§ Order for Second Reading read.
MR. LOCKE KING
, in moving the second reading of the Bill said, he desired to take the earliest opportunity of stating, for the information of the House, that it contained the very same clause as the measure which had been introduced by Lord Aberdeen's Government in 1854, for amending the law with respect to the representation of the people. That Government not only admitted the principle of extending the franchise in counties to the extent which he now proposed, but they showed an honest determination to act upon that principle by making it a prominent feature in the Bill to which he had referred. When in the last Parliament he moved for leave to introduce his Bill he was opposed by a small but influential section of the Liberal party, that was to say, by Her Majesty's late Government; but he was glad subsequently to learn, from an explanation given by Lord Granville in another place, that they did not object to the principle of the Bill, but that they thought that it had been draughted in such a manner that it was not susceptible of the alterations which they thought it necessary to make in it. As he was not a person to quarrel about words, and seeing that most of the Members of the late Government had also been Members of the Government of Lord Aberdeen, and therefore he might reasonably wish to secure their support, he had endeavoured to obviate their objections by adopting in the present Bill the exact words of the Bill which had been introduced by the Government of Lord Aberdeen; and in Committee he intended to move a clause which would make a dwelling-house a necessary part of the qualification. The right hon. Gentlemen who sat on the front Opposition bench could not well object to this Bill, because 1858 most of them had been Members of the Aberdeen Government, and had, of course, approved the Reform Bill then introduced, even to its very words. On this ground, then, he claimed the support, not only of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston), the noble Lord the Member for London (Lord John Russell), and the right hon. Member for Halifax (Sir C. Wood), but also of the right hon. Baronet the hon. Member for Carlisle (Sir J. Graham), whose name was on the Bill, and who had since most consistently given his support to the principle; and of the right hon. Member for Oxford University (Mr. Gladstone), who was also a Member of Lord Aberdeen's Government, and whose vote he therefore claimed. It was matter of great satisfaction that in the course of the many debates and discussions on this Bill no one had made any serious objection to its principle. Had anybody been able to make out that the class proposed to be enfranchised were not fit to be entrusted with the franchise, that would have been an insurmountable objection; but almost every one who had spoken had admitted that, as a class, they were unobjectionable. It was admitted that they possessed the political capacity; and he maintained that the right ought to follow the capacity. The only objection was, that the measure was inexpedient. At the passing of the Reform Bill it had been admitted that the political capacity resided in a rental of £10, accompanied by residence in certain localities. All that he asked the House to do was to deal in a general way, and with generosity, with those who did not happen to reside in those particular localities. He did not ask them to disfranchise one small borough, or even a single individual, desirable as that might be in some cases. He only asked them to give the same right to a certain class of persons whom they admitted to be a safe body to possess the franchise, without reference to the locality in which they resided. To say that the political capacity existed in certain places and not in others, was to hold that it belonged to the locality, and not to the individual. This argument had been utterly refuted at the time of the Reform Bill, when the right was taken away from the mounds and ruins of Gatton and Old Sarum. It had also been said that this Bill did not deal with the question generally—that it ought to deal with boroughs as well as counties. But what would have been said, if he had been 1859 presumptuous enough to bring in such a Bill? It would have been said at once that he was dealing with too large a question. He had determined that the only objection to his measure should be, not that it was too large, but too small. If they were to wait for a large and extensive measure of Parliamentary Reform they must wait for some time for the tone and temper both of Parliament and the country did not seem to be now in favour of any great measure, and it was therefore, in his opinion, only by piecemeal legislation that they could arrive at any end at the present time. He would advise hon. Gentlemen opposite not to wait for a time of great political excitement, as at the Reform Bill, when reform would be extorted from them, as it was then, by excitement amounting almost to physical force. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had raised a small objection to his Bill, that it would tend to increase anomalies at present existing; but he said nothing about anomalies that it would decrease. He said, that while 160 Members represented something like 500,000 electors in counties, in the boroughs 330 Members represented a constituency of about 460,000. That was a question which concerned the proportion of Members to electors; and if the right hon. Gentleman would bring in a Bill to make the number of Members in proportion to the population, thus adopting another point of "the charter"—that of electoral districts—whether those districts were round or square, the measure should have his cordial support. But such a complaint did not come with good grace from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for the county of which he was so distinguished an ornament was overloaded with Members. The total population of the county of Bucks, including the represented towns, was only 165,000, and it had eleven Members. Comparing that with East Surrey, he found that in the latter district nearly 580,000 persons were represented by only seven Members. Or, taking the county of Bucks exclusive of the represented towns, he found that 115,000 inhabitants had three Members, while the West Riding of Yorkshire, with a population of nearly 800,000, exclusive of represented towns, had only two. In the counties only one person in twenty-three had a vote; in the boroughs one in eighteen. The statistics showed how very slow was the increase of county electors. In 1848–49, the total 1860 number of county voters was 503,552; and, according to the last return, it was only 505,988, being an increase of 2,436 only in ten years. The number of borough electors had increased in the same period, from 368,822 to 439,046, showing an increase of 70,224. Taking the property assessed to the poor rates in the counties—excluding the represented towns—it was £44,518,000, while in the boroughs it was £23,181,000. This, of itself, showed that there were reasons why the number of electors in counties should be increased. It was a paltry excuse to refuse to increase the electoral body in the counties on the ground of there being so great a number already. It was hard to reject the claim of a person who sought to be one of a number of electors—to grudge him the five, ten, or 20,000th share in the election of Members for a county, while in many boroughs each elector had a 200th or a 500th share in electing a Member of Parliament. He hoped the House would not refuse to pass this Bill. Her Majesty's late Government could not recede from the principle which they had laid down on former occasions on this subject. Taking them at their own words, they could not refuse now to support the Bill; and he hoped that the existing Government would not deny this boon to the people of England. Graceful as would be the concession of the late Government on this question, concession would come with far greater grace from the party in power. He hoped that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not make a promise of any future measure now; for he really felt that a fatality attended those Parliamentary promises, and that there was very little chance of their being fulfilled. He hoped, also, that the right hon. Gentleman would not press the House to a division, because he (Mr. Locke King) felt certain that if he did a majority of the House would divide in favour of the Bill, which majority would express the feeling of both the electors and non-electors of this country.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
§ MR. DU CANE
Sir, in rising to move the Amendment of which I have given notice, I have to request the kind indulgence of the House for one who upon only one previous occasion has ventured to trespass at any length upon their notice. And I can assure the House that it is with no small diffidence on my part that I have 1861 ventured to assume the prominent part I am now taking in the discussion that awaits us, believing as I do that short as is the title of this Bill, short as is the wording of the Bill itself, and somewhat scanty too as is the amount of argument with which the hon. Member opposite has called upon us to support its second reading, the House is in reality called upon to-night to decide upon one of the most important questions that has been submitted to its notice in the course of this hitherto unusually animated and interesting Session. That question I take to be not merely the abstract justice or injustice of the measure itself; not merely the manner in which the county constituencies or the county representatives of this country will be affected by its passing, those doubtless are important elements for our consideration, but beyond all and above all, comes, I think, a question of far greater importance—at what time, and in what manner this House is disposed to deal with the whole great question of Parliamentary Reform?
Now, Sir, in stating as briefly as I can the principal objections I entertain to the passing of this measure at the present time, I wish, in the first instance, carefully to guard myself from the expression of any opinion that may seem to convey to the House an impression that I am either deeply convinced of the present perfection of our representative system, or that I am opposed in the main to any further extension of the county franchise. On the contrary, I venture to think that the day is not far distant when the great question of Parliamentary Reform must be fully dealt with in all its branches, nay more, I will go even a step further, and, speaking as a private Member, I will venture to assert, that no Ministry, let it be composed of whatever party or parties it may, can hope to retain office for another Session of Parliament without announcing its intention of devoting to an early settlement of that question its utmost attention and deliberation. But, Sir, I must add this also, at the same time, that while upon the one hand it is my honest opinion that there could be no course more beneficial to the progress of legislation, there could be no fairer field, no grander object on which to concentrate the intellectual energies and abilities of the greatest of our statesmen, than the attempt to deal with this great question in a fair, an impartial, and above all, in a comprehensive spirit,—so, on the 1862 other hand is it my firm conviction, that there could be no course more hazardous; there could be none more likely to be fraught with ultimate serious peril to the safety and stability of our Representative Institutions than the attempt to deal with it in a spirit of isolated, of partial, and of piecemeal legislation, like the measure now before the House. I venture to maintain this of our representative system, that so intricate and so complicated is its machinery, and at the same time so evenly balanced is its composition, that you can hardly attempt to deal with one anomaly at a time, without either creating a fresh one, or bringing out in a still stronger and more glaring light those that already exist. And of the truth of this assertion I think the measure now before us gives us a somewhat singular illustration. The hon. Member opposite proposes by this measure to deal with certain inequalities and anomalies he alleges to exist in one individual branch of our representative system, the County Franchise. And how, may I ask, does he propose to deal with them? Why, by a process which I can only compare to the ancient fable of attempting to heap Mount Ossa upon Mount Pelion, and which would create a perfect mountain of anomaly and inconsistency out of that which is at present comparatively but a molehill. Sir, as I said before, I am far from being opposed to any further extension of our County Franchise. I am convinced that the County Franchise might be most beneficially extended to men now not in possession of it, and who are yet for the most part possessed of the intelligence requisite to enable them to make a right and a conscientious choice of a representative, and sufficiently independent in station to vindicate their choice when made. But if I were asked to point out what in my opinion has of late years been the greatest anomaly and injustice in our county representative system, I should most unhesitatingly say it was this, that large towns already adequately, and more than adequately represented in this House, have begun to assume an undue voice, and to exercise an unfair preponderance over the county representation also. Perhaps I may be allowed to quote to the House one or two instances in support of my assertion. I would ask them to look for instance at the case of East Sussex, where I think it is not too much to say, that one member is returned to this House mainly through the predominent influence of the already suffi- 1863 ciently represented town of Brighton. The same thing was nearly occurring a few months since in the case of one of the divisions of Northamptonshire, through a similar influence on the part of the town of Northampton. And to come a little nearer home, the same thing actually did happen at the last dissolution in the southern division of the county, I, myself, have the honour of representing (Essex), where an hon. Friend of mine was returned mainly through the vast increase of late years of the metropolitan suburban districts of Stratford and West Ham; and wishing to speak with all due respect of the hon. Members for East Surrey and for Middlesex, the proposer and seconder of this measure and not in any way seeking to detract from either their ability or their usefulness as Members of this House, I must confess that I regard them in their capacity of advocates of this Bill far more as the representatives of a metropolitan district of boroughs, than of county constituencies. Now this, Sir, is an anomaly—this is an injustice, which a judicious extension of the county franchise would go far to amend, but which, by the passing of the measure before us, would, I maintain, be increased at least a hundred fold. For what, in point of fact, will be the effect of this measure? I assert that it would be simply this, utterly to subvert throughout the length and breadth of the country the present system both of county franchise and county representation, and to substitute for it one vast and uniform system of borough electoral franchise. It would bring the £10 householders resident in the non-represented towns and the country districts to bear in numerical overwhelming masses upon the freeholders and tenant occupiers in whom the county franchise is at present vested, to the total destruction of that fair and legitimate influence which, I maintain, the landed interest is entitled to possess in its representative assembly. Now, Sir, I think that, if we consider attentively the progress of legislation since the passing of the Reform Bill, there are two great principles, as regards representation, that may fairly he said to have been enunciated. The first of these is, that no system of representation can be said to be perfect, or to fully and fairly express the intelligence and genuine wishes of a nation, that is not based upon the recognition of a diversity of interests to be represented, and that does not assign to each of such 1864 interests a voice in the representative assembly of a due proportion to its relative importance. The second is this, that uniformity of the suffrage, upon which I contend this measure to be based, is nothing more or less than another name for vesting the control over your representative body in the hands of a single class; and further, that the lower you extend the franchise on the basis of uniformity, so sure are you to find the controlling class in that which is immediately above the lowest level to which the suffrage is extended. And if the House be once led into sanctioning an extension of the suffrage on this fatal and erroneous basis, I very much fear there will soon be an end to all free and independent legislation. If you vest the control over your representation in the hands of a single class, it is for the interests of that class alone, depend on it, you will eventually be compelled to legislate. If you make the £10 householder that controlling class, it is to his tastes, to his dispositions, nay more, to his very prejudices—you will have to conform and be obedient in all things. Perhaps the House will allow me to quote to it the words of a great and illustrious statesman—I mean Mr. Burke—which I think give an admirable illustration of the position I am now assuming. Mr. Burke says:—Whatever the distinguished few may be, it is the substance and mass of a body which constitutes its character and must ultimately determine its direction. In all bodies, those who aspire to lead must also to a certain degree follow. They must conform their propositions to the taste, talent, and disposition of those whom they wish to conduct.Now, these are words which I think the House will agree with me, contain a great and an undeniable truth. Mr. Burke wrote these words as regards the relations that exist between the leaders and followers of a representative body itself; but I think we may well carry their application a step further, and say that they are not the less true of those that exist between a representative assembly and that vast body of constituents whose interests it is returned to represent.
But, Sir, the hon. Member for East Surrey has told us this evening, as he told us before, that we must not look upon this as a final measure of Parliamentary Reform, but as one of a series of measures that we are to be called upon to pass from time to time. Now, I must confess that, if the objections I entertain to this measure 1865 as a final one are somewhat strong, those I entertain to it, or indeed to any measure of Reform, as one of a series, are of a still stronger and more emphatic character. Sir, in dealing with a great question like this of Parliamentary Reform, I venture to maintain that to speak of your measure as one of a series is tantamount to an admission, not merely that it is incomplete and imperfect as regards the present, but that you have no definite and well-matured plans as regards the future. I protest, in a great question like this, against this species of blindfold hand-to-mouth legislation. I venture to think that it is of the utmost importance for the best interests of this country that, whenever Parliamentary Reform is dealt with, we should attempt to arrive at such a settlement as may, for many years at least, be regarded in the light of a final one. I venture to maintain, as some of the greatest and wisest of our statesmen have maintained before us, that the habit of making frequent constitutional changes is one of the most dangerous that a people can acquire. And if, year after year and Session after Session, the time and attention of Members of this House are to be occupied in the discussion and agitation of questions relative to the reform of our representative institutions, I must confess that I for one cannot conceive any course more calculated to check the progress of all sound and practical legislation, or to shake the confidence hitherto felt, for the most part, by the people of England in the general efficiency and stability of Parliamentary government. But I have no doubt it will be urged, in the course of this debate, that Her Majesty's Government have already sanctioned the principle of dealing with Reform seriatim, inasmuch as they have allowed another measure of the hon. Member's—the Bill for the abolition of Property Qualification—to be passed without resistance on their part. Now, speaking as I do as a private and independent Member of the Conservative party, I do not hesitate to say that I should have been glad if the Government had opposed that measure in a body, on the ground that was urged by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade for so doing, and upon which I myself individually followed him into the division lobby. But I must confess, at the some time, that there were reasons shown in the course of debate for allowing that measure to pass, which could not be urged with equal justice of any 1866 other branch of our representative system. That was a measure the non-application of which, in the case of a considerable number of the Members of this House, proved it at once to be of a partial and one-sided character in its bearings; and the application of which, as regards the remaining portion, had been shown by many years' experience to have been rendered, in many instances, nugatory by evasion and equivocation. I contend, then, that you cannot, with justice, assert that the two cases are in the slightest degree analogous. In dealing with the one, you had the benefit of past experience as a guide for the future; in dealing with the other, you can summon to your aid no such assistance. You cannot even tell how many electors your measure will enfranchise; and you are forced into relying solely, with a blind and implicit confidence, upon the fortunes of the future.
Well, Sir, but upon the first reading of this Bill the noble Lord the Member for the City of London made use of what I could not but consider a very extraordinary argument in its favour. The noble Lord told us that he was surprised that any hon. Member should offer the slightest opposition to the passing of this measure, inasmuch as its effect would be largely to increase the county constituencies, and the larger in a numerical point of view the constituency an hon. Member represented the more it enhanced the dignity and the influence of his position as a Member of the House. Now, Sir, I thought at the time that this argument, coming as it did from one who had been a Minister of the Crown, was a somewhat extraordinary one to advance, and subsequent reflection has but confirmed my opinion. I do not mean to say for one moment that the representation of a large and populous constituency, involving as it does the representation of numerous important interests, does not tend to increase an hon. Member's own sense of the responsibilities intrusted to his charge; but to say that a mere numerical increase of a constituency will give of itself Parliamentary influence to its representative, or that there is any other passport to Parliamentary influence than the exhibition of talent or ability of some kind in him who aspires to that much-envied distinction, is, I think, a fallacy which the past pages of Parliamentary history will serve most effectually to disprove. If we look for a moment at the Parliamentary career of some of the most eminent states- 1867 men who have adorned this House since the commencement of the present century, we shall find that, though they may at some period of their career have sat for large and populous constituencies, yet that in all cases it has been the constituencies that sought them, after they had made themselves a name, and not they the constituencies. And further, we shall find that, with one or two exceptions, the higher the Parliamentary position to which they attained the surer were they to relinquish the representation of these large constituencies, and seek the comparative ease afforded by a small borough. If, for instance, we look at the career of that great man, Mr. Canning, we find that, though for some period of his life he sat for the large and populous constituency of Liverpool, yet, that on his becoming leader of the House of Commons, he voluntarily relinquished its representation, and got himself returned for a close borough. Again, the House will, I am sure, not need reminding that that late eminent statesman, Sir Robert Peel, sat from the passing of the Reform Bill to the close of his life, during by far the most important part of his Parliamentary career, for the comparatively small constituency of Tamworth; while, I am sure, we are all equally aware that the noble Lord the late head of Her Majesty's Administration has reposed for many years unmolested in the peaceful shades of Tiverton. It is true the noble Lord himself (Lord J. Russell) is a signal exception to the rule, as we all know he has for many years represented the City of London; but, perhaps, on this point the noble Lord will allow me to read him a short extract from Lord Grey's recent Essay on Parliamentary Reform. Lord Grey says—It is so difficult for a Minister who represents a large body of constituents to exercise his judgment with proper freedom, and to escape altogether from being biased by their local interests and feelings, that it appears to me very desirable that in general the servants of the Crown should not hold seats of this kind.And after quoting one or two intances in support of his assertion, the noble Lord goes on to say—That for this very reason he considers it to have been a great disadvantage to Lord John Russell in his ministerial career to have so long represented the City of London.The noble Lord is not, as we all know at the present moment, a servant of the Crown; but I think it must be obvious to all who have watched the progress of recent events, that with the chequered me- 1868 mories of a ministerial past the noble Lord still associates a few brighter visions of a ministerial future. And if I might venture on a word of advice to so exalted an authority, I would recommend the noble Lord to pause before he rashly becomes the advocate of sweeping and extensive changes in our county constituencies, and endeavour to negotiate for himself an exchange of seats with the hon. Baronet the Member for Tavistock. The noble Lord would then be in a far more independent position, and far better able to avail himself of the good things which the Fates who preside over the rise and fall of Administrations may or may not have yet in store for him.
I have now, Sir, stated the principle objections that I entertain to the dealing in any shape with this measure at the present time, and I am happy, indeed, to think that, however imperfectly I may have done so, the views I have expressed have been shared by the highest authorities, and advocates, too, of almost every shade of liberal opinion that finds a voice within the walls of this House. I am fortified in the first instance by the open and avowed opinions of the noble Lord the Member for London, who as a Minister of the Crown gave this measure a most determined opposition, but who, now that he has found himself a seat below the gangway, for some reason that I confess I am unable exactly to comprehend, though I studied his speech on the first reading with due attention, gives it an equally determined support. I am fortified, also, by the expressed opinion of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton, the man of great intentions, if not of great deeds, in the cause of reform, who also has resisted this measure as a Minister of the Crown, but whose intentions, now that he, too, is seated on the front benches of Opposition, are at this moment, he will, perhaps, pardon me for saying, a matter of very considerable speculation to both sides of the House. I have also upon my side another high authority from another class of politicians, the sincerity of whose zeal for Parliamentary Reform we have no reason that I know of for doubting, in the person of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Wilts. Now, all these three high authorities have given it as their opinion, that whenever this House dealt with the question of Parliamentary Reform, it was of the utmost importance that a diversity of interests to be represented should be 1869 recognized as existing between counties and boroughs; and that in considering the question of the franchise, they should above all things steer clear of extending it on the basis of uniformity. But, Sir, I can even go further than this. It may seem somewhat hopeless to seek for aid from those hon. Gentlemen below the gangway, whose reform ultimatum was given to the House only two nights since by the right hon. Member for Birmingham with a force and a vigour which must have made the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton's hair fairly stand on an end with dismay. But even then I do not despair of success. I hold in my hand a slight comment of The Times newspaper of November 18th, 1857, on that Parliamentary Reform Manifesto which startled Members representing county constituencies from their customary repose at that period of the year. In allusion to that document, The Times says:—It was not, however, we believe, unanimously agreed to. Mr. Ayrton, for one, it is understood, took exception to parts of it, and especially to the proposition for extending the county franchise to £10 occupiers, which he thought would swamp the legitimate influence of property in the election of knights of the shire, and tend to array town against county in a way to which he was altogether adverse.Now, Sir, we have, I think, heard a great deal of late years of rapid progress, of fusion of party, and, I might almost add, of confusion of principle; but I certainly did not think that upon almost the first occasion I have risen to address the House I should be enabled to prove, as I have done from their own words, that a perfect unanimity of sentiment exists on any subject connected with Parliamentary Reform between the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton on the one hand, and the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets on the other. And still less did I ever imagine that I should find myself, as a Conservative and county representative, cordially concurring, and I do now, in the sentiments that both have expressed. All I can say is that, as has been well said in theatrical life, so it is not the less true in the Parliamentary arena, "when we do agree our unanimity is truly wonderful." Well, Sir, but I have not yet quite done with The Times newspaper of November 18th, for on referring to the leading article on the subject of the same reform manifesto, I find a few words of advice addressed to those who are so ardent in the cause of reform, 1870 couched in terms at once so truthful and so forcible, that at the risk of wearying the House, I cannot refrain from giving them the paragraph entire, promising, at the same time, that it is the last extract of any kind to which I will treat them on the present occasion:—We cannot but think on the whole, that Parliamentary Reform had better wait—even for the sake of Parliamentary Reform itself—till an undivided public attention to the subject can secure due justice to it, till public opinion, set free from the present engrossing claims upon it, can watch the progress of such a Bill with proper jealousy, back up Reformers in resistance to petty obstacles and private interests, and secure an effective settlement instead of a corrupt bargain.Now, this is advice which I venture respectfully to urge this House to adopt on the present occasion. I ask the House to pause to-night ere they give their sanction to the first of a series of concessions I believe to be alike erroneous in theory and mischievous in practice, which would check the progress of useful and beneficial legislation, and which, for the free and independent representative of varied interests would inevitably substitute the fettered and the compromised delegate of a class domination. And I venture to make an appeal not merely to the Members of this House collectively, but I venture also on a special appeal to the noble Lord the late head of Her Majesty's Administration. It certainly appears to me that during the progress of these reform skirmishes which the hon. Member for East Surrey has led so gallantly, and hitherto, I regret to add, so successfully during the present Session, the noble Lord has recognised the wisdom of the ancient proverb, which says that "The end of a feast is better that the beginning of a fray." I think the House can hardly yet have forgotten the somewhat remarkable absence of the noble Lord on the first reading of this Bill. But let me remind the noble Lord of what occurred on the first reading of a similar measure last year. Let me remind the noble Lord that when a cry of mutiny and insurrection arose amid the ranks of his followers, it was a Conservative Opposition that bore down to his rescue. They said, "This is our cause of quarrel as well as it is yours. We consider that the balance of our representative institutions are at stake in this measure. Our sense of honour, our love of fair play, will not allow us to look tamely on and see this great mischief done;" and so, though perhaps they bore the noble Lord no 1871 violent affection, they raised him to his legs again, and they quelled his insurrection. I trust, then, the noble Lord will show by his vote to-night that he is not oblivious of the assistance he then received; and, above all, that he is not oblivious of the principles he then avowed; but that which he was enabled, by a Conservative Opposition to resist, and resist successfully as a Minister of the Crown, he can enable a Conservative Ministry to resist, and resist successfully, even though he be seated on the front benches of Opposition. Sir, I will now leave my Amendment in the hands of this House, confident that the arguments I have advanced will meet with their impartial deliberation. In conclusion, I will but add that I believe this House, by its vote to-night, will show that, whatever may be its natural desire to deal with acknowledged inequalities and anomalies in our representative system this is not the fitting time, as I believe it to be not the fitting manner of making a concession to the voice of popular opinion. I believe that this House will show by its vote to night that, however plausible in the abstract their isolated theories of reform may be, however well adapted to woo and win the popular applause of the hustings of East Surrey, there is something of mature deliberation required—there is something, too, of statesmanlike ability demanded—to mould them to a due conformity with the existing relations of society, and the established institutions of the country. And, above all, will I venture to believe that this House, in its zeal for Parliamentary Reform, will never suffer itself to be led into a forgetfulness of that which has for ages been at once the guiding principle, as it is the noblest object of all its legislation, justice to those vast and varied interests that return it to act as their representative Assembly.
§ The hon. Member then moved the Previous Question.
, in seconding the Amendment, congratulated his hon. Friend who had just sat down on the ability he had displayed in moving this Amendment. He felt that his hon. Friend was a great accession to that House, and trusted that his future career in that Assembly would worthily sustain so promising a commencement. With respect to the question before the House, he was glad that his hon. Friend had withdrawn his original Amendment for reading the Bill a second time that day six months, because such an Amend- 1872 ment, in the present state of the question of reform, would have been considered a vote on the whole question of reform which must be introduced in the next Session. On the 20th of this month the registration in the counties commenced, so that this Bill, even if it were passed, could have no operation before the beginning of another year. He thought they ought to wait till next Session, when the whole question of reform would be considered. He had the greatest objection to piecemeal reform. This was a question upon which the noble Lord the Member for London had changed his opinion. In bringing forward his Reform Bill in 1854 the noble Lord, in reference to the first Reform Bill, said that they had not limited the franchise to one species, for that would not have made the reform sufficiently comprehensive. With regard to the scheme of 1854, the noble Lord proposed a £10 franchise for the counties, but dropped the borough franchise to one of £6. Instead of a uniform franchise, however, the noble Lord proposed to give votes to persons with salaries of £100 a year; to persons with incomes of £10 from the Funds, or from East India Stock; to persons who paid 40s. assessed taxes, income tax or licence duty in the year; to graduates of Universities—a proposition to which there was not the slightest objection; and to every person having a deposit of £50 in a savings' bank. These qualifications were to be common to counties and boroughs. Thus the noble Lord's proposed £10 franchise did not stand alone, but was part of a very varied franchise. The war with Russia prevented the question from being again brought forward till last year, when the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Locke King) introduced his Bill. The hon. Member for East Surrey had, as he understood him, said that his measure of last year was opposed by the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton, and by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, because they did not agree with its details. But what did the noble Lord himself say on that occasion? He said nothing about details. What he said was,—I cannot agree with my hon. Friend on the principle which forms the foundation of his proposal—namely, that there should be identity of qualification for voting in boroughs and counties. I rather agree with what has fallen from my noble friend the Member for London"—there he was deceived—"that there has always been a distinction, and I think it expedient to maintain that distinction, between the right of voting in boroughs and counties. The two great classes of electors repro- 1873 sent different interests in the community, and the principle on which their right of voting has stood has always been different.The hon. Member for East Surrey was therefore mistaken in supposing that the noble Lord was a supporter of his plan. They on that side were entitled to claim the support, on this question, not only of the noble Lord, but of all those hon. Members on the other side who had voted with him. His hon. Friend who had moved the Amendment had reminded the noble Lord that they on that side had come to his relief on this question on a former occasion. They certainly had done so, and the result was that the Motion was at once got rid of. They now asked the noble Lord to come to their relief. Let them have fair play on this measure. That was all they asked. They stood there an avowed minority. Having helped the noble Lord on this question last year, they claimed not only his support, but the support of all who voted with him on that occasion against the Bill of the hon. Member for the reason assigned by the noble Lord. He claimed therefore the support of the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Horsman)—of the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Labouchere)—of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Radnor (Sir G. Lewis)—and of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Lowe). He inferred from what he had seen in The Times of that day, that they should have the vote of the right hon. Gentleman. They claimed the vote of the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. J. Wilson), and also of that hon. Member who had been of such service to the late Government—the right hon. Member for Wells (Sir W. Hayter). Two returns on this subject—one moved for by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr.Disraeli), the other by the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. J. B. Smith),—well deserved their attention, because they showed that the counties ought to have not only more voters, but more representatives. There were many anomalies in the Bill of 1832, which was passed amidst great agitation and excitement. The hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. L. King) had alluded to some threatened agitation; but the fact was that not a single petition had been presented in favour of this Bill, and the only ones which had any reference to Parliamentary reform were from 19,500 persons in favour of universal suffrage. There was not one in favour of this Bill. Therefore there did not appear 1874 to be any danger of much popular agitation. The truth was, the House had brought this reform upon itself by constantly calling upon Governments to introduce a Reform Bill. The noble Lord the Member for London first promised to do so, and he redeemed his pledge. The noble Lord the Member for Tiverton made a similar promise, but he had not fulfilled it. Lord Derby had stated his intention to bring in a Reform Bill next Session. ["No, no!"] He was sorry to hear his right hon. Friend (Mr. Walpole) say the other night that Lord Derby had promised to consider the question, but had not promised to bring forward any measure. Lord Derby, in his Ministerial statement on the 1st of March, said:—As soon as the pressure of Parliamentary business enables us deliberately and carefully to consider the question, we will direct our attention to the defects which exist in the laws regulating the representation of the people in Parliament, and to the amendments which may be made in those laws; and we will give that attention with the sincere and earnest desire to trifle no longer with this great question, but with the hope that we may be able in the next Session of Parliament to lay before the Legislature and the country a measure upon that subject which may for a time settle a matter of such deep importance, and which, if we cannot hope to please everybody—which would indeed be a most extravagant expectation—may at least be accepted as a fair and reasonable measure by all moderate, impartial, and well educated men." [3 Hansard, cxlix. 43.]He understood this as a pledge to introduce a measure in the next Session. Under these circumstances he did not think the present measure ought to be taken into consideration, or that the question of Parliamentary reform should be treated piecemeal—it was a subject which could only be fittingly dealt with as a whole; and if the Government wished to show they were in earnest they must lay before the country a bold and comprehensive measure. Taking the Reform Bill for their basis, they must improve upon it, remove its anomalies, and open the franchise to other classes of Her Majesty's subjects. His hon. Friend (Mr. Du Cane) had quoted an article written some time ago in The Times. Now if he were to speak two hours he could not better explain his sentiments than by reading two short extracts that appeared in The Times of that day. He always found that the leading journal was quoted by hon. Gentlemen opposite when it suited their arguments, but that it was always attempted to be suppressed when it told against them. The Times of to-day said— 1875The present county franchise was fixed in the Reform Act, and can only reasonably be altered to any considerable extent in a second measure of the same serious and comprehensive character. The House of Commons ought not to pass a bad measure, and a bad measure we believe this to be, not so lunch in what it does as in what it leaves undone. No reasonable person can doubt that it would at once consign many of our counties to constituencies of the same class as that now specially represented in our boroughs. This would be to convert our counties into large boroughs.All he would add was that he cordially seconded the proposition of his hon. Friend, and that he hoped to have the support of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ Previous Question proposed, "That that Question be now put."
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Mr. Speaker, I waited till the very last moment, when those who are of that opinion must say "No!" or those words would be pronounced that must close the mouths of all who are assembled—I waited, I say, until the last moment, in order that the House might know what was the line which Her Majesty's Government were about to take on this Motion. But as the House is to divide in ignorance of the course which the Government intend to pursue, I rise to answer the eloquent, touching, and moving appeals made to me and to my right hon. Friends by those who have moved and spoken upon this Amendment. Sir, we have often had occasion this Session to feel compassion for the pitiable condition in which the Government are placed. They came into office avowedly professing to rest upon a minority, and depending for support upon the majority of this House; but never upon any occasion have such signals of distress been hung out to those who do not belong to the Government as on the present occasion, not by the Government, but by those who profess to express—and who, by the silence of the Treasury bench, may be considered to express their sentiments. The mover of this Amendment, in a speech to the ability of which I gladly bear my humble testimony—it was a promise of future performances which I am sure must be gratifying to all—that hon. Gentleman appealed in moving accents for support to those who sit here, and the ground, forsooth! of his appeal was to ask for our assistance in return for the assistance which he said the Conservative Members afforded the late Government on a former occasion. 1876 The hon. Gentleman said, that in February, 1857, there was an insurrection and a mutiny in the ranks of those who supported the late Government, and that the Conservative party came to the rescue and afforded them relief. No doubt that was a very charitable action. But, Sir, there was a February 1858, as well as a February 1857. In February 1858 there was a mutiny and insurrection against the Government, and what did hon. Gentlemen opposite then do? Did they come to our assistance? No, they joined the ranks of the insurgents, and overthrew the constituted authorities. So far, therefore, as any personal claim is concerned, I put February 1858 as a set-off against February 1857. Sir, the present conduct of the Government and the language we have heard to-night remind us of the miserable condition of the former inhabitants of this island when they were deserted by the Romans. They said, as the Government now say, "The barbarians"—of course all who do not sit on the Treasury benches are barbarians—"the barbarians drive us into the sea," for which we may read the troubled waters of the gangway, "and now the sea drives us back upon the barbarians." Now, I hold myself free to act on this occasion upon my own opinion, without being bound by any feeling of gratitude to hon. Gentlemen who sit opposite. Last year, when my hon. Friend (Mr. Locke King) brought in a Bill on this subject, it was a different Bill in title and intention from that which he now proposes. It was then a measure for an assimilation of the county and borough franchise. The present is a Bill to improve and extend the franchise of counties, but it is not by title and intention a Bill to assimilate the franchise of the two. Last year Her Majesty's Government announced their intention to propose in the present Session a Bill of Parliamentary Reform. Now, as we intended to embrace in that Bill arrangements with regard to the county franchise, we were of opinion that the House ought to trust us so far as to postpone any decision relative to the county franchise last year, and to wait until we had produced our measure. But the present Government have not pledged themselves to produce a measure of Parliamentary Reform, but only to consider the question. Consideration and procedure are, however, different things. The consideration may last a long while, and the decision may be tardy in coming. Well, 1877 Sir, I hold that this Bill is not the Bill that was proposed last year. Gentlemen may say, and will say, so far, with truth—that, although the Bill is a different one, and the procedure is not by proposing the assimilation of the borough and county franchise, yet that the manner in which the blanks are filled up will accomplish that object. No doubt that is the state of the case. But then, Sir, those who like myself adhere to the opinion expressed by many, that it will be very undesirable and objectionable to assimilate the borough and county franchise by reducing the franchise to £10, may vote for a second reading with the intention of proposing an alteration in the franchise that is intended to be established for county voters. And therefore any man who contemplates a reduction in the rate of the county franchise may perfectly well vote, and would indeed consistently vote, for the second reading of this Bill, reserving to himself the liberty of proposing in Committee the particular amount of qualification that he would prefer. As I am not one of those who think that the county franchise ought not to be lowered,—as I am one of those who think it would be advantageous to reduce the present county franchise, and to extend to a certain amount the county constituencies—I, for one, if called on to choose between the Previous Question and agreeing to the second reading, am prepared to give my vote for the second reading with that reserve with regard to the amount of qualification which I have stated. There have been many arguments used in favour of this Bill from agreeing with which I must refrain. We are told that one of the grounds upon which this Bill is proposed is, that we are to get rid of an anomaly in our representative system. I defy you by any legislation to get rid of the anomalies in the representative system. If you were to divide the country into parallelograms, establish electoral districts, and award the franchise to equal numbers, you would not then get rid of the anomalies in the representative system; because anomaly means only that which in the opinion of the man who uses the word is at variance with some imaginary rule which ought to be laid down as the rule upon the subject to which his opinion applies. One man might think the rule ought to be a perfect numerical equality in the constituencies, and that man would say, "get rid of tile anomaly by equalizing the number of constituents;" but another man might say 1878 that the proper course to be pursued would be to secure a representation of the different interests and classes in the community, and he would probably tell you that you would only add to existing anomalies by dividing the country into equal electoral districts, and seeking a numerical equality of constituents. Therefore, I put aside arguments founded on anomalies, because I defy the ingenuity of man to frame a representative system which shall not be liable to objections—full of what the person who makes the objections is pleased to call anomalies. We are told, also, that it is better to make these changes now, because we shall be called upon by strong popular impulse to make them hereafter, under less favourable circumstances; and we are referred to what passed at the time of the Reform Bill in 1832. I think that argument is misplaced. When the Reform Bill of 1832 passed there existed a system which no man who deliberately considered it could fail to admit was in the highest degree objectionable. There were imaginary boroughs returning Members to Parliament, and a large mass of wealthy and industrious communities who had no voice whatever in the Legislature of the country. It was a state of things, which went on to a certain point; but when the time came to consider it, it could not be defended by any arguments whatever. But that state of things cannot possibly be said to exist now, and therefore I cannot admit that the example of the great national demand for a change in the representation in 1832 can apply to the present state of the representation as founded by the arrangement of 1832. That, however, is no reason against looking into the present system, and endeavouring to improve that portion of it which is susceptible of improvement; but it is au argument against rushing headlong into any particular proposal on the fallacious assumption that there is no time to consider, and that we shall soon be driven by popular impulse, in spite of the intentions which our reason induces us to entertain. I have no objection to bit-by-bit reform. I think it might be better, perhaps, to leave this measure to be incorporated as part of a more general scheme; but I do not think that the nation at large is at present very anxious for any great fundamental change in our representative system. I believe the House of Commons is much more forward in this matter than the nation whom they represent. I believe the country will be satisfied with very moderate measures. 1879 But, at the same time, if I am called on to decide, I cannot concur in thinking the present county franchise ought not to be improved. I, therefore, shall be ready to go into Committee with my hon. Friend for the purpose of endeavouring to see in what degree and to what extent the county franchise can be reduced consistently with the interests of the county and a due regard to that balance of interests upon which our representative system rests.
§ MR. HENLEY
The noble Lord has stated in such plain and unanswerable language every objection that can be made to the present Bill, as explained by its mover, that I find he has left me nothing to add to his arguments against the measure. The hon. Gentleman the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Locke King) has rested his case entirely on the expediency of assimilating the county and the borough franchises. He used no other argument which could justify the adoption of his proposal. The position which he maintained was, that as a £10 franchise was good for the boroughs, a similar franchise must be good for the counties. But the noble Lord says that he cannot assent to that conclusion, and that he will not vote for a £10 county franchise, although he is willing to alter the franchise established in the counties under the existing law. The noble Lord, however, has not told us what is the nature of the change of which he would be prepared to approve. He did not give us the smallest inkling as to the figure which he would support in committee, if the Bill should ever reach that stage. The noble Lord has complained that no Member of the Government rose before himself to address the House; but I think be must admit that, after two speeches had been made by hon. Members sitting on this side against the Bill, it was natural for us to suppose that some of those who were called by the noble Lord himself, and not by us "the barbarians" would get up and address the House in support of the Motion of the hon. Member for East Surrey. Hon. Members are well aware that it is very unusual to see three Members sitting on the same of the House rise in succession to maintain the same opinions upon any question. Now, with respect to the proposal itself, I must say I think my hon. Friend the Member for East Somersetshire (Mr. Miles) was perfectly justified in asking what could be gained by attempting to legislate upon this subject in the present Session. The time is gone by when such 1880 a measure as this could have any immediate effect. The registration for the counties will commence before it will be possible to pass this Bill through the House, even if it went through its stages in the most rapid manner; and there can, therefore, be no reason why we should now embark in this discussion. The words employed in "another place" by the noble Earl at the head of the Government have been quoted for the purpose of showing what are the future intentions of the Government in reference to the introduction of a reform Bill. Now, I think those words are as explicit as words can be. Let it be remembered, too, that the speaker is not a man who is at all apt to use language and afterwards fail to act up to it. Under those circumstances I think it is not unreasonable to ask the House whether, by adopting the course they are now invited to pursue, they believe they would be facilitating a general settlement of the reform question, or whether they do not rather think they would thereby be throwing an impediment in the way of the accomplishment of such an object? I entirely approve of the mode in which the proposal for the second reading of the Bill has been met; and I must also bear my testimony to the great ability and moderation with which the Previous Question has been moved. I believe it would have been unfair to have met the Motion for the second reading of the Bill by a direct negative. I believe that after the pledge given by the Government to look into the whole reform question, with a view to its general settlement, it would. have been unfair to have asked the Government or the House to any particular proposition. The hon. Gentleman who brought forward the Bill wishes to assimilate the county and the borough franchises; but no one has adduced any argument in favour of such a scheme, and the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) has argued directly against it. Every one must see that the noble Lord is availing himself of a kind of special plea when he supports the second reading of the Bill, while he expressed his disapproval of a £10 county franchise. I will ask hon. Members opposite who sit below the gangway, whether they do not understand this to be a measure for a £10 county franchise, and nothing else? Yet the noble Lord will not consent to a £10 franchise when we get into Committee. I must add that I think the hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill ought to have given us some intima- 1881 tion of its probable effect on that balance of power between different interests and classes which is secured by our present representative system; but the hon. Member has left that very important matter wholly unnoticed. I very much doubt whether the measure would remove the anomalies of the present system. I agree with the noble Lord that you must have anomalies under any arrangement it would be possible to adopt; and all that you can do is to obtain a sort of balance of those anomalies, so that all the interests of the country may on the whole be fairly represented. I do not believe you would, by adopting this measure, close all discussion as to the amount at which the qualification for the county franchise should stand, and I do not think it would now be just or wise to attempt to prejudge that matter, and thus throw an impediment in the way of the Government which would interfere with their taking the whole reform question into their consideration, with the view of honestly endeavouring to effect its settlement. I must repeat that I believe the noble Lord has completely refuted the proposal for an assimilation of the county and the borough franchises; and I have now only to state, in conclusion, that I shall cordially give my support to the Mover of the Previous Question.
§ Whereupon Previous Question put, "That that Question be now put."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 226; Noes 168: Majority 58.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read 2°, and committed for Tuesday next.
§ [For Division List, see end of Volume.]