§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. TREVELYAN,
in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said: Sir, when a private Member rises to introduce a Bill which proposes to enact changes that will seriously modify the character of our electoral bodies, and through them may ultimately affect the composition of the House itself, he must, indeed, be presumptuous if the magnitude of the task which he has undertaken, as contrasted with his own abilities 807 and his own personal standing and reputation, does not weigh upon his mind far more painfully than can be expressed in words of conventional apology. It is fortunate, therefore, that every great constitutional measure which has in the end been carried into law by the action of a responsible Ministry has been preceded by Bills and Resolutions, and, in most cases, by a long succession of Bills and Resolutions, brought forward by unofficial Members of Parliament. But it is, as far as I am concerned, a piece of still greater good fortune that the most important of all such measures—the Reform Bill of 1867—was, as far as the reduction of the franchise was in question, prefaced by Bills introduced by two hon. Gentlemen who are still amongst us, and whose character for disinterested and unpretending devotion to public ends is so well established and so fully recognized on both sides of this House, that it may serve at once as an example and a protection to all their imitators and successors. Henceforward anyone who directs the attention of Parliament to a question of first-class importance must earn his excuse by doing his best to copy the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Locke King) and the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Baines) in subordinating himself to his work, and in endeavouring to compensate for his deficiencies by sincerity of purpose. The two hon. Gentlemen were successful, but were successful in different measures; for, while the hon. Member for East Surrey got something, but only something, less than he asked, the hon. Member for Leeds had his cup filled to overflowing, for he not only enlisted on his side the Leaders of his own party, but obtained from the late Government much more than he demanded—I will not say more than he desired. But the thoroughness with which the work of enfranchisement was accomplished in one-half of the country has placed the other half in a position relatively so disadvantageous, that probably no man believes that the present state of things will continue for another generation, and very few, that it will continue for another Parliament. The Reform Bill of 1867 gave every householder in towns, or rather in some towns, the prospect of a vote. It gave the householders in the counties I nothing but a sense of grievous inequality. It is hardly too much to say that, as far as England outside the 808 boundary of Parliamentary boroughs is concerned, there would have been less discontent and less desire for further legislation if there had been no Reform Bill at all. For, by the manner in which it dealt with the franchise in boroughs, the Legislature sanctioned the principle that any man who can by manual labour pay his way and keep a house over the head of himself and his family, is entitled to a voice in the government of the country. And having declared that opinion in the solemn and unmistakeable language of the statute book, Parliament then, by way of a boon to the country population, proceeded to increase by some 25 or 30 per cent the number of electors of the class which had always possessed the franchise, but refused to go beyond that point, and did not, intentionally and of design, impart the suffrage to a single member of the class which it was enfranchising wholesale in the boroughs. I say, intentionally, because in the year 1866, when introducing his Reform Bill, the present Primo Minister, who was then most deeply interested in detecting and consulting the intentions of the House, made some remarks which are in a high degree authoritative, coming as they did from him at a time when his mind was full of a mass of electoral statistics such as never was collected before, and such as we may safely venture to say will never be collected again. Wishing to reconcile a somewhat reluctant audience to his £14 rental franchise, which was pretty nearly the equivalent of £12 rating occupation which now exists, he said—The county constituency, when thus enlarged, will be a middle-class constituency in the same sense—nay, rather more strictly than under the present system. The number of persons properly belonging to the working classes, and having a £14 rental franchise will be so very small in number as not to be worth taking into calculation. Or, at the least, I may say that such portion of the newly-enfranchised body as may belong to the labouring class will be tenants of small holdings in land in immediate connection with the landed class."—[3 Hansard, clxxxii. 30.]Sir, those words will never be forgotten until the day that household suffrage in the counties becomes the law of this land; for they mean that while in a borough a man who has no ambition beyond that of doing his duty in the station to which he has been called may enjoy the full privileges of a citizen, his neighbour on the other side of an ima- 809 ginary line must forego those privileges, unless by a series of efforts which the vast majority of honest hard-working men do not feel themselves called upon to make, he can contrive to struggle out of his own class into the class above him. Now, Sir, it is this contrast of political status between persons whose social rank and whose calling is precisely the same, the special product and manufacture of our recent legislation, which is apt to escape the notice of those who criticize by anticipation the Bill which I have the honour of laying before the House. Almost every article which I have read in the Press, almost every conversation which has been addressed to me in the Lobbies, turns exclusively on the fitness of the agricultural labourer for the exercise of political power. But, Sir, the question of the county franchise never was a question exclusively of the rural labourer, and is becoming less and less so as years go on. In the year 1851 the population residing in the urban districts outside the boundaries of Parliamentary boroughs amounted to 1,700,000. Much was done to correct this state of things by the Reform Bill of 1867. Many large towns received Members of their own. Many populous suburbs were incorporated in existing borough constituencies. And yet, in spite of all that was effected by means of the creation of new seats and the extension of boundaries, the population of urban districts within the counties had risen at the last Census to hard upon 2,250,000. But, more than that, the Registrar General bids us remark, that even among the districts nominally described as rural, many, as indicated by their rapid growth, are assuming the character of towns. I am speaking below the mark in asserting that there are 3,000,000 of the inhabitants of England and Wales who are not country-folk, but townspeople in their habits, their character, their circumstances, in their ways of thought, in everything in short, except in the possession of the ratepaying household suffrage. Why should an operative who spills cotton at Bury have a vote, while the operative who spins cotton at Heywood is without one? Take the case of the population who live along the high ground that lies to the west of the Valley of the Irwell. Why should a man be deprived of a voice in the government of the country because he happens to lire in that portion of the 810 long street which happens to be called Pendleton or Farnworth, instead of in that portion which happens to be called Bolton or Manchester? Take the case of the coal districts of Durham and Northumberland; and it is more important to take their case, because among the miners in that part of the country there is arising a very genuine dissatisfaction at their exclusion from the franchise—a movement which has spontaneously grown from among themselves, and is in no manner due to suggestion or provocation from without. I know a colliery where, if a man lived at one end of a tramway down which he runs coals to the quay, he would vote as a householder, and if he lived at the other he could only vote by turning himself into a landowner. These are difficulties which it requires no great ability or observation to start, but which it will take a great deal of acuteness to answer. It is all very well to say it is only a part of the question. It is a very large part indeed. We have to meet the case of what is virtually a town population of 3,000,000 who are labouring under a disqualification always irksome, and now made intolerable by comparison with others; a disqualification for which it is simply impossible to give them any reason, except that it is there, and they must put up with it. That is not the tone which the House is at present accustomed to use towards the working classes; and I therefore look forward with much interest to know how it will deal with a matter affecting a population larger than that of Canada, four times as large as that of Victoria, and ten times as large as that of Cape Colony, for which we have been painfully elaborating a Constitution replete with all the latest notions of political justice and civil equality. There is one method of dealing with it, to which resort has already been had more than once—which is sure to be recommended in the course of this debate—but to which it is earnestly to be hoped that the House will refuse a favourable hearing; and that is by redistribution of seats, to gather our whole town population within the limits of Parliamentary boroughs. It is a remedy which has already been carried much too far; but to carry it further would be to expose the nation to positive peril. It is bad to draw a hard-and-fast line between districts where political power rests with the masses, 811 and districts where it rests with the upper and middle classes; but it would be much worse if that line exactly represented the boundary of town and country. In the long run, the countries in which Government is least stable are those where the idea has become rooted that the public opinion of the nation rests exclusively in the great cities. Anyone who has carefully watched the political difficulties in neighbouring countries will know that there are weighty objections against turning men into voters by means of a wholesale creation of boroughs. A much safer remedy lies in the pages of this Bill. But hon. Members will, no doubt answer that though they are willing to enfranchise the urban population of the United Kingdom, they shrink from opening a door which would let in the entire body of agricultural labourers. Now, Sir, that is an objection which will come with a tolerable good grace from this side of the House, but of which, I am sure, we shall hear nothing from the others. There are, speaking broadly, two theories of local government in this country, both of which have had, and are having, the fairest of all trials; because, at this very moment, half the nation is living under the one, and half under the other. In the rural districts justice is administered by magistrates, in whose nomination the community has no voice, direct or indirect: county finance is managed by an ex officio Board in England, and an ad valorem Board in Scotland. Education is in the hands of benevolent and zealous men, who are under no responsibility, except to the central Government. In the towns the representatives of the people have the absolute control of finance and administration; the representatives of the people, under the Privy Council, are entrusted with the care of elementary instruction; and it is not too much to say that the community at large has an indirect means of expressing a preference in the choice of some at least among their magistrates.
Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ MR. TREVELYAN
resumed: It is this latter system which finds favour with the party to which I have the honour to belong, and from time to time we endeavour to introduce certain features of it into the government of the 812 rural districts, an attempt which is resisted by the other great party in the State, whose Members maintain that the existing state of things is the best suited of the two to the circumstances of our rural population, which under it continues to be prosperous, moral, and contented. But, Sir, hon. Gentlemen opposite have granted the franchise to the householder of the towns, who is living under a system which I will not say they disapprove, but which, at any rate, they do not regard with any special predilection. I am therefore justified in taking it for granted that they will, with greater satisfaction and a stronger sense of public security, give the franchise to the rural householder, who has existed for centuries under the influences of a system of which they are the admirers and defenders. But on our side of the House there is a good deal of uneasiness as to the results of admitting the peasantry into the electoral ranks. Now, I hope to be able to show hon. Gentlemen that there is no sufficient foundation for this feeling. To begin with, at least one-fourth of the new electors—I believe considerably more, but at least one-fourth—will not be peasants at all, but will be townspeople, to all intents and purposes, of exactly the same class and character as the present borough electors. And however high our opinion may be of those borough electors, it would be the basest and most culpable flattery towards our own constituents to pretend than in our Northern counties the labourers who till the soil are less enlightened than the labourers who work in the factories. The exclusion of the Northumberland labourer from the pale of citizenship on the ground of personal unfitness is a standing practical libel. In solid material comfort the Northumbrian hind need envy no operative in any part of the world. As to his interest in public affairs, read the daily newspapers which you find in every cottage, and see what sort of intellectual and political nourishment he is accustomed to. Compare them with the farrago of murders and divorce cases which make up the weekly budget—that which goes by the name of news in some of our Southern towns, and then say why the habitual reader of such trash is more able to give a reason for the political faith that is in him than a shepherd or drover who takes in The 813 Daily Newcastle Chronicle and The Weekly Scotsman. The hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read) and other hon. Gentlemen are bringing in a Bill for extending the principle of the Factory Acts to the agricultural districts. I honour them for it, but as far as Northumberland is concerned, their labours are superfluous; for the Northumbrian parent is a factory law to himself. There, employers and employed alike tacitly agree that no child shall be set to work before the age of 10. And the Northumbrian gives a fair indication of his fitness for having a voice in the affairs of his country, by the common sense which he shows in the management of his own. A recent complete re-arrangement of the labour question in a large part of the county not only proves that the objects aimed at by the men were of a far more solid and honourable nature than the grasping of more money to spend in the public-house, but that the negotiation was carried through successfully with the perfect good-will of the farmers themselves. And, as in Northumberland, so it is with slight variations in Cumberland, Durham, and the other Northern counties. In Yorkshire the physical comfort of the labourer in the rural districts is fully equal to that of the South country artizan; and Yorkshire alone contains more than one-tenth of the population which this Bill proposes to enfranchise. After reading the Report of Mr. Portman, the agricultural sub-Commissioner, on the state of education in Yorkshire, I was interested in observing the answer made by one of the Members for a division of the West Riding to a question put to him at a public meeting. A constituent asked why a householder who lived in the country was not as fit to vote as a householder who lived in the town; and the hon. Member, with great discretion, said that he objected to having the question put in that shape. But that is the shape in which Yorkshiremen and Northumbrians, and people in other counties too, are beginning to put it, and some answer will have to be found. And that answer must be a better one, and more founded on justice and the facts of the case, than that in giving the franchise to Northumberland and Durham we shall at the same time, be under the necessity of giving it to Dorsetshire and Wiltshire. For, so far from the extension of 814 household suffrage to Dorsetshire and Wiltshire being an evil and a danger, there are weighty reasons which may be adduced to prove that it is a good in itself, good for Parliament, good for the State, best of all for the interests of the agricultural labourer. It would be good for Parliament, because as matters stand at present, there is a permanent danger of our rendering ourselves liable to the most serious charge that can be brought against a Representative body—a want of knowledge of the people whom it professes to represent. Let me refer for a moment to the movement among the agricultural labourers which began about a twelvemonth back. On the very eve of the commencement of that movement there was no mention in this House of the existence of any general discontent in the rural districts. You may read our Journals during the first part of last Session without finding any symptom whatever that within a few weeks every tongue and pen would be employed in discussing the grievances of the agricultural labourer. If so general and spontaneous a movement was brewing among the artizans of the towns, we may be sure that we should not be left to learn about it from the newspapers. It is not that Parliament has a less kindly feeling towards the country than towards the town population—I am inclined to think it is rather the other way; but whenever you give the vote to any class of men you constitute their Parliamentary Representative into an unpaid Commissioner for inquiring into their wishes, their opinions, and their condition; and. as we refuse the vote to the agricultural population, we must try to get at those wishes through the medium of a paid Commission, which is the same thing as saying that, except in a superficial manner, we shall not get at them at all. But such little as we are able to ascertain respecting the real sentiments of the classes who have no vote proves to us hows eriously they are misunderstood. If there is one statement more than another which has been dinned into our ears in season and out of season, it is that compulsory education cannot be applied universally, because the cottagers are averse to sending their children to school when they might be at work. But that statement, so disheartening to all who have the interest of the country at heart, is ex- 815 pressly contradicted by the Bishop of Manchester, when Sub-Commissioner, who tells us officially that it is the almost unanimous opinion of the labouring men, that continuous school attendance up to the age of 12 or 13 would be no detriment to a boy with a view to his future career as a farm labourer. We have been told that in the West Country labourers like to be paid part—I am sorry to say a very large part—of their wages in cider. On the other hand, one of the first resolutions passed by labour unions in country districts is, that no part of a man's wages shall be paid in spirituous liquor. Nor need there necessarily be anything incompatible between the two statements. A man is often a higher being in the exercise of a public function than as an individual; and the same poor fellow who will drink away his wife and children's bread in selfish gratification, if you give him the franchise will only be too glad of the opportunity of rising above himself, and will send to Parliament a Member pledged to remove from him the temptation of the cider truck. These are indications which prove to hon. Gentlemen that we may safely give the franchise not only to such places as Barnsley, and Keighley, and Croydon, and Luton, and Wallsend, and Accrington; not only to such counties as Cumberland and Cheshire, where wages are good and education high; but that even in what may be called the depressed districts of England there would be a great deal more to be learned than to be feared from the new voters. And the qualities in which they are deficient the possession of the franchise will give them; for there is no such potent instrument of education, whether we look to its direct or its indirect influence. The experience of all countries is that public instruction follows fast on the heels of the suffrage. In Canada the first consequence of the institution of universal suffrage was universal and obligatory education. And the impulse which the extension of the vote gives to popular education does not confine itself to the passing of a single law. In countries where the popular clement is supreme, the richer and more influential part of the community have the strongest motives to see that the people are fit to govern themselves; and the consequence is that for many years past those classes across the Atlantic have been devoting 816 themselves to this task with a persistency and an energy of which we had no idea till the year 1867 had come and gone, and till the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us that it was high time to see about educating our masters. It is, therefore, in the character of educationists, as well as in that of politicians, that we may press forward this Bill; and in fact still more so, for I feel far more certain of the effect the household suffrage will produce on the education of the people than upon the composition of this House. We do not know on which side of the House Members returned under the new system will sit; but we do know the Representatives would continue to be chosen from much the same class which provides them at present. If this Bill becomes law, the Representatives for the counties will be the same men, but they will be actuated by new ideas and new motives, for they will have the strongest of all incentives to ascertain and express the feelings of great masses of men who at this moment have absolutely no constitutional method whatever for making known their wishes and their grievances. Some hon. Friends of mine have urged me to postpone the Bill until we see the effect of the Ballot upon the existing county constituencies. They point to the recent elections in Scotland, to the increasing boldness of the resolutions passed by Farmers Clubs and Chambers of Agriculture, and prophesy that if we let the leaven work, within 10 years we shall have 50 tenant-farmers sitting on these benches; but that by bringing forward this measure on our side of the House, we frighten and alienate the farmers, who consider their interests as opposed to those of the labourers. But, Sir, so far from the interests of the farmers and labourers being opposed, I believe that Mr. Cobden never uttered a truer word, than when he said that the welfare of the tenantry and the labourers is identical, and that the last can never be prosperous where the former is degraded. And, Sir, if it was indeed the case that the interests of the two classes are opposite, and their feelings hostile, then the fact that the farmers were beginning to choose class Representatives for the purpose of pushing their own views, would be a contingency which would lay upon us a moral obligation of passing this Bill without the delay of 817 a single Session. Representative government is a rough and ready method of doing justice all round by providing all contending interests with a fair field and no favour; and the more we extend its limits, the harder it is for those who are excluded from the competition. I do not wish to renew the debate of last Session, and to show how with regard to the three great classes of measures which are devised for the benefit of those who look for their comfort to legislative enactments to an extent which the rich find it hard to realize—the country is already on average a generation behind the town. The Truck Acts, the Artizans' and Labourers' Dwelling Acts, and the Acts for preserving the children of the poor from premature and excessive labour have not even arrived at the dignity of being a dead letter in the rural districts. They do not oven profess to apply there. No one can deny that in some parts of rural England there exists misery, pauperism, and vice disgraceful to the country and the century; and if we can have the advantage of hearing those who suffer speak for themselves through the mouth of their Representatives; if by the magic power of the suffrage the labourer of the country can attract to his sad condition some part of the interest that has hitherto been lavished almost exclusively on the workmen of the towns, I, for one, would gladly purchase that result by the sacrifice of not a few votes in a party division in this House. And now, Sir, I will briefly call attention to the provisions of this Bill, which, short as it is, I think will, on examination, be found adequate to accomplish the purposes put forth in the Preamble. In the first place, it has been asked why the whole United Kingdom has not been included in the same Bill? The answer is, that the franchise is of all questions that with regard to which it is wise to proceed on the old lines, and the great Acts of modern days for registration and enfranchisement, and the Bills introduced by private Members which were the forerunners of those Acts, deal separately with England and Scotland; and anyone who has attempted to master the intricacies, and I will even say the iniquities of English registration will allow that it is not Scotland that has suffered by the separation. And though the prospects of this Bill may lose some- 818 thing by leaving out Scotland, which some think is the strongest part of our case, those who hold that opinion will for the same reason rest assured that if the English Bill becomes law, on the a fortiori, or rather the a dissuiori principle, household suffrage is as good as assured to Scotland. And now as to the number of householders who will probably, or approximately, be enfranchised by the clause. There are nearly 2,500,000 inhabited houses in the counties of England and Wales, at the rate of 1 in 5 of the population. There are nearly 1,850,000 inhabited houses in boroughs, at the rate of 1 to 6 of the population. The 1,850,000 houses in the boroughs provide about 1,200,000 electors who vote as householders, or about 65 per cent. on the houses, and in the same ratio the householding voters in the counties would amount to 1,625,000. But there are already 800,000 county electors on the register who have to be deducted from this number, with the exception of those residing within the boundaries of boroughs, who amount to about 1 in 10 of the number. Deducting, then, the householders in counties who already possess votes, we arrive at the conclusion that this Bill would increase the constituency in round numbers by 900,000 names. These are large figures, but in matters relating to the franchise we have become accustomed to deal with largo figures. We have learned by a happy experience to look not at the numbers of the electors, but at the character of the Representatives whom they elect; and we rely on the authority of the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) who, speaking with just pride of his own work, tells us that Members or Parliament are not worse citizens, and not more reckless legislators than they were when one elector voted for them where three vote now. The next two clauses of the Bill need no remark here, and will be more fitly discussed in Committee; though it is hardly necessary to observe to a House, many Members of which had the pleasure of listening to the present Prime Minister's speeches in 1867, that household suffrage would be a delusion unless we extend to the compounder in counties the full franchise and privileges that by the Act of 1869 are secured to the compounder in boroughs. The 4th clause, however, requires a short explanation. Hon. 819 Members for Northern boroughs will not need to be reminded that great discomfort has been caused during the last autumn by the wholesale disfranchisement of a portion of the mining population who held their houses in part payment of wages. There was a difference of opinion among the revising barristers; but where the decision was given for exclusion, the ground was that a clause had been inserted in the leases—not with any political motive, but in order to give the landlord absolute command over his property—that the occupier was "not to be deemed a tenant." The case was strengthened by the irregularity in some cases of the arrangement between the overseer and the owner; a state of things which the 2nd subsection is designed to meet. The 3rd sub-section is less local in its operation, and will remedy a state of the law under which large numbers of persons whom Parliament intended to be voters have been unable to obtain the suffrage, while others hold it only on the condition of constant uncertainty. There is a class of voters whom it has often been proposed to disfranchise, and those are the faggot voters, under whatever qualification they are entered. Sometimes it is a fictitious rentcharge; sometimes an old house which claims to belong to so many landlords that, if they all resided in it at once, the local Board of Health would have to interefere. Sometimes a county is astonished at the appearance of a score of mysterious strangers, standing all at once in the relation of feudal superiors to some great nobleman of the neighbourhood. Sir, we have been told—and you may be very sure that we shall be told again in the course of this debate, that the franchise in the boroughs represents numbers, and the franchise in the counties represents property. But what a burlesque of the representation of property it is when a life-rent of £10 a-year is sold for a bill of £200, bearing interest at 5 per cent, the interest of which is set off against the payment of the rent; when, by means of feu-duties, you can make £1,000 worth of votes on a pig-stye—when a troop of attorneys and land agents, and gamekeepers from the other end of the island may swamp the real property, the real persons, the real public opinion of a community. There are two means of dealing with this evil—either by enforcing residence 820 within the county, or, by an analogy with boroughs, within seven miles of its borders; and, secondly, by destroying the qualifications under which the creation of faggot votes is carried on. In answer to hon. Gentlemen who have urged me to adopt one or another of these expedients, I reply that this is an enfranchising and not a disfranchising Bill. The Bill, however, will deal with faggot voting, indirectly indeed, but most efficaciously—for if it passes into law, instead of the faggot voters swamping the rightful electors, the rightful electors will finally and irretrievably swamp the faggot voters. Besides, the ultimate action of the measure will infallibly be to sweep away all by-franchises, whatever their antiquity. Household suffrage, like Aaron's rod, will swallow up the other qualifications, which at present can be defended on the ground that they admit fresh names to the electoral roll; but which, when every householder has the suffrage, will have no effect but that of giving more than one vote to the same person. And now, Sir, having explained both the provisions and the omissions of the Bill, I shall stand no longer in the way of a discussion which cannot fail to command great and general interest. Last year my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir John Kennaway) upbraided me with having started a subject which would be an obstacle in the way of more pressing questions already ripe for legislation. Sir, you might as well propound the theory that by increasing the horse-power of a factory you would diminish its production. Anyone who compares the legislative out-turn of the last four Sessions with the four years, aye, and the 20 years that preceded them, will, whatever his opinion may be as to the nature and the need of that legislation, allow that the time we spent over the Reform Bills of 1867 and 1868 has borne fruit many times over in the magnitude of our undertakings. The hon. Friend to whom I refer has put his name to a Bill for regulating the employment of children in agriculture. That Bill is very good as far as it goes; but if he came here speaking in the name not of 10,000 farmers and freeholders, but of 20,000 householders, I am confident that he would be asking us to give him direct instead of indirect compulsion, enforced 821 by an effective and not a feeble and uncertain machinery; and whether the consideration of this question is, or is not, to delay Public Business for years is a matter which the House has in its own hands. It is impossible to saddle any individual with the responsibility of a measure which the nature of things is rapidly and irresistibly bringing to the front. We draw a distinction almost unknown in any constitutional country, or in our own colonies; which did not exist even here in its present invidious and aggravated form before 1867, between the inhabitants of the towns and the inhabitants of rural England. We brand our village population as if they were political pagans, just as their class were accounted religious pagans in the days of the Roman Empire. At a time when we must soon be debating questions nearly concerning their welfare, bodily, intellectual, and religious, we cut ourselves off from all acquaintance with their own opinions as to their own affairs, except such as comes to us filtered through the medium of the speeches and resolutions of self-elected politicians, responsible to no colleagues, and to no constituency, and all this we do, not because there is any reason for it in logic, in justice, or in common sense, but because it was so ruled by the wisdom of your ancestors—that is to say, because 400 years ago one of the worst Parliaments that ever sat in this country robbed the county inhabitants of their votes on the ground that—to use the very words of the Act—"being people of small substance and no value, they pretended a voice equivalent with the most worthy knights and esquires." There is a story told of Napoleon, who, in the park at Fontainebleau, noticed a sentry walking to and fro in the middle of a grass plot. On inquiry, he ascertained that in the time of Louis XIV. some young trees had been planted there, and a soldier was placed to keep off the cows. The plantation had grown up, had withered, and all traces of it had disappeared, but the sentry walked there still; and so we keep up a difference between the town and the county franchise, because in 1429 a Parliament of Henry VI. was afraid of our rural population. That fear has altogether passed away. What danger is there for us in giving the franchise to the householders? They are the heads of families, the industrious 822 stationary population of the country. We are accustomed to assert that the mass of our people are loyal to the Queen, tender of the rights of property, attached to the institutions under which they have the happiness to live. Well, then, by voting for the Bill, we shall prove that we believe what we say. By voting it, we shall show that we use this language from the teeth outwards. In the hope that I have said nothing to damage a cause with regard to which my desire is that the day may come quickly for me to deliver it over to more potent and responsible hands, I beg to commit the Bill to the earnest consideration of the House.
MR. OSBORNE MORGAN
, in seconding the Motion, as a county Member, said, if he had consulted his own convenience, or his own pocket, that would have been the last Bill he would have touched. County constituencies were already unwieldy enough; but inasmuch as that was a change which must come sooner or later, he thought the House might as well make up its mind. There were a number of large towns which were represented only in the counties. Why should not St. Helens, for instance, with 45,000 inhabitants, have a Representative as much as Warrington with 35,000 inhabitants? There was a time when the peasant belonged to a different class and represented a different interest; but now the urban population had overflowed into the country; and, given the same amount of education, he very much doubted whether the rural population were not quite as much to be trusted as the urban population. No danger was to be anticipated from the change proposed in the Bill; but he did see danger in 900,000 or 1,000,000 men brooding over real or imaginary grievances, and whose wrongs were aggravated by the thought that they were not to have a voice in redressing them. There had been no Sheffield rattening in the counties, or strikes, except the miserable Chipping Norton affair, of which the less said the better, and in foreign countries the peasant population who exercised the franchise were the Conservative backbone of the country. The household Parliament had turned out very much the same as former Parliaments, notwithstanding the dreary forebodings which some people had indulged in. He was not afraid of ex- 823 tending household suffrage, therefore, to the counties, but he thought there was some danger in excluding such a large number of men from exercising the privilege. He should support the measure, if it was pressed to a division; but he did not think it was a question which could be properly dealt with in the last few weeks of an expiring Session; it was, however, a question which was rapidly coming to the front, and one which would have to be taken in hand before very long.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the second time."—(Mr. Trevelyan.)
§ MR. COLLINS,
in rising to move "the Previous Question," said, that the House appeared to be placed in a position of some difficulty looking at the various Amendments placed upon the Paper against the second reading of the Bill. The fate of the attempts so frequently made by the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Locke King) and the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Baines) showed that it was utterly useless to propose to deal with a question of this nature in a fragmentary manner, as the hon. Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan) now desired to do. That that was so was made evident even more recently, for in spite of the eloquence of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, the House refused in 1866 to consider the Representation of the People Bill and the Redistribution of Seats Bill separately, and not only referred both measures to the same Committee, but gave that Committee power to weld them into one. He deprecated piecemeal legislation on so important a question; for the fact was, that in dealing with the re-constitution of that House, they had to consider not only who should vote, but to take care that there was a fair representation for all the classes, for the different sentiments, and even the different prejudices that were to be found in this great community. No one could look at the present House without to some degree deploring the loss of the small boroughs which frequently returned not only men of ability, but of independence of thought. They did not require a set of dummies sent to that House to carry out the views of an ignorant constituency meeting in the market places, or a parcel of delegates returned 824 for the purpose of repealing the Contagious Diseases Acts, or carrying other particular crotchets. Therefore, in considering a question of that kind they had to bear in mind that it formed only a small portion of a subject far greater, and required, if dealt with at all, to be dealt with as a whole. The consequence was, that a question of this nature brought on at that period of the Session converted the House of Commons into little if anything more than a debating society. He would, however, adduce a few instances to show how unfairly the Bill, if carried, would operate if it were unaccompanied by any proposal for the re-distribution of seats. Lincolnshire, for example, with a town population of 92,000 inhabitants, returned eight borough Members, or one Member to about 11,500 inhabitants. Its rural population of 343,000, with only six Members, would only have two Members to every 115,000 of the population. In the North Riding of Yorkshire, again, there were 10 borough Members to a population of 160,000, or one to every 16,000. The rural population of 186,000 was, however, represented at the rate of one Member to every 93,000. The West Riding of Yorkshire, too, presented a glaring example of the inequality of the town and the county representations. In the West Riding there was a very considerable agricultural population, although it was small in comparison with that devoted to manufactures. The town population amounted to 887,000, and the representation was one Member to 55,000 inhabitants in round numbers; the average of the representation of the rural population, amounting to 928,000 inhabitants, by county Members, was, in round numbers, one Member to 150,000 inhabitants. In fact, the population was represented in the comparison, as in the ratio of three for boroughs to one for counties. The admission of Representatives of the labouring classes to Parliament had been deprecated; but he was not prepared to express a belief that the effect would not be beneficial. In fact, he thought that the agricultural labourer might be properly called in to modify the power which the present law gave to the tenant-farmers. The question would have to be grappled with some time or other. He thought the country would, to a certain extent, keep 825 up the distinction between county and borough Members; but that the tendency would be to diminish the number of borough Members and increase the number of the county Representatives. If we added 1,000,000 electors to the county roll by making the constituencies homogeneous, it was impossible to suppose that the matter could stop there. The great point was to have a system of representation that would send to Parliament the best men to make the laws but the question was not an easy one, nor so simple as the hon. Member for the Border Burghs affected to believe. It was a question, in fact, that would not be settled until two or three Parliaments had tried their hands at it, and two or three Governments had come into office for the purpose and gone out. They must look the whole question in the face. The representation, both in counties and towns, he admitted, was eminently unsatisfactory, as it had become merely a representation of bare majorities. A large majority of the county Members sat on that side of the House, and in nearly every county both Members belonged to the same party, the effect of extending the franchise having been to make people vote more and more on the party ticket. We might advantageously take a lesson from the Americans, who had adopted a much more scientific mode of representation than ours. The matter could not be dealt with satisfactorily without a moderate re-distribution of seats, as a large number of small towns would have to be disfranchised, while additional Members would have to be given to the larger towns and the larger counties. If a Bill like the present should ever pass, together with a measure for the re-distribution of seats, he believed and hoped that we should have to adopt the cumulative vote, or some other method of proportional representation. The metropolis returned 22 Members for a population of about 3,000,000 in the metropolitan borough area. London, it might be said, was divided into 10 wards; and at the last Election, with one exception, that of Westminster, it returned Members all of a colour. There was no minority clause in operation, except with reference to the City; and under no circumstance ought the Metropolis to have the same proportion as those more distant places, for the Loudon Members were always on the 826 spot, while others had a distance, sometimes a long one, to travel to the House. Taking the metropolis widely, he did not think he would be overstating the case, if he said that one-third of the electors of the metropolis would vote for Members on the Conservative side of the House. Supposing they divided Marylebone, or the Tower Hamlets, or St. Pancras, or separated Chelsea from Hammersmith, the result of increasing the number of Members without at the same time representing the minorities would be only an aggravation of the existing evil. That was not all, however, for according to Dod, of the four divisions into which Lancashire was divided, 25,700 electors voted for the eight hon. Gentlemen who sat for Lancashire, and 23,000 voted for those who would have sat on the Opposition benches. So that 25,700 electors returned eight Members, and 23,000 returned none. That was a system which could not be prolonged. In the three last elections in the West Riding of Yorkshire, in each case the election had been carried by the smallest possible number. In the Eastern Division, with 16,000 or 17,000 electors, the election was won by 88 votes. In the Southern Division of Yorkshire, with a constituency of 16,000, the election was won by eight votes, and in the Northern Division by 44. Other constituencies were placed in a similar position, and to pass a measure, therefore, like the present, which would give a county, say, Lancashire for instance, more Members under the present unjust system, would be to render that system unworkable, and therefore put an end to its continuance. That system was only tolerable because it came down to them from antiquity; and if it should ever be a question of really improving the representation, it would have to be done on an entirely different plan, and something more than bare majorities must be represented. The proposal to turn the town population into the rural, and have equal electoral districts, was one, in his opinion, that ought not to be entertained. When the question came to be earnestly taken in hand, it must be dealt with on an entirely new principle, and it would then be necessary that reference should be had, not to a mere numerical majority, but to the wishes of constituencies generally. He refused to regard that as a question of the mere 827 extension of the suffrage. In fact, the hon. and learned Member for Denbigh gave up the whole point when he said that although he should be ready to vote for the Bill, he hoped it would not be pressed to a division; thereby implying that except so far as it was a step to something more, the present measure was a mere abstract Resolution. He was sure the hon. Member for the Border Burghs would not like the question to be settled on any such unsatisfactory grounds. The time would doubtless arrive when public opinion would be ripe for another Reform Bill; but whenever the subject was dealt with at all, it must be dealt with in one comprehensive Bill, having reference to the representation of England, Ireland, and Scotland. In conclusion, he begged now to submit the Motion of which he had given Notice.
§ SIR JOHN KENNAWAY
, in seconding the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Boston, said, he had placed on the Notice Paper a Motion for discharging the Order for the Second Reading of the Bill, because he did not think the hon. Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan) could really have intended to proceed with a Bill of that character at so late a period of the Session. He now thought, however, that instead of persevering with his own Motion, the better course would be for him to second the Amendment just moved by his hon. and learned Friend. Hon. Members had good cause to complain of being invited, towards the close of the Session, to discuss a question which at the present moment was a purely speculative one, more especially when it was considered that the discussion could lead to no practical result, as any legislative action upon it would be purely out of the question. The only thing it could possibly lead to, might be some political feeling outside the House, but he did not think it would be much. He did not think the agitation in the rural districts would be permanent, or that there was any real desire to re-open the question of reform. No doubt, there were men outside the boroughs who had held large meetings at which resolutions had been passed in favour of the Bill, and who felt themselves to be superior in intellect to many of the householders in boroughs who now enjoyed the franchise; but they were not in a hurry, for they knew the franchise 828 would come in good time, and they were willing to wait. There were many more pressing matters than that which Parliament was called upon to deal with. Moreover, whenever the question of Parliamentary Reform was re-opened, it must be met in a different manner from that of 10 or 12 years ago. The Parliament had admitted the householders in boroughs to the suffrage, and the country had not suffered from the change. He had always had a feeling of confidence in the people, and had never been an anti-Reformer; but with regard to the present time, he thought there never was greater cause for prudence, and it was most undesirable for the House to rush precipitately into a measure of that kind. So large a number would be enfranchised by such a Bill that it would he necessary to consider the question of the re-distribution of seats at the same time. It was impossible that the existing inequalities and anomalies of boroughs and counties should continue. When the hon. Member for the Border Burghs, however, asked the House on a July afternoon to pass such a Bill as that, he had no choice but to vote for the hon. and learned Member for Boston. At the same time, he had no wish permanently to exclude the labourers, and when the time came for enfranchising them, they must be admitted heartily to the suffrage. He could not, however, admit that the agricultural labourer had been ignored in the recent legislation because he had no vote. Many measures had been adopted by the Legislature during the last few years which had raised him in the social scale and increased his home comforts. Complaint had been made that the Artizans' Dwellings Act had not been extended to the country, but the dwellings of labourers in the rural districts would compare favourably with those in towns. A clergyman at the East-end of London told him the other clay that porters and others frequently came up from the Eastern Counties to obtain employment on the railway in London. When they came up, they, their wives, and children were healthy and strong, but after they had lived in London for a short time they pined away, especially the children, so that he hardly knew them again. The great object of the promoters of the Bill seemed to be to put on more steam, in order to obtain more 829 legislation. Indeed, the case was like that of the captain of the steam-boat in America, who, when racing, put more steam on, and sat upon the safety-valve, with what result might easily be imagined. In order to avoid such a catastrophe he hoped that the House would be inclined to wait a little in the matter, he being anxious at the same time that all parties should be represented in a fair and proper manner.
Previous Question proposed, "That that Question be now put."—(Mr. Collins.)
§ MR. CADOGAN
said, he represented a district of Wiltshire which contained nearly one-third of the whole population of the county—it comprised 31 parishes, 30 of which were rural and one urban—that of Swindon, where some 20,000 or 25,000 highly paid operatives in the employment of the Great Western Railway were resident. No constituency could have left greater liberty of action to their Member than his constituency had done, and he totally denied that if the franchise were extended to the labourers, they would be sending up mere delegates to Parliament. The question whether the agricultural labourer ought not to have the same franchise as his neighbours in the towns was one that required immediate settlement. When they considered to what a remarkable extent of late the intellect and freedom of the agricultural labourer had come out, he contended that he ought to, and that sooner or later he would. He believed that the public activity on this subject would increase, instead of dying out as the Conservatives fondly hoped. Hon. Members opposite deceived themselves, if they thought the public were not awake to the importance of the subject, and that the Bill was a mere clap-trap, or a pop-gun fired off on a Wednesday's sitting for political purposes.
§ MR. BEACH
said, it was always inconvenient to attach a specific pecuniary qualification to the franchise, because whatever the amount, there were certain to be Motions in favour of reducing it to a smaller sum. Thus, in the course of years, there was found to be no convenient resting-place between the £10 franchise and household suffrage. When the freehold franchise for counties was supplemented by the Chandos Clause, 830 further reductions in the £50 tenancy were inevitable. Hitherto the chief qualification in counties was the freehold franchise, and it was surprising how many of the agricultural working population already possessed the franchise. When he said that, he did not grudge them the privilege, the chief objection was to their number. Admitting that still larger numbers were as competent to exercise the franchise as the householders in towns, he could not help seeing that the result of admitting these vast numbers would be that the county constituencies would become so unwieldy that they could not be managed in any way. The difficulty of conveying voters to the poll in counties was already very great, and, seeing the deficiency of polling-places, how could the householders in agricultural villages be asked to walk several miles, and give up a whole day's work in order to exercise the franchise? It was now illegal to ask these men to eat or drink anything. Directly the Legislature made the franchise uniform in towns and counties, it must face the question of electoral re-distribution. What they wanted was, that the present constituencies should be supplemented and strengthened, but not altogether swamped. The present constituencies, however, were scarcely prepared to be swept away and to see the whole of England carved out into squares. Some means must be found to lessen the preponderance of mere numbers. Whether it would be desirable to adopt the minority vote or the cumulative vote might be matter for consideration; but it would be absolutely necessary to secure the fair representation of minorities throughout the length and breadth of the land. It was not by stirring tip agitation on behalf of the agricultural labourer that his interests could be best promoted, but by promoting good feeling between the tenants and labourers, and by admitting the latter from time to time to a share in the representation.
§ MR. DIXON
congratulated the hon. Member who had introduced the Bill, on the manner in which it had been received. He rejoiced to hear so many admissions from hon. Gentlemen opposite that the agricultural labourers were as well fitted to exercise the franchise as the artizans in towns. He was glad to hear that, because, of course, they did not expect to carry the Bill that Session, 831 and such an expression of opinion would facilitate the progress of that kind of legislation in the future. He could assure those hon. Members that there was not the slightest jealousy of the counties on the part of the towns. He would also admit that whenever the House approached the question of a fair distribution of political power, a very much larger number of Members must be given to the counties. If the agricultural labourers were, as alleged, as intelligent as the artizans in towns and wanted the franchise, it would only be a gracious act on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite to concede to them a position of equality in regard to Parliamentary elections. It was a question of time only. In that conviction he was strengthened by what he had seen and heard at recent meetings in connection with the new movement, which had originated with the labourers themselves, Mr. Arch, their President, being an agricultural labourer. He believed that the present discussion would hasten the settlement of that important question. With respect to equal electoral districts, he would say that just in proportion as the franchise was fairly and justly distributed in all parts of the country, rural and urban, so would the real mind of the people be represented within that House, and its power and influence as a Legislative Body would be increased.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
Sir, the hon. Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan) knows that he has not the slightest chance of carrying the Bill beyond its present stage. I do not blame him for bringing the question on so late in the Session, because he was prevented from doing it earlier by the prospect of a change of Government; but, then, the House has this to consider—Can it afford to devote day after clay to the function of a mere debating club? This morning an hon. Member called your attention, Sir, to the fact of there not being 40 Members present in the House. I have no doubt that he intended no disrespect to the House. Still, he was open to reproach, because by the Rules of the House, even though there may not be 40 Members present, you, Sir, must remain in that Chair until 4 o'clock; and I think that no stronger testimony could be borne to the sense of the House, that it is wasting its time to-day, than the 832 fact that 40 Members were not present, and that you were in danger of being left nearly isolated in the Chair. At the same time, I wish to express the strong opinion which I entertain, that any hon. Member who takes upon himself to call the attention of the House to the fact of 40 Members not being present, when you cannot leave the Chair, acts disrespectfully towards the House. I wish now to state very briefly my view of the agitation out-of-doors, whence the proposal contained in this Bill has emanated. The hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Dixon) is connected with that agitation, and so is the hon. Member for the Border Burghs. [Mr. TREVELYAN: What agitation?] I believe the hon. Member has attended meetings of the Agricultural Labourers Union, over which the hon. Member for Birmingham presides. [Mr. TREVELYAN: As a matter of fact, I did not attend those meetings, and I wrote, and stated that it was on public grounds, that I could not.] I am bound to believe that the hon. Member has not attended these meetings, but then a near relative of his takes an active part in the Union. Perhaps that relative was his representative on such occasions. I wish to state to the House that this union began with a real grievance. It originated in a desire to equalize and redress wages; in itself, a perfectly legitimate object; and no one has ever heard me say a single word in depreciation of that movement—though it originated in my own county, and was opposed by many Friends of mine—until its organization was applied to other purposes. Before Christmas that agitating body held a meeting in London, at which it declared itself in favour of a whole category of revolutionary change, which I do not believe to be sanctioned by the great body of those who joined it originally as a trades union for a legitimate purpose. That meeting was marked by the appearance of Archbishop Manning as a supporter of Mr. Arch in proposing that category of revolutionary change, not more revolutionary than the changes which Archbishop Manning proposed with respect to the laud of Ireland, but equally revolutionary with respect to property; Mr. Arch has changed his ground, and has become distinctly a political agitator. I wish the House to observe the alteration which has taken place in the character of that agitation 833 to which at first I was not opposed; but I think it has now fallen into dangerous hands, and is subject to dangerous influences; and I cannot sit in this House without warning the House that a very-great change has taken place in the objects and purposes of those who guide and control that organization. I think it only right that as one of the Members for the county, I should state what I have observed with regard to the marked change that has taken place in the constitution and objects of this organization. And now, with respect to the proposal before the House, I wish to say a very few words. When the Elections Bill for establishing secret voting was under discussion in this House, I expressed the opinion that the Legislature would find it very difficult to resist a proposal, first, for household suffrage in counties; and I cited the opinion of Lord Palmerston that such would be the effect of the change made by Parliament upon the character of the franchise, that there could be no security that Parliament, if it should adhere to that change, would be able to resist a further step to universal or manhood suffrage; and that Parliament would be fortunate if it stopped at manhood suffrage, because when the voting is secret no voter is in any sense a representative of others, nor indeed can be; and if a proposal is carried for the enfranchisement of women, it will be impossible to maintain in principle the distinction between women who are possessed of property and other women who have none. I venture to call the attention of the House to the opinion of Lord Palmerston on the subject, and to say nothing of my own; but I know that in America the feeling is strong respecting the dangers arising from this system; that in America, instead of advancing as we are invited to advance, all the best men are considering the means by which to retrograde. Because they see that secret voting destroys all responsibility in the voter; and when you have destroyed responsibility in the voter, you very soon destroy genuine responsibility in the representative; and having destroyed the genuine responsibility of the representative to public opinion, you destroy the confidence of the constituencies in their representatives. Thus, constitutional Government falls into that disrepute which sooner or later ends in its subversion by a despotism in 834 some form or other. The House will forgive my reference to America and the opinions of Americans, as well as to the opinion expressed by Lord Palmerston on this subject. I have remarked, Sir, that in the course of this debate no hon. Member has appeared to consider the question, as it is likely to affect the Commonwealth of England. What was the argument of the hon. Member for the Border Burghs? Of course, he dwelt largely on the plea for equality. Every man, who does not think that his merits are duly appreciated, is always calling out for equality; by which he means the opportunity of placing himself above his equals. That is the real feeling which is at the bottom of the cry for equality. These persons are not satisfied with equality for themselves, yet, strange to say, they are ever proclaiming their attachment to equality; and for this purpose—theywish all others to be on a dead level, that they may themselves rise above it. I have not much respect, then, for this argument of equality. I never knew two men who were exactly equal. I never knew two men who were exactly alike; and as to variety of features, let anyone look across the House. When hon. Members witness all these differences, let them ask themselves where equality is to be found. My view is, that the House is wasting time that might be better spent, because we know that we are debating a proposal which cannot be carried this Session, and that is, in my opinion, wasting the time of the House; and this the experience of the present Session and the records of the Order Book of this House prove—that, if the House desires to retain the respect of this country as a House of business, it must adopt some means by which we shall be able to avoid these inopportune discussions, and proceed with that which really is its necessary business. With respect to this proposal for establishing household suffrage in counties, I have stated before in this House, that when Parliament shall have finally decided that secret voting shall be a permanent institution in this country, thus making the vote a property personal in the man himself and not a trust to be exercised for the benefit of others and of all; when that principle has been finally adopted by Parliament, I see no means of resisting a further extension of the 835 suffrage; and I expect, nay, I fear, that although you may talk of household suffrage now or household suffrage then, secrecy of voting will have this inevitable result—it will tend to universal suffrage, and by universal suffrage the Constitution of this country must, ac-according to the laws of democracy, be undermined, and if precedents go for anything, England, instead of continuing free, will lapse, as other countries have lapsed, under some form of despotism.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
Sir, as I intend to vote for the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan), I wish, in a very few words, to state the reasons why, speaking not on behalf of the Government, but as an individual Member who has long taken a deep interest in all questions connected with the suffrage, I shall take this course. I regret, and I think we must all regret, that my hon. Friend should have been obliged to propose the second reading of the Bill at a period of the Session when it is impossible for it to receive the attention which would have been given to it at an earlier period. That is not, however, the fault of my hon. Friend. He has done his utmost to bring forward the Bill much earlier, when its discussion could have had a more practical effect; but I think he has done quite right in not having withdrawn it altogether. He would have done wrong, in my opinion, if lie had prevented a discussion upon the merits of the question involved in the measure which he has brought forward. This is a matter in which there is much interest in the country generally, and it would be a mistake for hon. Members on either side of the House to think that is not the case. In point of fact I do not think that hon. Members on the other side of the House entertain any such ideas, more than I believe such feelings prevail on this side. That a large and increasing interest in the question exists among the class most deeply affected, is shown by the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Dixon) has to-day presented a very numerously signed Petition in support of the Bill from the Agricultural Labourers Union. The fact that the class of persons composing that Union are not directly represented in this House makes it the more desir- 836 able that we should not as a House altogether shirk or disregard a question in which they feel an interest. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for the Border Burghs upon having brought forward the Bill, because I do not remember a case of a very important measure like this, on which I suppose there is a difference of opinion in the country, being brought before the House, in favour of which there seemed to be generally so favourable an opinion, and so little opposition. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Boston (Mr. Collins) carefully guarded himself against expressing au opinion adverse to the principle of the Bill. In fact, his speech was rather in favour of it, and also in favour of other two measures which would effect a very considerable alteration in the boundaries of representation. I thought my hon. and learned Friend seemed to go almost as far as assenting to electoral districts, proportional representation, and the cumulative vote. The hon. Member who followed him (Sir John Kenneway) took very much the same line, and the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), instead of urging some of the objections which in the old days were pressed against the extension of the suffrage to householders in counties, stated that he fully expected such an extension to be made, but that he was only dolorous as to the future result. [Mr. NEWDEGATE: I did not state that I desired it.] The hon. Member has spent rather a long time in this House in prophesying all sorts of evil results as likely to follow from projected legislation in a Liberal direction, and then when the anticipated results have accrued, in pointing out how no very great evil had followed after all. The hon. Member has on the present occasion contended that the extension of the franchise to household suffrage to occupiers in counties will tend towards the bourne of absolute democracy, and his argument went not against dealing with the subject, but against dealing with it alone; but I think the arguments he has used possess more force—if indeed they have any force at all—as against the Ballot Act, than they do against the measure which is now under consideration. I am well aware that it is impossible to treat the question without considering other questions of which it re- 837 minds us; but hon. Members must recollect that these questions start up alongside the present Bill without being absolutely connected with it. Undoubtedly, if we gave household suffrage to all the householders in counties, a question might arise as to the present relation between borough and county representation. Such questions have arisen already, entirely apart from the considerations raised by the present Bill, and, therefore, I think we may very fairly consider whether we should or should not look forward pretty soon to the extension of the franchise to all householders in counties. That is a matter upon which, as an old household suffrage man, I want to say a word or two. It is now about 30 years since I began to take part in political life, and one of the first principles that occurred to me was, that votes ought to be given to all householders throughout the land. I do not go as far as the hon. Member for North Warwickshire seems to think us likely to go. I would not proceed further than household suffrage. I think a very strong line can and ought to be drawn between household suffrage, or rather what I should be inclined to call hearthstone suffrage, and universal manhood and womanhood suffrage. The man who is the head of a family seems to me to give a very fair line of distinction as to the point at which the suffrage should stop. There has been considerable legislation on the question, and at the present time, the only householders who are excluded from the suffrage are the householders in counties, which is, I think, an answer to the objection of the hon. and learned Member for Boston as to piecemeal suffrage. Piecemeal suffrage with this question would be put an end to by the passing of an Act which should put all householders on a level. The question is, not so much whether the suffrage should be extended to these householders, as whether they should be any longer excluded from it. In 1867 a Bill extending the suffrage was passed in this House, and it may be asked why these householders were not included in that measure. I will not enter upon the history of that Bill. A good many of my hon. Friends opposite, and some on this side of the House, found themselves giving household suffrage to boroughs before they had any intention of doing so, and before 838 they had any notion that it was going to be done; and as they rather unexpectedly took the step, I am not surprised that they did not extend the suffrage to householders in counties. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), to whom I am very grateful for leading his party into that position, has frequently found it necessary to comfort his adherents with arguments to prove that they are not going so far towards that fearful bourne alluded to by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, as some of them might occasionally in hours of fear think to be the case. Over and over again the right hon. Gentleman has taken that course, and assured his supporters that there was comfort to be found in the fact that though a large number of artizans in the boroughs had the franchise, a large number of householders and artizans in the counties were without it. While expressing no opinion as to the unfitness of these persons to receive the suffrage, these words of comfort and satisfaction have frequently been poured into the ears of his more fearful followers by the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Reform Bill of 1867. The question now or very shortly to be decided is, whether that source of comfort should continue. The hon. Baronet the Member for East Devon (Sir John Kennaway) has urged that the settlement arrived at in 1867 is one that ought never, or at any rate for a long time, to be disturbed. I am rather inclined, independently of what ought to be done, to agree with what seems to be the general feeling of the House—namely, that it cannot be an abiding settlement, and we have to ask ourselves—"Why are these persons to be any longer excluded from the franchise, and why was not their inclusion pressed in 1867?" I wish to be perfectly candid with the House, and to state what struck me as being two or three grounds for that course not having been taken. These reasons for not including the agricultural population in the extension of the franchise were rather felt than expressed; but they had the effect which my hon. Friend the Member for the Border Burghs now seeks to remove. The first of these grounds was the existence of a general impression that the agricultural or county householder was 839 less educated than the artizan householder to be found in the towns. My experience, however, in connection with the Education Act leads me to doubt whether there were any sufficient grounds for that impression. I am aware that we cannot deal with this question as one affecting the agricultural labourers only. There are a large proportion of householders in the counties who are not agricultural labourers; but take the class as a whole, I have no hesitation in saying that it is a mistake to suppose the county householders and agricultural labourers who would be included in this Bill inferior in education and intelligence to the artizan householders in boroughs. No doubt, many artizans are well-taught, and take an active interest in politics, and some of them even in literature; but there are a large number who, from no fault of their own, but as the result of hard struggles and privations in early life, are more degraded than we could find among the county householders, but taking the average, I do not believe we can say that there is any reason why the county householders should not have the same share in the government of the country which is enjoyed by men occupying similar positions in the boroughs. Another ground for urging that the county householders should not have the franchise before was, that they took no interest in politics as compared with the borough householders. That may have been true at one time; but it is a reason which has now lost much of its force, because one sees that day by day, from the increasing circulation of newspapers and the spread of education, that the agricultural population are taking a deep interest not only in questions which deeply concern their own social welfare, but in political questions generally. There may also have been an impression, which I must say I did not entertain myself and which, if others did they did not express it openly, that the pressure to include the county householders in the Deform Bill of 1867 did not come from this side of the House, in consequence of a fear that their votes could not be relied upon as likely to be given in support of Liberal candidates. I do not know what would be the result now, but I think it exceedingly likely that at first the other side would gain in the elections as the result of household suffrage in 840 counties. That, however, is in my opinion, a consideration which ought not for one moment to be seriously entertained. I will go further, and say that looking at the history of Constitutional countries, I think that we should expect the agricultural population to be in the long run rather Conservative in politics than otherwise. But if this is so, I do not regard it as affording any sufficient reason for pursuing a policy of exclusion, as no hon. Member of this House would desire to check the right action of the Conservative force, which must exist in all constitutionally governed countries. If there is no particular reason then why we should keep up the exclusion, are there any strong reasons why we should consider whether the matter ought not to be soon settled? Existing anomalies are every day attracting more and more attention. There is no reason why the householder in a manufacturing village should not have a vote, as well as the householder in Leeds or Bradford; and, on the whole, the village householders take more interest in public questions than those of the towns. We can not remove every anomaly; but this is a glaring anomaly, to which attention is being directed mote and more every day, so that it will be difficult to avoid attempting to remove it in some way. Indeed, I hope to see it removed at the earliest possible moment. The hon. Member for North Warwickshire has adduced as a reason for postponing the consideration of the question, the feet that agricultural labourers are combining in many parts to bring about an increase in the rate of wages, a fact which in my opinion tends rather in support of the opposite view. This is a matter in regard to which it is an easy thing for the expressed opinions of any person to be misconstrued, and therefore I wish to be very clear in what I say concerning it. I do not want to pronounce any opinion upon the merits of the ease as between employers and employed; but this I will say—that all of us must feel more hopeful as to the future of our country, when we see so large a part of the population possessed with strong feelings upon questions which concern most deeply their daily life, and who are now for the first time waking up to a feeling of the power of union, yet conducting their proceedings with so much of moderation on the 841 whole, and setting an example of conduct to the artizans in the towns. It is therefore a serious question to consider whether these people ought much longer to be prevented taking a responsible part in the government of the country, and the fact of their uniting together, though they have no votes, is a reason why we should seriously consider how long they ought to go without votes. A Petition from 82,000 of them is not one which can be safely disregarded. It is impossible but that some discussion will arise in Parliament with regard to these labourers; perhaps legislative questions concerning them may come before the House, and it is very undesirable they should feel they have no direct voice in the councils of the country, when questions affecting them are being considered. We cannot also forget that Members for the districts in which they live are returned very much, indeed, almost entirely, by the class of employers as distinct from those who are employed. I do not, however, say that those Members are unfairly influenced by that fact. The whole question of the wages of agricultural labourers is likely to be much better settled than it otherwise would be, because landlords exist to be mediators between farmers and labourers; but still there remains the fact, that county Members are mainly the Representatives of the employing class, and to a very slight extent of the employed class. That is a circumstance we must consider when we have the whole case before us. Those are the grounds upon which I am glad to be able to give a vote in favour of the Bill. I must add that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, knowing that I take a deep interest in the matter, and that I should like to say a few words upon it, has asked me to express his regret that he is unable to be present. The right hon. Gentleman is prevented from being present, simply by indisposition, which, it is hoped will not long continue, but which confines him to his room. I am requested by the Prime Minister to state on his behalf that, while the Government, as a Government, has not any opinion or recommendation to offer to the House on the question, and. while he regrets that it has only been in the power of the hon. Member for the Border Burghs to bring it forward at a period of the Session so late as to give the debate so much of the 842 character of a discussion on an abstract Resolution, he (the Prime Minister) retains the opinion he has more than once indicated, and believes the extension of the household franchise to the counties to be one which is just and politic in itself, and which cannot long be avoided. On the same grounds, not as a Member of the Government, but as a private Member, I shall support the second reading of the Bill.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, the remarkable statement which the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council had just made on the part of the Prime Minister justified him in saying a few words. They all regretted that the Prime Minister should be absent from ill health; but, he being absent from ill health or any other cause, an important question of that kind would have been far better discussed without any communication being made on his part. ["Oh, oh!"] That was a sort of Royal Message which he had sent down. It was one thing for the Prime Minister to address arguments to the House after hearing the speeches of others who might adduce reasons which would cause him to change his opinion; but for him to send down a simple Message by the mouth of one of his Colleagues, in the Dog-days, when it was notorious that a question of importance could not be satisfactorily discussed, merely to tell them he was of opinion that that sort of abstract Resolution proposed in a speech by an hon. Member was right and just, was to take advantage of the forms of the House in a manner against which he (Lord John Manners) must protest. The right hon. Gentleman had told them on behalf of himself and his Chief, that that was an open question. But could they conceive that a question of such magnitude, with the importance which must be attached to it, at the end of the Session, in the Dog-days, being thrown loose on the floor of the House by the Prime Minister as an open question? What must be the result of treating a measure of that importance in that flippant and perfunctory manner? They were not told what was the opinion of the Cabinet as a whole on the question, and it would, therefore, go to the country that Her Majesty's Government while carefully abstaining from expressing their collective opinion as the responsible Advisers of the Crown 843 on a subject of the utmost importance, such as that before the House, would prefer to allow the question to be trailed through the Recess as one which, at any rate, had received the support of the Prime Minister and of the Vice President of the Council. He maintained that such a statement as that just made by the right hon. Gentleman was sufficient to justify the House in refusing its assent to the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman admitted the immense import of the issues which were bound up with the question; but he added that, great as those issues were, it was not necessary to consider them then. If, said the right hon. Gentleman, the House passed the Bill, it would, for example, be necessary to have a re-distribution of political power; but he added that that would come all in due time. They might equalize the franchise in boroughs and in counties, and having done that, then they might consider the other essential changes which should follow from it. When they were told that momentous issues were bound up with the adoption of the Bill, but that they need not discuss those issues, but rather leave it to chance how many seats were to be taken from boroughs and transferred to counties, then, it became a question in which hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House, whether they sat for agricultural, commercial, or any other constituencies, were equally interested, and as to which they were bound to say they would not consider a fragment of a great question, but would wait until a united Government on their responsibility to the Queen and the country had put forward a coherent scheme, in which all the divergent issues which spring from the question would be dealt with. Till that time arrived the house was not in a position to discuss the subject, and they were not only justified, but bound to decline considering a mere fragment of it. He congratulated the right hon. Gentleman in making the discovery—perhaps since the passing of the Elementary Education Act in 1870—that the class of agricultural labourers was at least as intelligent and well-conducted as the labouring classes in great towns. That discovery was not new to him (Lord John Manners), and would not influence his vote; and when the right hon. Gentleman said the only thing they had then to consider was, whether there should be any difference 844 in the county and the borough franchise, he begged to ask him in return why from the earliest times had such difference existed? When the right hon. Gentleman had considered, and was in a position to answer that question, he had no doubt the House would be prepared to consider with him why the old immemorial distinction should now suddenly be abrogated. He did not say that the right hon. Gentleman and the Prime Minister when, acting as the organs of a united Government, they were prepared to propose a distinct policy, would not be able to assign reasons why such distinction should not exist; but when asked the question now, to attempt to solve it off-hand in the negative might be considered a good mode of argument in the Dog-days, but it was one which would certainly not be regarded as conclusive at a more reasonable period of the Session. He (Lord John Manners) had only risen to protest against the introduction, by the Vice President of the Council, of a Message from the Prime Minister, and he had now given some of the reasons which induced him on this occasion to recommend to the House the rejection of the Bill.
§ MR. FAWCETT
said, that after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council and the Message which had been sent to them by the Prime Minister, it could not be doubted that the Bill had been virtually taken out of the hands of his hon. Friend the Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan), and had become part of the settled policy of the Government, and would occupy a prominent position in the programme with which they would go to the country. The right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council said that he spoke only as an individual Member: the Prime Minister—and he (Mr. Fawcett) would be the last to object, more especially as his temporary absence was caused by illness, to the right hon. Gentleman writing to the House—but the right hon. Gentleman, like the Vice President, said that had he been present he should vote for the Bill as Member for Greenwich, and not as Prime Minister of England. Now, it was absolutely impossible for the Prime Minister and one of his most influential Colleagues to vote on such a question as ordinary Members of Par- 845 liament. They supported the Bill and would vote for it as Members of the Government, and henceforward it became—and he was glad of it—a Government measure. Had it not been for that fact he should not have risen; but he wished to impress this upon the House—that the Bill in the hands of his hon. Friend and the Bill in the hands of Her Majesty's Government must be viewed in two very different aspects. His hon. Friend could only ask the House to express their opinion upon an abstract question—namely, whether household suffrage should or should not be extended to counties. But when the Bill passed into the hands of the Government, it became not the means of simply asserting an abstract principle, but a great measure of Representative Reform. It was, therefore, of the utmost importance that the House should distinctly understand, before they went too far, what shape it was proposed that this new measure of Reform should take. The arguments offered in favour of the Bill he considered conclusive, and he must repeat that he should not have risen to address the House, but for the fact that the measure was now a Very different one to all intents and purposes from what it was only a few hours since. He would only say, in reference to the subject of the Bill, that when the right hon Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), by a series of most ingenious manœuvres, led his party up to household suffrage in the boroughs, he probably knew better than anyone else in the House that he had destroyed every argument in favour of stopping there, and that household suffrage in the counties was simply a question of a few years. There were many anomalies in the existing franchise which required alteration, and he would not enter into the invidious argument whether the labouring classes in towns were more or less intelligent and industrious than the same class in the county. If an artizan residing in a town were worthy of being intrusted with. a vote, why should he not continue to be so, if he crossed the border and settled in the county? Such a restriction admitted of no defence. He thought his hon. Friend had been very wise in admitting that if household suffrage were extended to counties the 40s. qualification must also be dealt with. His desire was, how- 846 ever, to speak not of the details of a comprehensive scheme, but of the present position of Her Majesty's Government in reference to the question. The question for the House was this—Were they going to sanction a further and great extension of the suffrage without obtaining from the Government a definite statement as to the principles which they proposed should regulate the redistribution of political power? They followed that course in 1867; but because they made a mistake then, that was no reason why they should repeat an error which he believed had proved most disastrous to our country. What had been the attitude of the Primo Minister and the Government on the two questions of the extension of the suffrage and the re-distribution of seats. He did not complain that he had been excluded from bringing on a Motion of which he had given Notice; but the fact was that the Government had afforded to his hon. Friend facilities for having the question of the extension of the franchise discussed, and that his Bill had the support of the Prime Minister and one of the most influential of his Colleagues in the Cabinet. The proposed Motion for an inquiry into the principles on which political power should be re-distributed was voted against by the Prime Minister before he had heard the arguments in its favour. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman prevented the Motion being even discussed, but at the same time supported a Motion for the extension of the franchise. Whatever might be the opinion of the Government on the subject of the re-distribution of political power, this he (Mr. Fawcett) said emphatically—that if a Bill for the extension of the suffrage in counties was introduced by the Government, he would not vote for it, unless the Government declared the principles to which they proposed to give effect in reference to the re-distribution of political power. There were two ways by which people could be deprived of representation—one, by keeping the right of voting from them; another, by placing them in so hopeless a minority that, virtually, they must be without representation. For his part, he was willing to give manual labour all the legitimate power to which it was entitled; if manual labourers were in a majority 847 in the country, let them be in a majority in that House; but he was not prepared to place the vast machinery of political power in their hands, without taking some security that those who held different opinions from them should have some chance of representation in the House of Commons. He ventured to assert that even in the United States of America, there was not a man of intelligence who was not of opinion that the future of the country depended upon the recognition and practical adoption of just principles of representation. They might have the most democratic suffrage in the world, but if they did not take securities for the representation of minorities, that democratic suffrage, by centring unchecked power in the hands of a majority, might and probably would lead to the worst of all kinds of oligarchies. He spoke only of that which experience had proved. Illinois was one of the most progressive of the States. There they had a more extended suffrage than even this Bill would give to this country. But it was found that the non-representation of minorities had such a tendency to concentrate power in the hands of one party, and excluded so many of the best men from the House of Representatives, that a feeling spread through the State that it was necessary to alter the system; and the consequence was, that within the last few years, they had adopted the principle of the representation of minorities; and there was not a single section of intelligent persons in the State who did not regard the change as one of the greatest improvements ever introduced. Only a small and insignificant section were in favour of a return to the former system. He had made these remarks with a view to let the Government know that they must be prepared, when they took up the question of the extension of household suffrage to the counties, to take up with it that of the re-distribution of political power on a wide and extended basis. There was many a man in that House who would not vote for a bare and naked measure for extending the suffrage, but who would vote for it cordially if it were part of a great scheme for improving the representation of the people; therefore, let them, on the one hand, enlist as electors every person whom they found qualified to vote; but let them on the other, take care that the House of Com- 848 mons should not become a mere legislative machine, but should be a great national Assembly in which every opinion and every section of opinion should as far as possible be represented by its ablest and most independent advocates.
said, that his own individual opinion on the questions before the House were so well represented by his right hon. Friend the Vice President of the Council, that he should not have thought it necessary to rise, but for some observations made by the noble Lord opposite (Lord John Manners) and his hon. Friend the Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett). The noble Lord took his right hon. Friend to task for having expressed his own individual opinion, and for communicating to the House the opinion of the Prime Minister. Now, although he contended that no Member of that House had a right to call for the opinion of the Government as a Government on such questions as the present, he could not but think it was only respectful to the House that, on the discussion of a subject of such great importance as that under consideration, his right hon. Friend should have explained the cause of the absence of his right hon. Friend at the head of the Government, and add, as he was in a position to do, that the opinion of the Prime Minister on the subject was the same as he had always expressed in reference to it. Anyone, however, who heard the speech of the noble Lord would suppose that the occasion had been seized by his right hon. Friend at the head of the Government for the purpose of making a political manifesto. [Cheers and counter-cheers.] But hon. Gentlemen opposite who cheered knew perfectly well that his right hon. Friend had again and again expressed the same opinion; and that being so, why should he not again state through the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council that he still entertained the opinion which he had formerly expressed? Then the noble Lord stated that Members of the Government were hound to withhold their opinions until the Government, as a united Government, were prepared to state what their policy was in respect of the question; and his hon. Friend the Member for Brighton said, that after what had occurred the Bill virtually passed into the hands of Tier Majesty's Government. He denied both 849 those propositions. No hon. Member, however respectable, had a right to challenge the opinion of the Government on any particular question. Governments were formed with reference to certain great political questions. The Government that preceded the present was formed with special reference to the question of Reform, on which the then late Government had been defeated; and the present Government was formed in reference especially to the question of the Irish Church, and also to deal with the question of Education. On those questions, therefore, it was reasonable to expect from them a definite and united opinion; but as to the questions of the extension of the suffrage and the re-distribution of political power, they might entertain divers opinions. They were questions which could not be taken up unless after long and anxious consideration. The discussion which had just been held showed that the question of the extension of the suffrage was one which could not be dealt with by itself, and it would be rash therefore, without much previous study of it in all its bearings, to express a united opinion with respect to it. His hon. Friend the Member for Brighton said that when two important Members of the Government were in favour of the Bill it ceased to be a private Member's question. What possible authority was there for that argument? Let them take, for example, the question of female suffrage. His right hon. Friend at the head of the Government had expressed himself in favour of that Bill, under certain conditions for securing the decorous conduct of elections; so, also, had his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board. But had that question become a Government one because two Members of the Cabinet had spoken in favour of it? There were occasions, he contended, especially in reference to questions of great importance and difficulty, on which individual Members of the Government were entitled to express their opinions without binding their Colleagues. His hon. Friend the Member for Brighton had—good-naturedly he admitted—expressed his disappointment at not being able to bring forward the Motion to which he had referred, while, as he said, facilities were afforded to his hon. Friend the Member for the Border Burghs to move the second reading of 850 his Bill. There was no foundation whatever for that complaint. The practice for many years had been for the Government to ask for the Tuesdays from the early part of July, but only to ask for the last Wednesday of the Session, and that practice had been strictly followed. To have appropriated the present Wednesday would have been to establish a special precedent adverse to his hon. Friend the Member for the Border Burghs. In reference to the general question before the House, he would only say he had never been of opinion that agricultural labourers were more ignorant than labourers in towns. He was long of opinion that, on the contrary, the greatest ignorance prevailed in great towns; and that was especially the case in Scotland. It was in great towns that ignorance was reached with the greatest difficulty; but he hoped it would disappear under the operation of recent legislation, and that instruction would be equalized all over the country. He was in favour of the extension of household suffrage; but if lie thought—as he did not—that it would deluge the country with ignorant electors, incapable of giving intelligent votes, he, for one, should have felt bound to refuse his support to the Bill. It was, in his opinion, an anomaly that so many persons should be deprived of the franchise, while their neighbours, more ignorant and less orderly, enjoyed it, and that was a fact which would doubtless weigh with the House whenever they came to deal with that important question.
said, he could not but regard the slap-dash course which had been adopted in reference to the Bill as somewhat remarkable. For some hours, perhaps owing to the heat of the day, they had proceeded in the quietest manner possible—too quietly for the Members of the Government present; for it would seem as if the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council had written to his Chief, to say they were getting on very languidly, and wanted a word or two from him to throw life into the debate. At length they were favoured with the opinion not only of the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council, but of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government. If it were necessary to reply to the argument of the Vice President of the Council, he (Mr. Scourfield) had 851 only to refer to a speech delivered by a distinguished Member of the present Government, in opposing Lord Derby's Reform Bill of 1859, and on what ground did the House think? On the ground that it tended to the identity of the franchise in counties and towns. He would only trouble the House with an extract from the speech in question. It was as follows:—But however that may be, I say it is a principle rooted in the antiquity of the country—a principle which has never been touched from the earliest times down to the present day, a principle which you cannot alter without laying the axe at the root of our national liberties—that there shall not be uniformity of franchise. I will not trouble you with authority, though I believe there is no text-book on the British Constitution where variety of suffrage is not laid down as the great distinguishing principle which always guided the British Constitution.… If we take the principle of the Bill to be what its authors have declared—namely, identity of franchise—then I say that identity of franchise is a principle wholly foreign to the British Constitution, unknown in our history, dangerous to the utmost extent in its probable consequences and effects."—[3 Hansard, cliii. 842–3–5.][Cheers, and cries of "Name!"] That speech was delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War. He (Mr. Scourfield) commended the speech to the consideration of the hon. Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan), who had formerly, on another question, been associated more or less with the right hon. Gentleman, and he asked Her Majesty's Government to pause before they adopted a principle which in the opinion of one of their most distinguished Colleagues would lay the axe to the root of our national liberties, and which was foreign to and would be destructive of the British Constitution.
§ MR. J. G. TALBOT
said, he gave credit to the hon. Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan) for having run straight, and not withdrawn his Bill without Notice as some other hon. Members had done. It was strange, however, to have to discuss a measure of this importance at the end of the Session, but a somewhat stranger thing was that what he might almost call a Royal, or at least a Presidential, Message had been delivered to the House, expressing the Prime Minister's approval of the Bill, and his conviction that the settlement of the question could not be long delayed. The Home Secretary had endeavoured to soothe their excited feelings—and in 852 such weather soothing was wanted when such exciting topics had been introduced—by saying that the Message contained nothing but what the Prime Minister had said before. Now, the right hon. Gentleman had no doubt previously said he was in favour of the measure; but had he ever said this previously under circumstances of such gravity, and with the statement that the question must soon be settled?
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
It is important that the words which my right hon. Friend wished me to convey to the House should not be misinterpreted, and there was nothing in them to bear out the version given by the hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. J. G. TALBOT
said, he had understood the Prime Minister's opinion to be that this was a question which must soon be settled.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
If the hon. Gentleman had paid attention to the statement, he would have found that my right hon. Friend merely said he retained the opinion he had previously held.
§ MR. J. G. TALBOT
said, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department had represented that the communication, whatever it might be, did not much matter, for it had been well known what the Primo Minister's sentiments were. If such was the case, what was the use of his writing the letter? It was useless beating about the bush. Parliament was at the end of its fifth Session, and it was currently whispered out-of-doors that the Government were only waiting for a convenient opportunity to dissolve. He challenged right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury bench to deny that that was a manifesto upon which to go to the country. [Opposition cheers, and Ministerial counter-cheers.] The cheering of hon. Members opposite below the gangway showed that they perfectly understood the meaning of the Message. It required no great sagacity to see that the Government could not have been very comfortable during the last few weeks; they had been beaten in this House, where they had a majority of 80, and in the other House, were they were certainly not in a minority of 100, they had been signally defeated. Moreover, the noble Marquess the Chief Secretary for Ireland, had said in a speech in the provinces, that the Election might be this year or next, but could not be 853 long delayed. They, of course, must all regret that the Prime Minister had not been here to make the statement himself; but when on a subject on which he had already expressed an opinion, he thought it necessary to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council to state his sentiments, and when that was done in such significant terms on the eve of a General Election, he (Mr. J. G. Talbot) would ask whether that was an occasion on which hon. Members ought to vote for the Bill? That was nothing more nor less than an electioneering cry, and he challenged the Government to say that it was not the prelude to an announcement shortly to be made that this was the last Session of an expiring Parliament.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
said, he had received great comfort from the debate, and hoped for still more from the division, which he hoped hon. Gentlemen opposite would not evade. The most important feature had been the statement communicated by the Prime Minister, and as to the objection taken by the noble Lord the Member for North Leicestershire (Lord John Manners)—that the right hon. Gentleman's opinion might have been modified by the debate, he did not think a single argument had been advanced which could have had any such effect. The unusual warmth shown by the noble Lord led him to think that he had been deputed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) to make a similar statement, and had been disappointed at finding himself forestalled. He felt sure that the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett), who joined himself in 1866 in opposing Earl Grosvenor's Amendment, declining to consider the extension of the franchise till the entire scheme had been produced, would, on reflection, adopt a similar course, and would not ask persons whom it was proposed to admit to the suffrage to await a re-distribution of political power. He had been charged by the noble Lord with taking part in the agricultural agitation. Now, he had only once been invited to do so, when 20,000 labourers, as it was said, met in Somersetshire, and his reply, published in the papers, was that hon. Members of Parliament should not take part in a purely commercial question, being simply bound to see that both sides had an opportunity of laying 854 their case before the public. That Bill would remedy the exclusion from the suffrage of one of the parties to the dispute, and its object was not to open or close the door to further fields of electoral discussion.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
, who had given Notice of an Amendment declining to entertain a Bill dealing with the representation, which failed to provide for the proportional representation of local minorities, said, he wished to explain his reasons for placing it on the Paper. The hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill seemed to be afraid that he meant to talk the Bill out; but he, himself, having made a speech of some length in proposing the second reading, and having just made a second speech, would be mainly responsible, if he failed to condense his observations within the limited time available. Although opposed to what he might term a dead level in representation, yet he had no substantial objection to the Bill; but when a great political change had recently been made, it was undesirable to be constantly re-opening it at the instance of private Members, and such a proposal ought to be made on the responsibility of the Government, instead of being recommended by the Primo Minister on a sheet of note-paper. The hon. Member was proceeding in his remarks upon the Bill, when—
It being a quarter of an hour before Six of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned till To-morrow.