§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ On Question "That the Preamble be postponed,"
§ MR. GORST
said, he would ask the Committee not to postpone the Preamble until there had been some discussion on the different principles of the Bill, and on the position in which the House now stood with regard to it. He knew he was taking a somewhat unusual course; but then the Committee were not going to be asked to take into consideration the clauses of the measure in the ordinary way, and to vote on any particular clause after duly hearing the arguments for and against it. They were invited to come to a decision as a matter of faith in some authority, and they were, moreover, in the awkward predicament of having two authorities claiming their faith and reliance in that matter. There was, in the first place, the Report of the Commission which had been appointed last summer; and, in the second place, that of the Committee which had just concluded its labours upstairs, and which had come to conclusions in some cases confirmatory of, but in others antagonistic to, those at which the Commissioners had arrived. Under those circumstances the House might pursue one of three courses. It might follow out the recommendations of the Commission and give effect to its Report, or it might disregard that Report and adopt the clauses as embodied in the Report of the Committee. Then came the third course, which was that in those points on which the Commission and the Committee were at issue the House itself might examine the reasons for and against the proposals made, and stamp the ultimate form of the Bill with its own authority. In dealing with the subject, he should not attempt to say a single word in praise of the conscientious manner in which the Members of the Commission discharged their duties, 1258 for they were far above any praise or censure in which he might indulge. There was one feature, however, by which the Commission was distinguished which he must mention, and that was that it was of an eminently judicial character. The gentlemen who composed it were not remarkable for their zeal as partisans in political warfare, but rather for calm judicial habits of mind, and they had set about the performance of their task with powers which might have been too limited and Instructions which might have been bad. It did not, at all events, he in the mouth of the House to blame them if such were the case because those powers and Instructions were given almost unanimously by itself. The Commissioners having been thus appointed performed their task carefully and laboriously, and presented a Report full of interesting details, and in which they assigned their reasons for the conclusions at which they had arrived. The House might have adopted the course—he did not know that it would have been an undignified course to take—of accepting in the main the recommendations contained in that Report, impugning the decision of the Commissioners in any case in which malâ fides on their part might have been suggested, while it would also have been open to the House to remedy any mistake as to a matter of fact into which they might be shown to have fallen. But where there was no suggestion of bias or prejudice, or no ground for supposing that the Commissioners had made a mistake with respect to a matter of fact, it appeared to him that the House having appointed a judicial tribunal of that character would have acted in a manner not altogether inconsistent with its dignity in following its recommendations. The House, however, had not thought fit to pursue that course. Hon. Members on both sides of it, it was true, vied with one another in their praises of the mode in which the Commissioners had discharged their duties, and, instead of blaming them for neglect of their duties, threw blame on the insufficient Instructions which they had received, and the limited powers which had been conferred upon them. The House then appointed a Select Committee to revise the decision of the Commissioners, and to that Committee they gave additional powers, which were, however, to be used only in the case of a very few boroughs. The House might have given the Commission last year bad Instructions; but in the present year it 1259 appointed a Committee upstairs without any Instructions whatever. Of course, it was for the House to consider whether the decision of the Committee was entitled to greater respect than the decision of the Commissioners. As it would be impertinent for him to criticize the characters of the Members of the Commission so it would be unbecoming on his part to criticize the characters of the Members of the Committee. He admitted that in eminence of station the latter were on a par with the Commissioners of last year; but this he would observe, that some Members of the Committee had earned their distinction by party warfare. He would not be so invidious as to mention names; but, while some of the Members of the Committee were distinguished by impartial and judicial minds, others had earned distinction by zeal and ability displayed in party warfare. [Cries of "Name."] Well, he would name as an illustration the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread). There was no man of whose ability and integrity he had a higher opinion; but it would be idle to say that he accepted that hon. Member as one possessing an entirely impartial and judicial mind. In recent debates the hon. Gentleman had raised his reputation with his own party by the vigour of his attacks on the Ministers. All he was endeavouring to make out was that the Committee upstairs could not be regarded as a fitting tribunal to revise and, if necessary, to reverse the decision of the Commissioners. Did the Committee upstairs possess any such advantages as should induce the House to accept their decision in preference to that of the Commission? In the first place, the hearing upstairs was secret. ["No, no"] It was a hearing with closed doors, whereas I the bearings on which the Reports of the Assistant Commissioners were founded were held in public places and within the localities affected. There was something in the Report of the Committee about their having had additional evidence. But what was that evidence? It consisted of I memorials and petitions from the localities affected, and the same Committee had also the advantage of conferring with the Members of the boroughs and counties affected, who stated what they believed to be true, no doubt, but who still spoke in a strong partizan sense. Could anyone say that evidence such as that should induce the House to prefer the Report of the Committee to the Report of the Commission? 1260 Now that the Committee had reported, he asked whether there was anything in their Report to lead the House to accept without examination the opinion of the Committee in preference to the judgment of the Commissioners? The Report of the Committee began by stating eleven different objections to the extension of the boundaries of boroughs; but the Committee did not state whether these objections were valid or not. Looking at the Report of the Committee, the only shadow of a principle that he could find for their decision was that where the Parliamentary and municipal boundaries were co-incident, it was inexpedient that there should be any alteration of the boundaries; for in fifteen cases they recommended that no alteration should be made, and in ten of those cases the Parliamentary and municipal boundaries were co-extensive. He was confirmed in this idea by what was done with respect to Darlington. The Parliamentary boundaries of Darlington were temporarily defined in the Reform Act of last year; but since that period it had been incorporated, and the municipal boundaries included a smaller area than the temporary Parliamentary boundaries. The Committee upstairs curtailed the Parliamentary boundary in order to bring the municipal and Parliamentary boundaries into unison, and had thus disfranchised many persons who would otherwise, under the Reform Act, have been electors. Yet, with great inconsistency, in some cases the Committee had actually recommended the extension of the Parliamentary boundaries beyond the municipal. In forty-two cases in England and Wales the Commissioners last year recommended the extension of the Parliamentary boundaries. Only eighteen or nineteen of those cases had been challenged before the Committee; and in no less than eight of them the Committee had departed from the principle of making the Parliamentary and municipal boundaries conterminous, and had recommended the extension of the Parliamentary beyond the municipal boundaries. He believed that the objection which existing Parliamentary boroughs felt to be extended had great weight with the Committee. It appeared to him that this objection was confined to large boroughs; and it was a fact that when the Commissioners went down to Birmingham, and held a public meeting, the corporation and town clerk appeared before them and opposed the 1261 extension of the boundaries on the remarkably Liberal ground that in 1867 Parliament had conferred certain privileges on the existing electors, and they objected to share them with others. That was a singular argument to be used by a Liberal corporation. Let the House contrast the conduct of Birmingham with that of the large and important be rough of Liverpool, which did not object to see the privileges it enjoyed conferred on the people around. Another principle which seemed to have actuated the Committee was based on the objection of outlying districts to be brought within the limits of boroughs, he confessed that he had not the slightest sympathy with such an objection. He thought it most gross injustice and selfishness on the part of people who lived in the neighbourhood of a borough and enjoyed all the advantages which that vicinity gave them to endeavour to escape from the payment of borough rates. Some of the adjoining townships of Liverpool actually shared in all the municipal advantages of that town having water and gas supplied to them, but objected to be joined, to it, lest they should be rated. The case of Gateshead was still more flagrant. There was every reason in that case for adding a large district to the borough; but the people living in the district which it was desirable to add to the borough did not wish to be included in it. The House had not the opportunity of seeing the Assistant Commissioners' Report with reference to this case, but he had enjoyed that advantage. ["Order."] He hoped he was not offending against any Parliamentary Rule.
§ MR. SERJEANT GASELEE
rose to Order. He had asked that these Reports should be produced. The Prime Minister declined to give them. They were not on the table. It was not, therefore, regular for the hon. and learned Member to refer to them.
§ MR. GORST
said, he had moved that the Reports be laid on the table, and he believed they were produced ["No!"] Then, if he could not refer to the Report of the Assistant Commissioners, he would state what he was about to mention on his own responsibility. He was informed that in the case of the district which objected to be added to Gateshead there was no local Board of Health, as they objected to be washed and to hare any sanitary rate. Would the House sanction such selfish and unworthy objections in the arrangement of a great question like this? The Tyne 1262 boroughs were all marvellously alike—there was a large manufacturing population and an excrescence of docks and shipyards. In the case of South Shields and Gates" head the Committee upstairs refused to add these excrescences along the river bank to the existing borough, whereas in Middlesborough they had actually extended the municipality for the purpose of taking in the outlying district. He did not say this was conclusive against the Report of the Committee; but he thought it was conclusive against adopting it without examination in detail. He would only mention one more anomaly in the proceedings of the Committee upstairs. They appeared to have a great horror of extending the system of grouping adopted by Parliament. They seemed to forget that groups of boroughs were not at all unknown to British representation. Wales abounded in groups of boroughs; but the Committee was so much afraid of grouping boroughs that they even refused to carry out the Report of the Commissioners in the case of Portsmouth by annexing to it Gosport although the parish of Alverstoke, in which the town of Gosport lay, extended as far as the middle of Portsmouth harbour, the two places being identical in interest and connected by a large floating bridge which traversed back and forward every half-hour. The opposition did not proceed from the inhabitants of the town of Gosport, but from the squirearchy of Alverstoke. It was extremely distasteful to the working men of Gosport, who wished the two should become one borough, and who said that she squirearchy of Alverstoke and the gentlemen of the town of Portsmouth—he did not know whether the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Serjeant Gasclee) was to be included—he did not mean anything offensive to the hon. Member—did not understand their wishes. The Committee thought fit to reverse the decision of the Commissioners in that case, and yet, with the most marvellous inconsistency, they grouped the boroughs of Windsor and Eton, which had no real affinity. The House, then, should examine for itself before deciding in favour of the Committee and against the Commissioners. They might give their sanction to the Report of the Commissioners—but he was afraid that after all that had passed they would be stultifying themselves by pursuing such a course. He thought that where the decision of the Commissioners was unchallenged, and where the decision of the Com- 1263 mittee was virtually in accord with their recommendations, effect should be given to them; but in those cases where the Commissioners recommended one thing and the Select Committee another, he did not see how the House could avoid entering on a discussion. They must hear the facts and arguments urged upon both sides with patience, and stamp their final determination with their own judgment and authority.
§ MR. WALPOLE
After the observations of my hon. and learned Friend the House will probably expect from me, as one of the Committee—and having been elected Chairman I look upon myself as the servant of the House—to inform them of all which the Committee did in order that the House may be enabled to arrive at a proper judgment of the whole of this matter. In doing so I shall avoid all controversy on one side or the other, staling only what the Committee have done, and their reasons, as far as I can briefly do it, for arriving at the conclusions they did, and I hope any Member of the Committee will correct me if I should state anything inaccurately. Two observations only would I make of a prefatory character. First, I agree with my hon. and learned Friend as to the courses which are open to us; and the other observation is this—I think my hon. and learned Friend, had he been present in the Committee, would not have charged any Member with acting from party motives. The difficulties of this case grow upon us as we reflect on them more and more. They have arisen from the imperfect manner in which the directions and Instructions were given to enable either the Commissioners or the Committee to arrive at a clear and satisfactory conclusion. I do not know that I can better point out the difficulties of the case than by reminding them of the course which it was proposed the House should take last year with reference to making new and enlarged boundaries in boroughs. The House will remember that, at the commencement of last Session certain Resolutions were laid on the table, and one of them—the 11th or 13th I think—related to the enlargement of borough boundaries, and for the sake of clearness I hope the House will permit me to point out the course that has been adopted from time to time by the House and by the Boundary Commissioners with regard to this subject. The original Resolution proposed a scheme— 1264For new and enlarged boundaries of the existing Parliamentary boroughs where the population extends beyond the limits now assigned to such boroughs.That was a very general and a very large Resolution, When the Bill was introduced it contained a Clause to the following effect:—The Inclosure Commissioners shall report to one of Her Majesty's principal Secretaries of State whether any enlargement of the boundaries of such boroughs is necessary in order to include within the area thereof the population properly belonging to such boroughs respectively.These were such vague and general phrases that it was hardly possible to assign any definite and practical meaning to them without at the same time authorizing the Commissioners to go much further than the House intended, and accordingly, in the amended Bill, the clause took the following shape:—They shall also inquire into the boundaries of every other borough in England and Wales, with a view to ascertain whether the boundaries should be enlarged, so as to include within the limits of the borough all premises which ought, due regard being had to situation or other local circumstances, to be included therein for the purpose of conferring upon the occupiers thereof the Parliamentary franchise for such borough.This was an indication that it was the intention of the House that the Commissioners were to have regard to two things—first, the situation of the outlying districts; and, secondly, the other local circumstances by which their decision as to the enlargement of the boroughs might be influenced. When the Bill was in Committee an Amendment was proposed by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Morpeth (Sir George Grey), to the effect that the Commissioners should have regard to the municipal boundaries; but that Amendment was not adopted because it was pointed out, very properly, by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury that the Commissioners would of course have the power of looking to the municipal boundaries as well as to any other circumstances affecting the question. Such being the only Instructions given to the Commissioners they soon discovered how difficult it was to act upon them. Before the Assistant Commissioners were sent down to the different boroughs the Commissioners, I think most wisely, put an interpretation upon the words, "situation and other local circumstances," which, if it had been acted upon, would have removed most of the difficulties which have since been met with. That 1265 interpretation will be found in the introduction to their Report. The Commissioners instructed the Assistant Commissioners to ascertain whether there was such community of interests between the outlying districts and the borough as would lead them to believe that such outlying districts should form part of the borough. A wiser interpretation than that could not have been put upon the words of the Act. And now let us see how far the Assistant Commissioners were able to act upon it. One of the ablest of the Assistant Commissioners (Mr. Cumin) came before the Committee upstairs, and, speaking of the boroughs of the great county of South Lancashire, he said that the expression "community of interests" could not mean merely identity of pursuit, because in reference to that county it was impossible to say where the community of pursuits began or ended. When he came to deal with Manchester, for instance, two propositions were made to the Assistant Commissioners—one by an able Conservative, barrister, and the other by the Conservative Association. By the first proposition the Assistant Commissioners were asked to draw a circle with a radius of three miles, which was to include the borough; while by the second proposition they were asked to include all the outlying districts in the, neighbourhood of the town, up to Ashton in one direction and Oldham in another. It was evident, therefore, that it was impossible to lay down any definite and clear rule which could be applied to all cases that arose in the manufacturing districts. The only rule that Mr. Cumin could lay down, therefore, was to disregard the mere circumstance of there being a community; of pursuits, and to ascertain whether there, was a great mass of continuous houses inhabited by those who belonged to the great mass of the population of the town. That was a sensible rule to lay down, so fur as it could be acted upon; but it was soon found that it was impossible to apply it to Liverpool or to Birmingham without including enormous districts which I could not properly be regarded as belonging to those boroughs. The final conclusion at which the Commissioners, arrived under those circumstances was to determine each case in accordance with its own special circumstances; in short, to decide without any rule at all. I have, alluded to these facts in order to show the House that this question is not such an easy one as might be supposed at first sight 1266 The beet boundary line, in my opinion, that can be drawn is to include the outlying districts whore they have a distinct community of interests with the borough, and to exclude them where their interests are independent of those of the borough. These being the difficulties the Commissioners had to encounter, what did they do? They had two classes of cases to deal with—the new and the old boroughs. With regard to the former they possessed large discretionary powers; and I do not think that there has been any dispute between the Commissioners and the Committee with regard to the minor differences that have arisen with respect to them. There were 197 old boroughs in England with which the Commissioners had to deal—116 of which they left without proposing any extension of their boundaries. Of the remaining eighty-one, forty-eight would receive the addition determined by the Commissioners, if the House adopted the Report of the Committee, as he trusted it would; the other thirty-three cases were referred to the Committee to adjudicate upon them. Now, in eighteen of these cases the Committee practically agreed with the recommendations of the Commissioners; but they thought that it was not advisable that any alteration should be made in the boundaries of the remaining fifteen boroughs. The objections raised to annexation were eleven in number. The hon. and learned Member for Cambridge (Mr. Gorst) said that he could not find out the exact reason which had induced the Committee to come to the determination at which they had arrived. What we did was this—we sat for four days consecutively, de die in diem, examining into every case in order to see what all the objections were that could be raised by all parties, and then we proceeded to deliberate upon the cases to see how far we could arrive at a conclusion with regard to them. We stated in our Report the various objections raised to the enlargement of the boroughs, and to the annexation of the outlying districts, and as hon. Members have had an opportunity of reading that Report I will not refer to them in detail, but I will proceed to lay such information before the House as I think will explain the reasons which induced the Committee to arrive at a different conclusion with regard to the fifteen boroughs from that come to by the Commissioners. I think you may divide these fifteen boroughs into four classes, placing five in one, six in another, two in a third, and two in a fourth, Now, in the 1267 first class I would place those very large boroughs to which annexations were recommended by the Commissioners, but in which those annexations have not been approved by the Committee. Those boroughs are Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Lambeth, and Marylebone. Now, in all these cases, with the exception of Liverpool, you will find that the annexation was equally objected to by the boroughs themselves and the outlying districts, and in all the cases without any exception you must, if you had adopted the principles upon which the Commissioners had proceeded, have annexed a great number of other places. Again, in most, if not all the cases, the outlying districts proposed to be annexed possessed some kind of interest distinct from that of the borough to which they were to be annexed, either in the shape of a local Board or some other form of local self-government. Again, in most, if not all, these cases there was a strong desire on the part of those possessing county votes to retain that privilege; and it was not to be lost sight of, that while the annexations would have swelled the populations of these boroughs to over 400,000 each, the remaining populations of the respective counties, or divisions of counties, in which they were situated would in most cases be very little more than, and in some cases actually less than 100,000. I submit to the House, therefore, that we were perfectly justified in the conclusions at which we arrived with regard to boroughs which would become so unwieldy and so disproportionately large. I now come to the next class of cases—those in which the districts proposed to be annexed possessed interests entirely distinct from those of the boroughs to which they were to be joined. In this class I may place Tynemouth, South Shields, Gateshead, Birkenhead, Warwick, and Portsmouth. Well, now as to Tynemouth, the Commissioners proposed to add Willington Quay to it, but the Assistant Commissioners themselves admitted that the two had no connection whatever, and the evidence adduced before the Committee showed that Willington Quay, if connected with any borough at all, was more connected with Newcastle-upon-Tyne than it was with Tynemouth. To South Shields the Commissioners proposed to annex the town of Jarrow, which is an old town, distinct from South Shields, and not the overflow of the population of that place, but independent of it. There was no reason for annexing 1268 Jarrow to South Shields, unless a system of grouping were adopted, any more than there was in the cases of many of the places the annexation of which was rejected. The next case, that of Gateshead, is a very striking one. From what appeared in the Report of the Commissioners I should have myself favoured the proposed annexation of the outlying districts; but the facts as brought out before us showed that the population of Gateshead was increasing in a southerly, but not in an easterly direction. The Commissioners, however, have added three ecclesiastical districts lying in an easterly direction, while between the borough and these districts lies a space of agricultural country of about a mile with very few houses. In this case nobody can pretend that the places proposed to be annexed are connected with the borough as affording accommodation for an overflowing population. The annexations proposed to be made to Birkenhead on the north side of the town would appear at first sight to be justifiable; but all the evidence adduced before the Committee went to show that the interests of the borough and the districts proposed to be added were not only not identical, but were absolutely conflicting, the fact being evident from the continual opposition offered by the neighbourhood to the passage of local Bills through this House; and the district north of Wallasey Pool, if connected with any borough, was rather connected with Liverpool than with Birkenhond. Then, with respect to Warwick, my own individual opinion is that it would have been a very good thing if Leamington and Warwick had been linked together some time ago; but I do not think that under their Instructions the Commissioners could properly include Leamington in Warwick, since that would be grouping two towns which were distinct from each other. It would be simply ridiculous to urge that the places proposed to be annexed were inhabited by the overflow of the Warwick population. Then comes the case of Portsmouth, to which the Commissioners proposed to annex part of the parish of Alverstoke, and upon that case my learned Friend was very severe. My brother being the rector of that parish I requested the Committee on that ground not to call upon me to take part in their decision; but, having heard the evidence, I must say that to my mind it was distinctly shown not only that Alverstoke possessed a separate Bench of Magistrate and belonged to a 1269 distinct Poor Law union, but that it was also neither socially nor municipally connected with Portsmouth. In the next class—the cases of Bristol and Nottingham—the House will, I think, see the difficulty with which we had to deal. Many of the objections which apply to the first class of cases apply also to these two boroughs, but there was, in addition, the extreme difficulty—as the Commissioners themselves pointed out—arising from the fact that as these towns are counties of themselves, we had to deal with a large number of freeholders whose rights of voting either in the county or in the borough would have previously to be determined. That question has never been fairly brought before Parliament since the time of the Reform Act, and my own individual opinion is that, independently of the other objections, you were bound to determine that question before, by annexing the outlying districts to the town, you deprived certain voters of rights which they now possess, and which for the most part they are anxious to retain. The cases of Wigan and Reading are the last, Now, in the case of Wigan, the districts proposed to be added being inhabited by a population unconnected with the borough by sympathy or interest, and which was not an overflow from the town itself they (the Committee) thought it would not be wise to annex them; and in the case of Reading everyone seemed to be agreed that the district proposed to be annexed was inhabited by persons who had selected residences with the special view of separating themselves from the town, and who were in fact much more identified with the county interests. These are the reasons which guided us in our decisions, and I have only to add a few words upon the course which we ought now to pursue. I must say that I agree with what my learned Friend said with reference to the Report of the Commissioners. If that Report had not been challenged, I, for one, should have been prepared, from the high respect which I entertain for the Commissioners, and the confidence I repose in their judgment, to accept the decision at which they had arrived. But when that Report was challenged, and referred moreover to a Select Committee, it would have been a gross dereliction of their duty if that Committee had not exercised their judgment in respect to the proposals recommended by the Commissioners. Now, something has been said as to the Report 1270 being regarded as final. I have always felt that any Report to the framing of which I have been a party ought to be submitted to the judgment of the House; but I must at the same time remark that if it is the I intention of the House not to accept our Report, though I should not in the slightest degree find fault with that decision, yet I cannot disguise from myself we have lost a great deal of valuable time in determining this question. If such be the case, day after day has been spent in fruitless and superfluous labour; and I, for one, should have thought twice before I would have allowed my name to be placed on the Committee. At the same time, I do not in the least degree object to our Report being questioned, and with reference to the proposal of my hon. and learned Friend that we should deal with the particular cases one after another I can only say that we shall feel it our duty to give such information as may lay in our power, leaving it to the House to decide on each case as it conies under discussion. As a Member, not of the Committee but of the House, I may take leave to express one opinion which I entertain very strongly—namely, that where the point is in doubt as to whether you should annex outlying districts to a borough or not, it is very desirable that considerable weight should be given to the circumstance that the municipal and Parliamentary boundaries are conterminous. I have always contended for that principle in the House, as the only means whereby we can insure community of interests, inasmuch as that is the only means by which community of interests, duties, and burdens—in fact, the obligations of a common citizenship, can be obtained. I have one other general remark to make. I own I entertain very considerable doubt whether in cases where you have large borough constituencies, numbering four times as many electors as the constituency of the county in which they stand, you should proceed to take electors from those counties and add them to the towns. I am well aware it is felt that the counties are, ordinarily speaking, agricultural, and the towns commercial or manufacturing constituencies; but I think it by no means a bad point in our Constitution that we have some constituencies composed of both elements of population, and such constituencies can only be secured by preserving commercial and manufacturing counties as distinguished from those which are purely agricultural.
said, he regretted the Committee had to deal with two rival Reports from bodies of undoubted authority. He would confess he had been somewhat dismayed and disappointed by the Report of the Committee, because it re-opened the whole question of boundaries, and had not shrunk from raising points unanimously settled by the House last year. One would have thought that respecting the general principle of the extension of boundaries the House and the Government, the Commissioners and the Committee, would all have been in accord; but the Report of the Commissioners, which had been based in every case upon careful local inquiry, was entirely upset by the Report of the Committee, as far as the boroughs were concerned. Much stress had of late been laid on the value of local inquiry in the matter of bribery, and so highly did some hon. Members esteem it that they were prepared to relinquish control over cases of contested elections, if by that sacrifice local inquiry could be secured. Notwithstanding this, however, the Committee threw the whole of those patient local inquiries to the winds, and came to entirely different conclusions. As far as he understood it, the Committee's Report was based on these grounds, that municipal and Parliamentary boroughs should be conterminous; that boroughs should not be unduly extended so as to consist of an overwhelming number of Members; and that there should be a community of interest between the boroughs as at present constituted and the suburbs it was proposed to add to them. With respect to the first point, he contended that inasmuch as Parliament had not expressed an opinion on the subject last year it was now too late for the Committee to lay down any such principle. But, setting this aside, he at least expected of the Members of the Committee that they would be consistent, but he found they recommended the extension of the boundaries of several boroughs, and among these was Northampton, the Parliamentary and municipal boundaries of which would not be conterminous if the Report were adopted. The Committee also endorsed the recommendations of the Commissioners respecting Bolton, Chester, and Windsor, that the area of these boroughs should be extended by the addition of certain of their suburbs; so that in these cases the Parliamentary and municipal borough would no longer be conterminous. The objection that boroughs would become unwieldy by the addition of 1272 suburbs was quite untenable, even if it did not arise out of a question which the Committee was incompetent to inquire into—namely, whether boroughs, the population of which had outgrown their Parliamentary limits, should be added to by that population. This question had already been discussed and decided on in the affirmative by Parliament last year. It struck him as somewhat extraordinary that every one who differed from the Commissioners, including the Committee, were most profuse in complimenting them on their industry and care. The Committee had made much of the point that people in the suburbs of towns had objected to being brought within the boroughs because they would lose the privilege of compounding; but he could not regard that as a greater hardship to those at present without the Parliamentary boundary than it was to those within. It was of the greatest importance that counties should retain their representation in their own hands, but if large manufacturing towns went on increasing at their present rate the House would have the hon. Member for Birmingham sitting in the seat of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, than which a more extraordinary metamorphosis could not be imagined. As for the alleged necessity of responding to the wishes of the inhabitants of disputed districts he denied that local opinion had any right to be consulted in cases of Imperial policy. In the case of divisions on a great question recently before the House, Ulster had expressed a most unmistakable opinion, but the House had entirely disregarded Ulster's voice. Upon questions of Imperial policy, where the House had made up its mind, it had been broadly declared that local opinions ought not to prevail. But that was exactly the case of persons outside the boroughs. Parliament had adopted certain principles of extending the franchise as desirable, and now it was sought to reverse these in deference to the opinions held by persons outside the boroughs. The secret of the great objection felt by persons outside the boroughs to be included for Parliamentary purposes he believed to be the dread that they would some day be included for purposes of taxation. And he agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Gorst) that persons who enjoyed every advantage derivable from living in close proximity to a town might not unfairly be asked to partake of the burden of local taxation. He could not help thinking that, as to Bristol, Wigan, 1273 Nottingham, Birmingham, and Liverpool, the Commissioners had made out a very good case for extending the Parliamentary limits. He did not profess to have any intimate acquaintance with the special details but he might at least claim the advantage of being perfectly impartial on the subject of boundaries, as in the county which he had the honour to represent no question had arisen with respect to its extension. It had been a great disappointment to him and to many Members on the same side of the House to find that one great anomaly of the representative system was not proposed to be redressed. The hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) had often called attention to the great discrepancy existing between the representation of boroughs and counties While the boroughs had not so large a population as the counties, they had twice as many Members to represent them; and last year it was supposed that this anomaly was being to a certain extent redressed, by the absorption into the borough constituencies of large numbers of persons who, as long as they remained outside, swelled the county population, and rendered the county representation so very disproportionate. But if the population which the Commissioners proposed to include in the boroughs was thrown back into the counties they would be no better off than before the Reform Bill was passed. It was not for him to say what course the Government or the House should take on this important question; but he could not help thinking that it would be necessary for the Committee to go into every case again. It had been said that the Government were pledged to adopt the Report of the Committee, appointed on their own Motion; but he confessed that according to the view he took, the Committee had gone in some degree beyond their instructions in proposing the sweeping changes which they had recommended. He hoped that the House would agree with the Commissioners rather than the Committee.
Sir, I think that the preliminary discussion now taking place—though it may appear to occupy more time than is desirable—will be very advantageous. The Committee is at a very great disadvantage in not having the privilege of hearing the opinion of the Government, and especially the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, for on him will depend probably the decision whether we must go through the whole of 1274 the Schedule of eighty-one boroughs, and have discussion and division on a great many of them, or whether we can confine ourselves to the question whether we shall accept the determination of the Committee in regard to the fifteen boroughs to which reference has been made. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Walpole) has made as dear a statement of the case of the Committee as it is possible to submit to the House. The right hon. Gentleman referred to what was said by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Home Department on a former occasion when he proposed the appointment of the Select Committee, and proposed that the decision of the Committee would be final.
§ MR. GATHORNE HARDY
I beg pardon; that is not the case. I did not know that my right hon. Friend alluded to me; but it has been stated that such is the case, and I see that the words appear in The Times newspaper. But the way the question arose was this. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gladstone) asked me whether, if the Committee were appointed, they would have the power of reserving questions for the consideration of a future Parliament, or whether they would give a final opinion ns to the boroughs submitted to them? I said, "The Committee would report to the House their final decision," and in The Times report the statement is added, "and the House would be bound by that decision." I felt confident that I had not made use of those words, and I requested a friend to look at the passage as it was reported in other newspapers. The Daily News puts it thus—Mr. Hardy said, it would be final so far as the Committee was concerned, but it would be for the House to ratify it or not, as they determined. If there was documentary evidence on one side, there ought to be documentary evidence on the other.In another paper it is stated in the same; way—The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the decision of the Committee would be final, or only to postpone the question for the further consideration of Parliament; for, if it were to be final, they certainly ought to have evidence on both sides.The right hon. Gentleman here referred to is the Member for South Lancashire. [Mr. GLADSTONE interposed a remark.] I am only reading the newspaper extract. It goes on to say— 1275Mr. Hardy said, it would be final, as far as the Committee was concerned, but it would be for the House to ratify it or not, as they determined. If there were documentary evidence on one side, there ought to be documentary evidence on the other, but there would be no opportunity of calling witnesses on either.The question, therefore, to which my attention was directed, and to which my answer was pointed, was whether the Committee ought to reserve these cases for a future Parliament, or whether they ought to decide upon them at once.
The right hon. Gentleman is not in Order in reading newspaper extracts from reports of debates in the House during the present Session.
I do not in the least contest the explanation the right hon. Gentleman has offered; but I appeal to the House, and I may even appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite, whether the impression conveyed to the House at the time the Committee was appointed was not that the Government would be disposed to receive with confidence, and as a final decision, that which should be determined upon by the Committee? In all cases of this kind, the House does not absolutely part with its power when it appoints its Committee; and perhaps on no former occasion was a Committee appointed more entirely worthy of the confidence of the House. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Gorst) spoke of party men. Why, if you were to shut from due deliberation on grave matters all those who take an active part in the discussions of this House, the course of Business in this House would be greatly impeded. I was about to say just now that I thought the Government should step forward, on this occasion, and guide the House to the conclusion at which it should arrive. I think no men ever occupied the Treasury Bench who would not, under the circumstances, have come to the conclusion that it was their duty to accept the decision of the Committee. There are fifteen boroughs to which some hon. Members are disposed to take exception; and it would be most unfortunate if the House in Committee should go into a discussion and division with regard to every one of them. The hon. and learned Member opposite—I did not know before that the hon. Gentleman had been learned—made a speech to night which went at great length into these matters. But let me ask, why was the Commission appointed last year? Clearly because the House felt itself not 1276 equal to dealing with the details of a great number of boroughs, and the Commission was appointed for the sole purpose of offering, with these details before it, such advice, and of giving such decisions, as might guide the House. The right hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Walpole) has shown what we now all feel, that the clause in the Bill was hastily drawn, and not judiciously for its purpose; and the result is that the Report of the Commissioners—without any blame to them—has not been so satisfactory in some respects as the House had hoped for and as we all could wish. And the reason the Report was not entirely satisfactory was that the Commissioners were compelled apparently, or thought they were compelled, to exclude from view certain considerations which should not be lost sight of when a question like this, affecting so many boroughs, was to be considered. The question of convenience—the public opinion of the boroughs as they exist now, and of the population of the districts to be brought in—all these are matters that ought to be considered. And because that had not been done there was some disatisfaction felt, and how great it was Members on both sides of the House know. The hon. Member for Liverpool on that side, and the hon. Member for Cheltenham expressed dissatisfaction with the Report, and there was a prevalent feeling when the Committee was appointed, that the appointment of the Committee was the best solution of the difficulty in which the House found itself. Now what happened? As Members for Birmingham, my hon. Colleague and myself appeared before the Committee. The Committee heard first of all the Assistant Commissioner, a gentleman who evidently knew very well what he was talking about, and had paid great attention to the matter; and after he had made a statement going very much into detail, Mr. Walter, one of the Commissioners, was also permitted to make a speech to the Committee. Mr. Walter, like hon. Gentlemen opposite, appeared to have an intense interest in the borough which I am permitted to represent, for he told the Committee that he had taken upon himself to go down to Birmingham and stay there some time, to make himself acquainted with the geography of the place. Well, he made a speech to the Committee. After that my hon. Colleague was permitted to state facts which we thought very important, and which doubtless the 1277 Committee thought important. And after him I was allowed to add a few arguments that presented themselves to my mind. They were very kindly, and very impartially listened to. Now, not only were we heard, but the hon. Member who represents East Worcestershire (Mr. Vernon) was heard; and not only was he heard, but also the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) who, no doubt, with an idea of the approaching meeting of the Social Science Association, said that he had prepared a paper for the Committee. I have not seen that paper, but no doubt he said everything that could be said on the side of the view which he entertained. When the Committee had heard all that they had to hear they deliberated. Now look at the dates. On the 22nd May my hon. Colleague and myself were before the Committee. On the 28th of May the hon. Member for North Warwickshire was before the Committee. On the 29th of May the Committee appears to have decided. I believe the hon. Member for Bridport (Mr. Kirkman Hodgson) made a particular Motion, but that is nothing, because it is stated in the Report that the Members of the Committee and the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Gorst) will admit that at least some of them had judicial minds—were absolutely unanimous in all these cases. The hon. Member says that there was no principle laid down by the Committee. But the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Walpole) does not say that there was any principle; and I do not Bee that there is any principle that can be accurately defined that would affect equally all the boroughs which were referred to the Committee. The question of municipal and Parliamentary boundaries is one which was mooted long since last Session. The right hon. Gentleman at the Head of the Government objected to an Amendment which, at my request, was moved by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Morpeth (Sir George Grey); but in his answer he made use of a few words which led inevitably to the conclusion that it would be impossible for the Commission wholly to keep out of view the question of the municipal boundaries of boroughs. Now, as I am on my feet, I will state a fact which the right hon. Gentleman referred to generally, but which affects the borough with which I am more immediately connected. North Warwickshire contains a population of about 116,000 outside the boroughs, and it was proposed 1278 to take 25,000 from the 116,000 of the population, and add them to a borough which, was now about 350,000. East Worcestershire has about 130,000, and it was proposed to take from them 10,000, and add them to that borough, which, if the former addition had been made, would have had 375,000. Well, in the face of the hon. Gentleman, I say that is a preposterous proposition which the House, in nn impartial, judicial state of mind, would not for a moment consent to. Now, the right hon. Gentleman said there were three courses, which were these—that you should take the Report of the Commission, or take the Report of the Committee, or disregard them both; the House going into a confused discussion and voting upon the case of each separate borough. But I take for granted that that last course is what the House rejected when it first of all appointed the Commission. The House declared by appointing the Commission that it was not competent wisely and impartially to go into the question of these various boroughs. Well, a Commission was appointed, and when it reported the House discovered that the Instructions to the Commission had not been sufficiently broad and distinct, and there was so much dissatisfaction with a portion of the Report, that the House determined to have the case tried again by a Committee, which would have the advantage of the information which the Commission had had, and of the information which had subsequently been offered to the House, And the Committee sat, and I will undertake to say that whether you take the three Gentlemen on this side of the House or the two Gentleman on that side, you would not be able to find in the House five men to whom you would more freely leave the determination of any matter in which your personal interests were concerned. They sat from day to day; they heard everybody whom, by the Instruction of the House, they were permitted to hear. They heard them fully. It was not a secret Committee as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Gorst) says. There was no secret about it. It was much more open than the Commission that made the other Report, I do not allude to the Reports of the Assistant Commissioners, but to the Report of the Commission itself. The Committee having heard everyone, they deliberated undisturbed by party influence of any kind, and they came unanimously to a certain conclusion. Well, I ask the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government 1279 —I do not believe I shall ask him in vain—whether he will sanction, and I ask the House whether it will sanction, the course that is proposed in opposition to the decisions of this Committee, which were so satisfactory—not possibly to some hon. Gentlemen who feel no interest but a party interest in this matter, but entirely satisfactory to the populations that are most concerned. Because, what has happened? So far as I have heard, there has not been a single petition or memorial offered to the House since this Report was published; nor, so far as I know, has any Member of the House proposed to disturb any of the decisions to which the Committee hns come. Well, now, have not I made out a fair case for the course I am about to suggest? What I suggest is that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government and his Friends on that side of the House, being as anxious as we are on this side to get forward with the Business of the Session, we should accept without contest the decisions to which this Committee has come. If there be any case in which it can be shown that a positive error has been committed by the Committee—which is possible, as there were some errors on the part of the Commission—then, of course, the House will be willing to make such alterations as may be necessary. But I think, if hon. Gentlemen will get out of their minds the notion that there is any great gain to be secured for party in this matter, they will agree with hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House that we should accept the determination to which the Committee has come. I speak on behalf of the great constituency which I am permitted in part to represent, and of the population outside the borough, who by the decision of this Committee are to be left outside of it, which decision, I believe, meets with their entire approbation. If that be so, I appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite, and to the Government, whether it can be to their interest, or whether it can be to the interest of anybody in this country that that which is satisfactory to the large masses concerned should be disturbed after the repeated and solemn judgment has been given upon it by so eminent and influential a Committee as that to which it has been referred?
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, the hon. Member for Birmingham seemed to assume that what was satisfactory to him and his Friends must of necessity be satisfactory to the House. What had the hon. Member pro- 1280 posed? That because the House had appointed a Committee, therefore the House should abandon its function of review. The hon. Member proposed that the decision of the Committee should be final with reference to the circumstances of the boroughs into which it had been appointed to inquire? It appeared to him that the House would not be justified in adopting the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. The right, hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Walpole)—the Chairman of the Select Committee—had argued the question entirely as a borough Member, and, like other hon. Members who had previously addressed the House, did not understand the position of county Members with respect to representation. As Member for North Warwickshire, he now represented 120,000 people outside the boroughs of Tamworth, Coventry, and Birmingham. But his constituency was composed of 7,000 electors, of whom fully 3,000 were freeholders or persons otherwise qualified in Birmingham, Coventry, and Tamworth. The hon. Member asked where would be the justice in bringing into the Parliamentary borough of Birmingham the number of persons now outside the boundary whom the Commissioners proposed to bring in. Now, the county electors of Birmingham amounted to one-sixth of the constituency of North Warwickshire, and therefore the borough population had a Parliamentary power outside the borough, while the population outside the borough had no electoral power whatever within the borough boundary. From this the House would see that the argument of the hon. Gentleman founded on the numbers in the county and the numbers in the borough, as though distinct in their representation, had no weight. In this respect the Committee had been less well-informed than the Commission. According to the admission of the Committee themselves, no two cases of boroughs whose boundaries the Commissioners proposed to enlarge had been decided upon the same principle. Each case had been decided on its own merits. How, then, could the House abdicate its function of review? he had not heard what the hon. Member (Mr. Bright) or Mr. Walter had said before the Committee, but his belief was that there was no case so strongly to the credit of the decision of the Commissioners, and so doubtful, even in the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole) himself—the Chairman of the Committee—as the case of Birmingham. When that case 1281 came on for discussion, he hoped to show that the Manor of Aston—the district which the Commissioners proposed to include in the borough of Birmingham—contained the Park and Manor House of Aston, which were the property of the Corporation of Birmingham. This constituted a case which was open to doubt, even in the opinion of tome of the Committee, and he believed that the Members of the Commission would be found strong in the maintenance of their decision. The Park and Manor of Aston were opened in 1858 as a Park for the benefit of the people of Birmingham; the Commission recommended; that it should be included within the borough, but the Committee dissented from thier recommendation. The Park and Manor had been purchased by the Corporation of Birmingham, and if it were decided to be outside the Parliamentary borough, it might as well he decided that Hyde Park and the Green Park ought not to be within the boroughs of Westminster and Marylebone. There had been no English county Member upon the Committee, and apparently no one who properly appreciated the position of county Members and constituencies; and he thought he had adduced sufficient reasons for inducing the House not to accede to the proposal of the hon. Gentleman, and adopt the Report of the Select Committee without review.
§ MR. PERCY WYNDHAM
said, he thought that before they decided between the rival claims of the Commissioners and the Select Committee they should know more correctly the actual facts of the case. In a short but important conversation which preceded the appointment of the Committee it was stated that the Commissioners had no power to inquire into the opinions of persons locally interested. The hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) had now fallen into the same error; but the fact was that the Assistant Commissioners were instructed to appoint a time; for the reception of statements from inhabitants in favour of enlarging the boundary; and in their Report the Commissioners expressly stated that all persons desirous of making such statements were permitted to do so. Moreover, he knew in two cases that the Assistant Commissioners invited statements and evidence, and in one case counsel were heard for and against extension. It was not, therefore, comet to say that the Commissioners had not regarded the wishes of inhabitants. The 1282 hon. Member (Mr. Bright) said that local wishes should be almost conclusive; but, if you were to ask people's opinion as to the constituency in which they would prefer to vote, you might almost as well ask them how much income tax they would wish to pay. A matter of this kind was not to be decided by the convenience or inconvenience of Members who canvassed a constituency, or by the wishes of the constituency itself. He felt that he was almost stating a truism when he stated that boroughs like Birmingham, Liverpool, and Manchester should include for electoral purposes the towns as they existed in the present day, and not a mere section or nucleus of those towns as they might have existed some time during the last century. If the House carried the Bill with the recommendations of the Committee, he had rather that the proposal of the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert) had been adopted, nod the boundaries of these boroughs had been left as they were at present. It might be said that they were going to do the same thing; but it was one thing to allow these boroughs to continue an anomaly admitted by every one, and it was quite another thing to stereotype these old errors, as was now proposed—to reiterate in the face of the facts that these towns had not increased, when every body knew that a large population connected by community of interest with the borough population had grown up just outside. If the Bill passed as amended by the Select Committee, it was a Bill which no Liberal Government in Office could have carried. He denied that the House which had discarded the recommendations of a Commission which nobody mentioned without praise had not the power also to review the recommendations of the Committee, The recommendations of the Select Committee in each case must stand or fall upon their own merits, The House had not before it the Reports of the Assistant Commissioners or the memorials presented to the Committee; and he thought it would be only fair to report Progress and wait for that information before proceeding further with the Bill.
§ SIR ROUNDELL PALMER
Sir, I do not with to detain the Committee by any very long observations on this question, but important conditions have been touched upon in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Walpole) which ought not; to be overlooked in determining this ques- 1283 tion. I understood him to say that one thing which had weight with the Committee was this—that it could not be for the benefit either of the counties or the towns, either of the rural or the urban population, to attempt to draw too "hard and fast a line" between these two different populations. I take the liberty to say that I am more and more impressed with that conviction as we approach the consideration of the question what is to be done in the way of increasing the representation of our larger communities. We feel it necessary to give them more Members, and then difficulties arise at every step. Are we to subdivide, as has been suggested in the case of Glasgow? That is a proposal the difficulties of which are felt by many, and it is therefore objected to. Are we, on the other hand, to give them three Members, and then, by means of the minority vote, practically neutralize the majority, or, at all events, diminish the power which they possessed when they had only two Members? I cannot but think that we shall get more and more into difficulties of that kind if we insist upon aggregating more than is done at present those portions of the adjoining population which have hitherto belonged to counties. And here I wish to point out what strikes me as having a most material bearing on this question. There is a converse question also. You have got no inconsiderable number of boroughs which are, in fact, parts of counties—such as Shoreham, Aylesbury, East Retford, and others. Neither your Committee nor your Commission has considered that question. No power of contracting such boroughs was conceded to them. And are you going to say that where you find a considerable urban population you will separate it from the counties, its connection with which now enables those counties to be represented in sympathy with the preponderating interest of the general population; while, on the other hand, you will take out of the counties a purely rural population and convert them into boroughs. Hitherto you have not proceeded on the principle of separating the rural from the urban population, and I do not think it desirable that you should.
§ MR. DISRAELI
Sir, I will strive, as far as I can, to bring the Committee to some practical point. The hon. Member for Birmingham made an appeal to me to announce the part which the Government would take, and argued that of course we could not oppose the Report of the Com- 1284 mittee. That view is founded on an assumption which I think a most singular one—namely, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had announced to this House that Her Majesty's Government were prepared to receive the Report of the Select Committee as conclusive. Now such an announcement was never made by my right hon. Friend; it never could he made, because no Minister would ever presume to make such an announcement; and I am surprised that it could be thought possible by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright), who, generally speaking, is be jealous of the privileges of Parliament and of the rights of every Member. But I will tell the Committee what we are prepared to do. We are prepared to give to the Report of the Select Committee the same consideration and respect as we would have given to the Report of the Commission. We were not prepared to receive the Report of the Commission without criticism and without that fair Parliamentary scrutiny to which all such documents ought to be liable. We believed if we had gone into Committee originally on the Bill we might have considered as we proceeded the Report of the Commission, and if in various instances the justice and propriety of their recommendations had been admitted the good sense of the House would, after duly considering the objections, have arrived at a satisfactory conclusion at a much earlier period than apparently we shall now. The hon. Gentleman asks what I propose that we shall do? What I propose is indicated by the order of Business that has been prepared for this evening. The moment we concluded the Scotch Bill we proposed to go into Committee on the Boundary Bill, and I can see no other way of making progress than by going on with the Bill. We shall have before us as we proceed the Schedule, with the conflicting recommendations of the Commission and the Select Committee, and the good sense of the House will come to a conclusion. I know no other mode by which we can arrive at a result more speedily or satisfactorily. The hon. Gentleman cannot wish that the views of any powerful interest represented in this House should be entirely silenced. I think the hon. Gentleman will admit that the views of hon. Gentlemen should be put before the Committee. In no other way can we arrive at a conclusion satisfactory to the country. If we go into the subject in Committee, we shall find no greater diffi- 1285 culties than we have found in similar cases, and we shall overcome them as we proceed. That is the course which I recommend to the Committee. So far as I can collect the opinions of the Committee, though there are some points of considerable importance on which we are not all agreed, they are not numerous, and I cannot recommend a better course than that we should now proceed with the Bill.
Sir, the right hon. Gentleman the First Minister of the Crown has stated that there was a mistaken idea as to the declaration of the Secretary of State for the Home Department. I wish to confirm, as far as I can, what fell from the right hon. Gentleman. The question that I put to the right hon. Gentleman on the occasion referred to, was whether the Committee was to recommend—what I confess appeared to me a much wiser course than that which was adopted—that the consideration of the boundaries of certain boroughs should stand over, rather than that the particular mode of adjusting those boundaries should be at once determined, and it was with reference to that question that the right hon. Gentleman answered, if my memory serves me right, that the Committee were to make a final determination. Not, of course, that their recommendations should be absolutely final, for it would be impossible that any person should have stated to this House that the recommendations of the Select Committee should be final as against the House itself. Therefore there can be no doubt of the meaning of the language of the right hon. Gentleman. But while the House reserves in its own hands the power of dealing absolutely, according to its own discretion, with the recommendations of every Select Committee, there is to be kept in view by the other side this consideration, that the appointment of a Select Committee dues mean something, and that a definite character of authority is to be assigned to the recommendations which it makes. Now, the right hon. Gentleman says, "Let us proceed to consider the Schedules, and we shall get through the difficulties us we have done in other cases," But our position in other cases has not been at all what it is now; nor does the right hon. Gentleman propose, in the speech he has made, to give any primâ facie authority whatever to the recommendations of the Committee proposed by the Government itself. This is a case in which, as ray hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham has said, the 1286 House admitted its own incompetency in discussion of detail. Why did we appoint a Commission and hand over our duties to that body, if we have here in the House itself the best means of disposing of the difficulties one by one us they arise? We did, by the very appointment of the Commission, acknowledge our own limited capacity for the adjustment of such matters. It seems to me that we have arrived at this point, that, except in some cases of great failure on our own part or that of the Commission, we should accept the results of its labours as final. Well, has there been a failure, and what was it? We appointed a Commission composed of persons of all opinions to obtain all possible knowledge and information in each case from persons of all opinions on the spot, with regard to the extension of boundaries, but we never authorized that Commission to allow the wishes of the population to weigh as an element in their decision. That is an omission which no doubt we made, and in reading the Report of the Commission it appears to me that they no where speak of the wishes of the population as an element which guided their judgment. I am bound to say that in no way could they exclude that element if they acted in accordance with the opinions of Parliament; but I do not think that the Instructions given by us would have justified the Commissioners in founding their I decisions in any degree on the wishes of the population. Well, then, when we came to deal with the subject this year, we found in a certain number of instances, not very numerous, but important, the wishes of the inhabitants very strongly stated, and we found, too, that it was impossible for us to overlook the wishes of the inhabitants without giving them an opportunity of being heard. The House therefore appointed a Committee to consider the subject. And now it is said the Committee had not the same means of judging that the Commission had. I contend on the contrary, that it had much better means of judgment and larger powers, because, while we never gave the Commission the slightest intimation that they were to take into account the wishes of the inhabitants, every Member of the Committee knew that they bad been appointed with that special object, and therefore they were enabled to include in their judgment elements which the Commission could not entertain at all. The Committee was appointed by the House as a tribunal 1287 of review on the Report of the Commissioners, armed with better means of information and larger powers of judgment, than the Commissioners. That was done by the Government itself, yet now we stand, according to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, in this position—he is aware of the fact that the Committee have made Reports recommending another course, but he has a Bill on the table and that Bill contains the whole of the recommendations of the Commissioners, and consequently passes by in every case the recommendations of the Committee. And the right hon. Gentleman says simply, "Let us go on with our Bill." That is to say, the Committee may come and be heard, of course, just as any other party may be heard, aginst the Bill of the Government; but no weight whatever is to be given by the Government to the recommendations of its own Committee. [Mr. DISRAELI: No!] The right hon. Gentleman, I must beg his pardon, has said so; for he is going on with his Bill, which embodies in every case the recommendations of the Commissioners; and in no case the recommendations of the Committee. So that he gives no weight to the recommendations of the Committee, or if I have not adopted the most accurate expression let me say this—that in every case the right hon. Gentleman passes by the recommendations of the Committee. He tells the Committee he is quite ready to hear their reasons. Of course he is, and so he is ready to hear the reasons of the hon. Member for Birmingham, or the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, or anyone else who has reasons to allege; but to his own Committee he denies the authority which must say I think he is in reason bound to accord to their decisions. I own it appears to me that if this be the position in which we stand; if the Government are not able to find that the labours of this Committee have issued in any fruit whatever; if in each case, as we must infer from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, the Government mean to proceed with the Bill as it stands, not abandoning any portion of the Schedule on which this discussion will turn, but are merely ready to have the subject discussed just as it must have been if no Committee had been I appointed, then I must say this—in the first place, just respect has not been paid either to the decision of the House and of the Government itself in appointing the Committee, or to the Gentlemen who undertook to serve upon it; and, in the se- 1288 cond place we have adopted a most inexpedient course in the loss of two or three weeks for the purpose of pitting one authority against another, and then being left to begin afresh and find our way through the mazes of a long controversy, which, according to the views of the right hon. Gentleman, we have done nothing whatever to simplify, but a great deal to complicate.
§ MR. PAULL
said, that seeing so much more deference shown by the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright), and the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gladstone), for the decision of one tribunal than or the decision of another, he was disposed to view with considerable suspicion the motives for that deference. The facts of the case were these—a Commission had been appointed to inquire into the state of these boroughs and the advisability of extending their boundaries, and in order to take evidence, and get information which the House could not itself obtain. Such information had been obtained by a body of men who were unanimously admitted to have been impartial, and to have done their work, as a rule, well. Now, surely, had there not been some object to serve, due respect would have been paid to the Report of that Commission. There were, however, objects to be served, and ends to be gained, and the right hon. Gentleman opposite proposed a Committee. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Disraeli), desirous, as he had always been, of conciliating the House, and assisting them to arrive at the best conclusion possible, acceded to the suggestion, though it was contrary to all the usual modes of procedure, for it was always understood that a Committee had not the same means of obtaining information that a Commission had, since the latter could visit the places interested, and make the necessary inquiries on the spot. It had been said, indeed, that the inquiry of the Commission had been limited, since they had not been deputed to inquire into the feelings and wishes of the inhabitants, while the Committee had been appointed expressly for that purpose. What, then was the position of the House? They had before them on the one hand the recommendations of impartial men who had visited the boroughs, and on the other the recommendations of a Committee that had inquired into the wishes expressed by the Members for those boroughs influenced by party, or, all events, by partial sympathies. Having before them the recommendations of two tribunals based on different princi- 1289 pies, what could be more fair than the suggestion of his right hon. Friend to proceed with the Bill, and weigh the recommendations of both tribunals, so as to come to a just decision? To ask the House to adopt en masse the recommendations either of the Commission or of the Committee was to ask them to abdicate their privileges. It appeared to him that this was part and parcel of the reiterated attempts which were being made to place the Government in a difficulty. Hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to be above such attempts. The Commissioners had had every opportunity of obtaining evidence, whereas the Committee had had but very limited opportunities, and to throw over the recommendations of the former would be to depart from all the principles by which the House was usually guided.
§ SIR FRANCIS CROSSLEY
said, that as one of the Commissioners he had not hesitated, finding their recommendations called in question, to agree to the appointment of a Committee, and, their powers being larger than those of the Commissioners, the House had, he thought, derived great advantage from their labours, in narrowing the field of the differences that existed. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) had, he thought, rather misunderstood the First Minister of the Crown when he had represented him as attaching no importance to the Report of the Committee, for the Government, it seemed to him, were disposed to attach great importance to that Report, though not to adopt it without question and examination. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole), when in his able speech he referred to the large size of these boroughs end to their immense number of inhabitants in comparison with the counties, left entirely out of view the great number of 40s. freeholders and of leaseholders in these boroughs who had votes for the county. Now, the difficulty which presented itself to him in accepting the Report of the Committee was that some of the boroughs which they recommended should not be extended at all were just the boroughs that had increased the most. Indeed, if the boundaries of these boroughs were not extended it did not seem advisable to extend any. As to the argument that they would become unwieldy, he had had a little experience of an unwieldy constituency, for he bad had the honour of representing the whole of the West Riding, ninety miles long by forty wide, and containing a population 1290 of 1,500,000, or almost half that of Scotland. Well, what had been done with it? It had first been divided into two, and latterly into three constituencies. Then again the Tower Hamlets had been divided. The House surely could not shut its eyes to the vast increase of these places. He had been surprised to hear it stated that in the case of a Northern borough the Commissioners had recommended an addition a mile in length without any buildings, for he was not aware of any such case. It had been said that the Commissioners left everything to the Assistant Commissioners, who visited the boroughs, adopting everything recommended by them. Now, the fact was that the Assistant Commissioners were not empowered to report any opinion at all; what they had to do being to visit the towns, and take evidence, and report what the facts were. The Commissioners, having them at their beck and call, had endeavoured to arrive at a thorough knowledge of the facts of each case, and in no instance had they proposed an extension of boundary unless the suggested addition joined the borough and had really become part of the town. They had not recommended the addition of u strangling line of houses, or of a detached village, but only of what had become part and parcel of the town. If they had not proposed extensions under such circumstances they might as I well, it seemed to him, not have been appointed at all. He thought the House should adopt the advice of the First Minister of the Crown and proceed to consider the Bill, dealing with each case on; its own merits, and duly weighing the recommendations both of the Commissioners and of the Committee.
§ MR. OSBORNE
Sir, it appears to me, after the speech of the late Commissioner, who has not proved, at least to my satisfaction, that he gave to the subject the consideration it demanded, that we have arrived at the supreme point of stultification. In the first instance. Her Majesty's Government threw over the Report of the Commissioners. They acknowledge the justice of the memorials which were presented to them from several towns, and they appointed a Select Committee, which appointment was, in fact, a compromise with a party in this House in order to put aside the Amendment of the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert). I altogether objected to the Report of the Commissioners; I objected to the constitution of the Commission, but I was not supported at the 1291 time. I did so, because when I saw an acute Member, of judicial experience, on the other side of the House appointed, and when I saw appointed another Member on this side of the House, excellent in all the relations of life, but unable to cope with the judicial ability of that hon. Gentleman, I knew well what the Report of that Commission would be. I am not going at this hour of the night to criticize the Report, although I could do so at considerable length; but I am not going to pay fulsome compliments to the Members of that Commission. I think it was defective from the first, and the Instructions were still more defective. What is the point we have arrived at in this House? These disputed cases were referred to a Select Committee, the impartiality of which I challenge any man to impugn. Even the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Gorst), who to-night has impugned the impartiality of the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread), has nothing to say in answer to that mild, moderate, and judicious speech made by the right hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Walpole). No man can have listened to it and not acknowledge it was made in the purest and most moderate spirit. How has it been met by the Government? Why, Sir, I really felt a little ashamed for the Government that they should meet it so. Yes, I felt ashamed of the Government and of its supporters, not excepting the outspoken Member for St. Ives (Mr. Paull), that they should meet it in such a spirit. What is the position of the House now? We have pretended that we want to expedite a dissolution of this House, and we have positively thrown this question back three weeks. It will come to this—that the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert) or somebody else must move the omission of Clause 4. As Her Majesty's Government are not disposed to treat the Select Committee of their own appointment in a proper and Parliamentary spirit, I move, Sir, that you report Progress, and ask leave to sit again.
§ MR. WHITBREAD
said, he entirely and totally dissented from the doctrine that if the House adopted the Report of the Select Committee that would be tantamount to passing a censure on the Commission. His respect for the Commission and his intimate personal relations with one of its members would have prevented him joining the Committee if he had imagined it was to sit in judgment on the Commission. He believed one thing was 1292 referred to the Commission, and quite another to the Committee. The Commission, honestly and faithfully carrying out its Instructions, threw a wide net and embraced everything that came into its meshes. They told the House the greatest possible annexation that could be made to these boroughs, and the House, having heard them, appointed the Select Committee to consider and report what was the wisest thing to do under the circumstances. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Paull) said the Committee never would have been appointed if there had not been objects to serve, What did he mean by "objects to serve?" What did he mean by such language? The hon. Member went on to say the Committee had listened to the party views and party interests of the people who were affected by the recommendations of the Commission. He (Mr. Whitbread) told the hon. Member the Committee did no such thing.
§ MR. WHITBREAD
said, the hon. Member stated that there were party objects to serve, and he implied that they had been served. So far from the Committee having listened to party views, when anybody opened the question of party interests the Chairman promptly desired him to desist from referring to them. As to his own impartiality, which had been questioned by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Gorst), all he would say was, he had sat for sixteen years in the House, and had adhered with tolerable fidelity to the party which represented his views, and the views of those who elected him, and if other hon. Members had done the same it would have been better for the House and the country; but although a party man, he could not charge himself with having voted or spoken in a way which would justify anyone in saying he would not give a fair verdict on a question like this. A man might perhaps be a bad judge of his own impartiality; but he should have thought that the legal experience of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Gorst) would have taught him that the time to question the impartiality of your umpire was before he was appointed, and not after he had given his decision. He had little to add to the able statement of the Chairman of the Committee. A cry had been raised, "We will have the counties, and 1293 we will have them only as counties;" but this was a dangerous cry, and might provoke the cry, "Let the towns be towns." He advised the other side, before they raised the former cry, to consider how many boroughs were really fragments of counties. He was very sorry that the right hon. Gentleman at the Head of the Government had taken the course he had done. The right hon. Gentleman wisely said some nights ago he could not discover any party gain which could be obtained by adopting the recommendations of the Commission. He had been unable to detect any gain to be obtained from adopting the recommendations of the Select Committee. The present state of things would be unjustifiable if the Government did not believe that the country, when it was appealed to, would reverse the balance in that House; but the Government might rest assured that if the balance were turned it would be by a change in the sentiments and feelings of the whole country, and not by a miserable and paltry gain of a few thousands more or less of votes transferred in the settlement of boundaries.
§ MR. DISRAELI
It is vain to attempt to oppose the Motion of the hon. Member for Nottingham (Mr. Osborne) at this hour of the night. At the same time, I must express my opinion that the time has come when the House ought really to act in as practical a manner as possible upon this subject. If any plan more practical than that I have proposed can he suggested I am perfectly ready to adopt it. The right hon. Member for South Lancashire (Mr. Gladstone) spoke as if this Bill were framed in a spirit totally contrary to the recommendations of the Select Committee; but he forgets that three-fourths of the recommendations of the Commission were adopted by the Committee. I know no more convenient way of showing every possible respect to the Report of the Committee and to the recommendations of the Commission, and of expediting this measure, than proceeding with the Bill as it is before us, and discussing the few cases in which there may be differences of opinion. It is only by making progress with the Bill that, we can bring these questions to a speedy solution; and, I will not say in one night, but in two nights, we might conclude this business. I shall put the Bill on the Paper for Thursday night, to follow the Registration Bill, the introduction of which will not lead to a long discussion. If we go on in Committee we 1294 may, by eliciting the expression of the opinions in disputed cases, arrive at some conclusion respecting them; but if any more convenient way can be suggested I shall be happy to hear of it. If the House wants to proceed with the Bill, it will do so in the regular course; and we shall hear and settle all these points of difference.
§ House resumed.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Thursday,