§ MR. TREVELYAN
rose to call attention to the Reports of the Commissioners on the Employment of Children, Young Persons, and Women in Agriculture, and to move the following Resolution:—That this House would be more likely to devote due and adequate attention to the wants and interests of our rural population if householders outside the boundary of Parliamentary Boroughs were in possession of the Franchise; and that it is expedient to extend to Counties the Occupation and Lodging Franchises now in force in Boroughs.The hon. Member said he hoped it would be conceded that there was no party object in the matter of the Resolution, and nothing that savoured of party spirit in its wording. Indeed, since 1847 the Parliamentary franchise was of all questions that which both sides of the House might approach in the most impartial and complacent temper. The last great measure had proved to be a settlement in fact as well as in name—it had falsified alike the hopes of the turbulent and the fears of the timid—and the merit of it must fairly be divided between the two great parties in the State. If, on the one hand, credit was due to the late Government for having placed the borough franchise on a broad and enduring basis, those on his own side of the House must be allowed the credit of having generated the motive power in favour of Parliamentary reform, without which their legislation would have been impossible. He was encouraged to hope that this Resolution would be discussed without bitterness, and obtained without outdoor agitation, because no subject had been debated with less of political animus and with greater fusion of parties than that of removing the electoral disabilities of women; and this was in great part due to the reasons for the proposed change put forward by its advocates. They did not talk of the effect it would produce on elections, on the fate of Governments, or the "balance of power;" 1885 but they rested their case on the practical ground that the special interests of women, so far as they could be affected by legislation, were and would continue to be neglected as long as the sex was excluded from the franchise. On the same ground he proposed to rest the case of the householder outside the boundaries of boroughs, and if he could show that his wants and rights had been misunderstood, and that in legislation as in everything else "the weakest went to the wall," he should confidently expect that, time and opportunity serving, the House would be prepared; to redress the inequality. He would take as his text this passage from Mill's third chapter of Considerations on Representative Government—We need not suppose that when power resides in an exclusive class that class will knowingly and deliberately sacrifice the other classes to themselves. It suffices that, in the absence of its natural defenders, the interest of the excluded is always in danger of being overlooked, and when looked at is seen with very different eyes from those of the persons whom it directly concerns.And this was borne out by our legislation. He would not refer to those sensational feats of legislation which dazzled the people and ousted Governments—he would refer to those measures which were the work of both sides of the House alike, and which were talked of, not on the platform and the hustings, but in the houses and workshops of the poor. Passing over, then, all previous efforts in this direction, hon. Members were well aware that the last 40 years had produced a perfect code of factory and workshop legislation. We passed a comprehensive Act in 1833. In 1844 Lord Shaftesbury was the author of what might be called the Charter of English Labour. In 1860 the provisions which had been applied to the great textile fabrics were extended to bleaching and dyeing. In 1864, and again in 1867 and 1871, came other great extensions. In all, since 1833, there had been passed no fewer than 16 Acts, defining the nature and the hours of work for young labourers of both sexes, securing to them holidays and half-holidays, and leisure for meals and schooling, insisting on surgical certificates as to their health and appearance, and designed, at least, to protect them from accidents and to enforce sanitary regulations. But among these Acts 1886 we looked in vain for any mention of the rural population. In none of these Acts was any mention made of the children of the rural population. And what reason could be assigned for this omission? It might, perhaps, be alleged that the number employed in agriculture was so small as to render legislation unnecessary; but this was not the fact. In 1861 there were 1,520 female children below the age of 12, and 39,570 males—in all, 41,090—engaged in outdoor labour. What were the numbers of children for whose benefit the great Factory Act of 1844 became law? In the year 1835, in the county of Lancashire, there was employed in cotton, worsted, woollen, flax, and silk manufactories, 8,452 boys under 12, and 3,111 girls. In the West Riding of Yorkshire there were employed 2,428 boys under 12, and 2,210 girls; and in a very large group of counties, including Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, were employed 1,055 boys and 1,583 girls. Thus it appeared that in those parts of the country which were beyond all comparison the seats of the industries affected by the Factory Acts, above 20,000 children under 12 years of age were employed; whereas in 1861 as many as 41,000 children under that age were employed in agriculture. Perhaps it would be said that, although a large number of children were employed, yet agriculture was a branch of industry to which regulations could not be applied. What was the great argument against the Act of 1844, and how was it met? It was urged against the Factory Acts when they were introduced that the diminution of the hours of labour would lead to a falling off in production; but the reply to this argument was, that if a system of labour were kept up which stunted the growth of body and mind, which began too early in life and continued too long every day, it would in the long run, instead of stimulating production, only diminish it. An employer of 1,200 lands stated to Lord Shaftesbury that when he had reduced the hours of labour Tom 12 to 10, or one-sixth, the quantity of work produced fell off only one-tenth; and the superior condition of the Northumbrian as compared with the Southern peasant was due to an acknowledgment of this principle, for Mr. John Grey, son of Mr. Grey, of Dilston, the well-known agriculturist, 1887 stated that in Northumberland there was a general concurrence of opinion between employers and workers that neither boys nor girls should be employed in agriculture until they had reached the age of 14 or 15. The reason why Northumbrian labour was more profitable than the labour of the inhabitants of counties less favoured was that the Northumbrian labourers and employers of labour practically formed a factory law for themselves. Since, then, the Labour Regulation Acts were as applicable to rural industry as they were to labour in towns, how was it that the rural districts had been excepted from the same remedial legislation? The answer was to be found in the Reports of the great Factory Commission of 1833. The fresh and final start for the appointment of that Commission was contemporaneous with the first Reform Act—that Act which so greatly increased the power of the working class in boroughs. And the Reform Act of 1867 still further increased that power, and thereby gave a fresh impulse to factory legislation. It was, to say the least, a singular coincidence that in our Statute book for that year a large extension of the Factory Acts stood side by side with the Bill relating to the Representation of the People. If the working classes in the rural districts had by the Reform Act of 1867 obtained a fourth part of the representation in the counties, they might be pretty sure we should not have had to wait until April in the present year to hear the first mention of the application of the Factory Acts to agricultural labour Those who had listened to the recent debate on the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. W. Fowler) would not need to be reminded how the Commission appointed to in quire into the employment of women and children in agriculture went into the question of cottage accommodation in England and Wales. The Report of the Commissioners was based on a great body of evidence collected not by peripatetic theorists fresh from college, but by men pre-eminently qualified by their antecedents and experience to investigate the condition, the manners, and the feelings of the agricultural population One of the Assistant Commissioners was a very active country clergyman, and now a still more active and most practical Bishop, and another, Mr. Stanhope, 1888 was the son of an eminent Conservative Peer. These gentlemen reported that the character of cottages in many instances was infamous—as they were tumbledown and ruinous, not watertight, deficient in ventilation, and indecent in their sanitary arrangements. His hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge described the other night certain squalid and filthy cottages, and one of the highest authorities in the House (Mr. Disraeli) thereon stated that those horrible hovels were built by a speculative builder unconnected with the land, who held "highly Liberal opinions." This was a special instance, which exemplified the general rule, for throughout the Report of the Commissioners, it appeared that the good cottages were built by those landowners whose estates were unencumbered, while the worst cottages were almost invariably built by the labourers themselves or by speculators. If the same measure had been dealt to the working class in the country as had been dealt to the working class in towns, who could doubt that these speculators would not have been permittted to make money out of the health and morality of the poor? The Artizans and Labourers Dwellings Act made it incumbent on local authorities to force the owner of premises dangerous to health to make them fit for human habitation; or, if he could not or would not, to take the remedy into their own hands. It was not likely that much improvement would be made in such matters until household suffrage was given to the counties, and the political influence of the agricultural labourers thereby increased. But besides the Factory Acts, and Labourers Dwellings Act, another great matter in legislating for the protection of the working class, related to the payment of wages in kind. There had hardly been a time in the history of Parliament when this did not attract notice; but the great Truck Act, like other leading measures for the benefit of the working men, dated from the revival of political feeling after the first Reform Act, and the Act of 1868 gave a further stimulus to the matter. In 1870 a comprehensive Report was submitted to Parliament, and now, in 1872, the Government were promoting a Bill offering great and beneficial changes to the working classes. Neither the Report nor the Bill, however, 1889 dealt with the most pernicious, the most oppressive, the most indefensible form of truck'—namely, the habitual payment of wages to agricultural labourers in spirituous liquors. This, as pointed out by the Commissioners who inquired into the employment of women and children, was an injury instead of a benefit to the labourer's family, while in many cases the employer was directly benefited by thus disposing of the produce of his orchards. Masters and men, it was stated in a paper by the hon. Member for North Devon (Sir Thomas Acland) played into each other's hands, while the women and children suffered, and the labourer consuming two hogsheads of cider annually, indulged his bodily appetite at the cost of 15 per cent of his earnings. The Commissioners, moreover, reported that the cider was in many cases unwholesome, and tended to undermine the labourer's constitution, and the food of his family was confined to bread and butter, tea, and "tea-kettle broth," or hot water, with or without a slight flavouring. He did not mention that as showing that Parliament was directly concerned with the diet of the agricultural labourer, but because legislation ought to protect him from the truck system. As for its keeping him from the public-house, the counties where it prevailed supported the largest proportion of beer and cider sellers. Mr. Denton had shown that by a comparison of Lincolnshire and Dorsetshire. Cider truck, indeed, was a certain method of promoting debauchery and an unnatural form of selfishness. That it had not engaged the attention of Parliament could not be owing to the paucity of the sufferers, for the number affected by the Truck Acts was 147,000, and the number affected by cider truck, for whom the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) intended to move a clause, exceeded those in other trades whom the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Winterbotham) desired to benefit. What hope was there that this indefensible system would be removed so long as the typical voter in the rural districts was the farmer, who thought he profited by the system, and the publican who knew that he did? It was alleged that household suffrage in counties would not mend the matter, because the labourers liked to be paid in drink. The labourer, however, had not many opportunities of speaking of his 1890 likes and dislikes in such terms as to be heard. He would set against this assertion the resolution recently passed by the Warwickshire Labourers' Union, on their for the first time speaking for themselves, which resolution demanded that wages should henceforth be entirely paid in money. Having shown that the agricultural labourer had not profited by the regulations as to hours of work, the employment of women and children, the payment of wages in kind, and the decency and comfort of dwellings—questions on which all were agreed, and in dealing with which all parties had honourably shared—he regretted to be obliged to pass to matters of controversy. None could deny that there were constant discussions in this House, which would have gained in reality and weight if the opinions of our rural population could have had authoritative expression. He was convinced that there was a view of the Game Laws which was not expressed by the hon. Member for Dorset (Mr. Start) with all his humour, nor by the courageous rhetoric of the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Taylor)—namely, the view taken by the class which suffered from their demoralizing effect—by those from whom arose the keeper and the beater, and those who felt the temptations offered by over-preservation. If the time ever arrived when the House would be sufficiently advanced in what he might term innocent Communism to insist on attaching to every cottage a piece of ground on which to keep a cow—a plan recommended by the Royal Commission, and advocated by several hon. Members—it would be important to know what portion of ground, in the opinion of the cottager himself, would promote the labourer's independence and comfort without impairing his efficiency as a labourer for others he would venture to say that had the Scotch householder possessed the franchise two Parliaments ago laws would not have been passed for the protection of salmon, by which policemen could search and arrest men on the highway without warrant on suspicion of their having taken fish—laws by which, last year, two weavers were fined £40, and two other men £100 a-piece—or laws which had within a twelvemonth imposed costs and fines, amounting to £470, on a Scotch county but a little more populous than Rutland. On the liquor traffic, too, 1891 on which great class differences existed, we ought to take counsel with the class who were most affected by it. Classes which did not suffer ought not to monopolize the county polling-booths, leaving the sufferers the sole resource of petitioning, and whose petitions, not being backed by their votes, were too often treated as wastepaper by those whom they were supposed to influence. It might be objected that he was "disturbing a settlement;" but he denied that the Act of 1867 permanently settled the county franchise. Lord Russell once connected "finality" with the £10 qualification; but 10 years ago that might have had some meaning, it meant nothing now. If they had learnt anything from the debates of the last Parliament they had learnt that no permanent settlement could be based on a hard-and-fast line or arbitrary figure; and if that was the case with the borough, it was still more so with the county franchise. Early in the Session the hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter) had called the attention of the House to the peculiarity of those huge districts cut out of the counties at or before the time of the old Reform Bill from personal territorial considerations, which had long been things of the past. Why should a fifth part of the agricultural labourers of Wiltshire have votes, of which the other four-fifths were deprived, because they happened to live within the boundaries of what was humorously called the "borough of Cricklade?" Why should the householder in the county of Rutland be deprived of the privilege which was enjoyed by the householder in a county more than twice the acreage of his, because that county went by the name of East Retford? In 1866, when it was proposed to reduce the county franchise to £14, the explanation given by the friends of the Government was, that this figure was probably selected because it was double the amount of the borough franchise; and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Northamptonshire (Mr. Hunt) told the House that he had come to the conclusion that the Government had been following the method sometimes attributed to juries assessing damages, and that each Member of the Cabinet must have put down upon paper the figure he preferred for the country qualification, and that they had been added together and the total divided by 1892 the number of Members in the Cabinet, the result being 14. But if the House wished to arrive at a settlement, which should be anything but an incentive to agitation and a standing source of discontentent, they must go further. It was prophesied when the Bill of 1867 was before the House that dreadful dangers would result from that extension of the franchise. We now know by experience what a Parliament elected by householders really was. But while we were thus living proofs that the franchise might be safely extended to the householder, it was equally certain that by withholding it from the rural occupiers we were preparing dangers for a not very distant future. The first and most obvious arose from this—that men, without the means of expressing their real or fancied grievances by proper constitutional means, would select other and more perilous ways of doing so, and that the counties would consequently be handed over to the political agitators. The other danger was more remote, but, though indirect, was very real. The most real terror of modern civilization—and they had seen its working in France—was, when the idea got abroad that the public opinion of a nation resided exclusively in the great cities. These cities were sufficiently prone to arrogate to themselves the monopoly of political wisdom and political influence without our giving them a franchise so much more liberal than we gave to the counties. The worst possible form which revolution could take in this country was war and internal discord. The ruling party in the towns might say that they would submit to be out-voted, by the representatives of the nation at large, but not by a majority, composed almost exclusively of the upper and middle classes. By admitting the rural householder to the franchise they would cut away this ground, and would, besides, admit within the pale of the State an element Conservative in its best sense. A generation ago the urban population exceeded the rural by 400,000—it now exceeded it by 3,000,000. Let them not encourage and sanction this dangerous shifting of the balance by loading the already over-weighted scale of the winning side with the exclusive possession of the rights of citizenship. He believed that the proposition for which he contended was unassailable on the grounds of real practical 1893 convenience and sound theoretical considerations, and though there were other arguments as strong as those he had urged, he trusted the House would believe that he had refrained from urging them, not because he had lost sight of them, but because he was anxious to refrain from trespassing for too long upon their patience. He believed he was to be followed by a speaker who was known to have given questions of representation prolonged and impartial study; and the House knew his hon. Friend the Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) too well to believe that he would be party to a Resolution which, on the pretext of reform, sought to steal a march upon the party opposed to his own, and to disturb the balance of power. Their object was not to disturb the balance of political power, or to invent a new solvent for the Constitution, but by conferring the most valued of all responsibilities upon a great class of our fellow-countrymen to raise them in their own eyes and in the eyes of others. In conclusion, he would urge the Government not to oppose as a body the passing of a Resolution in which he felt convinced several of them concurred. The only object of an abstract Resolution was to ascertain the opinions of the nation as expressed through the lips of its Representatives, and it was therefore to be hoped that the question would receive the unbiassed judgment of the House. The hon. Member concluded by moving the Resolution.
§ MR. FAWCETT
, in rising to second the Motion, said, that, had he anticipated at the time that he promised to second his hon. Friend's Motion that he should have had occasion to appear of late so prominently before the House, he should not have given the promise. Having, however, assured his hon. Friend that he would second the Motion, the House would, he trusted, extend its indulgence to him, while he dealt with one or two points which his hon. Friend had left for him. He was perfectly aware how forcible and almost unanswerable were the arguments that might be brought against the Motion, were it discussed as one simply of theoretic politics, for it might with truth be said that the agricultural labourers to be enfranchised by this proposal were uneducated and without political knowledge, and that it would be safer to 1894 educate them before giving them the franchise. But this country prided itself on being practical in politics; and a noble Lord had lately congratulated the nation on not being governed by logic. As a consequence of that arrangement, we had a curious faculty of putting the cart before the horse, of which he would give an instance. Some four years ago, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer made one of the most remarkable and suggestive speeches ever made in that House. The right hon. Gentleman had gained a great position by opposing the right hon. Gentleman under whom he now served, and by also opposing the measure of enfranchisement proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli). Fortunately, the opposition offered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer was unsuccessful; but when household suffrage was extended to boroughs, the right hon. Gentleman turned round and said—"You have enfranchised the working classes. They will be your masters, and now you must educate them." The proposal to enfranchise the agricultural labourer would be met by the Chancellor of the Exchequer with a similar speech. History would repeat itself, and he believed that until the agricultural labourer was enfranchised no anxiety would be felt to give him instruction. There was ample justification for this assumption in the events of the present Session. The House would remember the debate on the Motion of the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Dixon). The Vice President, in reply to that Motion, stated what he intended doing with respect to compulsory education in rural districts, and made an eminently satisfactory proposal; so much so, that next morning he (Mr. Fawcett) reproached himself for having voted against it. But a few days afterwards he found he had given a right vote, for the head of the Education Department stated, in reply to a Question in "another place," that the proposal was simply the expression of the right hon. Gentleman's opinion, and that it had not been considered by the Cabinet. But it was certain that if the labourers in the rural districts were enfranchised, anxiety would immediately rise for the better education of the rural population. The hon. Member for the Border Burghs had alluded to many questions in which 1895 the agricultural labourer was interested. He had alluded to constructive legislation, of which, however, we had too much already; but it was well that the rural population should be conciliated. Hon. Members knew he had always been in favour of disestablishment, but, notwithstanding that, he would be acting unfairly, if he did not recognize the fact that the Church, whether correctly or incorrectly, claimed to have done most for the rural poor, and had made the deepest impression in the rural districts, and that, unquestionably, the question of disestablishment presented a very different appearance to the inhabitants of rural districts from what it did to people in towns. But, whatever the facts, whether the rural population possessed a deep feeling of love and attachment to the Church or not, it was clear that the people in rural districts would be affected by disestablishment to a far greater extent than the people in towns; and therefore it would be not only fair, but eminently desirable, that before that question occupied a prominent position in English politics, the rural population should make their wishes known in Parliament. If household suffrage were established in counties, the counties would be in a better position than the towns; because in boroughs there was only one kind of franchise, and in counties there would be not only the householder's franchise, but the forty-shilling freehold franchise. At the risk of advocating an extreme and unpopular opinion, he would endeavour to convince the House that the freehold qualification as it at present existed led to many most serious abuses. He was well aware that the forty-shilling freehold qualification was regarded with much favour as an historical qualification, and the backbone of English independence. But, admitting all that, as regarded the resident freeholder, whose interests were bound up with those of the county where he lived, what could be said for that obnoxious development of modern party politics, the outside freeholder created by great party organizations? There could not be a greater abuse of any system than that by which the residents in counties—the landowners, farmers, and labourers—might be out-voted and virtually disfranchised by a host of people foisted upon them without having a single shilling of property 1896 in the county except the qualification they possessed for their vote, who cared nothing for agricultural interests, and who, if they did care, were ignorant of the wants of the locality and ignorant of the men for whom they voted, and were simply brought down by an electioneering agent. There was no graver question than the increasing costliness of county elections, and nothing tended more to make them costly than these out-voters, who had to be brought hundreds of miles at the expense of the unfortunate candidate. Besides paying their travelling expenses, it was necessary, in order to collect them, to keep election agents and committee rooms, not only at the place of election, but also in London, for instance, in connection with an election in Yorkshire. Owing to these circumstances county elections were becoming so enormously expensive that soon few people who ought to represent the counties would be able to do so; the English county gentleman would not feel justified in paying £5,000 or £10,000 for his election, and the representation of the country would be offered to some nouveau riche, willing to pay £20,000, made perhaps by some successful coup on the Stock Exchange, to gain a social position. That would be an evil thing for Liberalism and for Conservatism, and an evil thing for the general interests of the country. An hon. Member recently told him that his property, which covered an entire parish, was divided into only four farms, which, besides his own house, gave five votes; but that a small piece of waste having been sold, it fell into the hands of an electioneering agent in Lancashire, who erected eight qualifications upon it, and thus defeated the five resident voters, whose interests were completely absorbed in the county where they lived. That was an unmitigated abuse which, by the proposal contained in the Resolution, might be put an end to, without in any way injuring the resident freeholder, because a household franchise would comprehend all resident freeholders, however small their holding. The late Mr. Cobden was under the erroneous impression that the tenant-farmers were freetraders at heart, but were at the mercy of the landowners. In the course of a speech at the London Tavern, presided over by the hon. Member for Bristol, Mr. Cobden said there were 100,000 1897 tenant-farmers in England who had votes at that time, and were great obstacles to free trade. Although as ardent a free-trader as any one, he (Mr. Fawcett) could not help remarking upon the extraordinary conclusion to which that belief led Mr. Cobden. He had actually urged the propriety of spending the money of the League in buying in different counties a sufficient number of votes to swamp all the tenant-farmers of England—not, as it seemed, foreseeing that if that policy had been pursued equal activity would have prevailed on the other side, and the resident county voters would have been entirely disfranchised and their aims defeated by the manufacture of fictitious votes. A system such as that produced widespread demoralization, associated with the greatest injustice, and it was therefore deserving of the attention of the House. It might, however, be objected that by abolishing these faggot votes they would deprive people of a certain amount of influence. On one occasion the hon. and learned Member for Richmond stated that he had 17 votes. That was too many votes for anyone to possess, and he had come to the conclusion that no one ought to acquire a vote simply by investing a small sum of money in a particular form of property, dissociated from any residential interest. It might be said there was great inequality in the distribution of political power, and, certainly, no one recognized more fully than he did the wonderful way in which the counties were unrepresented at present. The mere figures did not show its extent; because no one could doubt that a town often returned not only its own two Members, but also decided the balance in the counties. Sometimes, if the town was Liberal, it might turn the county representation in favour of the Liberals; and, if it was Conservative, it might turn the county representation in favour of the Conservatives. But whether it was turned in favour of the Liberals or of the Conservatives, it seemed to him equally unfair. It was giving the boroughs additional representation by a side-wind, and taking away also by a side-wind, a legitimate part of the power which the counties ought to possess. He knew the argument which might be used against enfranchising the rural population was that they were not so well qualified to exercise the suffrage as the town population. 1898 But it was not simply the rural labourer whom it was intended to enfranchise by that Motion. The towns often stretched out to the country districts, and, moreover, there was no educational test associated with the franchise. Again, the labourer who worked in the fields of Dorsetshire sometimes migrated to a town. He was without a vote while living in Dorsetshire, but he might have one when he went to the town, although his want of knowledge was just the same as before. Indeed, he was, perhaps, not so well qualified to exercise the suffrage in the town as he would have been in the country, because when a rural labourer he would have voted with a certain amount of experience of his own life, whereas when brought into a town he was surrounded by influences and circumstances which he could not properly appreciate. Further, when it was urged that the rural labourer was inferior to the town artizan, he was bound to say the case in that respect was sometimes overstated. In some particulars the town artizan was, no doubt, superior to the rural labourer, but in others he was inferior. Both the town artizan and the rural labourer had their special and peculiar virtues; and, certainly, the present was the very worst moment when they should say anything against the rural labourer. It had fallen to his own lot to watch very anxiously every movement among the industrial classes for now nearly the last 20 years. He had been indirectly mixed up with some of them, and when he observed the moderation, the good sense, the absence of all violence at the present time, displayed by the agricultural labourers who were agitating for a rise of wages throughout the country, he unhesitatingly said that their movement presented in many respects a most favourable contrast with similar movements that had occurred among the town artizans who were already enfranchised. It would be presumptuous in him to anticipate what course the high authorities on the two front benches of that House were about to take in regard to that Motion. He thought, however, they must have the vote of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Goverement in its favour. He remembered the speech made in that House by the right hon. Gentleman, describing the line of argument which had converted him to the Ballot. The right 1899 hon. Gentleman said, in effect, that when the franchise was possessed by a comparatively few persons the £10 householder might be regarded as the trustee of the man who lived in a house of less value, and therefore it might be urged with great truth that such a trusteeship should be exercised openly; but that now, when the franchise was so largely extended, the force of that argument was much weakened. But he (Mr. Fawcett) would ask, had not the still unenfranchised agricultural labourer any interests deserving to be considered; and who among the present county voters were to be regarded as holding a political trusteeship for them? If they were not to enfranchise the labourers, they must, in consistency, find out who were their trustees, and place them under the ban of voting openly instead of secretly. The reasoning, therefore, by which the Prime Minister justified his conversion to the Ballot should lead him to support the present proposal. He thought the Liberal party, as regarded the attitude they were about to assume on that Motion might take some warning from the past. The right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, as they all knew, was a very clever tactician, and no one was more expert in the exploit of "dishing" his political opponents. Not many years ago he made some Liberal Members of that House occupy a somewhat foolish position—he made them appear before the country as if they had supported a less Liberal measure of enfranchisement than that which the right hon. Gentleman opposite was willing to offer. Let them learn a lesson from those curious incidents—let them hope, at any rate, to bring about this result—that each great party in that House, by their anxiety not again to be outdone by the other in the race for a Liberal enfranchisement, would produce a rivalry in eagerness to be the first to enjoy the honour of having done political justice to the rural districts by giving household suffrage to the counties.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House would be more likely to devote due and adequate attention to the wants and interests of our rural population if householders outside the boundary of Parliamentary Boroughs were in possession of the Franchise; and that it is expedient
to extend to Counties the Occupation and Lodging Franchises now in force in Boroughs,"—(Mr. Trevelyan,)
§ MR. KENNAWAY
said, he believed that he was precluded by the forms of the House from asking Mr. Speaker to put from the Chair the Amendment of which he had given Notice; but he thought he was justified in the course he had taken by the very able speeches in support of the Motion to which they had just listened, and more especially by the speech of the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett); because he wished to place distinctly before the House what the real issue raised by that Motion was—namely, that they should again unfurl the flag of Parliamentary Reform, and re-open the great settlement effected in 1867. His Amendment ran in these terms—That this House, while ready and anxious to devote due and adequate attention to any measures intended to promote the interests of our agricultural population, is of opinion that these interests will be injured rather than advanced by the renewal of political agitation on the subject of the franchise.The question raised by the former part of the Motion of the hon. Member for the Border Burghs, and from which the two previous speakers had a little wandered, was one of the greatest importance, whether they looked at the agricultural population as the producers of the food on which the country so much depended; or, whether they looked at the magnitude of the agricultural interest, forming, as it did, the largest industry in the kingdom. He had not the figures of the last Census; but according to the Census of 1861, it was calculated that there were no fewer than 3,000,000 of persons employed in agriculture, of whom 1,600,000 were daily labourers. The agricultural interest had of late been much supposed to be in a bad way, and various prescriptions had been given them for amending that state of things. They had recently the prescription of the hon. Member for the borough of Cambridge (Mr. W. Fowler) to do away with the law of entail, which was held responsible for all the ills of the agricultural labourer. Then the hon. Member for Brighton had persistently advocated their education; and now agitators and others were going throughout the country saying that trades unions, or 1901 unions of agricultural labourers, were the things which would help them most, while on the present occasion a Motion was brought before the House to give them the franchise. The agricultural labourer, however, seemed pretty much inclined to think for himself; not to listen to all that was told him by everybody, but to find out for himself where his interest lay, and to act accordingly. He was very glad to hear the hon. Member for Brighton speak of the agricultural labourer as he had done. It had been so much the fashion with those who called themselves his friends to heap every term of opprobrium and abuse upon him; others wrote of him as if his condition was a disgrace to a Christian community; and a paper of democratic views characterized him as almost belonging to the brute creation. It was pleasing, therefore, to find the hon. Member for Brighton standing up for his intelligence and his position. They might fairly look at what was the English labourer's condition, as compared with that of the rural labourers in foreign countries. His wages were higher than those given in any other country in Europe. They had it on the authority of Mr. Stanhope, the Assistant Commissioner, that his wages varied from 1s. 6d. to 1s. 9d. per day; whereas in Italy the labourer's wages were at the highest 1s. 1d.; in Belgium, 1s.; and in France, 1s. 7d. a-day. Nor did his wages represent all the benefits which the English labourer enjoyed. He had a cheap house, the cheap use of land, and other gifts and privileges on which it would be hard to put a money value, but which constituted considerable additions to his comfort and happiness. As regarded housing, he recollected that in an interesting lecture the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Howard) stated that the housing of the agricultural labourer abroad was not to be compared with what it was in this country. Therefore, relatively to his brethren in other countries, the English labourer was not in so bad a condition. Then, relatively to the condition of our town population, an interesting paper was read at the meeting of the British Association by Professor Leone Levi, who had mastered as far as possible the statistics on the subject What did those statistics show as to the condition of the labourers in agricultural as compared with other industrial 1902 pursuits? Why, that there was a smaller death-rate among them; that they lived longer, while the birth and marriage rate was lower. In education, in sobriety, and in freedom from crime, the rural population would compare favourably with the inhabitants of cities, although he admitted that in the matters of pauperism and illegitimacy the balance would be against them. The agricultural labourer was not much behind the city artizan in general intelligence. He had a special power of observation and a peculiar intelligence of his own, which enabled him to discharge his duties with ability and skill. Looking at the Returns of the Agricultural Commissioners he was ready to admit that there was a dark side to what was generally assumed to be the happy picture of English agricultural life, and the real question was, what remained to be done in order to raise its standard, and how that work was to be accomplished. No doubt, the law in past times had done much to keep the agricultural labourer in an inferior position, and especially the law of settlement and the old, and perhaps, as sometimes administered, even the new, Poor Laws. The Commissioners who had sat to consider this question had pointed out that the position of the agricultural labourers was rendered still worse by the absence of education, by the low rate of wages, and by the condition of their cottages. But, on the other hand, during the last two years an Act had been passed, which would bring education home to every child in the kingdom, and thus one of the principal causes of the inferior position of the rural population was in a fair way of being remedied. What further had to be done in that direction? Everything that promoted the flow of capital upon the land must greatly benefit the agricultural labourer. [Mr. W. FOWLER: Hear, hear!] The hon. Member for Cambridge cheered that remark, and he, doubtless, thought that it was in favour of the principle of the abolition of the law of entail; but he (Mr. Kennaway), on the contrary, thought the law of entail had had a good effect in this country, and therefore he was prepared to support it. At the same time, however, he was ready to admit, that if that law had exceeded due bounds, and if it were not in accordance with the spirit of the times, that law ought to be modified, so 1903 that it might operate so as to have the effect of causing a flow of capital upon the land. At the present time the owner of a limited estate in land was empowered to borrow money for certain purposes under the sanction of the In-closure Commissioners, to be repaid by instalments to be extended over 25 years, and during the last five years a sum of no less than £1,769,000 had been borrowed under those conditions in order to effect improvements on land. Under those circumstances, it could not be said that capital was prevented from flowing upon the land. The owner of the property, although he paid 7 per cent interest upon the loan, in the case of the money being expended upon drains and general improvements, received 5 per cent back from his tenants in the way of rent, and thus he was only out of pocket to the extent of 2 per cent. The case was, however, very different when the money borrowed was expended upon the erection of cottages. The Inclosure Commissioners, in sanctioning the borrowing of the money, determined the class of cottages that should be erected, and the cost of the cottages they required to be built was £140 each; and thus the owner of the limited estate was out of pocket about £6 4s. per annum for every cottage built, because he could not expect to receive more than 2 per cent on the money expended on that class of property. It was of great importance that the dwellings of the agricultural labourers should, be such as should be worthy of a good and a Christian community; and the working classes were strongly of this opinion themselves, as one of the seven propositions they had recently laid down was, that every man should have a good house over his head. Under those circumstances, he thought that some steps should be taken to extend the borrowing powers of limited owners of estates by spreading the repayment of the money borrowed over 40 instead of only 25 years, by authorizing the Government to lend money at a cheap rate for the purposes of improving the dwellings of the agricultural population, or even by extending the provisions of the Dwellings Improvement Act to the agricultural districts. He was prepared to go even further, and to propose that limited owners should be able to borrow money for certain purposes upon the security of 1904 their estates, as if they were owners in fee, whereby they would be able to borrow far more cheaply than they could at present. Such a principle had been sanctioned under the West of England Drainage Company's Act in cases where the sanction of the Inclosure Commissioners had been obtained. Looking at the vast amount of emigration among our agricultural population, it was of the first importance that we should offer them the inducement to remain of good houses. It might be said that it would not be fair to those who had reversionary interests in the property to permit the limited owner to encumber it to such an extent, but as all such borrowing powers would be exercised under the sanction of the Inclosure Commissioners, there would be no danger of an abuse of those powers. Another great improvement in the existing law would be to relieve persons who succeeded to a heavily-burdened estate—such, for instance, as the case of a man he happened to know, who succeeded to an estate of £3,000 a-year, but which was so heavily encumbered that the fortunate possessor was fain to buy himself an annuity to subsist upon until the encumbrances were paid off—by permitting them, under the sanction of the Court of Chancery, to sell such a portion of the property as would enable them to enjoy the remainder free from encumbrances, as was proposed by the hon. Member for East Sussex. The Bill brought forward by the hon. Member for South Norfolk to extend the Factory Acts to agricultural districts would also effect a desirable change in our existing law. But the hon. Member who had introduced the Bill now under discussion appeared to think that the one panacea for every ill to which the agricultural labourer was subject was to give him the franchise. He made every excuse for the hon. Member for taking up this sort of legislation, because political agitation was in a manner his very life. Ashort time ago he had taken up the subject of the abolition of purchase; but when that plum was ripe it dropped into the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War. Since then he had taken up the subject of a Permissive Bill; but the Bill of the Home Secretary would, in all probability, put an end to the necessity for further agitation on that point. It was after these various 1905 disappointments that the hon. Member had bethought himself of talking up the case of the agricultural labourer, and he was now seconded by the hon. Member for Brighton, whose pamphlet, re-published only a few months since, had recommended that the agricultural labourer should be educated, but was quite silent on the subject of his receiving the franchise. Now, that education had been brought to the door of every agricultural labourer's house, he thought he should be justified in asking the hon. Member for Brighton to hold his hand a little until we could see the effect that it would produce upon him. He asked whether it could be said that the state of the agricultural labourers, or of the working classes—for they must all stand or fall together—had been neglected by that House? Had not Parliament given the labourers free bread by the abolition of the Corn Laws? Had it not ameliorated the law of settlement by passing the Union Chargeability Act? And was not the very inquiry which formed the basis of the present Motion a proof of the anxiety of the House to know the real state of the agricultural labourers? What, too, was the meaning of the inquiry respecting Friendly Societies, and of the passing of the Post Office Savings Banks Act, the Education Act, and the Agricultural Gangs Act, and of the introduction of the Public Health Bill? The hon. Member who brought forward this question (Mr. Trevelyan) spoke of the truck system, and said that if the agricultural labourers had votes no drink would be given them. He wished he could think that would be the ease; but he believed the farmers gave the drink because the men insisted on having it, and whenever an employer refused to give cider the men bought it in large quantities themselves. The hon. Member contended that there would be no change in the condition of the agricultural labourers until they had votes; but what had been the case with the class above them—the tenant-farmers? Long before the passing of the Chandos clause the farmers suffered under the grievance of the three "R's"—rent, rates, and rabbits. Well, one would have thought that when they got votes they would have been allowed to malt their barley without restraint, to keep sheep-dogs free from taxation, to go to church in peace and quietness without 1906 having a duty clapped on the horse which conveyed them there, and, he would add, to obtain compensation for unexhausted improvements. Yet the possession of the franchise had not had the effect of liberating the farmers from restrictions and imposts of that kind, which they felt most acutely. The present Parliament was a Parliament of householders, and yet there were many persons in the country who said that the time of the House was too much taken up by the discussion of sentimental grievances, such as the Irish Church question, the abolition of purchase, and the Ballot, which were not matters in which large numbers of working men took an interest. He would put it to the House whether the general agricultural labourer was fit for the vote? The hon. Member seemed to have left out of consideration the Reports on the subject of education in the rural districts, where the children went to work at nine or ton years of age, and forgot all they had learnt at school before. Pew of the agricultural labourers had heard of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, or of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Opposition; but the case was different in the towns, where there existed a free Press and trades unions, and where the workmen met their fellows and debated among themselves the subjects in which they felt an interest. The agricultural labourer, on the contrary, plied his calling very much alone, and had very little opportunity of discussing matters with any large number of his fellow-labourers. Many persons were now disposed to take up the agricultural labourer, and try to make political capital out of him; and when it should be found that he know too well what he was about to be made use of for that purpose, he would then be turned off and called a—Wretch whom no sense ofWrongs can rouse to vengeance,Sordid, unfeeling, reprobate, degraded,Spiritless outcast.He could not help thinking that the reminiscences of the late Reform agitation were not calculated to encourage the House to embark again in a new one at the present moment. He knew that there were Members of what was called the "Great Liberal Party" who desired to have a revolution once a-year; but he hoped the Leaders on 1907 both sides of the House would turn a deaf ear to their appeals, and he believed that the House was too wise to encourage agitations which would prevent due consideration being given to those measures which were imperatively needed for the welfare of the country.
Sir, I do not think it either desirable, or expect, that anything I have to say will tend to check the course of the discussion, which undoubtedly raises many points of the highest interest. The field of the discussion, however, is exceedingly extended. I have listened to the speech of my hon. Friend who made the Motion (Mr. Trevelyan), which opened a space sufficiently liberal; but since he sat down he must have been surprised at the additional enlargement which it has received. The subject of taxation, education, property franchise, and the landlords, have all been brought fairly, I think, within the scope of the Gentlemen who may be inclined to take part in the debate. I admit I do not at all think that either my hon. Friend who has made the Motion or the hon. Seconder of it can be blamed; and I am very far from intending to convey, directly or indirectly, censure in respect to the raising of these questions—I mean the questions involved in the upshot of the Motion. My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton in particular has studied and written on the condition of the agricultural labourer in a manner which must attach great authority to the declaration of his views, either in this House or anywhere else. He has asked what is the course hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the opposite benches propose to take in reference to this question. Of course, I cannot answer for what hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite might think fit to do; but as the hon. Member has also asked what course we on the Treasury Bench purpose to pursue in the matter, I am ready to say that I do not at all deny that the condition of the agricultural labourer still continues to afford matter justly calling for the consideration of Parliament, though I think the hon. Member who has just sat down (Mr. Kennaway) has succeeded in showing that the attention of Parliament has not been altogether withheld, but, on the contrary, has been freely and willingly afforded—and in the future will be freely and willingly afforded to any 1908 proposition practically connected with his important subject. I do not deny either that there is some amount of connection to be traced between whatever is defective in the condition of the agricultural labourer and his non-possession of the franchise; and the attainment of distinct political existence, I have very little doubt, would be advantageous to the agricultural labourer. It would increase his sense of responsibility and give him habits of action, as a citizen, which he has hardly yet assumed, but by which a good deal of benefit in the exercise of those habits might devolve upon him. The hon. Member for Brighton said that the argument which I had made upon the subject of the Ballot, in announcing my intention to vote for that measure, led him to hope that I should be prepared to vote for the Motion now before the House. As far as coincidence of opinion with the Motion goes, it is not a mere matter of inference, so far as I am concerned. I have not disguised my opinion on the present condition of the county franchise, which cannot very long continue. I do not think it is possible, under present circumstances, to maintain for a lengthened period that broad line of demarcation between the county franchise and the borough franchise which at present exists. I must, however, guard myself, in saying that, against being supposed to concur with my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton in what I understand to be the full breadth of his doctrine with respect to proprietary franchises, because, though I am not sure that he announced the opinion in so many words, yet the general drift of his argument went to this—that on account of the abuses which attend the property franchises, which are not occupation or resident franchises in certain cases, he was disposed to think that, with a large and adequate extension of occupation and residential franchises, we may dispense with property franchises altogether. I confess I do not share that opinion; on the contrary, I think there is considerable advantage in maintaining property franchises. When the late Reform Bill was under discussion I supported, I think, on every occasion, the proposition made to enlarge those franchises, and it is not from a desire to get rid of them that I express an opinion favourable in principle to the extension of the occupation franchise. 1909 If I am asked why I think that before a very long period has elapsed this question must become a practical one, I would state in rude outline my own reason for that judgment—that we have now a state of things in which the town has travelled into the country, and in which the country has likewise assumed the character of the town, and both to so considerable an extent as to render more and more indistinct from year to year the broad line of separation between the two. We have made a vast number of rural districts, selected in an arbitrary manner, portions of what we choose to call boroughs, and many of the constituencies of the boroughs are in the majority composed of a purely peasant population; on the other hand, the vast extension of mining and manufacturing industry, and the tendency of the town population to unite the pursuits of the town with a residence in the county, causes our great towns—and even some towns which are not great—continually to overflow, with an extraordinary rapidity and with remarkable steadiness and constancy of movement, the boundaries which have been attached to them, and to place the residents of the town locally within the limits of the county. Then, with respect to education, I understand my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton to argue that the agricultural labourer should be enfranchised, in order that he may be educated. There is no doubt it has been common to say that the education of the agricultural labourer did not qualify him for the franchise. I am very glad to hear what has been stated by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down with respect to the mental condition of the agricultural labourer. I, for one, do not admit that general incompetency of the agricultural labourer which is supposed to exist. I believe, so far as statistics enable us to form a judgment, we are not entitled to draw any broad line of distinction, as to competency with respect to education respecting the use of the franchise, between the labourer in counties and the artizan in the towns. There was another objection which was urged—and urged with considerable force—on the dependence of the agricultural labourer, but Parliament, which has sanctioned by very large majorities the principle of a measure that aims at enabling every voter 1910 to exercise his franchise with perfect freedom from apprehension, as well as from intimidation, cannot very well plead the dependence of the agricultural labourer as a reason why, at any rate for a length of time, we are to refuse to entertain the question of giving him the franchise. These opinions are not new opinions on my part. I confess I have expressed them on former occasions, and I know that after expressing such opinions, I may disappoint my hon. Friend when I say that I do not think it would be within the limits of my duty, or within the limits of the duty of those who represent the Government, to record in the shape of Parliamentary pledges their opinion upon a matter of this kind until the time arrives when there is a reasonable prospect of giving them fulfilment. If there were a happy unanimity on this subject in the House, I do not say I would be prepared to make objection to practical proposals for giving effect to this principle. But what is the actual state of things in which we have always found ourselves with regard to changes involving large extension of the suffrage? They have invariably been a subject of the widest difference of opinion and of long Parliamentary struggles. They have required the application usually of two or three full years of the Parliamentary life of the nation before a settlement could be obtained; and I must also say, it is not to be supposed that this question can be dealt with alone. By way of apology in the face of hon. Gentlemen opposite, I venture to confess that which they must know perfectly well—that the proposal of my hon. Friend is not a proposal selfishly conceived in the interests of the Liberal party. What would be the first effect of the measure? Its tendency is to enfranchise the rural population in the same manner and degree as that in which the urban population has been already enfranchised. I venture to say a little more. It would enfranchise the rural population in a somewhat larger degree than that in which the urban population has been enfranchised. A large proportion of the urban population in the capacity of lodgers—as well as in its more shifting condition, but especially in its capacity of lodgers—do not find admission to the franchise. The lodger franchise, if extended to the rural districts, would be comparatively inoperative, 1911 because, as a rule, every man in these districts is a householder, and would have direct access to the franchise. Well, that being so, and the rural district being enfranchised in a larger manner than the urban population, what would follow? It is absolutely impossible that the present distribution of seats should continue. In justice to the counties, we should be obliged to reconsider it on a liberal scale. I would not say to what extent that reconsideration would go; but no very limited measure would be found to do justice in the case, if we adopt the principle that as full and effectual a share in the representation is to be given to our fellow-citizens living in the country as is given to those who reside in towns. In point of fact, then, the proposal is not a proposal to be dealt with in a few lines of an Act of Parliament. It is a proposal for a new Parliamentary Reform Act upon a larger scale. I think it was Lord Russell, on the occasion of the first Reform Act, when Triennial Parliaments, and the Ballot, and other such alterations upon it were proposed, who said that we could not afford to have a Revolution once a-year. That was a very pointed and vivid mode of expression, and though our experience—great and prolonged as it has been—of the activity of Parliamentary life and thought evolved during the consideration of those changes, does not lead us to the conclusion that this Motion does involve a revolution, yet it amounts undoubtedly to a most formidable rival to other questions of practical legislation in their demands upon the time of Parliament. It is in my mind, therefore, a practical question, and simply a practical question, whether we ought to contemplate the sort of measure indicated by my hon. Friend the Member for the Border Burghs as a measure calling at present for a formal expression of the judgment of Parliament. It is an argument that I am obliged to use oftener than I could wish—but I believe it is a a sound and just argument—that these formal expressions of the judgment of Parliament would not tend to the credit of the Legislature or to the satisfaction of the country, if they were multiplied in the shape of abstract declarations without a very reasonable prospect of being able to give them effect. The House, I am sure, does not wish ours to be a Parliament 1912 living on credit, but on ready money in all its dealings with the nation. It is its desire that Parliament should rather be before its word than behind it, and that as it cannot do all that is expected of it, it should take care that its promises are not ahead of its performances. Such are the considerations by which my vote on the present occasion will be guided. I am very glad that the form in which the question came before the House does not raise directly the merits of the question of the extension of the franchise. Although I myself feel no difficulty on the subject of that extension, yet is by far too great a question to be decided by a by-blow on a Resolution, and by a a single vote. While I am of opinion that the distinction existing between the franchise in the towns and in the counties cannot be maintained, even for any length of time, yet I can understand that the opposite opinion may be very well held by others; and I am far from desiring to obtain prematurely, and without the fullest consideration, the expression of an opinion pledging Parliament on that important question, especially as I do not scruple to say that in my judgment, the extension of the franchise in counties must lead to other important changes in our representative system. Upon these grounds I think it is the fairest and most straightforward course to take to decline to vote for the Motion of my hon. Friend, without pronouncing on its merits, or without wishing to be supposed to think that the subject is not one on which the public mind do not require to be occasionally refreshed. Parliament has ample work cut out for it, not only for the present year, but for years to come, of a character more distinctly practical and less tending, perhaps, to exasperate political differences, or to widen the division which already exists, and I, for one, am very well contented to pursue that career of humble but useful effort, while I trust the decision of the House will show that I have not wrongly estimated its disposition with respect to the actual and real bearing of the question under its consideration.
§ MR. C. S. READ
said, he quite concurred with the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government in regarding the Resolution as one of a very wide and general character. He himself was 1913 at a loss to see the connection between the first part of the Resolution and the last, and, after listening to the two very able speeches of its Mover and Seconder, he was still in the same position. If he remembered rightly, the first Commission which was appointed to inquire into the condition of the rural population was that which investigated the state of agricultural gangs. The Commissioners reported that certain amendments of the law were required, and thereupon the Government of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire passed a Bill that almost entirely cured the evils that were complained of. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. S. Walpole) was at the Homo Office, it was suggested to him that the scope of the inquiry had not been sufficiently large, and that it should be extended so as to include within its operation the condition of all women and children employed in agriculture. Another inquiry consequently took place, and the Commissioners reported elaborately. They did not say that the persons employed in agriculture were overworked, or that it was dangerous to health; their Report was totally different to that of the Commissioners who inquired into the labour in factories. There was only one instance in which it was recommended that there should be a curtailment of the hours of labour, and that was in the case of small boys who were employed in connection with horses. They said that the children were not so well educated as they should be, that the cottages were not so convenient as could be wished, and that wages wore low. Since then, however, wages had risen considerably, very many improved cottages had been built, and an Act had been passed that would bring education within the reach of every child. He, himself, in conjunction with several hon. Friends behind him, had ventured to introduce a Bill to extend the Factories Act to agriculture. But they could not in any way compare employment in factories with employment in agriculture. In factories the employment was confined and unhealthy, and there was a vast difference between the stress of mind produced by watching machinery there all day, and that produced by looking after pigs or frightening away the crows. It had been said that the 1914 employment of children in agriculture caused wages to be so low; but in the North, where women were largely em-employed, the men had higher wages than in any other part. As regarded cider, he entirely endorsed the condemnation which had been passed on the truck system; yet in the North, where the truck system really existed, the labourers were much better paid than in the South. It had been said that labourers should be allowed to have milk—though that would be in effect part of the truck system—and in the North they were allowed milk, or the keep of a cow. As to the Reform Act of 1867, surely when the county franchise was dropped from £50 to £12, it was a much greater reduction than was made in the boroughs from £10 to household suffrage? Now, however, that householders in boroughs enjoyed the franchise, they did not appear to be any more temperate than they used to be, nor had beer less influence over them. Forty-shilling freeholds gave many labouring men the county franchise; but he thought it was a shame that the freeholders of boroughs should not only have the privilege of sending a great majority of Members to this House, but should also influence the return of one-half of the county Members. Meanwhile, it was right to recollect that the Factories Act were not passed by a Householders' Parliament, but by a House of Commons composed of £50 occupiers and £10 ratepayers; that the party who passed these Acts was the country party; and that the House of Parliament which did most to pass them was the House of Lords. What had a Householders' Parliament done? Had hey thought as much of the comforts of he people as their predecessors? The Householders' Parliament had got rid of he Irish Church, which, to say the east, did no poor man any harm; they jassed a Land Bill which gave no compensation to the Irish labourer who built a cabin or reclaimed his garden; hey had been engaged two years discussing secret voting, which the people did not want; and they had put off considering the means of promoting the people's health, and of preventing their being blown up in coal mines.
§ MR. WALTER
said, he had not intended to take any part in the discussion, but as his hon. Friend the Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan) had 1915 done him the honour to refer to some remarks which he (Mr. Walter) had made on a former occasion, he desired to state that it was not in consequence of what he might term the preamble of the Resolution that he was going to vote in its favour, if his hon. Friend went to a division. He did not attach much importance, either, to the fact which had been alluded to, that the House had done a good deal in the way of improving the condition of the agricultural labourer by legislation, or to the supposed advantages he would derive by obtaining a share in the franchise. He should vote for the Resolution, because he believed that not only this particular subject, but the other subjects to which the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had referred in connection with it, must soon occupy the attention of the Government and of the House as a necessary corollary and logical consequence of what had already been done. Moreover, the House could not bear too strongly in mind that when they laid down political principles of a very clear and definite character, it became impossible for them indefinitely to postpone the solution of other questions logically and necessarily connected with them. For instance, when the House passed the Emancipation Act, in 1829, they did not then foresee that it would lead to the disestablishment of the Irish Church. On the contrary, they protested against such a result; but it arrived as a necessary consequence in due time. What his hon. Friend contended for in this Resolution—the enfranchisement of the county householder—and what he (Mr. Walter) had contended for—the alteration of our whole system of electoral divisions—followed, as a necessary consequence not only from the last Reform Bill, but from the measure now under consideration, which would, in his opinion, lead more promptly to these results than his right hon. Friend seemed to imagine. As an opponent of the Ballot, he entertained the strongest conviction that immediately upon the passing of the Ballot, or within a very short period afterwards, its effect upon all the small borough constituencies would be such as to call for speedy action on the part of this House. He did not doubt for a moment the effect of the Ballot upon those small boroughs. It would produce an amount of corruption the 1916 like of which had never been seen. From his Parliamentary experience, and what he had witnessed and read, he must repeat that a secret system of voting would lead to a great development of electoral corruption in the smaller boroughs, and thus would necessarily bring about their extinction. The result must be the increased sub-division of counties, because these small boroughs at present supplemented the deficiency which now existed in the county representation. As to the agricultural labourer, the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government admitted that, with the Ballot, there was no longer any excuse for depriving him of the franchise, or refusing to put him on exactly the same footing as a householder in a borough. Now, if it were possible to draw a clear distinction between the county and the borough constituencies, they might preserve for some time longer the distinction between the county and borough franchise. That distinction used to be defended upon some theory that the boroughs represented occupation, while the counties represented property. He did not know who invented that theory. He had heard it maintained by distinguished Members of that House; but if it had ever any foundation, which he did not think it had, the increase of population and the gradual encroachment of town upon the country had long ago altered that state of things. When they saw a division of a county called a borough, like East Retford—a district containing some 50,000 inhabitants and 200,000 acres—upon what conceivable theory of Parliamentary representation were the householders within that so-called borough to have votes while the householders outside it had no votes? East Retford was really a small county; it was twice the size of Rutland. Cricklade was one and a-half times as large as Rutland; and Shoreham was another borough of the same class. On what grounds of Parliamentary representation were householders in those portions of Nottinghamshire, Wiltshire, and Sussex, to have votes, while householders outside those districts were refused the franchise? There was another point referred to by his hon. Friend the Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) which deserved the very serious attention of hon. Members opposite. His hon. Friend had delivered a speech 1917 to which the House must have listened with very great pleasure; it was a speech singularly free from party feeling, and one which placed this whole question very clearly before the House on its intrinsic merits. His hon. Friend pointed out that there was one question above all others which must occupy the attention of the country for some years to come—namely, the question of the connection between Church and State, in which the agricultural labourer, at present disfranchised, had, if any human being had, a peculiar interest. It was the bounden duty of hon. Gentlemen opposite, if they believed—as they must believe, and as he (Mr. Walter) believed—that it was for the benefit of the rural population chiefly that the Church should be maintained in its present position, to take care that this class of men, however imperfectly educated—yet, as a whole, steady, sober, respectable men—should be afforded an opportunity of expressing their opinion on the maintenance of that institution. He, therefore, thought that it was not prudent to consider this question as one which might safely be postponed to the Greek Kalends. It was a question which called for the serious attention of Government, and one which he trusted would not be made, as other Reform Bills had been made, a shuttlecock between the two opposite benches, or used as a means of tripping each other up. He further thought it was a measure more for the benefit of Conservatives than Liberals; a tall events, he could state that he had heard more objections made to it by Liberals than by Conservatives, for many old-fashioned Liberals did not like it. But, however that might be, he did not think it ought to be treated by the Opposition as a party question, but rather as the necessary consequence of the measures which Parliament passed or had still in hand; and that it might be brought to a conclusion as soon as possible, in order that we might be spared, as his right hon. Friend at the head of the Government had said, from the turmoil and confusion of an annual revolution.
§ MR. PELL
said, the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Trevelyan) had referred to the Report of the Commissioners on the employment of children and young persons in agriculture. Now, it was his lot to make the acquaintance of several of those gentlemen while engaged in 1918 the investigations they were appointed to carry on, and he wished to bear his testimony to the efficient way in which they performed their duties and to the interest which they took in the condition of the people. There were, in his opinion, two or three matters to which we might trace the unsatisfactory condition of the agricultural labourer, if it existed at all. One was the great change which had come over him in all the habits of life, from the time when he used to live in the house of the farmer, enjoying good food and, if a householder, having certain rights and perquisites attaching to the commons or unenclosed lands. That change, however, had come about for very good reasons, and would, he believed, ultimately end in what was best for the community at large. Reference had been made to the low percentage which the owner of property derived from investing his money in the building of cottages. He hoped that would not discourage building. It was very true when a man built houses for his labourers he did not get a direct return worth speaking of from the money sunk in bricks and mortar; but generally to the cottage a piece of land was attached, and the difference between the rent paid by the labourer and the farmer was so large that, if added to the rent of the cottage, it would give a not un-remunerative return for the money. There was no more serious evil which the agricultural labourer suffered, than in having to go mile after mile to his work in the morning and in returning in the evening to his home, while it destroyed the happy connection between the employer of labour and the person whom he employed. The remedy proposed by the hon. Member opposite was the extension of the franchise. But how would that operate in the county (Leicestershire) which he (Mr. Pell) represented? He had no hesitation in saying that it would entirely swamp the agricultural interest. The people in the manufacturing villages would claim the suffrage, and the man whom they would return would be the representative of an urban and not a rural constituency. Then as to the question of education, he would like to call attention to the unfair position in which the labourer was placed not only in the county, but in the town. How much of the grant made in aid of education by the State did the 1919 labourer get who sacrificed the time of his child in order to send him to school? How much of the, small endowments went in the same direction? What became of the small educational endowments of our villages? Why, instead of being given to the purpose of furnishing, as they ought, some certain fund for reward of meritorious conduct, such as regular attendance in rural schools, and thus tending to raise the scope and character of agricultural education, they were either swept into the school fund to relieve the pockets of managers and subscribers, or, worse still, were frittered away by mismanagement. He fully concurred with the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government as to the many changes implied in the carrying out of the Resolution; and, while admitting the impossibility of legislation at present upon the subject, he believed there was one remedy calculated to effect a great deal in alleviating the evils complained of, and that was co-operation. In that principle would be found the stand-point to raise the day labourer to the position of a small farmer, or even higher. Let the men be left alone to work for themselves; let them not be patronized too much, but let them be made acquainted that in the Acts of Parliament which encouraged co-operative enterprize, they had the means of raising themselves; that they must stick to the ready-money system; and that if a man earnt only 8s. he must try to spend but 7s. and save 1s. That would do far more for the men than enfranchising them would do. When they had made savings in the store their next step would be to say, "Give us a piece of land," not to farm, but as an allotment, so that they might take the land upon the wholesale process, and work it upon the retail principle. Another great advantage of that would be that they would learn political economy without going to books first. He met a labouring man the other day, whom he asked whether he was going to join the new agitation. The man said—"No; look at the spade I am digging with; it cost me 9d. more than I ever gave before, and that is because men are working now only nine hours a-day." If political philanthropists would not talk too much to the men, but show them an example of industry, and try to preserve that simple connection which had long subsisted between the 1920 owner of property, the farmer, and the farm labourer, they would do more to perpetuate that happy condition of the men than by any legislation whatever in the direction of an extension of the franchise.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 148; Noes 70: Majority 78.
§ Question again proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."