§ MR. ARTHUR ARNOLD
rose to call attention to the Representation of the People; and to move—1. That, in the opinion of this House, it would be desirable, so soon an the state of public business shall permit, to establish Uniformity of Franchise throughout the whole of the United Kingdom by a Franchise similar in principle to that established in the English boroughs. 2. That it would be desirable so to redistribute political power as to obtain a more equitable representation of the opinion of the electoral body.He said, that when he introduced these Resolutions 12 months ago the Prime Minister accepted the principles of Parliamentary Reform which they embodied, and recommended the House to proceed to a vote. But the Conservative Opposition was unready or unwilling, and he had been unable to reproduce the opportunity until that evening. He thought it was a matter of some importance that the House should, without further delay, by accepting these Resolutions, rescind the decision of 1879. The last resolve of Parliament upon the question of Parliamentary Reform was that, in the opinion of the House, it was not desirable that the subject should be reopened. That Resolution was accepted under the guidance of the right hon. Baronet the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford North cote). The subsequent decision of the country had been that the question should be reopened; and he felt it would be satisfactory to the people at large if the House of Commons were now to ratify that verdict by a significant vote. To those who entered the present Parliament with a zeal for Reform, its course had brought much disappointment, but no disunion. It was this fact which the people found it so difficult to reconcile with the failure to accomplish Reform. They who were placed in closest contact with the people knew that many of them regarded the extension of the franchise as a very simple matter, whereas in truth it was one of great complexity, and he apprehended that no greater advantage could accrue to a Government pledged to legislation than that the subject should be discussed in the manner in which it was his privilege to invite the House that evening. He had always done his best to mark the essential 1119 difference which, in his opinion, divided "uniformity" from the older expression, "equality" of franchise; and now that they were approaching a time when the promises of the Government must be redeemed, it was well that they should speak with precision and candour, for this, he hoped, was the last occasion upon which the House of Commons would engage in debate upon this great and momentous topic, before they would be called upon to consider the responsible proposals of the Government. He ventured to hope that the Government would be placed that evening much nearer to the realization of Parliamentary Reform than it was in the speech of the Prime Minister 12 months ago, and that they would not adopt that faraway tone which last year seemed to place so great a distance between the desires of the country and their satisfaction. He trusted the Government would propose "uniformity," not "equality" of franchise. Equality was the leading feature of Mr. Disraeli's Reform Bill of 1869. The £10 householder in the county equally with the £10 householder in the borough was to be enfranchised. There was to be none of the difference which now existed between one side of a street and the other side of a street; and though much had happened since then he thought he saw a survival of the ideas of Mr. Disraeli in the counter proposals of the right hon. and gallant Member for Wigtown (Sir John Hay), upon whom the "education" of his Party, in the sense which Mr. Disraeli communicated to Scotland, seemed to have devolved. He regretted that the right hon. Gentleman had withdrawn the 12 Resolutions he had placed upon the Paper. No light had been shed upon the views of the Leader of the Opposition, who was not a Member of the Tory Government in 1859, which recognized identity of suffrage between county and town as a valuable principle, and which, in Mr. Disraeli's words, declared—That a man should vote for the place where he resides, or for the locality in which he is really and substantially interested.By uniformity, he meant singleness of franchise; that there should be, throughout the United Kingdom, but one and the same qualification, that of residence, whether as occupier and inhabitant-householder or lodger. When Mr. Disraeli proposed equality of franchise in 1120 1859 he knew where he was going, and he saw that equality could not exist if those who held a property qualification in Parliamentary boroughs continued to vote for the county. He grasped the principle of equality, and proposed that the property vote in boroughs should be for the borough and not for the county. That proposal was unimpeachable in its equity if they were to retain the property qualification; but it involved to the Government of Lord Derby, first, the secession of Mr. Walpole and Mr. Henley, and next a crushing defeat in the House of Commons, followed by decisive condemnation of the Tory Government in the General Election of 1859. He believed it was not in the power of any Minister or Government to carry a Bill through that House establishing a property qualification for boroughs; and if that were so, then if we retained the property qualification we could neither have uniformity nor equality of franchise. If the counties wore to have residential suffrage, plus the property qualification, while the boroughs had none but the former, there could be no settlement, even for an hour, of the question of Parliamentary Reform. From the North Sea to the Land's End the Liberal Party in the boroughs would repel any attempt to introduce an absentee franchise or any property qualification upon their list of electors. The project was tried in 1859 under circumstances far more favourable than any which might recur, and the manner of its rejection marked its impossibility. Equity and necessity alike demanded the abolition of the property qualification. Unless you could do that which was impossible—namely, admit a property vote as well as a residential vote—you had no choice: you must abolish the property qualification for counties if your aim were equality or uniformity. He would never accept a separate representation of property, because he did not know how to separate the interests of the people from those of property. He could not conceive a people reckless of the interests of property, nor could he conceive the idea of property apart from people. Moreover, he would say that our existing property qualification was as inequitable, when regarded as a special representation of property, as it was in its association with a representation of the people. Tie had in his thoughts 1121 a tumbledown cottage in a filthy alley of a Southern town, a haunt of vice and un-cleanness, upon which were cumulated the qualifications, by way of rent-charge, of four brothers, two of whom were Liberals and two Conservatives, and who in respect of that wretched hovel were in voting power equally the representatives of property with the four largest landowners, who were commoners, in that county. Such a misrepresentation must do harm to the interests of property. The iniquities of faggot voting had been so often exposed that he need not dwell upon them. As long as household franchise did not exist in counties, it was not only excusable but laudable in residents to acquire a responsible share in the government of their country by obtaining a vote by purchase of property; but when residential franchise was universal, the property vote could only be that of the plural voter or the non-resident, the absentee or the foreigner who had really no interested connection with the locality. When household suffrage became universal the only plea for the 40s. franchise disappeared. It was abolished in Ireland in 1829, because it was made use of by Catholic landlords, and it should be abolished now in England and Scotland because it was a denial of the just principle of residence. Not only did he disclaim all Party spirit in this great question, but he said he was acting as a Conservative in advocating the abolition of this qualification. He wanted to go back in principle to the law of Henry VI., which enacted that Members should be chosen in every county by people dwelling and resident therein." It would not be correct to describe the necessary change as one of disfranchisement. He showed last year, from a comparison of the inhabited houses in boroughs and counties, that the extension of a uniform franchise over the whole of the United Kingdom, together with a rational reform of the rules of registration, would add about 2,000,000 voters to the electorate. The limitation to a single qualification would involve disuse of the system of purchasing votes. They could not re-open the question of Reform in order to extend the franchise, and retain the provision which now permitted a man for £300 to buy five votes in any five counties. What was the number of these foreign 1122 voters—the voters of whom many entered the county at a contested election and at no other time? He had made careful inquiry of the best authorities, and he believed it might be stated with confidence that the outvoters in English and Welsh counties numbered about 105,000, the average in each constituency being about 10J per cent; the smaller percentage being in the maritime counties and the larger among the inland counties, which these non-residents—these return-ticket voters—could most easily approach by railway. If it were maintained that there should be a special representation of property, then he said that the present system was worse than the denial. Nor could he suggest any representation of property so equitable as the simple residential franchise. Property in land, like other possessions, had influence; but if they admitted its claim to special representation, where were they to stop? His hon. Friend the Member for East Cornwall (Mr. Acland), writing lately on this subject, said most truly that "owners of large properties invariably possess, or can if they chose gain, great influence in their districts." If we went further than that, we should fall into that delusion, the representation of interests. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) said lately in that county that we were going upon a representation of interests. He could not agree to that. It was a flat contradiction to the Preamble of the Reform Act of 1832 and to that of 1867, to which the right hon. Gentleman was a party. If they acknowledged the representation of interests in that House they must give extra votes to railway shareholders, to shipowners, and to all who were connected with the intoxicating liquor interest. He should, perhaps, admit that under another name there was one representation of interest in that House, and from an inquiry he had made into the recent Cambridge University Election, it would appear to be that of the clergy. He found that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Raikes) received the support of 2,226 clergymen, which gave him a majority of 924 over the total poll of Professor Stuart. He had met with one argument in favour of the retention of this peculiar privilege. It was used by Mr. Disraeli, and it was clearly obsolete. A University seat, Mr. 1123 Disraeli suggested, was a means for introducing to that House a clever man whom no other constituency would accept. That plea was repealed in Mr. Low's patent of Peerage; and now the outvoters of Universities eschewed learning, and preferred the well-tried borough Member. The interests of land and of learning belonged to the whole community, and any attempt at separate representation must lead to failure and injustice. He should not ask enfranchisement for the Manchester University nor for the Royal University of Ireland, but their claims would in time be irresistible, unless Parliament now took its stand upon uniformity of franchise. He hoped it would not be forgotten that there was no practical connection between disfranchisement and the vast majority of the county voters who were now registered as possessing the property qualification. Those who were not outvoters would he in possession of the occupying qualification, and would simply be transferred from one qualification to another; and in the case of those who were outvoters, it might be assumed that they possessed another vote. It would certainly be suggested that the 40,000 freemen and the 105,000 non-resident voters in counties should be permitted to retain their franchise when there could be no addition or transfer. The strongest objection to such an act of grace would be the consequent complication of the register for many years to come. He was very desirous that in the reform of our electoral system we should make such provision that the elections throughout the Kingdom should be held on one and the same day. That would greatly reduce corrupt expenditure; it would bring much economic advantage to the labour and business of the country; and the expression of opinion would be more genuine, because free from the influence of preceding elections. Even if he were not disfranchised, this would be fatal to the return-ticket elector; and those who favoured a shorter duration of Parliaments should advocate the holding of elections on the same day as of extreme importance to the realization of their desire. The present system of registration was provocative of expenditure and of disfranchisement by delay. He estimated at no less than £150,000 a-year the charge incurred by rival Parties in contesting claims with which they should 1124 have no right of interference. The period of residence should be reduced to six months, and the preparation of the register should be a purely official undertaking. He regretted that his right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goshen) was not in his place; but, however, he was more free in his absence to express his admiration for his ability, and he might note in passing that an incidental advantage of a speedy settlement of this question would be that we should then regain more fully the political co-operation of his right hon. Friend. He was obliged, however, to allude to his objections, very recently expressed to his constituents, because they were the most candid, far more candid than those of Lord Salisbury at Birmingham. His right hon Friend was afraid of the class "the largest in numbers;" he uttered a paraphrase of Mr. Disraeli's, saying that "democracy like death, gives back nothing." He (Mr. Arthur Arnold) hoped that when there were neither liverymen nor Ripon to be represented in that House, his right hon. Friend might become better acquainted with the most numerous class. The most numerous class had a more paramount voting power in our constituencies than it would have in the counties if his proposals wore enacted. He should despair of the future of the country if he did not see that the increase in the power of the working class was inseparable from that future. Our agriculture was perishing for need of economic reform of the laws relating to the tenure and transfer of land. Were we to leave the direction of that reform to be settled by landlords and tenants with every electoral advantage on the side of the tenants under the existing system? Landlords as well as other people might well object. He asked them to look at National Expenditure. What hope had we of reducing it except through the influence of the most numerous class? He asked them to look at the mountain of ineffective expenditure which went to feed the middle and upper classes in this country, the millions spent upon sinecures and pensions, upon needless offices and unnecessary wars. They could not call a meeting of working men in this country who would vote for a candidate who advocated a perilous reduction of the Army or of the Navy below the strength necessary to defend the Domi- 1125 nions of the Crown. What a poor hope would be ours of a policy of peace and of progress in national education and prosperity, were it not for the rising influence of the largest class; not because it was the most virtuous, but the least interested in the policy of aggression, the most concerned in that which benefited the commonwealth. From whom came the only murmur and doubt as to expenditure in Egypt? By whom was France prevented from jeopardizing European peace by a dual intervention, but by this class, the largest in number? By whom were we at that moment best secured against another South African War of incalculable cost and dimensions but by the well-known opinions of the most numerous class in our great towns, soon, he trusted, to be reinforced by that of the same class throughout the counties? His right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon said that this was an absolutely fatal step. Where was the proof? They who sat there were living arguments to the contrary. The most numerous class had a more paramount voting power in our constituencies than it would have in the counties if his proposals were enacted. "Ignorant, drunken, venal, violent," their electors were said to be before they were enfranchised. Those were the words which were hurled at the Reform Bill of the Prime Minister in 1866. Now it was said that the most numerous class were the best promoters of education, economy, and temperance. What evidence in the shape of vicious projects of legislation had his hon. Friends the Members for Morpeth and Stoke given of the fatality which attended the intrusting of political power to all classes of the community? The Member for Ripon was instrumental in giving to the peasants of Thessaly a wider suffrage than was asked for the peasantry of the United Kingdom. The operation of the Act of 1867 had demonstrated that the most numerous class in the great towns had not demanded revolutionary measures, but moderate Constitutional reforms. He passed to the subject of redistribution. He had no desire to separate the subjects. As a matter of good administration with a view that the Suffrage Bill should be thorough and should deal with registration, he thought it better that there should be separate Bills. He admitted that if that course 1126 were adopted it was impossible to give an absolute guarantee that those two Bills would be disposed of in the same Session or even by the same Parliament. Regarding uniformity of franchise as an absolute benefit, he did not fear this possible interval. But, acknowledging the existence of a great body of contrary opinion, he doubted if any Government could escape the Parliamentary necessity of a combined treatment of the whole matter of Parliamentary Reform. There was no difference of opinion upon the advantage of discussing this great subject, in order that the Government might be informed of the views of those who represented the people. He was glad to observe that the opinion of his right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford was in this direction; confessing to have no settled view upon redistribution, he had advised that "the country should be considering and debating it." That was the best way to avoid either another ten-minutes' Bill or a repetition of the waste of years in effecting a settlement. Last year he (Mr. Arnold) offered as a basis for such discussion a definite scheme which had met with more approval than he could have expected. He suggested that with certain exceptions, such as the county of Rutland, there should be no constituency with a population less than 50,000, that as a general rule no constituency containing a greater population should be sub-divided, and that the inequality of representation under which the counties had long suffered should be redressed. It was evidence of the practical advantage of debate when they found the 50,000 population basis echoed by a great Conservative Leader at Birmingham. He opposed the plan of grouping, and suggested that in future county divisions should bear the names of interesting or historic towns forming part of those divisions, so that there would be a process of enlargement rather than of disfranchisement. They would then retain in that House the names of cities and boroughs which were household words, while by enlargement they would purify those names from a certain taint of corruption. They would, no doubt, hear much about the representation of mere numbers. Even the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War lately displayed the contagion of this phrase. The literature of Parliamentary Reform 1127 made one familiar with every turn of that argument; but the language of Reform Acts had invariably done homage to the principle of population. Perhaps there never was a Member of that House who could drape the naked truth with more success than Mr. Disraeli, and he turned much to the opinions of Mr. Disraeli, because he was sure that his precepts of 1859 would ultimately be adopted by the Conservative Party of today. When Mr. Hume in 1848 proposed "that the apportionment of Members to population should be made more equal," Mr. Disraeli ridiculed the tendency of the Resolution, and condescended to utter such nonsense by way of argument as that "the rights of Englishmen were better than the rights of men." In 1859 Mr. Disraeli dealt in the same way with the naked truth, dressing it in a gossamer which charmed without concealing. But alike in 1859 and 1867, when he came to the hard matter of proposal, he named, first, 6,000, and, secondly, 7,000 as the limit of population which should suffer the pangs of partial disfranchisement. No other principle than that of population had been adopted. Let them act on the old lines, but with no mystification. He took the limit of 50,000 population for two reasons; first, because it was approximate to the number of population naturally belonging, in each Kingdom, to each Member of that House, and, secondly, because experience had shown that it was the lowest limit at which they could expect freedom from corrupt practices. They knew that in large constituencies—Corruption wins not more than honesty,and that in no constituency possessing more than 6,000 electors had extensive corrupt practices been reported as prevailing; and, they knew further, that in English and Scotch boroughs only one in 10 of the people were enfranchised. For these reasons he would not be willing to accept a lower limit than 50,000. He did not agree with Mr. Cobden's idea of subdivision of large constituencies. Since Mr. Cobden put forward that proposal there had been great changes in the country, and in no respect had these been greater than in the Provincial Press. The excellence and extension of the Press enabled a Member for a great concentrated population to address the whole body 1128 without expense and without fatigue, provided only that he had something to say which was worthy of their attention. If they broke up those constituencies into wards, they would get more representation of what he might call local accidents and less of local opinion and policy. Did anybody think that the London School Board would be improved by a subdivision of the boroughs into wards? But even that would not be a fair test, because the concerns of the School Board were purely local, whereas in the House of Commons they wanted in Representatives of the people that large spirit of action which was displayed only by minds of a high order of independence, or by the representatives of great bodies of the people. In the days of the late Lord Grey there was a section called "the Waverers," against whom Lord Russell had bequeathed a useful warning when he said that—The danger was, that with a view of satisfying the demands of those who required an extension of the franchise some apparent concession might he made accompanied by drawbacks and securities, as they would be called.Now, he wanted no drawbacks, and as for security, they had enough in the intelligence and patriotism of the people. He avowed himself an opponent of any special representation of minorities. His right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham lately took an example from Manchester and Salford. Both had a Liberal majority, and was it equitable that in a division the Liberals of Manchester should have but half the voting power of those of Salford? Such representations of minorities was the disfranchisement of the majority. He spoke in this matter without any reference to Party concern, and he was glad to gather from the recent speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham that the system had no friend in the Cabinet. It had admirers outside the Cabinet on the Treasury Bench; but they knew from recent observation that as the Cabinet did not partake of their opinions they were at liberty to flavour them with any juice they pleased. Mr. Hare's plan would give a thoretically perfect representation of minorities; but in practice it would produce a House of fixed stars and a milky way of Members labelled with some particular cause or crotchet, the whole moving in space without at- 1129 tachment to locality, and with no acceptable provision for the recruiting of the House in case of death or resignation. He himself could find no scheme for the representation of minorities which was tolerable either in results or practicability. He could not admit that the minority in any constituency was unrepresented. It was represented by the ever present knowledge that the political conduct of the Member or of the Party to which he was attached, or the accidents of national policy, might always, and in certain cases would infallibly, convert that minority into a majority. A prudent Member of Parliament thought as much of his foes as of his friends. He did not hesitate to say that in this country the seat of no Liberal Member would be secure who had no proper respect for Conservative feeling, nor could any Conservative long hold an unpurchaseable seat who was rigorously hostile to all Liberal sentiment. That was the sufficient, the legitimate representation of minorities, and it was one which he ventured to say dwelt in the conscience of every Member of the House. If they subdivided constituencies into wards, he thought they would have a House of Commons more extreme and less tolerant in opinion; that they would find that crude methods of reform would be hastily adopted in certain wards, and they would probably find that the demand for the payment of Members would become irresistible. If the pro visions of the Corrupt Practices Bill were accepted and followed by the people, and if the Amendment of the hon. Member for Stoke to the Ballot Bill was accepted, no candidate's expenses in a constituency, even of 200,000 people, ought to exceed £500. He would look to a system by which the largest constituencies would each return, say, half-a-dozen Members, as one of their best hopes, by the diversity of class and of claims and by the energ3' which it would insure, for the future reputation of that House with regard to the diligent and efficient discharge of Public Business. He did not believe that, in regard to redistribution, Parliament would approve the retention, much less the extension, of the system of grouping boroughs. Some of those now grouped were 40, 50, and even in one case more than 100 miles apart. Why should such fantastic tricks be played with the common life of the country? If this great business were 1130 undertaken promptly and boldly, they might so settle the question of Parliamentary Reform that any further change would be self-acting. Every constituency which did not closely approach, or did not exceed, 50,000 population, should be re-made in the process of redistribution. There were 139 boroughs in England and Wales with a population under 50,000, which would have to be dealt with in connection with the counties. In American politics the process of framing constituencies with a view to Party advantage was known as "jerrymandering." He hoped they would have none of that. The country would regret to see towns like Salisbury, Lancaster, Canterbury, and Guildford disappear from the roll of Parliament; but the country knew them as county towns and would rejoice in a reform which would preserve their names in extended constituencies. The change would be great, but not revolutionary. Take away that confusing, misleading contrivance, the cumulative vote, and he did not see why Middlesex, including the greater part of London, should not return 40 Members to the House just in the same manner as 40 members were elected to the School Board. Lancashire, with a larger population, would return, he supposed, 50 Members. No one who studied a map or exposition, whether of railways or of geological wealth, of fixed capital, or of export and import trade, could regard that as an immoderate number. Suppose Manchester sent seven Representatives to that House. They would probably include one or two Members of the working class, and they would have a more complete representation of the social strata of that great industrial community. In the counties they had now south-easts and south-wests, until they knew not where they were. They could go no further, simply because they had exhausted the shallow formula of the compass. When the area was very wide, and there was a division like that of South-East Lancashire, containing a population exceeding 500,000, or like that of the Southern division of the West Riding of Yorkshire, with about the same number, they could divide them intelligibly when the divisions were named by towns. That 1,000,000 of people were now represented by four Members in that House, equal upon a division to the Members for Evesham, Eye, Knaresborough, and Woodstock, 1131 representing an aggregate population of 21,000, or less than a fiftieth part of that of the two divisions of those counties. What a long-suffering people were the English that they bore with patience such inequality! Under the present system he felt bound to admit that while he was proud of the unity and general character of the Party with which he was associated, it was not so truly representative of the wants and wishes of the great masses of the people as the Conservative Party was of the Conservative feeling of the country, and that must be so until there was an equitable redistribution of political power. How it would hasten the coming of reform if, in a division, that most legitimate form of the bad practice of plural voting were adopted, and a Member gave a vote in respect of every 1,000 electors who had sent him to that House. The shadow7 of this great business was already exercising a paralyzing influence upon legislation. They had lately heard a most distinguished Member of the Cabinet say that reforms in other directions must be deferred till the agricultural population were enfranchised. He did not concur in the view that it was necessary to postpone the reform of County Government, or of Licensing administration, until the passing of a Reform Bill, which he feared would not be accomplished in fewer than half-a-dozen years; but the argument had been raised and would be employed. But, at all events, that great economic question, the reform of the Land Laws, must be attendant upon the next Reform Act, and it was largely for that reason that he had engaged and would persevere in this service. He did not need to assure the right hon. Baronet the Leader of the Opposition of his personal respect; but he must be aware that these Resolutions expressed the minimum of popular desire. The proceedings of last year might be repeated to-night, but that could not be done with impunity. It was not only 2,000,000 of unenfranchised householders in whose name this demand was made upon Parliament; they had the interested, watchful support of nearly another 2,000,000, who were enfranchised, and who needed their help to rescue the Parliamentary system of government from a condition in which it seemed in danger of being regarded as burdensome rather than helpful to the progress and prosperity 1132 of the nation. It was admitted by the opinion of that side of the House, and by the doubtful attitude of the friends of monopoly, that this extension of the franchise was needful. He trusted this might be the last occasion on which its advocacy might be in the hands of any private Member. He would offer no quotations, except from memory; but he noticed the other day, in a translation of that which was, perhaps, the most ancient writing in the world, a lesson given in the art of government, which appeared to be imperfectly appreciated even in our day—Should dissatisfaction," said the Chinese King, "be waited for? Before it is seen it should he guarded against. In my relation to the millions of the people I feel as much anxiety as if I were driving six horses with rotten reins.In these days, though we did not legislate in advance of dissatisfaction, we had learnt that the safety of the State depended not so much upon the reins of government as upon the self-conduct of the people. No restraint that could be forged would bind the people of these Islands to injustice; nor would it be safe for any Government to introduce a Parliamentary Reform which lacked the principles of permanence. The course which the people would follow was marked out by that sense of duty to which the Prime Minister, in one of his finest writings, had rendered ennobling homage; and their claim was this—that better provision should be made for the security and the stability of power in the hearts and affections of the people, and that all should be united in promoting the happiness and welfare of the nation, and the proper discharge of the august functions of that House.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, it would be desirable, so soon as the state of public business shall permit, to establish Uniformity of Franchise throughout the whole of the United Kingdom by a Franchise similar in principle to that established in the English boroughs,"—(Mr. Arthur Arnold,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."1133
§ MR. A. ELLIOT
said, he shared the hope of the hon. Member who had proposed the Resolutions that this would be the last occasion upon which this subject would be brought before the House by a private Member. He felt, as he had no doubt the hon. Member also did, that it was a disadvantage to any hon. Member who proposed Resolutions of this character to succeed to that duty which had been so often and so ably performed by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. Trevelyan) and the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain). Those who had raised this question on former occasions had had to wrestle and struggle with an antagonistic Parliamentary opinion; but opinion on this matter had since changed, and they now knew that the greater number of the hon. Members who sat in that House were already pledged on the subject of Parliamentary Reform. But it was strange—it was to him very melancholy—to find that the zeal of hon. Members in this House was not so great as the zeal of hon. Members on platforms outside. He wished to do all he could to assist his hon. Friend in making this subject a real matter to be dealt with in the House of Commons. The present House of Commons could not last for ever, and he thought it would be almost a discreditable thing for the Liberal Members if, after the line they had taken at the General Election, this House should be dissolved without having given any opinion in favour of Parliamentary Reform. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Lincolnshire (Mr. J. Lowther), a prominent Member of the late Government, and a Gentleman who would in all probability find a place in the next Conservative Cabinet, had, in a speech the other day, expressed his absolute hostility apparently to any extension of the franchise, and contended that the last extension, in 1867, had been a great mistake. It would be a melancholy thing if Conservative Members holding high positions were to go about the country uttering opinions like that, and that House was not to make any remonstrance, or put on record that they were not the opinions held by the general body of its Members. The anomalies and inequalities of the present system were too glaring, and had been too long exposed, for it to be necessary 1134 for him to go into them at any length. The Resolutions proposed what would, no doubt, be a considerable extension of the franchise, and they also proposed a redistribution of seats; but there was nothing at all in the proposals they made to deserve the name of a strong Radicalism. To give representations to places like Accrington and Furness would only be to grant what the statesmen of former Parliaments would have given. Those places would infallibly have been enfranchised in 1832, if they had been of the same importance as they were now. They were doing no more than following out the policy of Lord Grey and Lord John Russell, and of the present Prime Minister in previous years, in proposing that the large centres of population and activity should have adequate representation in the House of Commons. But they were going further. They were proposing to bring in a large portion of the rural element. They had no doubt they were proposing a considerable change. In that proposal there was considerable change involved; but he did not think the public was thoroughly well awrare, even now, how entirely several of those constituencies were similar to what constituencies would be under the new state of things. He had been looking into the Return recently obtained by the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands), which compared the size of the population of different districts, and he found that whereas one rural district contained an area of about 240 square miles, that area was something like twice the area of the county of Linlithgow, and he thought more than twice the area of the counties of Clackmannan and Kinross united. To all intents and purposes, some of those rural districts were, in fact, counties for Parliamentary purposes, with a franchise such as it was now wished to introduce. They had been told last year, when they brought this subject before the House, especially by his hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin), who opposed the Resolutions, that by such a franchise as this the better classes—the upper classes of constituents—would be swamped by the new element that would be introduced. Was that so with regard to the constituencies with which they were acquainted? Was it the case with regard to Stroud, Morpeth, or Christchurch? There had in those 1135 cases been no such terrible results from this swamping as was alleged. Who were the Members for those places? They were as different as Members could be. One (Mr. Brand) was a Member of the Government; another (Mr. Horace Davey) was an eminent member of the English Bar; and the last (Mr. Burt) was, no doubt, what was called a class representative, but it was acknowledged that he was of great use in that House, inasmuch as he was able to speak with authority on the views of persons who were not otherwise sufficiently well represented. It was quite true that if they wished to find a constituency in England where class was represented, they had to look at the University representation, which, unfortunately, was not what it professed to be, though there were some Universities—as that of London—where more true representation existed. Hon. Gentlemen opposite were not quite agreed in their opposition to this proposal. The hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) had a further objection to the Resolutions. He had formerly objected that if such a measure were given effect to, very possibly trade protection might be introduced. But the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Lincolnshire (Mr. J. Lowther) had recently expressed an opinion diametrically opposed to the view taken by the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire in opposing the Resolutions last year, holding that representation and taxation should proceed simultaneously. The right hon. Gentleman had said they wanted Protection, and that those whom he was addressing should alone have the power of dealing with the question. They knew that if the question was raised, whether or not a tax should be imposed upon bread for the benefit of the farming classes, no doubt it would be difficult to deal with such a question, from the point of view of the right hon. Gentleman, if an appeal was to be made to those chiefly interested in the bread question. The position, with regard to England, was slightly different from that concerning Scotland. In England there were very large urban populations without the town franchise; but in Scotland they had the representation of districts of burghs, so that there, to a considerable extent, second and even third-rate towns were represented already. There- 1136 fore, speaking as a Scottish Member, what he should like to lay before the House was really the enfranchisement of the village and rural populations. In regard to the rural population of Scotland, he did not know that there was a better village population anywhere. They were well educated; they were thoroughly law-abiding; they had already school boards in every parish; they took part in various public matters of local interest, and they elected their own minister, which was a very important fact indeed. Yet this rural population in Scotland was much worse treated even than the rural population in England. They had a higher franchise than in England, there being no 40s. freehold franchise. He had no doubt considerable attention would be given to a certain recent publication by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere). One did not know whether to treat that publication seriously or not. But if these were his true sentiments, it was curious to observe how extremes met in the case of hon. Gentlemen opposite and the hon. Member for Northampton. Both attributed the same motives even to such Reformers as Lord Grey, showing an absolute disregard for the teachings of his life, and both seemed to think the constituents outside the present limits differed from the existing constituencies—that patriotism and intelligence were entirely limited to those who lived in towns. Those who supported these Resolutions did not say that those unenfranchised persons were in any respect superior to ordinary mortals. They said that, without being learned people, or philosophers, or angelic in point of character, they were sound-hearted and sound-headed people, who would agree on almost all points with those who were already enfranchised; and it seemed to him rather late in the day for hon. Members opposite and representatives of the Democracy to urge such worn-out arguments as that they wished to bring in a new set of people who would, in fact, overturn everything that the public had hitherto thought just and right. He regretted that the Prime Minister was not in his place. They knew that he was unavoidably absent. Still this matter was an important one, and he (Mr. A. Elliot) went strongly with his hon. Friend (Mr. Arthur Arnold) in urging upon the House 1137 the necessity of coming to a vote that evening. He should like to hear some undertaking from the Government, or some expression of hope, that the time was already fixed when this question would he really considered. He should like to have it indicated tolerably plainly that next Session, at all events, this subject would be thoroughly and strongly taken up. He hoped the Home Secretary, if he was about to speak on the part of the Government, would be able to give some hope of that kind, and that this subject, which had long passed beyond the point at which it was proper for private Members solely to deal with it, would really be taken up by a strong Government and a united Party.
§ COLONEL ALEXANDER
said, that had the hon. Member for Salford brought forward a substantive Motion, he should have mot it by the Previous Question. As, however, he was precluded by the Forms of the House from moving the Amendment which he placed on the Paper yesterday, he would endeavour to state, in a few words, his reasons for regarding the proposal of the hon. Member for Salford to amend the representation of the people at the present time as altogether mischievous and inopportune. He should begin by disposing of a popular error with regard to what the hon. Member had called the "identity" or "uniformity" of the franchise. It was popularly, though, as he thought, erroneously, supposed that when what was known as the Chandos Clause, giving the right of voting to £50 occupiers in counties, was inserted at the instance of the Conservative Party in the Reform Bill of 1832, that that Party originated the difference between the borough occupiers and the county occupiers which still subsisted. What, however, were the real facts of the case? Lord John Russell, on March 1, 1831, in introducing into the House of Commons the first Reform Bill, proposed a £10 occupation franchise in boroughs, and a£50 occupation franchise for leaseholders in counties. It was Lord John Russell, therefore, and not the Conservative Party, who was responsible for any want of uniformity in the franchise as it now existed. Lord John Russell, indeed, never concealed his dislike to the adoption of the principle of what was called uniformity in the franchise; for when it was proposed 1138 by Mr. Locke-King, in 1851, Lord John Russell said—I have always considered that there should be various rights of voting, and I have come to the conclusion that we should be effecting no improvement by introducing uniformity of the franchise.Again, on February 9, 1852, Lord John Russell, then Prime Minister, proposed a Reform Bill, the main feature of which was to reduce the borough occupation franchise from £10 to £5, and the county occupation franchise from £50 to £20. Lord John Russell stated distinctly on that occasion that he did not propose to make any alteration in the principle that the representation of counties should be placed on altogether a different footing from that of cities and boroughs. And, lastly, on the introduction of the Reform Bill of 1806, Lord John Russell, being again Prime Minister, but sitting in the House of Lords, his Lieutenant in the House of Commons, then the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but now Prime Minister, proposed a £7 franchise in boroughs, and a £14 franchise in counties. That reminded him that it was not so very long since the present Premier was himself converted to the doctrine of uniformity of franchise. The right hon. Gentleman had fallen into an extraordinary mistake last year when speaking on the question originated by the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Arthur Arnold), because he said—As to the merits of the question, from the time when it was first submitted to the House by my right hon. Friend the Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan), I have been a friend to the extension of the franchise to the rural districts.But the Prime Minister must altogether have forgotten what he said in 1872, when the right hon. Member for the Border Burghs, then just released from the trammels of Office, brought that question before the House. The present Prime Minister, so far from supporting it, then opposed it in the most energetic and uncompromising language, saying—Parliament has ample work cut out for it, not only for the present year, but for years to come, of a character more distinctly practical and less tending to exasperate political differences, or to widen the breach that already exists. I, for one, will be very well contented to pursue that career of humble but useful legislation.The Prime Minister soon became weary 1139 of a career of humble but useful effort, for when, in the following year, the hon. Member for the Border Burghs renewed his Motion, the right hon. Gentleman, having suffered a great Party defeat on a certain Wednesday, sent down a message to the House by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), saying that he was prepared to support the Motion of the Member for the Border Burghs; but, mark, upon these extraordinary conditions—that he would support him, not in his capacity as Prime Minister, but as one of the Members for Greenwich. That, surely, was one of the most extraordinary and subtle distinctions ever drawn, even by such a master of casuistry as the right hon. Gentleman. In 1874, the question assumed another phase, for just before the General Election in that year, a deputation waited on the Prime Minister upon the subject, when he told them that the question was not ripe for settlement. In other words, the right hon. Gentleman was in Office, and intended, if possible, to remain there. But shortly afterwards, when he found himself in the cold shade of Opposition, the question rapidly matured, and the right hon. Gentleman lost no time in making it his own. Now, the wheel of fortune had again turned round. The Liberal Party were again in power; but there was a delay in fulfilling the obligations contracted by them when in Opposition, ostensibly because they wished to pass some useful measure, but really that they might enjoy the sweets of Office and power to the last possible moment, and then go with what they considered would be a capital cry to the country. Was not the Prime Minister rather rash to delay the production of his Reform Bill until the fifth Session of the present Parliament? He would remind the right hon. Gentleman that in 1852, at the beginning of the fifth Session of the then Parliament, Lord John Russell produced his Reform Bill, and within a month from that time the Government of Lord John Russell was numbered with the past. It was not for him to say absit omen, but his Friends were welcome to do so if they liked. He would further point out that the two great measures of Reform passed during the present century were initiated in the first Session of Parliament, and that it took three whole years to carry the last 1140 Reform Bill of 1867 into completion; but the present Government would not be able to take three whole years to complete their Reform Bill, because the Prime Minister had laid it down in the most authoritative manner in Mid Lothian and elsewhere that, though legal, it would be altogether unconstitutional for a Parliament to sit out its seventh Session. In the present circumstances, and having regard to the condition of Ireland, he submitted to the House that any proposal to reform the representation of the people in Parliament was altogether dangerous and inopportune. It was dangerous if Ireland was included in the scope of the Bill, because it would have the effect of returning more Members to that House of the complexion of the hon. Members who were now sitting below him, and of whom he thought the Government had already more on its hands than they could manage; and it would be inopportune if it was proposed to leave Ireland out in the cold, because then the different treatment of Ireland, as compared with the rest of the United Kingdom, would be accentuated. The Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland had said it was necessary to extend the franchise to Ireland, because the Government had four times pledged themselves to that effect. He begged the Government not to be so thinskinned. There was no real necessity for extending the franchise to Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues would, he thought, find considerable difficulty in fulfilling all their promises so rashly given when in Opposition. What about the re-distribution of seats, for instance? Did the Government propose to diminish the number of Irish Representatives? He would like to see them try it; they would not make the attempt with impunity, and if they did not make the attempt they would certainly displease both England and Scotland. But it was said that the county householders had an absolute right to the franchise. He denied altogether the existence of any such right, and he did so on the excellent authority of the present President of the Board of Trade. That right hon. Gentleman said the other day to a deputation respecting the enfranchisement of women, that he considered the franchise a privilege rather than a right. He would like to hear the right hon. Gentle- 1141 man repeat that statement in the House. No doubt, the Prime Minister had said that it was the inherent right of any man not tainted by crime to exercise the franchise. But, if that view was correct, they could not stop at county householders; they must descend to manhood or even universal suffrage; and by what right would they exclude women who were householders? How did universal suffrage work in France? He took that country, because when the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Trevelyan) brought forward this question, he drew a contrast between the franchise as it existed there and as it existed in this country. What was the result of it there? In France they had had five Governments within a period of 18 months; and a Government which lasted six months might there be regarded as a stable Government. They had plenty of electors there, and it was said that every elector required two bayonets to keep him in order. Lord John Russell was quite right when he said that the franchise was not a right, but a trust, and was only to be conferred on electors for the purpose of promoting the better government of the country. The hon. Member for Scarborough (Mr. Caine) said the other day that the present Parliament did not work well, and that it would be better to have one elected on a broader basis; but he would remind him that the late Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster had praised the constitution of this Parliament. The difficulty, however, as it seemed to him, lay not so much in the Parliament as in the legislative incapacity of Her Majesty's Ministers, who, he thought, had done very little, and had done that little badly. Her Majesty's Ministers wanted to pass a certain number of measures, merely in order to say that they had passed them, and they were, in consequence, under the necessity of scamping their work. For instance, the Employers' Liability Act and the Ground Game Act were both so badly drawn that that they would soon require extensive amendments. In the present critical condition and circumstances of Ireland, when she was being governed under the most stringent Coercion Act ever passed or devised by a Parliament of this country—when explosive materials more dangerous even than dynamite were being imported from Cork into Liverpool— 1142 when they were strengthening the Police Force and the guardians of order in the country—surely to tamper with the Constitution, under the pretence of extending the franchise to a class which, as a matter of fact, furnished criminals and enemies to order, was an undertaking from which any Minister ought to shrink.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Sir, the hon. Member for Roxburgh (Mr. A. Elliot) has regretted the absence of the Prime Minister to-day; but lam sure no one will grudge him a holiday. My hon. Friend said that the Prime Minister was also absent last year. [Mr. A. ELLIOT: No.] I certainly understood him to say so. My right hon. Friend was present last year, and he had to deal with an identical Resolution to that which is now before the House. The Prime Minister on that occasion took the opportunity of making a declaration, that it was not necessary any Member of the present Administration should make—namely, that in point of principle the Government were entirely in favour of the Resolution which has been brought forward by the hon. Member for Salford. The hon. Member for Roxburgh said if this Resolution had not been brought forward, and was not voted upon, it would show that the Liberal Party were not in earnest in this matter. That certainly was not the view the Prime Minister took of the Motion last year. He laid down the disadvantage which attended the bringing forward of abstract Resolutions. No doubt, these Resolutions are necessary and useful sometimes, when there is any doubt as to the real feeling on the part of those who may be in power at the time, with reference to the subject-matter under consideration; and I am quite sure my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh does not doubt the sincerity of the determination of Her Majesty's present Government to deal with this question, and to deal with it in the present Parliament. And, therefore, whatever objection the Prime Minister took last year to this Motion being brought forward in this particular manner is stronger now, because, at least, we are one year nearer the time when that measure will be brought forward. I do not think my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh is likely to suppose that the Government will be terrified by the awful denunciation we 1143 have heard from the hon. and gallant Member opposite (Colonel Alexander). It is refreshing, I must say, in this House to hear such a fine specimen of fossilized Toryism using the arguments to which we have just listened. They are the arguments which were used in the time of Sir Charles Wetherall, 50 years ago—the old weapons, hardly with the rust rubbed off them, taken down from the shelf were they have remained so many years. The same arguments were employed against giving the franchise to the £10 householder in boroughs. It was said it was dangerous and inopportune. I doubt whether that is not the view of all hon. Members who sit opposite. But there are Gentlemen who think that to extend the franchise to the dwellers in the counties on the same footing as it is given to the dwellers in the towns is a thing which the Government and the Gentlemen who sit on this side of the House do not consider dangerous and inopportune, but which they think extremely expedient; which they think is a measure of urgent necessity, and one which ought to be accomplished in the present Parliament. That is a declaration which the Prime Minister has made more than once. It is entirely held by the Government, and it is perfectly well known as a declaration which they intend to fulfil. I have no hesitation in saying that the Government do consider that this measure, above all, is the measure of the greatest importance which this Parliament was elected to accomplish. That being so, I think my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh will consider that we are as earnest in favour of this measure as ever we were; but I think he must know what were the reasons why a measure of this character should not have been brought forward in the first year of the Parliament that was elected in 1880. They are sufficiently well known, however, and I shall not now dwell upon them. There is one point in this Resolution of which I ought to say a word. The hon. Member for Salford has this year emphasized the word "uniformity" in a way in which it was not emphasized last year. When the Prime Minister accepted the Resolution last year, he accepted it as a general declaration that the right of the householder, which is given in the borough, should not be denied to the dweller in the county. 1144 That is the meaning of a Resolution of this character; but the hon. Member for Salford has endeavoured to put upon it more particular gloss of his own. He says "uniformity" does not only mean that, but it means that you shall have no other qualification in the counties than that which you have in the boroughs. All I can say on that subject is, that it is not upon a general Resolution of this kind that the House can commit itself to the principles which will have to be discussed when a Bill is brought forward; and to endeavour to attach any such meaning to the Resolution would not, I think, be wise or politic. Therefore, in dealing with the Resolution, I must deal with it as the Government dealt with it last year—as a general declaration that the householder in the county is to be entitled to the franchise in the same manner as the householder in the borough is already entitled to the franchise. My hon. Friend says—As soon as the state of public "business shall permit, there shall be established uniformity of franchise throughout the whole of the United Kingdom.There is nothing in that to which the Government dissent. The hon. and gallant Member opposite (Colonel Alexander) says—"You won't have time if you bring in this Reform Bill next Session." Upon that point Her Majesty's Government differ from the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I believe the great majority of this House are in favour of establishing the principle of the extension of the franchise to the counties; and I think there will be ample time within the limits of the present Parliament to carry out that which is, no doubt, one of its principal works. My hon. Friend has brought forward this Motion at the present time; but I do not know in what sense he thinks it will further the cause which he and I have at heart. It is plain, from the state of the House at the present moment, that it is not regarded as a serious battle on this question, either on the part of its supporters, or on the part of its opponents. The Government will not be more devoted to this cause than they were before. They are pledged to legislation upon it, and they mean to carry it out. Still, here we have this Resolution before us. It is a Resolution with the principle of which we entirely agree. We think it is a thing that can be done, 1145 and that ought to be done. I do not think there is any necessity for prolonging this discussion, which must be somewhat barren and somewhat unreal in the present position of things; but if the Motion goes to a division, Her Majesty's Government will feel it their duty to support a proposition in which they entirely agree.
§ MR. RAIKES
said, that reference had been made by the hon. Member for Salford to the election for Cambridge University. It had been said that 2,226 clergymen recorded their votes for him at that election. He was very glad to hear that that was so, and he was extremely proud to have received the confidence of such a portion of the commuity, and he should do all he could to deserve it. He had, however, no means of obtaining the facts and figures relating to the matter; and he thought that the hon. Member must have rather had recourse to what Lord Salisbury described as the scientific use of the imagination in compiling the table to which he had referred. He would point out, however, that if he had polled 2,226 clerical votes, yet his lay vote was within 20 of the total number of votes polled by his opponent. If his opponent had 20 clergy in his favour, it was clear that the majority of lay votes remained with himself. With regard to the present debate, it would hardly be imagined by any stranger that they wore engaged in discussing a most momentous problem. The hon. Member for Salford had told them, in a somewhat dogmatic fashion, that the country had decided that the question should be re-opened; but those who had heard the debate would be rather inclined to think that it was only the hon. Member for Salford who had determined that it should be re-opened, and that in doing so he had not conferred any great obligations upon either his Party Leaders or upon his Party. The feeling of the Liberal Party upon this question was evident by the state of the Liberal Benches during the harangue of the hon. Member. There were at no time more than 13 Members present on that side, and sometimes the audience was reduced to 11. The House was evidently of opinion that they were, to use a simile employed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) in the early days of the Reform crusade, "flogging 1146 a dead horse." The hon. Member for Salford had said—We who are in the closest contact with the great masses of the population have been able to judge what their views upon this subject are.No doubt, the hon. Member represented a populous borough; but it had been his privilege to stand a contested election last year in a Lancashire borough with scarcely less population. When asked his views upon the county franchise by his friends, he stated that he would put a paragraph in his address expressly condemning the mode of dealing with this question proposed by the hon. Member for Salford. Some of his supporters thought it would do him harm, but it did not; and in the great constituency of Preston, where he was brought in contact with the mas3 of the population, he polled more votes than his predecessor had done at the previous election, although he did not take the same positive line as he adopted. The same feeling on this question, he believed, prevailed in most of the other Lancashire boroughs. The hon. Member for Salford said that the tone of the speech of the Prime Minister upon this question last year had saddened him. But how much greater must the discouragement of the hon. Member be on that occasion when the Prime Minister was not even present at the discussion, thereby showing that he, like the Home Secretary, deprecated it as inopportune. The hon. Member had compared the merits of the proposal for "equality" in the franchise with the merits of the proposal for "uniformity." Here he saw signs of a division in the Liberal Party, for while the hon. Member for Salford was in favour of uniformity, the Home Secretary was in favour of equality. The question to be decided was not only whether they were to confer the franchise upon the rural ratepayer, but also whether, in order to effect that object, they were to disfranchise other persons who already enjoyed the franchise. The hon. Member claimed that the rural ratepayer was entitled to the franchise to the exclusion of all other classes. He proposed to disfranchise the freeholders, the old occupiers of £50 who, under the Chandos Clause, might not reside upon the land, and to make a clean sweep of the classes which carried the Reform Bills of 1832 and 1867. The 1147 hon. Member did not pretend that a freeholder was unfit to exercise the franchise; but he maintained that the mere fact of residence in a hovel gave the resident a greater claim to the franchise than was possessed by the owner. He would adduce an example of the manner in which the proposal of the hon. Member, if accepted, would swamp the electorate. In the division of South-West Lancashire, which contained the important towns of Liverpool, Warrington, and Wigan, 133,000 persons would be qualified to exercise the franchise on the basis of the hon. Member's proposal. The 62,000 persons in that district, who now lived in houses or occupied land of the value of £12, could, therefore, be outvoted by a majority of 71,000. Thus, a present would be made to the poorest class in the community of the actual representation of the division. He did not wish to say anything derogatory of the class of rural labourers, for he believed there was no class more entitled to consideration and respect; but, before making that class the sole arbiters of the destinies of a great country, without any check, they ought to bear in mind that that class was about the poorest which could be found among the Western nations of Europe, and were consequently open to many temptations. Neither should they forget that if the proposal before the House were agreed to, those on whom it would confer power would be extremely accessible in quiet times to the influences of wealth, and in times of agitation equally open to the influence of the demagogue. But it was a mistake to suppose that the class in question was altogether excluded from the representation at the present moment. In the first place, there were certain rural boroughs for which provision had been made in the Reform Act. Among them were Aylesbury, Cricklade, Shoreham, Wenlock, and East Retford. It was, therefore, manifest that the rural ratepayers, in whom the hon. Member took such interest, were not without a voice in the House of Commons. There was another class of boroughs, such as Woodstock, Eye, and Walling ford, which included a very large body of rural ratepayers, and he asked whether those had represented that there was any special grievance which they wanted to get rid of? He pointed to those boroughs which had 1148 some 20 or 30 seats in the House, and asked whether they had shown any longing for the proposed change? The hon. Member, towards the close of his speech, urged, as a reason for transferring the balance of the State to a new electoral body, that the National Expenditure was likely to be reduced only by an electorate consisting of the most numerous class. Well, if all their experience of the extended electorate of the last 16 years was worth anything, it went to show that the more extended the electorate the larger was the Expenditure. They had now a Liberal Ministry, with a National Expenditure of some £10,000,000 beyond that which was stigmatized by the late Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster as evidence of supreme folly. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Salford said that it was by the influence of the working classes that this country was kept from entering upon another South African War. As far as he knew anything of the working classes, they were by far the most warlike part of the community; and if they were to have such an electorate as the hon. Member advocated, with such a re-adjustment of taxation as would enable government to be carried on without putting their hands into the pockets of the new electors, they would have a fresh South African War every year. With regard to redistribution, the hon. Member had fixed upon 50,000 as the electoral unit of the future. But what would be the consequence of applying the principle of electoral districts to the redistribution of seats? If the bold proposal now before them were adopted, it would be the practical extinction of the electoral privileges which now existed in the counties. If, on the other hand, they were to allow the county electors to retain the privileges so recently conferred, and which had been so well employed, and were also going to enfranchise the agricultural labourer, they would find it necessary to adopt a larger electoral unit than 50,000. He thought they could not put it at less than 75,000 for each extended borough, if they were going to distribute among 300 constituencies the new and the existing electorate. The hon. Member said that a unit of 50,000 would affect 139 borough seats. But if no borough of less than 75,000 was entitled to more 1149 than one Member, unless they added to it such an adjacent area as would bring the population up to twice that amount, a great many constituencies which were now expecting to receive enlarged representation, would have to give up that representation which they now possessed. According to the proposal of the hon. Member, Rochdale, Burnley, Southampton, York, Stockport, and even the most interesting borough of Northampton, Ipswich, Coventry, and many others, would not be entitled to one Member unless swollen by the addition of some adjoining district. In the same way, many of the larger towns, in order to retain their claim to two Members, would have to be aggrandized by an influx of rural inhabitants so as almost to lose their urban character. Such a consequence as that, when it was found that it was not little boroughs only that would be extinguished, might be enough to check the ardour of many an energetic Reformer. Speaking in 1850 in the House of Commons upon a somewhat analagous Motion to that at present before the House, and when an attempt was made to press the question of County Franchise upon the ground of abstract right, Mr. Disraeli said—If, in the language of those who brought forward the Resolution, the House of Commons was the House of the people, and if it were intended to concentrate in it all the personal and material interests of the multitude, then they were hound to extend the suffrage to everyone. They hesitated to do that because they knew ii was dangerous. The suffrage was a matter of convention and compact.That was what should occupy the attention of the House. It was not a question of abstract rights and principles; but it was a question of how they could properly adjust the balance of the rights of all important classes.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, that he would not have troubled the House, having spoken on this subject so many times before, but for the remarks of the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge, who seemed to suppose, from the absence of the Prime Minister, which was, however, unavoidable, and one or two other facts, that there was a want of interest shown in the question before the House. He did not believe there could be a greater mistake; and the right hon. Gentleman, notwithstanding his experience at Preston, was as much convinced as he (Mr. W. E. 1150 Forster) was that they were elected to prevent the great anomaly of the county householder not having a vote. He did not believe there was any question upon which there was such an unanimity of opinion in the country. To show that that was the case, he would assert that it was a rarity in the country to hear a speech expressing any doubt upon the subject. They had got beyond abstract Resolutions. The country expected that, before they were sent back to their constituents, the Government would bring in, and carry through, a measure giving to householders in the counties the franchise, and, no doubt, that must be accompanied by a very considerable redistribution of seats; and for these purposes they were actually waiting for a Bill to be brought forward by the Government, for they could not debate these questions with any advantage on the details of a Resolution like this. He was very glad at one result of the discussion that had taken place, and that was to hear his right hon. Friend point to next Session as the time when that measure might be brought forward, and he thought the country expected that no longer a time than next Session should elapse before it was thought of. Of course, this Session would be fully occupied with other Bills. The country would expect that the matter should not be delayed longer than next year. As to the debate of last Session, and the question of uniformity of electors in boroughs and counties, he would not now discuss whether there should be a disfranchisement of the 40s. freeholders, or whether the electors of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University should be disfranchised, as the House could not go into these details until they had a Bill before them. He supposed the hon. Member for Salford would go to a division, and he supposed, too, that the Government would support him. He did not, indeed, see how they could do otherwise. He should vote for the Resolution, though he did not think that they could usefully debate a Reform Bill until the responsible Government had brought it before them. The hon. Member for Roxburgh had referred to the grievance felt by the Scotch labourers in not having votes, and he was sorry to hear the argument of ignorance re-introduced by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Raikes), for that never 1151 had applied to Scotland. Many of the Scotch labourers were very well educated, and had been so for many years; but it was also the case that the grievance with regard to town voters was felt more in Scotland than elsewhere. He was lately in a district of Scotland where this anomaly existed in a most glaring manner. There was a suburb of Glasgow, which a stranger could not distinguish as not being a part of Glasgow itself, the population of which had increased in 10 years from 50,000 to 130,000, but where no ratepayer under £12 rental had a vote. He could not conceive any greater ground of political grievance than the case of that suburb. As to the question of swamping, he would ask where the right hon. Gentle man the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Raikes) was in 1869—
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members not being present,
§ House adjourned at a quarter before Eight o'clock till Monday next.