert these frightful anticipations of ruin, anarchy, democracy, and destruction in which he always indulges, is simply to stand on things as they are because they are so—not be-cause they ought to be as they are for any particular reason. My right hon. Friend does not pretend to say that the £10 franchise rests on any principle capable even of being explained to the House and the country; all he says is, "Move an inch from that point and you are lost—you are on the high road to ruin." That is really the state of the argument; and when he implores and entreats us to defer this Bill for another year, I will tell my right hon. Friend the year to which he wishes us to defer the consideration of this subject—it is to the Millennium. [An hon. MEMBER: Hear, hear!] Well, there are some, undoubtedly, who would not be unwilling to accept that solution; but I venture to think they are in a minority, even on the opposite side of the House. If the House will have patience with me at the late hour at which we have arrived (five minutes to twelve o'clock) I will endeavour to imitate one quality which my right hon. Friend, with all the charm of amusement that he throws round his speeches, never fails to exhibit—the quality of sincerity. There is no man who 1652 feels less confidence in his own judgment than I do, but I should be very sorry on such a subject as this to address the House without endeavouring to speak as I really think. I would not willingly reserve from the House anything which I feel ought to be stated, nor will I say anything now that hereafter I should be sorry to have said. And therefore I will state frankly that I start from the same point as my right hon. Friend. I start with the same common views in substance on which he takes his stand. My views upon this question are not based upon any notion of abstract right. I agree with my right hon. Friend that practical good government and the means of practical good government already exist. I agree with him that the present system has worked on the whole well, and in a manner of which we have no reason to be ashamed. I agree with him in being unwilling to change till I see that the time has come when some change is necessary; and I have hitherto abstained from voting for any propositions which have been made to this House when I doubted whether they were made in a time and in a manner which would render them practical. I am convinced, however, that the time has come now when, either by those who are now in power, or by those who shall succeed them, or by those who, at no distant time, may replace those successors, this question must and will he settled. I am convinced of that by all that has taken place with regard to this subject. I will not go back into the long series of years during which this question has been in agitation, but will take up the very period of time to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred. The right hon. Gentleman adverted to the policy pursued by Lord Palmerston, and he said that after the Bill brought in by the Government of the noble Lord this question went to Bleep for five years, and that the noble Lord was not disposed to revive it; and it has been several times said in the course of the recent debates, and truly, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department, before the general election, distinctly stated in this House that the Government would not go to the country pledged to introduce any measure whatever on the subject of Reform; they would not take upon themselves the responsibility of trifling with the country upon such a question; not sure how far the country were disposed still to keep that question alive, and to look to the 1653 present time for a settlement of it. My right hon. Friend therefore said that the Government would not take the responsibility upon themselves of making the matter of Reform a question by which parties should stand or fall at the elections. Now, what took place? Did the country at those elections permit that question to be treated as one the time for which had gone by, and for which there was no demand? I will not refer to the numbers of Members who pledged themselves upon the subject on the one side of this House or the other; but I will refer to what came from persons of high authority sitting on the front Bench opposite. What was the language of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) to the electors at Aylesbury? Was the right hon. Gentleman then willing that the question of Reform should go to sleep? Was he willing to admit that it was a question which required no settlement? To do him justice, I have many times listened to the right hon. Gentleman in this House when speaking on this question; but never, at any time, did I hear fall from his lips the sentiment that there should be no Reform, or that there is no need of any change in the representation of the people. Uniformly, as far as my observation has gone, the right hon. Gentleman has uttered language consistent with his conduct as a Minister in the year 1859, when he introduced a Bill upon this subject, and in the year 1860, when he was prepared to introduce another Bill involving still further change. The right hon. Gentleman, at the last election, took occasion to remind his constituents of that measure of 1859, saying, he thought that on reflection it had approved itself to the mind of the country, and he used very remarkable expressions—he urged the importance of clear and definite opinions on the question of Parliamentary Reform, observing that—The question, sooner or later, must regulate the formation of Governments and the construction of parties. It is the interest of some to divert your attention from these great questions, and to talk to you of the management of finances and the maintenance of peace—two very important topics, no doubt. You may depend upon it that you must not allow your mind or attention, whatever the conclusions you may arrive at, to be diverted from these great questions if you wish to keep the position as Englishmen which your fathers occupied before you.It would be impossible to read those words without feeling that the conviction of the right hon. Gentleman was, that this was 1654 a question which could not drop, and which must be brought to a settlement. The right hon. Gentleman naturally thought that he had proposed the right mode of settlement, and I can well believe that he sincerely preferred his own method of dealing with the subject to the method adopted by the Government. But then, let us not be told by anyone that the Government has stirred up this question unnecessarily. We find the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Conservative party opening the question himself to the electors, and insisting that their minds should be more fixed upon it, even more earnestly than upon almost any other question, and that it was a question by which Governments and parties must stand or fall. But it was not only the right hon. Gentleman who talked in this strain to the electors; the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley) did the same. In his address to his constituents, what did the noble Lord say? He said distinctly that he was against any Bill for lowering the franchise below £10; but he added, that he was for making a very large addition to the electoral body by letting in lodgers, and those who had funds in savings banks. What was the extent—perhaps he estimated the numbers upon incorrect data, but that is of no importance now—to which the noble Lord thought practical and safe to go? He estimated the numbers who would be added to the electoral lists by his plan at 250,000. The noble Lord further said that he was in favour of a very considerable measure of disfranchisement, and that he "was not opposed to a re-distribution of seats, provided the balance was fairly kept between towns and counties; but was against the disfranchisement of a number of small boroughs, to turn over all those seats to the great towns." Well, that, at all events, the Government have not proposed to do. Do not suppose I am referring to the opinions of the noble Lord and the right hon. Gentleman to show that they were in favour of the identical propositions made in the Bills the Government have proposed; I am only referring to them to show you that in the minds of those very eminent persons the time had come at which you could not think of getting rid of this question; that it was in their judgment necessary to keep it before the minds and the eyes of the public, and obviously with a view to a settlement upon terms which they might hold to 1655 be satisfactory. I should like also to ask whether any different conclusion as to the general mind of the House can be drawn from what has here taken place during these debates. Why, nothing could be more remarkable than the zeal with which those who got up to oppose the Government Bills on the one side of the House and on the other took pains to disclaim the notion that they were averse to Reform. We heard that Members opposing these Bills were for Reform, for a considerable extension of the franchise, and, though all of them were dissatisfied with the mode in which the Government had dealt with the subject, it was almost unanimously agreed that the question must be dealt with, and if not solved by the present Government, and in this way, it must receive before long some other solution. Nothing else could possibly explain the course taken on the second reading of the Franchise Bill. The criticism, of course, was a very legitimate one, that the whole of the effects of the Franchise Bill could not be fully calculated till we had before us the whole scheme of the Government. But if hon. Members opposite had been in principle opposed to any reduction of the franchise, why manifestly they would have taken the straightforward and manly course of rejecting the second reading of the Bill upon the principle to which they were opposed. The course they took speaks for itself. They were not prepared to vote against the principle of the reduction of the franchise; they desired to consider it in connection with other measures; and it is plain, therefore, that in both the House and the country the general opinion arrived at was that this question is in a condition which requires some settlement. Then how is this question to be settled? In the observations I am about to make I shall limit myself strictly to the principle of the Bill. We have to consider whether the objections to the principle of the Government propositions are sound or not? No one can seriously deny that, if a considerable extension of the suffrage can be made safely, it is a positive good in itself, as tending to increase confidence and sympathy between the different classes of the community. What, then, is the principle of the extension proposed by the Government? I assert that it is the same principle as that upon which the existing franchise rests; it rests upon property, local connection, and payment of rates. In the boroughs the class of householders and ratepayers pos- 1656 sesses the franchise, and in counties the owners of property and the occupiers of property have it. In enfranchising those classes you have placed a limit—a mere arbitrary limit—on the extent of the application of that principle. You do not go as far as to include the entire class; hut you limit it by £10 in boroughs, and by £50 in counties. It it impossible not to see that the principle is one thing, and the limitation of the practical application of the principle another. You do not depart from the principle when you vary the scale of the limitation. If an arbitrary limitation can be safely dispensed with, it is better dispensed with; but the general opinion is that it would not be quite safe as yet to go to the extent of dispensing with the limitation altogether, and giving a vote to every rated householder. At some future time the principle will have its full development, whatever that may be, and one arbitrary limitation will not be more final than another. I acquiesce, not without some reluctance, in the judgment of those who take the view that a settlement which will last for twenty or thirty years may now be a good one. But the question for us to consider is, whether we have sufficient reason to believe that you may advance with safety as far as the Government propose the franchise should be advanced. I will state my reasons for believing that there is no ground for entertaining any alarm as to the results of lowering the franchise to the extent proposed by the Bill. No one who has watched the progress of the country generally, and who has witnessed the growth of the intelligence of all classes since 1832, can doubt that those who would receive the franchise now, if the qualification were reduced to £7, are equal in intelligence to the £10 householders who received it in 1832; yet the measure of 1832 was a far more trying one to the institutions of the country than that now proposed. That measure was a violent one, effected by means almost revolutionary, and at a time when Europe was in a state of convulsion from one end to the other, and therefore at a time when it might have been fairly supposed that the change would be attended with danger. But no evil results followed from that measure, and those admitted to the franchise by it showed themselves to be persons who might safely be intrusted with a share in political power. At the present time the whole of the attendant circumstances are reversed—the country is in a state of peace 1657 and prosperity, there is no discontent, there is a great union of classes, and in every way the times are more favourable for effecting a change in the balance of political power than they were in 1832. If, then, so large an addition was safely made at that time under such circumstances, there can be no substantial grounds for regarding with alarm the change now proposed when the state of things is so much more favourable. The general conduct and behaviour of the masses furnishes an excellent test of the fitness of those whom it is now proposed to enfranchise to exercise political power—not that I wish to be understood to say that every person who conducts himself properly is entitled to the franchise—but I say that the general conduct of the masses of the people, and the manner in which they discharge their social duties, show that there does not exist in this country any spirit of anarchy or disturbance, that there is no animosity of class against class, but that, on the contrary, classes are united to classes, and that all classes practically occupy their respective positions harmoniously and with goodwill. This, in my opinion, is the strongest possible reason for believing that no danger can possibly arise from admitting, at all events, the uppermost stratum of those classes, such as are heads of families and householders contributing to local taxation according to the ancient rule of the constitution. I, therefore, altogether dismiss from my mind the chimera that there is any danger of a revolutionary tendency, or of the subversion of the interests of any particular class in admitting those whom it is proposed to enfranchise by the Bill. Another argument used against the measure is that it will tend to increase corruption. I should be very sorry to undervalue that argument, but I must ask the House to observe that the danger of corruption, great and serious though it be, stands on quite a different footing from that of the subversion of the order of society, and, although we should do all in our power to extirpate the evil, we must not confound it with those dangers which threaten the existence of society. I confess I cannot understand the justice of the argument which says that the whole source and fountain of corruption is traceable to the lower classes of the community, and that any reduction of the franchise below £10 must have a tendency to increase the corruption. In point of fact, that argument would only apply to the case of com- 1658 paratively small places, as in the larger corruption is not found to prevail to any very great extent. But whence does corruption proceed—from below or from above? Does it proceed from those who are corrupted, or from those who corrupt? And if those who corrupt belong to the middle and upper classes, the evil must rest with those who have wealth, and the only way to stop it is by proper legislation—by passing stringent measures calculated to deter members of those classes from corrupting those beneath them, and not by excluding from the franchise classes or persons well qualified to exercise it. Then as to the argument that this measure will have a tendency to create a demand for further change, I have already said—and I do not wish to conceal my opinion from the House—that I think this measure cannot be regarded as absolutely and permanently final more than anything else which rests upon an arbitrary basis. I have no doubt in my own mind that the time will come when we shall be of opinion that all rated householders may be intrusted with the franchise safely, and with benefit to the country. I do not agree with the right hon. Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe) that a rated household suffrage is not a place we can stop at. On the contrary, I think that that is a ground upon which we may very safely take our stand as the limit of reduction in accordance with the principles of the Constitution. I wish to offer one or two other reasons for not participating in the alarm of the right hon. Member for Calne. Although I do not regard the various Reform Bills that have been brought before this House by different Governments as in any way binding this House to go on with Reform, still I may safely refer to every one of those Bills and to the opinions of all the Ministers who introduced them as proving that those different Governments believed that a Reform Bill might be passed without serious danger to the country; and I cannot for a moment bring myself to believe that the right hon. Gentleman opposite who, in 1860, stated that his Government was prepared to introduce a Bill which would effect a considerable, a substantial, and a liberal reduction in the borough franchises, thought that such a measure would tend to the ruin of the country. I believe neither he nor his Government would have held office for a single moment on the terms of bringing forward a Bill which they did not be- 1659 lieve would be consistent with the welfare of the country, and which might have been adopted without danger to the Constitution. I draw the same inference from the present state of public opinion throughout the country. If the people at large participated in the alarm felt by the right hon. Member for Calne, and believed that we were on the high road to ruin, I do not think they would be quite so quiet as they are now. We are told by hon, Gentlemen opposite that there is no very great excitement in favour of the Bill. But what excitement there is in favour of the Bill. All the petitions and all the meetings that have been held upon the subject have been in favour of the Government measure, and if the people supposed that a great and serious danger threatened the country, I do not think there is so little patriotism in the country, or so little life in the Conservative party, that public meetings and petitions would not be got up to defend us from the anticipated danger. The conclusion I have come to is that the right hon. Member for Calne is almost the only person who thinks we shall run any serious risk from the passing of this measure. No doubt others may believe, and perhaps fairly believe, that they could settle these questions better than we can, and I entirely recognize the right of those who differ from us to hold that faith. And this brings me to an observation I am anxious to make—namely, that I should entirely agree with the right hon. Member for Calne in condemning any measure of this kind which was brought forward for the purpose of crushing political opponents or to exclude them from their due share of political power. But I believe this Bill would have no such tendency, and that whether it be a good or a bad measure the party opposite could not in any way suffer from it in the event of its passing, as far as their proper influence in the country is concerned, unless indeed their opposition to the Bill may have some unfavourable effect upon the opinion of the country towards them. I utterly disclaim any intention on the part of the Government to tamper by means of this Bill with the interests of the party opposite. I am aware of the disadvantages I am labouring under in addressing the House at so late an hour, but I am anxious not to pass over the alternatives which have been proposed by hon. Gentlemen opposite in place of this measure. I have not forgotten for a moment that our mode of dealing with this question is not the same as that which has been 1660 proposed on the other side of the House, and I wish now to refer to the modes of dealing with the question which are proposed as alternatives to that adopted in our measure, to which the country must look forward from the other side, in the event of the settlement of this question falling into their hands. Certainly we have heard very different plans proposed by different Gentlemen on that side. I will first allude to the views of my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote). He expressed himself in favour of an educational franchise—and I wish the House to consider what that is. Of course my hon. Friend did not exactly state the precise tests which he would apply, nor could he have been called on to do so; but I take the liberty of expressing the opinion that such a plan is infinitely more dangerous, and tends in a very much greater degree to universal suffrage and democracy, than anything which the Government have proposed. I contend that the Government adhere to the old lines of the Constitution—I use the words purposely, as they are words quoted from the hon. Member for Birmingham by my right hon. Friend the Member for Calne—in reducing the borough franchise to £7, and the county franchise to £14. When you depart from those lines, and get into a merely personal qualification, you may think you can limit the extension of the franchise; but depend upon it you will be told that your limitations are not in accordance with your principle. Your principle is this—that those who can pass an examination in reading, writing, and whatever else you prescribe, must get the franchise. Laying down that principle, you will not fence it round with inconveniences; you will make it as convenient as possible, and unless you fix your educational test so high as to exclude all but the highly educated, you must have it so low as to admit every one who has got a good education for his station. Looking at the march of education now, that is manhood suffrage in embryo. I should have no hesitation in saying of such a principle that which my right hon. Friend the Member for Calne says of the proposal of the Government—that whatever may be the intention of those who propose its adoption, its tendency would be to pure democracy. Once you depart from the established principle of the Constitution and introduce a merely personal qualification there will be no limit whatever. In the Reform Bill brought forward by Lord 1661 Derby's Government, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire introduced a number of what were called "fancy franchises"—franchises which might be obtained by persons not possessing any local property qualification. These were personal qualifications, and again diverging from the old principle of the Constitution; and from every point of view, when that system is examined, it is found full of danger, and attended with no advantage whatever. By means of it you merely give a supplementary franchise to outlying members of classes abundantly represented already, and who make no demand for it, while you exclude those who do demand it—and exclude them in the most invidious manner, by giving it to persons who do not want it, because they are already within the real circle of the franchise, and may readily obtain it if they think fit to do so. That is a very strong objection; but there is a further objection to such franchises in the fact that they would put a greatly increased pres-sure on the arbitrary line of £10. You may fix the arbitrary line at that sum or at £7 or £8, or any other amount, and all below that line are unenfranchised; but if you endeavour to make the franchise as universal as possible among all above that line, you render the pressure on the dividing line, as against those below, still more heavy; and that appears to me to be as dangerous a proceeding as could be adopted. The noble Lord the Member for Kings Lynn adopts the principle to a limited extent. He would give the franchise to lodgers, and he would also give it to depositors in savings banks, on some such plan as that which appears to me to he by no means the best part of the proposal of the Government. All such systems as that proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire would tend to obliterate, get rid of, and exterminate the existing landmarks of the franchise—all are a departure from the principle on which the franchise is now based. On the other hand the Government, while lowering the arbitrary line, keep within the principle already known to the Constitution, and therefore their proposal appears to me to be more Conservative than that of an educational franchise now so strongly advocated by some Gentlemen on the other side of the House. But I must take the liberty of reminding the House of something which has been said on this subject by a right hon. 1662 Gentleman who from his sagacity and his character is as much respected as any Member of this House—I allude to the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley). That right hon. Gentleman spoke on this subject in a remarkable manner at the last election. I have referred to the addresses delivered by eminent men at the last election for two reasons—first, as showing how much alive they all were to the necessity for settling and getting rid of this question; and secondly, because in those addresses we have opinions deliberately and dispassionately expressed by Gentlemen on the other side of the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire is against any alteration; certainly he is against any enlargement of the franchise; but the views he expressed struck me most forcibly. Speaking in July, 1865, he said—You all know that Reform has never been my trade—I have never been much In it; but I hold the opinion, if there is to be any Reform, it is of no use if it does not go down-hill, and take in a much larger number than at present. I do not understand lateral Reform.Then, referring to the Members who sit for small boroughs, the right hon. Gentleman said—When there are a good many people of that sort in Parliament it gives any Reform a very dirty chance.The right hon. Gentleman also made these remarks—I have not been able to make out why a man who rents an £8, or £6, or a £5 house should have a vote. I cannot see it. I have, therefore, come to this conclusion—if there is to be a change we should go back to our old system of household franchise. That is my opinion; and being of that opinion I am not in favour of a change.I think of the two opinions to which I have called attention that held by the right hon. Gentleman is the wiser one; but being thoroughly convinced as I am that it is impossible to avoid doing something—that there must be some Reform; believing from what we have seen that a larger measure than the one proposed by the Government would not be acceptable to the House and being of opinion that this measure will settle the question—at least for a time, and until the House and the country are ripe for a further change—I think it is advisable to adopt it. But when the question comes to be considered hereafter, at that reasonable distance of time when we may now contemplate its being examined again, if the country should think a further change necessary, I do not disguise my opinion that the change which will ultimately 1663 be made ought to be a change to the old constitutional principle of rated household suffrage. I wish now to say a few words on the principles of the measure of Re-distribution, for the principle only is now involved, and not the details. Those who represent, as I have the honour to represent, a small constituency, will have an opportunity of urging, as I shall feel it my duty to do, the reasonable claims and proper suggestions of those constituencies. I feel it an honour to represent the constituency who have returned me, and not the less so because I am sure that, whatever may be their own opinion, they are not a constituency to wish that their local interests should be opposed to the public good. As to the details of the measure, they have yet to be considered; and it will be for the House to say whether sufficient reasons are given for the changes which are proposed to be made. This Bill also seems to proceed on the principle of adhering to the old methods and landmarks of the Constitution in all essential points. The proposal of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli) for eliminating from the counties all the unrepresented towns, appears to me to depart from all the existing principles both of the county and town representation. The principle of the town representation is that when large communities are sufficient to require separate representation they should receive it, and accordingly you bestow new Members on communities which appear to have such interests and such population as to require them. The endeavour to group together places which have hitherto had no share in the representation and no plea of vested interests to be considered so as to form electoral districts has no precedent; it certainly is not natural; it materially departs from the principles of borough representation and tends to disturb and destroy the principles which have hitherto prevailed in the county representation. It is of the greatest importance that the mutual influence of county upon town and town upon county should be considered, and that their union and connection should be maintained, not destroyed. Scotland and Wales afford sufficient examples of the practicability and good working of the system of grouping. It has been said that no distinguished men have represented these groups; but I am much mistaken if Sir George Lewis did not represent the Radnor district. As to the increase of expense which was apprehended from these groups, I have never seen any 1664 evidence to show that the grouped boroughs of Scotland or Wales have entailed any extraordinary expenditure on the candidates for their representation, and I do not think there is any such ground for alarm as some would have us suppose. My right hon. Friend the Member for Calne seemed rather to think that the immense expenditure was connected with the counties. With regard to other objections, it has been said that the plan of the Government tends in counties to diminish the influence of the land. ["Oh!"] Well, if there be anything of the kind in the Bill, surely the measure of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire which reduced the county franchise to £10 was much more liable to this objection. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne also objected to the Bill—and this is an example of the almost indiscriminate way in which he felt it his duty to attack the measure—on the ground that it was proposed to add to certain counties a third Member; as if we had not gone on since 1832 upon that principle. Nobody suspected there was any harm in that plan till the present moment. Really, I was very much struck with what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne said on this subject, as if we were now for the first time introducing that fatal principle of the mere influence of numbers. But the argument was, in fact, inconsistent with our whole practice on the subject hitherto. Numbers have always hitherto been considered an important element in all changes of this kind. They are the sole justification of the increase already made both in the metropolitan and in the county representation, and in the representation of all the great towns which have been subdivided; and we are, therefore, not departing from old landmarks in increasing the number of those counties which are to have a third Member. Let me before I Bit down say a few words on the consequences of rejecting this Bill. What will the Government who may succeed us do? I can only say I wish them well through it. I should be exceedingly glad if we cannot settle the question to see it settled by others; but one thing is certain, whatever Government succeeds us must settle the question. It is impossible for any Government long to exist that does not settle it; and it is equally certain that it cannot be settled except by some considerable reduction of the franchise. That was distinctly admitted 1665 in 1860, it was admitted by the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire last year, and it would be worse than idle to think that satisfaction could be given to those whom we ought to satisfy, and put an end, for a considerable time at all events, to the de sire for further change on any other principle. If hon. Gentlemen opposite think they have a favourable prospect for settling the question I congratulate them upon it; but with the discordant opinions which prevail on the Benches opposite—with the opinions of the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn, one of those Gentlemen whose opinions I most respect in this House—with the opinions of the hon. Member for Stamford and the opinions of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire, I think they will have considerable difficulty in satisfying the country that they have any prospect of settling this question. What may be the consequences to themselves and their party it is not my business to inquire. All I venture to say is that the time has arrived when this question must he dealt with, and dealt with seriously; instead of which the proposals of the Government have been met by Motions of an evasive character, tending to elude and put off the real question, and by reasons as to time and procedure which may always be found in abundance with regard to any measure. These two Bills having been read a second time, I think it would be wise and advantageous to all parties to proceed to the consideration of their details. If any of the details can be amended, it will be in the power of the Committee to amend them. And, if the Bill should pass as proposed, I cannot but think that the object of settling this question and of putting an end to it for the space of a generation—for twenty or thirty years—without further agitation, and without departing from any of the fundamental principles on which the representative system of the country has hitherto rested, is an object of the greatest public importance. It would, in my opinion, be better for hon. Gentlemen opposite to accept the present measure, instead of making Reform a subject of continued and inveterate party contention and of serious agitations hereafter. If this Bill be rejected, every subsequent measure on the subject will be progressively less Conservative, and it would be wise to make a change now, when it can be done safely, instead of waiting till a time when, perhaps, influences will be at work over which 1666 you may not be able to exercise an equal control.
§ Debate further adjourned till Tomorrow.