§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ MR. DISRAELI
This, Mr. Speaker, is a Motion for the Third Reading of a Bill which has exercised a remarkable influence on the present Session of Parliament. It is owing to this Bill that the course of procedure in this House has been, on the whole, one which everybody deplores, and which some persons look upon as disastrous. It is owing to this Bill that the House of Commons has been deprived of its highest political privilege and noblest function—that of controlling the expenditure of the public money. It is owing to this Bill that the Committee of Supply has been virtually closed during the whole Session of Parliament to the representatives of the people. It is owing to this Bill that many measures of great importance and of probable advantage to the country have been stopped, and especially that course of legislation, in my opinion, much the most important, which concerns the health of the population, a subject which year after year has increased in significance, and which, I think, every reasonable man will, upon reflection, agree must be placed in the highest class of national interests, because, after all, if it be true, as some men of high scientific reputation have declared, that there is a physical degeneracy in the race of this country, immense responsibility rests upon Government and Parliament, under these circumstances, if they omit to apply those remedies which wise and well-considered legislation would enable them to offer. All these objects have been lost in consequence of this Bill.
I will enter into this question fairly, and I do not mean to say there may 1097 not be reasons for introducing and proceeding with this Bill, which reasons might have outweighed all those considerations to which I have referred. The Government have very frequently informed us what was the reason, the foremost and paramount reason, which induced them to introduce this Bill, and to persist in passing it through the House of Commons. The Minister in charge of the Bill (Mr. W. E. Forster) frequently—though not so frequently of late as in the earlier part of the proceedings—took opportunities of informing the House that the Government deprecated as much as we did the postponement of important measures, many of which had been brought in by his own Colleagues, but that the unanimous voice of the constituencies must be listened to. That voice of the constituencies was alleged to be irresistible, and, consequently, it was necessary to bring in this Bill, which I will popularly describe, in accordance with the last definition of it by the Prime Minister himself, as a Bill for the introduction of secret voting. I confess I have always been special in regard to the plea of the Government and that prime reason for introducing this measure. I had as much interest in the last General Election, probably, as any Gentleman in this House, and I probably know as much of previous General Elections as most Members. I watched with vigilant anxiety the proceedings at the last General Election, and certainly, although my information was obtained, as I thought, from the best quarters, and my own observations were unceasing, I had no idea till it was authoritatively announced by the Minister in charge of the Bill that vote by ballot, or secret voting, or whatever other name may be popularly adopted, was the great issue upon which the voice of the country was asked, and upon which it decided. I was under the very contrary impression, and I took occasion to say so recently to the right hon. Gentleman, although my statement was received with some scepticism. Upon subjects of this kind we ought to arrive at an accurate opinion respecting the feeling of the country, and when, therefore, we are told that this Bill has been introduced, and, as I think, prematurely pressed, because there was an irresistible demand for it on the part of the constituencies, and because that desire could 1098 not be gratified in the first two Sessions of this Parliament, as the House had to deal with still more imminent and important subjects, it is just as well that we should arrive at as sound an opinion on the matter as the facts will permit. Now, Sir, my position is this—that there was no irresistible demand on the part of the country, as exhibited by the conduct of the constituencies during the last General Election, on the subject of the Ballot. I will place before the House the result of my inquiries, which have been made in a manner which I think both sides of the House will admit to be fair, and which I can assure them I intended to be fair. In the first place, I have had placed before me a complete collection of the addresses of Members at that time. That collection has been made, and has been read by me recently without passion. I give credit for every Gentleman who in his address announced that he solicited the suffrages of the constituency he addressed on the ground of his being a supporter of the Ballot. It was, however, suggested to me that this would be a fallacious test, as many Gentlemen pledged themselves to their intended constituents in favour of the Ballot who did not express that opinion in their addresses. I have endeavoured, with the help of those who have assisted me in this undertaking, to meet that suggestion, and accordingly we have examined, so far as we could, the speeches delivered by hon. Gentlemen to their constituents during the Elections. It is true that there were candidates who did not pledge themselves in their addresses in favour of the Ballot; but whether it was second thoughts, or whether it was considered wise and prudential to have a reserve, they did pledge themselves to the Ballot in their speeches to their constituents. I therefore give credit for those Members who, in their speeches to their constituents, declared themselves to be in favour of the Ballot. I have also put down as pledged to the Ballot every Member of the late Parliament who was returned to the present Parliament and who had at anytime voted for the Ballot. I think the House will agree with me that these are elements for arriving at a conclusion that may be fairly accepted by the House. That they may be incomplete and even inaccurate in some instances I do not deny; but that inaccuracy and incompleteness are, 1099 as compared with the general result, altogether trivial. And I think, therefore, we may fairly conclude that the general result is one that we may confide in as emblematic of that irresistible demand of the constituencies which rendered it necessary that the Government should introduce this measure at the commencement of the Session, and ultimately persist in carrying it on to the great disturbance of Public Business and the great disadvantage of the State, in a manner also which, as I think, is not to the credit of the Government, and which, as they would have us believe—though I shall endeavour in the course of my observations to show that there is little foundation for the charge—is not for the credit of the House of Commons. Now what is the result of this analysis? We find that in England and Wales there were pledged to the Ballot under these three tests 123 Members; in Scotland there were 16, and in Ireland 12, making in all 151, or not one-fourth of the House of Commons. And yet we have been assured, night after night—first of all, perhaps, with some bravado, but afterwards with an air of conviction—that it was on account of the irresistible demonstration of feeling at the last General Election, in consequence of an irresistible demand and an unmistakable tone in the voice of the constituencies, that this measure has been introduced, the introduction of which has proved so disadvantageous, as I think, to the public interests.
On the ground, therefore, that there was no public exigency to justify its introduction, I regret that the Government took this course. But I regret it also on another ground; and that ground is that, in my mind, the public opinion of this country, and especially the opinion of Parliament, was not sufficiently matured on this subject to allow us to deal with it with success and satisfaction. ["Oh!"] Now, I know, for I have experienced it before, the common-place outcry with which an observation of that kind is met. "What," it is said, "the opinion of Parliament not matured upon the question of the Ballot, which for 40 years has been before us? When should opinion be matured, if, under such circumstances, after such a period, and after such a trial, we have not arrived at the necessary ripeness for a practical solution?" 1100 It is very true that for a considerable time — we will say some 35 or 40 years — what is called the Ballot has been a portion of the Parliamentary programme of many Sessions. But it has been a mere abstract and general question, a discussion of the comparative merits of open and secret voting—a question discussed like a school boy's theme—ut declamatio fiat. But there never was any business underlying these discussions; nobody gave them any practical application. This is the first Parliament in which the question has been looked on practically, and it is the first Parliament in which the difficulties of the subject, when looked at closely, have become apparent. The moment you begin to examine the subject with a view to taking action upon it, you find how little experience you possess of the matter with which you are dealing, and that the matter itself is one of immense intricacy. I do not know that I could present to the House a more satisfactory proof of that assertion than the fact that when we had read the Bill a second time — or rather upon a subsequent stage of the Bill, which both sides had agreed should be treated as equivalent to the second reading—a vast number of Amendments were immediately put upon the Notice Paper, by Members on both sides of the House, even before the House went into Committee. I had occasion this morning to look over the Parliamentary Paper which was delivered before we went into Committee; in fact, the first Paper of Amendments that was circulated upon this Bill, and I observed that there were 110 Amendments of which Notice was given by hon. Gentlemen opposite. Of course, from this side there was not a less number, so that at the very beginning there were not less than 220 or 230 Amendments, fairly divided between Gentlemen on both sides of the House, and that number was afterwards considerably increased. With many of those Amendments I could not agree. Of several suggested on my own side of the House I could not approve, and from probably a much greater number of those proposed on the other side of the House I was a dissentient. But this I will say, speaking generally of all those Amendments, that they were essentially practical Amendments; that they were criticisms which had fairly grown out of the 1101 study of the Bill, and in the conscientious opinion of those who proposed them were suggestions which would benefit the Bill, and render it a more satisfactory and a more working scheme. For instance, I take the Amendments moved by the hon. Gentleman opposite, the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread.) He was a Member of the Select Committee, and not the least valuable Member of that Committee, upon the results of whose labours and researches this Bill was ultimately framed. The Member for Bedford gave notice of a considerable series of Amendments on many important points; amendments which, no doubt, from their peculiar character, must have led to considerable discussion and remark. It cannot for a moment be supposed that a man like the Member for Bedford would propose Amendments on a subject of this nature, which had so greatly engaged his attention, without a deep conviction of the value of the suggestions which he had to make. If an hon. Member feels a conviction that his views on particular points of projected legislation are of such value as to justify him in giving notice of his intention to submit them for our consideration, I am at a loss to understand by what casuistry a man thus circumstanced can feel justified in withdrawing those Amendments from the consideration of the Committee, and so far permitting a measure that has been introduced to be carried through this House with all those crudities which he has discovered and criticised, and for which he himself has pointed out a remedy before it becomes the law of the land. Well, it was under these circumstances, with a Bill before us upon which Amendments in great numbers had been proposed, equally by Gentlemen on both sides of the House, with the prospect, certainly, of great labours, but also with the consolatory and compensatory prospect that we should, at least, have the advantage of a well-criticised and matured Bill, that we should have the benefit of the acumen and experience of Members of this House—it was under these circumstances that one of the most remarkable incidents that I can well recollect in public life occurred. The right hon. Gentleman opposite the First Minister called together suddenly a meeting of his party. Now, when a Minister calls a meeting of his party, 1102 something serious, of course, is intended; and sometimes something serious has happened. They are expedients which no Leader of a party would lightly have recourse to; they are instruments only to be used in an exigency, and no doubt their effects are generally considerable. They are occasions when a Leader appeals to his party to support him without too severe a criticism on his public conduct. He acknowledges that in the difficult task of leading a party in the House of Commons he may have committed errors, but the occasion has arrived when he must appeal to the sympathy of his supporters. And, generally speaking, a Leader who deserves to be a Leader would not under those circumstances appeal in vain. Nothing of this kind, so far as the circumstances have reached us, occurred on the present occasion. The hon. Gentlemen opposite were not incited to make speeches in favour of their Leader, but, on the contrary, the right hon. Gentleman seems to have adopted as the foundation of the discipline of his party the principle of Pythagoras, that the basis of success was silence. I thought at the time that the prototype adopted by the right hon. Gentleman was not a happy one; because, as far as we can have accurate information of what occurred at so remote a period as that in which Pythagoras lived, it is understood that he was not a disciple of the Ballot. I believe the most learned commentators on his career are of opinion that he would not have supported this Bill — at least if his great apothegm be rightly interpreted—"Beware of beans." It was quite clear that the opposition to the Bill, after this meeting of the right hon. Gentleman's, would arise from two main causes. One was from the defects of the Bill itself, upon which the sense of the House had been expressed in the number of Amendments equally proposed from both sides of the House; and, secondly, as a consequence of this Pythagorean initiation, there would naturally be on this side of the House some feeling of resentment and some determination to vindicate the constitutional privileges of the House of Commons. Therefore, it was quite clear that the right hon. Gentleman, in taking the course which he unfortunately adopted, took a course which rather tended to aggravate the Opposition which the defects of 1103 the Bill would insure him from both sides of the House.
In looking to the causes of that opposition which has led to such serious charges against the House of Commons by persons of authority I would call attention to this fact — that the Bill to the third reading of which we are now called on to agree had two principles or features which were entirely new. They were not included in the Bill of last year, and, as far as we know, those principles have always been inexorably opposed by Her Majesty's Government. The first was the guarantee of absolute secrecy. Now, that was a very grave matter. It could only be obtained by giving up all attempts at checking personation, and by announcing that absolute secrecy was of such importance in the opinion of the Minister that personation, as the lesser evil, must in future be allowed to pass with impunity. Well, that was a startling principle, and not being included in the late Bill, it was one which the right hon. Gentleman might suppose would occasion opposition. He might also have supposed—indeed he might have conceded—that this opposition was not in itself unreasonable, inasmuch as the Bill of the preceding year, brought in by his own Government, did not sanction this principle of absolute secrecy, but did take measures, if possible, to baffle personation. Now, the second great and new feature in this Bill, which the right hon. Gentleman, I think, might have supposed was one which justified opposition and criticism, was that of charging the expense of elections upon the rates. He might have known that a large party in this House, if not the majority of the House, were opposed to a proposal which they believed to be equivalent to the introduction of the principle of the payment of Members. And he can hardly, I think, have failed to be aware that a considerable number of Members, even on his own side of the House, objected to this proposal on financial grounds, at a time especially when the burden on the rates of this country had become a grievance which it is impossible can be borne much longer without alleviation. Certainly, no wise Minister, I should think, would attempt to increase those burdens. Yet I believe we have had three attempts to do so in the course of the present Session. 1104 I say, then, when you come to consider the opposition to this Bill, the Bill itself was so drawn that from its leading features it was impossible that many Amendments should not be made; and it is to me remarkable that Her Majesty's Government, under these circumstances, should have taken such an early opportunity in the labours of the Committee to impute charges of faction to the only portion of the House which, in this early portion of the labours of the Committee, could open their mouths upon the subject.
If the House will permit me, and with what, taking into account the nature of the subject, I trust will prove to be considerable brevity, I propose upon the occasion of the third reading of this Bill to try the justness of the charges—for they are very grave charges—which have been made. While the House was busied upon a measure which, whatever may be our opinion of its merits, all will agree to be one of primary importance, the Advisers of Her Majesty, night after night, have taken every opportunity of inveighing against the House of Commons because they were performing their duties as representatives of the people in criticising—not with any opposition to its principle, for we had got far beyond that, and were in Committee upon the Bill, but in criticising the details of a measure involving matters of infinite intricacy, and of incalculable moment to the interests of all classes of the people. It was in this state of affairs, to which we are not yet used—[Mr. GLADSTONE here made some gesture.] The right hon. Gentleman smiles at my description; but before I end he will probably find that I shall touch upon some grave subjects which he will have to notice in a different vein. I will endeavour, if the House will allow me, to meet this accusation of the Government without equivocation. There were some Amendments of an important nature to this Bill, which were moved from the bench upon which I sit. The principal ones were those by which we proposed that there should be an increase of polling-places, and which provided for all the consequences of that principle being accepted. The proposition was received coldly by the Government, but warmly by the House upon both sides, and was ultimately adopted by the Government. 1105 Under these circumstances, I think the right hon. Gentleman, or the Minister in charge of the Bill, could not be justified for a moment in describing these suggestions as factious. Then there were also the labours of a Gentleman who took a very active and most useful part in the criticisms on this Bill, and who, I believe, proposed more Amendments than any Member in the House—my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Goldney). Many of his Amendments were accepted by the Government, and all the Amendments which he proposed, though the justness of them might not be fully acknowledged by the Government, were admitted to be suggestions which deserved the utmost consideration. There were, however, other hon. Members, the justice of whose opposition was not as unequivocally acknowledged, and in consequence of whose conduct in this respect the House of Commons has been held up to public scorn. I refer—I will say it without the slightest reserve—to the conduct of some hon. Friends of mine, and others who sit below the gangway on this side of the House. There is the hon. Member for York (Mr. J. Lowther), the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck), and the hon. Gentleman who represents the University of Cambridge (Mr. Beresford Hope). [Cheers.] That is exactly what I wanted; I wanted that cheer to show that I am justified in the observations that I am going to make of a vindicatory character. I have examined with impartiality—and it is possible to be impartial, even though one may be sitting on this bench—I have examined the conduct of these Gentlemen with reference to their Amendments, and to what occurred in this House upon them, and I will put briefly before the House what happened on the two most important questions that came before the Committee—that is to say, Clause 2, as to Nominations, and Clause 3, as to Secret Voting. We were labouring upon Clause 2 for three Sittings—I will not say nights, because that is a well-understood Parliamentary phrase that in these days we ought to divest ourselves of—there were three Sittings in which my hon. Friends to whom I have referred took a leading part. And what occurred? For it is only after the event that we can take 1106 general views. In the heat of details it is quite impossible to come to a just conclusion. There were, as I have said, three Sittings, in which we were employed upon the clause as to nominations. The clause completely broke down the first day. That was the first result of the critical examination of my hon. Friends. At the end of the first day, upon Sub-section 5, the Minister who had charge of the Bill acknowledged that difficulties had been started which he could not meet, and which required time for consideration. Accordingly, he himself moved to report Progress. Now, that is the first day of faction. I put it to the House—speaking with equal confidence to those who are opposite as to those who are behind me, whatever may be their opinion as to the merits of the measure itself, for it is the conduct of the House of Commons, and that alone, that I am now concerned to vindicate—I put it to the House of Commons whether, so far as the first day of the three Sittings is concerned, what I have stated is not a complete vindication of the conduct of my hon. Friends. Now, what of the other days? At the next Sitting the Minister who had charge of the Bill, which had broken down the first day, and who himself had been obliged to ask his own Committee to report Progress, brought forward a new proposal. What can be more natural than that the House should submit to severe analysis a clause suddenly substituted by a Minister for one that had been abandoned, when the substituted clause could have had only 24 hours' consideration, or, indeed, only half that time; for we probably separated at 2 o'clock in the morning, and met again at 2 o'clock next day? This clause was submitted to most severe analysis. And what was the result? Amendments were brought forward by my hon. Friends to whom I have particularly referred, and the clause was modified in deference to their Amendments. Now, is that faction? Of that second clause, Sub-section 7, as it now stands in the Bill, is entirely their Amendment; and Sub-section 9 was struck out on the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Salford (Mr. Charley). This Clause 2 was substantially altered in Committee. Of 13 sub-sections, six were amended and two were struck out; that occupied three days. And this is conduct which has been menaced by the 1107 First Minster of the Crown. I say that the whole House has been menaced. The right hon. Gentleman told us it would be necessary to deprive Parliament of its privileges. [Mr. GLADSTONE: On what occasion?] I am quoting your own words. You said it would be necessary to re-consider the privileges of Parliament. [Mr. GLADSTONE: Not in reference to this Bill.] The right hon. Gentleman says he menaced us upon another Bill. The whole Session has been a Session of menace. I took a more charitable view of the right hon. Gentleman's conduct than he does himself. Notwithstanding the interruptions of the First Minister, I must continue that vindication which is necessary, not merely of my political Friends, but of the House of Commons; and I would offer it as readily for hon. Gentlemen opposite if they were attacked, and if they would permit me to do so, as I do for those with whom I act. The reputation of the House of Commons is as dear to me as it is to them; I believe there is only one individual to whom it is not dear. I now come to the 3rd clause, which provides for secret voting. It was discussed during eight Sittings, from the 11th to the 24th of July. No doubt the time of eight Sittings is much to give to a clause; but when you consider that this clause was the essence of the Bill, that it gave rise to considerations of the utmost importance, that on a right understanding upon these points depended the success of the measure as regards its passage through this House, and that the passing of the measure must be followed by very considerable consequences to the country, I think the House will agree with me that in the fact that the discussion of the clause occupied eight Sittings there is nothing in itself essentially obstructive. Let us see what was done in those eight Sittings. I again refer particularly to those Gentlemen who sit below the gangway on this side, and whose conduct with regard to the 2nd clause I think I have entirely vindicated. The hon. Member for York (Mr. J. Lowther) and others principally urged four objections against this clause. They said, first, that if secret voting were to be adopted the form of the ballot used in Melbourne was preferable to that of South Australia; second, that the Government plan was so clumsy and intricate, that votes, even if electors were 1108 not physically incapacitated, would be thrown away; third, that no proper provision was made to enable illiterate persons to vote; and, fourth, that personation was, in fact, legalized. All the Amendments which were moved below the gangway on this side of the House were based upon these four principles. What was the result? A comparison of the amended with the original Bill will show that, of the 23 original sub-sections, eight were amended and one was thrown out. And, what is not less important, these admissions were made by the Government:—First, the Minister who had charge of the Bill acknowledged that his form of ballot paper would not do, and therefore he had to substitute a new form; second, that the votes of personators could not be removed from the poll; third, that illiterate persons could not vote with any certainty. If the Amendments founded upon the four objections I have stated had been carried the Bill was lost, and therefore the House, in forming an opinion as to the fruitfulness of the labours of the Committee, must not dwell on the number of the Amendments that were defeated or were successful, because the existence of the Bill depended upon the questions involved. I say, considering that that clause was the vital clause of the Bill, when we find that the result of this criticism was that eight of the subsections were amended and one was thrown out, and that there were elicited these three important admissions, which were never acknowledged when we were discussing the Bill upon its principle—namely, that personation must be submitted to with impunity, that illiterate persons must take the chance of being disfranchised, and that the ballot paper, so carefully drafted by the Government, must be withdrawn, re-modelled, and re-constituted—all the labours of those eight Sittings were not fruitless, and the exertions that were made were not only justifiable, but were most laudable.
Now, Sir, I have tested the conduct of the House of Commons upon this Bill, as far as we have proceeded, I hope in an impartial manner. I have shown that the Amendments that were proposed on this bench were Amendments that the Government accepted, and therefore, of course, there is no charge against us. I have particularly 1109 distinguished the Amendments of the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Goldney) because it might have been said if I had mixed all the Amendments up together I was attempting to veil the labours of my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. J. Lowther), and others below the gangway. I have tested, examined candidly and completely, by an appeal to facts, by an analysis the accuracy of which cannot be questioned, and the fairness of which every candid and honourable mind can judge of, the conduct of these hon. Gentlemen with respect to the nomination and the secret voting clauses, and I ask the House whether I have not shown, not only that their conduct was justifiable, that they did their duty in a laudable manner, and that the result of their labours has been most beneficial and advantageous, but that they would have forfeited all claim to their character as independent Members of this House if they had been frightened by the menaces of the Minister, and had forborne to do their duty. These eight days spent upon the cardinal clause to introduce secret voting brought us up to the 27th of July; and on that day the Minister in charge of the Bill gave up several important clauses—[Mr. W. E. FORSTER: Only two]—which I do not dwell upon in detail, because I have already trespassed upon the House longer than I intended. On the 31st of July the right hon. Gentleman the First Minister—I forget whether in the morning or in the evening, one gets so confused with these long and extra Sittings—threatened us with an autumnal Session. Now, Sir, I never took any part with respect to the intimations and insinuations upon that subject. I listened to them with much amazement; and, in the midst of our arid and anxious labours, I confess there was a relief in watching the countenances of ingenuous Members on that side of the House. I never believed in an October Session; I believe very few Members did; I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman the First Minister did, because the right hon. Gentleman, with his impetuous disposition, is the slave of passionate convictions. I have no doubt that at the moment he was perfectly sincere, and intended that we should have an autumnal Session; but I looked upon that as only one of those nervous eccentricities which sometimes mar the 1110 transcendent abilities of the right hon. Gentleman. I never thought it would come to anything serious. I thought that to adjourn Parliament towards the end of August, which it must have been under any circumstances, to meet again in October, when a jaded Ministry would meet a discontented House of Commons, involved a prospect which no wise Minister would precipitate. Well, on the 31st of July, in the morning, we were—I will not say "threatened," because I understand there is an objection to the use of the word, but it was mentioned in a manner which might have frightened anyone who had not had some experience of the House of Commons, that we were to have an October meeting; and that was followed in the evening by a defeat of Ministers by an overwhelming majority upon one of the most important sections of the Bill. On the Ministry having been defeated in the evening, by this overwhelming majority, led by some of their own supporters, and after this terrible announcement in the morning of an autumnal Session, the right hon. Gentleman rose; and almost for the first time in my life, sitting opposite to him, I felt frightened out of my senses, and almost thought we were going to have an autumnal Session; but, on the contrary, the right hon. Gentleman, meek as a lamb, and in a commendable tone, complimented the Committee upon their labours, and also—the language was scarcely Parliamentary—on their politeness; and from that moment everything seemed to go on swimmingly, and we had no more threats and no more allusions to a possible autumn Session. On the following day, the 1st of August, the Minister in charge of the Bill gave up another covey of clauses—22, 23, and 24—[Mr. W. E. FORSTER: I passed them all.] We struck out Clause 25. [Mr. W. E. FORSTER: That I had given Notice of.] That only shows that if the Pythagorean system had really been persisted in, and if we had had no criticism whatever in Committee, all these clauses that were struck out would have been part of the Bill at the present moment. The evening of the day was entirely occupied by the publichouse clause; that, unfortunately, was not struck out; the unfortunate licensed victuallers of England seem to me to be the class selected this Session to be baited by Her Majesty's Ministers. They had escaped, 1111 as they supposed, a great danger; and they could hardly imagine that there was lurking in the provisions of a Bill for secret voting this assault upon the interests of their time-honoured, craft. During the discussion upon that celebrated publichouse clause, I think the Minister in charge of the Bill changed his opinion not less than six times; from that fact the House and the country can judge of the value of his proposals, but I say that the Minister who changes his opinion six times upon one clause is a Minister who ought to encourage and not discourage criticism in Committee. On the 3rd of August one penal clause was rejected, and another was modified, both I believe on the Motion of hon. Members below the gangway.
I have now brought the House to the end of the labours of the Committee on the 3rd of August; and I think I may venture to say that not so much time after all was occupied in the consideration of this Bill as was spent upon the Education Bill of last year. I think less time might have been occupied if the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill had enjoyed the assistance of the Law Officers of the Crown. I think that, upon a measure of this kind, they should be at hand to assist the Minister. Unquestionably we had the advantage of the help of two legal Gentleman, the hon. and learned Members for Oxford and Taunton (Mr. Vernon Harcourt and Mr. James), and I am very glad to acknowledge my sense of the value of the assistance rendered to the House by both those hon. Members; they are both distinguished in different branches of the law; but I am sure they will not be offended if I say that neither of them has obtained fame in the mere drafting of Bills; and, therefore, whatever the value of the assistance they gave, I do not think it ought to have allowed the Government to dispense with the habitual presence and assistance of the Law Advisers of the Crown. I have placed before the House my general views of the labours of the Committee; and, unless I may have made some little lapsus about the clauses at the end of my observations, I am not aware I have made any statement which is not perfectly accurate. As regards the conduct of hon. Members, I am glad to say that, during the last fortnight of our labours, that silence, that mysterious silence, was 1112 suddenly broken. Hon. Members will recollect a little story in Munchausen's Travels. Amid much talking there is silence under a frost, for the accents were frozen; the frost subsides, and it is astonishing what entertaining sounds are suddenly heard. So it was in Committee, when the Pythagorean system was no longer persisted in. The labours of the Committee, as I have said, on both sides, were laudable labours, and were immensely advantageous, and it is to be recollected that one of the most important clauses in the Bill was thrown out upon the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Mr. James), seconded, I believe, by the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Mr. V. Harcourt). Now, I ask the House calmly to consider whether the conduct of themselves as a Committee upon this Bill is what they ought to look back upon with any feelings of reproach. On the contrary, I say the labours of Committee have seldom been more valuable and useful; and those labours have been performed under circumstances of sacrifice and annoyance, because there were hon. Gentlemen on both sides who themselves had important questions to bring forward, and were prevented doing so by the continuance of this Committee, besides which great public questions, in which hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House are equally interested, have not received consideration in the present Session. I ask, then, whether a Minister is justified in holding up to public contempt the conduct of this House, and its labours in Committee, when those labours have been of that discriminating character I have shown them to be; and, above all, whether the person to hold us up to public disrespect for such a course of conduct is the right hon. Gentleman opposite, whether with respect to this Bill or to the other Bill as to which he says he menaced Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman is not only Prime Minister of England, he is also Leader of the House of Commons — a not less eminent position; he is the champion of our rights, and ought to be the guardian of our interests and of our honour. If he thinks the conduct of this House, or of any part of it, is not such as will redound to its reputation for discretion and good judgment, he is certainly not 1113 to show himself insensible to such a lamentable circumstance, but he should veil our backsliding and speak of it in the accents of mournfulness rather than of reproach; but instead of that the right hon. Gentleman thinks the way to manage the House of Commons if we do not do exactly as he wishes, is to get up and scold us — to rate and revile us. I must protest against this. I must protest when, as in the present instance, so erroneous an impression has gone forth to the country of the labours of the Committee on the Ballot Bill, and when I say, without fear of contradiction from any impartial man, that the labour of both sides of the House has redounded to their own honour and to the public advantage. This Bill is probably about soon to leave us. I regret its introduction, not merely on the grounds I have referred to, but because, generally speaking, I think it a retrograde measure. We have been now for nearly 50 years trying to get politics out of holes and corners. We began by getting them out of Old Sarum and Gatton. There was real "secret voting." I acknowledge that 35 or 40 years ago there was a plausible case to be made out for the Ballot; and I think the case for the Ballot might be strong, if the principle be just that the franchise is a trust—a principle in politics which has unfortunately been accepted by this House for a long time, and which those who have been great leaders of opinion have promulgated, but against which I have always protested, because, if the elector is a trustee, he may fairly say—"If there is a trust there must be unlimited confidence; you have confided to me this office, and I ask of you, the State, in turn to protect me in its exercise; and I cannot be protected unless I have the advantage of recording my vote without being responsible to anyone; you have chosen me to be your trustee, I demand that I may be allowed completely to fulfil that trust." But, Sir, all that is past; it is acknowledged now that the franchise is not a trust, but that it is a political privilege, and, like all political privileges, it must be exercised for the common good, and cannot be exercised for the common good unless it is exercised publicly. The moment you had a qualified but largely expanded constituency, you altered all the conditions of the case. If you 1114 pass this Bill, you will be taking a retrograde step in divorcing political life from publicity. Without publicity there can be no public spirit, and without public spirit every nation must decay.
Sir, I will not pretend on the present occasion to follow the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) into what he is pleased, in the richness of his reading, to term the Pythagorian principle. He has been kind enough to make over to me a portion of the wealth of his own imagination; at least I presume it is his own; at any rate it is none of mine. I introduced no reference or allusion whatever to Pythagoras in any of the proceedings, to which I have been a party, on the Ballot Bill. If I had studied to commend the dignity of silence, I should not have gone so far back, but should have used the works of an eloquent and powerful writer of the present day—I mean Mr. Carlyle—who I think inculcates what he forcibly terms the worship of the eternal silence, and in various forms of speech of which he is so great a master impresses the observance that is due to that divinity. However, I did nothing of the kind. I have confined myself to very few and very simple words upon this Bill; and I rarely have been more astonished than at the charges against not only the Government, but against myself in particular—I may say against myself exclusively—on which the right hon. Gentleman has founded the principal portion of his speech, and nearly all the pointed witticisms which so much relieved its delivery and entertained his audience. The right hon. Gentleman began by describing the mischief which has been caused by this Bill, and with formidable iteration he has told us—"It is owing to this Bill that legislation has been neglected. It is owing to this Bill that the House of Commons has been prevented from having any control over the expenditure of the country. It is owing to this Bill that numerous other deplorable evils have been incurred." With respect to the recital of these evils I have to complain, but only in a mild form, of the strain of exaggeration which has become, I fear, in a great degree habitual with the right hon. Gentleman when he seeks for rhetorical effect. The right hon. Gentleman says we ought to betake ourselves to sanitary legislation—as undoubtedly we ought—because it 1115 is held that the people are in course of physical degeneracy. That is what I call exaggeration. The right hon. Gentleman is probably not aware that the tables of mortality show a progressive lengthening of life; and I know not by what system of philosophy, Pythagorean or any other, the right hon. Gentleman reconciles this progressive elongation of the term of life, which I trust will be further continued, with the physical degeneracy that he thought it necessary to quote in order to recommend what in itself is a perfectly rational proposition, but too simple for the taste of the right hon. Gentleman—namely, that sanitary legislation has great claims upon our attention. In the same way the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the total loss and abandonment of control by the House of Commons over the expenditure of the country, knowing as he did that by far the greater part of the expenditure of the country had been long ago disposed of. At the same time I fully admit that after we strip his phrases of their exaggeration, there is left behind a substratum of truth in the fact which we join with him in regretting, that the final dealing with important portions of the Estimates has been postponed until a period inconveniently late. All this, says the right hon. Gentleman, is owing to this Bill. Now, let us consider for a little how far this is the case. This Bill, as he says, has been the immediate cause and occasion of those mischiefs. So, if you are driven by a crowd to the edge of a precipice, and have the misfortune to tumble over and break your neck, it is owing to the pressure of the man who is next to you in the crowd that the calamity befalls you. But let us look back a little further than to the man next in the crowd, and let us ask, as I shall presently, whether it was really the contents and substance of this Bill that have placed the House in its recent difficulties, or whether that has been owing to other causes. I will refer to that subject further when I come to deal with an astonishing error made by the right hon. Gentleman with respect to myself. But to proceed. Well, Sir, having shown the amount of public mischief that had been incurred for the sake of this Bill, the right hon. Gentleman went on to say that this Bill was pressed forward by us on the pretence that there is an irresistible demand for it on the 1116 part of the constituencies. It is one of the arts of a rhetorician, when he undertakes to give a fair representation of his adversary's argument, to avoid giving the whole of that argument, and in a selection of its parts to choose those with which it is easy to deal. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman seized on an expression—and I am ready to defend the expression—which on a single occasion fell from my right hon. Friend near me (Mr. W. E. Forster) with respect to an irresistible or general demand of the constituencies, or some phrase in that sense, and overlooked altogether all the other vindications which have been given of this Bill. There is one vindication of this Bill especially of which he has taken no notice, and that is the vast admission of persons of the more helpless classes of the community into the constituencies. That is a point which I own has operated much more upon me than what may be called the general or irresistible demand of the constituencies. And has the right hon. Gentleman no indication of the feeling of the constituencies better than the somewhat frigid figures that he elaborately tricked together from addresses and speeches at the General Election? Has he no more living and forcible and natural indications by which to guide his judgment upon this subject than he could derive from the portentous labour he has undergone? And I beg to offer him my most sincere commiseration on reading through, as he says he has done, not only all the addresses issued by Liberal candidates to their constituents, but likewise all the speeches in which those addresses were unfolded and explained. The right hon. Gentleman might have learnt a great deal more at a much smaller expenditure of time from one of the Members for Stockport (Mr. Tipping) who sits on his own side of the House. Let him ask that hon. Member for the feeling of his constituency, and he will, I have no doubt, tell him, as he told the Committee on the Ballot Bill, that the late Reform Bill enfranchised, I think, 2,000 new electors of Stockport, and that although they differed on all other subjects, whether they were Liberal or Conservative, Whig, Tory, Radical, or Democrat, they all agreed that they ought to be protected by the Ballot in the exercise of the franchise. I recommend that speech to the recollection 1117 of the right hon. Gentleman. I cannot suppose he overlooked it. In the very dispassionate review he made of the feelings of the constituencies he cannot have overlooked such a speech coming from one of his own political adherents. I trust the summary I have given of it will assist the right hon. Gentleman to sound political conclusions. But is there no other mode of judging of the opinions of the constituencies but by addresses and speeches three years old, in which, I think, the right hon. Gentleman has, to use an expression which was a very great favourite among his Friends, been "meddling and muddling" on the present occasion? No one has contended that the Ballot Bill was the question on which the last Election turned, nor is it a question which has been taken up in preference to all others by the Government. It is, to say the least, but the fifth in point of time among questions of the highest order and of the greatest difficulty with which the Government has attempted to deal. And what indications have we had of the feelings of the constituencies on the subject? Why, Sir, we have had the best of all indications in the conduct of Members of the House. The right hon. Gentleman has made no allusion to that conduct, not because he is not given to observe such signs; on the Army Bill he was sufficiently quick to notice it, and when charges were made of unusual resistance and obstruction to that Bill the right hon. Gentleman said—"Yes; I admit much resistance has been offered to you, but look at your dwindling majorities; you began with a majority commensurate with that with which you came from the hustings, but you have gone down to 80, 60, 40, and 16." I think some division furnished the right hon. Gentleman with a still lower figure, and he fixed his eye on these diminishing majorities as a sign of weakness on the part of the Government with respect to that measure, which, however, I do not admit. Why does not the right hon. Gentlemen observe that we have had, as was observed by the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bowring) more than seventy divisions on the Ballot Bill, and that in those divisions from first to last the majority of the House of Commons has acted with a uniformity and a determition never surpassed during any portion of the proceedings of this Parliament, 1118 not even on divisions on the measure for the disestablishment of the Irish Church? There, Sir, is evidence of the feeling of the country. The right hon. Gentleman is great when it suits him upon the high character of the House of Commons, and the dignity and importance of its functions; but what becomes of that high character and dignity if he is thus to overlook this singular union and decision with which the greater portion of the representatives of the people are acting, and to go back to addresses and election speeches to find the evidence which he thinks alone worthy of being embodied in the substance of his oration? The right hon. Gentleman has taken the opportunity, in many parts of his speech, and no one can blame him for it, of reciting the grounds on which he has objected to the passing of this Bill. He thinks it a retrograde measure, and not sustained by the matured opinion of the country. He is, of course, justified in leaving the recollection of these assertions upon the minds of his adherents as the valedictory address to the measure before it passes to the House of Lords. But now we come to the main part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. He says the injunction of silence was delivered in some mysterious manner to the majority, and was acted upon by them; and he tells us that the silence which he observed on the part of the majority tended to lengthen the speeches on the other side of the House. That is not the practical lesson I have derived from Parliamentary experience; but this is a minor point. The right hon. Gentleman referred to various passages in the Bill, and with strange exaggeration asserted that the Government has at length admitted that personation is to be allowed to go on with impunity, and he found this was a proposition so telling and so suitable for his purpose that he took occasion to reiterate it in the course of his speech. The right hon. Gentleman has attended a considerable part of the sittings of the Committee, and I want to know in what portion of his attendance here or in what organ of information does he find the statement that the Government have admitted that personation is to be allowed to go on with impunity? The right hon. Gentleman is fond enough of quoting when quoting serves his purpose, and long observation makes me well aware 1119 that when the right hon. Gentleman does not quote he has very good reason for not doing so. He did not quote on this occasion; he gave no reference of a distinct or definite kind for the statement; and I have no hesitation in saying that neither my right hon. Friend near me (Mr. W. E. Forster), in whose hands we have been glad, and, I think, wisely glad, to leave the expression of our sentiments on the clauses of this Bill, nor any other Member of the Government has ever made any such admission. We have used no such words and entertained no such sentiments, nor have we used any words which would give the right hon. Gentleman the smallest excuse for imputing such a sentiment to us. The declaration made by my right hon. Friend near me respecting personation was that, so far from its being allowed to go on with impunity, it would receive a heavier blow from the measure now before us than it has ever yet received from any legislative enactment. In the same way the right hon. Gentleman says the proposal with respect to polling-places was mentioned to the House, received with favour on both sides of the House, looked on with coldness by the Government, but was ultimately accepted. What does the right hon. Gentleman mean by ultimately accepted? I am not far wrong if I say that within one hour from the time the proposal respecting polling-places was first made it was accepted by the Government. The Government never doubted the propriety of increasing the number of polling-places; it hesitated only because it did not want to load the Bill; but as soon as it found the proposal was acceptable to both sides of the House, and would not delay the Bill it was adopted. I will not follow the right hon. Gentleman through what I may call the apologetical portions of his speech, but I may ask the House to consider why the right hon. Gentleman thought it necessary to enter upon that apology, and to show, with a detail that in any other hands than his would have been wearisome, and in his was ample, what had been done upon each clause, how many Amendments there were, how many were accepted, how many nights were taken up with particular clauses, how many hours were consumed each night, and so forth. The reason advanced by the right hon. Gentleman would have been perfectly sufficient if it had been 1120 true. In the first place he said the Government had made the most serious charges founded on the nature of the opposition to the Bill, and had charged the opponents of the Bill night after night with factious proceedings; a statement he repeated again and again in great variety of form. At last, having been put forward without being fastened on anyone in particular, it was fastened on me. I challenged the right hon. Gentleman to give me a single instance in which I had made that charge, and the right hon. Gentleman totally failed to do so. I now challenge him again. He has delivered me a lecture on the duties of the Leader of the House. He says—It is not right for you to be always threatening the House of Commons; the business of the Leader of the House is to palliate even its backslidings and to be the guardian of its honour. Excellent doctrine, without doubt; but where is the justifying ground of the accusation of the right hon. Gentleman, and when have I complained of factious opposition to this Bill? Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to answer that question or not? [A pause.] I have a right to an answer. He has accused me of having made the complaint, and I have a right to an answer. [A. pause.] If the right hon. Gentlemen does not chose to give me an answer the cause is that there is not a shadow of foundation for the statement. I have never accused the opponents to the Bill of faction. ["Oh!"] It is easy to make that reply, but will the hon. Member who makes it rise in his place and say when, where, and in what terms the accusation was made? That is a perfectly fair question to put, and I should be glad to see the smallest indication of a disposition to give me an answer. To characterize the general opposition to this Bill as factious would, in my opinion, be unjust. I do not think it has been factious. There have been times when particular portions of that opposition have begun to wear an aspect as if they were likely to grow into that character. I remember on one occasion, the House having once before gone into Committee, the Motion that the Chairman leave the Chair was opposed, and by one speech in particular of a most extraordinary character, wholly irrelevant to the subject-matter in hand, and of a nature in other respects which I characterized as well as I could at the time; and on that 1121 occasion I stated that these things were becoming serious, that the privileges and powers of the House had been strained during this Session—for I did not even then allude to the particular proceeding. [Mr. DISRAELI: A general menace.] We will come to that by-and-by. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he courteously calls his interruption. I added that if the same conduct were persevered in in future the House must renounce its duties, or it would be compelled to do that which I regarded as a serious evil—re-consider its Rules. I am perfectly ready to justify that. It was a declaration delivered before the Committee commenced its labours on this Bill. It therefore could have had no reference whatever to those labours, and no such declaration has ever proceeded from me with respect to those labours, and therefore the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that I had applied this description to the labours of the Opposition in discussing the clauses of this Bill is a statement which, until he justifies it, must stand as having been made without a shadow of evidence to support it. With regard to that opposition, after the admission I have made, it will, perhaps, be invidious to go into detail. I admit that there have been times when I thought the proceedings of the Opposition somewhat remarkable. I have seen Tellers come up to this Table hardly able to control their laughter, and I have seen Members come to this House to attempt a count, and, on failing, make Motions upon the Bill, hardly able for laughter to explain their Amendments. I wish neither to overstate nor to understate the case. I think that to proceedings of that kind objection may be taken; but upon the whole I admit that there have been a number of points of difficulty in the adjustment of a measure of this nature. These required full consideration; it was quite right that they should have it; and neither in my mind nor on my lips has there been the absurd idea which the right hon. Gentleman thought fit to impute to me. Sir, with respect to the principal justification of the words which I have here quoted, and which I myself believe to be the only words that have had reference to that subject, they refer to the conduct pursued with regard to a former measure—a single measure, and not with regard to the Session in general. I will not enter 1122 into details. I do not wish to prejudice this case or to exasperate controversy by introducing new ones; but this I did and do undoubtedly say, that, with reference to the discussions on the Army Bill, there is a most grave issue in the hands of the country to try. The opponents of that Bill admitted the nature of the opposition they offered to it to be peculiar and unusual. Those were the strongest epithets which in this House were ever, I think, applied to it by Members of the Government—the strongest, certainty, ever applied to it by me. It was peculiar and unusual in a very high degree. They defended themselves for offering that opposition by throwing back the responsibility on the Government. I will not say which is right; but of this there is no doubt whatever, that whether the responsibility of that opposition lay with the Government, as they think, or lay with those who made it, the result to the country was that business was reduced to a condition in this House such as was never seen before. The clauses and Amendments in the Committee of this House were discussed in a manner never before adopted, within the recollection, I believe, of anyone who sits here. The character and credit of this House were seriously compromised, and those who have seen it were justified in saying, as I said, in temperate terms, that the fact that circumstances of that kind had occurred, which, if continued, would bring into view the question whether this House would not be obliged to re-consider some of its Rules with reference to the conduct of business. Well, I think I have now dealt as far as I can with the charge of the right hon. Gentleman. But the right hon. Gentleman, who was very severe upon the Pythagoreanism of this side of the House, is himself Pythagorean enough when I ask him to justify the charges he has made; and he has good reason for being so, for he knows it cannot be done. [Mr. DISRAELI was understood to say: You have done it.] I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his second interruption. Let us see. His charge was that I had applied those threats to the opposition on the clauses of the Ballot Bill. The only quotation that can be produced refers to a period before that opposition began, and when it was therefore impossible it could refer to that. But I wish to go further than 1123 merely delivering a niggard admission that much of that opposition has been perfectly warrantable. I think that much of the discussion has really been valuable, and that the Government are under obligations to those who assisted them in bringing this Bill to a state of maturity. Whatever complaints I may be justified in making of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, I desire to notice one valuable result of that speech. He has gone in detail through the clauses of the Bill; he has almost fought over again the battles that were waged on its clauses, its sentences, and its lines; he has shown with what patient, with what laborious, with what an indefatigable consideration all portions of this House devoted themselves to the improvement of the structure of the measure. He would have been justified in saying that rarely indeed, if ever, have greater pains been taken by the Members of this House—by most of them with very little simultaneous effusion of eloquence—but by the Members of this House at large, for the purpose of introducing into a measure the Amendments which might be necessary to render it efficacious and make it faultless. He has shown, and he knows perfectly well, that all this has been done by the House; and I may add that it has been at sacrifices of labour and of personal convenience such as have, perhaps, never been exceeded. Sir, in this way, at least, the House of Commons has testified to its own sincerity, and ought to be above the charges of the right hon. Gentleman. In this way this House has shown that when it sends this measure to the House of Lords it will send it possessed of every title that a measure can possess to a respectful and also to a favourable attention. It is the old favourite of the mass of people, and especially of the weaker portion of the constituencies. In some cases, as we know from the speech of the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Tipping), it has united the opinion of those who are united in nothing else. If the Liberal majority of this House has been scattered or disorganized in any degree or as to any portion of it on the Army Bill, it has had the effect of rallying and consolidating that majority. It has received—not from that Liberal majority alone, not from my right hon. Friend (Mr. W. E. Forster) alone, but from this House at large, a free, an unsparing, 1124 a generous devotion of time without stint or measure for the purpose of bringing the Bill to a state worthy of the object it professes—namely, that of increasing the securities for the freedom of the people. If these things are true—and that they are true is known—as to a large portion of them that they are true is shown and proved by the very speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite—and if we, after six months of unwearied labour, sitting for about one-third part of each 24 hours during all the principal days of the week—if we have not grudged that expenditure of time for such a purpose, he would, indeed, be an ill friend to the other branch of the Legislature, more happy than we in the lightness of its labours, who would say that it has undergone such a process of exhaustion that it will be unable to recognize these titles of the measure to its candid and its favourable attention, but will put in what I must call the little paltry plea of time against taking into its view, weighing, examining, considering, amending if it can, and dealing with as the circumstances may demand, a Bill with respect to which the sentiments of the representatives of the people have been so emphatically shown, and with respect to which also it never can be doubted that it must shortly take its place, and take its place for ever, upon the Statute Book of the country.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
In one respect the speech of my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government has been very satisfactory to that band of independent Members who from no personal or interested motive, but simply from the desire to do justice to a great question, have been toiling afternoon after afternoon, and night after night, before not only silent, but empty benches upon the clauses of the Ballot Bill. Like a distinguished character, more ancient than even Pythagoras, the First Minister of the Crown has on this occasion not denounced our band, but has mounted the height to bless it altogether, and has acquitted us of factious conduct. The right hon. Gentleman indeed modified his praise by the grave charge that our Tellers had once or twice smiled as they went up to the Table. Whether that was so or not I cannot say; but at any rate it is a poor heart that never rejoices; and 1125 if after many weeks of anxious criticism and discussion we were never to be allowed to unbend or to relax our features for a moment, the slavery of this House must be even more intolerable than I still believe it to be. My right hon. Friend has also implied that we have gone to the verge of something very awful and very wicked in attempting "counts-out;" but after severely lecturing the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) upon exaggeration, my right hon. Friend has strayed somewhat in the same direction himself. There have, I believe, been only two attempts to "count" on the Bill. One of them was a friendly monition to hon. Gentlemen opposite that when a great question like this was under discussion, the House itself, and not the dining room, was the proper place for them to be in. The otter count was tried on a Tuesday evening, and was distinguished by this remarkable circumstance—that the House was so worn out and exhausted by the labours of the Morning Sitting that it could not get to work again till twenty minutes after the proper time; and the hon. Member who then moved the "count" probably wanted to test the reality of the great zeal and earnestness and devotion that the Liberal party are supposed by the right hon. Gentleman to entertain for this subject. My right hon. Friend has in the present instance, and not for the first time, fallen into error by measuring other men after his own standard—Caput inter nubile tollit. He is apt to work himself up and become dreadfully earnest about things which are frequently not worthy the earnestness of his great intellect, and then he is totally unable to see how halfhearted and careless the party is which he imagines he has made partaker of his own earnestness. The Prime Minister has accordingly now spoken in some of his grandest and most solemn sentences of the real unanimity and devotion that, as he thinks, have been displayed in favour of the Ballot, and has pictured an anxious House of Commons and an eager people looking for the passing of the measure. The truth is, that the right hon. Gentleman is under the error of attributing all his own newborn zeal to the mass of his followers, the fact being that the greater part of them have been restlessly behind him 1126 half enamoured by his vehemence, half astonished at his philosophic flights, and capable of nothing but voting as they were bidden. The right hon. Gentleman has drawn a glowing picture of a united Liberal party, and a breathless country waiting for the passing of the Ballot Bill. It will be my duty to rub a little of the gilt off that gingerbread. The right hon. Gentleman denies having ever used menaces to the House in regard to the Bill; but in making the denial he has taken care to recall what he did say about the forms of the House being stretched, and to point out that he uttered the sentence before the Committee was fairly afloat; so by his own showing, his reference to the forms of the House being stretched was not a hasty expression struck out in the heat of debate, but was deliberately, and by premeditation addressed to us as a schoolmaster might admonish his pupils before they set to work, with a warning of the uncertainty of the Saturday's holiday. The right hon. Gentleman gave us in fact that kind of intimation of possible coming events which men of spirit resent, and which is never efficacious, because it is too transparent, and only provokes those whom it is intended to daunt. Now, the right hon. Gentleman has confessed that the Opposition was not guilty of factiousness in regard to the Bill; but I should like to ask him for an explanation of the tattling, whispering, underground imputations against us which have gone on among hon. Gentlemen opposite during the time that the Bill was in Committee. Again, the right hon. Gentleman has said that all had gone well this Session until the Army Bill. I would remind him that two or three other things had happened before it. Has my right hon. Friend forgotten a district in Ireland named Westmeath? Has he forgotten the tax upon matches—the attempt to double the succession duty in a direct line—the increase of the income tax? It was on the Budget that the business of the Session first made shipwreck; it was the failure of the Government upon those very financial matters on which they were fondly believed to be most strong that first disarranged the course of legislation, and first made the world doubt the stability of the Administration—in fact, the Ministerial Megæra had set out on its voyage in a crippled state. Those 1127 were the storms which it first encountered, and from that date the vessel shipped heavier and heavier seas, until at length it is barely able to land its exhausted crew upon the St. Paul's Island of a very late Prorogation. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that he has to a great extent been converted to the Ballot by the speech of the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Tipping) from the Conservative benches; but has he forgotten what has been said by the hon. Members for South-west Lancashire, for Liverpool, and for other constituencies, greater, more powerful, and more prosperous than Stockport? According to the late Census, in the North of England there are only two or three manufacturing towns which have shown a decadence and a diminished population, and among them are Ashton and Stockport, the Conservative Members for which have stood distinct from their compeers in supporting the Ballot. I venture therefore to assert that the confusion of ideas favourable to the Ballot which exists in such places, is connected with their general malaise and discontent at finding themselves outstripped in honourable competition by the larger and more prosperous towns, rather than to the formation of any fixed and irrevocable opinion. Well, the right hon. Gentleman went on to say that upon the Ballot the unanimity of the Liberal party has been as striking as it was upon the question of the Irish Church. Now, I have myself been present at, I believe, all the 70 divisions, which, as I learn, have taken place over the Bill, and I would inquire, relative to "the boasted zeal" and unanimity of the Liberal party in the House on this question, whether it is not the fact that three-fourths of the divisions which have occurred have been taken in Houses of fewer than 200 Members? And has not that party been represented in the House night after night by from 100 to 120, of whom 30 or 40 have been sitting silent and sulky during the discussions, while the rest came pouring in like a horde of Janissaries from the dining room, and the newspaper room, and the tea room, and the library, and the smoking room at the bidding of the hon. Member for Shaftesbury (Mr. Glyn) whenever a division bell rang, without any care of their own as to the subject of the division, or any knowledge of what the 1128 debates had been? In one very recent division the Government have been beaten by a majority of 96; but, without referring further to that enormous breakdown, I may mention that on the publichouse clause in one division the Ayes were 93 and the Noes 128. In that case the Government, which boasted a normal majority of 120, had only a majority of 35; and in a subsequent division it fell to only 22—namely, 114 for and 92 against. Even yesterday, in a flogged House, when a division was taken on the Report, on the same 27th clause, the Members were 70 on one side and 30 on the other. So much for the extraordinary zeal and devotion of the Liberal party. The right hon. Gentleman has said much as to the great concessions made by the Government in regard to polling-places; but it should be remembered that as to Scotland the Government resisted the concession which it had yielded to England and to Ireland. The Lord Advocate, who had continued contending with all the dignity proper to the mysterious office he holds, which seems to unite that of Minister, Law Officer, and dispenser general of patronage in Scotland, finding that insuperable difficulties would attach to the proposal, had to beat a precipitate retreat, without so much as taking the sense of the House. The truth is, that my right hon. Friend let the cat out of the bag in his eloquent peroration, when he told us that the Ballot was necessary to unite the Liberal party. That process of uniting the Liberal party is one of the most mysterious things in nature. The Liberal party seems to have a strange tendency to split up. I do not think it is a good geological formation. There appears to be a great many "faults" in it, and few elements of adhesion; in short, to use the word in its geological sense—there is too much "dirt" mixed with the strata of stone, and the combination produces a material that is useful neither for building nor mending the roads, nor any other purpose. When people are getting tired of useless legislation, and begin to think that practical business is better than everlasting talk, something or other that is not expected or wanted by the country is brought forward, people are flogged into the House, and eloquent addresses to human and all the highest things, not only on earth but regions far above the earth, 1129 are delivered to us. When we ask why is all this done, we are told that the Liberal party has to be united by some patent cement, and all cement, as we know, wears out in time. That process of uniting it may be a very good thing for the Liberal party itself; but the system of bringing in measures not with a view to the benefit of the country, but for the object of setting up a party, is the chief source of the political evils under which we are now labouring. The discussions on this Bill have lasted some six weeks, and the country continues profoundly indifferent whether or no this shall be one of the four great Bills which will receive the Royal Assent. My right hon. Friend, when he talked of those four Bills, forgot how he bore witness against himself as to the superfluity of legislative exertion which the very numbers indicate. There have been meetings respecting the endowments of Royal personages—meetings in favour of those who are now suffering from their own misconduct—something is known about match-boxes, and a great deal has been said about the sale of two acres and a half of land adjoining the Thames Embankment; but for this blessed panacea of the Ballot there has been no spontaneous display of feeling on the part of the people of England, while the zeal of hon. Members opposite has been notoriously and ostentatiously lukewarm in its favour. The measure has been pushed forward as a desperate attempt to unite the Liberal party. I accept the exoneration of that party in the House with which I am connected on the part of my right hon. Friend; but I accept it as the condemnation from his own mouth of a Government which so late in the Session has forced on a measure which has compelled so many hon. Gentlemen to sit on and to criticise it day after day, and week after week, in the hope of amending its faulty and inconsistent clauses.
§ SIR WILFRID LAWSON
said, he was a very warm supporter of this Bill, although he had not as yet spoken in its favour. Her Majesty's Government had been charged with having thrown over all legislation during the present Session, in order to press forward one or two favourite measures; but, the fact was that they had introduced no less than 133 Bills since the commencement of the Session. For his part, he should have 1130 preferred that all those measures should have been lost rather than the Ballot Bill should not have been carried. Whatever mistakes the Government might have been guilty of, they deserved the thanks of the country for having pressed forward this measure with energy. The question of the Ballot had occupied the attention of the Liberal party during the last 40 years, and the great bulk of the party had always voted in favour of it. Last Session no less than 218 Members of that House had signed a Memorial to the First Minister of the Crown in favour of the introduction of a measure which would carry out the principle of secret voting. No Petitions had been got up in favour of this Bill, because in all the large constituencies the Ballot formed a part of their political creed; and a man no more thought of petitioning in its favour than he did of petitioning in favour of his religion. It would not have done to dally with the question any longer. Had not the right hon. Gentleman introduced this measure during the present Session, he would have forfeited the support of all the large constituencies which had expressed their approval of the Bill introduced by the Vice President of the Council, which they thought required no improvement. Although he (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) regretted the loss of the clause which would have thrown the expenses of the election on the community, the great thing, after all, was secret voting; and the people felt that when once that was established, all the other reforms which they desired would follow as a matter of course. They were now about to part from this measure, and both its friends and its foes must be glad to see the last of it. Some persons, however, had expressed an opinion that all the labour of the last six weeks upon this Bill would be thrown away, on the ground that the other House of Parliament intended to reject the measure after a trifling discussion; but he, for one, trusted that their Lordships would have too much consideration for the desire of the people to take such a step. Even if the worst should come to the worst, and the Bill should suffer shipwreck in "another place," the people of this country, who had watched the conduct of the First Minister of the Crown in a period of emergency and trial, felt satisfied that he would not desert them, but would 1131 take such good and wise measures as might appear to him to be necessary to prevent the labour of their representatives from being thrown away, and themselves from being deprived of their just rights. The greatest honour would attach to the right hon. Gentleman, if it were found that he had established that freedom of election which was the best security for order and for good Government in this country.
said, the hon. Member who had just sat down had expressed his regret that the election expenses were not to be thrown on the community. Now he (Mr. Scourfield) objected to the use of the word "community" in that sense. The attempt was to throw the expenses on a limited part of the community only. There was one clause in which he had himself been able to effect some improvement, and that was the clause imposing such heavy penalties. He did not think that secrecy ought to be elevated into a great moral principle, the violation of which should subject parties to the infliction of severe penalties. The provisions imposing such penalties would have become little more than a dead letter, for he believed that in such cases juries would never have convicted. Although he objected to the Bill, he thought it most desirable that such measures should be in the hands of those who had a conscientious belief in what they were doing. Before the Ballot was tried in this country he should like a preliminary trial of its working to be had in that House on some occasion when a Vote of Want of Confidence was moved.
§ MR. RICHARD
Sir, as I have not hitherto taken any part of the discussion of this Bill I trust the House, with its usual kind indulgence, will permit me to offer a few observations at the present stage of our proceedings in the interest of that particular part of the country with which I am more immediately connected, and where, unhappily, recent and painful and abundant evidence has been given to prove that some protection to the voter of the nature provided by this measure is a matter of urgent and imperative necessity. I have been much struck in the course of these discussions with the quiet manner in which hon. Gentlemen opposite have assumed a great deal of what they were most bound to prove. One of their assumptions 1132 has been this—that the evils for which the Ballot is intended as a remedy have disappeared, or almost disappeared, from our electoral system. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) has repeatedly told the House, especially as regards landlord coercion—the exercise of undue influence by landlords over their tenants, that the idea was perfectly chimerical and groundless—that no such thing now existed anywhere. Perhaps I could hardly expect that so distinguished a Member of this House as the right hon. Gentleman should pay much heed to what has been said by so humble an individual as myself. But there are some hon. Gentlemen here who will probably remember that during the first Session of the present Parliament I called the attention of the House to what had taken place in some parts of the Principality of Wales immediately after the last General Election. I told the House how a large number of notices to quit had been served by landlords on their tenants, a number far in excess of anything previously known in that part of the country, and served according to the implicit and universal belief of the country on account of the votes they had recorded at the Election. Whether it was owing to the discussion that then took place in this House, or, as I prefer to believe, owing to a return to a better mind of some of the landlords themselves, a considerable number of those notices were withdrawn or suffered to lapse. Unhappily, however, many of them were rigorously and ruthlessly enforced, insomuch that some scores of men were turned out of house and home, had to sell their stock and furniture for what they could bring—respectable farmers in some instances being reduced to the condition of cottagers and day labourers, and indebted to the charity of neighbours for the shelter of a roof beneath which to hide their own heads and those of their children during the ensuing winter. And what aggravated the injury and injustice was this: that for all the industry, labour, and capital invested by these men in permanent improvements of the land, and of the houses on the land, they received no adequate compensation, and in many instances no compensation whatever. I wish to guard myself, as I have always guarded myself, carefully when speaking on this subject here or elsewhere, against being supposed 1133 to bring sweeping and indiscriminate charges against all Welsh landlords, or against all Conservative Welsh landlords. I stated before what it gives me pleasure now to repeat, that there were some Conservative landlords who acted a perfectly fair and honourable part, and gave their tenants to understand beforehand that they were entirely at liberty to follow their own views and feelings in the disposal of their votes. And there were others, a much larger number, who, though they strained their influence to the utmost before and during the Election, yet afterwards, though their party may have suffered defeat, scorned the mean revenge of inflicting material injury or ruin upon poor men who had been guilty of no offence but a courageous fidelity to their political convictions. But there were others, for whom I feel no respect, and to whom I owe no quarter, who did unquestionably use their power as owners of the soil to punish men who had dared to exercise their own judgment and conscience in the discharge of a duty devolved upon them by their country. These events produced great agitation and excitement in Wales, and a fund was started which ultimately reached to nearly £4,000, not to compensate these men for what they had suffered—for how can you compensate a man whom you take and pull up by the roots from the land on which he has lived all his life, and turn him and his family homeless and helpless on the world?—but as an expression of sympathy from their countrymen, and as affording some temporary succour to them in their distress. And the best proof of the genuineness and reality of the cases was this—that by far the most liberal contributions to the fund were made in the immediate neighbourhoods where these cases had occurred, and where all the facts and circumstances were intimately known to the contributors. Some allusions have been made to these events in Wales during the debates on the present Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for New Shoreham (Mr. S. Cave), whom I regret not to see in his place, stated that sometimes changes of tenancy took place owing to bad farming and other cause which were attributed to political reasons. "It is notorious," continued the right hon. Gentleman, "that such was the character of many cases in Wales of which 1134 much political capital was made at the last Election." Now, as these evictions took place since the Election, it is not easy to see how political capital could have been made out of them at the Election. But I should like to have asked the right hon. Gentleman where was it notorious that such as he described was the character of the evictions in Wales. It may have been notorious in Sussex, but I can assure the House that the reverse was notorious in Wales. There, hundreds of thousands of people believe as firmly as they believe anything, that these tenants were expelled to punish them, and to warn others to beware of rebelling against the authority of their landlords in political matters. If I am asked what proof I have that the evictions took place for political reasons, my answer in this:—I may not be able to produce technical legal evidence such as would suffice to convict an offender in a Court of Law. The men who do these things take care not to bring themselves within reach of the law. They do not write on the back of the notices to quit—"You receive this because you voted for Mr. Such-an-one, or refused to vote for Mr. Such-another." But when we find men evicted who had been, or whose ancestors had been, in occupation of the same land for 20, 40, 50, 80, 100, and, in one instance that came within my knowledge, for 200 years unmolested—when we find men evicted who had punctually paid their rents to the uttermost farthing, against whom no complaints had ever previously been made, either as respects the quality of their husbandry or the fulfilment of their covenants with their landlords—when we find among them men who were universally acknowledged to be among the best farmers in the neighbourhood—and when we find this taking place immediately after a hotly-contested election, during which every species of influence was brought to bear upon these men by their landlords and their landlords' wives, and their landlords' party, to induce them to vote in accordance with their landlords' wishes—including in some cases a very distinct menace of what would befall them if they refused compliance—when we know that all these solicitations were resolutely resisted, and that the notices to quit followed in due course, I say I have evidence enough to carry moral conviction to every rational and impartial mind that 1135 these men were turned out of their farms, not because they were bad farmers, but because they were honest men who had a conscience, and who dared to exercise it in the discharge of their political duties. And the same thing is still going on. Last year and this year two fresh batches of tenants had been expelled. I should like to state these facts to the House. [No, no!"] Hon. Gentlemen on the front bench below the gangway cry "No, no;" but they at least have had their innings sufficiently often during these debates, and have no right to be impatient with us on this side. I will state these facts in the language of a most competent witness, an intelligent gentleman who lives in the immediate neighbourhood where the events occurred, and who has taken great pains to acquaint himself with all the circumstances. I must, however, premise that there is this peculiarity about these cases, that the estates to which I refer are in Chancery, and the injunctions for disposition are alleged to have been issued by that Court. It is impossible to believe that the Court of Chancery could have used its authority, or suffered it to be used, as an instrument of political persecution. I hope that the statement of the facts in this House will lead to some explanation. Last year there were five tenants evicted on an estate. ["Name, name!"] The name of the estate is Llanfair. These are the circumstances. In March, notices were served upon the tenants with assurances that it was simply the usual step attending re-valuation. In the course of the summer the advance in rent was announced, coupled with a wish that the tenants should proceed with their farming operations as usual, inasmuch that they were to have the first offer. Within some six weeks of Michaelmas a message was sent round that the Court had instructed the receiver that these five farms were not on any terms to be re-let to the old tenants. They were, therefore, compelled to sell by auction and leave their farms without a farthing compensation for labour and capital invested in the soil. Of these five, four had voted for the Liberal and the fifth had refused to vote for the Conservative candidate. Two or three weeks ago, on an adjoining estate, when the tenants waited upon the receiver under the Court of Chancery to take their farms after re-valuation and a considerable 1136 advance in the rent, eight of them were told it was the injunction of the Court that they were not to have their holdings at all. These eight tenants were all noted Liberals, some of them excellent farmers, and most had been subject to a strenous canvass by the young heir and his trustee, besides being visited by the sub-agent previous to the election of 1868. In March they were told the notices were merely formal, and that they should proceed with the farming operations as usual. All the eight were well known, and some of them leading Liberals in the neighbourhood, and voted in 1868 for the Liberal candidate for Cardiganshire. Two other tenants who voted for the Liberal candidate at the General Election, but who abstained from voting at the late school board contest, when much pressure were used on the Conservative side and political animosities ran high, had been allowed to remain on their farms; while only one, who both voted in the Liberal interests in 1868, and for the school board in the current year, still continued in possession of his farm at a much advanced rent. Some explanation of these events may be possible that shall be satisfactory. But it cannot be denied that at present they look eminently suspicious. If anything could add to my sense of the cruelty of these practices it is the knowledge I have of the character of the men against whom they are directed. A more peaceable, loyal, law-abiding, and religious class of men is not to be found in the United Kingdom than are these Welsh farmers. And such is the general character of my countrymen. You send your Judges of Assize from England to our country year by year, and their testimony is uniformly that of delighted astonishment at the paucity and almost total absence of serious crime in many parts of the Principality. Let me call particular attention to the case of Cardiganshire. That county was the scene of the worst class of the political persecutions of which I have spoken. There were between 40 and 50 cases of evictions or oppression of other sort, and some of them under circumstances of peculiarly exasperating character. We know what would have taken place in Ireland under such circumstances. The Irish people would have taken the matter into their own hands. And I am not at all sure that something of the same sort would not have taken 1137 place in England, for John Bull is by no means so long suffering an animal under provocation as he sometimes takes the credit of being. But what did take place in Cardiganshire? When the Judge went down to the Assizes immediately after these evictions, there was not a single prisoner to be tried. Mr. Justice Hannen, in charging the Grand Jury, said that a perfecly clear calendar was a circumstance he had never before met with since he had been on the Bench, and he understood from his brother Judges "that only in the Principality of Wales was such a thing known, and that there it was frequent." And yet these are the people who are worried and persecuted in the manner I have described. But why is it that the Welsh people are so patient and forbearing? Not because they do not feel intensely these wrongs; but it may be ascribed to two causes. First, the moral and religious influence exercised over them by the Dissenting chapels and Sunday schools, and by which their minds have become largely imbued with the principles and precepts of Christianity. But there was another cause in this instance. They believed that there were some of us who would take care that their case should be fairly stated to this House, and that Parliament, if it did not grant them redress for the past wrongs they had endured, would interpose its protection as a shield to them against future wrongs. We ventured to promise them that the legislature would pass a Ballot Law, under shelter of which they might hereafter freely and securely exercise the franchise which it had conferred upon them. But if you disappoint them, it is impossible to say what may happen. If another General Election takes place without the Ballot, and is followed by similar scenes to those I have described, we cannot tell what men, stung to desperation and hopeless of redress, may be driven to. One thing I believe is certain, that there will arise throughout the Principality a cry loud, clamorous, importunate for a Tenant Right Law for Wales, such as you have given to Ireland, and for the same reasons. So far as Wales is concerned, I plead for the Ballot as much in the interest of the landlords as of the tenants. I am confident that after a while they would feel the system of secret voting a great relief to themselves. I believe the Welsh landlords, as a class, are 1138 as kind-hearted and good-tempered a body of men as are to be found anywhere, disposed in general to be lenient and liberal to their tenants, apart from this malignant political element infused into the relations of the two classes. And when once they became convinced that it was useless to try to control the votes of their tenants they would give up the attempt, and acquiesce in the view that the franchise belongs to the person and not to the land. The most intelligent and reflecting among them must be convinced that the times are passed never to return which they may be disposed to call the good old times, but which I call times of ignorance and darkness, when landlords could expect to summon and lead their tenants to the poll in servile subjection, as the feudal chief could summon his armed retainers to the battlefield. Anything, therefore, that would take out of their way the temptation to attempt the impracticable would be an advantage to all parties. It would remove the occasion of a good deal of bitterness and bad blood; it would, to use a celebrated expression of Dr. Chalmer's, sweeten the breath of society, and establish harmony between classes of the community, harmony between whom is essential to the well-being, the security, and the prosperity of the country.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
Sir, I will not follow the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Richard) into a discussion as to the tenure of land in Wales, but I may remind him that coercion, as he calls it, or influence, is not wholly confined to the landlord class. In Wales, at any rate, it is to some extent shared by the class to which, I believe, he himself belongs — I mean those exercising a sacred calling. But I do not take pleasure in thrashing a dead horse, and therefore I will not endeavour to drive still further home the nails which are already deeply imbedded in the coffin of this ill-fated Bill. My object in rising was to notice the reference which has been made by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government to the feeling which exists among the constituencies of the country in regard to this Bill. I would point out that the right hon. Gentleman never mentioned one instance of any spontaneous enthusiasm in favour of the Bill, with the solitary exception of the borough of Stockport. Now, I have been making inquiries and diligently 1139 reading the newspapers in order to obtain such information as I could get on this point, and I find that the Bill has been the subject of discussion, and that resolutions have been passed upon it at various meetings of working men. I admit that it was a matter of considerable difficulty even to obtain that information, for I turned over page after page of the papers, full of what to me was irrelevant matter, before I could reach those items of intelligence which I was in search of. I found, for instance, plenty of correspondence relating to the succession duty, and filled with fears of an increased taxation or of removal of exemptions, with indignant remonstrances against a tax on matches. I also found that the Secretary of State for the Home Department was becoming a subject of interest. It was asked whether the right hon. Gentleman was in his senses especially in regard to the Licensing Bill—and now that I have mentioned the measure, I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should take into his serious consideration during the Recess the framing of a Bill imposing a statutable penalty onall future reference to the subject, and the proceeds of the fines might be fitly devoted to the erection of a statue to himself on the scene of his latest triumph facing Lord Nelson's monument. Then I came upon articles and letters on the subject of Army re-organization, but no doubt if the Secretary of State for War were present he would point triumphantly to the Berkshire medal glittering on his breast, and soon dispose of that matter. I also found columns of print on the subject of naval stores and naval administration, but no doubt the First Lord of the Admiralty can point to the bottom of the deep and say—"If we have fewer stores, there are fewer ships that require to be filled; and if we are only left to ourselves a little longer we shall have still less than we have at present." But at last I came upon one meeting on the Ballot Bill. It was a meeting of the Patriotic Association of Hatton Garden, held last Thursday, and was not a meeting of Conservatives, but of those who are in accord with the general policy of Her Majesty's Government, and some of the leading members of the independent Liberal party were present. A resolution was moved by Mr. Odger, and seconded by Mr. Weston 1140 —who, by the way, likened the First Lord of the Treasury to a statesman whose advice, two centuries ago, did not add to the political any more than to the personal convenience of his Sovereign—and the resolution, which was carried, condemned the Ballot Bill as a piece of legislation adapted to the middle and upper classes, and calculated to exclude working men candidates. The concluding words of the resolution—"And the Bill is therefore unworthy of the support of the people, and is a disgrace to a reformed Parliament," I entirely endorse. And now I should not like to sit down without expressing my sense of the uniform consideration and courtesy which has been extended by the right hon. Gentleman who has had charge of the measure to those who, sitting on this side of the House, have during the progress of the Bill taken part in the discussion.
said, there was one thing which, in his opinion, would amply justify the House of Lords in refusing to entertain this measure at this late period of the Session, and that was the solemn silence with which it had been received on the opposite side of the House, hon. Gentlemen opposite having studiously avoided taking any part in the important deliberations which the House had been engaged in for the last few weeks.
§ MR. J. B. SMITH
said, he had taken no part in the discussion of that Bill because his opinions were so well known by his uniform support of the Ballot during the 24 years he had had the honour of a seat in that House; but he thought, in fairness to his hon. Colleague (Mr. Tipping), though differing from him on other questions, he was bound to confirm the opinion which he had expressed of the strong feeling among the electors of Stockport in favour of the Ballot, and perhaps the cause of that feeling would be best explained by an anecdote. When he (Mr. J. B. Smith) first became a candidate for Stockport, and was one day canvassing the electors in company with his friends, they called at a house where he was told the elector was a very earnest free trader. They knocked at the door for a long time, but nobody answered. At length a woman opened the door, just sufficiently to show her head, when they inquired if the master was in. She answered—"Yes; but you cannot see him." "Why?" 1141 "I won't let you see him." "But we want to speak to him." The poor woman burst into tears, declaring her husband should not see us. It was her duty to take care of the children; that he had voted for Mr. Cobden, in consequence of which his master had turned him away, and, work being then very scarce, it was 12 months before he got another place, and during all that time she and the children had to starve. She added that her husband was as big a fool as ever he was, and he would go and do the same again if she would let him; but she must take care of the children and she would not let him vote at all. The people of Stockport were justly proud of having sent to Parliament, in spite of that oppressive intimidation, so distinguished a Representative as Mr. Cobden, and they desired to elect whom they pleased, without being obliged to make such sacrifices of their livelihood and independence as in times past. His hon. Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Beresford Hope) had said that Stockport was one of the few towns in the North whose population had declined since the last Census, and he regretted to say that was true. But it was not, as his hon. Friend seemed to insinuate, because the people were strongly in favour of the Ballot, but because there was chiefly one trade carried on in the borough. The consequence was that they suffered more from the cotton famine than any other town in the district. He was happy to say, however, that prosperity was returning, the empty houses were being filled; the taxpaying population were increasing; and he had been informed only a few days ago that there would probably be 2,000 more electors placed on the register than there were at the last election. With these observations, which he felt it his duty to make, he would not further delay the third reading of the Bill.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, the Prime Minister had admitted that he had threatened the House with a change in its forms in consequence of the conduct of hon. Gentlemen, principally on that—the Opposition—side of the House. How the right hon. Gentleman was to change the forms of the House without its own consent he did not know; but the occasion when the menace was uttered was just before going into Committee on this 1142 Bill. There was no debate on the second reading of the Bill, and as certain hon. Gentlemen desired to debate its principle, his hon. Friend the Member for the North-east Riding of Yorkshire (Mr. J. Fielden) and himself (Mr. Newdegate) adopted perfectly legitimate means for procuring the debate. When a Minister made such a threat it was inevitable that certain feelings should enter into the discussion of every clause of the Bill, and that Members should insist, not only on amending its form, but should so act as to save the credit of the House generally, and to vindicate the independence of a large number of hon. Members against a coercion more audacious than anything adduced by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Richard) as having been put forward by the Court of Chancery in Wales. He was weary of hearing hon. Members proclaim that the establishment of secret voting would be the foundation of electoral freedom; but the criticism which the Bill had evoked in the United States did not justify that view, and it was declared that the stringent provisions for enforcing secrecy would not be submitted to there, and would be regarded as a gross outrage on liberty. It was indeed well known that coercion was practised in America under the Ballot—and practised all the more effectually where the Ballot was most secret—persons being forced to vote, not for a single candidate, but for a list of candidates—amongst whom might be men towards whom they entertained a strong dislike. With the view, perhaps, of guarding against this, and supplying the want of completeness and adequate finish of details, regulations which would shape the proceedings at elections were to be made by a distinguished Member of that House—a political officer of the Government—who must of necessity be a partisan. Could there be a more dangerous innovation in respect of that system by which the freedom of that House had been secured? The House of Lords had recently experienced a harsh exercise of the Prerogative, and when threats were used against that House he would call upon them to throw out the Bill, and thus secure the independence of both branches of the Legislature—an independence seriously imperilled by provisions to which the Republicans of the United States would, according to the 1143 testimony of their own writers, never the whole system of secrecy. It tended to promote faction underground. It was everywhere and always the forerunner of despotism; the sure precursor of lost freedom.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he did not rise to answer the charge that in the Bill they were handing over to a political officer the power of controlling elections. So extravagant a notion hardly required refutation, and he stated last night that the provisions referred to could not be supposed to bestow any such functions, for the action of the Secretary of State under the Bill was simply administrative. The hon. Member (Mr. Newdegate) was, of course, strictly within his right. Yet he (Mr. W. E. Forster) would remind him that this was the third time he had brought the subject before their attention, and that on neither of the two previous occasions had he chosen to test the judgment of the House. He thought also the hon. Member was mistaken in his allusions to the remarks of the First Minister of the Crown, made on an occasion when both his right hon. Friend and, he believed, some Members on both sides of the House thought the Rules of the House were being disregarded. That an adherence to the general Rules of the House was desirable was all that had been expressed by his right hon. Friend, whose remarks had nothing whatever to do with this Bill.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, he was not likely to forget the occasion on which the First Minister told the House that it would probably become necessary to reconsider its forms.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, his right hon. Friend meant that it was desirable for the House to consider whether its Rules should be broken. In the debate that day hon. Members opposite seemed to have misconceived the opinion of the country in reference to this measure. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli), the hon. Member for York (Mr. J. Lowther), and the hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. B. Hope), all seemed to think because there had not been a large number of public meetings, or because a large number of Petitions had not been presented to the House, hon. Members had been voting in ignorance of the wishes of their constituents; but the real fact was that the constituencies so relied upon hon. Members carrying 1144 out their wishes that they felt it to be an insult to remind them of their desires. The hon. Member for Cambridge University had taken comfort in referring to the two last divisions — that on the publichouses clause, in which the proportion was 70 to 30, rather, one would think, a good proportion; and that on the clause throwing the expenses on the constituencies, in which the Government was defeated. But the diminished majority and the defeat were really proofs of how completely hon. Members represented the wishes of their constituents; for though the last case was one in which the Government took a deep interest, they were yet unable in regard to it to control those who generally supported them, which showed that the recurring majorities on the main principles of the measure, were not due to party discipline. He should be sorry to let this Bill go to the other branch of the Legislature without expressing the opinion that the country was determined to have it passed. Whatever might be its immediate fate—and he confessed he was more sanguine on that point than many of his hon. Friends—there could be no doubt that in a few months it would become law. With respect to the changes which had been made in the Bill since its introduction, the Government had been glad to accept Amendments from both sides of the House, but in its main provisions—namely, the abolition of public nominations and the establishment of secret voting—the Bill had not been substantially altered, for the Amendment to the nominations clause did not affect the principle of the measure. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) seemed to think that the Government had been humiliated by having to accept those Amendments, but he would remind the right hon. Gentleman of what had occurred when his last Reform Bill was before the House. Two lessons were taught by the progress of that measure—one, that suggestions and Amendments should be accepted from all parts of the House, and the other that there should be no departure from the principle of the Bill. With respect to this measure, he was grateful for the improvements that had been made; but as regarded the main principles of the Ballot, the Bill left the House very much as it was introduced. He regretted the de-submit. He had a strong opinion against 1145 feat of the Government proposal to throw the expenses of elections on the constituencies, because he thought the time had come when there ought to be no excuse for any class of persons excluding themselves from the heart of the political life of the country, and he was sanguine that before long Parliament and the country would be of the same opinion. Another matter, that relating to Election Petitions, they had postponed until next Session, when it would be considered in conjunction with another measure. The Bill would leave this House with efficient working provisions, and he did not doubt that in "another place" it would be fully discussed. That was to be expected from the past conduct of Members of the other branch of the Legislature, and because this Bill, which would be sent up to them after a long and careful investigation in the House of Commons, was one especially affecting that House, whose Members were chosen by the constituencies for whom this Bill was designed.
§ MR. BAILLIE COCHRANE
said, he regretted the injudicious tone in which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. E. Forster) had referred to the reception of this measure in the other House. With respect to the Ballot itself, he could only repeat his belief that it would be Conservative in its operation, would protect the minorities in large constituencies against the tyranny of majorities, and would tend to weaken the influence of trade unions. He regretted that the Government had not brought in a pure and simple Ballot Bill, which could have been sent up to the House of Lords at an earlier period; besides which this Bill was so complicated that it would be necessary to provide teachers to educate the people before they could understand it. It had been stated that through many of the clauses a coach and six could be driven, but that others would be upset by a donkey cart. The House of Lords would be justified in not accepting in the middle of August, and passing in two or three nights, a Bill which had occupied the House of Commons for three months; in addition to which this Bill was so complicated that it would be necessary to bring in another to repeal or re-model it.
§ Bill read the third time and passed.