HC Deb 24 February 1857 vol 144 cc1249-66

on rising to move for "a Select Committee to consider and report upon the most practical means for lessening the existing inequalities in our Representative System, and for extending to the unenfranchised that share of political power to which they may be justly entitled," said—The question I desire to raise has no party objects, but is simply dictated by an earnest desire to ameliorate the political condition of a very numerous body of men whose industry, forbearance, and loyalty entitle them to the utmost consideration at our hands. I am free to admit that the proposition would have been much more appropriately in the hands of the Government than in those of an independent Member, and this is rendered more especially so from the fact that most, if not all, the Members of the present Government have already assented to an extensive measure of Parliamentary reform. Session after Session has, however, passed without any sign of its re-introduction, and as the subject is of too much importance to be allowed to remain in abeyance, I would ask that indulgence which the House usually bestows on those most in need of it, whilst I endeavour, as briefly as possible, to show the necessity for the objects of the present Motion. Were the question of Parliamentary reform to be decided on its own merits, on the abstract principles of right only, there would be less difficulty in framing a measure in which most might concur; this is, however, not so. The claims of existing interests, and the demands in favour of prescriptive rights, supported by powerful influence, have so surrounded the subject with difficulties as to render it almost impracticable to carry out any comprehensive measure of Parliamentary reform which does not partake more or less of; expediency. Under such circumstances, and at the instance of many of those most earnest for an extension of the franchise, instead of seeking a specific measure upon I which there might be a great diversity of opinion, I would ask the House to I appoint a Select Committee to consider and report upon the most practical means for lessening the inequalities in our electoral system, and for extending to the unenfranchised that share of political power to which they may be justly entitled. And whatever difference of opinion may exist as to the policy or impolicy of particular measures, there is none as to the necessity for some amendment in our electoral system. All parties, and every combination of party, whether here or elsewhere, acknowledge its imperfect working and desire to see it improved, and if this be really so, the question would seem to be narrowed into one of degree and to become rather a matter of detail than one of principle. Nor is it a question which can be wisely or safely delayed, for it must be evident to all who have given attention to the subject, that legislation is rapidly approaching a dead lock, and becoming impracticable; that we must either progress or retrograde, either yield more power into the hands of the present governing classes, or extend to the people generally that share of political power to which their numbers and intelligence entitle them. At no period has popular intelligence made more rapid progress than during the last few years. Every portion of our social system has advanced in a high degree. The arts, science, commerce, manufactures, have each made rapid progress, but the political position of the industrial population remains unimproved, whilst it is well known that a large portion of the unenfranchised are as well fitted for its independent exercise as the majority of those who now enjoy the right. Then, with respect to numbers, our population and other returns show that out of 28,000,000 of souls in the United Kingdom, 5,500,000 of adult males, and upwards of 4,000,000 of inhabited houses, there are only about 1,000,000 of electors, and of these large numbers are prevented by bribery, intimidation, and other influences from exercising their votes in accordance with their convictions. Some assert that the people are indifferent to the possession of the franchise. Were this so, it would be a great national calamity; but I believe the asser- tion to be an error founded on a misconception of their real sentiments. They may have evinced indifference for measures not calculated to meet their requirements, but no class has made greater sacrifices to obtain their rights; and it is well known that they are sensitively alive to the political degradation under which they labour, and would hail with enthusiasm any really practical measure calculated to bring the mass of our artisans and mechanics within the electoral pale. No doubt there are those who would be content with a moderate instalment of that which is due, in the partial lowering of the qualification, the redistribution of members, and the removal of the rate-paying clauses, provided they could include the protection of the ballot. I apprehend, however, that any measure of enfranchisement falling short of household suffrage would fail to meet the necessities of the case or the requirements of the unenfranchised. Even household suffrage itself would exclude many who ought to have a vote, but it would enfranchise the great body of the adult males, increase the number of voters at least threefold, and be so close an approximation to the abstract principle of right as to remove much of that spirit of antagonism which exists between class and class in this country; and we should not deny that to our own citizens which we have freely conceded to our colonial fellow-subjects. At present a deep-seated conviction prevails that the restricted character of the franchise, the unequal distribution of Members, the existence of numerous nomination boroughs, and the want of protection to the voter, are the sources of many of our social and political evils, and have been the means of placing the balance of political power at the will of the few rather than under the control of the many. No one will, at least, question the fact that there is an undue proportion of the aristocratic element, not only in the Government, but in the House itself. We find twelve out of fifteen Members of the Cabinet either Peers in their own right or the near connections of Peers; and not less than 230 seats in this House are occupied by the nominees, sons, or near relatives of Peers, many of them representing close boroughs or large territorial interests. In fact, the electoral system might have been contrived to place a monopoly of political power in the hands of a privileged few. It embodies no fixed principle; area, population, and property are alike disre- garded. Small and unimportant boroughs are placed upon a par with the most populous and influential. A borough with 2,800 and one with 500,000 souls have the same number of representatives. 77 boroughs have 124 Members—their aggregate population is less than that contained in one single borough. One moiety of the Members of this House are said to be returned by 180,000 electors and to represent £7,000,000 of assessed property, whilst the other half represent 800,000 electors and £77,000,000 of assessed property. In the English counties, including the unrepresented towns, there are 10,000,000 of souls, £42,000,000 of assessment, and 144 representatives; but in the boroughs, exclusive of the unrepresented towns, there are 8,000,000 of population, £22,000,000 of assessment, and 323 representatives. If we, however, compare the counties with each other, the anomalies and inequalities are still greater. One county, with a population of 2,000,000, and an assessment of £8,000,000, has 14 Members; whilst a contiguous one, with 163,000 population and £700,000 assessment, has 11 Members. Examine the representation of the counties as a whole. We shall find that 24 of them have 86 Members more than their relative proportion, tested by population, property, houses, or number of electors; whilst 10 have 90 Members less than such relative proportion. Another grievance, and not a light one, arises out of the fact that not less than 29 towns and districts, containing from 10,000 to 600,000 souls each, have no representatives. I have numerous tables of a similar character, but will not trespass on the time of the House with them at present. One fact is of itself sufficient: that out of 28,000,000 of souls we have only 1,000,000 of electors. What valid objection can be offered to this Motion I am at a loss to conceive, save the usual stereotyped one—that it is an inconvenient season: and I would venture to urge that the patience, moderation, and loyalty of those who would be benefited, are grounds that should not be disregarded in the consideration of the question. It may seem unnecessary to cite authorities in favour of the rights of those who are taxed to a voice in the selection of their representatives; but there are those who regard this right in the light of a privilege—and in reply to such I would ask leave to read three or four sentences from the speeches and writings of those distinguished men who have long been regarded as authorties on this most important subject. Locke writes thus:— The supreme power cannot take from any man any part of his property without his own consent. They must not raise taxes on the people without the consent of the people. It is the interest as well as the intention to have a fair am equal representation; whoever brings it nearest to this is an undoubted friend to an established government, and cannot miss the consent and approbation of the community. Sir William Jones, speaking of the feudal system, said:— Narrow and base as it was, and confined to landed property, it admitted the lowest freeholder to that inestimable right without which it was a banter to call a man free. The right of voting in the choice of deputies to assist in making laws which may affect not only his property but his life, and, what is dearer, his liberty, and which are not laws, but tyrannous ordinances if imposed without his suffrage in person or by deputy. Lord Chatham said:— To be taxed without being represented is contrary to the maxims of law and the first principles of the constitution. Edmund Burke said:— The virtue, spirit, and essence of a House of Commons consists in its being the express image of the nation. It was not intended to be a control on the people, but as a control for the people. Charles James Fox asserts that To extend the right of voting to householders is the best and most advisable plan of reform. It is the most perfect recurrence to first principles. I do not refer to the first principles of representation, but to the first known and recorded principles of our constitution. That Government is alone strong which has the hearts of the people; and will any man contend that we should not be more likely to add strength to the state if we were to extend the basis of popular representation? Would not a House of Commons freely elected, and which was in truth the representation of the people, be most likely to ensure the support of that people? The Duke of Richmond says:— Every man not labouring under natural or moral disability had an inherent right of suffrage, paramount to all considerations of civil or political expediency. Lord John Russell has observed that— The ancient constitution of our country declares that no man shall be taxed for the support of the state who has not, by himself or his representatives, consented to the imposition of those taxes. I trust these authorities not only show the necessity for the course proposed, but that it is a wise, safe, and consti- tutional one. It will be remembered by many now present that, so soon after the passing of the Reform Bill as the year 1839, that Act was found to work so unsatisfactorily that the late Mr. Hume endeavoured to amend it by the introduction of a Bill for household suffrage, thus early proving the truth of the words of the late Earl Grey, who, in speaking of the Reform Bill, said the Whigs would in a few years become unpopular for having introduced so aristocratic a measure. In the years 1848–9, and again in 1850, Mr. Hume renewed his efforts, on each occasion seeking such an extension of the franchise as, in his own words, was calculated to unite the estates of the realm, to infuse new vigour into the constitution, and to make the House of Commons that which it was intended to be—the full, vigorous, and effective representation of the people of the United Kingdom. Subsequently, the noble Lord the Member for the City introduced a less comprehensive franchise, in which he proposed to lower the qualification in boroughs to a £6 assessment, and in many respects the Bill of the noble Lord was a great advance on previous legislation. His propositions, to abolish numerous nomination boroughs and to remove the rate paying clauses of the Reform Act, were just and comprehensive, and the country is deeply indebted to the noble Lord for his consistent efforts to ameliorate the political condition of his fellow-men. But I am constrained to say that his proposed measure of enfranchisement was meagre in the extreme, and not calculated to produce the support necessary for carrying the other portions of his measure. Any qualification based on assessment must almost necessarily be unsatisfactory. It varies in almost every parish, and not unfrequently whole streets of voters are disfranchised by a composition between the landlord and the parish authorities. If the noble Lord supposed that a £6 assessment in boroughs would embrace the great body of our artisans and mechanics, it was an error which I trust he will see fit to correct. If, on the contrary, he was aware of the restrictive character of the qualification he proposed, "it was keeping the word of promise to the ear, hut breaking it to the hope." I do not know that I can better illustrate such a qualification than by showing what would have been its effect in the borough I have the honour to represent. In the borough of Leicester there are about 4,000 voters; 2,500 household, and 1,500 freemen. A £6 assessment would only have added 610 house-hold votes out of a population of 70,000 souls and 14,000 houses, and the Bill of the noble Lord, by ultimately removing the freemen, would have reduced the present constituency by 900. Whereas a £6 bonâ fide payment of rent would have added 4,000 householders to the register—more than doubling the constituency. I have ventured to dwell on this point that the House and the country may be fully aware of the difference between assessment and bonâ fide rent. I have been blamed by some parties for bringing forward this question. They say that it is not in season—that it is out of season. Now, I want to know when it will be in season? Will it ever be in season? Certain speeches which I heard the other day induce me to think that there does not exist any desire to bring forward a new Reform Bill. Now I boldly assert that it is unjust to the people of this country to keep 4,500,000 of them unfranchised, when they are paying rates and taxes in an equal or greater proportion than many of those who have the right of voting. I appeal to the justice, the good sense, and the honesty of the Members of this House to give me their support on this occasion. I ask them to unite in some plan of reform, or at least to consider whether they cannot in some way or other extend the franchise to those who are fully entitled to its exercise. I am fully persuaded that the granting of a Committee would be considered a great boon by the country, and that the result would be such an adjustment of the question as would give satisfaction to all parties and to every portion of the community. I do not give up one jot or tittle of my opinions. But I know that every man who wishes to carry any question, who wishes to make any progress, must yield more or less to the opinions of others, and it is with that view that I ask the House to appoint a Committee to consider this important subject.


in seconding the Motion, said the hon. Member for Leicester deserved the thanks of the country for his perseverance in endeavouring to remove the evils of which the people complained, The hon. Member had been driven to move for a Committee. No doubt a Bill would have been better if the Government would have supported it—so that they might have had the whole matter discussed and placed before the House and the country. The time had arrived when a measure of reform should be passed, and it was to be hoped that ere long the pressure from without would force the Government to bring in a Bill worthy of general acceptance. Last week an attempt was made to give the franchise to £10 county householders; but, under very peculiar circumstances, the Motion was rejected. His hon. Friend the Member for Bristol (Mr. H. Berkeley) asked the House once a year to give voters the ballot, but that also was refused, and a Motion for manhood suffrage would not be tolerated. His hon. Friend the Member for Leicester now asked for a Committee for the purpose of ascertaining how this great injury to the people could be removed, and he (Mr. Hadfield) thought the Government ought to undertake to deal with the question, and bring in a Bill which should be worthy of acceptation by the House. The present limited franchise could not be supported upon any ground of reason or justice. There were only about 420,000 Borough Electors and about 750,000 County Electors; from these, however, at least 25 per cent, would have to be deducted for double and treble entries. He himself had votes in four counties and the names were entered as often as there were votes registered, so that probably there were not more than 900,000 electors out of a population of 28,000,000. While the landed interest, the army, the navy, and the law were amply represented, the working men, amounting to 5,000,000 or 6,000,000, had not a single representative of their interests. What was the result? While the represented classes were relieving themselves of £9,000,000 in the shape of the income tax, they were by the decision of last night imposing for the next three years £4,964,000 upon the country in additional taxes on tea and sugar, and this burden would be mainly thrown upon the non-electors. The House took advantage of their absence, and imposed taxes to which they did not assent. In the borough of Sheffield there were 27,658 householders, while the total number who polled at the last election, though there were four candidates, was only 4,034. This was a question much considered by the people, and their anxiety to obtain the franchise ought to be encouraged in every way. Within the last twenty-five years they had improved in intelligence and independence, and they might now be considered emphatically as the strength of the country; and the House of Commons would do its duty better if it were mounted on the broad shoulders of a widely extended constituency, and its acts would command a more general respect. It had been said that the question was out of season. In the estimation of some people there never was a convenient season for the discussion of such matters. But in his opinion a more fitting time for the consideration of a rational measure of reform could not be found; and he earnestly implored the noble Lord at the head of the Government—now at the zenith of his fame—to introduce a great measure of reform which would give the people a proper station in Parliament and create for himself a name which would never be forgotten.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That a Select Committee be appointed, to consider and report upon the most practical means for lessening the existing inequalities in our Representative System, and for extending to the unenfranchised that share of political power to which they may be justly entitled.


said, the House did not contain an older or more consistent reformer than himself, and therefore he felt anxious to state the reasons why he could not support the Motion of the hon. Member for Leicester. The Motion did not indicate any specific plan for remedying the anomalies and inequalities which the hon. Member had so ably pointed out in his speech. Now he (Sir J. Strickland) considered it the duty of every Member who moved for a Committee, to state precisely and distinctly the object which he might have in view; for the appointment of a general and indefinite Committee like that now proposed only led to a waste of time; and therefore he thought that if the hon. Member should succeed in carrying his Motion, instead of promoting reform and a rational extension of the suffrage, he would delay the carrying of any such measure. He (Sir G. Strickland) was a reformer when it was odious and almost dangerous to utter his sentiments. He was an earnest supporter of the first Reform Bill, and an advocate for the destruction of rotten boroughs and the extension of the franchise. Down to the present time he had acted on the same principle. He had supported the Motion for the extension of the franchise to £10 householders in counties, and the various Motions which had been brought forward for the institution of the Ballot. But he could not sup- port the Motion then before the House. This might be an exception to the rule, but generally speaking he considered fishing Committees to be Committees for finding brains for the persons who moved for them—and thought it would have been much better if some specific measure had been introduced by the hon. Member. He had no fear of a wide extension of the suffrage to the people, because he believed them on the whole to be the best educated, the most intelligent, the most enlightened, people in the world, and better deserving of freedom than the people of any other nation. However widely freedom and liberty might be extended to them they would make good use of it, and therefore he was of opinion that no person could be wrong in bringing forward a clear, specific, and intelligible Motion for a gradual and wide extension of the suffrage. But that object he was quite convinced could not be accomplished by the Motion then before the House.


said, the debate had been chiefly remarkable for the discrepancies between the three hon. Gentlemen who had addressed the House in favour of the Motion. The first, the hon. Gentleman who had moved it, had criticised very freely the specific proposal of the Bill of the noble Lord the Member for the City of London; the second regretted that the constituency, limited as it was, only very partially availed itself of the privilege of voting; while the third, a veteran and thick-and-thin reformer, opposed the Motion altogether on the ground of its vagueness, coupled with the remark that fishing committees were only schemes for finding brains for their movers. It was edifying also to witness the immense excitement and enthusiastic appearance of the benches opposite whilst being addressed by chosen instruments—by the most practical and most influential and weighty Members—in favour of a scheme which was to unite and conciliate all opinions, and enable reformers to act as an united party. The House had just witnessed a specimen of the manner in which that party was prepared to act; and it was very clear that this attack upon the institutions of the country was predestined to be a failure. The hon. Member for Leicester had been blamed for not bringing forward a specific plan; but he (Mr. Stafford) thought the hon. Gentleman had done quite right in moving for a Committee, because if the House should agree to a Committee there could not be a better opportunity than the present for appointing it, and the hon. Member would be lucky if he should have the opportunity of naming some hon. Gentlemen whose recent conduct entitled them to be nominated Members of the Committee, or even to form the whole of it. Of course the Members who served on it ought to be men of impartial minds, who would keep their judgment in equilibrium, without feeling a bias either one way or the other; and he could point out to the hon. Member for Leicester several hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who would answer that description, and who would therefore make capital Members of his Committee—if he got it. When the House decided the other evening on the specific plan of reform presented to them by the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Locke King), fifteen Gentlemen who were Members of the Government were absent from the division. These hon. Members had their minds in a nicely balanced state; their minds were precisely and accurately balanced, between their past professions and their present places. Of course, if the Committee were appointed it would have power to send for persons, papers, and records; and he presumed that the records for which the Members sent would be their own speeches, the papers would be their election addresses, and the persons would be the constituents who had been simple enough to believe their professions. But hon. Members opposite, in bringing forward this plan, must consider the ultimate result. In the case of the Motion of the hon. Member for Surrey, which was for the extension of the franchise, the instantaneous result was, that several large towns were, on that occasion, placed in Schedule B, and had only one representative left to vote on a great constitutional question. He found, for instance, that the constituencies of Leeds and Forfarshire, of Lewes and Aylesbury, of Newport and St. Ives, of Gloucester, of Middlesex, of Marylebone, of Wolverhampton, and of Liskeard, and of the borough of Ennis, were all placed in Schedule B on that occasion. This style of proceeding should cause hon. Members opposite to pause before they brought forward Motions of this description. He would ask the hon. Member for Leicester whether it was his intention to divide upon his Motion. [Sir J. WALMSLEY, Certainly.] Then he (Mr. Stafford) would suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he would place some of his Friends in a very awkward position, and might probably disfranchise some of the constituencies which they now represented. The hon. Member for Leicester was a comparatively young reformer, and veteran reformers knew much better how to deal with matters of this kind, for they were acquainted with circumstances which, doubtless, were not within the knowledge of the hon. and innocent Member for Sheffield (Mr. Hadfield). When the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Locke King) recently proposed an extension of the franchise, the noble Member for Portsmouth (Viscount Monck) had been seen nimbly running about the House, exercising his plastic powers and winning manners in obtaining support for Her Majesty's Government in opposition to the Motion; but on that occasion several Members of the Administration were absent. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Control was listening to a debate on Indian affairs in the other House of Parliament. Where was the Attorney General for England, who had recently made such great promises to his constituents, on that occasion? He was absent; and the Attorney General for Ireland, on the principle of justice for Ireland, was absent also. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was engaged in very important business out of the House; and Marylebone, Wolverhampton, and Middlesex, were represented on the division by only one Member each. He should like to know upon what occasions, and to what extent, might Members of the Cabinet and of the Government refuse their support to the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston), who seemed, on the Motion of the hon. Member for East Surrey, to have had only a majority of one, comparing the Members of his Cabinet who voted with those who stayed away? It would be well, when subjects like this were discussed, if allusion were made more frequently, not to the conduct of the constituents, but to the conduct of the representatives. If reformers thus neglected or forgot their pledges—if the reins of Government were so lightly held as to permit so large a discretion to Members of the Government upon questions of such importance as a change in the franchise—might it not be expected that in a few weeks the Government would be divided against itself, and that the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) would be left to go into the lobby leaning on the arm of his recent eulogist, the hon. Member for Essex (Sir J. Tyrell)? It would be satisfactory to learn from some of the hon. Gentlemen opposite, when they expected to carry on the broad shoulders of the people their measures of reform, and how long they would be content to support a Government which was scarcely able to resist successfully, without the aid of its opponents, such propositions as that now before the House?


said, it was not his province to account for the absence of those Members of the Government (to whom the hon. Member for Northamptonshire had referred) from the division the other evening, but he must say, he thought they had fully done their duty last night by assisting to place hon. Gentlemen opposite in a minority. He rose, however, for the purpose of saying, that it was not in his power to support the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Leicester. Nothing would afford him greater pleasure than to vote with that hon. Gentleman, if he did not think that he would thereby rather damage than advance the cause of reform. He (Mr. Duncombe) regretted most deeply the opposition which was offered the other evening by his noble Friend at the head of the Government to the Motion of the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Locke King). He regarded that opposition as ill-timed, ill-advised, and most ungracious towards those who gave the noble Lord's Administration a generous and independent support; but if the noble Lord were to adopt the same course to-night in resisting the Motion of the hon. Member for Leicester, he (Mr. Duncombe) would think he was equally right as he was wrong on the former occasion. Although he had heard the speech of the hon. Member for Leicester, he could not, for the life of him, understand what that hon. Gentleman expected from a Committee. Supposing the House to assent to the Motion, he presumed the Committee would be composed of hon. Gentlemen from both sides of the House. The hon. Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. Stafford) would probably be placed on the Committee, and, from what he had said to-night, would, no doubt, afford them material assistance. The first question that would arise would, probably, be whether the Committee was appointed to inquire into the inequalities of the representative system in England and Wales, Scotland, or Ireland—for those countries were governed by three Reform Acts, which established different franchises. His hon. Friend (Sir J. Walmsley) would probably say, "Well, I never thought of that." Some Member of the Committee might ask, "Is reform necessary at all?" because his hon. Friend (Sir J. Walmsley) proposed, by his Motion, to extend "to the unenfranchised that share of political power to which they may be justly entitled." Why, what has become of the great principle of Reformers, that representation should be concurrent with taxation? Why not say the parties who "are" entitled, not who "may be" entitled? He (Mr. Duncombe) did not like such mawkish language. What were the practical means of carrying out the scheme of the hon. Member for Leicester? What were the practical means of lessening the existing inequalities in our representative system! The hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Locke King) proposed the other night a practical means of getting rid of that great blot of the Reform Bill the Chandos clause—namely, by moving for leave to introduce a Bill for equalizing the franchise in the boroughs and counties. Some Reformers, and among others the late Mr. Hume, made a great mistake in voting for that clause. That hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hume) supported it because he believed the admission to the franchise of £50 tenants-at-will would ultimately facilitate the adoption of the ballot. The conduct of Mr. Hume showed, however, the danger of voting for evil that good may come, for now they could not get rid of the Chandos clause, and they were about as far from obtaining the ballot as ever. The ballot had been made an open question. But what was an open question, after all? It was a contrivance for the purpose of deluding constituents without advancing the cause. The result was, that although the hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. H. Berkeley) had carried his Motion in favour of the ballot by frequent majorities, they were not a whit nearer the ballot than when the Reform Bill passed. He said, that a great principle was involved in this question of the representation, and he was not prepared to insult, in their just demands, the 4,500,000 persons of the working classes, by referring their claims to a Committee upstairs, as if it was a Railway Bill, or a Cemetery Bill, or a Gas Bill. No—the question was too large not to be discussed in the light of day, and the more it was so discussed the greater would appear to be the title of the people to representation and enfranchisement.


Only one word. Only think of referring the British Constitution to a Select Committee. I am so tickled with the idea that I have nothing else to say.


said, there were considerable differences of opinion on this question, and he thought that a Select Committee was the readiest and fittest mode of bringing these differences to a settlement; and he believed they might approximate to such an agreement as might be acted on. The mode in which his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury had made his objection had greatly disappointed him—his plan would only serve to bring into collision opinions which were known to be hostile; but were they brought together in the quiet discussion of a Select Committee, they might possibly approximate, as they had actually done in the great Education Question, and devise some practical course of action. It could scarcely be denied that our representative system was characterized by egregious inequalities. Representative institutions, from their very nature, required frequent alteration and development, and a representative Government must necessarily extend and adjust the franchise, to meet the growing requirements of the people. Some places, which were opulent and populous, fell into poverty and decay, and others, from small beginnings, became great and influential. As education spread, too, a greater number of persons could be admitted with safety within the pale of the constitution. Unless changes of this kind were made, what happened? Imperfect representation, which was the parent of agitation. In a representative Government the people must either be ruled by an adjustment from time to time of the representative system, or they must be ruled in the very worst way, by successive yieldings to external agitation. Many of the great questions of modern times had been carried by agitation; for example, the abolition of the slave trade, the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, Roman Catholic Emancipation, the Reform Act of 1832; and, lastly, the repeal of the Corn Laws, and the establishment of free trade. But these agitations involved a great expenditure of time and money; and the result of pursuing such a course was, that the people lost confidence in those in whom it was desirable they should have the greatest con- fidence.Occasion was given for the rise of demagogues; and the people were initiated in the arts and tricks of faction. It had been objected, that with regard to reform of the representation, the people were in a state of apathy. Now, was this certainly the case? He believed that, although a desire for representative reform had not been demonstrated by monster meetings, there was a strong, deep, pervading feeling in favour of the desirableness and necessity for a change. He should support the Motion.


said, that one objection which is often made to those who proposed a Committee, certainly could be made to the proposal of his hon. Friend. It was often objected to those who propose a Committee, that when they get their wish they were unable to bring the Committee to any concurrent opinion on the subject which they desire to submit to it; but if they were to judge from the success of his hon. Friend in bringing the House to an almost unanimous opinion on the Motion he had made, that objection certainly could not be raised on the present occasion, for he had succeeded in ranging in wonderful unanimity of opinion on the same side those who were for a comprehensive reform, those who were for gradual reform, or what was called bit-by-bit and step-by-step reform, and those who were opposed to reform in the abstract. He, therefore, submitted to his hon. Friend that he should be content with that achievement, and not endeavour to produce a similar concurrence of opinion among the Members of any Committee that might be appointed in pursuance of his Motion. He was content to rest upon the argument, which he thought unanswerable, that had been urged against the proposal of this Committee—that the matter was of too great importance, and one of too wide a range, and affecting too many material interests to be thrown loose upon the chance decision of a Committee. It was one which those who brought it under the consideration of Parliament were bound to embody in the shape of some distinct proposal for which they are responsible. Therefore, without stating the particular objections which he felt to many of the abstract propositions of his hon. Friend—without inquiring whether his proposal might be founded on a right view of the British Constitution—without inquiring how far they might assume that they sat there as delegates from particular places rather than as representatives of the people at large—without inquiring whether his principles, if carried to their greatest extent, would or would not lead them to the arrangement of electoral districts—without, in short, stating the different objections which he might feel to much that had been said, he thought the House would see that the general concurrence of opinion was against the Motion of his hon. Friend. Whether he would think it right to press his proposal to a division or not would depend on his own discretion, but he thought the House would be of opinion that a Committee was not a convenient mode of discussing a question of that kind, and was not the method which should be followed by any person who wished to introduce changes into the representative system of this country.


said, the Government were no doubt obliged to the hon. Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. Stafford) for the very kind counsel which he had given them. He had a recommendation to give in return. He would advise the hon. Gentleman to offer himself as a witness before this Committee, should it be appointed, as no doubt he would be able to give particular information on the subject and especially upon Government patronage.


observed, that there was no precedent for a Committee of Inquiry on this question, and hoped that his hon. Friend would not press his Motion to a division.


reminded the House that the hon. Member had brought in a Bill on the subject in the last Session, and the House was counted out. He hoped he would take an early opportunity of bringing in that Bill again, and that it would meet with a better reception, seeing that they were so near a dissolution.


said, the noble Lord at the head of the Government had referred to his having spoken of electoral districts. Now, he carefully avoided alluding to any specific change. He was not at all disappointed at the objections which had been taken to the Committee. If he had brought forward a Bill, it would have been equally objectionable. He brought forward a Bill on a previous occasion, and it was not listened to: there was not a House. Whether it was flog high or flog low, it was precisely the same thing. When the people were peaceable they could get neither Bill nor Committee. But, as soon as the people demanded it with a loud voice, then they might possibly get a Bill. The hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe) had asked him whether he would deal with England, Scotland, or Ireland. He answered, that he would place them on a footing of equality. The hon. Member had spoken of his insulting four millions of people. He begged to say that he offered no insult to them; his anxiety—and the hon. Member knew it—was to give to all who were entitled to it the franchise equally with himself. He would not yield even to the hon. Member in his desire to do what was just towards the people; but, if the hon. Gentleman were really in earnest, why did he not bring forward a measure himself?

Question put—

The House divided:—Ayes 73; Noes 190: Majority 117.