§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Mr. Speaker, I shall commence the few observations which I have to make by moving the adjournment of the House, in order that any hon. Gentleman who may wish to remark upon my statement may have an opportunity of doing so. I took the liberty on Thursday night, after the vote which the House had arrived at upon the Motion for the second reading of the Reform Bill, to move the adjournment of the House until this day, because I thought it but respectful to the House that in the course which the Government might think fit to adopt in consequence of that vote there should not appear to be even the semblance of precipitance. After that vote—after the observations made by myself towards the close of that debate—and after the declarations made by several Members of the Government, the House, I am sure, will not be surprised when I announce that it is not the intention of the Government to proceed with that Bill for amending the Representation of the People which I introduced exactly five weeks ago. It is also due to the House to state that it is not the intention of Her Majesty's Government to propose any other measure with the same object. On their part, however, I protest against the doctrine, which seems to be held by some, that the question of Parliamentary Reform is to be the appanage of any individual or the privilege of any particular party. I cannot hold that a body of public men professing the opinions which Her Majesty's Government do upon general politics—professing Conservative opinions—are not quite free to deal with the question of Parliamentary Reform, or indeed, with any other public question in that manner which they may deem most expedient for the public welfare and most conducive to the public interest. Indeed, I would say—not to provoke any controversy, which on this subject on the present occasion I studiously desire to avoid, but to prevent misconception—the question of 1302 Parliamentary Reform is the one of all others which may be viewed in two lights. There is the Conservative view of the question, and there is—not to use the epithet in the least degree offensively—the revolutionary view of the question. That is to say, there is that Conservative view which in any changes it recommends would wish to preserve and maintain the present character of the House of Commons, which is a representation of the various interests and classes of the country; and there is the revolutionary principle, which attempts to change that character, and to make the House of Commons a representation merely of the voice of a numerical majority. But, Sir, reserving to ourselves under all circumstances our right to deal with that question, we feel that at present we have fulfilled our pledge. We have fulfilled our pledge to the House and the country at a great personal and party sacrifice, and we are not prepared to enter into any specific engagement on that subject. The vote at which the House of Commons arrived the other night has rendered it necessary for the Government to consider their position in this House. I am bound to say, because I think it best always to deal frankly with the House, that before the House arrived at that vote the Government had seen fit to consider their position here. Ever since the commencement of the present Session of Parliament the Government has found itself frequently in minorities, and that, too, in many instances on subjects of no mean importance. Our position has been a painful position, and we have had before this to consider whether it was not our duty to make a communication to the House; but we have hitherto refrained from doing so for three reasons. In the first place, notwithstanding the array opposite to us—however numerous might be the force marshalled on those (the Opposition) benches—we could not perceive that there was any principle of cohesion in those ranks or any unity of policy and purpose more evident than when, in consequence of the distracted state of the Liberal party, the Earl of Derby was summoned by Her Majesty to place himself at the head of affairs. Under these circumstances, we felt that we were bound as men of honour not lightly to relinquish a post which we had acceded to in the spirit of the constitution, and which we had knowingly accepted with all those conditions and consequences attaching to it. In the second place, the state of our foreign affairs was very critical. Her Majesty, under our 1303 advice, had consented to become the mediator between two great military monarchies, with a view of thereby preventing, if possible, a war occurring in Europe. It was, therefore, highly expedient that there should, if possible, be no change of Ministry, and that Her Majesty's Government should, as far as possible, appear at that moment to have the general confidence of Parliament. There was yet a third reason which induced us to take this course. After the frequent promises and procrastinations which had taken place on the subject of Parliamentary Reform—remembering that for ten years it had been acknowledged in this House that that subject ought to be dealt with—and after the triple recommendation of the Crown, after the triple pledge of this House, after the triple promise of successive Ministries—it did seem to us that it would be a very heavy blow to the character of public men and to Parliament if we, in our turn, seemed to evade the engagement which we had made and the requirements of the country in that respect; and, remembering that the House had pledged itself to give a careful and patient consideration to that subject, we thought that, even if we did not succeed in our general endeavour, it was a good and beneficial thing that an honest and earnest, even if unsuccessful, measure of Reform should be brought forward in this House by us. Influenced by these three powerful considerations we retained our seats upon these benches, under circumstances which, I admit, involved a degree of mortification, and which we bore from a feeling that on the whole we were doing our duty to our Sovereign and the country. But the vote at which the House arrived on Thursday rendered it impossible for us any longer to be quiescent. That was a vote of censure on the Government. It was intended as a vote of censure. [Cries of "No, no!"] It was acknowledged as such by the principal promoter, and as such it was accepted by Her Majesty's Ministers, and the House having arrived at that vote, we felt the Government of the Queen was deprived of all authority. I may be permitted for one moment to offer to those hon. Gentlemen who sit on these (the Ministerial) benches the deep expression of our gratitude for the manner in which they supported us during the late struggle. I am perfectly aware that no Minister can bring forward a measure to amend the representation of the people, which from its vast and various 1304 character, can meet with the general and entire concurrence of his supporters. I know well that many amongst those with whose confidence we are honoured made no little sacrifices in supporting us on that occasion. But I am sure they did so because, whatever were their opinions on matters of detail, they felt convinced that nothing but a sense of duty, nothing but a belief on our part, that the measure we proposed was advantageous to the country, and was in strict consonance with those Conservative principles which we uphold—nothing but a conviction of that kind on their part would have induced them to give us the generous and never-to-be-forgotten support we received on that occasion. During the debate an eminent Member of this House announced it as his opinion that the rule of party was over in this country. If that observation be true I should deeply regret it, because I have always held the opinion that if party rule is over Parliamentary rule will soon cease. I am quite convinced that in a popular assembly so numerous as the House of Commons there can be no guarantee for its independence and authority but political connection among those who sympathise generally on the same points of public affairs. I do not at all agree with the right hon. Gentleman who gave that opinion during the late debate, and I think I can appeal with some pride to the conduct of the Conservative party on this occasion. I think they showed a high spirit and consciousness of duty as a great political connection, which will be appreciated in the country, and which will redound to the credit of this House. What has occurred to the Government is an event which it would be affectation to say has come upon us altogether unexpectedly. It is, indeed, a result which, more or leas, we have contemplated from the moment we accepted office, under the severe and difficult conditions on which we agreed to carry on the conduct of affairs. Last year the blow was averted by the support we received from a large party opposite composed of hon. Gentlemen who sit below the gangway. On this occasion I feel it my duty to tender the thanks of Her Majesty's Government to them for the support which, during last Session, we received at their hands. It was a support given without solicitation—it was a support given without conditions—it was a support given by hon. Gentlemen, who, on all constitutional questions, entertain opinions diametrically opposed to those which we profess, and I 1305 believe it was a support given because they appreciated the peculiar position in which the House was placed by the state of parties; and, therefore, I am bound to believe, and I do believe it was a support given from a pure sense of public duty. If I might—having offered the thanks of the Government to those to whom it was due—if I might for a moment refer to something personal to myself, I would offer to the House generally, and especially to all hon. Gentlemen opposite, my thanks for the courtesy and kind feeling with which they have supported me in my attempt to carry on the business of the House. That has happened to me which probably has never before fallen to the lot of any public man. I have been twice called upon to lead this House without the advantage of a numerical majority of supporters. The task of conducting the business of the House is, under no circumstances, a light one. But the burden was necessarily aggravated by the circumstance to which I refer; and I feel that, however imperfectly I may have done my duty, even that imperfect fulfilment could not have been accomplished had it not been for that courtesy and general good feeling which I have experienced on all occasions, not only from friends, but also from those who sit opposite to me in this House. Having touched upon these points, it now becomes my duty to inform the House of the step which Her Majesty's Government have thought it their duty to take. I had to ask myself, first, whether that evidence of want of cohesion on the benches opposite, to which I have already alluded, still existed. I had to ask myself whether there is there that unity of purpose and policy on questions domestic and foreign which were so essentially wanting when we acceded to power, and which was the cause of our acceding to power. I had to ask myself whether there is any evidence of that unity of feeling being restored, and that political cohesion being established. With regard to the late division, a Resolution of censure was certainly carried against Her Majesty's Government. But this was remarkable, that the two most eminent leaders on that occasion of the Opposition indicated that at the moment that Resolution, which almost anybody might have voted for, was carried, they should both of them recommend exactly a contrary policy. The noble Lord the Member for the City of London (Lord J. Russell), declared that the mo- 1306 ment that Resolution was carried he should exert his utmost energies to defeat the measure of the Government, as a noxious and pernicious measure; but the noble Viscount the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston) declared that as soon as that Resolution was carried he should, on the contrary, support the measure of the Government, as a measure containing a great many good things, and as one which, subject to some modifications, it was of the utmost importance should be passed. Even after the division was called a scene took place in this House which certainly showed no great degree of unanimity on the part of hon. Members opposite. An hon. Member (Mr. Wyld) rose and proposed to append to the Resolution of the noble Lord a recommendation to the House that we should sanction vote by Ballot. Although, Sir, every attempt was made to prevent that addition from taking place and that proposition from being made, it is a fact that a division did occur upon the question, notwithstanding the most active modes of repression, and nearly one-third of the majority supported a policy which was certainly not recognized by either of the noble Lords on the other side of the House. Sir, under these circumstances, not seeing that there is on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite more ability to form an Administration than existed when they found it necessary to retire from these benches last year—seeing that the Opposition consists of a number of sections, which no doubt can at any time combine and overwhelm the Queen's Government, whoever may happen to form it—seeing, from the present state of affairs, that there is no security, but almost a certainty that every February there will be a Ministerial crisis, and perhaps its consequences—and believing that this state of affairs is prejudicial to the repute of Parliament and injurious to the best interests of the country, and believing, too, that it is of the utmost importance at this moment that the authority of the Government should be supported by the authority of Parliament, and not being conscious that during the time we have exercised power we have done anything to forfeit the good opinion of our fellow-countrymen—we have thought it our duty to advise Her Majesty to exercise her prerogative and to dissolve this Parliament. Recurring to the sense of her people, a state of affairs may be brought about which may be more conducive to the public interest. Under these circumstances, Sir, 1307 it is my duty to inform the House that so soon as the urgent requirements of the public service are satisfied this Parliament will be prorogued with a view to its immediate dissolution. Sir, there are some Votes which must be taken—there are some Acts which must be continued—there are some measures before us, such as that which concerns the finances of India, which must under all circumstances receive attention. The other measures of the Government I shall not, of course, presume further to advance, unless the House expresses its wish that the Superannuation Bill should pass. I leave that matter entirely to the consideration of the House. I have now stated to the House the course which Her Majesty's Government have thought it their duty to advise, and which indeed Her Majesty has been pleased to sanction and adopt. I have now only on the part of myself and my Colleagues to express our sincere and even solemn hope that, whatever may be the result of this appeal to the country upon our personal position, it will be at least conducive to the convenience of Her Majesty, to the honour of Parliament, and to the best interests of the country.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Sir, the right hon. Gentleman, towards the conclusion of his address, tendered to the Members of this House his thanks, and the thanks of his colleagues, for the courtesy which they have received in the performance of their duties, and I am sure I am not doing otherwise than expressing the general feeling of the House when I say that they acknowledge in return the courtesy of bearing with which the right hon. Gentleman has upon all occasions conducted the affairs and performed the duties which belong to his position, and that whatever difference of political opinion may have arisen between any portion of this House and the right hon. Gentleman, as representing Her Majesty's Government, no personal feeling otherwise than can be agreeable to himself has been entertained. We have been informed, Sir, by the right hon. Gentleman that Her Majesty's Government, having understood the vote of last Thursday as a vote of censure, deliberated, in the first place, whether they should or should not retain the offices which they now hold, and that upon consideration they came to the conclusion that it was their duty still to retain them. The 1308 right hon. Gentleman stated that the Government while retaining that position felt that the state of parties in this House was such that it was not for the interest of the public service that they should continue to perform their duties with the present House of Commons; but, believing that the people at large entertain a more favourable opinion of them than the majority of this House appear to do, they have advised the Sovereign—and the Sovereign has accepted the advice—that She should recur to the sense of the people by a dissolution of Parliament. Now, Sir, I am not about to taunt Her Majesty's Government with having come to this determination for the purpose of maintaining themselves in power. I was not one of those who considered that the Resolution which was carried by so large a majority of this House was to be understood and accepted as a vote of censure upon the Government. It was not in that sense that I supported the Resolution. I looked upon it as a fair Parliamentary, and I think convenient, mode of expressing the opinion of the House upon two leading features of the measure which the Government had submitted to our consideration, and I voted for that Resolution as an expression of opinion upon the measure of the Government, and not in any way as implying censure of the Government. For it cannot be maintained in these times and in this House that whenever a majority of the House of Commons object to a particular measure, or to a portion of a particular measure, which the Government of the day may propose, they are, by expressing that objection, censuring the Government in such a manner as to render it necessary for the Government to consider whether they should or should not resign their offices. If that doctrine were to be laid down in the present state of Parliament—since the Reform of Parliament in 1832—I maintain that it would be utterly impossible for any Government, unless it were far wiser than any that has yet existed, to carry on for twelve months the administration of affairs in this House. Such was not the doctrine which obtained even before the passing of the Reform Act. There are many instances upon record of measures of great importance having been proposed by the Government of the day which were not acceptable to Parliament, but the Administration did not therefore think they were required to abandon their position as advisers of the Crown. Well, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman has stated 1309 the grounds upon which Her Majesty's Government, consisting of men who had up to a certain time been adverse to any change in the laws affecting the representation of the people in Parliament, nevertheless deemed it their duty to bring in a Reform Bill. I think that in doing so they only acted with a proper sense of the duty which they had undertaken to perform. I think, after what had passed with regard to a Reform of Parliament, that they ought not to have undertaken the Government as they did in February last year, unless they were prepared to bring in a measure of Parliamentary Reform. My opinion is that if they had brought in a measure founded upon principles which have appeared in the course of the debate to be in accordance with the general feeling of the majority of the House—a measure in which plainer and more practical views had been embodied—a moderate measure founded upon plain and ordinary principles, it would have passed this House, it would have received the concurrence of the other House, and might have become law. The Government, however, acted otherwise, and proposed a measure which was objected to by a majority of this House. It then became the duty of the Government to consider what course they should take. My own opinion is, that if they deemed it their duty—and with them undoubtedly rested the responsibility of determining that question—to retain their offices after that adverse vote it would have been in conformity with the engagement they had undertaken when they accepted the administration of affairs, and in accordance with the language they placed in the mouth of the Sovereign at the beginning of the Session, either to have withdrawn the Bill and to have brought in another differently framed, or so to have altered the present Bill in Committee as to adapt it to the opinion of the House. I think that was their duty, and I don't consider that to have pursued such a course would have been any disparagement whatever to their personal and political honour. They would have simply done in this instance that which I think they properly did last year with respect to the India Bill. They then brought in a Bill which was the result of their own consideration and decision. That Bill was not acceptable to the House, they then yielded to the opinion of the House, and they brought in another Bill, which ultimately passed. In the same way I think they ought on the present occasion to have submitted to the conditions on which alone a minority in this House 1310 can continue in the possession of power—namely, by adapting their views upon questions of great national importance to that which may appear to be the view and the opinion of the majority of the House. The Government, however, have determined to advise the Crown to recur to the sense of the country. Undoubtedly that is advice which it is competent for any Government on its own responsibility to give to the Sovereign. I certainly shall not oppose any obstacle whatever to prevent that advice from being carried out. But this I will say—that I think it very unwise advice. I think that, in the present state of affairs, both at home and abroad, it is very little to the national interest that there should be a dissolution. The Government may say that the question put to the country is, whether it has entire confidence in them, or whether it prefers any other combination of men; but every one understands that the question put to the country upon this dissolution is, what shall be the Reform Bill which the Ministry, if they continue in office, will be compelled by public opinion to bring in, or which any Government succeeding the present must propose to the consideration of Parliament? The question upon every hustings will be the details of the Reform Bill. I won't enlarge upon the public inconvenience which this course is likely to entail; but I would warn those who are the advocates of a moderate measure of Reform that the course which the Government is about to pursue is not the course calculated to further their cause and to procure the passing of such a measure. Hon. Members will return pledged beyond their own intentions; and if I may venture to prophesy the result, so far from the next Parliament being more disposed to support the present Government, I think the House of Commons which will be called together will be far more likely to be of opinion that political power ought to be transferred to other hands than those which at present possess, it. That, however, is for the Government to consider. Again, with regard to the state of affairs abroad, we are told that this country is engaged in negotiations bearing upon the peace of Europe. Questions of peace and war of the gravest consequences to the great Powers of Europe are being discussed. War of the most extensive range, peace upon a solid basis—these two conditions of things are pending in the councils of Europe. Is it not of the utmost importance, then, that while such 1311 questions are pending the Government of England should inspire confidence in those with whom it is in negotiation—confidence not only as to the views which it entertains, but as to the permanence of its authority; because we all know that a Government whose existence depends on an event which is to happen six weeks hence is not a Government which the Powers of Europe will consider as permanent, or look to with much deference. With regard, therefore, to the state of things both at home and abroad, I think the course which the Ministry have adopted is not one calculated to promote the interests which they, I honestly believe, have at heart, and which it was in their power to have advanced. I say they would have done better if, feeling it their duty to retain office, they had, without a dissolution, brought in another measure of Reform likely to satisfy the just expectations of this House and of the country; and then, that measure passing, as I think it would have passed, they would have had not only the satisfaction of avoiding the disturbance at home which must arise from a dissolution now, to be followed possibly next autumn or next winter by a dissolution after the Reform Bill, but they would also have had the advantage of going to the Congress—if to a Congress they must go—with all the weight and authority of a Government resting, as far, at all events, as this was possible for them, upon a permanent foundation. I do not understand, cither, the grounds upon which they announced their intention not to bring in a Reform Bill. I do not know whether I am to understand that as implying that when the next Parliament assembles they will consider their pledge to the present Parliament as null and void—whether they propose to carry on the Administration of the country without bringing again under the consideration of Parliament the question of Reform. If that be their intention, I think they will find themselves unable to carry it into practice. But that is a matter for them and for the future House of Commons to consider. I understand from the right hon. Gentleman that it is the intention of the Government to take an early moment for proroguing and dissolving Parliament. I entreat them to take the earliest opportunity of doing so. I am sure they will find no impediment offered to them by any Members of this House. We recognize the right of the Crown upon any occasion to appeal from the House of Commons to the country. We may think it more or 1312 less advisable to make that appeal, but when such an intention is announced, I am persuaded that this House will concur with Government in accelerating as much as possible the moment for dissolving. It is needless, I am sure, to point out to the Government the great embarrassment and inconvenience which must arise to hon. Members on both sides of the House by a prolonged interval between the announcement of that intention and its fulfilment. There can be no motive whatever for any delay, and I trust that, at all events before Easter, the Government will be able to pass those measures which are absolutely necessary for the public service, and that no time will be needlessly lost before the dissolution is brought about. I shall only say, therefore, that I presume Parliament will meet at the earliest moment at which the writs are returnable. I consider this to be so natural and necessary a course that I need hardly ask the Government whether that is their intention. It will be most unconstitutional—in fact, it will be impossible—for them to avoid it, for whatever votes and arrangements are now made will be only provisional, and therefore it is needless to point out that Parliament must meet at the earliest moment at which the writs are returnable. In conclusion, I can only express my regret—not that the Government have retained office, because it is for them to consider whether it is their duty to do so, and I will not enter into the question—but that having deemed it their duty to retain office they have not felt it equally their duty to go on immediately with a measure of Reform. I do not say that they should have gone on with this Bill or that Bill, but that they should have proposed to Parliament some measure of Parliamentary Reform, and I regret that they have resolved, instead, to put the country to an inconvenience which I hope will not be so full of evil as I may be disposed to anticipate—the inconvenience of a dissolution possibly to be followed with in a few months afterwards by a second dissolution, as the consequence of that measure of Reform which either they or some other Government may be obliged by a sense of public duty and in deference to public opinion to introduce.
§ MR. BRIGHT
I feel, in common with a great many Members of the House, that the course taken by the Government is one which subjects us to a large amount of personal inconvenience. It is just possible that some of us who are now assembled 1313 here may, after the coming event, never find ourselves together under this roof again. At the same time, I think, considering all the circumstances of the case, and leaving out of view any personal interest that we may have in it, it is impossible to come to any other conclusion than that the Government have taken the course which, acting upon the well-known rules of what is understood to be the constitutional or Parliamentary practice of the country, they were bound to take. We must bear in mind that the question which was decided last week was probably the greatest question that could possibly be submitted to us; that this Government were defeated by a majority of votes exceeding one-half of all the Members of this House—a vote very unusual when the existence of a Government is at stake. We must bear in mind, too, that the question before us was not one entirely for Parliamentary settlement, but one which, I believe, in every country where a Parliamentary system prevails it would be considered right to send back to the constituencies for their discussion and for their decision, before Parliament came finally to adjudicate upon it. What was said by the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton on a former occasion, as well as by some other Members in the House, with regard to the terrible consequences of asking the constituencies their opinion upon this subject, was a kind of observation which I should scarcely have expected to hear. If you cannot trust the existing constituencies to express their opinion upon this question, why should you deliberate whether you should increase the popular power in these constituencies for the future? You ought rather to limit the power of the present constituencies than endeavour to extend it, if you are afraid to ask their opinion upon a question in which all of them are so vitally interested. But the right hon. Gentleman, with his colleagues, having taken this course—and I applaud it; excepting their immediate and instantaneous resignation, I believe it was the only course which was at all possible for them—has cleared the ground a little for himself and his friends, and has endeavoured to get up a little political capital against some of us on this side of the House. I understand the right hon. Gentleman to clear himself, his colleagues, and his party from all concern in the question of Parliamentary Reform for the future. ["No, no!"] I understood him to state that the pledge which they gave in 1314 the last Session of Parliament had been redeemed, and that we are not to expect that the Government would run their vessel against a similar rock when they should put to sea again after a general election. Now, to an announcement such as that I have no objection what so ever. I believe that it was a foolish pledge which they made last Session to introduce a Reform Bill, and I am, moreover, of opinion that it is a pledge which the Government, leaning on the support of hon. Gentlemen opposite, cannot fulfil to the satisfaction of the country. But the right hon. Gentleman tells us this—and it is on account of the observations which he made upon that point that I have ventured to trespass for a moment on the present occasion on the attention of the House—the right hon. Gentleman, I say, holds up to the country this option:—"We," meaning himself and his friends, "offer you a measure of Reform Conservative in its character. You have no other alternative, if you do not take this, than a measure of Reform which will be revolutionary in its nature." The right hon. Gentleman knows very well—indeed, it is not in his speeches in this House that we have heard of it for the first time—the value of a cry. In one of his earliest works he sets out by teaching Tadpole and Taper in what its value consists. In that day the cry of his friends was "Our young Queen and our old Constitution." The cry now, however, is that he and his friends are Conservative, and that they offer to the country a Conservative Reform Bill, while their opponents—meaning, I presume, the noble Lord the Member for London and all who sit on this side of the House, and who are the friends of Reform—are favourable to a measure revolutionary in its character. Now, it strikes me as a very odd thing that the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman introduced, and which he says is a Conservative Reform Bill, has, if possible—allowing for the difference of numbers—actually met with more determined opponents on that than on this side of the House. It docs not seem, therefore, that the measure was, in the opinion of hon. Gentlemen opposite, very Conservative in its character, while there are some among them who, if I am not deceived, deemed that some of its provisions actually tended in the direction of revolution. Now, Sir, I, for one, am not at all afraid of the tribunal before which the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are about to bring this question. 1315 I presume that if the language which the right hon. Gentleman had used refers to anybody more distinctly than to another, that individual is myself, because among the various definite propositions on the subject of Reform—if there be any—which have lately been discussed before the country, that with which my name is connected is, perhaps, the most definite, and that which has been most fully discussed. Well, then, that being so, I undertake to say that in any proposition of reform which I should propose, defend, or support, I should proceed exactly upon the lines which were laid down by the Bill of 1832, and in accordance strictly and rigidly with all the landmarks which the most gifted and capable statesmen of this country for the last sixty years have set up for our guidance upon this question. If I make the constituencies of the country larger and freer,—if I take seats from a handful of people spread over small and inconsiderable and decaying towns and give them to the large populations who form the great centres of your commerce, your industry, your taxation, your public opinion, and your power—if I do all this, and to do so, be revolutionary, then I have to unlearn the meaning of the word. The right hon. Gentleman must attach to it some meaning which I am not accustomed to give it. I am perfectly satisfied that the hon. Members of this House and the people of this country who are anxious that your House of Commons should be a fair—I do not say a mathematically exact—representation of your great populations and their great interests, of the intelligence, and industry, and wealth, and virtue of all classes of the community,—I am, I repeat, perfectly satisfied that they are the very last persons who can fairly be charged by the right hon. Gentleman with any attempt to revolutionize the English constitution. I rose for the purpose of making this declaration. I make it in all truthfulness. I believe it to be as I say in my conscience. I am of opinion, moreover, that the sentiments of which I speak are those which are entertained by the great body of the constituencies throughout the country. I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have had the courage to remit for settlement to the constituencies of the United Kingdom the question at issue between us; but I warn the right hon. Gentleman and his friends against making when they go to the hustings,—when their committees send out placards, 1316 when they make speeches, and when their press writes—charges such as those which I take it for granted they are about to hurl against the great party of Reform. If you choose to adopt that line you must take the consequences. You know on which side the power of numbers will be ranged, and you must be perfectly well aware that if you dare the contest to the utmost it is your party and not ours which will come off second best in the strife. Now, I wish that we should enter upon this great contested election which is so near at hand, and on which so much as regards the interest of this great country depends, as far as possible in a spirit of calmness. I should like that hon. Gentlemen opposite should lay all the bearings of the case before their friends and constituents. I would say to them, "Discuss it fairly, and do not charge me with revolutionary designs. I do not charge you with fostering such designs. I simply charge you with what I should call an unacquaintance with the opinions of your countrymen, and an ignorance of what is requisite for the good of your country;" and, having said thus much, I shall say no more, but that I entirely approve of the course which the right. Gentleman and his colleagues have taken. It is, I think, a wise course in the emergency with which they have to deal, and I trust that when the new Parliament meets there will be enough of decided opinion in this House to enable some Government which may then be formed—if the present Government should refuse the task, as I presume they will—which will bring forward and pass a moderate, but substantial measure of reform, such as will place it in our power to say to every man, every malcontent—if, indeed, there should be any left—that, although Parliament does not exactly represent the people at large, it is so fair and just a representation of all the great interests of the country that during our lifetime, at least, we may never be called on again to discuss any question connected with the Reform of the House of Commons.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
Sir, one observation has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer this evening which I cannot pass over without notice, and which I must be permitted to couple with another observation which fell from him on a former occasion. The right hon. Gentleman says, that he does not consider this question of Reform the appanage of any individual or the privilege 1317 of any party, and in that view of the subject I entirely concur. I stated before that, in my mind it was a question which admitted of considerable doubt, whether the Earl of Derby ought to have accepted office last year. My own opinion, indeed, was, that he ought to have refused that honour. But having assumed the reins of office he was, in my opinion, bound to introduce a measure of Reform. Thus far I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But if it be competent for any person or party to introduce a Reform Bill, it is assuredly competent for any other person or party to form a judgment on that Bill, and, if they think it mischievous, to oppose it to the utmost of their power. That right the Chancellor of the Exchequer appeared a few nights ago to refuse me. I took, however, that course which I deemed—if the Bill were, as I believed it to be, of a mischievous character—the most Parliamentary and the most convenient for this House to adopt, because if we were to go into Committee on a Bill which abounded in faults in its main provisions, and which was regarded with disfavour by the great majority of the House of Commons—if clause after clause were to be rejected, and new clause after new clause introduced in their stead, it would have been a question every day and almost every hour, whether the Government should throw up their Bill—whether they should consider the last vote or that by which it was preceded destructive of their measure, or what course they ought to pursue. But the right hon. Gentleman has told me, that in placing my Resolution on the notice paper, I acted in a manner which, in accordance with his judgment, precluded him from declaring the peace of Europe to be secure. Now, let the House recollect that the right hon. Gentleman, in bringing forward his measure, stated it to be a measure of such magnitude, that it was superior in point of importance even to the question of peace or war, because peace or war could be only of limited duration; whereas the passing of a Bill on the subject of the representation of the people in Parliament might influence the country for many succeeding generations. Yet, after having made that statement, the right hon. Gentleman thought it right to endeavour to cast censure upon me because, he having moved the second reading of his Reform Bill, I, in his opinion, In opposing that Bill, took a course which was dangerous to the peace of En- 1318 rope. My answer to him is, that if there were any such danger, the responsibility of creating it rests with the Government, and not with me. They have no right to propose a Bill involving such vast consequences, or to press it to a second reading, if they thought that opposition to it might prove dangerous to the peace of Europe. They are not justified in saying to us, "Here is a Bill affecting the present as well as future generations of our countrymen, altering the constitution of the State and placing its representation on a new basis; you must pass it, with slight Amendments, almost in its present shape, or you will be responsible for disturbing the general tranquillity of the Continent." For my own part, Sir, I believe there is no such danger. I cannot bring myself to think that a vote of this House, or the treatment which this Bill has received, can have any influence whatever on the settlement of European peace. Having said thus much, I now proceed to make a few observations with respect to the manner in which the vote of this House has been received by the Government. Sir, I admit there was in the Resolution which I proposed, matter which might have led Ministers to the conclusion, that their conduct was censured in reference to the introduction of the particular measure which they brought forward. It behaved us, on the other hand, to consider the grave interests involved, and the reasons which had induced the Government to introduce that measure. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) that it is desirable per se that this question should be left to the decision of the constituent body before it is again brought under the consideration of the House. I think it was of great importance that this House should endeavour to settle the question in the present Session. And there was in the late debate, although not agreeing with the Government views, there was so much agreement as to the general principles of any measure that would be likely to pass this House, that I think it would have been in the power of the Government—if they had introduced a reasonable measure—to obtain the sanction of Parliament to its provisions. Considering the state of public business, considering the state of affairs abroad, and considering the danger of the question itself, that parties may become more and more driven asunder, I think it was the duty of the Government to exhaust every means of getting this 1319 question settled before they resorted to the measure of a dissolution. With respect to that measure of a dissolution, it is certainly a perfectly constitutional step. There can be no objection upon the ground of its not being a constitutional proceeding the Government tendering their advice to Her Majesty to dissolve this Parliament and to summon another. Whether that was a wise course to adopt is undoubtedly a separate question upon which the new Parliament will probably have to decide. Now, Sir, I have been much taunted, during the last debate with the vagueness with which I, while opposing the Government Bill, spoke of the future measure of Reform which I should he ready to propose or to support. I was vague upon that point advisedly. I knew perfectly well that, if I had sketched out a measure which I thought would be acceptable to the House, the debates upon the other side would naturally have fastened upon my measure, would have discussed all its provisions, and would have endeavoured, under the cloud of objections which they would have raised, to conceal the radical faults of the measure which they themselves had brought in. I rejoice that that measure has disappeared. My belief is that, in the first instance, it must have tended to the creation of a class of close nomination boroughs such as were disfranchised under Schedule A of the Reform Act of 1832. I believe that must have been its first consequence. Its second, I believe, must have been to admit much greater innovations than the Conservative party would like to see. My notions of a Reform Bill are very much more humble, and I have no objection to tell the House what those notions are. In the first place I should not propose any new basis of representation. I would preserve the representation of counties, cities, and boroughs as it has been from the earliest times of the House of Commons. I should propose a £10 franchise in counties. I think the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer was sound when he said the Government could hardly have proposed a higher franchise without being reminded of the decision of a majority of the House, and, therefore, besides being of opinion that it is a sound franchise, I should think it the wisest course to propose it to the House. Then with regard to all those franchises which are called "fancy franchises," there were some, no doubt, of that nature in the Bill of 1854. They may require revision and 1320 amendment, but, nevertheless, I am disposed to think that those franchises would admit many men well qualified to vote at elections. Now, as to the franchise in boroughs, I am of opinion, notwithstanding all that has been said upon the other side in the course of the debate, that it would be useful, that it would be safe, and even that it would be absolutely necessary, in order to make the representation safe, to introduce another class of voters in boroughs, and that I would do by reducing the present yearly value of £10 to a yearly value of £6. I think there are great advantages in not having the franchise the same as the municipal franchise. In introducing the Municipal Reform Bill I stated the opinion of the Government of that day, that it was desirable to keep the franchises distinct; and I am of that opinion still; and, besides that, the reports which I have received from various parts of the country as to the municipal franchise do not make me think it would be desirable to introduce that franchise for the election of Members of Parliament. But I do believe, contrary to the opinion which has been expressed in such strong terms from the Treasury Bench, that it is desirable to introduce a larger portion of the working body—I should say of the working classes—into the constituent body which sends representatives to Parliament. I believe, Sir, they are a loyal body, that those I refer to, the best portion of the working classes, are a sufficiently instructed body to be able to make a good choice of Members of Parliament. A great political writer has said, their is a vast difference between a judgment with respect to political measures, and a judgment with respect to men who are fit to be entrusted with political power. I believe that is a perfectly true observation, and I do think the addition of a large number of the working classes would form a better and a sounder basis for representation in this House than we now possess. [An hon. MEMBER: The freemen.] As the hon. Gentleman has mentioned freemen, I may say I am strongly of opinion, as matters now stand, it would not be wise to interfere with them at all. In 1832 we left the privileges of freemen as they now stand. We did so deliberately, after much debate in this House, and still more elsewhere. I do not think it would be wise now to make any change in that respect, although in the Bill of 1854 some change was proposed. There is another subject 1321 which I think should he dealt with by a separate Bill. I mean the question of disfranchisement and the redistribution of seats. That is a question encompassed by the greatest difficulties, because there is not only the difficulty of disfranchisement in the first instance, but the question of redistribution will raise differences of opinion as to counties and towns, and various other points of the utmost difficulty of solution. My opinion is that if about twenty-six seats were taken from the smaller boroughs now returning two Members each, and to them were added the four seats now vacant, we should have a fund of thirty seats to distribute, which should be given to those new places which are considered to be deserving of representation—such as Burnley, Birkenhead, Staleybridge—and perhaps to some of the largest agricultural counties. Whether that would be an arrangement that would last for many years it would of course be presumptuous in me to say positively, but my opinion is that Bills of that kind, so providing for a reform of the representative system, would settle the question for many years to come. I do not wish to indulge in vagueness upon this subject, and I may say that I think such a measure would be more beneficial than the late Bill of the Government, that it would produce little disturbance in the representation, and would send to the House of Commons men well qualified to discuss the affairs of the country. The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have chosen otherwise. They have chosen to make declarations in this House in the strongest terms against any further lowering of the franchise, against any further admission of the working classes. [Cries of "No, no."] Over and over again did the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Colonies and other right hon. Gentlemen declare that beyond the franchises in the Bill they could not consent to any further admission of the working classes by a reduction of the £10 franchise. I believe such a declaration, if supported by any Parliament, would be found an exceedingly dangerous one. I believe its tendency would be to make a large class of the very best men in the country, the most industrious and the best conducted, hostile to the very institution of this House. They would no doubt be brought to consider themselves excluded by an arbitrary and invidious line, and I am sure that we should be unable to keep up that line. There is one thing more upon which my 1322 noble Friend (Viscount Palmerston) has touched, and upon which I also wish to make one observation; and that is whether, when this Parliament is dissolved, the new Parliament is to be immediately summoned? In 1841, Sir Robert Peel, when I announced a dissolution, asked me for a pledge that no time should be lost in summoning the new Parliament, but that as soon as it should be elected it should meet. I suppose it is the intention of the Earl of Derby and his colleagues to pursue a similar course. It would be quite unconstitutional if they did not pursue that course, and refrained from meeting Parliament as soon as possible. As Ministers of the Crown they have taken upon themselves the responsibility of advising a dissolution, and I think it is the duty of this House to aid them in every way by passing as quickly as possible such supplies as may be required. [An hon. MEMBER:—The Ballot.] On that subject I can only say, if the present Ministry should introduce any Reform Bill containing clauses introducing the ballot I shall feel it my duty to vote against it.
§ MR. DRUMMOND
(who was at first heard with difficulty) said, he attributed the majority of Friday morning last to the combination of three factions, not only discordant with each other, but the Members of each of which were discordant among themselves, and not one of which had dared to produce to the House a Bill of its own. There were three heads to the Opposition. Nobody knew where the tail was, but wherever it was, it was always at variance with the heads. The hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) seemed very much alarmed at the possibility of his measure being characterized as a revolutionary measure. But if such were not the case, there was no meaning in the English language, for there was not an institution in the country—the Crown, the House of Lords, the whole structure of Parliament—which he would not do his best to destroy. Whenever that Bill was brought forward he (Mr. Drummond) for one should lose no opportunity of exposing its revolutionary character. It was worthy of remark how very different the language of the hon. Member was in that House, where he could be met, from what it was when he was addressing large masses in the country; but that wag not all. There was an association which hired people to go about the country preaching untruth, in common with those persons the hon. Member advocated the throw 1323 ing of all the direct taxation on land. Was not that revolutionary? He said, if ever there was a contrivance for preventing the passing of good laws it was the contrivance of King, Lords, and Commons. He was sorry that he had not then got the hon. Member's speeches in his pocket; he generally had them with him; but it was in such terms as he had mentioned that the hon. Gentleman spoke of a form of Government which was the admiration of surrounding nations. It was important that fallacies like these should be exposed, and he hoped that no opportunity would be lost of letting the country know how destitute of foundation they were.
§ MR. HORSMAN
* Mr. Speaker, the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to the course determined on by the Government cannot have taken the House by surprise. Independently of mere party considerations no one can regret that the Government, after the position in which the vote of Friday morning placed them, have taken a course consistent with their own character and with the dignity of the House, especially if, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has stated, it is, of the two courses open to them, the one most conducive to public interests.
The condition of the Government and of the House had become critical after the vote of Friday. The question had assumed larger dimensions; complications were thickening—responsibility was growing both at home and abroad; and an anxious public was watching every move in this House with the more jealousy because, on this very question of Reform, Parliament had lately acted with an appearance of levity and insincerity that had left it little character to lose.
I am one of those who think that the pledge given by Lord Derby on the subject of Parliamentary Reform, as it was at variance with party traditions, so it was also at variance with sound party policy; and the mere fact alleged by the two seceding Members of the Cabinet, that at the beginning of former Sessions a vague paragraph had been inserted in the Royal Speech promising a measure of Reform, and at the instance of those whose policy the present Government disapproved of—imposed, in my opinion, no obligation on the noble Lord to legislate on the subject.
I believed it to be impossible for a Government, situated as they were, to propose a Bill that could be satisfactory to their opponents without displeasing their 1324 friends, or palatable to their friends without disappointing their opponents—and so it proved.
As the noble Lord, the Member for the City, has just stated the Amendments which he would make in our representation, I may be allowed to remind the House of a statement I made, or, if I may say so without presumption, a challenge I threw out on the first night of the debate, and which to the last remained unanswered. On that occasion I challenged any man in the House, layman or lawyer, to refute my assertion—that the Government Bill was so constructed that it might be made a more liberal and popular Bill than any that we had seen since 1832, by fewer, and shorter, and simpler Amendments than are made in ninety-nine out of every hundred Bills of the same length that pass through Parliament. I gave that challenge, as I have said, on the first night of the debate. Almost all the most distinguished lawyers in the House spoke after me. Every one, with hardly an exception, did me the honour of referring to some portion of my speech. But on this point my opponents observed a most judicious silence; while some of the most eminent legal authorities in the House endorsed my statement. But what did other distinguished men, not professional, say to it? The noble Lord the Member for Tiverton entirely supported me; and the most important confirmation was in the speech of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle, who made, I may say without disparagement to others, the most damaging speech against the Bill; and yet, searching, logical, and conclusive as it was, leaving no other weak point untouched, he avoided all notice of this. And the statement did not, when he rose, rest only on my authority. The right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Bute, had just preceded him; he not only adopted and confirmed my statement, but he enlarged upon it—urged it more fully and powerfully in detail—and yet, as to this important challenge, reiterated on the high legal authority of the right hon. Member for Bute, the right hon. Baronet preserved a guarded, and most significant, and most conclusive silence.
Then am I not entitled to assume for myself and those friends who voted with me, that if our suggestion had been attended to, all the new provisions which the noble Lord has to-night sketched out might have been inserted in the Bill? We might, for any impediment presented by the struc- 1325 ture of the Bill, have had a large extension of the suffrage—a £6 suffrage or a household suffrage—and if the House had so willed it, even the establishment of the ballot.
Doubts are now expressed as to the prudence and policy of the course which the Government has determined to take; but the vote of the House had left them no alternative but dissolution or resignation. On their own knowledge of circumstances and their own responsibility, they have selected the former, and we are not in a condition to impeach that choice.
For, as to a change of Government, every one must see inconvenience in that course also, at the present moment. My opinion as to the continuance in office of the present Government has ever been this; if I am asked whether the present state of things in this House is satisfactory, with so weak a Government in power, I should reply—certainly not. And if I am asked if the House can have confidence in a Government so placed, that it cannot conduct affairs with safety at home, or power and influence abroad, I reply, as every man in the House will reply, that no Government can have our confidence which does not represent the first law of our constitutional system, government by the will and power of a majority.
And if it had so happened that the Cabinet had fallen from its own internal differences or weakness, I should have deemed that, in a constitutional point of view, a great relief; and the new Government would have been entitled to forbearance; and would have received it from a nation that is ever tolerant of men who, conscious of their difficulties and deficiencies, and arrogating to themselves no exclusive title to statesmanship or office, may have been placed in power by the shortcomings of their opponents.
But it is a very different thing when a Government is displaced by violent action from without. The succeeding one has then excited irritation, provoked hostility, aggravated responsibility, and would, in this instance, become the substitution of one weak and precarious Government for another.
I have desired to see the passing of a Reform Bill this Session, because it would assist in two things which the nation wants—rest, and a strong Government.
Rest is incompatible with the agitation that must follow a postponement of Reform. And when I speak of agitation, I 1326 do not use that term in the common acceptation, as implying agitation from below—I have no dread of that—to use a phrase that has been lately much bandied about in debate, I have no fear of the people of England. I have no fear of the honest, earnest, hard-working operative class, that have justified by their conduct every privilege that has been granted, and will repay by their loyalty every trust that may be reposed. What I dread is the agitation from above—emanating from those in high places, making Reform a stepping stone to power. I dread not the agitation of the poor man struggling for a vote, but the agitation of the rich, scrambling for office; and that is the danger that postponement creates.
And as to the want of a strong Government—the present Government is not strong—the next one, if it be the result of a party struggle on Reform, cannot be strong—and in my conscience I believe that it depends on the proceedings of the new Parliament when it assembles, whether in our generation we shall ever see a strong Government again.
That will be a prospect resting very much on the conduct of those who are leaders in this House. It will be a question, when the new Parliament assembles, not of Reform, nor of party, but of the permanent influence and character of our representative system. It will be for our leaders to uphold that character, and maintain unimpaired that influence. But, however they to whom we have a right to look for example in this House, may discharge themselves of their responsibility and duty, I hope that we on these benches shall remember that we, every one of us, have a responsibility and a duty too—that we shall make it known that a political party can have higher ends than office, and that we shall throw back the taunt which has been so frequently cast upon us in these debates, that ours isA vulgar party race,Struggling by dark intrigue for place.I trust that, on every occasion, we shall affirm by our vote, and prove by our example, that if party combinations have any value, it is when they knit and bind men together in that high mission of vindicating what is right—and repudiating and resisting what is wrong—and subordinating every personal and party end to the triumph of those great principles of patriotism and truth, on which alone we 1327 can build the strength or sustain the honour of men, of parties, or of nations.
§ MR. DEEDES
said, he understood the noble Lord the Member for London to say that the Government, in proposing the Bill, themselves put a bar to any possibility of their lowering the borough franchise, and that those hon. Members who had supported the second reading had pledged themselves against lowering that franchise, and were barred in the same manner as the Government. [Lord JOHN RUSSELL: No, no; I did not mean that.] He certainly understood that noble Lord to say that those hon. Members who had supported the Bill had precluded themselves from taking any share in lowering the borough franchise.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
I alluded to those Members of the Government who spoke from the Treasury bench. I do not hold the same opinion in respect of those independent Members who supported the Government, for I understood them to differ with the Government on almost every point.
§ MR. DEEDES
said, he was glad to hear this explanation. He had long been prepared to lower the county franchise from £50 to £20, and that he thought the borough franchise might be reduced to a £6 rating, believing that the time was come when there were many men occupying £6 houses who were perfectly worthy to be entrusted with the right of voting. At the same time he was of opinion that it would be a very sound principle that under no circumstances, whether for property in a borough or a county, should a man have more than one vote. He thought that the Government was wrong in bringing in a Reform Bill at all; it was misplaced in their hands; but, having done so, and having found that their measure was one the principle of which was approved neither by their friends nor their opponents, they ought to have withdrawn and introduced another, which would have been consistent with what was expected of them. As to the course which they had now adopted, he could only say that if they felt it their duty not to resign, no other course was open to them. Entertaining as he did a strong feeling that, looking to the state of affairs on the Continent, a change of Government would at the present time be attended with great risk, he was perfectly ready to subscribe to the course which they had taken, and he should go to his constituents without the slightest fear of being obliged to 1328 tell them that he had given a vote which required any explanation.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
Sir, having in the commencement of the debate on the Reform Bill, expressed in very strong terms my objections to what was then generally understood to be the principle of the Bill—namely, the uniformity of the franchise—I hope the House will allow me to state in a few words my reason for voting against the Resolution of the noble Lord. I agreed with the noble Lord in a great part of that Resolution. I objected to the change proposed in respect of the transference of the freeholders from the county to the borough constituencies, because I represent, perhaps, a larger body of freeholders, and freeholders in a town, than most county Members in the House: I should be ungrateful if I did not object to that proposition. But I wish to state the grounds on which I did so. Those freeholders were to be limited to their boroughs, but no additional representatives were to be given to those boroughs. The freeholders were to be transferred to a large body of voters, while neither to the counties from which they were to be removed notwithstanding the great reduction of the occupation franchise nor to the borough constituencies, to which they were to be added, were there to be any additional representatives given. Again, Sir, I thought it an unreasonable proposition that the county franchise should be reduced four-fifths, while no reduction was to be made in that of the boroughs. Though I might not go so far as the noble Lord in wishing to see the franchise for the boroughs reduced to £6, I thought some reduction ought to be made, and that if the occupation franchise in the counties was to be reduced by four-fifths that in the boroughs should descend proportionately. I have thought it right to make this statement, because, as a Conservative—a firm Conservative—and one who has ever upheld the bonds of party, I, for one, consider myself at liberty to object to any portion of a measure introduced by the Government of the day. In this case I, in the first instance, felt that so grave were the objections against the Bill, it would be my duty to vote against it. Why did I not do so? Because in the course of the discussions I heard Her Majesty's Government repeatedly say that that which I had been led to believe was a principle, was in reality only a detail. It was only after I understood that the Government 1329 left unfettered, with respect to these details, every man in the House who voted for the second reading, though urging objections against the Bill, that I voted against the Resolution of the noble Lord. I do not mean to express any opinion on the course adopted by Her Majesty's Government; but I think that, knowing as they did the objections of many of their own supporters to the framework of this Bill, it would have been wiser in them to have withdrawn it, and to have proceeded in another form; but I must warn Her Majesty's Government against this. They may send us back to our constituents. Some of us may not, perhaps, return; but if we do return—others and myself—we shall come here as Conservative representatives, considering that we are sent here to express the opinions of the Conservatives of the country, in no blind obedience to any lender but as much the representatives of Conservative opinions as any any hon. Gentlemen on the other side, the exponents of what are called Liberal sentiments. I may regret the course which Her Majesty's Government have decided on; for though a due sense of their own honour may entail upon them the necessity of a dissolution, that is a course fraught with the greatest inconvenience. I cannot help expressing the satisfaction which I, in common with so many others, feel at the talent and general knowledge which this House has exhibited in the debate which has just concluded. I think it highly to the advantage of the country at large that this most important subject was fully discussed in the House of Commons before being committed to the hands of those who will discuss it out of doors. I therefore regret that the course which the Government have taken should have led to this, as I consider, premature appeal to the country, the more so, since the dissolution of Parliament is to take place at a time when, from what we hear of the position of foreign affairs, the greatest inconvenience may be felt from even the most temporary suspension of the functions of the British Parliament. As, however, the Government have felt it right to appeal to the country in vindication of their policy, I must only hope that constituencies will remember that, in returning Members to this House, they are sending men here to decide, not on the fate of this Government or that or of one Parliament, but on the character of successive Parliaments which are to 1330 govern this nation for years to come. I feel very grateful to the House for having allowed me this opportunity of explaining my vote on this Bill. I am a supporter of the ties of party in the sense of a combination for the maintenance of principle; but I am no party man in any sense that would fetter me in respect of my opinions on such important a measure as that recently before Parliament if opposed to the principles I hold; and had I not been informed by my hon. Friends near me that they had received from Government an assurance that they were to be unfettered when the Bill came into Committee, I would have voted against it. As I understood that a vote for the second reading was in no way to fetter any hon. Gentleman if the Bill went into Committee, I felt it my duty to vote, against the Resolution of the noble Lord.
§ COLONEL WILSON PATTEN
said, he thought that it was very desirable that the House should have some more accurate knowledge than it yet possessed as to what were the intentions of the Government. He understood that Ministers had advised Her Majesty to dissolve Parliament at some early period. It would be convenient to the House to know what they meant by "an early period." There was nothing on the Order book to prevent a dissolution taking place almost immediately, and after the speech of the noble Lord, the Member for Tiverton, he could not believe that any impediment would be thrown in the way of necessary business. When the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton recommended a dissolution, the votes that stood on the paper were passed as Votes on account, and he saw no reason why the same course should not be adopted now. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer would now state more definitely than he had yet done, at what period he thought it likely the dissolution would take place.
§ MR. BENTINCK
remarked that he was glad that no share of the responsibility of recommending a dissolution rested on his shoulders. He rose not to go into the question, but to advert to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright.) The speech which that hon. Member had made was more suited for the platform than for that House. He had threatened the Conservative party with the pressure—he would not say the violence—of numbers. He (Mr. Bentinck) did not think it was language becoming that House to 1331 hold out to Members that they were to be coerced by menaces. Threats of this description grated on his ear and he could not pass them over in silence; but he was not going to bandy menaces across the House. When the hon. Member referred to the large numbers who were prepared to support him in intimidating those who sat on that (the Ministerial) side of the House, he lost sight of the great rural population of the country. That population was as much opposed as any hon. Member of that House could be to the doctrines of the hon. Member, and would be, in numbers and determination, more than a match for the class upon which the hon. Member relied. The hon. Member always seemed to think that the question of Reform could only be discussed with reference to the larger towns, and that the rural districts had no interest in the matter. So inadequately were the rural districts represented, that no Reform could be complete unless it did justice to those districts by giving them a larger share with the representation. It was thoroughly understood throughout the country that the whole question of representation was a question of taxation, and that the object of the hon. Member for Birmingham and his friends was to throw the whole burden of taxation on the rural districts. He did not believe that the menaces of the hon. Member for Birmingham would intimidate those to whom they were addressed, or that his language would gain for him the confidence of the great bulk of the people of this country.
SIR WALTER FARQUHAR
observed that he was glad to find that the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton took a very different course on this occasion to that which had actuated him on the occasion of the late debate. The noble Lord had then uttered a somewhat unconstitutional threat that he would not permit the Government to go to the country; now, however, he had intimated that he would throw no impediment in the way of that course. He ventured to think that the noble Lord, on second thoughts, had taken a much better view of things. He also would beg to congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham upon the moderation of his tone, as compared with his violent language during the recess, and he trusted the improvement would continue during the forthcoming election. The noble Lord the Member for the City had stated that he thought the noble Earl now at the head of the Government ought not to have accepted office under the 1332 circumstances by which he was surrounded; but the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) seemed to have forgotten that, before the Earl of Derby took office, he had an interview with Her Majesty, and asked Her to reconsider Her decision, and that it was only upon such reconsideration that the noble Earl at last consented to accept office. He also must express his regret that the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) did not favour the House with a sketch of his own Reform Bill when he proposed his Resolution, instead of reserving it for the present occasion. The scheme which the noble Lord now proposed was a modification of his previous plans, especially as regarded the disfranchisement of small boroughs. He thought that all the points which had been objected to by hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition benches might have been dealt with in Committee, and then the House would have redeemed the pledge made in their Address to the Crown, to give the proposition a calm and impartial consideration. Well, the Government were now about to appeal to the country, and it had been asserted that those sitting on the ministerial benches were afraid of the people. He, as a Conservative Member, elected in a great measure by artisans and freemen, denied the charge; for the people had shown a determination to defend the interests of the country, to stand up for Church and State, and to send to that House as representatives men resolved to do their duty fearlessly.
§ COLONEL FRENCH
remarked that he did not think it was of very great interest to continue the present debate, but there was one point on which it was desirable that the House should be informed. A question had been pressed on the Government by the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton which ought to receive an answer, namely—when the dissolution was to take place. He did not blame the Government for the course they had adopted in regard to their position in that House. Indeed he was glad that the Ministers for their own sakes had not adopted the advice of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton, and consented to be dragged through the dirt. There were only two courses to pursue—either resignation or dissolution; and, if report spoke true, they had resolved at different times upon both those courses, and now adhered to the latter. He did not, however, concur in the reason given by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer for adopting this 1333 course, namely—that a strong Government could not be formed from Members on the Opposition side of the House; for he believed that, had the Ministry resigned, a stronger Government than had existed since the Reform Act of 1832 would have been formed. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he spoke of an apparent difference between the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston) and the noble Lord the Member for London (Lord J. Russell) overlooked the fact that they were perfectly in accord as to what should be done, but differed only as to the when and the how. The noble Member for London would have crushed the Government Bill at once, while the noble Member for Tiverton would have destroyed it by degrees, and converted it into a measure of his own. He thought that the House should now be assured by the Government that the Parliament would be dissolved as soon as public business would permit, and be called together as soon as possible after the elections.
SIR FREDERICK SMITH
said, he would request the indulgence of the House for a few moments. He would not have occupied the time of the House but for an observation which fell from the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright), whom he understood to say that the Government were not disposed to lower the borough franchise, nor were the Gentlemen who supported them. He (Sir Frederick Smith) understood that the Government were willing, if good reason could be shown, to alter and amend any part of their Reform Bill, and certainly it was under that impression that he voted for the second reading. If the noble Lord the Member for London had been solicitous of carrying any Reform Bill this year he might have dropped his Resolution, seeing the willingness of the Ministry to act in a fair spirit, and in that case they would at that moment have been in Committee discussing the clauses of the Bill, which even that able and experienced statesman, the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton, admitted had good points in it. However, he (Sir Frederick Smith) was anxious to call attention to that clause which ought to be expunged from any future Bill—namely, the 15th, which disfranchised the dockyard artisans. [A laugh.] Hon. Gentlemen might laugh, but this was a serious matter. Here were some of the best artisans in the kingdom, who, having the franchise, were to be disfranchised the moment they were 1334 entered into Her Majesty's service—thus branding them with unfitness when there were no more loyal men in existence. There was no corruption among them; ten years back there might have been, but of late years this had been impossible, for not a single appointment was now made by the Admiralty. When there were vacancies a notice was fixed to the dockyard gates to that effect, and any men might present themselves, and were entered by the superintendent, if qualified. Then, as respects promotion, any men might compete for advancement. They underwent a strict competitive examination, and the names of the best men were sent to Sir Baldwin Walker by the examining officer, and if Sir Baldwin considered that the examination papers bore out the recommendation, he submitted the names to the First Lord of the Admiralty, by whom the appointment was then made. Nothing could be fairer to the men and to the country. He quite agreed in a proposal to lower the borough franchise to £6, as proposed by the noble Lord the Member for London. Since 1832 the price of materials had so decreased that a house which was then of the value of £10 yearly was not so good a house as that of £6 now. With regard to the franchises in the Bill, the Government, he believed, thought the lodgers and the savings bank franchises were both of them calculated to introduce a highly intelligent and deserving class to the suffrage. He hoped that in any future Bill the good points of the Government measure would not be lost sight of.
§ SIR DENHAM NORREYS
said, that the noble Lord the Member for London had placed him in a very false position by the course which he had followed. He had been unsuccessful in the late debate in catching the eye of the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair, although he had risen no less than thirty times. Had he then been able to address the House he should have referred to the previous proposition of the noble Lord the Member for London in respect to small boroughs, many of which the noble Lord would have disfranchised. He should have stated that it was because he represented a small borough which the noble Lord would have disfranchised—that he preferred the plan of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to obtain population for the small boroughs by an extension of their boundaries; and on that account he gave the right hon. Gentleman his support, and felt it his duty to vote against the Resolu- 1335 tion. There were some other reasons why he took that course. Had the noble Lord allowed the House to go into Committee on the Bill they would have defeated the Government on some main question. How much better a hustings cry would they then have had. They would then have gone with the cry of "Emancipation of the working classes," or something of that kind. Now it would be open to right hon. Gentlemen opposite to take up the cry—they could say that they would have clone something for the working classes but the Opposition would not let them. The noble Lord seemed afraid of the consequence of his own vote, and laboured to show it was not a party vote. Now, when a general laid down a train to blow up a fortress, he meant to blow it up, and did not regret his success. So the train of the noble Lord was, perfectly legitimately, directed to the Treasury bench, and he (Sir Denham Norreys) could not understand why he was now so afraid of his own success. He doubted, however, whether it would be for the advantage of the country, or even of the Liberal party, that the Government should be transferred to the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell). The Liberal party were not sufficiently united. In opposition they managed admirably well. But how was Government to be carried on by a party which was split up into three or four sections? Then, certain personal jealousies were sure to operate, which would render Government from this side of the House so insecure that he did not think its existence would be for the public benefit. Nor were such frequent changes of Parliament desirable with a view to the credit of this country abroad. As far as he was concerned, should he be again returned, whatever Government was in power, so long as he approved their measures, they should have his support; and he did think that the right hon. Gentleman had been most unfairly treated when the House refused to discuss his Bill in Committee.
§ LORD ELCHO
said, he rose merely to put two questions to the noble Lord opposite (Lord John Russell). The House had had before it several Reform Bills. There was the last Bill of the noble Lord; the Government Reform Bill; and the Bill which had been shadowed out by the hon. Member for Birmingham. Now the noble Lord, when the Government Bill was before them a few nights ago, said that he was willing to enfranchise the great body of the working 1336 classes. Again, on that evening he had used that expression, declaring his opinion that the mode in which the Government proposed to effect this object—by means of "fancy franchises"—was inadequate, and that there should be a reduction of the borough franchise from £10 to £6 value, not rating, as was proposed in his Bill of 1854. He (Lord Elcho) wished to ask what the noble Lord meant by enfranchising "a" or "the" great body of the working classes? He presumed that the noble Lord would not have shadowed forth such a measure without considering its effect, and he wished to know therefore what were the noble Lord's calculations as to the number who would be added to the borough constituencies by a £6 franchise, and of that number what would be the proportion of artisans or of the working classes?
§ MR. BERNAL OSBORNE
—Sir, the noble Lord (Lord Elcho) has put a question which his experience in Parliament ought to have taught him cannot ho, answered. But if he had studied the subject, I think he would have seen that by the calculations of Mr. New march the number of voters who would be added to the constituencies by a £6 franchise, and by the suffrage proposed by the noble Lord, would he very nearly a million. [Lord ELCHO: What proportion will there be of the working classes?] I shall not allow the noble Lord to drive me up in a corner by asking questions which it is impossible for anybody here to answer. We all know that the noble Lord is opposed to the admission of the working classes at all; but if he really wants information, I refer him to the paper published by Mr. Newmarch, which will save him from asking any such questions. With regard to the subject of discussion this evening, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Horsman). I am not at all surprised at the decision of the Government. After the speeches made by the noble Lord the Secretary of State for India and by the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Admiralty, it was totally impossible for the Government, consistently with their honour, to remain in office without resorting to the constitutional process of dissolving. Directly I heard the speech of the right hon. Baronet the Colonial Secretary, in which he called upon the middle classes to resist any large measure of reform, I wrote to my friends at Dovor, saying, "You may depend upon it we shall have a dissolution soon after Easter, and the Government are getting up a cry to go 1337 to the hustings with." I am not surprised, then, at the decision of the Government; on the contrary, it seems to me very natural that they should wish to try the chance of a dissolution; but I warn them that, having set the hall a-rolling, they will find it very difficult to stop it. I may or may not come back to this House; at any rate, I know that hon. Gentlemen opposite will do all in their power to keep me out; but, if I do come hack, I expect to see a very different Parliament from the present, and I rather rejoice at it. I think this is a very had Parliament, especially that part of it which sits on this the Opposition side of the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has paid a very just compliment to his party, and I think we might take a leaf out of their book with advantage. I regret that we are not more united; but when the hon. Member for Mallow (Sir Denham Norreys), in consistency with the old air, "The Rakes of Mallow," complains of our want of union, let me remind him that he was one of the thirty-one who deserted the party in the late division, and has done what he could, therefore, to create disunion. Then the hon. Baronet said, we might have altered this Bill in Committee. Why this is directly in the teeth of what we heard from the Ministerial benches, where it was said, "We will accept of no Amendment." ["Oh, oh!"] Yes, it is true the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury was put up one evening, and said, the Government would grant everything, and the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Horsman) and the hon. Baronet (Sir D. Norreys), forming on this occasion a party of two, cheered him lustily; but half an hour afterwards the Secretary of the Treasury was contradicted by another Member of the Government. ["No, no!"] Yes, this sort of deathbed repentance can't be accepted. Did not the right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland say that the Government would not condescend to sit in the House if the Bill were subjected to changes? and the First Lord of the Admiralty, in stronger and louder language, said much the same thing. The two hon. Gentlemen to whom I have alluded have been making speeches to their constituents deprecating opposition to the Ministry. Now I invite opposition to them from this side of the House. An attempt has been made to throw dirt upon us by connecting us with the hon. Member for Birmingham. I have great respect for the 1338 hon. Member (Mr. Bright), though I do not go as far as he does; but some persons seem to think that there are only two parties upon this question—the Conservative and the revolutionary party. The same argument was used in the time of the old Reform Bill. Those who advocated the measure of 1832 were also called revolutionary. This is the old rusty weapon which is always brought out by the Tory party on the eve of a general election. We shall see what execution it will do. Those hon. Members who are now trembling on the verge of a meeting with their constituents must take their position cum grano salis, and, while upon this subject, I cannot help adverting to a speech which was made by a gallant officer who sits on the other side of the House, and who voted with the Government, to his constituents down at Chatham some time ago, in which he told them that he would vote against the Bill. The hon. and gallant Gentleman's conduct, indeed, reminds one of the old paraphrase—Sir Frederick, longing to be at 'em,was speaking to the men of Chatham.But, abstaining from all further criticism upon the wide difference between that hon. and gallant Officer's speech and his vote, I would remind the hon. Member for Mallow, whose constituency consists, I believe, at present of a small but select number, that it would be extremely desirable if we on this side of the House were to take a leaf out of the hook of hon. Gentlemen opposite and give up some of those impracticable crotchets which now impede our united action, Having given this advice to the tails, I think I am hound to say something also with respect to the heads of the Liberal party. As long as we have two noble Lords who do not act in unison, but who are constantly striving to know which of them is to smell first at the nosegay, so long will there be hon. Gentlemen on this who will make excuse for voting with those who sit on the opposite side of the House. I should therefore appeal to the patriotism of those two noble Lords to come to some distinct settlement of their differences. I call upon them to do so in the name of their party. How long, I should like to know, are we to go on in this way, not knowing whom we are to follow? I believe the great Liberal party would be united if that question could be satisfactorily solved. Those who sit on the opposite side of the House have a leader—I allude to the right 1339 hon. Gentleman—in whom they place confidence. He has been enabled to consolidate his party—a task which, perhaps, if he had a noble Lord to quarrel with him, he would not have been able to accomplish. The consquence is that hon. Gentlemen opposite form an united body, and that they will go united to the hustings. But if we, the great Liberal party, go on Session after Session speculating as to what Lord This or Lord That will do, we shall suffer ourselves to be dragged through the dirt, and I therefore call upon those noble Lords to whom I am alluding to come to some understanding before a general election takes place as to which of them is to be our leader. The noble Lord the Member for London put forward a programme to-night which I thought a sensible and a good one, and which I think every real Liberal will be able to support. I trust I have now given a sufficient answer to the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) and I shall conclude by expressing a hope that, previous to the general election, the Liberal party will take counsel together, and not act upon the advice of those crotchety politicians who have been so well described by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Marylebone.
§ [At a later period of the evening.]—
SIR FREDERICK SMITH
said, that the hon. Member for Dovor (Mr. Bornal Osborne) had made a personal attack upon him, and had imputed to him that he had promised his constituents at Chatham that he would vote against the second reading of the Government Reform Bill, and that he had not kept that promise, but had voted for the second reading. He begged to state for the information of the House and of the hon. Member for Dovor that he had never given such a pledge to his constituents, but that what he had told them was, that although he saw some defects in the Bill he should vote for the second reading.
§ MR. BALL
said, he begged to state, in reply to the remarks of the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken, that hon. Members on the Ministerial side of the House were not, as he seemed to imagine, indisposed to give a fair consideration to any Amendments which might be proposed in the Reform Bill introduced by the Government in Committee. Their intention, upon the contrary, was to go into Committee, and there so to modify the measure that it might prove conducive to the welfare of 1340 the country. When the Bill was introduced, he had felt it to be the duty of hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House to lend their support to the Government in passing it into a law, inasmuch as they were the only Ministry who had the courage to bring such a measure under the consideration of Parliament in a tangible form. He was also of opinion that, when the speeches which had in the course of the autumn been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Lowe), and the right hon. Baronet the late Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir George Lewis) to their constituents were referred to, they would be found to justify the Government in entertaining the opinion that those right hon. Gentlemen expressed the sentiments of the party to which they belonged on the question of Reform, and he could easily understand how Her Majesty's Ministers should have taken those speeches into consideration in framing their measure, and should have their attention directed by them to the dangers which were likely to attend the adoption of the principles of which the hon. Member for Birmingham was the advocate. He had no opportunity of addressing the House during the great discussion which had taken place on the second reading of the Bill, although he had been desirous of doing so; but he trusted an opportunity would be afforded him of doing so before the dissolution of Parliament took place.
§ SIR CHARLES NAPIER
said, he wished to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty if it was intended to bring the Report of the Committee that had sat upon the above subject before the House before the dissolution. He thought it was most important that this should be done. Several frigates were then wanting to be manned. The House knew perfectly well that when two large armies were assembled, and a river only dividing them, that a single musket inopportunely fired might bring on a collision which would set Europe in a blaze; and in such a case, England would not know how soon she might require her fleet.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
stated, that when a Privy Council was next held, an Order in Council would be issued, in accordance with which the greater part of the recommendations contained in the first part of the Report of the Manning Commission would be carried into effect. With respect to the second portion of the Report, it would, he thought, be hardly right to 1341 ask the assent of Parliament to it by submitting any specific propositions to the House.
said, he did not rise to prolong the discussion, but he was anxious to ascertain from the right hon. Gentleman whether the Civil Service Superannuation Bill would be considered further before the dissolution. This was not a party measure; it was prepared in the main by the late Government, and brought in by the present one; the House had already spent a whole evening this Session in discussing the merits of the measure; it was one in which the public service took the greatest possible interest, and he trusted, therefore, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would see the advisability of its being further considered before Parliament was dissolved.
§ MR. COGAN
said, he thought the Government had taken the most dignified course open to them in recommending Her Majesty to dissolve Parliament. At the same time he wished to express a hope that in dealing with the question of Reform it should be dealt with as an Imperial measure, and that a stop should be as much as possible put to the practice of exceptional legislation. Ireland and Scotland and this country now formed a United Kingdom, and he did not see why they should be treated in an exceptional and not an Imperial line of legislation. He should also be prepared to include in any Reform Bill which might be hereafter proposed the protection of vote by ballot. He should also be glad to learn from the hon. Member for North Warwickshire whether it was his intention to proceed with his Motion respecting Maynooth on the following evening?
§ MR. LINDSAY
said, he entertained a strong conviction that the proposed expenditure of £100,000 a year, contemplated by the first portion of the Report of the Committee upon manning the Navy, would be useless, and therefore he hoped that the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Admiralty would not give his sanction to that portion of the Report until the whole question had been brought under the consideration of the House.
§ Mr. CRAWFORD
said, he wished to 1342 know what were the intentions of the Government as to the East India Loan Bill, and thought it was desirable that a day should be set apart for the consideration of the important question of Indian finance?
§ MR. AYRTON
said, he rose to ask whether it was the intention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to move that the Orders of the Day should take precedence of Notices of Motion on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the remainder of the Session, so that public business might go on. He thought it would be very inconvenient for private Members to detain the House on the eve of a dissolution with discussions which could not be brought to any practical end.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Sir, it now becomes my duty to reply to several inquiries that have been made, and to offer some comments upon some observations that have been addressed to the House. I think I ought first to reply to the queries of the noble Lord the Member for London and the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton as to the period at which we anticipate the new Parliament will assemble. I must say I was rather surprised at the inquiry. There was a pomp of patriotism about it, and the inquiry was pressed in such a manner as to convoy the idea that it was supposed the Government were going to prorogue this Parliament and to call a new Parliament together next February. But the noble Lords must have been aware that such a course was utterly impossible with the state of feeling existing in the House and the country upon all subjects in which the rights of the people and the responsibility of Ministers are concerned. We are now going to ask for some Votes in Supply, and that the House, should consent to some provisional arrangements, the influence of which can only extend over a limited period, and even the financial statement which it was my intention to have made next week, cannot in the present state of circumstances be laid before the House. I should have thought it unnecessary to assure the House, but I do to in order that there may be no misconception that the new Parliament will of course assemble at the earliest possible moment. I am asked when the dissolution is to take place. Of course I could not come down to the House to-day with that confidence upon the subject which Ministers in my position usually feel, because, after the 1343 extraordinary announcement made in the late debate by the noble Viscount, I was not perfectly confident that I should have received that constitutional support from the House which under the circumstances I might properly have relied upon. But, Sir, I can say this—I think in 1857 it took sixteen days to bring about the prorogation. I have no doubt that upon that occasion every effort was made to expedite business. Of course, it is quite impossible within twenty-four hours exactly to ascertain what the time will be, but I should hope the transaction of the necessary business will not occupy longer than it did in 1857. Every effort shall be made to carry on affairs as expeditiously as possible, and, speaking generally, I anticipate that upon the day upon which probably I should have moved the adjournment of the House for the Easter holidays, the prorogation may now take place, and the dissolution will then be, of course, about the end of the month. Therefore, hon. Gentlemen know now pretty accurately when the event may be expected. I shall propose to-morrow that Government orders shall have precedence over notices of Motion every day during the remainder of the Session. Now, some observations have been made that the Government had not decided to make the announcement which has been made tonight after the mature reflection which such a step demands, but that, in fact, they had at first determined to take a different course, which, upon second thoughts, they had seen fit to abandon, and to make the announcement which I have made this evening. I beg to say, in the most distinct and positive manner, there is no foundation for such a statement. The Government have from the first been perfectly aware of the responsibility attaching to the position they occupied, and of the line of conduct it would be their duty to pursue, and they have never hesitated from the moment when it became absolutely necessary to come to a decision—they have never hesitated as to the decision they should adopt and proclaim to the House. The noble Lord the Member for London, in the course of his observations, made a statement of a very important character. I will not say, as is sometimes said, "important if true," because I am sure the noble Lord, when he stated it, did so with the perfect conviction that he was stating what was actually the fact. But the noble Lord has unintentionally made a grave misrepresentation, and in that misrepresentation is involved 1344 really the gist of the present controversy. The noble Lord said that I had declared that "the opposition to the Bill of the Government for amending the representation of the people was dangerous to the peace of Europe." Now, Sir, nothing of the kind ever escaped my lips; I never deprecated opposition to that Bill; and, so far from opposition to that Bill being dangerous to the peace of Europe, I say, had that Bill been fairly encountered—had that Bill even been rejected upon the question of second reading, considering the remarkable character of the subject—Parliamentary Reform—which so many Governments have failed to deal with, I should not have considered that the deliberate opinion of the House upon that matter conveyed any censure or expression of want of confidence in the Government, and I should, under those circumstances—and I speak in the name of all my colleagues—not have felt it our duty to disturb the course of public business. What I complained of was, that the noble Lord thrust himself in between the introduction of that Bill and its fair discussion with a party Resolution, the object of which was understood by the House to disturb the Government. It was the conduct of the noble Lord—the irregular conduct of the noble Lord—which I said had injuriously affected the course of the negotiations—a statement which I deliberately repeat, and not the opposition to the measure of the Government, a measure with respect to which, of course, the Government had always counted on opposition, and the rejection of which they would have accepted from the House with respect. In answer to the remark of the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Wilson), I may say that I deem it to be for the advantage of the public service that the Superannuation Bill should pass. I feel, of course, great reserve and delicacy in asking the House to pass any measure in the circumstances in which the House and the Government are placed; but if there be that general concurrence of feeling upon this subject which I believe there is, I shall certainly recommend the House to pass that measure. There is yet one other point on which I shall touch before I ask leave to withdraw the Motion which I have made, and it refers to the statement which fell from the other noble Lord, the other leader of the Opposition—the Member for Tiverton. He said that it was evident from the statement which I had made that no further Reform Bill was to be expected from the pre- 1345 sent Government. It is possible that I may have inadequately expressed my opinion; probably it is more possible that the noble Lord should have misunderstood my expressions. I can only say, however, that what I intended, and what I thought I had done, was, to guard those with whom I have the honour to act from the imputation generally circulated among certain hon. Members of this House, that we had no right to deal with this question. On the contrary, I asserted our right—nay, more than our right, our duty—to deal with this question; but what I did say, and what I do repeat deliberately, is, that having fulfilled our pledge to the House and to the country on this subject, at great personal and party sacrifices, I held myself free from any distinct pledge to bring forward any distinct measure; that I should, on the part of my colleagues, feel that we had a right to deal with the question when we thought that the occasion justified it; but that, for example, at the meeting of the new Parliament in Juno or July, I did not consider myself any longer bound to bring forward any measure of Parliamentary Reform. It was to the meeting of the new Parliament alone that my observations were limited, and, generally speaking, I again assert our right to deal with the question, and our intention to deal with it whenever the public interests demand it. At the same time we hold ourselves exempted from any pledge which, as the noble Lord supposes, would render it incumbent upon us in June or July to bring forward any measure of Parliamentary Reform. I thought it desirable that upon this there should be a clear understanding, and having said thus much, I beg leave now to withdraw the Motion which I have made.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I have before stated that it was our intention to proceed with the third reading of that Bill to-night. Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to object to that?
§ MR. CRAWFORD
No. I only hope that sufficient time will be given for discussion before the Bill passes.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
My noble Friend the Secretary of State for India is quite prepared to make a statement now on the subject, and the whole evening is open for the purpose.
§ Motion by leave withdrawn.