HC Deb 20 February 1851 vol 114 cc850-70

then rose to move for leave to bring in— A Bill to make the Franchise in Counties in England and Wales the same as that in Boroughs, by giving the right of Voting to all Occupiers of Tenements of the annual value of 10l. He said that, in again asking the leave of the House to introduce a Bill on the subject of the franchise, he was happy to think that he had the good fortune to introduce the measure thus early in the Session, and thus to have overcome the chief, he might say the only, difficulty which lay in the way of the Government agreeing to his Motion last Session. It was then said that Bills of this kind ought to be brought in early in the Session; that to lay Bills on the table late in the Session, and leave them there, with no intention of taking them up and going on with them, was trifling with the subject; and that at all events the lateness of the Session was a sufficient reason for the Government not supporting his Motion. He considered, therefore, that in bringing forward his Motion in the middle of February instead of the middle of July, he had overcome the chief objection stated by the Government. The noble Lord at the head of the Government had frequently stated his opinion that the Reform Act was capable of some amendment, and that it might be desirable at some time or other to extend the suffrage. Well, the measure which he (Mr. King) was now proposing would in no way interfere with any future plan which the noble Lord might have in view. The plan which he had to propose was simple in its nature, moderate in its terms, and practical in its operation: and he thought it might be said to have this further merit, that it would pave the way for the great and he trusted comprehensive measure of reform which the House and the country were to be favoured with by the noble Lord when the proper time arrived. He did not believe that the present Bill would interfere with any principle of the Reform Bill. It did not propose to disfranchise one borough, or to add a single representative to the number now constituting the House. All it proposed to do was to remove some of the anomalies that existed with respect to the representation, to place the inhabitants of one locality on the same footing, and to give them the same rights and advantages as were already enjoyed under similar circumstances by the inhabitants of another locality. He would not shock the ears of the noble Lord by introducing the word "lodger" on the present occasion, or by going into details respecting electoral dis- tricts, which had been called, he believed, discussions about "squares and parallelograms." Neither would he discuss the question respecting the proportioning the number of electors to each representative, which had also been called "arithmetical calculations;" and he trusted he might, on his part, be allowed to express a hope that the discussion would not lead to remarks about the dangers of revolution in connexion with reform. The measure which he proposed to submit to the House was one so simple in its character that the most moderate and cautious reformer might safely adopt it. It contained nothing that would at all interfere with those conditions which the noble Lord last year declared to be essential to the progress of reform. The noble Lord on that occasion said— He had always considered it a condition in every reform—a condition which he thought had been happily complied with hitherto—that the representation of that House, the mode in which it was constituted, the mode in which the people elected their representatives, should be compatible and consistent with a monarchy and House of Lords." [Hansard, Third Series, vol. cxii., p. 1168.] Now, the present small and comparatively insignificant measure was at all events perfectly compatible with things as they were, and would tend to strengthen rather than to weaken both the monarchy and the House of Lords. He hoped that the noble Lord who had made the greatest, best, and most important social revolution which had ever been effected in modern times, would not object to remove those great anomalies which now existed with respect to the representation, when it could be shown that it could be done without incurring the slightest risk. He would likewise maintain that the present was a measure of sound policy. It had often been said that they ought to extend the franchise as far as it could possibly be done with safety, and that by so doing the Legislature would be more respected, the law more promptly obeyed by the people, and property rendered doubly secure. He would ask could there be any doubt as to the respectability of that vast and numerous class who would be affected by this Bill? Was it not to this very class that a great part of the Government owed their seats in that House? He would seriously and gravely ask if a man was a better subject when he lived in one locality than when he lived in another? He might here quote a very apposite extract from a document which had been sent him that very day:— Tens of thousands of men, in certain favoured localities, distributed over the face of the kingdom (I believe the number for 1850, freemen included, is 471,502), enjoy the elective franchise because they pay a yearly rent of 10l. and upwards; and tens of thousands of men, scattered over the remaining portions of the country, are deprived of the elective franchise because they pay a yearly rent of 10l. and upwards to 50l. The test of the requisite fitness and due respectability to possess the vote, in certain places is measured by a rent of 10l., but in other places by a rent of 50l. This distinction without a difference is invidious, and manifestly unfair. He might bring forward a vast number of cases to show the great anomalies which existed. He would take, for instance, the county which he represented. He found that in the borough of Reigate, one of the smallest boroughs in the kingdom, a 10l. householder was represented in Parliament, whereas, in the large town of Croydon, which, numerically speaking, might be considered the capital of Surrey, a man might rent a house just somewhat short of 50l.—he might transact business daily in the metropolis, and be well acquainted with all that was going on in the country, and yet be entirely unrepresented. Then there was the case of a mechanic, who might live in a house rented at 15l. or 20l. a year, who might have 100l. or 200l. accumulated in a savings bank, and yet, simply because he did not live in a Parliamentary borough, would be unrepresented. Compare this man with an agricultural labourer, who might have a 40s. freehold, and who would consequently be represented. He could not help thinking that these were great anomalies in a country where we professed to represent property and intelligence, and nothing else. He felt he had a stronger claim to the support of the House this year than he had last year, in consequence of the Act that had since been passed to extend the franchise in Ireland. No man could regret more than he did that that Act had been marred in its passage from that House and back again. Still he contended that the same principle which had been applied to Ireland, viz., the principle of placing the borough and county franchise on the same footing, ought to be extended to England also. The noble Lord, in bringing forward that Bill, said— The measure proposes to place the people of Ireland with respect to representation, in a position, in point of fact, as good as that of the people of England and Scotland. It is founded on the principle that they should not he treated as inferior to the people of England and Scotland; but that they have a right, when England and Scot- land possess a certain franchise, to be placed in a position in that respect equivalent to both those countries. But that right they do not at present enjoy, and so much the more does it become justice, does it become wisdom, to unite the people of Ireland with the people of Great Britain, in showing by equal treatment of both, and giving them an equal franchise, you have full confidence in the manner in which they will use that equality and that franchise, and that they may have all the freedom which exists in any other part of the united kingdom. Now, what had been conceded to Ireland he claimed on the part of those who resided in the counties of England, for he considered that it would be adding insult to injury to say that the people of Ireland were more to be trusted in the exercise of the franchise than the people of England. During the discussion of the Irish Franchise Bill, one of the strongest arguments adduced in its favour was, that the constituencies in that country had actually decreased. Now, he thought he could show that the county constituencies of England had decreased also; and if he did so, he thought he should make out a very strong claim in favour of his measure. By comparing the electoral register of 1836 with 1849–50, he found there was a decrease in Berks of 1,039 voters; Devon, 1,123; Dorset, 488; Hereford, 319; Shropshire, 505; Westmoreland, 747; Wiltshire, 585; and in Worcester, 475. But he might be told that he was going back too far. He would, therefore, compare the register of 1843 with that of 1850. By this comparison he found that there was a decrease in the constituency of Bedfordshire of 415; Berks, 709; Devon, 1,753; Dorset, 843; Hereford, 1,088; Shropshire, 998; Stafford, 1,577; Suffolk, 831; West Surrey, 348; Westmoreland, 210; Wilts, 584; and in Worcester, 1,379. Comparing the total number of county electors in 1843 with that of 1850, he found that in 1843 the number was 484,073, and, in 1850, 461,413, showing a decrease of 22,660 in seven years, while in the boroughs there had been an increase of upwards of 50,000. He thought that these facts proved that if the principle which had been laid down with regard to Ireland last Session was a sound one, it ought to be extended to the English counties—the rather that in the case of Ireland the decrease of electors had taken place among a population almost stationary; whereas in England the decrease had occurred among a population rapidly increasing. He believed that an objection might be raised, and very properly raised, against his measure, that it did not go far enough. He remembered very well hearing the noble Lord say— There is nothing in my opinion I ever held, or in any opinion I hold now, which would debar me from seeing with satisfaction any plan by which the admission of the working classes could be still further extended, and the basis widened upon which the representation rests. He was aware that the objection to the smallness of his measure was a great objection; but he begged to say that the measure was good as far as it went; and he hoped the noble Lord would support it on the same ground that had induced him to bring it forward, namely, that half a loaf or a fragment of bread was better than no loaf at all. He thought he had a claim also on the support of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon, who observed, with great ability, on a former occasion— I must say, considering the increase of the democratic element in our institutions, that I see the greatest danger in erecting an immense superstructure on a narrow electoral basis. If that superstructure cannot stand upon an extended electoral basis, I am sure that a narrow basis cannot long sustain it. Now, he thought the right hon. Baronet would admit that the country had not decreased in its democratic tendencies; and the figures he had brought forward must have shown him that the electoral basis was considerably narrower. He thought, therefore, he might with very great fairness claim the right hon. Baronet's support. He owned, too, that, after all that had recently occurred, not only in that House, but out of it, particularly at an election which had lately taken place in not the least aristocratic part of England, he might fairly claim the support of the hon. Gentlemen who had, up to a recent period, supported protection; for he believed it would be found that those who had only very lately repudiated the principle of protection would find it exceedingly difficult to re-obtain their seats unless they appealed to constituencies with an extended suffrage. He might say that he knew something of the farmers of this country, and could testify that when they had once formed an opinion, it was very difficult to shake it. He knew that they had been so taught and tutored to cling to protection, that they would not be induced to give it up at a moment's notice for any one; and though hon. Gentlemen might attempt to persuade them that it was not a question of rent, they would continue to maintain that, if it was not a case of protection, it must be one of rent. He believed that, much as they were opposed to free trade, they would infinitely prefer an open and honest foe to one that dealt up to the eleventh hour treacherously with them. He rejoiced greatly at the admission which was made by the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire on behalf of his party. He rejoiced that it in some measure completed the triumph of the hon. Member for the West Riding (Mr. Cobden). The repeal of the corn laws was a cause in which he (Mr. King) took the liveliest interest, for he might here state that his father fought the battle of free trade single handed for many a year before either the hon. Member for the West Riding, or the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Villiers), or even the people of England, had had their attention called to it. He hoped that the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, with the enlarged views which he had recently adopted, would not attempt to coalesce with the electors who had been created under the 50l. Chandos clause to answer a political purpose. He trusted the hon. Member would go with them for an extended suffrage, and that they would no longer hear anything about what he believed he might say had now been partially renounced—he meant the re-establishment of the dangerous doctrines of protection, for he held protection to be very much akin to communism in its worst shape. Protection he regarded as the few taking from the many; and communism, in its general acceptance, as all taking from all. An attempt had recently been made to establish communist principles on a large scale on the Continent by that celebrated man Louis Blanc; and what had he done? He attempted on behalf of his party to obtain a loan of money from the Government. The agriculturists had got their loan. M. Blanc had also attempted to obtain relief for his party—the very thing the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire was now attempting for his. He (Mr. King) hoped that a measure like the present, which might be shown to be one of sound policy and perfect justice, would not be refused by that House. He trusted that the day would not come when the people would find that it was only particular classes who could obtain a hearing in that House; when the law would cease to be a refuge for the oppressed, and become, in- stead, the arm of the oppressor; arid when it should be said, with truth, that that House had at its disposal, instead of equal weights and balances, false weights and false keys. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for leave to bring in the Bill.


Sir, the hon. Gentleman who has made this Motion has done it certainly in the most temperate manner. He has laid it before the House with as little of undue exaggeration, either as to its merits or its nature, as any Member of this House could possibly desire. I must likewise say, as he stated at the commencement of his speech, that there can be no objection to his making the Motion at this period of the Session; and that that reason which he says, and says truly, was the only reason I urged last year against entertaining the Motion he then submitted, will not now apply, and that it is not a reason I will now assign. I will also make an admission with respect to the nature of the Motion itself. I think this Motion differs very much from several Motions which the House has considered of late years respecting the extension of the suffrage, inasmuch as I do not think any reasonable objection can be alleged against the class of persons whom he proposes to introduce into the county constituencies, I admit at once they are a class of persons who, if entrusted with the elective franchise, would probably use it with intelligence and integrity. I certainly do not pretend that there is such a superiority in the inhabitants of towns over those in the country as to enable me, or any one, to say that the inhabitants of a town, when invested with the franchise, are distinguished by their superior qualities over those not having the franchise residing in other parts of the country. But the question really is, whether this proposal will be an improvement of our representation; because I have always considered that this was really the important question which the House had to decide in any proposition of this kind. I never could think, with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose, that the chief point to which we were called on to direct attention, was whether certain persons with certain qualifications should be intrusted with the franchise, or whether it was a hardship—the hon. Gentleman, using a harder term, calls it a species of tyranny—to exclude them from the franchise. The view which I have taken has been this: seeing the immense power which this House possesses, observing that this House is the representative of the country at large, and finding that succeeding periods have increased its means of controlling all the other branches of the Legislature—I have always considered that what was really important to discuss was not if any particular persons should be entitled to vote at elections, but what is the general result which would be advantageous to the country, so that this House should fully and fairly represent the intelligence and the genuine wishes of the nation. Now, Sir, if we consider this proposal with a view, first, to what has hitherto been the case with regard to the franchise in this country, it will be obvious that this proposal is in direct opposition to it. There has always been, to a late period, this distinction in principle between the representation of counties and the representation of boroughs—though it has certainly not been uniformly carried out in every instance—that the representation of counties was a representation of tenure, of persons who voted in consequence of their tenure, and that the representation of boroughs was a representation of persons who voted by virtue of their occupancies; the one class being usually denominated freeholders, and the other class being known as householders, by whom, in the absence of any particular charters or particular rules, it has been decided by very ancient authority the right of voting in towns and boroughs was possessed. In the course of the discussion on the Reform Bill, a proposal was made to effect a very great change with respect to the representation of counties, by admitting a class of voters who could not vote in virtue of tenure, who had neither a freehold tenure, nor a tenure for a term of years, but who merely held farms by occupation. And Lord Chandos, who made that proposal, succeeded in carrying it in the House of Commons by means of the votes of many of those who were undoubtedly reformers, and who, on that occasion, considered that the Government who introduced the Reform Bill had been in error in not proposing the franchise for that particular class of occupiers. Lord Althorp, at that time, pointed out very strongly the objections which existed to such a proposal. Those objections did not prevail, however, with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose and others, who were convinced that it was desirable to add this class of voters to the constituency; and, after that decision of the House of which I have spoken, the Government who had undertaken the Reform Bill did introduce into the measure a clause in conformity with that opinion. But I own I myself never considered that that was an improvement in our representation. I have always been convinced that so far as it diminished the power of the forty shilling freeholders, it did, on the contrary, rather weaken and enfeeble than strengthen the independence of our representation. And I must say, not looking at this as a question of the ancient policy of the country, and of an ancient division of the country into counties and boroughs, but practically and in reference to present circumstances, that, in the course of the experience which I have had of the votes of electors in counties, I have found that when a candidate seeks the vote of a farmer who, perhaps, is paying considerable rent, he is often met with the answer, "I cannot enter into the matter with you, for I must consider the opinions of my landlord." On the other hand, at county elections, I have seen among the smallest and poorest freeholders a feeling of independence, a spirit of integrity, and a resolution to give their votes only in accordance with their own opinions, which is, I think, highly honourable to them, and which does show that they are in a position of far more independence than that other class to which I have referred. Now the hon. Gentleman's proposal is to admit into counties such a very large number of voters by occupation as would seriously diminish the just influence of that valuable class of freeholders to which I have just alluded. In glancing over the returns relating to the various counties of England, I find that the 50l. occupiers are at present in a minority, certainly, as compared to all other voters, the greater part of those other voters being forty shilling freeholders, and all of them being voters by tenure of some description. In Berkshire there are 971 voters with the 50l. occupation franchise, and 4,270 other voters. In Cheshire there are 4,022 50l. occupation voters, and 11,901 other voters. In Derbyshire there are 2,663 50l. occupation voters, and 10,208 voters who have other description of votes. In Devonshire there are 4,920 of the former, and 14,088 of the latter class. I need not quote any more of these particular instances; but I may state generally that in the whole of England there are about 100,000 persons who vote in virtue of their occupations of 50l., and 375,034 of all other voters, the great mass consisting of the forty shilling freeholders. Now, if you admit in round numbers 350,000 persons who would have the right of voting as 10l. occupiers, it is very obvious that you would deluge these forty shilling freeholders, and destroy their importance in county elections. I hold, considering the value of these forty shilling freeholders, considering the antiquity of that tenure, considering that importance which they still preserve, and the importance that they should still possess the weight they have, that it would be a circumstance to be regretted if we took any course the result of which would be to diminish their power, or to affect their influence. But, Sir, beyond this, I own I think that our object should not be to introduce the uniformity which the hon. Gentleman recommends. His argument is very shortly, and little more, than this—You have 10l householders who have the right of voting in boroughs, therefore have a 10l. franchise in the counties. I have rather considered, on all occasions when this subject has been brought before me, that it was a decided advantage that there should be various rights of voting, and that the class of persons entitled to vote in one place should not be the class of persons to whom is accorded the right of voting in a different place. I have come to the conclusion, therefore, that we should be effecting no improvement by the introduction of this uniformity in the franchise. The hon. Gentleman says—and the argument has struck me—and it arises, I think, from a want of proper observation, but many persons have said, and the hon. Gentleman among others—"You have given the right of voting to occupiers in Ireland to the value of 12l. a year, surely occupiers in England to the value of 10l. a year, are as worthy; and to them, at least, you ought to extend the franchise." But the hon. Gentleman does not remember that in Ireland we have destroyed that old class of voters to whom I have alluded as being so valuable in England, the forty shilling freeholders; and when I said last year, in supporting the Bill for the extension of the franchise in Ireland, that I thought it most desirable to place Ireland on a footing with England and Scotland in this respect, it was because I took into consideration the extinction of the forty shilling freeholders; and my object then was to bestow some franchise in Ireland which would be in the hands of persons well qualified to hold it, and not to revive the abuses which formerly attended the tenure of forty shilling freeholds in Ireland, and which would, at the same time, satisfy the people of Ireland that they were being treated with as much fairness as the people of England or Scotland. Now that consequence, I think, has been to a great degree attained; for judging from the various returns as to the number of persons now qualified to vote in Irish counties, I should conjecture that something like the same proportion of voters to the inhabitants in English counties is being introduced into the counties of Ireland. But if you say,] because we have accomplished this, we must create a similar franchise in England, then you propose a new inequality, because then you would have in England the 40s. freeholders and other tenures and the 10l. occupier, whereas, in Ireland, you would have but the 12l. occupiers without I the 40s. freeholders. That would be an inequality by far too great; and we should I then have to propose the 40s. freehold franchise, or otherwise to add to the number of Irish county electors in order to restore the equality which we had hoped to establish by the Bill of last year. I cannot think, then, that this proposed measure is a mea [sure the tendency of which would be to improve our representation. I would much] rather continue the ancient distinction, and maintain this difference—that whilst house-holders shall have the right of voting in I boroughs and cities, freeholders, and other holders by tenure alone, shall have the right of voting in counties. The hon. I Gentleman has observed that I cannot say that this is a revolutionary project, or that it would accomplish any great and violent democratic change. Undoubtedly, I make no charge of that kind against the hon. Gentleman. I have stated that I do not consider his proposal would be an improvement on the existing state of things; but let it be understood that I am very far from saying that the large class of persons whom; it would admit to the right of voting in I elections for counties is a class of persons from whom our existing institutions have anything to fear. There is, however, another question to which the hon. Gentleman has alluded, and on which I think it right to say a few words before I conclude. I have stated that I do not think it advisable to adopt this proposition. Yet, on another occasion I have stated, that I thought that some extension of the franchise was desirable. At the same time, as the House will recollect, I said I did not at all agree that it was an evil to have county, large city, and small borough constituencies respectively returning Members to Parliament; but, on the contrary, that if we merely had a representation of numbers, then it was my opinion that this intelligent and wealthy country would not be so well represented as at the present moment. With these opinions I certainly could not be a party to that which some Members of this House seem to wish, namely, the entire abrogation of our ancient system of representation, and the sweeping away of the Reform Act, together with all the other Acts on which the present state of the representation is founded. But, at the same time, I do think it is desirable to introduce a measure for some further extension of the suffrage—and by which, in particular, we should afford to the working classes greater opportunities of obtaining votes than they at present possess. I answered to an hon. Gentleman (Sir Joshua Walmsley), who put the question to me the other night, whether the Government were about to introduce any measure for the extension of the suffrage in the course of the present Session, that the Government had not that intention. There are reasons, peculiar to the present time, and general reasons of policy, why, in my opinion, such a course would be inadvisable. There are peculiar reasons why it was absolutely necessary to commence this year with financial measures, in order that the attention of the House of Commons might be immediately taken up with matters of finance; and the introduction by the Government of any question respecting the alteration of the Reform Act, or of extending the suffrage would have created serious difficulties, and postponed these indispensable measures of finance to a very late period. There are, besides, various questions relating to the administration of justice in the Court of Chancery, and to the general administration in Ireland, which I had proposed to bring before the House, and which I think it is very desirable to proceed with as speedily as possible. But I consider that there are general reasons likewise, and which, I partly stated last year, why it is not advisable that the Government should proceed with a measure of reform of the franchise just in the present Session. It has always seemed to me that when great changes have been accomplished in this country, and while the minds of the people are still uncertain about the effects of those changes, it is most prudent and politic to avoid very frequent elections, and perpetual agitation on questions in which the interests of the country are deeply involved. I think it is far better, after a sufficient time has passed, and after discussions, such as those which have taken place in this House, that the country should have an opportunity of calmly and deliberately deciding on the value of changes of which the people have had adequate experience. I have likewise thought, with regard to late years, having ourselves not only many changes in legislation, but finding immense political alteration taking place in foreign countries, that anything which tended to stability, anything which showed that we were proceeding quietly and calmly with the maintenance of our institutions, was an advantage to this country, and was calculated to preserve us from many evils which a different course of action on our part would very probably en tail. But, while believing all this, I can see no reason why, after this Session has passed, and at the commencement of the next Session, there should not be laid be fore this House by the Government a proposal in respect to this question of the ex tension of the suffrage. Certainly, if I am a Member of the Government at that time, I shall deem it my duty to lay my views on this subject before the House of Commons. I know perfectly well that those views would not altogether meet with the approbation of the hon. Member for Montrose and of other Gentlemen who agree with him. But I have so often stated the difference of opinion which exists between us, that it ought to create no surprise in his mind at finding that I have come to a practical conclusion essentially distinct from that proposal which he has laid from time to time before the House. I do, however, think it is desirable, considering that by next Session twenty years will have elapsed since the passing of the Reform Bill, that we should then consider whether there are not great numbers of our fellow-countrymen not possessed by that Act of the franchise, who are not only fully qualified to exercise the suffrage, but whose exercise of the suffrage would tend to the improvement of the character of this House. I am myself perfectly satisfied with the experience we have had of that Act. I believe that the representation since 1832 has been such as to give confidence to the people at large, which confidence they would not have had in a House of Commons in which were Mem- bers for Old Sarum and for Gatton, and in which were not Members for Manchester, and Leeds, and Birmingham. I am, therefore, perfectly satisfied that the influence of that Reform Bill, loudly as it was denied at the time that it could be so, has been salutary; and, therefore, that in any changes we may make, we ought to consult the spirit of that Reform Act—we ought to consult the temper and the genius of the people of these united kingdoms, and that we should not attempt to construct any fanciful edifice based upon any new theory of our own, but, building upon the old foundation, continually endeavour to improve the symmetry and add to the convenience of the ancient edifice.


was glad that at last they had obtained a definite promise from the noble Lord, although it was not very pleasant to be told, after all, that if they would wait till next Session, they might then get something. The noble Lord did not seem to be aware that he had been tardy, or that he was to blame for having passed twenty years without an effort to remedy the over and over again acknowledged de defects in the Reform Bill. The same reasons which existed now, for a movement in this direction, had existed during these twenty years; and what he (Mr. Hume) asked now, and would continue to ask, he had asked all along, that, having taken a wise step in passing the Reform Bill, they should carefully and calmly continue in the same course, and admit the whole of their fellow-countrymen within the pale of the constitution. The noble Lord had referred to affairs on the Continent; and he was sure the noble Lord would agree with him in this, that the Reform Act had tended to settle the peace of this country during those convulsions abroad, which otherwise would have been disturbed at home; and the question now arose, as the Reform Act had worked so well, whether it was not advisable to go a step further, and extend the suffrage to those who, it was admitted on all hands, were so well qualified to exercise it? The noble Lord had told them that many of the electors in counties were fettered and dependent. He asked, then, ought not the noble Lord to strengthen the hands of the really independent voters by throwing in the votes of the independent 10l. householders? He thought the noble Lord was blind to his own position—blind to the advantage of those who were his supporters in the House in not giving to the liberal Members for counties the pro- tection of these independent votes against those who wished to bring hack the system of protection and monopoly. The noble Lord had referred to him unfairly, in reference to the vote which he had given in favour of the Chandos clause of the Reform Bill. He certainly had supported that clause, and on the distinct ground that it was admitting to the franchise those who would not otherwise have obtained it; but, at the same time, he had called upon the noble Lord to give to this and to all other classes the proper protection to their votes which would have been conferred by the ballot. The noble Lord had been unwisely slow in regard to Parliamentary reform, and he perhaps now felt that he had jeopardised his own interests in the House and in the country by thus neglecting the defence which he would have found in popular support against the threatened retrogression to the system of protection and monopoly. The noble Lord and his party soon found that they would have to give way, and the result would be that still greater demands would be made upon them. The noble Lord had told them that he would bring forward a measure on that subject next year, but he had not told them what the nature of that measure would be; and on this subject he would only say that if the noble Lord would add two or three millions more to the constituency, the less danger there would be in case of any future convulsion.


Sir, I have heard with very great pleasure, and I am sure the country will receive with much satisfaction the declaration made this evening by the noble Lord at the head of the Government, that he proposes to bring in next Session a measure of Parliamentary Reform. I only hope that in the interval the country will give that attention to the subject which will enable it to secure a real and substantial measure of reform in our present most faulty system. I think—and I should not have said a word on this Motion if the noble Lord had not addressed himself to the larger question—that some of the scenes we have witnessed in one or two of our recent elections—such as the Falkirk district, St. Alban's, or take Wareham as the most recent example—are utterly disgraceful to us. I have witnessed scenes in some of these small places, where perhaps there are but two, three, or four hundred electors, exceeding anything that has occurred on the continent of Europe at general elections in which six millions of people have taken part. There has frequently been more drunkenness, violence, bloodshed, and even mortal combats, in the course of an election contest at one of these little boroughs, than could be found throughout an election in France, where some six millions of men have had to go to the poll. I trust the noble Lord will bear this in mind in his scheme, and that he will come to one conclusion, and one conclusion only, that the constituencies in which there are only two, or three, or four hundred voters, where there is open voting, and where, as the necessary consequence in such a constituency, there is bribery, intimidation, and corruption of every kind, involve evils which ought to be extirpated altogether from our electoral system. I hope that the noble Lord will direct himself to this great task with the recollection that the country has for a very long time been looking for some measure of reform. Everything has, up to this time, been refused; and I do believe that after the declaration of the noble Lord, to-night, he will be greatly mistaking the sense of the country unless he, or some one else holding his responsible situation, be prepared to bring in a measure commensurate with the evils of the existing system, and properly calculated to meet the wants and convictions of the people. I will say one word upon the arguments offered by the noble Lord in reference to the Motion which is before us. The noble Lord has said, that the proposal of my hon. Friend would admit to the franchise a class of men altogether unobjectionable in point of circumstances, character, and integrity. It has been said, and said truly, that the man who rents a house of the value of 10l. in a rural district, is as good a man as he who lives in a similar house in a large town. Now, I think if we take property as the test of character, which we are probably a little too prone to do in this country, that the man who rents a 10l. house in a village or in a market town which is not an enfranchised borough, is, generally speaking, living in superior circumstances to the person renting a 10l. house in a great town. The noble Lord, therefore, cannot, and does not, offer any objection to the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey, on the score of the character or position of those proposed to be enfranchised. The noble Lord, however, objects to the innovation, by the 50l. tenant-at-will clause, upon the old system of the freeholds in counties; and, on the same ground, now objects to the creation of a 10l. constituency. But, taking the tenant-at-will clause as a fact, which he is not prepared to get rid of, the noble Lord does not show us what possible mischief could arise from extending the 10l. franchise to counties. It is not a question of innovation at all; but the question is, having the 50l. tenants at will in existence and affecting elections, will you give the people of the counties a fairer representation—for that is all we have in view—by awarding them a 10l. franchise to balance the 50l. franchise which is already established? The noble Lord remarks that he has found, in canvassing counties, that the 50l. tenant at will is not so independent a man as the forty-shilling freeholder. I am inclined to say that the noble Lord is undoubtedly right in that; but it by no means follows that the voter, voting in virtue of a 10l. house, may not also be more independent than the 50l. tenant at will. There is every reason, as I think the noble Lord will find, if he will follow up his argument, why the 50l. tenant at will cannot exercise the franchise so independently as the forty-shilling freeholder. The reason is obvious. The tenant who rents a farm of fifty acres or upwards, is a man who depends for his subsistence on the application of his capital to the land which he holds from a landlord, by whom that land may at any time be withdrawn from him. Land is limited; the farmer is accustomed to no pursuit but farming; it would be a serious thing to him were he removed from his farm; and, naturally, the landlord thus exercises an immense control over that class of tenants in all cases where their votes are of value. But if you go to the 10l. householder in a market town or village, you find a man who need not care for the threats of a landlord. He is a man in business, perhaps a grocer, a butcher, or a shoemaker, and if he gets notice to quit, he can leave his house without being ruined; for he can very soon get another house, and his business is independent of his landlord. It would, therefore, be quite compatible with the view of the noble Lord, with regard to maintaining the independence of counties, to extend the innovation on the ancient system adopted in the Reform Bill, by creating 50l. tenant-at-will voters, to the occupiers in rural districts of 10l. houses. What is the fact in the counties where the 40s. freeholders have the greatest influence? I will take such a county as the West Riding of Yorkshire, or South Lan- cashire, or Middlesex. The noble Lord has spoken of Berkshire, where the 50l. tenant-at-will voters form a large proportion of the constituency; but if you come to counties such as I have the honour to represent, you will find that that class forms a very small part of the constituency. Now, how do these constituencies act where there are the largest number of freeholders? I represent, probably, a larger number of freeholders, in the proportion of freeholders to tenants-at-will, than any other person in this House. The result is, that I am here supporting the Motion of my hon. Friend, and that I do so with the support of the West Riding. The same thing [happens in the case of my hon. Friend the Member for South Lancashire, and the hon. Member for Middlesex, and others. The Members of this House who represent constituencies of which freeholders form a majority, are the men, armed with the sanction of their constituents, warranted by their approbation, who will be found voting for this Motion for the extension to counties of the 10l. qualification, knowing as they do that this would give a fairer representation to the counties. I do not see that you could so well in any other way bring into our representative system the class of men you ought to have as voters—these householders in country districts—as by the plan proposed by my hon. Friend. In the case of small towns the case is different, but in a place like Yorkshire, in many parts of which for miles around, there is only a series of mills and factories, interspersed with single houses and cottages, it is difficult to bring a population so scattered within the votes of neighbouring boroughs, while the vote might be easily given to each of them singly for the county. Reformation in many details is absolutely necessary. Take Barnsley, for example, the principal seat of the linen manufactures of Yorkshire. It has no representation, and yet it is a most important town; while Pontefract, with not half the population, enjoys two votes in this House. Then there are Rotherham, Dewsbury, and other towns of the West Riding of Yorkshire, which must be formed into grouped boroughs, or the 10l. franchise given them, on the plan of my hon. Friend. The noble Lord at the head of the Government stated the other night that the mass of the people of this country were determined to maintain the commercial policy already adopted by the Legislature—that they knew their rights and interests, and were determined to maintain the present system. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon, in his admirable speech, has stated the same thing; and it has had an echo throughout the country. But what is the fact as regards the representation of the country in this House? The noble Lord's words are just as applicable to the proposal now made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey to gain for the people their right of representation, as to the freedom they had gained for their commerce. Passing over the fact that the Ministry were lately saved from a minority by only fourteen votes, I must ask the House what is the state of the county representation as presented to us lately? Take the representation of Herefordshire, Glamorganshire, Nottinghamshire, Montgomeryshire—take the elections now going on for North Staffordshire and for Bedfordshire. Here I have mentioned six counties or divisions of counties. No doubt the mass of the people in those counties are determined to maintain free trade, but then a free-trade candidate would not have a chance of succeeding in any of them. Why, you have only two classes, landlords and tenants, to send the county Members to Parliament; but the voters are only a small fraction of the population of those counties. I say that it is a great peril to your institutions, and a reproach to the country, if you allow such discrepancies to exist as this—that all the counties, although the inhabitants may form a free-trade majority, send up men to vote in Parliament for dear bread, against the free export of the products of industry, and for high living, and all that appertains to it, and then they are said to represent the county. I consider that my hon. Friend has done great service by bringing forward this Motion; for the country will be glad to hear that it has elicited from the noble Lord at the head of the Government the assurance that we shall have a very large, extensive, and complete modification and improvement of our representative system.


expressed himself favourable to such an extension of the franchise as should include the greatly increased number of persons who were capable of using a vote, and had an intelligent acquaintance with the constitution and laws of their country.

The House divided:—Ayes 100; Noes 52: Majority 48.

List of the AYES.
Adair, H. E. Loveden, P.
Adair, R. A. S. Lushington, C.
Alcock, T. Mackie, J.
Anderson, A. M'Cullagh, W. T.
Anstey, T. C. M'Gregor, J.
Bass, M. T. M'Taggart, Sir J.
Blake, M. J. Meagher, T.
Blewitt, R. J. Mangles, R. D.
Bright, J. Moffatt, G.
Brocklehurst, J. Molesworth, Sir W.
Brotherton, J. Moore, G. H.
Brown, W. Muntz, G. F.
Bunbury, E. H. O'Connor, F.
Calvert, F. O'Flaherty, A.
Carter, J. B. Osborne, R. B.
Chaplin, W. J. Pechell, Sir G. B.
Clay, J. Perfect, R.
Clifford, H. M. Pilkington, J.
Cobden, R. Pinney, W.
Colebrooke, Sir T. E. Power, Dr.
Collins, W. Rice, E. R.
Crawford, W. S. Robartes, T. J. A.
D'Eyncourt, rt. hon. C. T. Salwey, Col.
Drummond, H. Scholefield, W.
Duncan, Visct. Scrope, G. P.
Ellis, J. Shafto, R. D.
Evans, Sir De L. Sidney, Ald.
Evans, W. Slaney, R. A.
Ewart, W. Smith, rt. hon. R. V.
Fagan, W. Smith, J. B.
Forster, M. Stansfield, W. R. C.
Fox, W. J. Strickland, Sir G.
Gibson, rt. Hon. T. M. Stuart, Lord D.
Granger, T. C. Sullivan, M.
Hall, Sir B. Tancred, H. W.
Hanmer, Sir J. Tennison, E. K.
Harris, R. Thicknesse, R. A.
Hastie, A. Thompson, Col.
Hastie, A. Thornely, T.
Headlam, T. E. Trelawny, J. S.
Henry, A. Villiers, hon. C.
Hodges, T. L. Wakley, T.
Howard, P. H. Walmsley, Sir J.
Humphery, Ald. Wawn, J. T.
Hutt, W. Williams, J.
Jackson, W. Williams, W.
Keating, R. Wilson, M.
Kershaw, J. Wood, W. P.
Langston, J. H.
Lawless, hon. C. TELLERS.
Lennard, T. B. King, hon. J. P. L.
Locke, J. Hume, J.
List of The NOES.
Adderley, C. B. Dundas, Adm.
Arbuthnott, hon. H. Dundas, rt. hon. Sir D.
Armstrong, Sir A. Elliot, hon. J. E.
Baring, rt. hn. Sir F. T. Freestun, Col.
Barrow, W. H. Frewen, C. H.
Bellew, R. M. Grace, O. D. J.
Berkeley, Adm. Grev, rt. hon. Sir G.
Blair, S. Grey, R. W.
Bremridge, R. Hatchell, rt. hon. J.
Brockman, E. D. Hawes, B.
Buck, L. W. Heald, J.
Campbell, hon. W. F. Henley, J. W.
Cowper, hon. W. F. Hobhouse, rt. hn. Sir J.
Craig, Sir W. G. Hood, Sir A.
Duncuft, J. Hornby, J.
Knight, F. W. Seymour, Lord
Labouchere, rt. hon. H. SomervilIe, rt. hon. Sir W.
Lascelles, hon. W. S. Stanley, E.
Lewis, G. C. Stanton, W. H.
Maule, rt. hon. F. Turner, G. J.
Napier, J. Verner, Sir W.
Paget, Lord C. Williamson, Sir H.
Paget, Lord G. Wilson, J.
Parker, J. Wood, rt. hon. Sir C.
Power, N.
Romilly, Sir J. TELLERS.
Russell, Lord J., Hayter, rt. hon. W. G.
Seymour, H. D. Hill, Lord M.

Leave given.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Locke King, Mr. Hume, and Mr. Headlam.