§ Commons' Amendments to Lords' Amendments, and Commons' Reasons for disagreeing from some of the Amendments made by the Lords, considered, (according to Order).
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
My Lords, in rising to call your Lordships' attention to 1307 the state in which the Bill for the Amendment of the Representation of the People has come to us from the other House of Parliament, I take it for granted that it would be the general feeling of your Lordships that, except in some case of extreme necessity—except on the introduction of some clause so objectionable as to justify the extreme resistance of your Lordships — it would, not be desirable that you should run any risk of the rejection, at the present time and under present circumstances, of the Bill, which has occupied the attention of the House of Commons and the serious and anxious attention of the country for five months, and the rejection of which would necessarily lead to great, and I may say not unreasonable, agitation throughout the country during the recess, and would not only render unavailing all the labour and all the pains which the House of Commons have bestowed on the subject, but would for the next Session of Parliament almost monopolize, as it has done during the present Session, the attention of this House, to the exclusion of many measures which it would be most desirable to pass. I shall, therefore, pass over without notice all the minor Amendments and alterations which the House of Commons propose to make. And among these minor alterations, I trust I shall not he considered as depreciating the University to which I have the honour to belong, or the post which I have the honour of holding in that University, if I include the Amendment which your Lordships introduced, and which proposed to give to resident members of Colleges and Halls of Oxford and Cambridge, the right of voting under the lodger franchise. That clause has been rejected by the House of Commons; but I do not conceive that this is a point upon which your Lordships would desire to be at issue with the other House; I shall therefore confine the observations I have to offer to your Lordships to three points only. These are the main Amendments which have been introduced by your Lordships, to one of which the House of Commons has assented; and from the others of which it has disagreed. In the first instance, I will refer to that moved by my noble and learned Friend (Lord Cairns) who is not now in the House, and whom I rather envy at this moment, as he is inhaling the breezes of Scotland, instead of attending here. The object of this Amendment was to provide that voters in "three-cornered 1308 constituencies" should have two votes only. That Amendment was adopted by the almost unanimous vote of your Lordships' House, and in deference to your Lordships' judgment, the House of Commons and Her Majesty's Government thought it their duty to accede to that Amendment, and that clause stands part of the Bill. It might, therefore, appear unnecessary to say a word on the subject; but I am anxious that as far as regards my personal opinion I should not be liable to any misunderstanding on this question. I am not favourable to the principle of three-cornered constituencies. They are a novelty unheard of in this country until the passing of the Reform Act of 1832, and they are novelties which I do not think, on the whole, have acted very advantageously. But if it were desirable in any case to give effect to the representation of minorities—of which I say nothing, and which I think is, in principle, to say the least of it, a very doubtful question—but if, in the opinion of your Lordships' House, it is desirable to give effect in certain cases to the representation of minorities, then I agree that in no case could you apply that principle better than in the case of the three-cornered constituencies, or in that of the City of London, which is represented by four Members. And it does so happen that the experiment—for such it is — may be tried very fairly and very impartially in the present state of the case, where the seats are divided—where there are eight counties which return three Members, and where there are—by the measure adopted by the House of Commons, although not originally introduced by the Government, and to which they gave a not very willing assent—four large towns which will return three Members each. With regard to the counties it does so happen that there are only three out of the eight if the Bill passes — [Earl STANHOPE: Only seven.] I mean eight if the present Bill passes—and out of these eight counties there are only three in which even under the present system, without any introduction of the representation of minorities, the same object is not attained which would be attained by the introduction of this Amendment. There are Berkshire, Bucks, and Oxfordshire that return three Members of one and the same political opinions. With regard to all the others there are two on one side and one on the other; which would probably be the result in every case. 1309 I do not object, therefore, to trying the experiment on this limited scale; but I should entertain the very strongest objection to the extension of this principle of three-cornered constituencies for the purpose of introducing that other principle of the representation of minorities. I think it would lead to very great inconvenience. It may be very well tried on a limited scale; but I should have the very strongest objection to its general extension to the constituencies of the country. It is unnecessary to pursue this subject — that Amendment of your Lordships has been accepted by the House of Commons, and it is likely very shortly to become the law of the land. There are two other Amendments with which, to my great regret, the House of Commons have disagreed. One Amendment was that introduced by the noble Marquess on the cross-Benches (the Marquess of Salisbury), who proposed that there should be a right of voting by pulling-papers. The other is Clause 5, by which the qualification for the leasehold and copyhold franchise was reduced from £10 to £5. Now, my Lords, it has been said that our Amendment was for the purpose of raising the franchise from £5 to £10. But that was not quite a legitimate way of putting the question, because our Amendment was to resist the reduction from £10 to £5 — the franchise having been deliberately fixed by the Reform Act of 1832 at £10. In rejecting this Amendment, the House of Commons have thought fit to state their Reasons, and, in looking over those Reasons, I confess I was very forcibly struck by the advice given to a gentleman about to act as a Judge, "Give your judgment by all means; but do not give your reasons." More inconclusive Reasons, I think, for a great and important change in the franchise were never given than those sent up from the other House. I may be permitted, I hope, to examine the grounds upon which the clause is recommended—for the onus probandi in this case does not rest with us—who propose to retain the qualification which has existed for thirty-five years—but the onus probandi is on those who seek to reduce the franchise. Let me look at the Reasons assigned by the House of Commons for dissenting from your Lordships. They begin by saying, first—Because all the franchises conferred by the Reform Act 2 Will. IV., c. 45, with the exception of those given to copyholders and leaseholders have been reduced.1310 It is literally true, as stated; but the fact is that there has been no reduction of any qualification except the occupation franchise. The freehold franchise has not been reduced, it is quite true; but the freehold qualification was not conferred by the Act of 1832; and therefore it is not putting it fairly to say that every other franchise conferred by the Act of 1832 has been reduced except those of the leaseholders and copyholders. I must observe this—that in the Act of 1832 Parliament deliberately placed restrictions even upon the freehold franchise; because the noble Earl (Earl Russell) very well recollects that although the Houses of Parliament did not see fit to interfere with the 40s. freeholds in fee, yet they did introduce a modification deliberately that any freehold occupation qualification, except under certain circumstances, should not be enjoyed under £10. This placed freeholders for life and copyholders and leaseholders for a term of sixty years originally granted on precisely the same footing. But they made another alteration; because they seemed to consider at that time that you were to take the length of possession in a sort of inverse ratio to the amount of the qualification, and consequently they provided that a leaseholder for twenty years originally should require a value of £50, and not £10. And that is the law up to the present time, and, singular to say, it will continue to be the law when this Bill is passed; for although the House of Commons proposes to reduce the £10 down to £5 for leaseholders for lives and leases for terms of sixty years, they have made no reduction in the amount originally granted for leases for twenty years, and under the Amendment of the House of Commons that still remains at £50, at which it was originally fixed. I presume that the franchise introduced in the present Bill will be regulated and controlled by the provisions of the Act of 1832. That Act, as the noble Earl very well knows, provided that under the head of leaseholders should not be included the holders of sub-leases, unless the property was in actual occupation of the persons holding the sub-leases. I presume that, as the Reform Act did not in any case repeal that prohibition in reference to sub-leases of property not being in actual occupation, that prohibition still continues. Then it is said—Because persons possessed of freehold property of the clear annual value of 40s. are entitled to the franchise—1311 therefore copyholders and leaseholders to the amount of £5 should be entitled. And certainly a more astounding discovery was never made than that given in the third Reason of the House of Commons—namely, that—Copyhold property and property let on leases of long duration are, from the security of title and the facility of the means of transfer, in some respects preferable to freehold property, and present a like character of solid and substantial interest.I myself have had something to do with long leases. A part of my property is let on leases for seventy-five years, a part for ninety-nine years, and a part for 999 years. Yet, I never ascertained that a person would give me as much for a lease of seventy-five, or even for ninety-nine, or even for 999 years, as he would for a freehold. Although it may appear extraordinary, it is a fact that there is an appreciable difference between the price of a freehold and a lease of ever so long a period—even for 999 years. It does not amount to more than a quarter per cent; but there is this difference, and a lease of 999 years is not an equivalent to a freehold. But in the face of this the House of Commons desire you to believe that a lease that has not more than a few years to run, or is dependent on the life of a man of eighty, is in point of security of title and facility of the means of transfer and in point of value and stability, equal to a freehold in fee simple. I do not know what reason the House of Commons has for making such a statement; but I can only say that my experience and that of your Lordships and the common sense of the country are quite contrary to the declaration of the House of Commons, and therefore strike out at once the Reason they assign for £5 leaseholders and copyholders voting. Although they rest their arguments on the possession of the franchise by the 40s. freeholder, it must be remembered that that qualification existed prior to 1832, and that Parliament, while then leaving it unaltered, deliberately required as a correlative and corresponding interest the value of £10 for a leasehold, however long the term. To say, therefore, that because the 40s. freeholder has a right to vote, therefore the copyhold and leasehold qualification should be reduced to £5 is tantamount to saying that in 1832 Parliament took a line which is not to be justified. The Commons go on to say— 1312Because persons possessed of copyhold and leasehold property of the clear annual value of £5 are persons well qualified to have a voice in the election of Members of Parliament.Now really, my Lords, that is begging the whole question. The question is whether they are so qualified or not, and it becomes those who say they are qualified to show the character and condition of the persons who will obtain the vote under a £5 leasehold qualification. I do not say they are not qualified, but the onus probandi obviously rests on those who insist on admitting them to the franchise. Now, who are these £5 leaseholders? In the represented boroughs they will consist of the class who are leaseholders of unimproved plots of land, without any dwelling-house or building upon them raising them to the value of £10 a year. Those who have leaseholds above £5 value and under £10 will have the right to vote; whereas those who, under precisely similar conditions, have leases of the value of £10 and upwards will be debarred the right of voting because the property qualifies them or some other persons who occupy it to a vote for the borough. There will consequently be this anomaly—the man who has a wretched property in a borough, unimproved and un-built upon, will have a vote for the county, while the man who has built upon his property and improved it to the value of £10 will have no vote for the county. The last Reason which the Commons give on this point is this—Because, inasmuch as the provisions of the Bill tend on the one hand to increase largely the voters by the occupation franchise in counties, and on the other hand to diminish the voters by proprietary interest, it is expedient that by all fit methods the number of such last-mentioned voters should be increased.Your Lordships will observe the great interest which the House of Commons take in the increase of proprietary interests as distinct from the occupation franchise; and I may be permitted to say that while, in this House, we have heard from the Liberal side nothing but declarations that we are lowering the franchise to a ruinous and dangerous extent, the moment we introduce anything which is to be a restriction, on that franchise—which noble Lords opposite think too extensive—our Amendment is rejected by the other House, which insists on the lower franchise in opposition to the moderate alteration proposed by the Government. Now, the Commons state that "the provisions of the Bill tend on 1313 the one hand to increase largely the voters,"—I suppose the number of voters is meant "by the occupation franchise;" but I do not see in what way they tend to "diminish the voters by proprietary interest." I apprehend the only possible way in which that can arise is from the reduction in the amount of the borough franchise, and, consequently, from the conferring upon a certain number of occupiers below the value of £10 the right to vote for the boroughs instead of the vote for the counties which they at present possess, inasmuch as their occupation does not confer upon them a right to vote for the borough. That is the only way in which I can imagine any diminution in the number of voters proprietary or otherwise. Now, my Lords, do you really suppose that these £5 leaseholders, with, perhaps, only one or two years to run, or dependent upon the single life of a very aged man, really represent a stable proprietary interest? Do you really put them forward as representing the interests of property in contradistinction to the franchises arising under occupation or in any other way? If the House of Commons is so anxious to increase the rights of property as against the occupation franchise, I want to know why they struck out those franchises which were dependent upon property—namely, the possession of so much money for a certain period in a savings bank, and the payment of a certain amount of direct taxation, both of which were the direct representation of property, and forced upon the Government the lodger franchise, which is a direct occupation franchise, irrespective of property? So much for the Reason of the House of Commons; but I think it should be no light cause which should induce your Lordships to disagree with the Commons upon a point which, though of not inconsiderable, is at the same time not of paramount, importance. As far as I am able to ascertain, although in Staffordshire. Cheshire, and probably in part of my own county—Lancashire, there may be a considerable number introduced by a £5 leasehold qualification, in most of the other counties the number will be very insignificant, and will not exercise any material influence in an election. I cannot say that I have much respect for the Reasons which the Commons have assigned, but I think there is one Reason which the Commons have not assigned, yet which will probably have more weight with your Lordships 1314 than those which they have assigned, and that is, that, in the first instance, this clause was introduced into the House of Commons and carried without any division, and that, in the next place, your Lordships' Amendment was rejected by a majority of no less than 47 in, for the time of year, an extraordinarily large House. I cannot flatter myself that if your Lordships should insist on your Amendment, and should again send down the clause to the House of Commons, there would be the slightest prospect of the House of Commons altering their view of the matter, and then the only thing left would be the form of a Conference between the two Houses, from which I do not think any advantage would arise; for it is—from all the instances I have seen—one of the most useless and unmeaning things I know of. I have been told, but I confess I can hardly believe it, that the objection entertained by the House of Commons to a Conference is that the Lords who take part in it sit with cocked hats, while the Members of the House of Commons stand bareheaded. I could as readily believe that one of your Lordships holding the title of Baron would refuse to dine at a friend's house because a Duke or a Marquess would have the right of walking out of the room before him. I am unwilling to believe that so childish a motive could have actuated the House of Commons. I believe their object was to inform your Lordships as early as possible of the objections they entertain, and of the strong feeling which, as manifested by the division, exists against your Amendment. The only other point of any importance is that to which I have before referred — the measure proposed by my noble Friend (the Marquess of Salisbury), and with respect to which I must say that upon that subject I entirely concur with him. I think the introduction of voting papers, as was admitted by the noble Earl the late Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (the Earl of Kimberley), would facilitate the exercise of the right of voting by a very large number of persons who are now excluded from it, and that in counties especially it would greatly diminish the expenses of elections. But the apprehension is that they would tend to increase bribery and corruption; and the House of Commons appear to have thought that the machinery introduced—and certainly only introduced at the latest moment, on the Motion of my noble Friend—would be insufficient to ob- 1315 viate the evils and dangers of the system. I must, however, call your Lordships' attention to the fact that though this clause should be excluded from the Bill—and it does not introduce anything in itself objectionable—on the contrary I believe the clause would have been a very valuable adjunct to the Bill; but it is not indispensable, and is only accessory to it—its omission does not prejudice the operation of the remaining portions of the measure, and the proposal is one which may again and again be brought under the consideration of Parliament. Indeed, so sure am I of the justice and wisdom of it that I am satisfied time will work its way, and that ultimately we shall see that very advantageous proposal carried into effect. I do not think, therefore, it would be wise on the part of my noble Friend to ask your Lordships to insist on the Amendment. My noble Friend will, of course, reserve to himself the right of raising the question at any future period, and I am sanguine enough to hope that further reflection and consideration will satisfy the House of Commons and the country that with proper precautions—the necessity of which I do not deny—this principle may be introduced with the greatest possible advantage to the country and to the great increase of the number of persons practically admitted to the franchise, as well as to the prevention—certainly not to the increase—of modes of corruption practised at the present moment; and unquestionably to the prevention of practices which deter people from voting by violence and intimidation. When my noble Friend proposed the Amendment I stated my entire approval of it, and I added that I thought it was desirable that the House Commons should have an opportunity of re-considering their former decision. Now, on the first occasion the majority against the proposal in the House of Commons was 38, and on the second, although the Government, with a view of disarming opposition, were willing to apply the plan to counties only, the majority so far from being diminished, was raised to 52, and that in a House, including pairs — those Members, by-the-by, voted without having heard the arguments—of more than 600 Members. It would be quite impossible, therefore, to expect the House of Commons to reverse its decision. These, my Lords, are the views I humbly submit to your Lordships. Satisfied with the important concession in one respect made to your 1316 Lordships' feelings and opinions, I think you should not run the risk of endangering so important a measure as the present, which has absorbed so much of the time of Parliament, and has so deeply interested the whole country. I cannot say that the Bill is such altogether as I should have wished to see it, yet I accept it as tending to settle a great and paramountly important question. For these reasons I beg to move that your Lordships do not insist on the Amendments to which the Commons have disagreed. It may be proper to add that since I came into the House I have been informed that one or two technical Amendments will be required to be made in certain clauses to which Schedules have been attached. The House of Commons have objected to the Schedules, but have not made any material alterations in the corresponding clauses. I apprehend that no difficulty will be found in introducing the requisite Amendments.
§ Moved, "To agree to the Amendments made by the Commons to the Amendments made by the Lords."—(The Earl of Derby.)
THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
said, that the proposal for the introduction of voting papers was a most important one, and had been carried by an immense majority in their Lordships' House; and he was very little satisfied with the manner in which it had been received by the House of Commons. He found that the only Reason for disagreeing with their Lordships was given in these words:—Because it is not desirable to depart from the law and usage of this realm, hitherto established, which require that all voters for counties and boroughs shall appear personally at a fixed time and place in order to record their votes.But if that were the only Reason which could be alleged he would like to know how their Lordships could have been expected to entertain the Bill itself, the whole of which was a complete alteration of every regulation and law of voting which existed at present. He was not satisfied, he confessed, with the way in which the question had been brought forward in the House of Commons. What was done, he supposed, was intended as a compromise, but it was a compromise which appeared to him to have sacrificed a very large point for a very small one. The present state of the law with respect to voting prevented a large number of persons from exercising the franchise. At the very last election 1317 very nearly half the electors were unable to come to the poll. Now, that was a very serious matter; but it had been entirely overlooked by the House of Commons. This was one of the subjects which deserved the very serious consideration of their Lordships, and, as had been well said by the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby), might be brought before them, again as a separate measure in a future Session. The regulations under which the voting papers were proposed to be used might have been altered and no doubt improved, but he must say that in the debates in their Lordships' House no one had ventured to oppose the principle that persons should have the security of the proposed mode of recording their votes. The case was very different in the other House of Parliament, and he could have wished that the Reasons for disagreeing with their Lordships had been given more in detail. Notwithstanding the decision arrived at by the other House, he was not at all inclined to alter the strong opinion he entertained on the subject, and he could not help thinking that the House of Commons in this instance had preferred that the franchise should be exercised under a system of rotten eggs, brickbats, and other such means, to one that would have secured the exercise of the right of voting in a satisfactory manner.
§ EARL STANHOPE
My Lords, the Motion which my noble Friend at the head of the Government has made this evening is one in which I am prepared to concur, though I must admit that it is with some feeling of disappointment and regret. Like my noble Friend himself, I attach great importance to the use of voting papers. I think that in the boroughs they would facilitate the means of recording votes and tend to check mob intimidation, and in the counties to prevent the inordinate expenses that are at present incurred. As to the boroughs, it can surely need no argument to show how often men of timid temperament or enfeebled health may be deterred from recording their votes by the riots which frequently take place. But there is another argument which I think has not been used in these debates, and which seems to me of great force in this direction—it is the tendency of voting papers to prevent the riot itself. For what is the use of a riot if it be not to prevent electors from coming to the poll to record their votes for what may be called the unpopular candidate? Well, then, if the rioters, or 1318 their instigators, are made to understand that the riot will not be effectual, and that the vote may be recorded in another form, you take away the inducement to the riot. Then, as to the diminution of the expense of county candidature, surely it is a great grievance that in many cases persona well entitled to represent a county by birth, by properly, by intelligence, and by the affection of their neighbours, are prevented, to all practical purposes by the enormous sums which are required, from carrying on a county contest. Observe, too, that this is an evil which must be expected to increase in proportion as the number of voters themselves increase. Therefore, my Lords, on both these grounds I am decidedly in favour of the adoption of voting papers. I do not wish that the scheme should, just now, be carried any further than was proposed by my noble Friend on the cross-Bunches (the Marquess of Salisbury); but if it had received the approval of the other House of Parliament, if it had become law, if it had been tried in practice, and if, as I believe it would, it had received on trial the approval of the country, then I should look forward to the time when by a subsequent enactment voting papers should be made not only permissive but obligatory—that voting in counties, at least, should be carried on by voting papers only. In this manner you would get rid of four-fifths of the expenses of county elections — of the expenses for travelling, of the expenses for agents at the booths, and of other sources of expense which I will not stop to enumerate. It is, no doubt, highly advantageous that the candidate should have the opportunity of publicly and personally declaring his views to his constituents—with that the institution of voting papers would not interfere; and though I wish to guard myself from being understood to wish that this extension of the scheme should be adopted at present, I certainly do hope that we may see the time when, public opinion being ripe for it, county elections may be carried on by means of voting papers. I must acknowledge that the reasons given by my noble Friend (the Earl of Derby) against insisting on this Amendment are conclusive. The increasing majority in the House of Commons against the proposal makes it hopeless to expect that our engaging in any further controversy with them would bring them round to our view. On this Amendment, therefore, I am prepared, as my noble Friend has advised, to 1319 give way. I confess I should not have been prepared to give way if the Commons had thought fit to disagree with what the Prime Minister has referred to as the almost unanimous decision of your Lordships, I mean the restriction of the right of voting to two Members in the cases of constituencies returning three. That is a most important principle, it was sanctioned by the highest authorities in this House, by the noble Earl whom I see opposite (Earl Russell), and whose opinion upon the question of Reform—and indeed upon any other question—must always be heard with the highest respect. It was sanctioned by many of the noble Earl's Colleagues in the late Government, and by many of the Peers on the opposite Benches. If the Commons had thought fit to disagree with your Lordships on this question, I should have felt that it was the duty of your Lordships to try, at least, a Conference before the question was settled. My noble Friend (the Earl of Derby) alluded to the repugnance which some Members of the House of Commons are supposed to feel to a Conference on the ground of some difference of rank or etiquette, the Members of our House wearing their hats, while the Commons are uncovered. I agree with my noble Friend that we cannot suppose such a motive to weigh with men of so much sound sense and judgment; but if such an objection should weigh in any quarter, I cannot conceive it possible that any of your Lordships would for a moment refuse your assent to a Motion enabling Members of both Houses to meet on perfectly equal terms. If your Lordships agree to the Motion of my noble Friend, and do not insist on your Amendments, the last obstacle is removed which would have prevented the passing of this Bill, and within a few days the Bill will become the law of the land. I acknowledge that ever since the introduction of this Bill I have felt considerable doubt and misgiving as to its probable results. At the commencement of this Session I thought that a measure of a more moderate scope, and with a limit in the amount of the borough franchise, would have been satisfactory to the country, and would have commanded a majority in this and in the other House of Parliament. In passing I may observe that it is surely idle to say you renounce "the hard and fast line" when you still retain one in counties. Now, however, that this measure is becoming law I do not desire to join in any gloomy 1320 forebodings with respect to it, and I wish, as far as I am able, to look forward to it hopefully and cheerfully. I think that we who may have had these gloomy feelings are bound to do as much as possible to falsify our own forebodings. It must be our endeavour to secure as far as possible the good working of this measure; and without paying any exaggerated compliment, or indeed any compliment at all, to that large labouring or artizan class which is henceforth to have so vast a share in the affairs of this country, we may express our earnest hope that they will show themselves worthy, in all respects, of the great trust that is about to be conferred upon them. Above all I hope that those who may have felt doubts and misgivings about the working of the measure will not, when it comes into operation, cease to take an active part in political affairs. I trust that we shall not take the course that is said to have been pursued in the United States, where, under the operation of a franchise not dissimilar to that now introduced, we find men of education, intelligence, and property—nay, whole classes, refrain from taking part in the administration of affairs, and even from recording their votes. I trust that no class in this country will be inclined to take that course. Without in any degree denying our prepossessions against the measure, it will be our duty to combine as far as we can to secure its prosperous working. On the other hand, if this expectation should not be fulfilled—if attacks should be made upon any part of the Constitution which we most highly value—if, for instances, the Established Church, or the rights of the Crown, or the succession to landed property by primogeniture should come to be assailed, I also trust that we shall be found ready to combine without distinction of parties for the purpose of securing the institutions which we have hitherto enjoyed, and under which this country has been so prosperous and so renowned.
THE EARL OF CLANCARTY
My Lords, not having attended the discussions upon the details of the Bill when in Committee, I feel some hesitation in rising to express dissent from the recommendation of the noble Earl at the head of the Government, that your Lordships should concede to the requirement of the House of Commons, that the clauses relative to voting papers should be expunged from the Bill. They form, in fact, the only check provided by the Bill against the in- 1321 conveniences that must arise from the proposed very extensive and democratic increase of the constituency. The noble Earl, indeed, so warmly commended the use of voting papers, and so ably exposed the weakness of the objection to them, as well as the unsound reasoning of the House of Commons against your Lordships' Amendments regarding the qualification of leasehold and copyhold tenants, that I was, I confess, very much surprised at his recommendation that the House should, nevertheless, yield its own opinion upon both points. The country, I considered, was greatly indebted to the noble Earl and his Colleagues, and especially to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for the triumphant success with which, in the face of a large and very hostile party, the main principle of the Bill, the extension of the elective franchise to its legitimate limit, was established, with the consent of both Houses of Parliament; but this achievement, though subsequently accompanied with an important provision for the representation of large minorities, will, I apprehend, be of very little value to the country without such security as the use of voting papers would have afforded for the free and peaceable exercise of the elective franchise. So far from being a boon to the community, the extended franchise will, in the absence of protection for its free enjoyment, only aggravate the evils—the rioting, intimidation, the acts of violence and outrage—that so commonly disgrace our contested elections, and will operate practically to disfranchise not alone the old and infirm, but the many respectable voters who may decline incurring the personal risk of attending the poll to record votes henceforth of comparatively little value. Your Lordships are, and I hope will long be, looked up to as the guardians of the Constitution and liberties of the country; but you will scarcely deserve that title if, in assenting to a change so extensive and democratic as that proposed in the Bill, you do not provide, as far as possible, for the free and secure enjoyment, both of existing rights and of those you would confer. The privilege to the voter of transmitting his votes by paper to the returning officer is an experiment already partially tried, and found to work well. It was the only security offered in the Bill for the peaceable exercise of the franchise; and you are now called upon by the House of Commons to surrender it; and why? 1322 Because, they say, it would afford facilities for bribery and undue influences; but in what manner it does not appear, nor is it conceivable, unless upon the supposition that the magistrate, whose signature should be endorsed as a certificate of its genuineness upon the voting paper to be transmitted to the returning officer, should lend himself to be the agent of bribery. But have the Commons done anything to put down bribery and corruption, or to check the exercise of undue influences upon voters presenting themselves personally at the poll? How many boroughs have they had, under the existing system of voting, to disfranchise on account of the prevalence of corruption? In how many has it appeared, as in Sodom of old, that "ten righteous" men could not be found? And what provision have they made to carry out their own resolution of last Session, "that no Act to amend the Representation of the People could ever be satisfactory which did not amend the law relating to Bribery and Corruption?" The Bill contains no provision whatever for the purpose; but your Lordships may perhaps think that your declining to expunge the voting paper clauses would cause the loss of the Bill, and that the disagreement between the two Houses would necessitate a dissolution of Parliament. Such might undoubtedly be the case; but a new Parliament would then take up the subject of Reform, with the advantage of the principles, upon which it should be based, having been already established, and a Bill very similar to the present, but with improvements, including, probably, the necessary provisions for the use of voting papers, would readily be passed; or, if the use of voting papers should be still objected to, would then, of course, acquiesce in what must be accepted as the deliberate expression of public opinion upon the question; but my belief is that, whatever desire there exists in the country for an extended franchise, there is an equal desire for the free and peaceable exercise of it. I therefore regret that the Government should have advised your Lordships to yield your own judgment in the matter to that of the House of Commons.
§ THE EARL OF HARROWBY
said, he did not rise to ask their Lordships to dissent from the conclusions of the noble Earl at the head of the Government. The question of the franchises of copyholders and of leaseholders was not of sufficient practical importance to warrant delay in the 1323 settlement of the question; and important as he thought the principle involved in the question of voting papers, he admitted that there were considerable practical difficulties which made it natural that the other House should form an opinion different from that of their Lordships. At the same time, he hoped the principle would be further considered, and with an earnest desire to admit, if possible, large numbers to exercise the franchise freely, who were now prevented, and would be, by the difficulties and obstructions of personal voting. He could not, however, but congratulate their Lordships upon the success of one Amendment involving a principle of the highest importance, and upon the fact that, in the House of Commons, a successful resistance had been offered to those who were determined that no opinions should be represented, but those of a tyrannical majority. The large towns were made what they were by the capital and enterprize of the wealthier classes, and it was rather hard that when those towns got additional representation, those who furnished that capital should be practically denied the expression of their views. The principle was one which he hoped would be further expanded. It was a great thing to extract, even from Radical quarters in the House of Commons, the admission of the right of minorities to be represented. He knew that the noble Earl the Prime Minister was not favourable to the principle, and yet, apparently, he had no objection to a minority governing, for that was his own case, and that surely was a greater novelty than any that was involved in the representation of minorities in three-cornered constituencies. Indeed, in the history of the country there was not to be found a previous instance of a Government holding its position without commanding a majority in the lower House. He believed the present position of things was unexampled. The result was we had government without power, and power without responsibility—a position more novel and dangerous than the principle of the representation of minorities. One result of the Government being in a minority in the House of Commons was that the House of Lords was reduced to a mere registration court, and could not review independently what was done by the other House. Its Leaders having already capitulated with superior numbers in the House of Commons, were precluded from subsequently calling in the Conservative in- 1324 fluence of the House of Lords to alter the terms. In a thousand ways it was fraught with the highest danger, in a constitutional point of view, that a minority in the House of Commons should be responsible for the government of the country. It was a situation which, in the interests of the country, ought not to be permitted to continue.
§ EARL RUSSELL
I do not wish to detain your Lordships any length of time. The noble Earl at the head of the Government has proposed that we should acquiesce in the Amendments made by the House of Commons. It is fair to say that I not only concur in the conclusion to which the noble Earl has come, but that I also entirely concur in the course taken by the other House. I believe that they have dissented only from objectionable Amendments made by your Lordships, and they have accepted the useful Amendments which your Lordships have made. The noble Earl opposite criticized the Reasons given by the House of Commons; but I must say, without concurring in every one of them, that they are sufficient to warrant our acting upon them. The Commons disagree with the omission of Clause 5—Because persons possessed of copyhold and leasehold property of the clear annual value of £5 are persons well qualified to have a voice in the election of Members of Parliament.I entirely concur with that statement. The noble Earl says that nothing is adduced to prove it. I do not know that he has taken pains to prove the qualifications of others who become differently entitled to the franchise. The matter is rather one of opinion than one for mathematical and statistical proof. Again, the Commons disagree to the voting paper clauses—Because the use of voting papers at elections for counties aud boroughs, in the manner proposed by the Lords' Amendments, would facilitate undue influence and other corrupt practices at such elections.I entirely concur with that Reason. I believe that with voting papers, introduced in the manner proposed, a person who had a large amount of land in a county would have been able to have gone round with a partizan justice of the peace, to have got voting papers signed at the houses of his tenants, and thus to have got votes sent through the post expressing opinions the reverse of those held by the voter. Therefore is it that I entirely concur with the House of Commons in rejecting the proposal for voting papers, and I think it is a 1325 great blessing we have escaped this Amendment of your Lordships. I trust that the House of Commons will act in a similar way with any proposition for voting papers in any future Bill. There seems to be a great deal of alarm as to riotous conduct at elections. I have been at a great many elections since the Reform Act, and have been rather delighted to attend them, for I do not remember any one case of riotous proceedings. I have seen a great crowd of persons, but never any riotous proceeding. I have also been told when I have made inquiries that the polling-booths have been almost empty, and that those in attendance have had a very dull time of it. With regard to this Bill generally it is too late to enter into any discussion of its provisions; and all that remains to be done now is to facilitate as much as possible the working of it. I only trust that the people who have been now intrusted with the franchise will do their duty honestly, and use their powers well, and that Members of both Houses will do all they can to make it work beneficially.
THE MARQUESS OF WESTMEATH
said, that the noble Earl (Earl Russell) might not have seen any violence at English elections, but the noble Earl had considerable property in Ireland, and if he would take occasion to visit it at election times he would be soon undeceived as to elections passing over without violent and riotous proceedings. There was not only violence at the election, but men of straw were sent into Parliament, and their votes told for as much as those of the responsible Members for the Ridings of Yorkshire. He thought it impossible to listen to the noble Earl without getting up to testify to the abominable violence that occurred at some Irish elections. Did their Lordships imagine that men would enlist into Her Majesty's forces if they expected to be pelted with stones and mutilated? They still, however, enlist; and if they were pelted all the thanks they got from their commanding officer was that they had behaved admirably under difficult circumstances. If Parliament did its duty it would enact that the first stone thrown at Her Majesty's troops when doing their duty should be considered practically as a reading of the Riot Act. As to voting papers, he was on Saturday in the company of a gentleman who had a qualification in thirteen places, and he wanted to know, as he could not go to the poll at every one of these places, whether he 1326 ought to be disfranchised, as he would be to a certain extent, by the rejection of the voting paper clause?
§ On Question agreed to.
§ Then it was moved not to insist upon the Amendments made by the Lords to which the Commons have disagreed as far as Page 29; on Question, agreed to.
§ Then it was moved to insist upon the Amendments made by the Lords to which the Commons have disagreed in Page 29, Line 20, and Page 31, Line 21; on Question, Resolved in the Affirmative; and a Committee appointed to prepare Reasons to be offered to the Commons for the Lords insisting on the said Amendments: The Committee to meet forthwith.