MR. LOCKE KING
said, he rose to move for leave to bring in a Bill to extend the Franchise in counties in England and Wales, and to improve the representation of the people in respect of such Franchise. When he last brought forward this important question for consideration, his Motion for leave to bring in a Bill was, in a full House, rejected by a majority of only thirteen. But for the chivalrous assistance received by the noble Lord then at the head of the Government, from those hon. Gentlemen who now formed and supported the present Government, that Bill, instead of having been rejected, would have been carried by a considerable majority; for the noble Lord could only muster, of his own immediate followers, thirty-one supporters, and those, too, hon. Members more immediately connected with the Government. Soon afterwards, the noble Lord having received another Parliamentary defeat—for he (Mr. Locke King) was of opinion that the rejection of his Bill by a majority of only thirteen was tantamount to a defeat—made an appeal to the country. He did not get up as a cry the question of Parliamentary Reform, but he adopted a cry which was calculated to rouse the British lion, and talked of an insult offered to the British flag. The country, however, after the excitement of a few days, no longer dwelt upon that cry, forgot the Chinese question and Commissioner Yeh, and began to think of Parliamentary Reform. He might say that this very Motion, which he had only 1817 submitted a few weeks before to the House, met with general support. He did not bring the question before the House in the last Session, for the noble Lord then at the head of the Government took the wind out of his sails by promising, in an unguarded moment, to introduce a measure of Reform in Parliament. The noble Lord, with much dexterity, contrived to convert his promise into an understanding that no question of Parliamentary Reform should be brought on until the following Session, and consequently he (Mr. Locke King) did not bring on his Motion. He had had some experience of Ministerial promises which were made in one Session in order to stave off to another disagreeable questions, and he believed that little faith was to be placed in promises made for a subsequent Session. If they looked hack to the history of the progress of this question of the county franchise, if would be found to be nothing more than a series of broken promises. He had not brought forward this question in any spirit of hostility to the present Government, for he had brought it before the House every year, except during the war, and it had, in fact, become an annual Motion. The objections which were generally urged against it, resolved themselves into a very small compass. One was, that it was not desirable to proceed with it, inasmuch as a general measure of Parliamentary Reform was about to be introduced; but after the experience of the past, that, he thought, was an objection which was entitled to no great weight. Another objection which was urged against it was, that the present was not the time to deal with the subject to which it related; but that was the stereotyped argument in favour of delay in dealing with every description of question. It was also said that it was extremely inexpedient to proceed by what was termed piecemeal measures of Parliamentary Reform; but, in the present state of the feeling of the House and the country, the only way in which the question of reform could be dealt with was by bringing forward small, honest, and just measures of the kind he proposed for their adoption. Indeed, he preferred small, honest, and just measures to a large one, which often afforded scope for the introduction of dishonest provisions. He would not go into the details of the Bill he proposed; the House must be quite familiar with its plan, and he would not weary them with statistics, which he bad on many former occasions laid before them, but would only say 1818 that no one had ever assailed the class he sought to enfranchise. The existing state of the franchise in counties was one of the greatest anomalies in the country; for, whilst one individual living in a town had the right of voting for a representative in Parliament, another individual who resided, it might be in an adjoining town, in a house better in all respects, and paying a higher rent and a larger amount of taxation, was not allowed to have any share whatever in the representation. On a former occasion, when he had brought the measure before the House, the right hon. Member for Carlisle (Sir J. Graham) suggested that he should take care to provide against the creation of faggot voters. That recommendation of the right hon. Gentleman he was willing to adopt, and he proposed that a part of the qualification which was to give a vote of £10 might be a dwelling-house of the annual value of £5. Before sitting down, he could not help adverting to a circumstance of rather a curious kind which took place previous to the last election. A rumour had prevailed that the late Government intended to support the introduction of his (Mr. Locke King's) Bill, and that rumour was afterwards confirmed by a noble Lord a Member of the Cabinet, who said that it had been agreed by the Government to support the Bill, in order that in Committee such modifications might be introduced as would render it a judicious extension of the county franchise; but he added that afterwards it was found the Bill had not been draughted in such a shape as to render that possible, and therefore it was decided that it would only have been a waste of time to allow a Bill to be read a second time which was found to be such a measure as the Government could not support. Now, this statement was an entire fiction; for there was no Bill before the House, the Motion only being for leave to bring one in. He trusted he should receive some explanation of the mistake, and he hoped the present Government would not fall into the same error as the last, for they must recollect that the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton, however well disposed to assist them upon this question, could not give them the same support as they had been able to give to the noble Lord when he was in office. The hon. Member concluded by moving for leave to introduce a Bill to extend the Franchise in counties in England and Wales, and to improve the representation of the people in respect of such Franchise.
§ MR. BYNG
said, he would give his reasons for seconding the Motion in three sentences. He did so, first, because he was anxious that a sound, and, as he ventured to think it would be, a comprehensive measure of Reform should be passed. Next, because he ventured to think that by this measure they would practically enfranchise many towns and considerable villages which were now unrepresented. And, thirdly, because he believed that by so doing, and by enlarging the basis and area of their representation, they would comprise within its scope a large class of the community, intelligent, honest, and well calculated to enjoy the privilege of voting for the return of Members to Parliament.
Motion made and Question proposed,—
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to extend the Franchise in Counties in England and Wales, and to improve the Representation of the People in respect of such Franchise.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Sir, I have no objection to urge against the purpose of the Bill which the Hon. Gentleman proposes to introduce. I have no objection to extend the franchise at present enjoyed by the counties; and I think that an extension of that franchise may improve the exercise of it. I rise with no prejudice whatever to the general purpose of the Motion of the hon. Gentleman; but, Sir, before acceding to his request to bring in a Bill, which, in the new version of his Motion, is to extend the franchise in counties in England and Wales, and improve the representation of the people in respect of such franchise, I may say that there are several considerations which induce me to fear that the introduction of this measure will be a source of embarrassment to those who seriously intend and wish to improve the franchise. The Hon. Gentleman, in describing the Bill which he now asks leave to bring in, says it is a measure "small, honest, and just," the tendency of which would be to remove the greatest anomalies. Now, how stands the general question of the representation at the present moment in England? I speak from memory—and I may be erroneous in some slight details; but I am confident in the general results— you have a certain number of members returned to Parliament for those counties with whose franchise the hon. Gentleman only deals. You have, I think, 150 or 160 county Members, returned for Eng- 1820 land and Wales, and they are returned to Parliament by something more than half-a million of electors. You have, on the other hand, about 330 borough Members who are returned to Parliament by a little more than 400,000 electors. Well, Sir, those who are Parliamentary Reformers, and who bring to the great question of the re-construction of our representation an impartial spirit, must, at the first blush, be rather struck with the impression that the, balance between the county representation and the borough representation was not particularly exact and just, and it would seem somewhat strange that more than half a million of electors under our present scheme should only return 150 or 160 Members of Parliament, whilst 400,000 other electors should return 330. One might almost be disposed to say that this would figure amongst the greatest anomalies to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. But what is the remedy which he offers to the House, and which he offers to us, mind you, because he despairs of any great and comprehensive measure of Parliamentary Reform being introduced, and says that we can only take refuge in these "small, honest, and just" measures? The measure of the hon. Gentleman, as I collect it from his brief but lucid narrative, is this:—"There being a great inequality at present between the number of Members who are returned by the half million of electors of counties compared with the number of members returned by the 400,000 constituents of the boroughs, I will introduce a Bill which shall aggravate that anomaly. I will introduce a Bill which must add, and, perhaps, add greatly, to the number of electors who return the county Members; but, as I despair of any further change, I would leave the arrangement by which the small number of electors return the large number of Members untouched and uncriticised." This, then, is the course by which he proposes to remove the anomalies that are recognised in our representative system, and, to use his own language, improve the franchise of the country. Now, I think the House ought well to consider this question. If we agree to the Motion of the hon. Gentleman on the grounds upon which he has placed it, namely, that any hope of general improvement is impossible, and that, therefore, we ought to agree with his "just and small and honest" measure, we shall land ourselves in this position—that we shall have a very small number of Members returned to this House 1821 by a very large constituency, and a very large number of Members returned to this House by a very small constituency. Now I draw from a statement which is not speculative, which is not hypothetical, but depends upon facts which arc lying upon the table of this House, and upon arguments which are founded upon returns moved for by the hon. Member for Surrey himself, what appears to be the irresistible inference, that if you make up your minds to deal with the question of the franchise in this country, you cannot deal with it partially, and that whatever may be the objections against what are called large and comprehensive measures, I feel persuaded that when you are dealing with the representation of a great people, it is impossible by those "small, honest, and just" measures to perpetrate anything but what will be large in injustice, and vast in impolicy. I cannot understand how the hon. Gentleman could ever have brought his mind to take the position which he has done on this subject, for whilst he seeks for a great extension of the suffrage in that class who already possess the enjoyment of the franchise to a greater degree than the rest of the country, he introduces his Motion with the simultaneous proposition that any further change is almost to be despaired of. Is the House prepared, then, for the state of things which the hon. Gentleman contemplates, and which the passing of his measure would bring about? At this moment, in the counties—to which the hon. Gentleman's Motion alone refers—every Member of Parliament represents 3,300 electors; whereas, in the boroughs, every Member of Parliament represents 1,280 electors. Why, Sir, when I hear talk of great anomalies, it appears to me that this is a state of affairs which is also somewhat anomalous. But what is the Motion of the hon. Gentleman? It is, as I said before, to aggravate this anomaly. It is, if passed, that the Members of Parliament for counties shall represent a much greater number of electors than at present, and that a Member who represents a borough constituency shall represent much less. I do not confound this important point with any question of what is called the agricultural interest or the urban interest. Unquestionably there are boroughs whose constituencies are entirely agricultural, and there are counties where the constituencies are manufacturing and commercial. That is altogether another question. The question as to a fair and equitable ba- 1822 lance of those interests is entirely removed We have a hard arithmetical proposition to consider at present—why it is that 500,000 men should at the present moment return only 160 Members to Parliament, and 400,000 men return 330. And when a measure for Parliamentary Reform, which we are told is "small, and honest, and just," and the only one we can obtain, is brought forward to aggravate all those circumstances, and increase the disproportion that at present exists, I ask, is the House really prepared to sanction such a proceeding? If there be on the part of the House—what I cannot doubt there is—a sincere desire for a wise and well-considered settlement of this long-mooted and long-controverter question as to the due and fair representation of the people in this House, I cannot conceive how they could take a Motion more retrograde than that which the hon. Gentleman has brought before us to-night. Sir, I am not opposed to the extension of the franchise in counties. I think there are classes of persons in counties that might be brought to exercise the franchise with advantage to the State, and with perfect security to all those great institutions which I trust will always be honoured and respected and cherished in this House; but it is impossible any longer, with the information that we have on this subject, to resist the conviction, that if you deal with the county franchise, you must deal also with the franchises that are enjoyed by the towns; and the great Reformer who comes forward and tells us, "I despair of a general measure that will on the whole secure adequate justice, therefore I will bring forward a little measure which on the face of it must perpetrate great injustice," is not, in my opinion, with great deference, one who proposes a course which will conduce to the advantage of the public interest, or achieve and accomplish those results which I think all sober-minded men who have duly considered this subject wish to realise. Sir, I cannot make that appeal to the hon. Gentleman, which was made by the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton on a former occasion, as I have not that claim upon the confidence of the hon. Gentleman which the noble Lord has the honour to possess. I cannot appeal to the intentions of the present Government with any hope that he will be influenced by my statement. But I am bound to say, as an indication of our present intentions, and in the cause of truth, that the fair and sufficient representation of the people in the Commons 1823 House of Parliament is a question which will undergo and command our deep and sincere attention; but I cannot for one moment hold out the hope to the hon. Gentleman that it will be my duty ever to propose to this House a scheme conceived in the spirit of the measure which he now introduces to our notice, telling us at the same time that probably it is the only measure we shall ever be able to obtain. That, I think, would be but a partial settlement of the question, one which would lead to great jealousy, to great public inconvenience, and I cannot doubt to protracted agitation, perhaps, to a conclusion which would be little satisfactory to the nation. The Bill of the hon. Gentleman, which he now asks leave to introduce, may, as far as it goes, be what he calls a just measure; but if it be, as he announces, an isolated measure, it appears to me one that will aggravate the injustice, of which experience is now said to be felt. I cannot understand upon what principle the hon. Gentleman can vindicate a measure which, under the circumstances to which I have referred, would deal only with the franchise of the country, and not subject to the same revision and consideration the franchise enjoyed by the constituencies in towns. It appears to Her Majesty's Government and myself that this question of the fair and adequate representation of the people in the House of Commons is one which must be considered as a whole; that it is one, no doubt, which must be approached in a calm and temperate spirit, in a mood of mind very different from that which in times long past accompanied the agitated discussions to which this subject gave rise in this House. Still I cannot doubt that, with the knowledge which we possess, and with the desire among all classes and in all parts of this country to come to a safe and practical solution of the questions which have been brought forward within recent years with reference to this subject —I say I cannot doubt that if Parliament approaches this great subject in a mood of mind not unworthy of it, it would be possible to produce a measure which might give satisfaction to all who consider the subject divested of passion, and with the anxious and sincere desire to add to the strength of the constitutional institutions of the country; but I cannot believe that we are dealing worthily with the question if we permit a Bill such as the hon. Gentleman proposes, and proposes almost in the light of a final measure ("No!") to be brought forward. Well, 1824 then, as a substitute for a final measure. I ask the House, was not the tone of the hon. Gentleman this—"I bring forward this measure because I despair of any larger one being introduced—because there is a general feeling that no other alteration will take place; and therefore I propose this to your notice?" Propose what? That which under the circumstances he himself describes would be a most unjust measure, and if the circumstances to which he refers are not well founded—if there be a fair prospect of dealing with the question generally and largely — then I say the hon. Gentleman is not justified in bringing forward this Motion. I will not make an appeal to him to relinquish his present purpose in consequence of the intentions of Her Majesty's Government— I have no claim upon him to do that— but, as representing the Government, who are seriously desirous of considering the question on all its merits, and if possible, of bringing forward a measure for the consideration of Parliament which shall be worthy of their acceptance, I am bound to say that, so far as I am concerned, I cannot sanction the introduction of any measure like that of the hon. Gentleman, which, if carried, would create a great injustice, and be a great embarrassment to our future legislation. On these grounds, therefore — because, if the measure be carried, it will aggravate an anomaly that already exists; because it will give to that portion of the constituency which is already imperfectly represented in this House, with reference to the other portion, an increase of electors with a relative diminution of representatives; and because it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to give their consideration to the whole question of the representation of the people in Parliament—an assurance which I do not wish at all should influence the course of the hon. Gentleman—I shall feel it to be my duty, whilst in no way differing from the hon. Gentleman in the general purport of his Motion, not at all opposed to the extension of the franchise in counties, and believing that extension, wisely and well-considered, would tend to the improvement of the representation of the counties, but believing also that the question of county representation cannot be effectively and beneficially dealt with unless we take into our consideration also the representation of other parts of Her Majesty's dominions— then I say that, under these circumstances, I shall feel it to be my duty to move as an Amendment the Previous Question.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
The right hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House hardly denies that the proposition of my hon. Friend (Mr. Locke King) is a fair one. He does not deny that the franchise in counties might be usefully extended; and he does not deny that those persons with a £10 occupation are a respectable class, and worthy to enjoy the franchise; nor does he give any good reason against the introduction of the measure on grounds of general policy. But the right hon. Gentleman goes off upon a distinction which he is very fond of making, but which I have always thought is one of a very unsubstantial and untenable character—namely, that the counties have a certain number of electors and of Members, and that the boroughs have a certain other number of electors and also of Members. I believe the right hon. Gentleman is entirely mistaken in making any such sharp distinctions as he draws between the counties and the boroughs; because, in the first place, there are some counties which are so much inhabited by persons engaged in trade and commerce that they constitute very much a town population—such, for example, as the metropolitan counties and Lancashire; while, on the other hand, there are many municipal boroughs situated in agricultural districts which are little else than representatives of the agricultural interest. Therefore, the distinction drawn by the right hon. Gentleman was not one founded in actual fact. I remember that Mr. Canning, speaking of the differences in the Cabinet to which he belonged, said the line that separated the two parties was not a straight, but a serpentine line. I may say also that the line by which the right hon. Gentleman separates the counties from the boroughs is not a straight, but a serpentine line. I must say that I dislike those extremely sharp and microscopic distinctions between the various classes which exist in some other countries, and I think it is a great advantage to this country that they do not exist among us. If the right hon. Gentleman's theory was well founded, he would prove that we had given an immense advantage to the counties and the agricultural interest by the Reform Bill; but it was not so. At that time there were eighty representatives of English counties and twelve of Welsh counties. We increased the number to 150, while we reduced in a similar proportion the number of borough Members. But did we thereby 1826 intend to give an advantage to the agricultural interest? Far from it. The general purport of the Bill was to increase the influence of the large towns—such as Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds—not to give any preponderance to them, but to give them representatives in Parliament, and place the trading and commercial classes on an equality with the agricultural interests. If the theory of the right hon. Gentleman was right, it would have a precisely opposite and different effect; but I will say to the right hon. Gentleman, that so far as the practical ratiocination and effect of his theory is concerned, he will find that the effects it produced are diametrically opposed to his expectations. With respect to the number of electors, the right hon. Gentleman says there are 500,000 electors who return only 150 Members; but, surely, if you wore to add to the number of electors, you would not diminish, but give greater weight to the counties. If their Members are sent to represent a greater number of electors than before, instead of this being any unfairness to them, it would increase their influence in this House. The right hon. Gentleman also made use of an argument to which, if it had been employed by my noble Friend the Member for Tiverton, I might have been disposed to listen. He said we should take up this question of Reform as a whole. I certainly cannot find fault with that, argument in itself, because it is one I have used myself. Seven years ago I certainly thought that Reform should be considered as a whole, and that, when it was resolved to make a change in the Reform Act, the provisions thought to be necessary should be embodied in one comprehensive Bill. But we have had some experience during the last few years. We have bad Bills introduced, and I have myself had the honour of introducing two of them. Now, if we found that there was some inconvenience from the heat and violence that existed in this country at the time of the Reform Bill, there was at least this effect produced, that the great majority of the country was bent on one measure. They cried for the Bill, and the whole Bill—the majority of the country being of one mind; and, therefore, both this and the other House of Parliament consented to pass the Bill. But I doubt very much whether, with the calm, dispassionate, and quiet consideration which it is now proposed to give to the subject of Reform, there is such a chance as we had 1827 in 1831 of carrying any large measure of Reform; because, in proportion to the calm and dispassionate temper of the people, all the private interests rise in their strength to influence and affect it. There is, perhaps, one part of the Bill that is introduced very obnoxious to some fifty hon. Gentlemen of this House, who think themselves affected by it. There is another part of the Bill that strikes against the views and opinions of 100 other hon. Gentlemen. These club their objections together, and even those most anxious for Reform find parts of the Bill that are so objectionable and obnoxious to them, and either resolve to oppose it altogether or follow such a course as makes it easy for those opposed to Reform to obstruct its progress. I will give an instance of this. In the last Reform Bill which I introduced, I proposed a considerable disfranchisement of small boroughs, and to a certain extent to give representation to minorities; but, though that Bill made a very extensive change, the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) fixed on that part of it relating to minorities as one very obnoxious to him, and denounced it as a trick. What I thought a very fair proposition, the hon. Member for Birmingham seemed to regard as an artifice, and this may be taken as a sample of the kind of objections to which any Bill that may be introduced is liable. Now, if this be so, I will not say that I despair of a large measure of reform; but I will ask if there is not such a feeling of difficulty with regard to a largo and comprehensive measure as to make it wise in us to adopt the proposition of my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey—a proposition to which in itself but few persons will be found to object. The effect of his Bill will be to add a large number of persons of respectability and character to the constituencies of the counties; and surely it will not be disputed that by adding to the electoral body those respectable persons, and thereby extending the basis of our representation, we shall increase the confidence of the country in this House, which is certainly one of the great objects to be promoted by any Reform Bill that may be introduced. The right hon. Gentleman speaks with very natural doubt and hesitation of the particular measure which he himself expects to introduce in the name of the Government. I must repeat, on that head, that I have a deep and strong impression on this subject, arising from what was declared by the present 1828 Prime Minister when be accepted office, he said he must have time to consider this question—that it had been kept so long dangling before Parliament, that he was fairly entitled to have time fully to consider it; but beyond this he did not go. He took care to say, with that manliness that belongs to him, that if he were to come forward next Session and state that he had no Bill of Reform, that he had no scheme to improve the representation of the people, he had said nothing that could expose him to the taunt of having violated any promise or broken any pledge. Seeing that is the case—seeing the inherent difficulties of the subject in its various attitudes and phases—seeing the difficulties that a Ministry with a largo majority in this House must encounter in such an attempt, and considering that we have a Ministry whose majority is very doubtful — looking to the apathy of the Government and the extreme lukewarmness of the Prime Minister, I must say that my doubts very much exceed my hopes on this subject. For my part, I think the right course will be at once to accept the Bill of my hon. Friend, and not listen to the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman that we should vote for the Previous Question. We should remember that "a bird in the band is worth two in the bush," and in that spirit support the Motion of the hon. Member for Surrey.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, he should not have risen at all on this occasion were it not to vindicate a noble Friend of bis (Earl Granville) from a charge of insincerity made against him by the hon. Member for Surrey (Mr. Locke King). That hon. Gentleman asserted that Earl Granville stated that it was the intention of the late Government to have moved certain alterations in the Bill of the hon. Member for Surrey in Committee, and that this could not be a correct statement, because, in point of fact, until the Bill came into the House, they did not see it, and could not have intended to alter it. It was true, however, that the members of the late Government intended to have supported the introduction of the Bill, and afterwards to move certain Amendments in Committee; and it was not till they came down to the House that they found that that course was not open to them, and that they must oppose the Bill. It was quite true that the House refused leave to bring in the Bill, but the hon. Member for East Surrey had in the previous Session laid that measure upon the 1829 table of the House; and, as they found from his speech that he intended the Bill to be exactly the same as that of last year, they had just the same opportunity of considering the Amendments they would introduce as they would have had if the measure had been actually brought in. It was unnecessary among those who knew Earl Granville to vindicate that nobleman's truthfulness. But at the sumo time he had thought it necessary to state the facts he had already mentioned, which he thought would satisfy the House that the late Government in point of fact had the Bill before them, and that that being so, it was their duty to examine the Bill and sec if it was possible to make those Amendments which they intended to introduce. On the present occasion he thought they were not exactly in the same position. His hon. Friend now brought in a Bill under a different title, and the contents of which would not be precisely the same as the previous one. They were therefore, he conceived, perfectly at liberty to act in the same way as they intended, under similar circumstances, to have acted on a former occasion; and he for one, therefore, should certainly vote now for leave to introduce the Bill. For his own part, he did not think that either the course of reforming Parliament by a general measure or of improving the representation by a series of smaller ones, was absolutely right or wrong. There was much to be said for both courses, and the main thing to be looked at was the times and circumstances under which such measures were brought in. He must confess, however, that if they had any certain and immediate prospect of a general measure of Reform being brought before the House by a Government in whom he reposed confidence, he should not be disposed to vote for these smaller Bills introduced by individual Members, because he thought there were many advantages in viewing the question of Reform as one great whole, and that the question was better in the hands of the Government than in those of individuals. But with his noble Friend (Lord J. Russell) he must say that, looking particularly at the general composition and feelings of the present Government, and to the vague and uncertain nature of the promises which they had made upon this subject, he entertained no very confident expectation that a measure would be proposed to Parliament during the next Session which was at all likely to receive the support of the House and the 1830 country. For those reasons, he was unwilling to debar the House from the advantage, whatever it might be, of seeing the Bill which his hon. Friend (Mr. Locke King) now sought to introduce. The present Government also had, he thought, rather cut away the ground from under their own feet, and debarred themselves from giving any opposition to the introduction of such a Bill, for a few days ago they had consented that a measure reforming the representation, by abolishing the qualification of Members, should be brought in. They have not, therefore, shown any indisposition to allow other Reform measures of this kind to be laid on the table, and he thought they might with consistency have suffered this Bill to be introduced, reserving to themselves the right upon the second reading of taking any course they might think expedient.
§ MR. J. H. PHILIPPS
said, as the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had invoked the aid of arithmetic on this subject, he should like to ask those gentlemen who fulfilled the important office of taking the divisions of that House whether they could tell when any hon. Member was returned by a thousand or five hundred votes? He should also like to ask the House whether when a division ran close, the vote of any hon. Member who was returned by a constituency of 300 was not as good as that of any hon. Member who was returned by 5,000? Several returns had been made to the House showing the amount of representation as compared with population and property. One of these returns was moved for by the hon. Member for Stock-port, which showed a very remarkable result. It showed that, in round numbers, the county Members were returned by nearly 3,000 voters, and the borough Members by about 1,000 voters. A calculation which he (Mr. Philipps) had himself made showed that each county Member was retained by 2,978 voters, and each borough Member by 1,306 voters. The Bill of the hon. Member for Surrey (Mr. Locke King) did not refer to Scotland, and yet in Scotland the disproportion was less conspicuous, for there the county Members were returned by a smaller number of voters than the borough Members. In Bedfordshire, the county from which the family of the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) took its title, one county Member was returned by 2,138 voters, and one town Member by 439. He would next turn to the three largest coun- 1831 ties in England. In Devonshire one county Member was returned by 4,222 voters, and one town Member by 521; in Lincolnshire one county Member was returned by 5,125, and one town Member by 479. In Yorkshire the disproportion was very conspicuous; in the North Riding each county Member was returned by 6,052 voters, and each Member for the towns by 664, or in the proportion nearly of 10 to 1. But the West Riding was the most conspicuous of all, each county Member being returned by 18,000, and each Member for the boroughs by 1,354 voters. He was not prepared to deny that in some cases £10 householders would be a very valuable addition; but in other places they would entirely alter the character of the constituency. This was not a time to indulge in lucubrations about Parliamentary Reform; but he could not help expressing a wish that the franchise should be more connected with the payment of taxes than it was at present. He could not disguise from himself the fact that the action of constituencies had been to reduce the general taxation, and to encourage particular expenditure. A fortnights ago every hon. Member for those towns in which there was a Government dockyard supported a proposition, contrary to all the rules of political economy, for increasing the wages of dockyard artificers without reference to the laws of demand and supply. To be sure, one of the Members for Portsmouth stood up manfully against it, but he would appeal to the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Baring) whether his fidelity to the general interests of the country was not maintained at the expense of his own personal popularity in the borough. The action of constituencies had been lately rather in favour of what he should call giving the British hon. an airing; but, however valuable that animal might be, they might depend upon it that he did not go out without some expense, and that some of his escapades were more costly than they were worth. He, therefore, thought that in any scheme for the reform of the representation, the connection of taxation with representation ought not to be lost sight of. Though not opposed to the consideration of alterations in the franchise, he could not support the proposal of the hon. Member, believing that no plan which utterly disregarded the inequalities he had pointed out ought to receive the attention of the House.
§ MR. JOHN LOCKE
said, the real point had been lost sight of in the debate. There 1832 had been minute calculations as to the relative number of electors in counties and towns, but the question for the House to consider was whether or not the class of voters which the Bill proposed to enfranchise were a class of men who could be properly and justly entrusted with the franchise. He agreed, to a certain extent, with the noble Lord the Member for the City of London that it would be better to take these questions one by one, and thought that if parties were fit to be entrusted with the franchise they ought to be allowed to become members of the constituency. The difficulty which had arisen with respect to large measures of Reform was that none of them bad given satisfaction to any large majority of Members. One measure which was regarded by many of the most eminent Reformers as a sine quâ non in any extensive scheme of reform was the Ballot, and he believed that such a measure as that now before the House might be objected to on the ground that it was improper and impolitic to intrust so largo a body of men with the franchise unless they received the protection of the ballot. There was, indeed, an opinion prevailing very generally, that it would be much better to disfranchise instead of enfranchising unless the ballot were conceded. All those hon. Gentlemen who had addressed the House seemed to concur in the opinion that the £10 householders in counties were fit and proper persons to possess the franchise, and for his own part he would support the Motion of the hon. Member for East Surrey. It was the opinion of many persons that without the protection of the ballot disfranchisement would in many cases be better than enfranchisement. With respect to the question now before the House, he had no objection to the granting of the franchise to £10 householders in counties. The proposition seemed to have received the assent of almost every hon. Member. With regard to letting loose the British lion, he was glad that the British hon. had been let loose, and, he must say, that whenever let loose, he performed his part in a manner which almost invariably did honour to his country. And when they found that he had amongst his admirers at the same time the noble Lord the Member for London (Lord J. Russell,) and the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. M. Gibson) it might well be said that extremes met; and when the British hon. returned to his lair ha might retire in comfort and satisfaction.
§ MR. KNIGHTLEY
was understood to oppose the Motion, on the ground that the Bill which the hon. Gentleman asked leave to introduce would, in fact, cause a large addition to the influence of the town constituencies, as contradistinguished from the rural population. Even at present he thought that many rural districts were very inadequately represented, and that if any places should he deprived of representation it was the unimportant and nomination boroughs like Morpeth, Midhurst, &c.
§ MR. CLAY
said, the only argument he had heard against the measure was that it would increase the great anomaly which existed at present. Now he thought that it was one of the greatest recommendations of the Bill, because the more glaring the abuse, the more speedy became the remedy. He would do hon. Members for comities the justice to say that he did not believe they considered it a grievance to be elected by large constituencies, and in his opinion the larger the constituency which sent a man to Parliament, the greater the honour of his position and the respect which he obtained in that House. But when they had made this anomaly so glaring it must strike hon. Members on the other side that there was a ready way of remedying it. They might ask themselves in what way it was to he done, and they might find a solution in the suggestion made by an hon. Member opposite, that the first thing to do was to destroy, as far as their Parliamentary life was concerned, a number of small boroughs, and redistribute the seats. He agreed with his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Locke) that this was not the chief point of discussion; but the chief point of discussion was simply this—Did the Bill of the hon. Gentleman propose to admit into the franchise a class every way deserving it? He thought it did so, and he should therefore support the measure, not in despair of obtaining a largo measure of Reform—not as a substitute for a large measure of Reform —but as the readiest and best preparation for one.
§ MR. BENTINCK
said, the very remarkable speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Taunton (Mr. Labouchere), was characterised by great plainness and candour. In short it was the most remarkable speech ever heard in the House, because, if he rightly understood the right hon. Gentleman, he expressed his readiness to adopt the principle that a Member of the House was entitled to vote 1834 on any question, black or white, according to the circumstances in which he was placed. ["No!"] That was what he understood the right hon. Member to argue. It was true that was a principle often acted upon, but not usually acknowledged in that straightforward manner. The noble Lord the Member for the City of London objected to the distinction drawn by the Chancellor of the Exchequer between boroughs and comities, and said he disclaimed those sharp distinctions. He was not surprised at that being the case because at the present time they told strongly and inconveniently against the object the noble Lord had in view, but he remembered the time when the noble Lord did not dislike those distinctions when they could be. brought to bear on a different phase of the question. The feeling of antagonism which now existed between counties and boroughs was, in his opinion, to be attributed to the noble Lord himself, and to those who supported the doctrines of which the noble Lord had been the advocate for so many years. That feeling had been brought about by various causes, but mainly by what was called recent legislation. It was a feeling that it was difficult to allay, and he contended that in any measure of Reform it would be necessary to see that the counties of England were not overruled as they were at present by borough representation. Another remarkable statement of the noble Member was, that the influence of a Member of the House depended upon the number of his constituents. Now, he should like to know if a Member having a double number of constituents had power to give two votes instead of one. The breadth of the noble Lord's "basis" was great, for he believed a Member for the City of London represented a constituency of 20,000. On the other hand the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton represented a constituency of about 200, and yet it was generally supposed that the influence of those noble Lords in that House was as nearly as possible balanced—therefore, taking it even on that ground, the noble Member's argument was not a good one. The noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) was also of opinion—and no one was better able to form an opinion—that there was at present no excitement on the subject of Reform, and that they might approach the consideration of this question with calmness and in a candid manner. He heard that statement with the sincerest pleasure, and he could only say for one that there was no man more 1835 anxious than himself to see the question settled, because he believed nothing could be more unjust and more anomalous than the present state of the representation of this country. Not only were these numerous classes excluded from the franchise who were fully entitled to have it, but owing to the Reform Bill introduced by the noble Lord, the representation of the counties was such that they were not justly and fairly dealt with. He considered that they were entitled to a very much larger share of the representation than they now had, and that, he apprehended, would be one of the principal subjects of discussion when this long-talked-of Reform Bill made its appearance in the House. He would only further say, with reference to the measure before the House, that he was not prepared to give his support to it, after the statement, in which he entirely concurred, of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who showed distinctly that this measure could only extend the injustice and anomaly which now existed.
§ MR. COLLINS
said, he should have been contented to give a silent vote upon that occasion were it not that being a member of the great Conservative party his silence might lead to the inference that he was opposed to any extension of the suffrage and to any alteration of the Bill of 1832. Now, he put no faith cither in the completeness or in the finality of that Bill, and, if the House were called upon to pass an abstract Resolution, staling that it required amendment, he should find it difficult to meet a Resolution of that nature with a direct negative. A great injustice—the result of the uniformity introduced by the measure of 1832—was that the poorer classes had, owing to the disfranchisement of the freemen, been deprived of their fair share of the representation in that House. There were, it could not be denied, great anomalies in the existing system. The question however which the House had then to consider was, whether the present proposal was an improvement of the Act of 1832. The proposal did not affect boroughs, and it was not surprising that borough Members should support a measure which had a tendency to swamp the independence of counties. If any alteration was made, it ought to be one which would make a fairer proportion between towns and counties. At present the Isle of Wight, with 1,949 electors, returned one Member; while Newport, a town on the island with 1836 654 electors, returned two Members. If it were intended to reduce the county franchise to the standard of the boroughs, surely the new voters who would be created in the towns of Ryde and Ventnor and others should vote for the borough which, with a small number of electors, returned two Members, rather than for the island which only returned one Member. In any system of representation the object ought to be to have all classes represented, and not to establish a uniformity of qualification, and therefore if they were to have a £10 franchise in the counties, he would rather see a £5 suffrage, or even household suffrage, in the boroughs, than the same suffrage as that which existed in the counties. He was as anxious as any one for a measure of Reform, but he could not consent to the present proposal, as he objected to a proposition which would give the now dominant class still greater power.
§ MR. STANHOPE
said, he thought the course of the discussion had shown the impolicy of bringing forward such a measure at the present time, because it had turned not so much upon the Bill which the hon. Gentleman sought leave to introduce as upon the general principles of a Reform Bill. It had proved that it was impossible to touch the present system without making a general change, for when they once began to tamper with their present system, they did not know where they could stop. It was proposed to fix the franchise in counties at £10 for the sake of uniformity, and, perhaps, in a few months or weeks, they would have another alteration; but were they prepared to maintain the franchise in boroughs at £10, because, unless they did that what would they gain? He always thought it was a great advantage that different classes were represented in that House, and he feared that it would be a serious disadvantage to the country when the large agricultural class should be so completely superseded in the representation in Parliament as they would be if the Bill of the hon. Gentleman were passed into law. If they adopted this measure the agricultural classes would he swamped by a number of voters who lived in towns.
§ MR. LOCKE KING, in reply, said, he had never intended to imply that his Bill should be received as a substitute for a more extensive and general measure. On the contrary, he regarded it only as an instalment.1837
§ Whereupon Previous Question, "That that Question be now put," put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. LOCKE KING, Mr. BYNG, and Mr. HEADLAM.
§ Billpresented, and read 1°.