§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
I have now, Sir, to move for leave to bring in a Bill to extend the Right of Voting for Members of Parliament, and to amend the laws relating to the representation of the People. The state of affairs in which I bring forward this Motion ought to be satisfactory to Parliament and to the country. On looking back for the last four years, we have seen the continent of Europe torn by convulsions; but during that period the aspect of this country has been tranquil and loyal, and any threatened danger to our institutions has been met by the general spirit and unanimous feeling of the country. Sir, it appears to me that this is the proper time for considering whether any further extension can be given to the right of voting consistently with the principles of the constitution, by which the prerogatives of the Crown, and the authority of both Houses of Parliament, and the rights and liberties of the people, are equally secured. I know, Sir, there are some who say that we ought to wait rather until there is agitation on the subject—that it is better to legislate upon a subject of this kind when the passions of the people have been aroused—that then there is great discontent on the one side, and great fear on the other. Sir, I totally differ from that opinion. If we think it is desirable to make any further extension of 253 the right of voting, or to make any amendment in the state of the representation, it is well to consider the question with calmness, in a time of tranquillity, and to confer those franchises without compulsion, as a reward of past conduct, and as a security for the permanence of the institutions of the country. I believe, therefore, I am doing right in now bringing forward a question of this kind consistently with the many previous assurances that I have given to this House on the subject. I repeat this because I am aware that it has been asserted, but asserted without a shadow of foundation, that it was merely on the spur of the moment, being pressed by the Motion that was made last year, that I gave a promise that I would bring this subject under the consideration of the House during the present Session. Sir, it has been stated by me, and was so stated in the year 1848, that although I could not agree to Motions that were made in this House, especially to a Motion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume), my opinion was that it might be advisable to consider the further extension of the franchise at a time when the subject could be solemnly and deliberately considered. In the year 1849, I accordingly brought under the consideration of the Cabinet, whether we should introduce such a measure into Parliament; and it was thought that as such a measure must lead, before any long period, to a dissolution, it was advisable not to bring it forward in the then ensuing Session. Again, last year, there was a deliberation of the Cabinet on this subject, and the reasons for postponement appeared to outweigh those for immediately bringing forward the measure. But although the reasons for postponement were valid, yet it of course exposed me, or any one on whom might devolve the duty of stating the course of the Government, to this disadvantage, either that I must, by giving reasons against the Motion that was made, and opposing it altogether, conceal that which was the real intention of the Government, and thus appear to pledge them to a course which they never meant to follow; or, on the other hand, I was obliged to state the tenor of my general intentions, and thus in some measure give information which would raise expectation and lead to hopes that might not probably be realised. I therefore preferred the latter alternative. No doubt that course has not been without inconvenience. I 254 must say, however, that there was nothing that I had ever said—there was no expectation which I had ever held out—that could induce extravagant hopes on the one side, or exaggerated fears on the other, as to the nature of the measure I was about to propose. Sir, having said this much as a preface to my statement, I think it will be convenient if the House will, with me, review the measures that have been taken, and indeed the measures that have been proposed, on this subject at various times. I do not mean to enter into any discussion with respect to the general principle of representation. I believe it is now very well agreed that the claim to have the franchise extended to every individual, is not a claim which can be supported. The object to be gained is good government; and the mode of obtaining a fair representation of the people, and of obtaining a representation which can perform the functions of the House of Commons, is to be sought for in any measures that can be adopted. In considering any measures that affect the representation of the people and the mode of electing Members to this House, we must always consider how great and important are the functions which this House has to perform. I do not know any example—certainly not in modern history, scarcely in ancient history—of functions so important being performed by any similar body; for not only are all the laws submitted to us—not only must the taxes be voted, and their expenditure regulated by this House—but that power over the public purse which this House possesses, has gradually led it to give advice to the Crown on all questions of its influence upon other questions connected with the Administration and Government; and this House is frequently called upon to exercise the right which it so possesses. On referring, Sir, to the proceedings with respect to the representation of this House in former days, we find that in the year 1782, when there was great excitement on the subject of reform, Mr. Pitt brought forward a general Motion, without stating any particular measure. He was supported by Mr. Fox, who, with his usual good sense and grasp of mind, said he did not agree with those who would restrict the franchise to any particular class or interest, but should like to see all classes and interests represented. In the year 1785, Mr. Pitt—holding then the important offices of First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer—brought 255 forward a more mature measure on the subject. He proposed that a fund of 1,000,000l. should be set apart which should he devoted to the purposes of purchasing thirty-six small boroughs returning Members to Parliament; and be proposed that those Members should be replaced in the House by Members representing counties: in that respect following the idea Lord Chatham entertained, that what was most to be desired in this House was an addition to the county representation. He proposed, moreover, that there should be a sum also granted for the further purchase of boroughs as they came into the market, by means of which some of the largest towns which then were becoming populous would obtain the right of sending Members to Parliament. He also proposed a great extension of suffrage in some of the larger towns. That proposition was rejected; and when in the year 1790 Mr. Flood proposed the adoption of a measure of reform, Mr. Pitt declared that, although he had not changed his opinions as to reform, he did not think the discussion of the question would lead to any advantageous result, and therefore moved the Orders of the Day. I will pass over the various Motions that were made while this country was agitated by the French war and the French revolution. I think those measures and plans were, in a great degree, influenced by the violence of the passions which then prevailed, either in favour of very large popular rights, or, on the other hand, in favour of power for putting down any attempts to change the constitution. A considerable time after the termination of the war, in the year 1821, a measure was brought forward by Lord Durham, then Mr. Lamb-ton, by which the country was to be divided into districts; but that plan was rejected by the House. In the year 1822 I myself had the honour to bring forward a plan of reform by which I proposed that 100 Members should be taken from the smaller boroughs—taking one Member from each of those boroughs—and that sixty of those Members should be given to counties, and forty to towns. Mr. Canning made a most eloquent speech in that debate, and gave me at the conclusion of it great hopes of success on some subsequent occasion in obtaining a reform of the representation. Mr. Canning pointed out the difficulties I should have to encounter, if my plan was carried into effect, of maintaining the burgage tenure, which every 256 person knows was a species of occupation, and entirely in the hands of the proprietors. Several Motions were made in this House during the period that elapsed between 1822 and 1831; and I brought forward in 1831, as the organ of the Government of the day, a plan of reform which was the basis of that which was afterwards passed by this House. I hold in my hand the original paper which was submitted to Lord Durham, Lord Duncannon, and Sir James Graham, in December, 1830, and which is marked in Lord Durham's handwriting, "Lord John Russell's plan;" that plan proposed that fifty boroughs should cease to return Members to Parliament—that fifty others should only have one Member each—and that in cities and boroughs generally a 10l. household franchise should be established. I proposed likewise certain changes somewhat similar to those in the former plan. This plan was discussed and laid before the Cabinet in a shape a little modified from the original of that measure I proposed. It was thought better, however, to take the limit of population, and it was proposed that all boroughs having under 2,000 inhabitants should cease to return Members, and that all boroughs having a population of from 2,000 to 4,000, and up to 6,000 inhabitants, should each return one Member. In the long and animated discussions that followed the proposition of that plan, a difficulty arose with respect to the assumed population of the different boroughs. As the population returns gave the boundaries of parishes and not of boroughs, there was a great difference in many cases between the population as assumed, and the population as it should be taken. It was necessary, in consequence, to appoint Commissioners who would ascertain the real boundaries of the boroughs, and to obtain more accurate information with respect to the real number of the population and houses. In the subsequent Reform Bill, as brought before another Parliament after the dissolution, it was proposed not to take, as I did at first, an arbitrary number of fifty boroughs to be disfranchised, and fifty others to be left with the privilege of returning only one Member each, nor to take the limit of population simply, but in reference to the boroughs to be disfranchised, to take, as the test for disfranchisement, the number of the houses and the assessments to the assessed taxes. Such was the basis upon which that part of the Reform Bill was founded. It went upon 257 the basis of the smallness of boroughs, on the ground that many of them were places without any inhabitants at all. In others, the inhabitants were few in number, and never had any right of voting. The burgage tenure was in the hands of the proprietors, and therefore nomination, strictly and properly so called, existed in those boroughs. In proposing the great changes that we then proposed—in proposing that a great number of large towns should then be enfranchised—that the great seats of manufactures, as Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Sheffield, and other places, should have Members—and in proposing likewise a very considerable addition to the county representation, we did not, in disfranchising a great number of boroughs having a small population, go to the extent of saying that no borough with a small population should have Members, but only to the extent of determining that those boroughs which we conceived to be nomination boroughs should cease to return Members. These are the words I find reported—not actually the very words I used, but the substance of what I said on introducing the second Reform Bill in the month of June, 1831:—In the representation, as we propose to leave it, there will still be a class which some may think a blot on our system, but the existence, I think, will add to the permanence of Parliament, and to the welfare of the people—I mean that there will be a hundred or more Members from places of three, four, five, or six thousand inhabitants, who will not perhaps immediately represent any particular interest, and who may, therefore, be better qualified to speak and inform the House on great questions of general interest to the community. If we had proceeded as some recommended, viz., to destroy the existing system, and to allow none but Members from counties, and large cities and towns, although it would have been a representation of the landed, commercial, and manufacturing interests, something would still have been wanting to its completeness. That something I find in a number of persons not connected either with the land, commerce, or manufactures, but who are certainly well worthy to enter these walls, and able to give advice and advance opinions important to the welfare of the community."—[3 Hansard, iv. 338.]The fault that was then found with our plan was not that we had not destroyed those boroughs; but it was said with respect to Schedule B that we had gone too far—that we were taking away Members from that class that was stated to be, and that we admitted were, an important class of Members in this House. I have stated this, because you will have reason presently to see that it comes immediately to bear 258 upon the question as regards the plan we shall now introduce. In the first place, I think that if we had none but Members of counties and Members for large cities, it would be impossible to say that the people of this country were fairly represented. You would not find with respect to counties that others would be selected as representatives than those who were generally known from residence or property in them. You would not find in other large places that persons who did not immediately represent the popular opinion of the day would be re-elected. You would find, therefore, that many of those persons to whom I have referred would be excluded completely from the representation, and the result would be an incompleteness in the representation of the country. Other nations have endeavoured to remedy that which is an obvious fault in representation founded solely on numbers. In ancient Rome they had a particular contrivance to give weight in certain cases independent of numbers. We find also in the United States of America, that besides the institution of the Senate, whose members do not immediately represent numbers, but are chosen according to the constitution of each State, there is a power in the President of the United States, holding the executive office, which is a power in some respects beyond that which the Sovereign of this country possesses. The President of the United States, in choosing the Members of his Government, may utterly disregard the wishes of Congress, and choose any person he pleases, to represent any policy he pleases, and does not consider them responsible to Congress, but to himself, as head of the Executive. Thus, in that constitution, the Congress, in this respect, holds a different position from that of the House of Commons, whose deliberations and decisions affect all holding office under the Crown. I therefore hold that it would be extremely unwise to destroy the balance of the constitution, as we should do if we were to say that we would have none but the representatives of counties and large cities and towns, and that we would admit of no other kind of representation. In the Bill of 1832, we proposed, as I have said, a large and wide disfranchisement, and we did that on the ground that there were certain boroughs that did not and could not represent the opinions of the inhabitants, and therefore of Members in this House. I have stated were unfitted for admission to the representation. We did it likewise on the ground that there were many great towns 259 and places of manufacturing industry which could not otherwise obtain Members, as it was desirable not to increase the number in the House; but on looking to the present state of affairs, I cannot see that there is any such ground of necessity as should induce us now to have recourse to any absolute disfranchisement. It appears to me, as I have stated more than once, and stated at the time of the discussion on the Reform Bill, that nothing but a great necessity should induce you to resort to an arbitrary and absolute disfranchisement. What we propose by the name of disfranchisement is simply this—to disfranchise in every case of proved corruption; and by the second Bill I have to bring forward this evening, I propose that there should be a considerable change in the mode of inquiry into cases of corruption. It is no doubt true that there exists at the present time many boroughs in which bribery has become inveterate, and that it would be difficult for any one to obtain his return if he did not resort to those corrupting practices. I own that I think considerable damage was done in this respect by that which otherwise was a great improvement of the law—the Grenville Act. The Grenville Act enabled parties to come forward and state their own case, as between A and B, as to whether A or B had a right to be returned, with all the modes of evidence and the costs of counsel that belonged to the trial of a civil action; but while this good was obtained, that the return of a particular Member, or making void an election, was no longer a matter of party dispute in this House, this mischief at the same time was done—that a seat was no longer considered as a matter of public interest, of which the whole House could take cognisance. At the beginning of the last century, when Mr. Sheppard had resorted to extensive and corrupt practices in various boroughs, his conduct was considered worthy of notice by Sir Edward Seymour, then an eminent Member of this House, who proved the corrupt practices in every borough, and established facts, for which he obtained the thanks of the House. But as the matter now stands, as soon as the person who wants the seat obtains the end of unseating his opponent, the inquiry finishes. Of course he will not incur the expense of resorting to further proceedings; and while the question respecting the seat is no doubt fairly decided, the question of public justice and the purity of this House, are left uninquired into. 260 Now, Sir, what I propose is, that on an Address from this House to the Crown—be that Address based on the Report of an Election Committee, or of a Select Committee appointed by the House, or, if the House think proper, on common fame and notoriety—it shall be lawful for the Crown to appoint a Commission, which Commission shall resort to the borough, and there prosecute the same means of inquiry that were so lately exercised with so much success in the case of St. Albans. By this mode I conceive that in many cases we shall obtain evidence sufficient to enable us to disfranchise a corrupt borough. I do not think the other House of Parliament would complain of this mode of proceeding, because no disfranchisement could take place without their concurrence, and the evidence of corrupt practices would he as open to them as to us. It would then he possible for us occasionally to enfranchise large towns in the country, which have a great population, and are the seats of trade and manufactures. Of course the House, if it thinks fit, can, on disfranchising a borough, as in the case of Sudbury, give the Members to any large county instead of giving them to a town, but I think that in those cases towns should have the preference. With regard to the two seats which are at the disposal of the House by the disfranchisement of Sudbury, we propose to give a Member to Birkenhead, and a Member to Burnley. If Parliament shall agree to the disfranchisement of St. Albans, we will propose, in like manner, that two other large towns should each return a Member to Parliament. I am now merely speaking of the disposal of the two seats that have become vacant by the disfranchisement of Sudbury, and reminding you that, of course, if St. Albans shall be disfranchised, we shall have two seats more to dispose of. The principle of disfranchisement which we propose to adopt is this—to disfranchise in cases of proved corruption, but not to adopt any arbitrary rule of disfranchisement. I come now to what we propose with regard to the extension of the suffrage. It appears to me there are two grounds on which we may propose a considerable extension of the suffrage in the cities and boroughs of the United Kingdom. At the time of the Reform Bill, in placing the right of voting in householders where the value was 10l. a year, we did what I think it was right to do, and what it was our duty to do; we placed the suffrage rather 261 higher than it was necessary to fix it. We did that at a time when, together with a great wish to reform, there was a great desire that it should be a complete reform, and we were very unwilling to place the suffrage in hands that were unworthy of it. I own I think that, although we were right in proposing the 10l. franchise at that time; yet, after all we have seen of the safety with which our institutions have worked since the passing of that measure, which menaced, it was said, all our institutions, we might now place the franchise lower. But, Sir, there is another ground which I confess has great influence on my mind, and it was the ground upon which I very much based the original proposition for reform in 1832—it is the ground of the growing intelligence and education of the people. I could prove that proposition if I thought it necessary to go into details, but I shall not weary the House by thus adding to the statement I have to make. I could prove it by showing the increased sale of newspapers and books, and by the great number of schools that have been established since 1831. I could prove the great increase that has taken place in intelligence amongst the people of this country, but I do not think that it is necessary to go into those proofs at this time. I think that the experience of every Member of this House is sufficient to induce him to concur with me, and to say that the franchise which was given in 1832 might be made more extensive at the present time. We propose, instead of householders of the rated value of 10l., occupying houses or shops of that annual value, to take householders of 5l. rated value. In looking at the general returns which have been received, I should say that, in point of numbers, the proportion of householders, of from 5l. to 10l. rated value, as compared with those of 10l. and upwards, is as six to ten. It will be seen, therefore, that when we propose to lower the franchise in cities and boroughs to 5l. rated value, we shall add a very great number of persons to those who now exercise the elective franchise. For my part, I am persuaded that the franchise may be safely entrusted to them, convinced that they are a class of householders with whom our institutions will be in perfect safety, and who have intelligence sufficient to entitle them to exercise the power which we propose to place in their hands. With regard to counties, I do not propose to make any change in the principle from that 262 which has been the general constitution of this House, that the representation of counties should be placed on a different basis from that of cities and boroughs. The greatest change that was made in this respect at the time of the Reform Act was a change which was introduced by a Nobleman, then a Member of this House, and now of the other House of Parliament (the Duke of Buckingham). That which we proposed went on the principle of tenure—40s. freeholds, copyhold tenure, and leases of a certain duration—not losing sight of the original difference between county Members and borough Members, the one being founded upon tenure, and the other upon occupation. But the proposition of that noble Lord, which was sanctioned by a majority of this House, gave to occupiers rated on a rental of 50l. a year a right to vote. I think, indeed I thought so at that time, that we may fairly lower the franchise to that amount which entitles a man to sit on a jury. Among the jury qualifications is one, that persons occupying property of the rated value of 20l. a year are qualified to serve on juries. I think that a person who is qualified to serve on a jury cannot be an unfit person to be entrusted with the elective qualification. Besides this right of voting, we propose to reduce the amount with respect to copyholders and long leaseholders, from 10l. to 5l. There is another right of voting which I have to mention, and which we propose should be given indiscriminately to persons residing either in a county or a borough—that is to say, if they reside in a county without the limits of a borough, they may vote for the county; and if within the limits of the borough, they may vote for the borough: these new voters being persons paying direct taxes in the shape of assessed taxes, or paying income tax to the amount of 40s. a year. We do not propose that persons paying licences—though they may be taken as direct taxes:—should have the right of voting, because we think it might be liable to abuse. But with regard to persons who pay 40s. a year in direct taxes, we propose that the right of voting should be given to them, and clauses have been drawn to carry out this object. Now, the reason on which this particular franchise is founded, is the objection which has been constantly made, and not without reason, that while persons having freehold property, and others occupying leasehold property, are possessed of the franchise, there are great numbers of well-educated 263 men who, not having that particular species of property, are debarred from the right of voting. We hope, therefore, by this proposition to enable them to have votes, and thus to contribute to the representation of the country. Having stated the extension of the franchise within the existing limits, I come now, Sir, to state that I propose an extension of the franchise without the limits of certain small boroughs. As I have already stated, I think, on principle, that we were right at the time of the Reform Bill in maintaining a certain number of boroughs of that kind; and I do not find that any of those whom I have mentioned—Mr. Pitt, Mr. Fox, or any of those who brought forward measures of reform—have agreed to the total destruction of small boroughs. I find there is at this time an outcry against them; but that outcry, with the exception of certain cases to which I shall hereafter have to allude, is founded on the mistaken notion that all the smaller boroughs of the country are infected with bribery and corruption. Now I believe that is a great mistake. I believe that while bribery and corruption exist in many of the smaller boroughs, the same thing may be said, and to as large an extent may be said, of many of the larger boroughs. I do not believe it is at all peculiar to those smaller boroughs; I believe, on the other hand, that there are many of those boroughs in which bribery is almost unknown, and where elections have been conducted with perfect purity. But it is said, and said certainly with great truth, that with regard to many of those smaller boroughs, not only does the influence of property prevail, and not only does property influence the elections, but that the property of individuals is so overwhelming in many of them, that they approach the character of those boroughs in which direct nomination formerly prevailed. Now, Sir, I think it desirable to take away that reproach, because, although we might at the present time leave these boroughs totally undisturbed, yet I cannot but think the continuance of that reproach, and the odium into which they would fall, would render it doubtful at some future time whether they could be maintained. We propose, therefore, with regard to a certain number of those boroughs, to diffuse the influence, as it were, and to add some of the neighbouring towns in the same county, or towns in the neighbouring counties, and give them the right of sending representatives to Parliament. The 264 line which we take is not founded on that which was taken in the time of the Reform Bill, namely, the number of houses assessed to the assessed taxes, because we have now at hand better, and, I think, a more convenient test for the point under consideration. At the time the Reform Bill was discussed in this House, I stated that, in my opinion, nearly all the boroughs should not have less than 300 voters each. While this has been proved to be the case generally, there are fourteen smaller boroughs which have less than the number I have stated; there are upwards of thirty more with less than 400 electors, and several more that have less than 500 electors. When I speak now of electors, I am speaking of permanent electors, namely, those who are 10l. householders, and those who are freemen holding the right to vote, which was maintained and guaranteed to them at the time when the Reform Bill passed. We propose to go up to the number of 500 of those permanent electors, and to add places to all boroughs which have less than 500 of such electors, consisting of 10l. householders. The number of boroughs to which this principle will apply is sixty-seven, I am speaking now only of England and Wales. I do not wish at present to enter into any details on this subject, because I think those details will be far better discussed when the Bill is before the House, and when it will be seen in what manner this principle will operate. There is an observation which I must make, which is an observation certainly founded on truth, although it may have different effects on gentlemen who take different views on this subject; it is, that those smaller boroughs are, generally speaking, with the exception of Yorkshire, in the south and west of the kingdom. They are, therefore, boroughs situated rather in the agricultural than in the manufacturing and commercial parts of the country. It follows that the places which we can join to those smaller boroughs, being places in the neighbourhood of towns of somewhat the same character, are not towns bearing the character of or likely to rise to manufacturing or commercial prosperity. The effect, therefore, of this is, whether it be right or wrong, whether it be judged politic or impolitic, to maintain the same general balance established at the time of the Reform Bill. It is obvious, if we had disfranchised those boroughs, and if we had given the right of voting to towns in the north of England, there would have 265 been a disturbance of that balance, and that the agricultural interest would have been depressed and the manufacturing raised in its stead. That might be a right thing to do; that might be what many Gentlemen would wish; but I will frankly say it is not what we are prepared to do. We are prepared to extend the franchise; but while we make large additions to boroughs, we propose to leave general interests as we find them, and not to disturb them; feeling, if we did so, we should only raise a fierce struggle, which would inflame the minds of Members of this House, while it would cause our measure to be strongly opposed in the other House of Parliament. I have now stated the general purport of the measure with regard to the franchise. There are other provisions in the Bill which I propose to introduce, which I will shortly state. In answer to a speech of a right hon. Friend of mine last year, I stated that no good end was attained in retaining the present property qualification of Members of Parliament, seeing that it was so capable of being evaded; that I thought it had been introduced contrary to the general principles of representation, and that for my part I should willingly sec it abandoned. Sir, maintaining that opinion still, I avail myself of this opportunity of repealing all those Acts, beginning with the Act of Anne, by which those various property qualifications were imposed. In so doing, I shall propose that Members for places in England and Ireland shall be in the same position as those representing places in Scotland, and I think that in point of property no one will say the Scotch Members of this House are in any way inferior to those of England or Ireland. Sir, there is another provision which I propose to introduce into this Bill, but which I cannot introduce at first without going into a Committee of the whole House. It appears to me that the state of the Oaths required to be taken at the table of this House are not such as can be consistent with the Bill. In the first place, we make it necessary to abjure James III. and his descendants, and to enter into various particulars with respect to that family, in regard to which it is not now necessary to say what it was necessary to say in the reign of the first Prince of the House of Hanover. In the next place, I think there is an invidious distinction made in the oath between Protestant and Roman Catholic Members. It appears to me, then, 266 there ought to be an oath which Protestants and Roman Catholics can alike take. I cannot see what is the advantage of making the Protestant abjure the ecclesiastical and spiritual supremacy of the Pope, if you think the Roman Catholic, of whom alone you could be afraid in this respect, abjures only the Pope's temporal and civil supremacy; nor do I think that there is any advantage in the provision which leads a Roman Catholic to declare that he will maintain the established laws of property, that he will not attempt to subvert the Protestant religion, or to interfere with the settlement of the Church as established in this realm. It appears to mo that an oath for these purposes is totally useless. If a Member admit on taking his seat in this House that he has no wish to disturb the Established Church, the oath is then useless; but if he comes here determined to disturb the Protestant Church, and to do all that he can to injure it, then I say an oath will not prevent him doing it. On the other hand, as it merely affords opportunities on certain occasions for taunting Roman Catholics with a violation of their Oaths, I think these provisions had far better be abandoned. It will, therefore, not surprise the House to learn that the new form of oath which I have provided is, generally speaking, the Roman Catholic oath, with certain omissions, and that I have not re-enacted the words "on the true faith of a Christian." It is abundantly clear that those words were not originally introduced in order to confine the right of sitting in this House to Christians, but for another purpose; and it is also well known that the Judges of the land are not quite ready to decide unanimously as to the bearing of those words, and as to whether any penalty has been incurred in a recent instance. It appears to me to be far better to make a simple oath which all the Members of this House could take, and which should pledge them to allegiance to the Throne and fidelity to the succession, and which would not obtain the objectionable requirements I have mentioned. There is another provision of the Bill, which I conceive will not be objected to, and which the existing state of the law seems to render necessary. At present, if a Member accepts an office under the Crown, it is well known that he vacates his seat. Whether that was originally a wise provision, I will not say; but it is quite clear that it gives the electoral body an opportunity of saying whether 267 they choose to have a Member who is in office, and will therefore be expected to give his vote with the Government of the day, or whether they require that their Member should be independent and unshackled by any kind of tie. But there is another provision which appears to me to be totally unnecessary. It is, that when a Member changes his office—for example, having been Solicitor General, he becomes Attorney General—he must vacate his seat and go again to an election. It appears to me, that the electors having once had an opportunity of deciding when their representative accepted an office under the Crown, he should not again be called upon to appear before them on changing his office, I propose, therefore, to alter the law to that extent. Sir, I believe that I have gone through all the main provisions of the Bill which I propose to introduce. It appears to me to be in consonance with that which I have frequently said we should endeavour to attain, namely, to have a supplement to the Reform Bill, and not to provide a substitute for it. I have now for thirty years devoted great attention to this subject. Indeed it is more than thirty years since I first proposed a measure on a subject of reform, and it is nearly thirty since I proposed a measure when I was met by the ability and eloquence of Mr. Canning. Since that time I have succeeded, under the auspices of Lord Grey and his colleagues, in carrying a large measure of reform; and, so far from fulfilling the forebodings of Mr. Canning, I am happy to say that measure has tended to promote the happiness and liberty of this country, while it is one which has in no respect endangered the Throne or any of the institutions of this country. I trust that in proceeding further in the same direction, but, in so proceeding, taking care to measure your steps and to weigh the advances you make, you will contribute still further to the liberty and prosperity of the country, while you maintain the framework of the constitution. I have only to say that two other Bills will shortly be introduced—one relating to Scotland, which makes some provision with respect to the prevention of fictitious votes, by taking care that the titles to the qualification shall be completed by the actual in-feoffment of the owner. It provides also for the reduction to 20l. of the franchise in counties, and to 5l. of that in cities and boroughs, whether with respect to owners or occupiers. With regard to Ireland, 268 which, in respect to the representation, has been under the consideration of Parliament very lately, we do not propose to make any alteration with regard to the county franchise; but with respect to the franchise for cities and boroughs we do propose to reduce it from 8l. to 5l. It appears that an 81, franchise has greatly restricted the number of the electors. With regard to the very small boroughs, whether it is not advisable to add neighbouring towns to them I will not say, nor will I say how far the proposed extension of the franchise with regard to the Irish boroughs is likely to enlarge the number of electors; but when the Bill is introduced it may be a question for the House to consider how far that addition in some of the existing boroughs can be made. Sir, I trust, that when this enlarged franchise is given in the way I have stated, we shall next see the Government of this country, in whose hands soever it may be placed, considering most seriously and earnestly the great question of the education of the people. In my mind this question of the franchise is not alien from that other one of providing that the instruction and education of the people should be in a better state than it now is. I am convinced that if after a measure of this kind, in another Session of Parliament this House shall consider the means of establishing a really national system of education, they will confer one of the greatest blessings which can be conferred on this country—one for which I believe the people are now almost prepared, and which, after further discussion, I do trust may be carried with very nearly a general assent. I do not propose now, however, to enter into this question. I have stated the general principles of the Bill I propose to introduce, and I rejoice that in this time of quiet and tranquillity we may fairly consider that we are not acting under compulsion of any kind, that we are not obliged by any clamour to introduce this measure, but that we do it with an earnest and humble hope that we may contribute something to the happiness and the liberty of the country.
§ Question proposed, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to extend the Right of Voting for Members of Parliament."
§ MR. HUME
said, he had waited with great anxiety for the statement which had just been addressed to the House; and he begged to say, at the outset, that in much that had fallen from the noble Lord he entirely and most heartily concurred. But, excellent as was the statement of the noble 269 Lord, as far as it went, it was vitiated by its omissions. He (Mr. Hume) did not, however, at this stage, intend to do more than observe on one or two points which might still be worthy the consideration of Her Majesty's Government. In the first place, he objected to the leading proposition of the noble Lord, that the people of this country were not entitled to the suffrage as a right. He should be prepared, at a future period, to show that Lord John Russell, in 1792, the period alluded to that evening, declared the right of every citizen to possess the suffrage, provided there was no disqualification arising out of a violation of the law. The Lord John Russell he referred to was not, of course, the present Lord John, but his predecessor. The noble Lord had also referred to 1781 and 1790; and it would have been well if, on this occasion, and in 1832, the noble Lord and his colleagues had followed the advice which, even thus early, had been given, and the opinions thus early pronounced, by Fox, the Duke of Richmond, Mr. Grey, and Mr. Lambton. There was no doubt, however, that this Bill, as introduced now, would be productive of much good. The noble Lord congratulated the House upon the calmness and quietness of the period at which they approached the consideration of this question. There was no doubt that such a period was most fitting for a discussion of the question of reform. But it was also a period for the settlement of the question; and the noble Lord ought to have taken advantage of such a season, by a bold measure, to set at rest every possible dissatisfaction, and to equalise the franchise throughout the country. Why did not the noble Lord at once propose to extend the forty-shilling freehold franchise throughout the United Kingdom? The Bill to be introduced was, after all, but a patching up of that Reform Bill of 1832, which was based upon no intelligible principle. There was here, again, no intelligible principle; and he warned the noble Lord that this measure would not meet the justice of the case, and would not appease the demands of the people. The noble Lord probably intended this to be a soothing and quieting measure, and if so, he would be disappointed; for, sooner or later, there would come the inevitable protest of men who felt themselves aggrieved in being denied what they regarded as their lights. Even as the Bill stood, at as far as it went, it was in itself imperfect, unaccompanied by the ballot. He deeply regretted that omis- 270 sion. He also deeply regretted that the noble Lord had avoided the question of triennial Parliaments. The noble Lord had adopted a wise principle in proposing to abolish the qualification for Members, and to place representatives for English and Irish constituencies on the same footing as lion. Gentlemen from Scotland. But why, when adopting this principle with regard to the elected, did not the noble Lord assent to it in respect to the electors? Why not place the suffrage on a uniform basis throughout the United Kingdom? The principle that taxation and representation went together had been recognised, theoretically and practically. All those great authorities named that evening by the noble Lord, had admitted this principle; and, before long, the country would insist on that principle being carried out. He, as a reformer, who was asking for very much more than the noble Lord seemed prepared to give, begged to express his wish to meet every one of the propositions of the Bill on their merits, as they would arise; and he hoped to be able to persuade the House to increase greatly the value of the measure, and to remove many of the anomalies and injustices which, it could not be denied, did exist. There was no doubt that there was considerable apathy at this moment among the unenfranchised themselves; and when people were well fed and fully employed, they did not think much of troubling Parliament. But that was the very time of which Parliament ought to take advantage to consider such a comprehensive measure as would meet the requirements, present and future, of the community at large. This Bill would leave out of the possession of the franchise 2,000,000 or 3,000,000 of the artisans and working men, the very strength and muscle of the country; and the House might be assured that these men would not endure their degradation for any great length of time. The noble Lord, he therefore thought, had missed availing himself of an opportunity of performing a great act of justice.
§ SIR JOHN WALSH
said, it was about twenty years ago since he had the advantage, or disadvantage, of witnessing the exposition of the noble Lord in introducing the great Reform Bill, which afterwards became the law of the laud; and when he contrasted the manner in which the announcement of that measure was received by the House of Commons—when he recollected the intense excitement which pervaded all parts of the House, and when 271 also he contrasted with that excitement the frigid indifference with which it appeared to him the statement of the noble Lord had been received to-night, he could not doubt that when the noble Lord said that he had chosen the present time for the introduction of the measure, because there was little general or public interest attached to the subject, he was perfectly correct. During the twenty years which had elapsed since the period to which he (Sir J. Walsh) had referred, the noble Lord had filled many high situations, and had run an eminent political career. But he (Sir J. Walsh) did not think that, in the whole course of that career, the noble Lord had ever incurred a responsibility so deep, or taken a step so questionable, as he had done on the present occasion. Well did he recollect the numerous discussions which took place on the introduction of the great measure of 1831. But he hesitated not to assert, that throughout the whole of those discussions, it was alleged as one of the grounds for making that measure so large and so comprehensive, that it was intended by its authors to be a final settlement of a great constitutional question. He did not accuse the noble Lord of a breach of an honourable understanding, nor did he mean to throw out an imputation on his personal character; but he did say that the Government of which the noble Lord was then a distinguished Member—that the authors of that great measure presented it to the House of Commons upon the ground that, being so comprehensive and being so large, it would obviate the necessity of repeating an experiment which must always be considered a dangerous one—that of tampering anew with the fixed institutions of the country, and plunging again into those changes which must ever be considered as in a greater or lesser degree possessing the character of revolution. If his recollection served him rightly, he believed that during a great portion of the period since the passing of the Reform Act, the noble Lord had defended the position that that measure ought to be final, and that he had incurred a considerable amount of odium on the part of those who, though not his habitual supporters, sat very near him in that House. Having brought it forward as a final settlement, on what alleged grounds did he now reopen a question which, from its very nature, must so shake the institutions of the country? He told the House that because nobody asked for it, because the country was so exceedingly 272 quiet about it, because the people were prosperous and there was no excitement about it, therefore this was the time when he who said twenty-one years ago that the settlement of that period ought to be final, should propose a large extension of the franchise. When the fumes of party spirit should be dissipated, and posterity began to take a calm review of the political career of the noble Lord, this would be one of those acts which his biographer would find it most difficult to justify—one of those acts which would most expose him to the imputation of sacrificing the interests of the State to the interests of party—"to party giving up what was meant for mankind." The reform of 1831–32 was not only pressed upon Parliament on the ground of its being a final settlement of the question; when it was passed it was accepted as a final measure by hon. Members opposite. He well remembered that the late Sir Robert Peel prophesied that, not from his side, not from the party of which he was then the great leader, would the first inroad upon that measure originate, but from the Gentlemen opposite. The prediction of that eminent statesman was now accomplished, and the noble Lord had chosen this moment to fulfil the prediction. One result at least must follow from this breach by the Government of the principle of finality, namely, that others who had watched the results of the Reform Act, not with unmingled approbation, and who could not assent to the panegyric upon its consequences and beneficial effects which the noble Lord, its father, was naturally inclined to render to it, would feel that they were no longer bound to any reserve in questioning its results, and denying the argument based upon the assertion that it had worked so beneficially for the country. On the first night of the Session the hon. Baronet the mover of the Address, in a very clever speech, took credit to the Reform Act for all the good done, for every progressive advance society had made, since that had happened: he did not mention the electric telegraph, but, no doubt, in his own mind, he included it. He (Sir J. Walsh) thought there were some results of that Reform Act which had not been so very beneficial; he thought results might be traced to that measure which, so far from sustaining the argument of the noble Lord, supplied reasons for proceeding most cautiously in further strides in the same direction. What had been the history of the 273 Governments of this country since the Reform Act—Lord Grey's, Lord Melbourne's, that of the noble Lord himself? Had not this been a pervading characteristic of them—weakness? Could the Gentlemen opposite pretend to say they had ever held the reins of a strong Government since? Every Government, without exception, which had been in office since the Reform Act passed, had been marked by one characteristic, that of inherent weakness. But was a weak Government, a vacillating Government, a Government which did not know its own policy, and whose policy no one else knew—was this so great an advantage to the country? It was not to be traced to deficiency of Ministerial capacity on the part of Gentlemen opposite, but to the changes in the constitution which they had introduced, and which had rendered them unable to carry out any systematic policy, or put in practice their own views and ideas. The hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) the other night, in a speech marked by his usual causticity, assailed the Administration in every department as weak and incapable. It would be impossible to deny the force of his charges; but in his (Sir J. Walsh's) opinion, the causes of all this maladministration was to be found, not in the personal deficiencies of individual Ministers, but in the defects of a representative system, which paralysed the Executive power. The noble Lord had forgotten to state what results he anticipated from the present measure; but surely it must aggravate these evils. The Ministry now, instead of being a Government, was rapidly becoming a sort of bureaucracy—a set of clerks merely carrying out the orders of the House of Commons; and the House was continually imposing different laws upon the Ministry, and interfering with any fixed plan which they would themselves carry out. He would give an instance: the noble Lord had had to complain on the subject of the national defences, that the House of Commons had reversed the policy adopted by acclamation two or three years before under a general panic and cry for better defences; and he had to say, "We really don't know what to do; the people never seem to know their own mind; after obliging the Government to raise the scale of the national defences, they turn round and tell us the panic is unreasonable, and we are extravagant." The noble Lord now found again another popular reaction, and was called upon to 274 increase our national defences. This constant seesaw was owing to the pressure which had neutralised the power of the Government within the walls of that House. There was another point to be noticed in regard to the influence of the Reform Bill upon the deliberations of the House. A section of Gentlemen were introduced by that Bill, who took a prominent part in discussion, and who came to the House as the mouthpieces and dole-gates of organised associations out of doors. He (Sir J. Walsh) was not speaking of those who represented large constituencies, and were fond of stating how many electors they represented, but of those who were connected with political associations out of doors, and who, as was the case of the late Mr. O'Connell and of those who were connected with what was called the Manchester party, brought the force of those associations to bear upon, and to a certain degree overawe, the deliberations of the House. That was a new feature in the House of Commons, which originated with the Reform Bill of 1832; the only effect of which had been to lower the character of Parliament in the eyes of the country; to destroy the prestige of influence and authority which it possessed; and to render it far less efficient as the representative of the deliberate judgment of the people. It had, in fact, destroyed all that moral influence and authority which the House of Commons, in olden times, used to exercise over the interests of the country. Formerly the House of Commons used to lead; now it only followed. But, furthermore, the noble Lord, by bringing forward this measure, broke in upon the principle of finality; for if once that principle was abandoned, it of course was gone for ever. There would be no security hereafter that any step which might be taken could be considered final. The question must be always in a state of transition, and no principle of stability would be left in the constitution of the House of Commons. He considered the details of the noble Lord's measure to be of the most temporary character. They could not have the slightest certainty but that next year they might be changed. One of two consequences must inevitably result from this constant tampering with the institutions of the country, and this perpetual change of the constitution on which those institutions were based. Either they would overturn the English mixed constitution, and render 275 it very much like, if not altogether, a democratic republic; or (which he considered more probable) they would render the House of Commons, what there were many indications showing that it was becoming—a representative assembly utterly unable to fulfil those purposes for which it was instituted. He cared little for idle theories about the right of representation being coextensive with taxation, or the like, which had no foundation either in nature or in society. What was wanted was a good and an efficient Government; but that could not be secured under a system of perpetual change in the constitution of that House; such changes would make the House unfit for its constitutional purposes. It was quite notorious that the House was now breaking down under the influence of reform. The hon. and learned Member for Sheffield had noticed that Bill after Bill had been introduced by the Government, and treated afterwards as waste paper. The time would come when the practical sense of the people of England—regretting, indeed, their ancient constitution, and still clinging to the memory of the representative institutions under which this country had so long flourished—would come to the conclusion that the time was past for such a constitution to exist; that it was no longer able to carry out its own purposes, but was so decayed that it could no longer work at all. And when the people should have arrived at that opinion, then, in some manner and in some way—he would not venture to anticipate how—a blow would inevitably be struck even at the principle of representative institutions themselves, because they had been so perverted from their original purposes, and so corrupted in practice by the very means by which they were endeavouring to improve them in theory. He should hold the noble Lord responsible for what he conceived would occur should the constitution of this country be shaken. In that event he believed it to be possible, in the course of a few years, that the same form of government might obtain in England, as they now unfortunately saw obtain by a somewhat similar process in a neighbouring country. With respect to the present Motion of the noble Lord, it was not his (Sir J. Walsh's) intention to offer any opposition to it. He looked, he confessed, with the greatest regret at this fresh attempt to weaken the constitution of the House of Commons; at the same time he should give to the details of the 276 noble Lord's measure the greatest attention.
MR. H. BERKELEY
said, he considered that the Bill proposed by the noble Lord would be regarded as some improvement upon the old Reform Act; and he believed that the public would think that there was something more in it than that infinitesimal dose of reform which had been promised to them in a well-known publication. He wished that when the noble Lord had turned his attention to the extension of the franchise, he would have considered and taken that method which offered the best and surest mode of extending it, which was by giving to the people protection at the polling booths. That was a point which ought to have been introduced into the Bill, and he felt certain that it would be a great disappointment when it was found that it had been omitted. A strong feeling existed on the subject of "protection to voters." If the noble Lord had given protection to every man having the right to vote, he would thereby have extended the register and increased the poll-book, both of them curtailed by intimidation—if he had taken care that the voter should be allowed the means of protecting himself, by secrecy, in giving his vote, he would have taken a step, one of the most constitutional he could have taken, and one which would have been most satisfactory to the electors at large. He begged to state that he should propose, in the course of the discussion upon the measure, to make that improvement in it, and endeavour to induce the House to give to the people of England that which they so eminently deserved—protection by ballot in the exercise of that franchise which was their undisputed right.
§ MR. P. H. HOWARD
begged to differ from the hon. Baronet as to the attention and temper with which the propositions of the noble Lord had been received. He contended that the propositions which had been submitted to the House had been received with earnest attention and manful approbation. The proposition which went to reduce the franchise to 5l. was one which would be well received, and the class who by that provision would be admitted into the temple of the constitution, were as warmly attached to kingly government and monarchical institutions as those who ranked higher in conventional esteem. Besides this, since 1831 there had not only been great educational improvement among 277 the people, but great advances of science and machinery, and the discover of new sources of wealth. These new sources of wealth had, as a matter of necessity, increased the number of the taxpaying classes; and many professional persons, who from various motives deferred purchasing personal property till late in life, would, under the 40s. clause, be entitled to the franchise. Another provision of the Bill was in strict accordance with the ancient constitution, namely, that which gave the vote to all residents in counties who wore qualified as jurors. Nothing could be worse than that men who held in their hand the lives and properties of their fellow-subjects should be excluded from the minor privilege of voting for Members of Parliament. It had been said by the hon. Baronet that the Reform Bill of 1831 was a final measure; and he confessed that it might not be wise frequently to alter the Parliamentary franchise. But while he said that, he said also that it was quite impossible to remain stationary in a moving world. The enfranchisement of copyholders of a lower amount would also, he believed, tend to render social order more secure in this country. He trusted that though this measure might not be received with clamorous approval by the people, it would meet with that earnest and steady support which it merited, and that the large body of the people who had shown, by their orderly, intelligent, and steady conduct, how well they were fitted to exercise the franchise, would by its passing be enabled to pass within the portals of the constitution.
§ SIR R. H. INGLIS
said, that whether the present Motion were considered one entitled to no particular degree of interest, or whether it were a question the most important which had ever been brought forward, this at least was clear, that three of the four Gentlemen who had risen since the noble Lord had introduced the subject, had taken different grounds of objection to it; yet had, as it appeared to him from the silence of the House, not represented more than their own individual opinions. The contrast which his hon. Friend (Sir J. Walsh) had called to their recollections, had operated very forcibly on his own mind. The House of Commons of February, 1852, was certainly very different from the House of Commons of March, 1831, when the subject of Parliamentary Reform was first brought forward by the noble Lord as the organ of the Government of that 278 day. At that time, certainly, not only every individual in the House itself, but in every room and place around the House, would have been found listening and watching with the most intense anxiety to learn the nature of the great measure then under discussion; but what was the case to-night? Looking at the benches around him, it was true, indeed, that when the noble Lord began to introduce the question, those benches were tolerably filled with attentive listeners; but as soon as the subject had been introduced, the House relaxed its attention into indifference, and the number of Members was proportionately reduced. But, independently of the main question, he, as an individual Member, could not avoid observing that the noble Lord had, in the course of his speech, introduced two or three topics which were not necessarily connected with the question of reform, but which were, nevertheless, vitally important and interesting to the country. Upon those points he could not refrain from asking the indulgence of the House while he addressed to them a few words. He might, in the first place, observe that the noble Lord had contrived to introduce two or three subjects into his present measure which had hitherto formed subjects of separate legislation; but his (Sir R. H. Inglis') first object was to advert to only one of those subjects—namely, the one which involved the great religious question which was more particularly unconnected with Parliamentary reform—namely, the admission of the Jews to seats in the House of Commons. The noble Lord proposed the removal of certain words from the oath to be taken by Members of that House, which words had hitherto excluded (he believed intentionally and advisedly, but at all events practically) a large body of their fellow-subjects, as some hon. Members held them to be, though he called them strangers; but tall them what they would, those words had hitherto excluded them on the highest sanction which could bind any body of men, as being distinctly alien from, hostile to, and inconsistent with their own body as a Christian Legislature. The noble Lord now proposed to introduce into that House, by a side-wind—which he had deprecated on a former occasion—men who professed an alien creed. Reverting to the measure of 1831, he might observe that his noble Friend, when he spoke of it, stated that it was not a measure of revolution. The Tory party, on the other 279 hand, contended that it was, in all its substantial parts, of a directly revolutionary character. Five years had scarcely elapsed when a noble Colleague of the noble Lord declared in so many words, that that measure of reform was a measure of revolution—but that it was a revolution the object of which was justified by its results, inasmuch as it had terminated in unexampled prosperity to the country. Further reform was asked for; but what was the reply of the noble Lord? That the country could not afford a revolution every year. But now, in 1852, his noble Friend had proposed another great change; and, from the manner in which the affairs of the country were now conducted, had he given the House any reason to believe that another experiment might not be made in 1872, or more probably within a still shorter period, to unsettle everything which he now proposed to establish? It was very true they did not enjoy under the present Reform Bill a constitution having that prescriptive character which they possessed from the constitution under which England, before 1831, had been living for centuries. That prescription was gone; and in its stead they had now to deal with a paper charter. It was a constitution, octroyée in 1832—and the one had destroyed the other. It was a written, in opposition to an unwritten and a time-honoured, constitution; therefore there was no security, as the hon. Member for Radnorshire had said, why the noble Lord himself should not be the first to introduce a new measure of reform next year or the year after. All these things were open to the consideration of hon. Members, and were to be regarded by them with apprehension or with hope according to their own judgments. He, for one, did not now believe that universal suffrage was an object so much to be dreaded by the possessors of property and power in this country, as that formidable weapon of democracy which it had hitherto been supposed. The largest and most effective experiment in respect to it had been tried almost under their own eyes in a neighbouring country; and they had seen that universal suffrage had been the most efficient instrument for granting an amount of power greater than modern Europe had ever seen concentrated in the hands of one man. He did not, therefore, now dread the introduction of universal suffrage into this country as the means of transferring all power to the masses, as he might in 280 former times have done. But still there was no security whatever against his noble Friend at the head of the Government, hereafter bringing forward other measures of a still more democratic nature than the present. He therefore protested against those powerful combinations of men who exercised more influence over the noble Lord and his colleagues than they constitutionally deserved, or than was consistent with the safety and security of those institutions which it was the duty of the noble Lord to preserve pure and unimpaired. There was another point which he was almost ashamed to mention after adverting to such a topic as that he had first referred to, but which the noble Lord had forced on their consideration; and to which, therefore, he must turn for a moment. He had already said that the noble Lord was prepared to admit those who differed in religion from the bulk of the nation, who were almost aliens in blood, but who were at any rate unfitted by their own principles for the duty, to administer the most important interest in this country—its Christianity. This he (Sir R. Inglis) most decidedly objected to, and should oppose by every means in his power. After such a subject as that—one so important as well as so sacred—he was almost ashamed to descend to so comparatively low a subject as the property qualification proposed to be destroyed by his noble Friend. But this was one of the democratic objects which the noble Lord was so anxious to encourage; for his object was to separate from property the duty of protecting property; it was to throw open to any adventurer the suffrages of the almost pauper constituencies which the present measure was intended to create; and to such a condition he would not willingly come. There would be so many opportunities of discusing the minor points in detail, he would not ask to occupy the time of the House upon them now; but he was unwilling that his noble Friend should be permitted to introduce such a measure without raising one voice, at all events, to oppose the introduction of a subject into that measure which was quite unconnected with it, which was offensive generally to the people of this country, and which he trusted the House would not allow to be contained in the Bill. He knew that, besides those who wished to expunge the Christian character from the oaths taken at this table, there were those also who wished to abolish all oaths. If any civi- 281 lised country could be found to have existed without the sanction of an oath, oaths might be an open question; but unless they could produce some instance in the history of modern Europe, or of any other part of the civilised globe, ancient or modern, in which oaths, ac-acknowledging a Power higher than man, were not resorted to in the transaction of public affairs, he hoped that they would steadfastly retain that solemn rite; but, above all, he hoped that they would not consent to omit from their oath those words which constituted that assembly a Christian assembly, and a Christian representative of a Christian people.
§ MR. BRIGHT
said, he had been endeavouring to weigh the various portions of the propositions which the noble Lord had submitted to the House, and he was bound in fairness to admit that while there were some portions of it of which he entirely disapproved, and with respect to which the noble Lord had fallen very far short of that which it was his duty to propose, and which the country expected from him, still he was bound to say there were some portions of the measure which would give some degree of satisfaction to large classes outside that House. It was perhaps difficult to say so soon after the measure was laid before them how much good it would do. He spoke of good, of course, not in the direction of the hon. Baronet the Member for Radnorshire (Sir J. Walsh), but in the direction of those opinions which he (Mr. Bright) was known there and elsewhere to entertain in respect to the extension of the franchise. However, as the noble Lord's speech would be all over the country to-morrow, he thought it was quite fair that they who differed considerably from his views should have the opportunity of making some observations on that speech, in order that when the public read, as every man in England who could read would to-morrow read the speech of the noble Lord, they might, if they thought it worth while, read the speeches of those who differed from him. Now, the great proposal—democratic proposal—of the noble Lord was the 5l. franchise for boroughs; and he agreed with the noble Lord entirely, that that class to which this franchise was to be given, was perfectly competent: he did not mean every man, because every man in the present franchise was not competent, but, taking them as a whole—and he spoke of that portion of the kingdom in which this class was most nu- 282 merous, the manufacturing districts—on the whole, he said, they might with perfect propriety be entrusted with the elective franchise. He saw them perform their duties in their parishes with great and undeniable propriety. He saw also in their Poor Law Unions that what class of men soever they might choose to elect as Guardians of the poor, the poor-rates were properly and honestly expended. He saw that wherever they voted to elect Municipal Corporations for towns and cities, that these Municipal Corporations showed no destructive propensities, but were about as respectable, he believed, as would be elected by any other class of voters in this country; and, therefore, he took it for granted that as all these men had precisely the same object in government as every Member of that House, he said they had as strong an interest as any man in that House, be his property what it might, in the conservation of order; and, therefore, he believed, that though many men might be returned from these boroughs who might not be conceived to be the wisest men in that House, as many men returned for counties were known not to be Solons, yet he took it that the representation of these boroughs would be as good as it had been at any time before. But he thought the noble Lord had made one serious mistake with regard to boroughs. He spoke specially with regard to boroughs in the north of England, with which he was chiefly connected. Now, it had been customary for them to charge hon. Gentlemen opposite with being sent to that House by votes from tenants who were often coerced to vote. He bad never pretended that landed proprietors were more disposed to coerce their tenants than great employers of labour were in other kinds of industry. Now, in the manufacturing towns of Yorkshire and Lancashire there were many firms who employed from 500 varying up to 5,000 persons. Among these there would be, of course, a considerable proportion of men, and of these men a large proportion would be electors under the Bill of the noble Lord. But besides these men there were a great number of women, some of them married, some young women unmarried, and boys and girls employed in these manufactories; but the wages of all these persons were taken to somebody's home, and the head of that home would in all probability have a vote under the Bill of the noble Lord. Now, as a large employer of labour himself, he must say he regretted 283 extremely that the noble Lord had not taken entirely out of his hands, and the hands of all those who were in the same position that he was, the power to exercise that influence which the employer must have over the employed. He regretted that the noble Lord had left them in a position in which the temptation was strong to exercise a most coercive influence, and that in a manner which was degrading to those who were under them in social relations, and which would be hurtful both to the House and to the country. He was of opinion that a man who was forced to vote, was about as much degraded as a man who was bribed to vote: he lost his self-respect, and immediately he had given a vote contrary to his convictions, he turned round and defended the vote he had given, asserting opinions he did not believe in, and there consequently came a growing depravity over his feelings. He (Mr. Bright), therefore, said the noble Lord was bound to give the ballot if there was to be any considerable extension of the franchise. He would not go into the question of the ballot in any long argument. His mind was so entirely made upon it, that not only on the political ground, but on the moral consideration, he had some hope that when the hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. H. Berkeley) brought that measure forward, it would be discussed with more attention than it had met with of late years, and that they would be able to show the House, not that they should reject the explanation of the noble Lord, but that it was due to the employers of labour equally with the employed that a clause enacting the ballot should be added to the proposition of the noble Lord. The next point that he wished to observe upon was the lowering of the county franchise from 50l. to 20l. He thought the noble Lord himself would admit that there was no argument in favour of a 20l. franchise which did not apply with equal force to a franchise of 10l. Now, the 10l. qualification for counties had been carried, he thought, twice in that House upon the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. L. King). He thought these were reasons why the noble Lord should have been favourable to that proposition. He asked hon. Gentlemen opposite what reason could be given for giving a vote to a 5l. occupier, an inhabitant of a street in Manchester or in Marylebone, and refusing a vote to a man who occupied a house of the same value in the country? 284 The thing was too absurd to admit of argument. In the country they might have a house and garden and all conveniences for 5l. a year; and when a man retired from business and went to live in the country in a house of this class he was to be debarred from voting. Then the noble Lord proposed that every man who paid 40s. a year in direct taxes should have a vote. No one would certainly object to that. But he hoped the noble Lord would not think this a great measure. The direct taxes were not paid by a large number who were not already included. He did not object to it in the least, but he thought it might have been lower, as it would not have a very perceptible effect. He now came to the question of the small boroughs. The noble Lord had refused to disfranchise any borough. He did not speak, of course, of Sudbury or St. Albans, which on many grounds had well merited their fate. But in many boroughs throughout the country the noble Lord proposed to lessen family influence in them by adding neighbouring towns to them. Well, it was impossible to deny that if the franchise were lowered from 10l. to 5l., and if to small boroughs neighbouring towns were added, family influence to some extent would be decreased. He thought it extremely likely that that proposition of the noble Lord would be some gain. But the real question was somewhat different to this. The noble Lord said he wished to maintain what he called the balance of parties—[Lord JOHN RUSSELL: No!] Well, the balance of power, the balance of interest. But if the noble Lord accepted the principle of representation at all, he ought to accept it in this shape—that the House of Commons should not merely have the hon. Baronet (Sir J. Walsh) to speak at one extreme, and he (Mr. Bright) himself, perhaps, be considered to speak at another, but he ought to have that House of Commons so constituted that the proportion of opinions throughout the country should assimilate to the proportion of opinion in that House. The noble Lord knew full well that the question which had been so much agitated throughout the country, the question of free trade, was settled in the country beyond all dispute long ago. If he were to say nine out of ten, it would be true to say it, but he would say three out of four of all the people of this country had long ago disposed of that question; but still hon. Gentlemen opposite could muster votes very nearly equal to 285 the votes on that side of the House. Why, that proved to demonstration that the free-trade opinion existing in the country had not an adequate number of representatives in that House; and that the opposite opinion, by the arrangements of their representative system, had far more representatives there than it could have if the representation were fairly proportioned throughout all the districts of the country. Well, he presumed the noble Lord proposed to maintain that class, that balance of interest. But it was not a balance of interest at all. It was a dead lock in the House of Commons which made the Government unable to move; and if the noble Lord went out of office today, and hon. Gentlemen opposite came in to-morrow, they would be in precisely the same circumstances; and so long as the progressive opinion in the country was in a far greater proportion than in the House of Commons, so long would the Government be in the position it then was—namely, that they would wish to do that which the House of Commons would not allow them to do, and which the people insisted on having done. The weakness of the Government would continue, and they would soon find the noble Lord in his place again, and hon. Gentlemen opposite would be sent back again to where they were at present. Now, there was one mode in which he did expect that the noble Lord would explain that he was going to make some progress, and that was with regard to those small boroughs which have two representatives. The noble Lord did not explain when he said he should not disfranchise those boroughs, whether they were to retain one Member or two. He hoped it was determined that they should only have one. Take the cases of Harwich and Thetford. These were two boroughs in which the noble Lord might possibly somewhere or other, by taking in neighbouring villages, raise a constituency of 300 or 400 to 1,000; but he asked the noble Lord, was it consistent even with the opinions he had expressed to-night, much less with the opinions he expressed when introducing his first Reform Bill, to maintain that Harwich—notorious Harwich—and Thetford—notorious Thetford—should each have two Members, while each of the boroughs of the metropolis, one of them having 25,000 electors, should have only two? Now, he put it to hon. Members on both sides of the House whether an arrangement like that could be perma- 286 nent? Would the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir J. Walsh) say that that could be permanent? Of course not. In the very next Session of Parliament the question of the transference of some of the Members of some of the small boroughs to larger constituencies, or to new constituencies, would be mooted in that House, and with a force of argument which he defied the noble Lord, or any one else who could be Minister, to meet with satisfaction to his own mind. And now, with regard to the 20l. franchise, and the ballot. If he sat on the other side of the House, and held the opinions which the hon. Baronet (Sir J. Walsh) held—if he felt that there was something like heresy in introducing men of the democratic element into that House—yet, if he were entrusted by the Queen, holding these opinions, to make a proposition on this question, he would at least take away from his Bill a glaring defect like this. If he had not given a 5l. franchise, but had given something less, he would at least have taken away from those who would hereafter advocate further changes the means of pointing to these anomalies. The noble Lord bad not told them all he intended to do with regard to these small boroughs. He did not ask him now—he merely asked him between the present time and going into Committee—whether it would not be his bounden duty, with regard to these small boroughs, to withdraw one Member where they had two, and to give the Member thus withdrawn to larger constituencies, or to large towns not now represented. The noble Lord had said nothing on the question of the Septennial Act, and he (Mr. Bright) should scarcely say more than a single sentence upon it. He believed it would be better for Members, if they were more responsible to their constituents at the beginning of a Parliament. He found them suffering under an intense feeling of responsibility just before a dissolution. He should like that the feeling of responsibility should be spread over the whole period of Parliament; he believed it would add very much to the conscientiousness with which Members would perform their duty to that House. It would render it difficult for Government to call a party meeting in Downing-street, and to frighten them with a dissolution—a course pursued by Governments from both sides, greatly to the injury of the House. The noble Lord had touched upon one question, which the hon. Baronet the Member for the 287 University of Oxford (Sir R. H. Inglis), had taken great exception to—and that was the subject of the Oaths. Now, it might be allowed that he could speak on this question, probably with a dispassionateness which hardly any other Member of that House could attain to; for he was not asked to take any oath at that table, and the declaration that he made was more simple than any oath. If they were to have an oath, it ought to be as simple as possible; and one which bound, if an oath did bind, to fidelity to the Constitution and to the Sovereign. But he would advise the noble Lord, and he strongly suspected that the noble Lord would adopt that advice if the House would agree to it, that they should have no oath at all. When the French revolution of 1848 took place, the oaths taken by the Members of the Assembly were abolished. It appeared they had come to the conclusion, on looking back to sixty years of French history, that oaths were of very little use; and he thought that now they had found out that oaths were even of less use than they had supposed, for about the only oath that was taken, appeared to have been disregarded. Nobody supposed that the hon. Baronet (Sir R. H. Inglis), or any other hon. Gentleman, would get up plots or conspiracies, as used to be the fashion 200 years ago. Then, indeed, the oath might have had some effect in preventing conscientious men from entering into such conspiracies; but nobody would now-a-days ever dream of doing so, except perhaps the times required some great change in the Constitution or Government of the country; and in such cases the history, both of this and of every other country, showed that the oath was not worth the paper on which it was written. For what did they come to, that House? They came thither for no other purpose than to promote their country's good. It was perhaps impossible that any two Gentlemen could differ more than did he and the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford; but he did not believe that there was any Gentleman more sincere or more earnest in his good wishes for the country than that hon. Baronet. On the other hand, he did not think the hon. Baronet would object to say the same of him (Mr. Bright). Hon. Gentlemen might be very much mistaken in their views, but still he was satisfied that they all came to the table honestly anxious that that only should be done which should be for 288 the true interests and security of the country, for the just authority of both Houses of Parliament, and for the security of the rights and liberties of the people. Well, then, all that would be necessary when they came to the table, would be to make a simple declaration (if, indeed, a declaration was necessary at all) embodying what the noble Lord had proposed should in future be the oath. Let them teach the world that the Gentlemen who assembled in that House (and some of the first Gentlemen in England did assemble there) considered that their word and simple declaration was as sacred for all purposes as the most solemn oath that could be proposed. For himself, he was already only required to make a declaration, and therefore he did not ask for any extension of liberty on this point; but he did recommend to the noble Lord that a declaration by every Member should in future be substituted for the oath. With regard to the general question, he must regret that the noble Lord had not done more than he had. The noble Lord had left open questions which he might as well have settled—questions that next Session, and in Sessions after that, would again and again be mooted; and the noble Lord, or his successor in power, would be compelled to grant concessions which might just as well have been granted now. But however that might be, an extension of political rights would be given by the Bill to some parts of the country and to some classes, which he (Mr. Bright) believed in his conscience, every man who loved his country would he anxious to support. He felt, therefore, greatly obliged to the noble Lord that he had proposed voluntarily, and when he was under no compulsion, a plan which, though it might not be at all that he wished, would, he hoped, nevertheless lead to one that should be better and more satisfactory than it was at present.
§ MR. H. BAILLIE
said, that although it was not for him to give any opinion as to whether the measure of the noble Lord was one which would be satisfactory to the country, he was not surprised at the speech made by the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright); and, in fact, he should be surprised if those who sat on the opposite side of the House, and who regarded reform as an article of faith—he should be surprised if those hon. Gentlemen did not feel some disappointment that a measure so imperfect as the present should have been submitted to that House as a satisfac- 289 tory solution of the great and difficult question of Parliamentary reform, and that, too, by so able and experienced a reformer as the noble Lord. He (Mr. Baillie) did not believe a Reform Bill, in the extended sense of the term, was either necessary or required at the present moment; but the question had been decided by the Government, and the First Minister of the Crown, coming here, of course, with the sanction of Her Majesty, did in the last Session declare that it was desirable to increase the power of the democracy. Now, when the First Minister took upon himself to make such a declaration—a declaration calculated to rouse the feelings and raise the hopes and expectations of great masses of the people—he ought, at least, to have been prepared to bring forward a measure calculated to give satisfaction to those who he admitted were justly dissatisfied with the existing state of things. Was the measure which the noble Lord had submitted to the House one calculated to satisfy the people? He thought not, and would, if the House would permit him, point out some of those defects which, he believed, would prevent this from becoming a permanent measure, or one which would secure the confidence of sincere reformers. Taking it for granted, for the sake of argument, that the statement of the noble Lord was correct, and that it was desirable to increase the power of the democracy, if that were the opinion of the noble Lord, it was not a little remarkable that the most obvious and most necessary measure in order to secure such an object had been altogether omitted, nay altogether ignored, in this Bill—he alluded to a measure for shortening the duration of Parliaments. It was now generally admitted that if there over was a blow inflicted upon the power of the democracy, it was that essentially Whig measure for extending the duration of Parliaments to seven years. By that measure representatives became, to a great extent, free from the control of their constituents; the prospect of the resentment of their constituents became too remote to exercise much influence over them; and this daily experience proved, that hon. Members frequently pursued a very different course at the commencement of a new Parliament, from that which they were compelled to adopt at the conclusion of an old one. He might, if it were necessary, illustrate this by numerous examples, but he should content himself with instancing the course now pursued 290 by the noble Lord himself. The noble Lord was a Liberal, and represented a large constituency. Now the House would remember that, for the first four years of the present Parliament, his hon. Friend the Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) had annually brought on, with great ability and with great moderation, the question of reform; and upon every occasion had been firmly, he might say obstinately, opposed by the Government. The noble Lord would enter into no compromise. He was never sparing in his sarcasms upon my hon. Friend and the party of which he was the head; and the noble Lord gave no intimation that a Reform Bill was to be brought in by the Government. Such was the position of the question up to the last sitting of Parliament. That, however, which the eloquence of the hon. Member for Montrose was unable to effect, the near approach of a dissolution had suddenly accomplished; and at the conclusion of the last Session of Parliament the House, one day, was suprised to learn, not only that the noble Lord, but that every Member of his Cabinet, had suddenly become converted upon the question. He (Mr. Baillie) could not give a better illustration of the operation of long Parliaments than by citing this example—that the very Bill which the House was now discussing, had been delayed by the Septennial Act for a period of four years. He, however, believed that the noble Lord would be much mistaken if he thought that this or any measure would give satisfaction to the great body of reformers, which did not provide for the shortening of the duration of Parliaments. The next question to which he would have wished to draw the attention of the noble Lord, if he had been in his place, was one which the noble Lord did not pretend to ignore, but which he admitted, and to which he professed to apply a remedy which would, in fact, be a most imperfect one. The evil to which he alluded was the existence of a number of small nomination boroughs, which wore admitted to be a disgrace to our present representative system. It would be remembered that the Reform Act of 1832 professed to extinguish this rotten borough system; and it would also be within the knowledge of the House that that Act had altogether failed to accomplish the object. Thus at the present moment we had constantly before our eyes the spectacle of Members sent to this House who were not elected by an independent constituency, 291 but were virtually nominated by Peers in the other House of Parliament. There was the borough of Marlborough, for instance, which was in the hands of the Marquess of Aylesbury; Malton, the patronage of which was vested in Earl Fitzwilliam; Richmond, where the Earl of Zetland was paramount; at Ripon Earl de Grey exercised great influence; at Tavistock, the Duke of Bedford; and at Calne, the Marquess of Lansdowne. There were many others which he might mention; but he had not Mr. Dod's work, the Parliamentary Companion, before him, and he did not profess to have all these boroughs at his fingers' ends. Now, there could be no Reform Bill worthy of the name which did not attempt to deal with such an abuse as this. The noble Lord had attempted to deal with it, but, as he (Mr. Baillie) contended, in a very imperfect way. By joining two or three of these small boroughs together, you might transfer the representation into the hands of two or three persons; but it would probably then be something like what used to be the practice in Scotland, where the patrons of two adjacent boroughs united and agreed to keep the representation in their own hands, and have the nomination alternately. Some such practice as this would probably be established; and he believed there was no mode of fairly dealing with the question but by extinguishing those small boroughs altogether. But then another difficulty arose. To whom were their privileges to be transferred? That was, doubtless, a question of importance. It was a question in which the people of Scotland and of Ireland were very deeply interested. The people of Scotland and Ireland were most unjustly treated at the time of the last Reform Bill. No attempt was then made to place the representation either of Scotland or of Ireland upon anything like an equality with the representation enjoyed by the people of England. In Scotland, with a population of nearly 3,000,000, they had only, he believed, fifty-four representatives. In Ireland, with a population of about 6,500,000, there were 105 representatives; while in England, with a population not much more than twice that amount, there were five times the number of representatives. In England every county had two representatives, some had three, some four, and the largest six. In Scotland the largest county had but one, and there were some which had none at all. The people of Scotland were perfectly well 292 able to appreciate the advantages they had long enjoyed under the British constitution as it already existed. They did not call upon the Government to make this change. They had not complained of this inequality, because they knew the danger of attempting to patch up or meddle with an ancient edifice, lest they should pull it down about their ears. They thought it better——To bear those ills we haveThan fly to others that we know not of.When, however, the Prime Minister of this country came forward, with the full sanction and authority of the Crown, and declared that the power of the democracy must be augmented, then the noble Lord took upon himself all the responsibility of making changes in the Constitution. Under these circumstances the people of Scotland would be wanting in proper spirit, would be wanting in common sense, if they did not claim their just rights—claim to be put on an equal footing with the people of England—claim to have extended to them that just influence in Parliament which the wealth of their country, the number of their population, and the education and intelligence of the people, fully entitled them to demand. He trusted the representatives of Scotland would be unanimous in their course on this Bill. They had on many previous occasions laid aside all party differences, and united together for the purpose of resisting legislation injurious to their country; and by this union few though their numbers were, they had sometimes succeeded in arresting the progress of that legislation. He trusted that on the present occasion they would be equally unanimous in asserting the just rights of their countrymen; and he appealed to the representatives of Ireland, who also had a grievance, and who also had a right to equal representation with the people of England. He would ask them to lay aside all party differences in defence of their common rights; and if they did so, and acted together with the Scotch Members, he did not despair of their making their united voices heard. He would call also upon the English representatives to consider the peculiar position in which they had been placed by the conduct of the Minister. He would ask them to consider the position in which they would be placed hereafter if the Prime Minister were always to have a Reform Bill ready whenever it might suit the object of his Government to create a little popular clamour on be- 293 half of a weak and failing Administration. What would their position be if the question of a new Reform Bill were made dependent upon whether a Minister was able or not to maintain a majority in this House? If public affairs were to be conducted in this manner, he asked whether it would not be preferable to take the noble Lord at his word, and have a new Reform Bill—not such a one as this, which would only whet the appetite of the country for further changes, and would only excite fresh agitation in the country, but a real and substantial measure, which would give a more equal and better distribution of political power to every portion of the United Kingdom. Depend upon it, "to this complexion we must come at last;" if this progressive system of reform was to be carried on, upon the heads of those who, and in order to maintain themselves in office, had not hesitated to exercise their official influence to promote and renew this agitation, must rest the responsibility of the consequences which may ensue.
§ MR. ROCHE
begged to congratulate the House and the country upon the liberal and enlightened speech which they had just heard from the hon. Member for Inverness-shire. Nobody could doubt the march of intellect and the progress of opinion when they heard such liberal sentiments coming from that portion of the House which used to be called the Tory camp, and he confessed his curiosity was greatly excited to see the new Reform Bill to be brought in by those hon. Members. After the speech of the hon. Member who had just sat down, going far beyond the Bill of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, and after the speech of the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright), giving a qualified approval to the noble Lord's measure, there could be no mistake about getting a Reform Bill. A Reform Bill they must have, because it was declared on both sides of the House that reform was necessary and needed. But he wished to know distinctly, was the Bill, or was it not, to be extended in its integrity to Ireland? He quite agreed with the hon. Member who spoke last, that by the Reform Bill of 1832 great injustice was done to Scotland, and still greater injustice to Ireland. Nothing could be more monstrous or more unjust than the apportionment of representation to Ireland. If population were taken alone as the basis, instead of 105, the Irish representatives ought to number 207. If 294 population and property combined were to be the basis, they ought to number 150. The noble Lord proposed to extend the constituencies of all boroughs the electors of which did not amount to 500, by joining to them neighbouring towns. Would the noble Lord apply that principle in its integrity to Ireland? The boroughs of Ireland amounted altogether to twenty-four, out of which taking Belfast, as being to all intents and purposes a city, left only twenty-three, and out of that twenty-three only one had a constituency exceeding 500. But that was not presenting the case in the strongest aspect. Of those twenty-two boroughs, the constituencies of which were less than 500, the returns showed that sixteen or seventeen had constituencies under 200; and his hon. Friend (Mr. C. Anstey) reminded him that those returns could not be relied on, for Youghal, which the hon. Member represented, appeared as having 261 electors, when, in fact, the number of electors did not amount to 200. Upon these grounds he called upon the noble Lord to extend to Ireland the principle in its integrity which he was prepared to apply to England. When the repeal agitation was rife, and there was a great desire on the part of that country to separate from this country, they were told to attend in Parliament and state their grievances; but when the Irish Members did attend, they were out-numbered, care having been taken in the Bill of 1832 to pack the House against them; and hence it was utterly useless to attend. The same existed now, and he submitted it was a matter for the consideration of the noble Lord, whether, when altering the boroughs, he might not—even if he refused to give an additional number of Members—throw the difference into the Irish counties, between which and the Irish boroughs there existed no difference of feelings or interests.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
wished to know for what day the second reading of the Bill would stand. The Bill was of great importance, and he therefore trusted the noble Lord would afford the House and the country full time for the consideration of its details. Before the noble Lord answered his question, he begged to express his regret that the noble Lord seemed determined not to have the sanction of Christianity for his measure; and his hearty concurrence in the able protest against the proposed alteration of the Oaths of Members of Parliament so ably made by the 295 hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford. He was sorry to find the noble Lord had added an alien element to the Bill—an element that was not necessary to the principle, and certainly not to the progress, of the measure, but was apparently only tacked on to the fag-end, without having any real connexion with it. He would express no opinion at present on the first principle of the Bill, which proposed to extend the franchise by lowering the existing qualification for counties and boroughs. In his opinion, the expediency of extending the franchise and lowering the qualification, was a legitimate subject for consideration; but the noble Lord had imported a novel element in the Bill, which he could not approve of. He referred to the floating constituency to be created of persons having no necessarily fixed residence, or personal connection with any locality by the ties of property, and who were to be qualified to vote merely by the payment of a small amount of direct taxes. He could not understand why the Jew portion of the Bill had been introduced, unless for the purpose of conciliating a small section of the community, and to offend the House of Lords.
§ MR. TRELAWNY
said, he hoped the hon. Member for Inverness-shire (Mr. Baillie) would retract the statement which he had made, that the borough of Tavistock, which he had the honour of representing, was under the nomination of the Duke of Bedford: the assertion he considered most unfair. He recollected, that the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) asked, last Session, what right had hon. Gentlemen on that (the Ministerial) side of the House to say that hon. Members on the other side were against the extension of the suffrage? He believed that the object of the hon. Gentleman in putting that question was to reserve to his party the opportunity of outbidding the Government on the subject of Parliamentary Reform. The observations which had been made by the hon. Member for Inverness-shire (Mr. Baillie), he suspected, had for their object to catch Irish Members, by pointing out the injustice which had been done to Ireland. The hon. Member's object was to defeat the present measure, by combining against the Government two very incongruous elements. He, therefore, warned the liberal party against this attempt to create division in their camp. He implored them to accept the measure, such as it was; and before he sat down he 296 must again express his hope that the hon. Member for Inverness-shire would apologise to him and the borough which he had the honour to represent for the remark he had made.
§ SIR JOSHUA WALMSLEY
said, he must express the gratification with which he had listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Inverness-shire (Mr. Baillie). In his opinion the measure was not worthy of approbation. It would not be received with approval by the people out of doors; it was, in fact, a small measure, totally unworthy of the noble Lord and his colleagues. There were fifty or sixty boroughs returning two representatives having less than 500 voters. But was the noble Lord aware that there were 627 large towns in this country, that were assessed to the income tax to the amount of 15,300,000l., that were totally unrepresented; and did he suppose that such places would be satisfied to remain unrepresented, except such representation as they might find through the county constituencies? The present measure did not recognise the rights of the taxpayers and the industrial classes, and therefore it neither would nor ought to give satisfaction to the country. The Bill was also defective in its omission of the ballot. At every public meeting he had ever attended, the ballot was always insisted upon as necessary to full and fair representation. As the Bill was only to be introduced now, he should reserve his further objection to a subsequent stage. If the Bill should pass, as he trusted it would, he should regard it as an instalment by which the progress of a larger measure of reform would be accelerated. With respect to the question of the ballot, he thought the ballot-box was necessary to protect not only tenants and shopkeepers, but also Roman Catholic voters against the intermeddling of their priests. Without entering into the question whether the ballot would be a preventive of bribery, he firmly believed that it would be a sufficient protection against coercion. He wished to direct the attention of the noble Lord to one part of the measure having reference to Ireland. He understood the noble Lord to propose the conglomeration of certain small boroughs, the constituencies of which were below a certain number. He approved of that part of the plan. The noble Lord also proposed to undo the compromise entered into with the House of Lords last Session, when the franchise in Irish boroughs was fixed at 297 8l., and to fix it for the future at 5l. He approved also of that part of the measure, but reserved to himself the right of voting in favour of any further extension, not stopping short of even household suffrage, The noble Lord did not propose meddling with the county constituencies of Ireland. He should like to ask the noble Lord if he was aware of the effect which would be produced in the county constituencies of Ireland by the withdrawal of the small towns from their constituencies? He feared that the effect would be to throw the representation of the counties into the hands of a few proprietors. He hoped the noble Lord would revise that portion of the Bill.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
, in reply to the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Newdegate), said he proposed to take the second reading of the Bill on Monday se'nnight.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
then said he would take the second reading, instead of on Monday se'nnight, on the Friday in that week.
§ LORD HARRY VANE
said, as the details of the Bill would naturally come under discussion at a future period, he would confine himself to the principle. The measure did not differ very widely in principle from that which had been announced some time ago, and was expected by all sides of the House. He differed from those who thought it an extremely shortcoming measure. He believed that in all parts of the country, with the exception, perhaps, of Lancashire and the west of Yorkshire, it would be received with extreme satisfaction. After the exposure of last Session with respect to what took place in the small boroughs, it would have been impossible to leave those boroughs in their present state. The mode of dealing with them proposed by the noble Lord certainly interfered as little with existing interests as any that could be named. The proposed reduction of the franchise was a very extensive measure, and went as far as was safe in that direction. It was difficult to say how far the proposed alteration in the county franchise would extend the suffrage, but there was no doubt it would 298 give a considerable increase of voters, especially in the towns.
§ MR. CHISHOLM ANSTEY
thought there was some confusion in the minds of hon. Members on that (the Government) side of the House. As far as he understood the noble Lord (Lord John Russell), it was not proposed to call upon those Members who were in favour of a larger extension of the suffrage to make their election between his (the noble Lord's) plan and their own. It was not a compromise proposed, but an instalment offered, and the noble Lord, at the conclusion of his speech, which he (Mr. Anstey) thought made a deep impression on those around him, pointed to the time when it would be in the power of the Minister to propose to Parliament the adoption of a much larger measure of reform, suited, as he anticipated, to the progress of national education. The noble Lord did not propose to the House this as a final measure, but as one which the circumstances of the country warranted him in submitting to the approbation of the Legislature. That being the view in which the noble Lord proposed the measure, it would be perfectly consistent if he should hereafter be induced to accede to the vain hope expressed in the remarkable speech of the hon. Member for Inverness-shire (Mr. Baillie), which, if it meant anything at all, referred to the large measure of reform once propounded by the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli). Nothing in the details of the Bill, and nothing promised by either the hon. Member for Inverness-shire, or the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, would induce him (Mr. Anstey) to withhold his support in this Session to the present Bill, or in a future Session to a scheme of Parliamentary reform, grounded on triennial Parliaments and household suffrage. If the noble Lord succeeded—and succeed he trusted he would—in carrying the present measure, it would facilitate the progress of a larger measure at a future time, and a large step would be taken towards that protection of the voter which he had tardily and reluctantly come to consider indispensable, and without which any measure must be a mischief and a delusion. He was now satisfied that whether a tenant sought protection against his landlord, a shopkeeper against his customers, or a Roman Catholic against his intermeddling priest, the ballot was the only remedy which promised to 299 be at all efficacious. Let him, however, submit to the attention of the Government one point with respect to the measure for Ireland. He approved of the plan for conglomerating different small boroughs, and for reducing the franchise to 5l.; but the noble Lord did not propose to meddle with the county constituencies. Now, when the small towns were withdrawn from the counties and added to the boroughs, the county constituencies would be reduced one-half, and the representation would be thrown into the hands of a few landed proprietors. This was a measure of detail which would more properly be discussed afterwards; but he could not resist the present opportunity of expressing his own opinion in favour of the plan generally of the noble Lord, and of attempting to dissuade hon. Members on his side of the House from allowing their feelings of dissatisfaction to lead them to a coalition with other hon. Members against the Bill, which would not only be fatal to it, but to every other measure of reform for some time to come. With respect to that portion of the Bill which had reference to the oath taken by hon. Members, he heartily approved of it, and he hoped that the House of Lords, which had swallowed so many camels sent up to them from this House, would not strain at such a miserable gnat as the present measure for admitting their Jewish fellow-subjects. He was glad also that hon. Gentlemen opposite, mindful of the traditions of their party, were inclined to offer no opposition to the principle of a measure which would have commanded the assent of such men as Pulteney and Windham.
§ SIR JOHN TYRELL
said, that the friends of reform seemed to find it very difficult to define the principle of the proposed Bill. Now, he ventured to suggest that if it were entitled "a Bill for the continuance of Her Majesty's present Ministers in office," it would not be a bad definition of its object at least. If one might judge by the declarations of those who called themselves the friends of reform, the measure was not likely to give general satisfaction. It was not approved of by the hon. Member for Bolton (Sir J. Walmsley), or by the hon. and learned Member for Youghal (Mr. Anstey). He must say that, with respect to the constituency in Essex in which Harwich was situated, and to which reference had been made, he believed that the Bill would be perfectly 300 harmless. He believed that it would not give satisfaction to any great party in the country. He was old enough to remember the last Reform Bill, and that the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) expected that great benefit would arise from it. They were promised men of great habits of business, who were to do a great deal of good, but that promise had not been realised. The noble Lord had brought forward a canvassing measure for the continuance of Her Majesty's Ministers in office, and to carry out this object the noble Lord had appealed to the Manchester school, by adopting their pet project of national education; and he had thrown out an anchor to windward, which might be of service to him afterwards. On every ground, he thought the measure most unsatisfactory.
§ COLONEL SIBTHORP
said, he must claim credit for having suggested the 50l. clause which the Marquess of Chandos subsequently adopted and carried. He perceived that hon. Gentlemen who had spoken on the other side, regarded this measure not as a final one, but merely as an instalment. He had the honour of a seat in the House when the noble Lord brought forward what many of them thought was to be a final measure. The noble Lord now said that he never meant anything of the kind. The measure now brought forward by the noble Lord, appeared to him (Col. Sibthorp) to be neither more nor less than "any port in a storm;" and he thought that the noble Lord would be willing to sail to the dirtiest port that could give him refuge, if he could by doing so extend the period of his official existence. They had tried every species of trick, trash, and trumpery; and they might rely upon it that, sooner or later, they would meet with the reward that such trickery deserved. Though he (Col. Sibthorp) had, after the adoption of the first Reform Bill, lost his seat for the city he represented, yet he was restored, after a short time, to his former position, as Member for that most respectable constituency, whose confidence he had never lost from that hour. It was a satisfaction to him to feel that no measure that the noble Lord could bring forward could have any effect upon that position of mutual confidence which obtained between his constituency and himself; though he firmly believed that one of the main objects of this Bill was to enable the noble Lord to retain that seat, 301 of which, after the manner he had acted in reference to the subject on which he had addressed his celebrated letter to the Bishop of Durham, he was but an unworthy occupant.
§ MR. W. O. STANLEY
said, that as one of those who had, last year, refused to support the isolated propositions for reform which were brought forward or suggested, and who had preferred to wait for the measure which the noble Lord had promised to bring forward in the present Session, and which he had ventured to think would prove a satisfactory measure, he had listened with interest to the announcement of his plans which the noble Lord had that night made; and though the Bill to be brought forward did not go quite so far, perhaps, as he might have wished, yet he did think that when the country came to consider it, the people would not look upon it as that milk and water measure which it had been described to be by the hon. Member for Bolton (Sir J. Walmsley), but that they would rather consider it, on the whole, as a great extension of the franchise, lie confessed, however, he had hoped that the noble Lord would have held out to them some prospect that the advantages he calculated upon from the measure he had announced, should have been effected by means of the ballot; and he much regretted to find that one Cabinet Minister (Mr. Fox Maule) had already recanted his opinions on a measure (the ballot) which he (Mr. Stanley) believed in his conscience to be necessary for the due exercise of the elective franchise.
§ MR. DISRAELI
Some doubt, I understand, prevails as to the time at which the noble Lord proposes to move the Second Reading of the Bill. I was, unfortunately, not in the House when the noble Lord referred to this subject, but I understand that the Bill is not ready to be laid upon the table. It is customary when a statement of importance, such as that which the noble Lord has this evening made, is addressed to the House, that the Bill on which it professes to be founded should be laid on the table at the same time; but I understand it is the intention of the noble Lord not to bring in the Bill until Wednesday next.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
I will bring in the Bill on Wednesday, or, it may be, Thursday. I will then propose that it be read a second time on Friday fortnight.
§ MR. DISRAELI
I do not think that statement satisfactory. It is impossible 302 that we can properly consider the question till the Bill is in our hands. The statement of the noble Lord is, no doubt, very interesting; but, seeing the diversity of opinion which exists as to the proposition of the Government, I think it absolutely necessary that we should have the Bill before us preliminary to fixing the second reading; and that the time allowed for consideration should date from the day on which the Bill is placed on the table. I do not think an interval of fourteen days sufficient, I collect from the statement of the noble Lord that sixty-seven boroughs will be largely affected by the measure, and that certain towns are to be connected with them; and I think it is but fair that the opinion of the population of these boroughs and towns should be ascertained on the subject. I cannot recollect the period that elapsed between the bringing in of the first Reform Bill and the second reading; but I believe it was much more considerate than that which the noble Lord now proposes to allow: and in the case of the repeal of the corn laws, I remember Sir Robert Peel proposed that not less than fourteen days should be given for the country to express an opinion on the proposal. It should be recollected that not we alone, but the country, should be allowed a fair opportunity of becoming acquainted with this important measure. Now, in point of detail, the measure for the repeal of the corn laws is not in any way to be compared with the proposition sketched by the noble Lord to-night. The noble Lord is not prepared with the Bill, and I trust, therefore, the noble Lord will consider what I have said, and give ample time for the country to become acquainted with its details before the second reading. The noble Lord proposes fourteen days. But under any circumstances, and even in the case of a Bill of comparatively an ordinary kind, such a delay as that would be granted. In the present case, I think the second reading should not take place for a month. I say again, this time is necessary, not for us, but for the country—for those who are to be affected by the Bill. The subject ought to be fully placed before the country, and ample time should be given for the fullest investigation of the details of the measure. I am certain no measure of this kind can give content, unless a preliminary investigation takes place into its provisions. Under any circumstances I should appeal for sufficient time. Under present circumstances I think I must 303 press for it. The Bill is not to be placed on the table till Thursday. It is a most unusual thing for a Minister to come forward and to make a statement introductory to a Bill, and not to have the Bill ready. We might have assumed, not doubting that Government had made up their minds on the subject, that the delay in producing the Bill was to be attributed to some technical details requiring further consideration; but when we recollect the seventeen or twenty-seven Cabinet Councils that have recently taken place, the question assumes a very different aspect. It may be that when the Bill is before us, some of its provisions may not agree with the statement we have heard to-night, or it may be invested with a great many details which may be additions to the statement. That, in my opinion, is another reason for a much more considerable delay being afforded to the country than that which the noble Lord has proposed. As far as we are concerned, fourteen days might be sufficient; but I ask the House whether, considering the importance of the measure and its details, fourteen days would be sufficient for the country? If the noble Lord is not prepared to lay the Bill on the table till Thursday, I think a month from this day—which, after all, would not be much more than three Parliamentary weeks—should elapse before the second reading. With regard to the measure itself, I am not disposed at this period to enter into any discussion of it. I cannot, however, help congratulating Parliamentary reformers on the content with which they have accepted the repast provided for them; the voracity of their appetites seems to me satisfied with very short commons. Having on two occasions ventured to mention the conditions which a Minister should observe in bringing forward such a measure, I must say that I think the noble Lord has observed them on this occasion. My impression, in listening to the statement of the noble Lord, was, that there was nothing in it which had any tendency to disturb—I will not say the balance between the two great interests of the country, but I will rather say the adjustment made by the Reform Bill in 1832—I do not use the word balance, because I do not think any such balance exists. I think the adjustment of 1832 gave a preponderance in favour of the towns and of the commercial classes. To that adjustment we bow. As far as I could 304 discover from the oral statement of the Minister to-night, I do not think there is anything in this new plan which has a serious tendency to disturb it; and therefore, on that ground, I felt considerably relieved. At the same time, I must tell the hon. Member for Manchester that I cannot at all agree with his dogma, that the present adjustment is unfair because a borough like Thetford returns two Members, and a city like Manchester returns no greater number. Throughout the whole of the arguments I have heard on this subject from Gentlemen opposite, both here and as reported in other places, a great fallacy is observable, and pervades all that they bring forward on the subject, as I shall be prepared to show at the right time and on the fitting occasion. The hon. Gentleman has referred to the cases of Thetford and Manchester, and it is only because he has done so that I enter upon the subject at all now. The argument, founded on the two tests of population and property, that because a borough like Thetford returns two Members, therefore Manchester should return the number of Members proportionate to its population and property, is an inference altogether erroneous. The inference, indeed, is the other way. It is that such places as Thetford should not return two Members, not that Manchester should return more. A paper has just been put into my hands, which has some reference to this part of the subject. It relates to North Cheshire. The total population of the county is 217,000. There are two considerable manufacturing towns, and only two in that great division—Macclesfield, with a population of 33,000, and the too-celebrated Stockport, with a population of upwards of 50,000; together 83,000, which, deducted from the whole population of the Northern Division of Cheshire, leaves 134,000. Now, these two towns return four Members, though the rural population, which amounts to 130,000, returns only two. Even admitting the tests laid down by the hon. Member to be just, which I do not do, it could never be inferred from it that Manchester should have eight, ten, or fourteen Members, the burden always of the hon. Gentleman's argument on this point—but only that Thetford should not have two Members. With regard to the second condition that there should be no attempt to establish the undue preponderance of any particular party, I must reserve my opinion till we have the details before us. When I 305 see how the Government propose to deal with sixty or seventy boroughs—when I see what those boroughs are, and how they are to be managed under the new arrangement, then I shall better know how to form an opinion. But I shall assume now that in 1852, after the experience on these subjects which the House has acquired, any of those not very creditable manœuvres as to the settlement of the boundaries which distinguished the settlement of the first Reform Bill, will not very easily occur. I cannot believe that any party in this House, or out of it, will support a Minister in any arrangement of the new boroughs, the object of which is to support his own party in Parliament: I have that confidence in the increased knowledge both of the House of Commons and the country on these subjects, as to feel that those manœuvres cannot be repeated. Whether, then, I look at the Bill as I collect it from the noble Lord's statement, where it appears to me to have a character not opposed to the constitutional arrangement at present existing; or whether I assume, which I do, that all arrangements respecting the new constituencies will be conceived and executed in a fair spirit, I do not find on these two points grounds of opposition. But I reserve to myself the full right, when the subject is fairly before the House, to consider whether, under the circumstances of the case, it was a wise thing to undertake any measure upon the subject, and, if it were a wise thing, whether the present measure is one adequate and suited to the occasion. I confess, so far as I can form an opinion—but indeed I do not feel authorised, till the Bill is in my hand, to give any opinion; in fact it is not an opinion but an impression I give—the Bill does seem to me to be one of very questionable propriety. The noble Lord has on several occasions dilated on the wisdom of settling great questions in moments of comparative calm and tranquillity. I agree with him. I think it is wise in a statesman, if he has a subject of great importance to grapple with—a subject calculated to arouse the passions and affect the interests of great masses of the people—that he should attempt it in moments of tranquillity; but he is bound to deal with it so that the settlement may be—I will not say final, for that is not an epithet suitable for human legislation—but permanent. So far as I can now form an opinion I cannot say that I think the measure brought for- 306 ward by the noble Lord in that sense a very statesmanlike measure. What is the great object of this 5l. franchise? That you should admit the working classes to the exercise of the suffrage. I have always been the advocate of an industrial suffrage; but I am not satisfied that this 5l. franchise will act in that way. I am not by any means clear that there was no measure better fitted for this purpose, no arrangement more apposite and more calculated to effect this end, than merely lowering the rating on which the suffrage depends. I have here a paper moved for a few years ago by the hon. Member for Marylebone (Sir B. Hall), which contains a list of the boroughs, with their population and constituencies, in England. I was anxious to find out the 67 boroughs with which the noble Lord means to deal in this Bill, and I commenced with the list before me. I began with Calne; went through what I supposed must be the 67 boroughs, assuming from the smallness of the constituencies that those I selected must be the 67 places which the noble Lord wishes to disturb. Then, having exhausted the 67 boroughs, I proceeded with the list, taking those that, from the number of their constituencies, I presumed must be exempted from the operation of the noble Lord's Bill—those above 500. The first borough I found on the exempted list was St. Albans. I only mention this to show that in settling this question we have a great many details to consider. The merit of a measure like the present depends very much on its details; and that is the reason why, when a Minister makes a proposition of this nature, and is not prepared to lay his Bill on the table—a very strange occurrence, certainly—I think the country have a right to expect that ample time will be given to consider those details. I have thus expressed what I really feel on the matter. I feel, so far as the two conditions I have referred to go, that I am not prepared on those grounds to interpose any obstruction to the Bill of the noble Lord. On the greater ground I shall reserve my opinion. I have much hesitation as to the propriety of introducing any measure at all on the present occasion. I have my doubts, too, whether the measure introduced is of that deep and comprehensive character required. I think the noble Lord ought to bear in mind that it is of the utmost importance that a question of this kind should be 307 maturely considered before it is decided on; that all measures for the adjustment of the franchise should be of a permanent character. Indeed, the noble Lord himself ought to be the last to doubt the correctness of this principle. I do not think that it is to the credit of this House, or the country, or the noble Lord himself as a statesman, that every year he should be altering the franchise in Ireland. I think, too, if the noble Lord had only sufficiently considered that subject, he would not be in the singular position of having twelve months ago brought forward a Reform Bill for Ireland, which he now acknowledges is incompetent to carry out its objects. I hope that is not ominous of the result of the measure now brought forward. I think it would be just as well for hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House, that this measure now introduced by the Minister of the Crown, and supported by them, should be one that would be likely to last. The hon. Gentlemen opposite have now had some experience in that matter. They received with enthusiasm the Bill of '32; they denounced every body who opposed it, and insisted that it would in every respect answer their purpose; they said nothing less would satisfy them, and that nothing more would they accept; yet they have been mistaken. I think they ought to consider—I will not say with suspicion, but without passion—the proposition of the Minister on this occasion. It should be remembered too, that we have many other important subjects to discuss during the present Session; and I warn you not to be diverted in your attention from other great reforms by Parliamentary reform. The great body of the nation will not be satisfied if the entire time of the Session is occupied with discussions on Parliamentary reform. The people out of doors wish the whole question of colonial government to be considered—the people out of doors wish to have the principles of taxation properly established—the people out of doors are anxious to know whether there will be any law reform or not. These are questions which will require the Minister's serious consideration in the management of their laborious details. They are reasons why we should not approach the subject thrown before us thus early in the Session with any degree of passion; that we should try to ascertain whether the time really requires such a change as that now introduced; whether that change is required by the peo- 308 ple; and whether the proposition of the Government is calculated to satisfy them.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, he had listened, as he always did, with attention to the speech of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, and he must confess he was unable to discover whether he was to be numbered among the supporters or the opponents of the Bill. From some of his observations it might be implied that he would have been very glad if an extension of the suffrage had not been proposed by the Government; but now, when an outline of the proposed measure had been given by his noble Friend, the hon. Gentleman stated that to the principle of that measure he did not see any objection. Then the hon. Member asked for a month's delay, in order that the minute details of the Bill might be considered by the country and the House. Now, the details of the measure were questions essentially for the Committee, such, for example, as whether a town should be joined with one borough or with another. He hoped, therefore, the House would not consent to the delay proposed by the hon. Gentleman. He agreed with him that other subjects of great importance required the attention of Parliament; but the best way to ensure their consideration was to incur no delay in proceeding with the Bill now before the House. The hon. Gentleman said it was a very unusual occurrence not to lay a Bill before the House on the night on which leave was given to bring it in; but he believed he was wholly mistaken as to the usual course in this matter, and that it was very common to allow an interval of a couple of days before a Bill is presented. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stamford asked a question as to the day fixed for the second reading; and his noble Friend in reply gave a full fortnight, not between the present time and the second reading, but from the time when the Bill would be in their hands. Such a period he did not think at all unreasonable. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) hinted something about manœuvres and tricks with reference to the arrangements under the Bill, and founded that suspicion on what he said had notoriously taken place with the Reform Bill of 1832. What the circumstances were to which the hon. Gentleman referred, he knew not; but if any proposals were made by Ministers that could be called in question, ample opportunities would be given of stating objections when they 309 considered the details of the measure. But, on the other hand, what he (Sir G. Grey) asked was, that if there were objections to the Bill, they should be manfully stated by its opponents, and that there should be no attempts indirectly to defeat the measure by postponing it till a late period of the Session. The hon. Gentleman seemed to speak as if the extension of the franchise to 5l. would have the effect of disfranchising 10l. householders. [Mr. DISRAELI: I did not say so.] He understood the hon. Member to say so; but of course if he disclaimed the statement he would make no remarks upon the subject. The hon. Gentleman also referred to St. Albans, and read from an old return, which did not apply to the present state of the constituency of that borough. He believed that the present constituency of St. Albans fell within the number which his noble Friend had stated as the point within which he proposed boroughs to be dealt with. It was the intention of the Government, however, to bring in a separate Bill for the disfranchisement of that borough. In conclusion, he hoped the House would not grant the delay asked for by the hon. Gentleman.
§ SIR BENJAMIN HALL
said, in previous Sessions the Government had been charged with not introducing a measure of reform, and now the Gentlemen opposite came forward and said the noble Lord was too hasty in his proposal, and was about to cause unnecessary excitement among the people during this happy state of peaceable prosperity; and the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) called upon the noble Lord to postpone the Bill for an indefinite time—one of the most monstrous propositions he ever heard. As the right hon. Gentleman (Sir G. Grey) had shown, the material points alluded to by the hon. Member were matters of detail, and these would naturally be considered in Committee. The hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli) said, the Bill ought to have been laid on the table of the House at once, and blamed the noble Lord for not having it ready at this moment. That hon. Gentleman was not a Member of the House when the first Reform Bill was introduced; but he could tell him that his noble Friend was now acting in the same way as he then did. On the 10th of March, leave was given to bring in the first Reform Bill, and it was read a first time on the 14th of March. That was the very course now pro- 310 posed to be taken. And when was it read a second time? It was a measure of much greater importance than the present, and yet only seven days after that Bill was brought into the House, the noble Lord moved that it be read a second time. And now, when they had been calling for reform for years, the hon. Gentleman opposite got up and asked that it should be postponed for a whole month! The hon. Gentleman had made use of strong language with reference to the boundaries of boroughs. The hon. Gentleman talked of manœuvres and proceedings having taken place in fixing the boundaries in 1832; but who was the principal party to those manœuvres? Lord Stanley, of whom the hon. Gentleman was now a follower. That noble Lord was one of the principal parties concerned in the Reform Bill; he took a most active part as to the boundaries of the boroughs; and now the hon. Gentleman taunted the noble Lord at the bead of the Government with having used discreditable manœuvres and proceedings with regard to them. The hon. Gentleman ought to recollect with whom he was associated before he cast such reflections upon his noble Friend. But when he talked of this not being a full and comprehensive measure, he (Sir B. Hall) agreed with him. It was not so in his sense, nor perhaps in that of the hon. Gentleman, because he know, from a printed address, that the hon. Gentleman had been in favour of the ballot and triennial Parliaments. He wished those questions had been introduced into the present Bill. It would then be much fuller and more comprehensive; but he doubted whether, if thus framed, it would have the support of the hon. Gentleman opposite. He must, however, congratulate his noble Friend at the head of the Government on one sign of the times: That whereas, in 1830 and 1831—and he was a Member of the House at that time—every stage of the Bill was fought (he remembered, indeed, a division of the House at a quarter past seven o'clock in the morning, and they had sixteen or seventeen divisions altogether that sitting), now there was to be no division, Hon. Gentlemen opposite dared not, in the face of their constituents, vote against this Bill being introduced. And when the hon. Gentleman taunted the Liberal Reformers with voting for this Bill, did be suppose they would vote against it because it did not give them all they wished for? They 311 meant to do nothing of the sort. They would take all they could get, and move Amendments and try and get more. He agreed with the noble Lord at the head of the Government in one respect, that it would be extremely wrong to continue the very small boroughs. Some papers which he had moved for, and which, he believed, would be before the House in a day or two, would illustrate his objections on that point. Probably there would be a schedule attached to the Bill, and if there were, the first borough in the Schedule beginning with the letter A should be Arundel, and he would then give hon. Gentlemen opposite the opportunity of moving that that town should no longer send Members to Parliament. [An Hon. MEMBER: Abingdon came before Arundel.] Well, whether it were Abingdon or Arundel, he would give hon. Gentlemen the same opportunity. For his own part, he feared that the scheme of the noble Lord, in congregating together towns, would place the county constituencies more in the hands of the landlords, and give the landlords more power over their tenants than at present; if so they might rely on it that it would come to that which Earl Grey spoke of in the House of Lords—they must have the ballot to protect the people. He thought they ought to have a Reform Bill based on the principle of the former one—of enfranchisement and disfranchisement; and when they had miserable little boroughs like those referred to by his hon. Friend the Member for Inverness-shire (Mr. Baillie), they ought to be disfranchised. The hon. Gentleman had taken very good care to show up some of the boroughs represented by hon. Gentlemen on his (Sir B. Hall's) side of the House. But were there none represented by hon. Gentlemen opposite? Were there not Wilton, Christchurch, Hythe, Buckingham, Helstone, Huntingdon, and Stamford? He thought this state of things was disgraceful to the country, and that the first principle of the Reform Bill ought to be to disfranchise those small boroughs, and then to add protection to the voters. He could not quite understand why the county constituencies should be put on a different footing from those of the boroughs; why, in a borough, there should be a 5l. franchise and a 2l. franchise, and yet in counties there should only be a 20l. franchise? Was it a compliment to the voters in towns, to show they were so much more intelligent and enlightened, that a man who had property to the 312 extent of 5l. a year was qualified to vote, while a farmer who rented property of less than 20l. a year was not qualified to vote? But there was a greater anomaly than that. Was the Irish farmer so much more enlightened a character than the English farmer? And why was the former, with a 12l. holding, to have a vote, when the farmer in this country could only have it for a 20l. holding? He thought there should be the same qualification in towns as in counties. It might be said that that would give more influence to the landlords; but, as he had said before, then give the people the ballot. He would not trouble the House with any details, but would thank the noble Lord for bringing in the Bill, and hoped he would not admit of any delay; and, when the hon. Gentleman opposite spoke of the people being anxious for law reform, for an inquiry into the colonial system and the taxation of the country, he entirely agreed with him, but would suggest, if the hon. Gentleman and some other Members would make shorter speeches, they would have plenty of time to proceed with the great questions to which the hon. Gentleman had referred.
§ LORD DUDLEY STUART
said, he must admit there was a very great difference between the state of feeling in that House and the state of public opinion out of doors on the subject of reform, and that which existed in the House and in the country at the time when the first Reform Bill was introduced; but it would be a great mistake to argue from that difference that there was not an earnest feeling in the country in favour of reform. Twenty years ago, when the first Reform Bill was introduced, it was well known that the measure to be brought forward would be of a large and comprehensive nature: it therefore enlisted the ardent sympathies of liberal men; while, on the other side, Gentlemen were indignant that there should be any extension of popular rights; and Gentlemen who rejoiced in Gatton and Old Sarum, and boroughmongers of every class, were incensed to the highest degree at the idea of being deprived of that unrighteous power which they had wielded so long; and they came down to that House in great numbers to defend the abuses in which they rejoiced; but now he did not think that men on the Liberal side of the House, or the Liberal party in the country, had formed such sanguine expectations: and neither were Gentlemen opposite 313 so much alarmed as they had been on a former occasion: there was not so much to be hoped on one side, or to be feared on the other—and that afforded a true explanation of the state of that House. He could not say that the measure which had been brought forward that evening was likely to give to the country any great amount of satisfaction, nor that it would come up to the wishes of the people at large. In the first place, he did not see that it was based upon any great principle. He admitted it would confer an extension of the franchise, and so far it would be a benefit; but what was that extension? Why, that the qualification was reduced from 10l. to 5l.; but he would ask why a man who rented a house worth 4l. a year had not as good a right to the franchise as the man who paid 5l. He was glad that the noble Lord, in introducing this Bill, bad, at least, got rid of a reproach which was attached to him for many years—a reproach against which he had often defended himself in words, but had now done so by deeds—he meant the reproach of the finality of the Reform Bill of 1832; for not only had he repudiated that doctrine by bringing in the present measure to reform the Reform Act, but also by bringing in a measure which he must be conscious was no final measure, and which could only be considered in the light of an instalment. With regard to the changes which the noble Lord proposed to introduce into the representation of the counties, he believed it was generally admitted that a very small advantage indeed would ensue as far as regarded giving to the people a true and efficient representation. He feared that those in whose hands the noble Lord proposed to place the franchise were not likely to prove free agents, but that the measure would be the means of giving additional power to the great landholders, instead of giving a truly efficient representation to the people of this country. But there wore some parts of the proposed Bill which he could not but approve of. He approved of any extension of the franchise, and he thought that the provision giving to every man who should pay 40s. in direct taxes a vote, was an improvement. He approved of everything in the direction of extending the suffrage, because he wished to see a full, free, and fair representation of the people; but he did not regard it as a full representation of the people, without a much larger extension of the franchise, and he could see no real representation of the people, unless they were protected in 314 the exercise of their franchise; and when he spoke of the rights of the people, he could not help noticing an expression which fell from the noble Lord upon the extension of the franchise. The noble Lord said he would extend the franchise as a reward to the people. He (Lord D. Stuart) did not think that a proper or statesmanlike view of the subject. If it were for the advantage of the people that they should have the franchise at all, they ought to have it; if it were not, it ought to be withheld from them; but he could not admit of its being extended to them as a reward. Another observation in the speech of the noble Lord had also surprised him. The noble Lord told them he did not desire to get rid of the small boroughs; he thought it an advantage to the country that the small boroughs should be continued, because, without them, all classes would not be represented; yet the noble Lord spoke of Sudbury being disfranchised, and of St. Albans about to be disfranchised, and the noble Lord intended bestowing the franchise of those places upon some large town. The noble Lord, with the opinion he held, to be consistent, ought, in taking the franchise from one small borough proved to be corrupt, to confer it on some other small borough. But the noble Lord was not altogether satisfied with the small boroughs, and he stated that, where they were shown to be corrupt, they shall be deprived of the franchise. He (Lord D. Stuart) thought that a good provision, and he approved of any measure having a tendency to put an end to the immorality of the corrupt boroughs. With regard to the provision in the Bill as to boroughs not having more than 500 electors, which the noble Lord proposes adding to some neighbouring borough, he confessed he had very great doubts as to the propriety of that provision and its effects, and he warned the House not to suppose that, by adding to a borough some neighbouring place or places, they would always ensure its purity or independence: sometimes the very contrary effect would be produced by such addition. He would refer to one—the borough of Arundel—which he had once the honour of representing. In the Reform Bill it was proposed to add to that borough the neighbouring port of Littlehampton. The noble Lord at the head of the Government would recollect what had occurred; and he (Lord D. Stuart) was 315 glad to remind the House of it, because it gave him the opportunity of defending the noble Lord from an attack which he had lately seen made upon him in the papers with regard to this very case. It was alleged that the Boundary Commissioners had recommended the addition of the town of Littlehampton to Arundel; but that to that recommendation, which would have had the effect of neutralising the influence of the Duke of Norfolk in the borough of Arundel, the noble Lord had objected, being secretly influenced by a desire to preserve the influence of the Norfolk family over the electors. This charge was wholly unfounded. The noble Lord had been anxious to maintain the original arrangement, and he only gave it up in consequence of the strong opposition made to it by him (Lord D. Stuart), at the desire of the inhabitants of Arundel. A Committee was, at his (Lord D. Stuart's) instance, appointed to inquire into the circumstances, and it was only after the report of that Committee that the junction of the two plans was abandoned. But why did the inhabitants object to the junction? Because they believed that the effect of it would be to make Arundel, which had still pretensions to independence, a complete nominee borough in the hands of the Duke of Norfolk, inasmuch as he held very considerable property in the town of Arundel, but had not complete power over it; whilst the whole town of Littlehampton belonged to him, and the borough, therefore, would have been entirely in his power. This would have been done, only he (Lord D. Stuart) and the inhabitants of Arundel vigorously opposed it. He was happy to have that opportunity of thus recording the facts connected with that transaction, because a very erroneous impression respecting it had gone forth in the public press. The proposal to add Littlehampton to Arundel was not, as had been represented, one of those discreditable tricks and contrivances alluded to by the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) to keep power in the hands of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, for it had been abandoned when good reasons were shown against it; but the effect would certainly have been to consolidate the power of a great proprietor, the Duke of Norfolk. He was afraid such things would happen when two or three small towns were taken together, and therefore he could not think that such a plan would have the effect of 316 giving to the people the full and free representation they ought to have. The noble Lord at the head of the Government had not said a word about what was considered out of doors a very important measure—the shortening the duration of Parliaments. He thought this necessary in order to give that due control to the electors over their Members which they ought to have, with a view to call them to account at the proper time for their votes. He therefore did feel, upon principle, that this measure would be very far from being likely to satisfy the expectations and desires of the people; but, inasmuch as it was a step in the right direction, and destroyed for ever the doctrine of finality, and gave a guarantee for the improvement of the representation, he would accept it, but only as an instalment, being at the same time determined to do the utmost he could to obtain still more.
MR. M. O'CONNELL
, as an Irish representative and a Roman Catholic, wished to take that the first opportunity he had of returning his earnest thanks to the noble Lord for doing away with that most insulting of oaths, which the law hitherto imposed upon Members of his religious creed. He believed the measure would be fully appreciated in Ireland, and he hoped the noble Lord would have simply the Oath of Allegiance as competent to admit Members to that House. The people of Ireland had always proved their allegiance to Her Majesty; they were ready to do so again, and he was sure that portion of the Bill of the noble Lord, to which he had more particularly alluded, would be regarded in Ireland with ardent gratitude.
rose to protest against the stigma which the hon. Baronet who spoke last but one, attempted to fasten on the borough which he had the honour to represent. He would challenge that hon. Gentleman, or any one else, to go down and ascertain from his political opponents at Christchurch, whether there had been any bribery or undue influence exercised at his election. It was too bad for these "two patriots" of Marylebone to come down and brand boroughs with corruption, because they had small constituencies. He thought the Bill would at least have the effect of opening the eyes of the public to the real merits of what were called "popular orators;" and that the poorer working classes when represented by such a class of men, would not continue to give them their support, but would require more solid quali- 317 ties than those of making such, a ranting speech as they had just heard.
§ Leave given. Bill to be brought in by Lord John Russell, Sir George Grey, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ The House adjourned at half after Ten o'clock.