§ Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 3a"—(The Earl of Derby.)
§ LORD RAVENSWORTH
said, that on this the last stage of the Bill, he would ask their Lordships' indulgence, while he drew their attention to three points on which he wished to offer a few remarks. First of all he wished to record his unaltered 931 and unalterable conviction that the proposed lodger franchise was too low. That opinion was unaffected by the understanding arrived at on the subject in the House of Commons, the consideration of which had induced their Lordships yesterday to consent to the somewhat humiliating proceeding of reversing their own decision, which had been affirmed by a considerable majority. He did not pretend to complain of that proceeding, because, as the noble Earl at the head of the Government had shown, there might not be a sufficient difference between the figure inserted on the Motion of the noble and learned Lord (Lord Cairns) and that contained in the Bill to justify them in running the risk of a conflict between the two Houses on the matter. That might be the case, but it did not move him from his unalterable conviction that the figure first inserted in the Bill was too low. Their Lordships must remember that the lodger franchise formed no part of the principle of this measure. The principle of the Bill was to confer the electoral franchise on householders bearing the burdens of the rates. The lodger franchise was simply a graft on the original stock of the measure, and one which he greatly feared would be found to produce anything but wholesome fruit. Taking the estimate of the noble Earl at the head of the Government that every man who received the wages of labour was supposed to devote one-sixth of his earnings to the cost of his lodgment, every man who paid 4s. a week in the metropolis and other places for his lodgings, or, in other words, every man receiving 24s. a week as wages of his labour, would under this Bill have the electoral franchise. No calculations respecting any district of the metropolis had been given to their Lordships by the First Lord of the Treasury or any other noble Lord which might guide them towards forming any correct view of the numbers who would be enfranchised by that provision. That those numbers, however, would be very considerable — considerable enough to turn the scale in every contested election in the metropolitan districts—there could be little or no doubt. But they were told that it was unsafe to meddle with the figure of the lodger franchise proposed in the Bill—that it had been adopted in order to confer the suffrage on the honest, industrious artizan, who earned his daily bread by the sweat of his brow. He had listened with great attention to the able and in- 932 teresting speech delivered by the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Shaftesbury), who knew more of the condition of the artizan class in the metropolis—and, indeed, anywhere else—than perhaps any other Member of that House. He concurred in the description given by that noble Earl of the honesty and integrity of these men as individuals, and speaking of them as individuals, there were no men whom he would sooner trust with the privilege of the franchise than those artizans to whom the noble Earl referred; but he must nevertheless say that he had an objection, in the present social state of this country, to conferring that privilege on those men as a class; and that objection was founded on a plain and intelligible reason, which at the risk of unpopularity he would state to their Lordships. These men were not free agents; they were not their own masters; they had not the power, even if they had the will, of acting independently, or of freeing themselves from the thraldom of that tyranny which they had themselves constituted—or rather which the officers whom they had elected to preside over their trades Unions had constituted—and which fettered them in all the conduct of their lives. Believing, that as a class, in their present state of social existence, these men were not able to exercise a free and independent vote uninfluenced by terror, intimidation, or coercion, he said that, without wishing to exclude them positively from the franchise, he did not think it would be even for their own advantage that they should possess it until they had the means of freely exercising it. Let him not be misunderstood or misrepresented. After the revelations which had been made of the influence of these trades' union societies, and of the power of their managers not merely to dictate to the members of these unions how they should vote, but to compel them to do wicked deeds, the instigators and abettors of which deserved hanging ten times over, and to receive the penalty due to their crimes, was it possible for their Lordships to believe that, at contested elections, if any circumstance arose which excited any general feeling as to wages, the price of provisions, or any other question connected with their social economy, that those men would not be acted upon and absolutely debarred from exercising their own intelligence and recording their votes accordingly? It was on that account that he believed the artizan class, as a class, would, under present circumstances, be better 933 without the franchise than with it. If in consequence of the fearful disclosures to which he had adverted, the Government of this country, of whatever party it was composed, thought fit to bring in a new law to regulate the proceedings of those trade societies, and give protection to those who lived under them, then, indeed, he should withdraw his objections to investing the artizan class, as a class, with the franchise. And when he said that, let it not be supposed that these men themselves at this moment were insensible to the coercion to which they were subject. Endeavours were being made by working men and artizans themselves in this kingdom to institute societies, whether Conservative or constitutional societies, for protecting the laws and institutions of the country. He had himself only within the last few days accepted the office of president to an association of that kind which the working-men of Newcastle-on-Tyne had formed spontaneously, without any external influence whatever. The second point on which he wished to say a very few words, had reference to the right of representation conferred by that Bill on the University of London, and which by the Scotch Reform Bill would also be conferred on the Scotch Universities. One University alone in the whole kingdom would be left out of this list — namely, the University of Durham. And here, in passing, he must be allowed to say that he had been somewhat surprised at the proposition which the Government had at first made that the University of Durham should be united with so incongruous a body as the University of London. He thought it would be better that the University of Durham should remain without Parliamentary representation, than that such an ill-assorted union as that should take place. The noble Earl on the cross-Benches (Earl Grey) had presented a Petition to their Lordships from the University of Durham, very numerously signed by the Professors, students, and graduates, praying for the representation of that institution in Parliament. In that Petition it was stated that that institution was founded by Act of Parliament in 1832, and received a Royal Charter in 1837, investing it with all the rights and privileges appertaining to a University, including the power of conferring degrees in arts, theology, medicine, and other branches of knowledge. Since then it had conferred degrees and academic distinctions upon upwards of 600 persons. It would be 934 able at present to form a constituency of 300, and its numbers were increasing. He did not say that it ought at once to be formed into a Parliamentary constituency; but considering the great and increasing population of the two large counties of Durham and Northumberland, and considering also the increasing wealth and population of Newcastle-on-Tyne, where the University of Durham had established a school of medicine, they must anticipate that at no distant date the growing importance of that University would give it a strong claim to representation in Parliament. The third and last point to which he would call their Lordships' attention was one of very considerable importance — namely, the representation of minorities, which it was proposed to give to boroughs and counties returning three Members, and commonly known as "three-cornered" constituencies. The rights of minorities to a share in Parliamentary representation had now been acknowledged for a considerable period. They were first brought into prominence by the noble Earl opposite (Earl Russell) in his Reform Bill of 1854, when that noble Earl was a Member of the Ministry of Lord Aberdeen. This subject had since engaged the attention of the political philosophers, and was now likely to be brought into practical operation by the acceptance of the Amendment of the noble and learned Lord (Lord Cairns). If the other House consented to this new mode of taking votes — which, however, seemed likely to be strenuously contested—a valuable principle would be established in our electoral system, and the minorities, which had hitherto been abandoned to sullen discontent, would at last have a chance of exercising their fair share of influence. The Liberal minority of Liverpool would no longer groan under a Conservative representation, and the Conservative minority of Manchester would no longer fret under their practical disfranchisement. Four considerable boroughs had now been added to the former list of seven three-cornered constituencies. He, for one, was not deterred from accepting this change by the novelty of the scheme, because when they were about to confer such popular privileges it was only right and fitting that they should turn their eyes to some means by which the minority might receive a voice in Parliament, and by means of which they might be guarded against too extensive an application of popular influence. It was proposed 935 to give to the county of Durham—which already rejoiced in a pretty numerous Parliamentary representation, inasmuch as it returned ten Members to Parliament — two for each division of the county, and six for the different boroughs—three additional Members, one each for the boroughs of Darlington, Stockton, and Hartlepool. It might be worthy of consideration whether these three boroughs should not be grouped into one constituency, returning three Members, and being thus brought under the new rule of the three-cornered constituencies. Of the ten Members for Durham, eight were returned by the Liberal electors, and two only by the Conservatives—one for the southern division of the county and one for Durham city. That was but a sorry representation of the minority, which gave a proportion of four to one on one side of politics. Again, the great and wealthy town of Newcastle-on-Tyne had during the last twenty-five years returned none but Liberal Members; while Gateshead, which was only separated from it by the Tyne, had never returned a Conservative Member. If the two constituencies were united, numbering together a population of not less than 150,000, there would be some chance of the representation of the minority. He thought that a similar principle of grouping might be applied to the grouping of Sunderland and South Shields. Did their Lordships think that there was not a considerable Conservative minority both in the county of Durham and the great town of New-castle-on-Tyne, which fretted under the present distribution of political power? The same principle might be applied in the grouping of Morpeth and Berwick-on-Tweed, whereby the minority might have a chance of being represented in those towns. Changes such as these, modifying the existing conditions of Parliamentary representation, even if not included in the present Bill, may be fairly entitled to consideration at some future period.
§ LORD REDESDALE
My Lords, as I was precluded from any fair opportunity of making any observations in Committee through being placed in the Chair, I wish to say a few words before the Bill is finally passed. This is a Bill of so much importance that I cannot let the opportunity pass without entering my protest on one or two points. I wish especially to allude to the Amendment brought forward by the noble Earl (Earl Grey) for the partial dis- 936 franchisement of seats in the House of Commons, and also to the Amendment brought forward by the noble Lord opposite (Lord Lyveden) for the total disfranchisement of the smaller boroughs. I think that when the House of Commons sends us up a Bill relating to the constitution of their own body, and determines what boroughs shall be disfranchised, and how the seats thus obtained shall be distributed, it is not within the proper jurisdiction of this House—seeing that it is a matter within the special cognizance of the other House—to determine on the disfranchisement of any constituency returning Members to Parliament. If that proposition had been carried it would have been setting a most fatal precedent for the action of the other House in any matter affecting the privileges of your Lordships' House. The only other point to which I will allude is the motive which induced the proposal of this Bill, and which was that by the change proposed it might be made a measure of finality. I am all for finality on this subject; but finality does not depend so much upon what is in the Bill as on the conduct of the Leaders of the great political parties in the country. If those Leaders are determined to accept the measure as final, it will be made final. But if they are determined to make it a pretext for political agitation, it will not be final. I believe the measure was brought forward by the Government with the view of settling the question, which they thought could not be settled in any other manner; and, if it were settled, as I trust it will be, something would be gained. But if this question is always to be taken up as a ground for agitation, and the field of a contest in which political power is to be gained, the greatest possible mischief will ensue, and the country will be kept in a state prejudicial to all its best interests. The main objection urged on the other side is that the measure is rather too liberal than otherwise. It certainly has not failed on account of want of liberality. Why, then, should not the Bill be accepted? and why should questions be raised which can lead only to discontent in the country, which can produce no practical good, and which, if persevered in, must lead to very serious consequences? There are many proper ways in which those not in power may seek to attain power. They may show themselves the most fitting men to obtain the confidence of the country upon questions both foreign and domestic; but I do hope that 937 when this Bill becomes the future Constitution of the country they will not make the constitution of the House of Commons the perpetual battle-field of party politics, but that they will allow what has occurred to rest quietly in the grave of political oblivion, and will accept the Bill as a full, complete, and final settlement of this question.
§ EARL FORTESCUE
said, he could not understand how the noble Lord could believe in the permanence of those portions of the Bill dealing with compound-householders, and with the re-distribution of seats. It seemed to him that the Bill unsettled everything, and was likely to settle nothing. While rampantly Radical as regarded the franchise, the measure made a futile attempt at Conservatism as regarded the distribution of seats; and it perpetuated anomalies which had hitherto been tolerated only on account of the higher class of voters in whom the franchise was chiefly vested. He would ask on what pretext of justice or expediency could the franchise, so liberally given to householders in towns, be denied to the population inhabiting the counties? He could not conceive any system to be satisfactory until a new arrangement of the boroughs was adopted, extending the smaller boroughs over the rural districts until they met, so that every ratepaying householder and £10 lodger should have a vote. The rural population were nearly as well educated as the inhabitants of towns, and were more moral and less criminal. They were, therefore, equally entitled to the suffrage. In this way only could justice be done to the rural population of the country. Unless some such step was taken, there would be a strenuous demand on the part of the unrepresented in the counties for electoral districts; otherwise they would be placing the whole power of the country in the hands of the most dangerous and, at the same time, the most ignorant classes of the community.
§ LORD LYVEDEN
I feel bound to protest against the novel and extraordinary doctrine laid down by the noble Chairman of Committees, that this House has no right to interfere in proposing the disfranchisement of boroughs. If any rule existed, of course neither my noble Friend (Earl Grey) nor myself would have brought forward our Amendments; but it seems to me perfectly competent for your Lordships not only to discuss any portion of this Bill, but even to introduce a Bill yourselves for 938 the disfranchisement of small boroughs, an object for whose consideration your Lordships are more unbiassed than the Commons. If the noble Lord's doctrine be correct, it is highly desirable that the noble Earl at the head of the Government, or some noble Lord of high authority, should inform us what is within the compass of your Lordships' consideration and what is not. If the noble Lord simply means that it is inexpedient for us to propose a scheme of disfranchisement, that is obviously a matter of individual opinion. With regard to the observations addressed by the noble Lord to the Leaders of the party on this side of the House, and his admonition to them not to make the Representation of the People a matter of party discussion, that clearly lies within their own discretion. We do not need any lecture from the noble Lord to tell us what we ought and what we ought not to do. Whether we re-open the question or not, depend upon it the country will do it. No doubt, for fifteen years, this question has been made too much a party plaything, and the result is that many of your Lordships are now voting for a Bill of which you do not approve. The noble Lord at the head of the Government took up the question for the advantage of his party, and if any other party think it for their advantage to take it up hereafter, I cannot see why they should be precluded from doing so. Moreover, I undertake to say that probably not a year—certainly not two or three years—will elapse before the re-distribution of seats is again made a paramount question among the public. It is impossible that the continuance of these small boroughs can be long tolerated. With regard to this Bill, I believe most of your Lordships would wish to say "Not-Content" to it; but it is out of your power to do so. If your Lordships were called upon to lay your hands upon your hearts, as you are upon State trials, and say, Upon your honour, "Content" or "Not-Content," I do not believe there would be many who would support the Bill. To household suffrage, I do not object, for I think it is as good a qualification as, under the circumstances, could be proposed; but I object to the way in which this Bill has been settled. I think the manner in which the House of Commons were invited to mould the Bill as they chose is a most dangerous and democratic precedent, and one prejudicial to the Executive Government and demoralizing to the House of Commons. I think, too, 939 that the Government have done a great deal to disparage this House in public estimation by their course with reference to the lodger franchise. When the Amendment, raising the figure to £15 was proposed, the noble Earl (the Earl of Malmesbury) eagerly accepted it; but last night the Prime Minister, seeing that the alteration could not possibly be adopted by the other House, came down and advised your Lordships to revoke your decision; thus placing us in the uncomfortable position of accepting a proposal which we had refused a few days before by a very large majority. I only rose, however to express my solemn protest against the doctrine of the noble Lord (Lord Redesdale).
§ LORD REDESDALE
I do not think the noble Lord quite understood what I said. I did not say that this House had no power to propose a measure of disfranchisement, or that there was any order against it; but that I thought it an unconstitutional exercise of power in this House to propose the disfranchisement of any portion of the other House. Suppose there had been no question of a Reform Bill, but merely the Reports of the Commissioners on the corrupt boroughs, and the House of Commons had not thought fit to take any steps on those Reports, but had allowed writs to be issued, would it in that case have been proper for this House to have brought in a Bill for the disfranchisement of any of those boroughs? The noble Lord (Lord Lyveden) thinks it would; but I think otherwise. I should hold it to be an unconstitutional interference of one House with the privileges of the other. That one House may proceed to the disfranchisement of a portion of the other is a doctrine which may lead to dangerous consequences.
thought he might congratulate their Lordships on having made so little alteration in the Bill. With regard to the competency of their Lordships to deal with measures of disfranchisement, he would remind them of a case in which the two Houses differed. On the 19th of March, 1821, the House of Commons on the third reading of the Grampound Disfranchisement Bill, the noble Earl opposite (Earl Russell) said—At first he had proposed the elective franchise at Leeds to be exercised by those who paid scot and lot; then, conceiving that there might be some Members indisposed to agree to so extensive a suffrage, he had proposed to confine it to housekeepers of £5 a year; and, seeing the House still indisposed to go to that extent, he had further restricted it 940 to £10 a year. After that, he was extremely sorry to find that an hon. Gentleman thought it right to raise the qualification to £20 a year. That, in his opinion, deprived the Bill of its popular character. His original object was, to bring within the circle of the Constitution a large mass of the unrepresented people, and induce them to think that they had representatives sitting in that House. So feeling, he could no longer take charge of the Bill. At the same time, he was unwilling to lose the Bill altogether, and should vote against the Amendment."—[2 Hansard, iv. 1338–9.]That Amendment was to alter the franchise to persons paying scot and lot in the proposed borough of Leeds, and Lord Milton who proposed that Amendment was supported by Lord Althorpe, Mr. Tierney, Mr. Scarlett, (afterwards Lord Abinger), by his own noble Relative, and other Constitutional Members of Parliament, sixty-six in all. Lord Milton considered that it would be better to adhere to the Constitutional practice and to say that the borough should be a scot and lot borough than to make any fanciful deviations under the notion of forming a good representation. This was the Amendment which the noble Earl on the front Opposition Bench then opposed, and he would remind the noble Earl that in the Penhryn Disfranchisement Bill, about six years later, he (Earl Russell) proposed a £20 franchise. Let them not talk then any more of inconsistencies, but be thankful for the measure which had been submitted to them. He would now quote a few words made use of by a noble Lord (Lord Milton) being in Committee on the Grampound Disfranchisement Bill. So much had been said about the "residuum" that he could, not help recalling to their Lordships' minds the views of that old-fashioned politician, Lord Milton. He said—As to the distinction of respectable classes, as distinguished from the inferior orders, he protested against the use of the term. One class of society might be poorer or more unfortunate than another; but the poorest man in the realm, if he were honest, sober, and industrious, was just as respectable as the most exalted."—[2 Hansard, iv. 1069.]For his part he had no gloomy forebodings with regard to this Bill. He believed that the country generally was indebted to the Government of the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby), who, in the course which they had taken, had exposed themselves to a degree of obloquy to which he would not have subjected himself for any amount of gratitude that might be expected, and he hoped that future constituencies would not follow the example set by the Borough of Preston—which, instead of returning the noble 941 Earl now at the head of Her Majesty's Government, chose Mr. Hunt—but would recollect those who had had the greatest difficulty in carrying this important measure.
§ EARL RUSSELL
My Lords, I do not rise to speak on the question whether this Bill should be read a third time, because I think all your Lordships must understand that it is a matter of necessity that this Bill should be now read a third time. For my own part, whatever fault I find in portions of the Bill, I do trust that it may be so treated in the other House of Parliament that your Lordships and the other House may agree to the measure, and that, without going the length of the noble Baron the Chairman of Committees (Lord Redesdale), it may lead, for a time at least, to a settlement of this question. It is a great evil not merely that there should be agitation, but that there should be schemes constantly set afloat and discussed affecting the most vital parts of our Constitution, and thereby endangering the existence of those vital parts. That is in itself an evil; and I trust that, whatever may be the course of this question, it may lead to a settlement at least for some time to come. With regard to the measure itself, I have some observations to make. As to the franchise, I will not now raise any controversy. It is not the franchise that I thought best calculated to form a body of electors fit to return Members to Parliament. But I do not wish to revive any controversy on that point at this moment. Both Houses of Parliament have concurred in that franchise, and I certainly desire that it may operate beneficially. What I fear is that there will be more corruption, more treating, more bribery than have hitherto been known; because the franchise, being extended to a very ignorant class, who have no political opinions whatever, they are more open to the temptations which men of wealth may offer, in order to become Members of the other House of Parliament, than persons who are better qualified to form an opinion on public events, and therefore better fitted to choose their representatives. But I must say, at the same time, that, while I think this franchise may do some mischief, I have no belief whatever in the dangers apprehended by my noble Friend (the Earl of Shaftesbury) and some of the most able Members of this House, who are best acquainted with the working classes. Great questions, after all, depend 942 not merely upon the electors and those who are elected to the other House of Parliament, or on the votes of that House, but rather on the temper and disposition of the people of this country. Now, my belief is that the people of this country are thoroughly atached to their Constitution, and that they would not be induced by any propositions which might be made, however inviting they might appear, in whatever beautiful colours they might be dressed, to part with the authority of the Crown, or of the two Houses of Parliament. I believe the people are attached to all parts of the Constitution, and, therefore, although we may hear of many mistaken elections, I do not myself apprehend that the Constitution is in any danger whatever from the Bill. And when I say that mistaken elections may be made, I mean such elections as I remember long ago, and one of which concerned the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) himself. The noble Earl became a member of Lord Grey's Government, he was placed in a most important post, and went down to be re-elected for a borough in which the franchise was vested in all householders who had resided, I think, six months in the borough.
§ EARL RUSSELL
Universal suffrage—I did not know it went quite so far. But the result of that election was that the noble Earl, a most competent representative, having recently become a Member of the Reform Ministry of Lord Grey, and whose talents and eloquence were sure to be of the greatest service to the Government, was rejected, and a man known as "Orator Hunt" was returned, than whom a more empty demagogue never appeared in the House of Commons. Well, that is the sort of election which I think may take place in some cases. But I feel sure that that the great body of the people will correct any such mistakes, and that suitable persons will be intrusted with the control of the legislation of this country. And now I will say a few words on the subject of redistribution. The noble Lord (Lord Redesdale) says that it should be taken as an absolutely permanent settlement. But let me remind the noble Lord that it does not depend on the Leaders of parties, but upon public opinion and the feeling of the country whether that settlement should be considered permanent. I do not think that the question of distribution, if carried merely so far as my noble Friend (Lord 943 Lyveden) the other evening proposed to carry it by the abolition of the boroughs under 5,000, would be likely to disturb the country, or that such an agitation would take place with respect to the scheme as would shake the whole structure and constitution of the House of Commons. I do not apprehend any dangerous consequences from an agitation of that kind; and therefore, while with regard to the franchise I trust the settlement may be permanent, I do not think, with regard to re-distribution, that there will be any such dangerous agitation as would inflict a serious blow upon the well-working of the Constitution of this country. That is the point to be looked to. We may depend upon it, however we may refine, we can make no better Constitution than that which now exists, and we should rather try to improve it, and improve our laws from time to time, than indulge in fancies which may only lead us to worse. But there are questions which the noble Earl himself (the Earl of Derby) has raised, but has not solved, as to his reasons for bringing this measure before us. The noble Earl told us that it was impossible that he should consent again to be made a stop-gap, or to propose a measure in which he should be outbid by the Opposition, and that, therefore he felt that he must introduce something which was likely to be carried. Now, it struck me at the time, and it strikes me now in a very painful manner, that the noble Earl never went beyond the statement that himself and his party could not succeed except by a measure of this kind. He never told us that he and the Leaders of his party were satisfied that this was a measure for the public good, which, in respect of the franchise and in respect of the re-distribution of seats, would, he was convinced, work work well for the good of the country, and for the permanence of the Constitution. The noble Earl never told us that he had satisfied himself upon these points. Now, I have stated to your Lordships that I have not much apprehension on the subject. But I own it strikes me with a very painful feeling that the party opposite, of which the noble Earl is the Leader, should for many years have maintained that going below £10 was a dangerous measure; that they could not assent to the proposal in the Bill of 1866, because the franchise was about to be degraded; and that all of a sudden they should produce a measure not only going below £10, but far below it, in a democratic direction, against which 944 they had so long and so frequently protested. It strikes me that that is a course incompatible with a belief in the sincerity of the men who have proposed this measure; and accordingly a noble Earl a Member of this House (the Earl of Carnarvon), a noble Lord a Member of the other House (Viscount Cranborne), and a gallant General, likewise a Member of that House (General Peel), left the Ministry, showing that they had said what they believed, and that they still believed what they in former years had said. I think these members of the Government acted in a manner highly honourable to them; I think they have done much to redeem the character of public men in both Houses of Parliament; and that they were sincere when they objected to us that we were carrying a measure that was dangerous in a democratic direction. But there we were, trying to pass in the other House of Parliament a measure as to which we were perpetually told, "You are going too far; you are going to too great lengths in the direction of democracy," when, in reality, the objection was that we were not going far enough, and those who told us that we were going too far, themselves thought that the measure to be carried ought to go further. The noble Earl was successful in these tactics. But they were tactics which, so far as I am aware, were never before practised by any party, and I hope that they never will be practised again.
§ On Question, agreed to.
§ Bill read 3a accordingly.
said: My Lords, according to the forms of the House it is only now that I can move the clause of which I have given notice; and any observations I may hazard on the Bill itself will be a preface to discussion of the question I wish to raise this evening. Without denying that some political advantages may be derived from such a Bill as we are passing, it cannot be denied that it is calculated to aggravate corruption where it now exists, and to form it where it has been absent. It threatens to occasion vast difficulties in the parochial system of the country. In 309 boroughs the middle classes are disfranchised by it. It takes away five-and-twenty seats, which were open to the generality of candidates, and transfers them to places only open to proprietors connected with them, and whose 945 fortunes are large enough to influence twelve-pounders. In boroughs it establishes a suffrage which cannot very well descend, and in counties one which is not likely to be permanent. Under these circumstances, if any generally-felt defect of the Reform Act could be removed at the same time, good would have been bought however high the cost, evil would be mixed however striking its preponderance. The experience of many General Elections has shown that the Act of 1832, although well contrived for many of its purposes, fails entirely in one—namely, that of bringing into Parliament all those who from acquired reputation, in the judgment of the House of Commons and the country, ought to be there. The failure is explained in this manner. The Act of 1832 has led to innumerable contests where none formerly existed. The chances, therefore, of exclusion by local accidents and influences are much greater than they used to be when contests where exceptional. Before that epoch each party had so many nomination boroughs to dispose of that any one of Parliamentary importance excluded at a General Election was very soon restored. Mr. Burke, after being the Leader of the Opposition, by his enlightened conduct on American affairs, lost the confidence of Bristol, but came in immediately for a less considerable borough. To-night we have heard from the noble Earl the head of the late Government, an allusion to the circumstances under which the noble Earl the First Lord of the Treasury lost his seat for Preston before the change of the old system. But he was not, I think, for any time excluded from the Legislature. Since 1833, contests being more frequent and the restoring power being curtailed, such men as Mr. Grote, Sir William Molesworth, Mr. Bright, Mr. Cobden, Mr. Milner Gibson in the Democratic party; the late Lord Carlisle, Lord Macaulay, Mr. Bernal among the Whigs; Mr. Gladstone among the followers of Sir Robert Peel; Sir Edward Lytton in the ranks of the Conservatives have been excluded; some for one, some for two Sessions, some during whole Parliaments, not by the public voice but by the accidental turn of separate elections. The State has been entirely without the power to recall them. The anomalous and indefensible position has arisen that while a population of 30,000,000 might agree that such and such a person ought to be in the representative assembly, they have been without a shadow of ability to give effect 946 to their desire; and yet, the power which baffled their desire might be that of half-a-dozen voters in a very limited constituency. But these half-dozen voters should not be regarded as having arrived at an exclusion which the whole United Kingdom was incapable of remedying. In nine cases out of ten their object would have been not to keep a given public man out of the Legislature, but simply to gain a triumph for the party they espoused and for the colours they adopted. In one case of Parliamentary exclusion, that of Mr. Gladstone in 1846, the effect was to contradict the very principle of our system. During the whole time Mr. Gladstone remained at the head of the Colonial Office he was without a seat, and the department ceased to have that responsibility which arises from direct intercourse between the Minister and the assembly. The principle of the United States, where Secretaries of State are not admissible to Congress, was forced upon this country by its incapacity and helplessness to overcome the verdict of a borough. In another case a bright career was suddenly arrested. Lord Macaulay gave up his situation in the Cabinet and never afterwards resumed it, because having given his support to the endowment of Maynooth he lost the confidence of the ultra-Protestant majority in Edinburgh. In a third case the House of Commons was deprived of its incomparable Chairman of Committees, the late Mr. Bernal, who, although a candidate more qualified could hardly be conceived, lost Rochester in 1852, because the hostile party was the strongest. So great was the difficulty of replacing him that Mr. Wilson Patten, already charged with the management of private Bills, was compelled to undertake a double burden, to which the strength of any man would be unequal. Hardly a General Election has occurred since 1833 without inflicting on the public losses of this nature. Under the present Bill contests are more likely to increase than to diminish. The number of remarkable exclusions, therefore, is more likely to increase than to diminish. The power of replacing losses will sink to a lower ebb in proportion as the smaller boroughs vanish wholly from our system. It is not, therefore, an improper moment for endeavouring to establish in the State that which it so evidently wants—namely, some effective means of giving force to the opinion of the country after General Elections as to distinguished statesmen whom the General Election has not succeeded in return- 947 ing. On a subject of the kind the public must act through some known organization in which its will may be supposed to be embodied. The Privy Council would be too much separated from the body of the people; the Government would be too much identified with party to suffice for such a function. The representative assembly would alone be qualified to act for, and attain the purpose of, the country from which it has emerged. But such a power could scarcely be confided to the naked action of the Parliamentary majority, who might of course subordinate it to the impulses of faction. The Standing Order would pronounce upon the method, of which the result would be that both parties after General Elections might recall those of whom they had been casually deprived, and whose return an overwhelming number of electors throughout the kingdom would have sanctioned. According to the immemorial and inviolable usages of Parliament, all Members must sit ostensibly for definite constituencies. Unless they did so they could not be an object of reply or of remark in Parliamentary discussion. With a view to the maintainance of established forms, legal fictions have been always genial to our system. As the power of appointing Members to enjoy a nominal connection with these vacant boroughs, could only be exerted by adding, for the moment, to the number of the House of Commons, there would be a strong reluctance to exert it. It could only come into activity when public wants required, and public sympathy upheld it; and if in the House of Commons a power of this kind could not be easily initiated, it might be very well accepted from the initiative of your Lordships.
It is possible, perhaps, that the same end may be obtained, the same want extinguished, by a sounder method. I have no prejudice in favour of the specific course I have endeavoured to describe; my strong impression is, that no one can bring a project to maturity without official aid to warn and to enlighten him. But innovation as far as possible reduced to ancient forms can hardly be an object of contempt or of reproach, when in order to correct an evil which is not sheltered by antiquity, some kind of innovation is altogether indispensable. But those who criticize the method I propose, at least, are bound to shew that by some older or simpler or better way the public after General Elections may recall the genius of which localities have happened to deprive 948 it; and the community at large restore to Parliament the minds whose action it requires and whose obscurity it deprecates; whose action is essential to its safety, or whose obscurity is inconsistent with its glory.
Moved, after Clause 12, to insert the following Clause:—
And whereas it is expedient that after every General Election some Power shall exist of finding Seats for Persons accidentally excluded from the Legislature and whose Service in Parliament would be important to the Country: be it enacted, that from Time to Time the House of Commons, according to the Method their Standing Orders shall determine, may nominate One Member for each or any of the aforesaid Boroughs, who shall sit and serve during the Remainder of the Parliament in which he has been nominated."—(The Lord Stratheden.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
My Lords, we have read that under the Jewish dispensation there were certain cities set apart to which the manslayer might fly and be secure from the consequences of his act; but I must confess that the proposal made by the noble Baron opposite to form, as it were, electoral cities of refuge for the unhappy rejected candidates at a General Election has, to my mind, at all events, the merit, of singularity and of novelty. I never heard of such a proposition as that made by the noble Lord to set aside a certain number of boroughs in this country, disfranchised in consequence of their previous delinquencies, as refugia peccatorum, to which every person who cannot find a seat in the usual constitutional way can resort in the hope of obtaining one. Nor is the modus operandi less singular. The notion which the noble Baron appears to have of the representative system is one of the most extraordinary character, because he proposes that, by the action of the House of Commons, and without any interference on the part of constituencies, a certain number of Members may be chosen by the House itself, who will nominally represent constituencies which will have no word to say in their election. So far as the practical operation of the scheme, I may notice in passing that there are seven seats obtained by the disfranchisement of the four places referred to, and I do not know what the noble Lord proposes to do with the other three; but all the seven seats are appropriated by the Act about to be passed; all the seats obtainable by the disfranchisement of these boroughs are already assigned to boroughs, which I do 949 not suppose will be willing to give up their claim to representation in order to gratify a crotchet of the noble Baron. Observe what a scene of confusion there would be after a General Election if the proposal of the noble Baron were adopted—even supposing there were still the seats to dispose of. After a General Election, I suppose, in all probability, there are, at least, a hundred gentlemen who are "accidentally excluded" from the House of Commons, who could not obtain a majority in any one of the counties or the boroughs, and whose services in Parliament, in their own opinion, would be important to the country. Therefore, immediately after a General Election, there would be a hundred gentlemen each desiring to obtain one of the four seats thus at the disposal of the House of Commons. Another election would have to take place by the Members of the House of Commons, who would have before them a hundred candidates, would have to decide upon their respective merits, and would have to enter upon debates and divisions to ascertain whether any of the hundred "accidentally excluded" from the House were persons whose services might be important to the country. I cannot conceive a system which could lead to a greater amount of confusion and difficulty, and create a greater amount of party feeling, and which, at the same time, would be likely to be less successful in its operation. I have already said that the seats are not vacant, and it is proposed to take only four of the seven that were at liberty for disappointed candidates; but the noble Lord does not say that the House of Commons must elect four. He leaves it to the House of Commons to say whether they will or not; and how many there are whose services are so important to the country that they ought to be admitted to Parliament. It would be a waste of words to enter upon any discussion of a scheme so absolutely impracticable, one so entirely at variance with all the principles of our representative system, and one which is so incapable of being brought into practical operation, even if we had at our disposal the seats appropriated by the Act you are about to pass.
said, that the noble Earl, in order to disparage, had made his proposed change the object of gross misrepresentation. He (Lord Campbell) had not suggested any transfer of seats or any form of re-distribution. The question he 950 had mooted was—whether the House of Commons should have the power of adding to its number, by such a method as its Standing Order might determine, not more than four Members, who, to preserve its forms, could sit for nominal constituencies? It was impossible, he well knew, that their Lordships should form a serious opinion on that question after the elaborate derision with which the noble Earl had treated it. But he (Lord Campbell) should appeal with confidence at some future time from the witticisms of the noble Earl to the judgement and the sense of the community.
§ Clause negatived.
§ THE EARL OF HARROWBY
wished to call attention to a small point which he had been requested to urge upon their Lordships, and which had been made the subject of the Memorial presented by the inhabitants of Kensington. The Memorial prayed that their Lordships would be pleased to assign the title of "Kensington" instead of that of "Chelsea" to the new metropolitan borough which the Bill created. The value of property under Shedule A in Kensington was £750,000 a year, whilst that of Chelsea was only £316,000. Under Schedule D the value of property rated was £440,000 in Kensington and £205,000 in Chelsea. The value of the property rated to the poor was in Kensington £672,000 and in Chelsea only £245,000. The acreage in the former place was 2,200 against 665 in the latter. The number of inhabited houses in Kensington was 48,000 and in Chelsea only 6,500. On those grounds the memorialists thought that the name of the new borough ought to be Kensington instead of Chelsea.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
said, he had been requested to receive a deputation from Kensington on this very important question. He replied that he should be happy to do so after the Bill had been read a second time, and before the Schedules came under their consideration. As their Lordships were aware, he was attacked with illness and obliged to remain in bed immediately after the second reading, and therefore could not receive the deputation as he had promised to do. He must, however, say that he could not attach any great importance to the question raised in the memorial. If the question were to be decided by numerical proportions the inhabitants of Kensington had no doubt made out a good case. Kensington, in 951 point of the value of property, the number of its inhabitants, and in other respects, was perhaps move important than Chelsea. He believed that the reason for the introduction of the name of Chelsea as the title of the new borough was because it had been contemplated in previous Bills to give representation to a new borough under that name. For his own part it appeared to him to be of no great importance whether the borough were called Chelsea or Kensington. If the noble Earl thought it worth his while to move that the name of "Kensington" be substituted for that of "Chelsea," in order that the House of Commons might have an opportunity of expressing an opinion upon the point, he (the Earl of Derby) should offer no objection; but he repeated he did not consider the matter of sufficient importance to justify the raising of the question at that moment.
said, the names of "Kensington and Fulham" might appear before "Chelsea" as the respective polling-places.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
said, that upon reflection it would perhaps be better to leave the word unaltered, as the adoption of the Amendment proposed by the noble Earl would render several other alterations in the Bill necessary. He therefore trusted that the noble Earl would not press the point.
§ On Question, That the Bill do pass?
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
Upon the Motion that the Bill do pass, I take the opportunity, my Lords, of expressing on my own part and on behalf of the Government our grateful acknowledgement of the very temperate, fair, and candid manner in which your Lordships have dealt with this question. I have now had the honour of holding a seat in one or the other House of Parliament for five-and-forty years, and during that space of time I do not recollect another instance of a measure of such vast importance, and involving such great and extensive changes, passing through Parliament with so little display of party spirit, or so little of acerbity and acrimony, as have marked the progress of the Bill to which your Lordships have just given your assent. For my own part, my Lords, I 952 can only express a hope that in conducting this measure I have not deviated from the line of fair, candid, and temperate discussion, and that I have not exhibited any undue warmth, or let fall a single syllable that can offend or wound the feelings of any of your Lordships. I have felt strongly the necessity and the importance of passing this Bill—first of all because, after being accepted by the House of Commons, its rejection by your Lordships would have been fraught with imminent peril; and next, because I indulged a hope—which I am glad to see has been shared by noble Lords opposite — that in the adoption of this Bill we may find the means of putting a stop to the continued agitation of a question which, as long as it remained unsettled, only stood in the way of all useful legislation. No doubt we are making a great experiment and "taking a leap in the dark," but I have the greatest confidence in the sound sense of my fellow-countrymen, and I entertain a strong hope that the extended franchise which we are now conferring upon them will be the means of placing the institutions of this country on a firmer basis, and that the passing of this measure will tend to increase the loyalty and contentment of a great portion of Her Majesty's subjects.
§ Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.