§ Order for Second Reading, read.
§ Motion made and Question proposed "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
I rise, Sir, to move the Amendment of which I have given notice, and I believe I shall best consult the convenience of the House by saying as little as possible by way of preface to the arguments which I wish to urge upon their attention. I shall be the more ready to do this because I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it was the duty of Her Majesty's Ministers to propose a Bill to amend the representation of the people in this House. It might be a question whether the Ministers, upon taking office, being in a decided minority, were justified in presenting themselves to this House; it might be a question whether it was right to hold out expectations that they would lay a Reform Bill before the House; but I think there can be no doubt that, having held out those expectations, they were right in fulfilling their pledge and bringing their proposition before Parliament in the shape of a Bill. The right hon. Gentleman spoke much of the importance of this question, and I do not wish to weaken the force of what he said by attempting to add anything to it. There can be no question of graver importance to us, our children, and our posterity, than that which is now before the House. And, Sir, if it is a question of so much importance, I think it cannot be wrong to urge this House, to consider every step which they take—not to be blind to the importance of any movement which they make, and to consider well before they advance in what may turn out to be a wrong direction. In the arguments which I am about to address to the House, I am encouraged by the fact that two of the colleagues of the right hon. Gentleman—one the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Walpole), distinguished among his colleagues for his great constitutional 390 knowledge and the calmness and temperance of his views upon all subjects; and the other the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), than whom no man is better acquainted with the population of this country, or a better judge of their character—have felt objections in a great degree similar to those which I myself entertain against the Bill which the rest of the Government have introduced. I think it will save much misconception if I read what is contained in the beginning of the first clause of this Bill which, in fact, contains the whole principle of the measure. I hear hon. Gentlemen saying, and I have observed the same remarks in public journals, "Exclude the clause which disfranchises freeholders in boroughs; amend the clause with respect to borough franchises," and various other phrases implying, in the first place, that they think this bad Bill can be easily amended in Committee; and, in the second, that they have not read the measure of which they speak. The Bill contains, in the first eight lines, the following proposition:—Every male person of full age, and not subject to any legal incapacity, who shall have any one of the several qualifications hereinafter specified, shall he entitled to be registered as a voter, and to vote in the election of a member or members for the county, or if within the limits of a borough, then in the election of a member or members for the borough, where, in the case of qualifications arising out of lands or tenements, such lands or tenements shall be situated, and where, in all other cases, such person shall reside.These lines lay down, as I imagine, the whole principle of the Bill, which is that the suffrage throughout the country in counties and boroughs shall be uniform or, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer expresses it, identical. Now, Sir, let the House observe the consequences of this proposition. I will speak first of the particular consequences, and then of the general principle which is here affirmed. The first principle, then, is that all the freeholders resident in boroughs who have hitherto voted for the counties in which those boroughs are situated are hereafter to vote for the boroughs in which are their freeholds. This is a complete change in the constitution of this country. These rights have been enjoyed for an immense length of time. When there was recently in this House a discussion upon the right of primogeniture, I stated that I had heard a freeholder of Devonshire, when asked by the poll-clerk, "Have you had this freehold more than a year?" reply "More 391 than a year! we have had it since William the Conqueror." That shows, among a thousand other instances, what value the smaller freeholders place upon the antiquity of their possessions. It is now proposed to deprive them of their votes for counties and to compel them hereafter to exercise their suffrage only in boroughs. How, is that proposal made on account of any delinquency or any crime on their part? Is it that they have shown themselves unworthy of the trust which has hitherto been reposed in them? It is evident that such is not the case, because, otherwise, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have proceeded, as the late Sir Robert Peel proceeded in the case of the 40s. freeholders in Ireland, to propose their immediate disfranchisement. Instead of that, the right hon. Gentleman has brought up a special clause by which he proposes that they shall retain their franchises for life, thereby entirely negativing the supposition that they are unworthy to exercise the right of voting which they have so long possessed. With the exception, indeed, of a hint that the Freehold Land Societies have increased the number of such freeholds to an injurious extent, the right hon. Gentleman himself had not a word to say against the 100,000 freeholders who have hitherto exercised the right of voting in counties. But by the first proposition of the Bill, although they themselves are acquitted of all crime, their children for ever are deprived of their votes for counties, and compelled to vote for the boroughs in which their qualifications exist. Now, many of them, as I have said, have had their existing rights handed down to them from a long line of ancestors. Others have purchased their freeholds with the special view of voting for counties. What injustice, then, to say you will deprive them of their rights without any fault on their part, and hereafter compel them to vote where they do not wish to exercise their franchise. Therefore, I think it is established that the first proposition of the Bill is unjust. It is unjust because there is no public necessity for it. It is unjust because it is not deserved. But, in the next place, I am not afraid to maintain that those persons who now vote for counties in virtue of freeholds do give a character to the representation of those counties which it would not otherwise possess. I hesitate not to say that they add to the liberal element of the counties to which they belong. I find that 392In Devonshire, Plymouth, there are 797 freeholders; in Glocestershire, Stroud, 1,334; is Kent, Canterbury 583, Dover 1,037; in Lancashire, Liverpool, 3,300, Manchester 3,043; in Middlesex, Tower Hamlets, 3,064; in Northumberland, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1,687; in Staffordshire, Wolverhampton, 2,333; in Warwickshire, Birmingham, 1,910; in Yorkshire, Bradford 2,194, Leeds 3,089, Sheffield 1,991.It appears to me to be a great public injury to take these men away from the counties, thus to deprive the counties of that liberal and commercial character which they would otherwise have, and to change their social and, perhaps, political bias. Such is the first consequence of the present Bill. But although that consequence is a serious one, there is yet another of still greater importance,—namely, you thereby enable persons of landed property to obtain a power by which the small boroughs may be flooded with fagot votes. Let me here notice the change which was made in 1832 at the passing of the Reform Act. In many of the small boroughs previous to that time the right of voting was vested in the holders of burgage tenures or freeholds, and those freeholds were entirely dependent upon, or, at all events, attached to, the patrons of the boroughs. By such means grew up that state of things which existed before the Reform Bill, when there were so many constituted bodies properly called nomination boroughs. What has been the character of many of those boroughs since 1832? In some of them, no doubt, there has been great influence exercised, and the landowners have had much to say in the election of Members; but, at the same time, the right of voting being in £10 occupiers has been everywhere a check to the former power of the great proprietors, and the electors have given their votes with a certain degree of regard, no doubt, to those who recommended candidates to them, but also with a determination to know what the opinions of those candidates were. The right hon. and gallant General the Minister for War told us the other day that in Huntingdon he was quite sure an hon. Friend of mine the Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe) would have no chance of being elected, because his politics do not coincide with those of the majority of the electors. There are many other boroughs in the country where the right hon. and gallant General himself would have no chance of being elected, because his politics are not the politics of the inhabitants of those places; but immediately you say that 40s. freeholds may be formed 393 to any extent in small boroughs you at once destroy what remains there may be of their independence, and you restore to them their old character of nomination boroughs. You would not only have restored that which prevailed before the Reform Bill, when in many instances the entire command of the boroughs belonged to the landowners, but you would have a revival of those contests which used to go on in many places, when two great proprietors—Peers, perhaps—fought for Parliamentary influence, when one made 100 fagot votes and the other 120, and so the battle was continued until the fate of the borough was decided. I think, therefore, that the first proposition of the Bill is to a great extent a repeal of the Reform Act. It provides for the revival of abuses which the Reform Act was intended to extinguish. But it is not true that the whole of the smaller boroughs are under the influence of persons like Lord Sandwich and others, who happen to have property in the neighbourhood. Many of them are entirely independent. I might name as one the borough of Liskeard. It is a very small borough. It was formerly under the influence of a noble family; but it has returned since the Reform Act Mr. Charles Buller, one of the most distinguished Members of this House. He was returned by the free voice of the electors, and I believe the present hon. Member was also returned by the free election of the constituency. But immediately you pass the present Bill—which I hope will never be the case—you will enable the gentlemen who have land in that neighbourhood to create a number of freehold votes, and thereby entirely extinguish the free choice of the comparatively small number of independent electors. I believe the borough is seven miles in length, and therefore there would be ample room and opportunity to create freeholds of that kind. Hence, I say, in the first proposition of the Bill is a great danger. It is not an extension of the suffrage. It is the change in the suffrage worked out by an act of violence by which you deprive men of votes which they and their family have held, perhaps, for hundreds of years—rights which they have exercised since the reign of Henry VI., except during the short period of the usurpation of Cromwell—for I believe that in modern times no Parliament has sat to which Members have not been returned by the 40s. freeholders in counties. Such being the case, you are now asked to do 394 that which is unjust in itself, which is very impolitic in itself, by attempting in these days to revive those nomination boroughs that have been changed in character by the Reform Act. But I shall be told that this will never occur—that it is impossible Parliament will allow these new voters to be created without interfering with the revival of these unjust and predominant influences. I believe that is quite true, but then it is only an argument and a step to a further change. What will that change be? It will clearly be one to electoral districts, for you will have already taken away that which is the great impediment to a division of the country into electoral districts—the difference between the franchise in counties and boroughs. You will have small boroughs of 5,000 or 6,000 inhabitants returning Members entirely at the beck of the landed proprietors, the creators of borough freeholds, and you will have, on the other hand, divisions of counties with a population of 95,000. The boroughs will be called nomination and corrupt, and it will be said, "Let us join the 5,000 to the 95,000, and divide the whole into two districts of 50,000 each, and thus obtain a fair and equitable division of electoral power." I am not going to argue for electoral divisions, for I own I love the old divisions of counties, cities, and boroughs. For my part, I have no wish that places like Winchester, Salisbury, Guildford, and Chichester should only be made parts of counties, instead of towns returning representatives. But I say, if that is your wish—if the present Conservative Government wish to have electoral divisions, which the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) denied that it was his object to have, being afraid of being thought too great an innovator if he proposed such a thing—but if such is the object of the Government, then let us arrive at that end at once; and do not, in respect to these small boroughs, let us go through this process of nomination, corruption, and degradation, which must excite complaint and agitation in the country some eight or ten years hence, only to end in some violent process, or by then making electoral districts. Let us, I repeat, rather have them proposed at once, and give to London fifty or sixty Members, to which the metropolis would be entitled under such a system. Do not leave us to arrive at that end by a process which must create general agitation and discontent. In stating this argument, which appears to me 395 decisive against the proposal now before the House, and having adverted to the process, which I think is sure to happen, if such a Bill as the present be carried, I cannot but strengthen my argument by a very high authority, the same as was quoted the other evening by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge. Some five years ago the Government of that day proposed to introduce a Bill to reform the representation of the people. The Earl of Derby immediately took the alarm; he thought that some dreadful project was in contemplation—something dangerous to the institutions of the country, and I will venture to read to the House what was stated by that noble Lord, as the authority is so high, the expression so clear and the argument, as I think, so conclusive. The Earl of Derby said:—I beg that your Lordships will not lose sight of this, that from the earliest periods of the Parliamentary history of this country there have been two great divisions of constituencies, and it is upon due weight being given to each of these two that the whole balance of the constitution in the House of Commons depends.Then, after stating the distinction which exists between the borough and county constituencies, he says:—That distinction is as old as the earliest period of our history. It is not a new distinction introduced at the time of the Reform Bill; but it is a distinction which at the time of the Reform Bill in 1831 and 1832 was recognized, and to a certain extent was even extended; because one of the main alterations with regard to the franchise, in addition to extending it beyond the corporations, which had in some boroughs usurped the place of the inhabitants at large, was that it was given to a great mass of rated householders; and, at the same time, in order to draw more clearly the distinction between the two classes of representation, the non-resident freemen were disfranchised in regard to boroughs; while residence was not considered necessary with regard to the county franchise. Property was there made the basis of representation, number and residence were the basis of representation with regard to boroughs.… I do trust that the Government in the measures they are about to introduce will not attempt to break down this old, well-founded, and most important distinction. If they do so for the purpose of removing any apparent anomaly, and diminishing the inequality of numbers, or of introducing any fanciful regularity, they will entail much more serious consequences in the total alteration and subversion of the principles of the representation of this country, and the alteration of the distribution of powers, and they will derive no advantage from any possible establishment of a system apparently more symmetrical, but not containing the elements of real power and real convenience which are comprised in the present system, and which form one of the main balances of the constitution.396 I ask, then, how it is, the Earl of Derby-being now in office and having to introduce a Reform Bill, that one of the first things he does is to frame his Bill on the entire destruction of that distinction which he aid was necessary for the preservation of the balance of the constitution? How is it that he tells us now, through his organs in this House, that while professing to improve our representative system, he intends to subvert that which he thought necessary for the constitution in 1854? It is quite obvious, as the right hon. Member for Cambridge University said in his letter to the Earl of Derby, that if I or the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston) had introduced such a plan no man would have been steadier in his opposition to it than the Earl of Derby, who would have told you that it was an utter subversion of the institutions of the country. Therefore, I think that the first clause of the Bill contains that which will be injurious, and not an improvement to our institutions. I think it contains that which will lead, in the first place, to great discontent on the part of the inhabitants of towns now being freeholders, but who, according to the Bill, are to be transferred from the counties to the boroughs. In the next place, I think it will lead to the creation of a great power of nomination in many of the boroughs which it is proposed to preserve, and in which no such power absolutely exists at present; and, in the third place, it will, in my opinion, lead to such discontent that the only remedy for the evils you have inflicted—the only resource from the mischief you have done—will be to resort to electoral districts, which no man is now prepared to propose, and which I consider a total subversion of the existing representative system. I do not wish to detain the House longer than necessary, and I come now to the second part of the Amendment which I have taken the liberty to place on the notice paper. While there is a total alteration in the basis of our representative system, such as no one ever proposed, and such as Earl Grey and his colleagues were praised for not attempting in 1831, no change is made in regard to that which, I own, appears to me to be a necessary provision in any Reform Bill. You destroy what is ancient, but do you make a provision for what is new? By no means. Every man will admit that since the Reform Bill, which, with great and not overdue caution, placed the franchise for bo- 397 roughs and cities in the occupants of £10 houses, great progress in knowledge and capacity has been made by the working classes. Let us consider a little what it is that is the real basis on which you should rest the representation of the cities and boroughs. It is the custom in this country, different from that of some ancient States—and I think a very wise usage—to place power in hands which are thought fitted to hold it. You do not say that every man that might come into a room where a trial is going on should have a vote on the question whether the persons under trial should be condemned or not. On the contrary, you say that there are certain persons occupying houses of a certain value, who will be fitted as a jury to condemn or acquit their countrymen. You do not allow a man brought up for trial, perhaps for his life, to say, "I require to be tried by my fellows and equals, and these men are above my fortune." On the contrary, you say that you must have persons fitted for the duty, with capacity to understand what the case is, and, after hearing the evidence and charge of the Judge, to give a fair verdict. So with regard to the Judge himself and almost every functionary in this country, you decide what are the conditions and qualifications which make men fit to exercise certain functions. For this reason, and in conformity with this spirit of our institutions, I have always opposed any proposition for universal, or, as it is now called, manhood suffrage. I contend, with respect to a great portion of the working people, though many are well fitted to take part in the political questions of the day, they are liable to be misled by delusions, and if they should be totally indifferent, that circumstance would give rise to great venality in our elections, not that these men have any bad intentions; but there are men among them who would consider it not of much importance to themselves whether there existed protection or free trade, religious liberty or persecution, and they would give their votes according to their own immediate interests. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to the State that you should find men fitted by their station and capacity to give their votes for Members of Parliament. No function can be more important; for, in the right choice of the Members of this House depends the right conduct of affairs. But when you say this, can you say that since the period of the Reform Act, there are not persons below the class of £10 398 householders thoroughly fitted for the suffrage? Are there not numbers of persons who are perfectly capable of judging, and in circumstances sufficiently independent to qualify them to vote at elections? For my own part I have no hesitation in answering that question in the affirmative; and I confess it has appeared to me for some years that such is the growth of intelligence, such the improvement of the people, that you ought not to confine yourselves to the limit of £10. A right hon. Gentleman, in addressing his constituents, I believe, told them that in 1851, finding the Administration of which I was the head not so popular as it had been, I be thought myself of extending the franchise by way of acquiring a little popularity. A very kind insinuation this. But I will explain to the House what were my real views upon that occasion. I considered that there were thousands of persons who were every year becoming fit to exercise the franchise, and that if they were not admitted to that franchise, discontent would arise among them. I had seen two questions settled by Government, but settled, as I thought, under untoward circumstances. The Roman Catholics of Ireland had been barred out from their rights until their discontent came to the verge of civil war, and then their petition was granted. The agitation against the Corn Laws went on, and the petitions of the people were entirely refused, until at last, in a year almost of famine—in a year of great scarcity—the meetings in favour of the repeal of those laws became much more numerous, the discontent became much more loud, and then that which had been previously refused was granted. These, I consider, were bad things, for authority. The authority of Government and of Parliament is sure to suffer if, when questions are discussed year by year with calmness and patience on the part of those who are petitioning for the removal of any grievance, you always end with a refusal of their petition, while, when instead of fresh reasons you have noise, and clamour, and agitation, and even threats of force and resistance, you grant the demands which are made. It struck me, and I must own, that although there was no great cry, no vehement demand, for admission to the elective franchise, yet that there were many persons who wished to possess it, that those numbers would increase, and that if you went on refusing their request until at last they made their demands in a loud tone, and you then granted them, instead 399 of increasing the peace, the quiet, and the contentment of the country, you would only teach the great masses to rely upon force and not upon reason. These were the grounds upon which, in 1851, I proposed an extension of the suffrage. In 1851, I proposed a certain franchise; in 1854, I proposed a modification of that franchise. I will not say now what that franchise ought to be at the present day. I hold that it is for the Government of the day to propose the franchise they may think right. When I sat on the bench on which the Chancellor of the Exchequer now sits I did not hesitate to propose what I thought was right, and I was ready to discuss the question in this House. On the first occasion to which I have referred the dissolution of the Government, and on the second the occurrence of war, prevented my proposals from being discussed; but I held then, as I hold now, that it is the business of the Government to make such propositions, and for the House to amend these propositions if we think fit. It is, however, for the Government to take the initiative, and the question now to be considered is simply this, whether Her Majesty's Government are right in refusing any reduction whatever of the franchise in towns so far as the occupation franchise, by value or rating, is concerned. I will only say this much, that I doubt whether the propositions I formerly made, founded upon rating, were based upon a very sound foundation, for I have certainly found that rating varies very much; that although the Poor Law Board say that £6 of gross rental may be always taken as £5 of Poor Law rating, yet that rule does not hold constantly; and, therefore, I believe that any change you may make in the £10 franchise should be of the same nature as the franchise established by the Reform Act—namely, based upon annual value. The Government refuse any change of that kind, and the right bon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) told us he was afraid if you established an uniform franchise, whatever it might be, and if you had no variety in the franchise, that, one day or other there would be an ugly rush in order to get over the line. Well, Sir, I believe that to be the case, and therefore I ask the House to declare that, so far as the borough franchise is concerned, some further extension is required. I have now dealt with the two points to which the Amendment I have to propose refers; but while hardly anybody stands up to say that it is right to merge the free- 400 holders in the boroughs and to make one uniform franchise, or to refuse any reduction of the occupation franchise in boroughs, various modes of evading the argument rather than of answering it are resorted to, by which it is sought to avoid the conclusion at which I have arrived in the Amendment I am submitting to the House. Some persons say that it is irregular to prefer such an Amendment as this on the second reading of the Bill. Now, I think this objection can hardly be entertained by those hon. Gentlemen who last year supported the Resolution of his right, hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. M. Gibson), because they then voted not only for a Resolution that was an Amendment to a Bill, but a Resolution which had very little reference to that Bill, and a Resolution, likewise, which was put in the place of a Bill which they approved. Everybody will recollect how very highly they approved the Conspiracy Bill, how much they applauded it on its first introduction, and how strongly the Government of my noble Friend was urged in "another place" to introduce a Bill of that kind. Yet, instead of reading that Bill a second time, they supported a Resolution which was interposed between the Bill and the proceedingo of the House. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne said to me on that occasion, "If you dislike the Bill, you may depend upon it that if my Resolution is carried you will hear very little more of the Bill. That was to me a good reason for supporting the Resolution. What reason the right hon. Gentlemen opposite had for voting for that Resolution I do not know, but at all events their conduct was not actuated by dislike of the Bill. Now, I say at once with regard to the Bill before the House, that I consider it to be a measure of a most noxious, injurious, and dangerous character. I may be asked then why, instead of moving the Amendment I have proposed, I did not move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months? Well, Sir, I will explain the reason why I did not take that course. This Bill contains, no doubt, some proposals which are to be approved and supported. For instance, it admits £10 occupiers to the franchise in counties. It may not do so in the most convenient form, because instead of the proposition which we made in 1854, I mean those who were Members of the Earl of Aberdeen's Government—that the £10 occupier should be entitled to the franchise provided part 401 of the £10 qualification consisted of a £5 house—it provides that the qualification shall be lands and tenements. [An hon. MEMBER: Or tenements.] Yes, "or tenements;" but that is a delicate matter, and I will speak as to that part of the question presently. It is obvious, however, that if I or any one else, instead of proposing such a Resolution as I am submitting to the House, had simply moved that the second reading of the Bill should be rejected, it would have been said directly in this House, but much more out of doors, "You have rejected a Bill, the chief feature of which is the admission to the franchise of the £10 occupiers in counties, whom you were last year so anxious to enfranchise." Now that is not the chief feature of the Bill, and I wish to mark by this Resolution what is the principle upon which the Bill stands. It rests upon that first clause which I have read, and therefore I think it is necessary that, before proceeding to the second reading, this House should take care to express its opinion with regard to the character of that provision, which, as I have said, is the chief principle of the Bill. What course the Government would take if this Amendment were carried it is not for me to say. Undoubtedly they might change the whole character of the Bill. It would be impossible for mo or any one else to do so in Committee, because I have shown you that the first clause of the Bill contains the whole principle of the measure, and if we were to negative that first clause in Committee after having agreed to the second reading of the Bill, I think the Government might justly say to us, "You have agreed to the second reading of a Bill the chief—the great—principle of which is the uniformity of the franchise, and now you strike out in Committee the clause by which that uniformity is established." I hold that the proper course to pursue is that this House should record its opinion first with regard to the proposed mode of treatment of the county freeholders whose property may be situated in boroughs, and secondly, with regard to the occupation franchise in boroughs. It is said that in Committee—and the right hon. Gentleman himself seemed rather to invite this course—all sorts of opinions may be expressed, and all kinds of clauses may be proposed; but, considering what this question is, what is its gravity and importance, and how much the right hon. Gentleman dwelt upon that gravity and importance, the proposal 402 of throwing the whole representation of the country into hotch-potch, as it were inviting every one to make his amendment and to bring forward his clauses in Committee, is a proposal unworthy of a Government, degrading to the character of this House, and likely in the end to produce a Bill which will not be conducive to the public interest. I remember very well what were our proceedings on the Reform Bill, and I know that it was the entire confidence which a great majority of the House reposed in Lord Althorp, it was the confidence that hon. Members entertained in the steadfastness and firmness with which he would support any proposition of his own, which alone enabled the House to deal with subjects of such vast weight and importance. But if we are to go from the first clause down to the last, amending every word, excluding the boroughs from the first clause, and waiting until the end of the Committee in order to bring up a clause which will suit the boroughs—if we are upon every clause to be changing and chopping upon every clause—I am sure that the House cannot hope successfully to get through a Bill of this kind. And, then, recollect the manner in which a Bill is often treated in Committee. At a certain hour in the evening three-fourths of the House go away, and then perhaps hon. Members will come back and say, "I did not know the Committee was going to divide so soon; you have disfranchised all those freeholders without allowing me an opportunity of recording my vote or of expressing my opinion on the subject." Our only security against these inconveniences is, that there should be before the House some great question which can be properly debated, and upon which the House can come to a solemn decision. Now, I will venture to read to you what is the character of the phrase "lands and tenements." As I have said, the authors of the Reform Bill took very great care on all these subjects, and when they provided for the franchise of boroughs they made use of the words "house, shop, office, warehouse, or other buildings," and so with regard to other details. Here, however, in the very beginning of this Bill, we have "qualifications arising out of lands or tenements," and then any person "who shall be beneficially entitled … to an estate of inheritance in lands or tenements of freehold tenure" of not less than 40s. clear annual value is to have a vote in boroughs. Now I, have looked into an authority to 403 whom unlearned people go to find their law—I mean Blackstone's Commentaries, where the phrase is thus explained:—Land comprehends all things of a permanent, substantial nature, being a word of a very extensive signification, as will presently appear more at large. 'Tenement' is a word of still greater extent, and though in its vulgar acceptation it is only applied to houses and other buildings, yet in its original, proper, and legal sense it signifies everything that may be holden, provided it he of a permanent nature, whether it be of a substantial and sensible, or of an unsubstantial, ideal kind. Thus liberum tenementum, frank tenement or freehold, is applicable not only to land and other solid objects, but also to offices, rents, commons, and the like; and, as lands and houses are tenements, so is an advowson a tenement; and a franchise, an office, a right of common, a peerage, or other property, of the like unsubstantial kind, are all of them, legally speaking, tenements."—[2 Black-stone, p. 16.]So, when they say that "land or tenements" is to give a vote in boroughs, you see how wide a door is open to every kind of abuse, to every kind of fictitious vote which may be created not by the possession of land, and what is usually understood as a tenement, but by anything which will bear this construction. Now, in law, I hold, for my part, that it is useless to go into Committee on a Bill, which in its first page and in its main provision contains so disastrous a change in the law and constitution of this country; and I confess I am not deterred from taking the course which I propose by the observations made the other evening by an hon. and learned Friend near me (Mr. Roebuck), that if we should venture to interfere with the course of the Government Bill we may have a dissolution of Parliament. I hold that it would be quite unworthy of us to pause on a question which is to affect ourselves and our descendants through fear either of a dissolution or of some threatened danger to our foreign relations. It is for the Ministers of the Crown, if we come to a vote adverse to their measure, to take the course which they may think most advisable. If they should think proper to recommend the Crown to dissolve Parliament, in order to submit this question to the people at large, I for one should not be afraid of that appeal. Let them hold this Bill up on every hustings in England, and await the response which will be made. But if agitation should thereby be increased—if a general election should give rise to demands which now have not been thought of by popular bodies, upon the Government, and not upon us, will rest the responsibility. 404 As to the danger of a foreign war, I see with surprise in print and elsewhere that the presence of the Earl of Malmesbury at the Foreign Office is a security for peace. Now, I trust, I have never behaved unfairly towards the Earl of Malmesbury, and when he took office last year, and on a former occasion, I was disposed to look with favour on many of his proceedings. I have differed as to his conduct recently respecting Portugal; still, making no charge against the Earl of Malmesbury, when I hear that his presence at the Foreign Office is a security for peace I wonder who will be the dupes of any such assertion. Well, then, when no arguments can be advanced to overthrow the reasons given by the two right hon. Gentlemen who have seceded from office, and the reasons given over and over again at public meetings against the proposals in this Bill, it is said, as a last resource, that I must have some party or personal object in view; and that accusation conies amongst others from a person from whom I should have expected more charity, if not more candour. But, Sir, it is my duty not to attend to such charges, but to pursue the course which I think best adapted for the welfare of the country. It cannot be denied that for many years I have taken a deep interest in this question. Very long ago—so long ago, I am sorry to say, as the year 1819—I was occupied in this House in a laborious and irksome investigation into the bribery and corruption which prevailed in the borough of Grampound, with the view of disfranchising that borough and of conferring Members on Leeds, which at that time had no representation, and I ventured even to propose that the £10 householders of Leeds should be entitled to votes, a proposition which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham reminds me, excited great alarm at that time, as much alarm as is now created by the proposal to give the franchise to householders below £10. From that time to the present I have constantly taken the deepest interest in this question, and have promoted all measures which I thought tended to the free, fair, and pure representation of the people in Parliament. I am proud to think that I took that course from the conviction—I may be perhaps allowed the privilege of saying, from the deep conviction I felt of its necessity. I have the satisfaction of knowing that the Act in the passing of which I took part in 1831 and 1832 has been productive, not of those 405 calamitous consequences which were predicted by our opponents, but of great benefits—benefits obtained not through bloodshed, not through civil war, but by peaceable and tranquil discussion, and by the legitimate influence of public opinion. Since that time slavery has been abolished; we have seen the question of tithes, which was a vexatious question between the clergy and their parishioners, amicably arranged; we have had free municipal corporations established; there has been a great reduction in the duties on Customs and in those Excise duties which pressed heavily on the masses; Protection has been given up, and Free Trade sanctioned by Parliament. These and many other benefits have flowed from the reformed Parliament, which we were told would be so fruitful in calamity and disaster, and which was to take the crown off the King's head, and shake the balance of the State. Sir, entertaining these convictions, seeing what has been done, I cannot view without alarm the proposition which is now before the House. I have endeavoured to call the attention of the House to two of the main features or rather the main deformities of this Bill. If it should continue on the table of the House, I think the measure ought to be discussed in every shape until at length, if not immediately, it is totally rejected. I shall take this course, careless of any imputations which may be cast upon me. With regard to this great question of reform, I may conclude by saying that I defended it when I was young, and I will not desert it now that I am old.
To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words ' this House is of opinion, that it is neither just nor politic to interfere, in the manner proposed in this Bill, with the Freehold Franchise as hitherto exercised in the Counties in England and Wales; and that no re-adjustment of the Franchise will satisfy this House or the Country, which does not provide for a greater extension of the Suffrage in Cities and Boroughs than is contemplated in the present Measure,
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
Sir, in the month of April, 1835, a Resolution was moved by a noble Lord, then and now a distinguished Member of this House, to the effect "That no settlement of the Irish tithe question would be satisfactory that did not appropriate to the purposes of general education 406 any surplus which may remain after providing for the wants of the Irish church." That Resolution was brought forward with the view of defeating a measure about to be introduced by the Government of the day. It succeeded in its object. It drove the Government from office. It placed the Mover and his political friends in the possession of power, and, having served that purpose, the principle which had been so triumphantly asserted by a majority of the House of Commons was suffered at once to fall into abeyance. [Cries of "No, no!"] It never was affirmed, and although nearly a quarter of a century had since elapsed no practical action whatsoever has followed the abstract principle then adopted. Now, Sir, I do not allude to this historic incident, of which the noble Lord the Member for the City of London was the hero, with the view of throwing any discredit upon him. He acted, I have no doubt—as statesmen in this country generally act—in conformity with the political exigencies of the day, and I refer to the circumstance which I have just mentioned, only because I am desirous of cautioning Members of this House—and, especially Liberal Members—that to reject a moderate measure of Reform does not necessarily insure the passing of a large measure of Reform—that in politics a lost opportunity does not always recur; and although those whose sole object is the triumph of a party may be anxious to see this Bill thrown out, without even considering what the result, so far as Reform is concerned, may be, yet independent and moderate men, in whatever part of the House they may sit, will, I feel persuaded, think twice before they reject an opportunity of dealing with this great question, more favourable in many respects than any which hereafter is likely to be afforded. There has, I believe, never been a time when, within these walls, great public questions were discussed with less acrimony, and I will say with less regard to personal and party interests than has for the last few years been the case. There never was a period when the extreme views of political parties on both sides were more strongly discountenanced out of doors than at present. Europe is at peace. No other great controversy besides that of Reform forces itself upon the attention of Parliament. There is little distress in the country, and no discontent. These are all circumstances which, in my opinion, this House would do well seriously to consider 407 before it decides upon sanctioning a Resolution which, if carried, will lead to this practical result, that no legislation on the subject of Reform can take place during the present Session of Parliament, In saying this, I am well aware, Sir, that there may be those who do not desire to see this question settled, who think the time is not ripe for large changes, and who despise all changes which are not large. They know that in the present temper of Parliament and of the country what is called a large and sweeping measure of Reform could not pass, and they are not inclined to accept any measure which does not meet their views in that respect. To such politicians as those there is nothing more distasteful than the fact that every political party stands pledged to Reform. They know that popular passions can be roused only by decided opposition to popular demands, and they do not like concession, because in it they see security against agitation. That however, is not, in any sense, a Conservative policy, nor do I believe it can he described as a Liberal policy in the true sense of that word. If it should succeed, it is a policy fraught with danger to the public peace. If it fails—as, in the present temper of public opinion, will probably be the case—it can only lead to an indefinite postponement of political improvement, and to an indefinite waste of the public time. I cannot, under these circumstances, think the principle which it involves is one to which this House is likely to give its assent. I assume, indeed, that it is the general feeling and wish of the House that some measure of Reform should, during the present Session, be passed into a law. The noble Lord who has just spoken, it is true, has asked—although I must admit that he merely adverted to the subject in passing—what business the present Ministry have to bring in a Reform Bill. The answer which I might give to that question is the plain and obvious one that, if it be a political necessity that such a measure should be passed—if it be for the interests of the country that it should be no longer postponed—then it becomes the duty of those who happen for the time being to be charged with the conduct of the Administration, be they who they may, not to shrink from introducing and doing their utmost to pass such a measure. But I go farther, and I refer to the gradual approximation which has taken place in political feeling among public men during 408 the last few years, as one of the characteristic features of the time in which we live. And, apart from that consideration, I contend that if we find any class of the community which is excluded from the franchise, which is in consequence dissatisfied, and which we think may wisely and safely be intrusted with it, the admission of such a class to its exercise is not only a wise but a Conservative policy in the best and truest sense of that word. But we are asked if it be possible that those who are now charged with the duty of conducting the Government of the country are sincere in their endeavours to effect a settlement of this question? My reply is, that I know of nothing in their antecedents which could justify the impression that the contrary is the case. I appeal in support of that view not to professions, but to acts. Eight years have elapsed since this subject has been brought under the notice of Parliament subsequent to 1832. In the year 1851 a Reform Bill was framed. In 1852 it was brought into this House, and immediately afterwards disappeared altogether. In 1854 the same course was adopted, and with the same result. It is only under the auspices of the present Government, therefore, after eight years of promises evaded and measures withdrawn, that an issue upon this great question is about to be taken, and that you are asked to give a vote on the second reading of a Reform Bill. I do not think it necessary to deal with the charges of inconsistency and insincerity by which our efforts in this direction are assailed. [Lord JOHN ROSSELL, intimated that he had made no such charges.] I have heard them from other quarters, and it is difficult, in dealing with topics of this nature, to refrain from alluding to objections which have been urged against the passing of the present measure, although they may not have been put forward in the speech to which we have just listened. But what the noble Lord did say was, that the Government were in a minority in this House, and were therefore not in a position to deal with a question of this importance. Now, it seems to me to be a very difficult thing indeed to know what at the present day is meant by saying that a Government has not a majority in this House. The state of things which has prevailed during the last few years has tended—and I do not complain that it is so—to cause Government in this country to rely less and less upon the numerical strength of its pledged supporters, 409 and more and more upon the character of the measures which they bring forward. The political features of our day, therefore, satisfactorily dispose, in ray opinion, of the doctrine that the present Ministry, even though they may not command a majority here, have no right to deal with this question of Reform. Well, that being so, what, let me ask, are the objections which the noble Lord and others urge against the Bill, for it is impossible to confine the issue to what has been stated here? The principal objections urged against the Bill are that it excludes the working classes from its operation, inasmuch as it retains the borough franchise at £10; that it does not deal comprehensively with the case of the small boroughs, that it restores outvoters in boroughs, by doing away with the obligation to reside; and that it establishes identity of franchise in town and country, by transferring prospectively the freeholders in boroughs to the borough from the county. But before entering on these questions I must remark on the manner in which the opposition of the noble Lord to this Bill is conducted. The object of the Resolution is obviously to prevent the House from expressing an opinion as to the second reading of the Bill. I can well understand that the noble Lord and those who act with him should object to a vote being taken upon the second reading. I dare say they have good reasons for their objection, and this Resolution is framed—and very ingeniously framed I must say it is—in such a manner as to secure the support of those who, while disapproving of some particular portions of the measure, are still not prepared to reject it as a whole, and to place those who defend it in a false position, by calling upon them to consider exclusively those provisions of the Bill against which, rightly or wrongly, it is thought that popular opinion may be strongly directed, and by preventing them from dealing with any other part of the measure. If it were desired to obtain from the House an unbiassed verdict upon the merits of the Bill, I think reasonable objection might be made to the course which it is proposed to take as being contrary to justice and fairness. We might say, if the merits of the Bill were alone in question, "Form your judgment upon it as a whole; accept the second reading or condemn it, decide now the principle, and consider the details in Committee." But when the noble Lord compares the Resolution which he is now moving with that 410 which last year led to a change of Administration, I must say I think the analogy is in one respect at least quite accurate. The Motion of February last year was brought forward avowedly and expressly as a vote of censure upon the Government of the day. [Cries of "No," and "Hear!"] I am told that was not the case; but if it was not proposed as a vote of censure, I must ask was it not accepted as such? I do not complain that a similar course has been taken now, but I state that which we all know, that in this debate the merits of the Bill before us will not be the only question discussed; that the question sought to be raised is, not whether this Bill shall pass into law, but whether political power shall pass into other hands. That is the challenge which I, upon the part of the Government, am ready to accept. That is the issue which, by the event of this debate, must be decided. Looking upon it in that light, I am not disposed to criticise the particular form in which the vote will be taken; and I allow that a course, which would be utterly unfair as a test of the merits of the Bill, becomes a natural, and perhaps a legitimate piece of party tactics. But we are told that the adoption of the Resolution is not necessarily fatal to the Bill, and that even if the Resolution be carried, the Bill may be brought to a second reading. I know that that suggestion comes from one who is a very competent judge or such points of Parliamentary tactics, but the noble Lord must allow us—who sit upon these benches—to be the best judges of what we consider to be due to our self-respect and our own honour. No doubt the India Bill of last year was proceeded with after Resolutions had been moved, embodying its principal provisions, and some say, Why not pursue the same course now? Why not accept this Resolution as a guide in shaping the Bill when it comes into Committee? But I reply, that the circumstances of last year in connection with the India Bill were of a purely exceptional character, and have little analogy with the present. The Home Government of India had before the entry into office of the present Government been condemned by the Ministers who preceded them. A Bill was proposed for the transference of the government of India without check or control to the Crown, which was equally condemned by public opinion. Another Bill upon the same subject was brought in by the present Government, 411 which no doubt failed to command the support of this House. Under those circumstances, feeling that it was important that the Home Government of India should not be allowed to remain in abeyance at a time when civil war was raging in India, we accepted what we felt was a necessity in that emergency and adopted the method of proceeding by Resolution, which resulted in the passing of a measure. I think that in adopting that course, in order to avoid great public embarrassment, the Government were perfectly justified; but there are many things that may be done once—many steps which it may be legitimate to take under the pressure of emergency, which ought not to be drawn into a general precedent. I say, then, I am expressing the feelings of my colleagues, and I believe also of all those who support this measure, when I declare that the adoption of the Resolution proposed by the noble Lord must necessarily be fatal to the Bill. Now, referring to the noble Lord's objection that by this Bill the working classes are excluded, I might ask two questions—first, what does the noble Lord mean by the working classes; and next, what does he mean by "exclusion?" There is nothing in England so impossible to define as a class, and the term "the working class" is the vaguest of all, because it may be confined to the very humblest grade of society, or it may extend almost indefinitely upwards. But, taking the term in its ordinary sense, and considering it as applying to those who live by the labour of their hands, I say there are many belonging to that class who will come within the scope of the principles laid down in this Bill—by the personal property qualification, by the lodger franchise, and by the franchise in respect to deposits in savings' banks which we propose. One of the chief defects of the present state of the law is, I apprehend, not so much that the 40s. freeholds are above the reach of the working classes, because those freeholds can be purchased for £50, and have been bought for less, but because by conferring the franchise in respect of property held in that form alone, you compel a man to invest his savings in a manner sometimes unattainable, and when attainable often inconvenient. In regard of the qualification required, I am not unwilling to compare the provisions of this Bill with those of the Bill proposed by the noble Lord in 1854. What did the Bill of the noble Lord in 1854 propose to do? It did not touch the case 412 of lodgers, but it dealt with the franchise connected with personal property, and I admit that it only required £50 in a savings' bank, whereas we require £60. But there was a provision in the noble Lord's Bill that the voter must have had the sum of £50 for three years before he should be allowed to vote. We know that it would take two years to invest that amount in a savings' bank, and there was a provision that in the event of a change of residence to another locality an additional twelve months was required, so that a man entitled to a vote under that Bill would be five years without obtaining his vote, and might possibly be more. Under the provisions of the present Bill the franchise will be granted not in five years, but in two years. Objections have been taken to this form of giving the franchise, and it has been said that it is a hard thing if a man is compelled by the wants of his family or other circumstances to withdraw his money from the savings' banks, that therefore he should lose his vote, although he would be just as worthy a member of society. Now, I reply that, whatever may be the value of that objection, it is one that applies equally to every kind of property qualification. If a man is compelled to sell his freehold he loses his vote in respect of it; if he leaves his £10 house and goes to reside in one of inferior value, he also loses his vote; and, therefore, the objection applies to all property qualification whatever; and if we get rid of property qualification we are practically thrown back upon universal suffrage. Then something has been said of the danger of the creation of fictitious deposits, but I think it can be shown—perhaps better in Committee than just now—that whatever danger there may be in that respect exists equally in the case of the immemorial franchise conferred by the 40s. freeholds. It is possible, no doubt, that a wealthy man who desires to create votes, may lend money to another for investment in a savings' bank, in order to obtain the franchise for him; but so it is in the case of 40s. freeholds, and it is much easier to be done in their case, because then the title-deeds remain in the hands of the person who creates the vote, whereas if the money is lent to create a savings' bank franchise, it is necessarily invested in the name of the person who is to give the vote, and can only be drawn out by him. While I support the principle of qualification by personal property, as proposed by Govern- 413 ment, I may say at once that I lay no particular stress upon £60 as the sum to be invested. I think the value of the qualification consists not in the amount the voter may have invested, but in the evidence which it gives of his industry and frugality. The principle is, I apprehend, not to put the amount so high, as to be beyond the reach of the working man, and at the same time not to put it so low that it can be gained without the exercise of prudence and industry. That is the principle which is laid down in this Bill; that is the object we have aimed at. If there be any objections as the machinery which is proposed, that is a proper subject for consideration in Committee. When it is said that by retaining the borough franchise at £10, the working classes are excluded, I apprehend that what is intended is, that they are not admitted in a body. It is not a question whether they should be shut out altogether—no one wishes that—but whether they should be admitted indiscriminately—the ignorant with the educated, the idle with the industrious, the man who spends, as well as the man who saves? Now, I think and speak with all respect and sympathy for those whose lot it is to live by labour, and if a large minority of those who are styled the working classes cannot read or write, I am willing to admit that the fault is far less theirs than that of the classes above them. But although the inability to read and write may not be a fault, it may be a disqualification; and the difficulty of admitting the working classes is, that if you admit them in a body you must do it to such an extent that by their numbers they will overbear every other class. The difficulty, therefore, is—and it presses equally upon all who undertake to bring forward a measure of Reform—that with regard to the working classes you should hit the medium between giving them an overpowering share in the representation, and excluding them altogether. I have seen some ingenious speculations put forth that a certain small number of Members should be returned by the working classes of all England collectively, while others have recommended that in certain large towns the franchise should be exceptionally lowered, so as to have a representation of the working classes in those towns. But we cannot help feeling instinctively that these are merely speculative expedients, which cannot be put into practice. They do not meet the real difficulty of the case; and that is, how to admit the working classes 414 on any principle of selection to a share of the representation without admitting them indiscriminately as a body. Are these illiberal or retrograde views? Are they the views of Conservatives alone? On the contrary, they are not confined to those who sit on this side of the House. If there be in this country one man more than another who has laboured in the cause of human thought and human progress—if there be one man more than another who belives in the future of mankind, and who is not inclined to look back to the past with any superstitious feeling of veneration, that man is John Stuart Mill. Now, Mr. Mill has written a pamphlet within the last few weeks, in which he expresses the view that the most satisfactory condition of society would be one under which every man should have a vote, but that it would be only possible or expedient on condition that educated men, according to the measure of their position and acquirements, should have five or six; and Mr. Mill says that without some qualification of that kind, he believes that any general admission of the working classes is impossible. I am not fond of substituting authorities for arguments, and there is only one other witness I will call. There are many hon. Members of this House, and many more of the working classes, who are familiar with the name of Mr. Holyoake. He is chiefly known in connection with philosophical speculations of an unpopular character, and also as warmly and earnestly sympathizing with the cause of democratic institutions in Europe. No one is a more fitting representative in that respect of the feelings of that section of the working class which interests itself most strongly in politics. [Cries of "Oh, oh!" Mr. Holyoake may fairly be taken to represent the feeling of persons of extreme political opinions, and it is with his political opinions alone with which I have to do. Well, what is it that Mr. Holyoake says in a pamphlet published within the last few weeks?Who cares," he asks, "to give votes to the selfish, the ignorant, the apathetic? Not more than one man in 100 in this country gives time, money, serious thought, or takes an earnest part in public affairs. Why should any one die of exhaustion in endeavouring to enfranchise so many as comprise a mere apathetic mob, who put no value on a vote? At the same time many would work hard and long that even a limited number of men, intelligent and earnest, who desire to take part in securing the well-being of their country, should be enabled to do so. Now, any mere mechanical suffrage founded on rating, or rent, or occupation, will, as the existing suffrage does, include many utterly worthless persons, and exclude 415 numerous deserving, intelligent, but poor men, who might by a simple expedient be included. What is wanted is an expansive suffrage, which shall be open to the worthy, and shut out the unfit.Mr. Holyoake then proposes an educational test. I quote the passage because I agree with him in the general tenour of his remarks, and he fairly expresses the principle that I have endeavoured to establish, admission of the working class by selection and not in mass. There are two tests by applying which that principle may be carried out. The educational test is new in this country, and no Government has yet ventured to apply it, so far as the working class are concerned, and we therefore come to the other—the test of a personal property qualification. We think that the possession of some property in the hands of a man who has earned it by his labour is evidence of industry, of self-control, of good moral character. With the details of the machinery employed you are not now dealing. If the machinery we have adopted is good, employ it; if defective, amend it; but upon the principle laid down by us, we confidently ask the verdict of this House—namely, the admission of the working classes by some principle of selection, and not indiscriminately and at hazard. I come now, Sir, to the question that has been so often raised relative to the disfranchisement of the small boroughs. This controversy lies, in fact, within narrow limits. No one wishes to see a system of equal electoral districts, and the only practical question before us was whether fifty, sixty, seventy, or eighty small boroughs should be disfranchised, and their seats distributed among the large towns and counties. I am not about to enter upon the argument whether these very small boroughs (whatever incidental advantages they may possess) ought, or ought not, to form a permanent part of our political system. I admit, that it appears to me difficult, if not impossible, to defend them on grounds of principle as a permanent part of our constitution. But I look at the matter in a practical point of view, and I ask if a large measure of disfranchisement had been contemplated by the present Bill what would have been the result? Why, besides those who oppose all Reform on principle (if any such exist), and besides those who would oppose this Bill for not going far enough, there would have been arrayed naturally against this Bill the representatives of those fifty or sixty small boroughs, who, 416 combining with other opponents, would undoubtedly have ensured its rejection. I believe that the practical difficulty arising from that opposition would have been fatal to the success of this Bill; and as the object of the Government was not to make the best Bill that could be framed, but the best that had a chance of passing this House, I contend that that fact is in itself a sufficient vindication of the course we have followed. But another difficulty would have arisen. If the disfranchisement had been large, the question would have arisen, "What are you to do with the vacant seats?" You would then have opened up the whole controversy as to the share of representation to which counties and boroughs are respectively entitled. I believe that even under the present law the claims of the counties are stronger than those of the boroughs: But if the principle of this Bill as to uniformity of franchise be accepted you raise it in a form in which the claim of the counties becomes much stronger than ever it was before. So long as you had borough voters with a qualification of £10 and county voters of £50 it might be argued, that an exact comparison between the numerical proportion in which boroughs and counties were represented was unjust, for that the boroughs alone represented the £10 householder whether resident in borough or county, since he had no share in voting for the county Members. But that plea is done away by the uniformity of franchise, and when you have the same constituency both in boroughs and counties, it seems impossible to refute the reasoning used by my right hon. Friend (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), which proves that the representation of the counties, calculated on a strict numerical basis, is utterly inadequate. That principle was admitted by the noble Lord the Member for the City of London in the Bill of 1854, not at all to the satisfaction of his political friends. But then, if we had followed the example of the noble Lord, the question would have stood in this way—that a large change being about to be made the counties who do not ask it must in justice have the principal benefit, while the towns from which the demand arises would be affected in a comparatively small degree, and will have a very small share of the new representation. For these two reasons—the difficulty of disfranchisement, and the difficulty of distributing the seats—we thought it better not to attempt to 417 deal with the subject, except so far as the pressing exigency of the times demanded. The next objection to the Bill is the restoration of out-voters in boroughs. It is argued that their abolition at the time of the first Reform Bill was an acknowledged benefit, and, therefore, that their restoration is an abuse. I accept the premisses, but I deny the conclusion. I am ready to admit that it was politic in 1832 to do away with out-voters; but why? Because at that time the payment of travelling expenses by a candidate was permitted, and, the means of communication being very different then from what they are now, these expenses, whether they fell on the candidate or on the voter, necessarily constituted a very heavy tax on the one or the other for the performance of a public duty. But in this Bill it is proposed that the payment of these expenses by the candidate should cease, and if the House will sanction the system of voting papers, or any system by which voters shall not be compelled to travel to the poll, that difficulty of travelling expenses and the objection to out-voters derived from it will be entirely done away with. But, whether the House sanctions that plan of voting papers or not, two things are equally clear—first, that these expenses are far less than they were in 1832; and next, that they will not fall on the candidate, which was the principal ground of complaint. But I am ready to contend, further, that this theory of requiring residence from a voter is unfitted to the ideas and habits of the present time, because it assumes that a man's interest in respect to which he votes must necessarily be there alone where he happens to reside. We know that hundreds and thousands of persons whose business lies in towns are in the habit of residing along the great lines of railways, often at a considerable distance from their places of business. That is one of the features of the social life of our time which it is impossible to ignore. Then, again, if you are to require residence in boroughs, why should you not require it as a qualification for counties also? The argument for requiring it in counties is much stronger than in the case of boroughs, because there the area within which the voter may reside is larger and the restriction is consequently less felt. It is no answer to say that occupation, which implies residence, is the qualification for boroughs and ownership for counties, since that distinction ceased to exist when the Chandos clause was passed. If you are to draw such 418 a distinction you must base it on some clear, intelligible rule, and if no such rule can be laid down the alternative is cither to require residence in both town and country, or to dispense with it in both. The last alternative I believe is the best, since by it no person would be disfranchised, and in a country where the territorial area is so limited, and the means of locomotion so great, the theory that residence is essential to having an interest in a locality has ceased altogether to apply. It has been argued that to do away with this requirement would give facilities for the manufacture of a number of fictitious votes which would swamp the resident electors; but in the sixth clause of this Bill there is a proviso which will have a considerable effect in checking any such practices. It is there stipulated that, with certain exceptions, not more than two votes shall be allowed in regard to the same tenement. I believe it is the habit, when fictitious votes of this kind are to be created on a large scale, not to give distinct ownership of freeholds, but to create joint ownership, and to give a number of rent charges upon the same property. I come now to that feature of the Bill in which more than any other its principle may be said to be involved, and against which the principal attacks of the noble Lord were directed—the identity or uniformity of borough and county franchise. I quite agree with the noble Lord that we ought to consider that principle without any reference to the particular amount at which the franchise may be fixed. The question is, is it or is it not right that the franchise should be made equal and uniform in towns and counties—or ought that distinction, which I admit has existed from the earliest period of our history, still to be retained? The first plea which I offer for the identity of the suffrage is, that unless you adopt it you will always have a dissatisfied class. However low you put the franchise—say you take a £10 franchise in counties and household suffrage or rating suffrage in towns—clearly those inhabitants of counties who, if they had lived within the limits of a borough, would have been entitled to the franchise, but who, living beyond those limits, are excluded, will complain that they are overlooked and unfairly treated; that the distinction thus drawn is an unfair one, and they will set on foot a new agitation for a further reform. It is not an agreeable thing to be excluded from the franchise; but exclusion on the ground of the want of some general qualification is 419 at least intelligible, and can be understood even by those who think that they have a right to complain; but to shut a man out because he lives on one side of a street while his neighbour, who lives on the other, has a vote—and we know that the boundaries of boroughs are drawn as arbitrarily as this—must appear capricious, oppressive, and even incomprehensible. The lower you carry the franchise in boroughs the more will this grievance be felt, because the class becomes larger of those which, if they lived in boroughs would be admitted, but who, living beyond the limits of a borough, are excluded. I say, then, that no measure which does not assimilate these franchises can really stop agitation for a further extension. But I go further, and ask what is the theory, the principle, on which this distinction of the two franchises rests? I have a right to call on those who support it for their defence, because one may safely assume that no person now creating an electoral system for the first time would propose to fix two unequal franchises, divided by purely arbitrary lines of demarcation. I know, of course, what is supposed to be the constitutional answer given to this inquiry. It is said, "the franchise in counties is based on ownership, and represents the permanent interests of property; the franchise in boroughs is based on occupation, and represents temporary or fluctuating interests." On that distinction I have more than one comment to make. Assuming it to be true, its maintenance is hardly expedient. I cannot conceive a more clumsy arrangement, nor one more likely to bring different classes into collision, than to say that so many Members of this House are to be considered as representing property, and property alone, while so many others represent occupancy, and occupancy alone. These sharp lines of demarcation are always dangerous. There is another fault in it, perhaps more important still. In effect it ignores every form of property except real property. A man, for example, may have an independent fortune, say of £10,000 in the Funds, and living in a hired house, he will be held not to represent property, but occupation only. But if out of his £10,000 he set aside £50 and buys a 40s. freehold, he posses at once from one class to another; and, though all the rest of his fortune only entitles him to be considered as representing occupancy, the £50 places him in a different class and ranks him among those who represent property. Nothing can be more preposterous. Again, 420 this scheme of separating boroughs from counties fails entirely in its application in this respect—that it never has been consistently carried out; for if, on the one hand, you say that a 40s. freeholder, where-ever he may reside, shall be entitled to a vote for the county, it follows from analogy, almost as an inevitable consequence, that the £10 occupier, wherever he may reside, shall he entitled to vote, not for the county, but for the nearest town. But that provision has never been contemplated, and could not now be introduced into any Bill. But if this were the case before 1832, if even then this alleged distinction between the representatives of ownership and the representatives of occupation was asserted only in a partial and incomplete manner, the inconsistency becomes much greater since the Chandos clause was passed. For the last twenty-seven years you have admitted occupation as giving a right to vote for counties. You have broken down the wall of separation which formerly existed, and I defy any one to say on what clear, intelligible ground that distinction is now maintained. It does not even rest on any general rule or understanding that the qualification shall be higher in counties than in boroughs, because, though you now exclude £10 householders from votes for the counties, you admit the 40s.freeholder, who undoubtedly stands no higher in the social scale. But other reasons exist why the distinction cannot be maintained. In order to maintain it you must be able to draw an exact line of separation between town and country; you must be able to say that all on one side is town and all on the other country. But that is exactly what you cannot do. Take the ease of London;—who can say precisely where London ends and the county of Middlesex begins? Take Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester, or any other densely peopled city, it is the same. You have long lines of suburbs stretching out along roads and railways far beyond the limits of the borough, yet all having the town for their centre. In some parts of England, again, you have boroughs that are in effect small counties; in other parts boroughs that do not include more than a part of the town in which they are situated; and in others large districts densely peopled, yet not capable of being included within the limits of a borough. That is the state of things existing at the present day, and with the growth of our [population that condition of things is likely to go on increasing. In 421 many parts of England the distinction between town and country is one much more of degree than of kind. Some have a denser population, others are more scattered; that is the only difference. The distinction may be more easily drawn in some parts of England than in others, but it is one which it is impossible to establish by a general rule. But there is another point of view from which this question of identical suffrage may be considered. By adopting it as a principle, the disfranchisement of small and decayed boroughs—ultimately inevitable as new towns arise requiring to be represented—becomes at once less important and less difficult. At present, when you disfranchise a borough, you take away the votes of the £10 householders within it, and you don't give them votes for the county. They naturally object, and the difficulty of the process is greatly increased by their resistance. On the other hand, when you enfranchise a town you give votes to a large class which did not previously possess them. But, under a system of uniform suffrage, the only result of disfranchisement is to transfer the votes of the borough disfranchised into the county; the only result of enfranchisement is that you take a certain number of votes out of the county, and make them into a separate constituency. Both the demand for enfranchisement would be greatly diminished, and the fear of disfranchisement greatly increased, and thus a partial solution would he offered of a question which has given, and may again give, rise to a great deal of agitation. I now come to another part of the Bill, to which the noble Lord objected in language of so much indignation, the transfer of freehold votes in boroughs from the counties to the towns. Let me here say that I regret that the Amendment by which the life interests in these freeholds are to be respected did not originally form part of the Bill. Reserving such interests is an ordinary practice, as in the case of freemen of boroughs; and there is no departure from a principle in making temporary exceptions to its application. I cannot help lamenting that many persons out of doors, and, possibly, some in this House, do not appear perfectly to understand the nature of the change proposed. It is represented as a proposal to disfranchise by Act of Parliament hard-working men who have held the right of voting for many generations. Now, how does the Bill really operate? In the case of a county free- 422 holder who does not vote for a borough though living within it there is no disfranchisement whatever. He only had one vote before, and he retains that vote still. And, in point of fact, the amount of political power possessed by the county voter who is transferred to a borough is greatly increased. The county constituencies are very much larger than those of the boroughs; and we know that the value of an individual vote depends on the smallness of the constituency. You take the voter from a constituency where he is one in 5,000, who return two Members, and you put him where he is one of 500 who return two Members; practically, therefore, by that change, his power of affecting the representation is increased tenfold. In the case of the freeholder having two votes,—one for the county, and one for a borough,—and whom, after the life of the existing holder, you transfer to the borough alone, no doubt, in that case, you take away one vote. But the question is, whether upon any intelligible or defensible principle of representation, he has a claim to the other vote. If any man has a dozen freehold qualifications in a county do you allow him to have a dozen votes? No; he has only one. The duplicate vote of the borough freeholder rests, I contend, on custom and tradition, it is only an accident of our political system,—not an essential feature of it. It is hardly worth while to advert to charges of interested and party motives having influenced this transfer. We have been told we "want to cripple the operations of the freehold land societies, because they interfere with landlords." Now, first, there can he no object to induce any action against those societies, because, as far as we can ascertain, their voters are very equally divided between the two great political parties. In the next place, these societies are not crippled, because it is just as easy to buy land beyond the limits of a Parliamentary borough as within them, in which case the votes remain unaffected by this Bill; and, lastly, it is a singular mode, of attempting to diminish the political power of a class of voters when, as I have just shown, by transferring them to boroughs that power is actually increased. And now one word as to the term "disfranchisement;" it has been much used in reference to this Bill, but not with much accuracy. I suppose it means depriving a man of the right of voting; but under the provisions of the Bill not one man will he deprived of that 423 right; the constituencies will not be narrowed by a single voter; there is a transfer of votes, indeed, and a loss of second votes, but not one individual will be struck off the register. Disfranchisement, therefore, in the true sense of the word, has no place in this Bill. But, independently of that consideration, the effect of these clauses will be much less than is generally supposed. There are now about 95,000 freeholders residing within the limits of boroughs; we cannot pretend to any certainty on this point; but we believe that rather less than half of these have one vote only; these are not disfranchised,—only transferred. The remainder, who have a second vote, will prospectively lose it, but only when, by the operation of other parts of the Bill, a great number of new voters are brought on the list. We have heard much of the smallness of this measure; but to the 900,000 voters now existing the Bill will add 200,000 £10 occupiers in counties. It is hardly possible to get at the number added by the savings' bank, educational, and other franchises, but I think that this addition of 200,000 voters to which I have referred, may by the new franchises be extended to 100,000 more. If the amount of personal property on which a qualification is given is thought too great, that is a point for future consideration; a principle is laid down in the Bill on which, by after Amendments, the constituencies can be still further extended. I believe, looking at the question in a practical point of view, that the choice at the present time lies between a comparatively small Bill and no Bill whatever. I am certain that any attempt to carry through Parliament a large measure of Reform at the present time would share the fate of the measures of 1852 and 1854. It would fail, and for this reason—that the working classes are not now pressing in the same manner as they did twenty-seven years ago for the possession of political power, and that the middle classes, having a much larger share of political power than they then possessed, are not disposed to part with it. We hear it sometimes assumed that the Government of this country is exclusively or mainly in the hands of the landed aristocracy, I apprehend that is an entire mistake. I believe that practically, ever since the passing of the Act of 1832, what is called the "middle class" has exercised the preponderating power in our Government. Even the Act of 1832 424 did not create that power, it merely recognized and embodied in the political institutions of the country that which it found already existing. In all countries the importance which belongs to the middle class and the amount of social influence which it possesses have been taken as a fair test of national progress. In England it is that class which has always most strenuously vindicated the principle of personal freedom, both against Royal prerogative and ecclesiastical power. It is that class which has given us Protestantism in religion and constitutional government in the State. It is that class which has laboured to protect the finances of England against the extravagance of armies and of Courts, and which has striven to preserve the peace of England when endangered by the popular passion for war. It is by that class that British trade has been extended over every quarter of the globe, that British shipping has been sent into every sea, that India has been conquered, America and Australia colonized, Liverpool and Manchester created. I see nothing in the manner in which the Members of that class have used the preponderance of political power vested in them during the last twenty-five years to make me believe that they are unworthy to possess it still. It may be right that they should share that power. It is not right that they should lose it; and lose it they will if by an indiscriminate extension of the franchise (for you will find it no easier to stop at £6 than at £10, and what you give to the boroughs you will not be able to withhold from the counties) you should place every class in subordination to one, and that one by no fault of its own, but by the nature and the necessity of the case, the least independent and the least instructed.
§ MR. H. G. STURT
said, he rose as a county Member, and as a representative of a large agricultural constituency, to endeavour to express briefly and clearly, so far as it lay in his power, the opinions which he entertained of the measure before the House. He certainly rejoiced to find that the noble Earl at the head of Her Majesty's Government had had the moral courage to come forward and grapple with this question of Parliamentary Reform, a subject which had been hanging over the heads of the people for so many years; but he regretted that the noble Earl did not go a little further, and through his representatives in that House lay a Bill 425 upon the table nicely to meet and satisfy the just expectations of the people. He recollected reading, some seven or eight years ago, a speech from his noble Friend the Secretary for India to his constituents at King's Lynn, and his noble Friend, after touching, in his usual eloquent and impressive way, upon various subjects, addressed himself to the subject of Parliamentary Reform, and spoke somewhat to this effect. His noble Friend said, "that he, for one, was opposed to piecemeal legislation in the matter of Reform of the representation of the people; and he heartily hoped that when that important subject should he introduced to the House of Commons the measure would be full and comprehensive, and one which would be satisfactory to the country." He (Mr. Sturt) quite agreed with his noble Friend, and he would endorse those sentiments which at that time he so eloquently expressed. But he believed he should be justified in saying now, that if his noble Friend's opinions had not materially changed, they were at least very much modified, and he would ask his noble Friend now whether he was not perfectly well aware that this Bill of the Government, of which he was a Member, that this Bill, of which he was the able advocate and clear exponent, instead of being accepted throughout the land as a settlement of this difficult question, had not been merely the signal for renewed agitation and excitement? He confessed he had read, for he was not present to hear, the extraordinary speech of his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he introduced this subject to the House with considerable astonishment. He wondered that his right hon. Friend, who was second to no man for political sagacity, and who was inferior to no man in that Assembly for political insight, could, in this year of 1850, gravely and coolly propose to the House of Commons to deprive one hundred thousand honest, intelligent, and he (Mr. Sturt) believed loyal and patriotic, freeholders of the inestimable privilege of the franchise, He was obliged to look about him for a reason for so extraordinary a course on the part of his right hon. Friend. The hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright) was doubtless quite right when he said that the proposition to which he alluded was thrown as a sop to the county Members on the Government side of the House. Now, he had no doubt that that sup, as it was called, was well intended; that it 426 was meant as a compliment; but he could not think the proposition a complimentary one to the county Members, and he was one of them himself. Why had not his hon. Friends around him looked at the matter in a proper light—in the light in which he had viewed it? The proposition seemed to him to be a political insult to his constituents; and he, for one, protested against a scheme so unjust, so unfair, and so manifestly unconstitutional. What had his hon. Friends done? They took the sop, and when they got it they did not like it. His hon. Friend the Member for Somersetshire (Mr. Miles)—generous man!—came down and moved an Amendment to protect what he called existing rights—an Amendment which he (Mr. Sturt) had no hesitation in pronouncing as nothing more nor less than a miserable compromise. And his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, forgetting that it was never worth while to make two bites of a cherry, accepted the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Somersetshire, thereby compelling him to place the proposal of the Government in the same category. He was well aware—he was not now speaking individually, for that might be personal, but he was speaking generally—that in that House the county Members were not supposed to possess very expansive intellects, or very comprehensive and enlightened minds. And having mixed much with them during the last six weeks, and had numerous and animated discussions with them on this subject, he must say he really was rather inclined to that opinion. He now wanted to ask his hon. Friends around him in public, as he had already over and over again asked them in private, why were they so afraid of the people of this country? What had the people done during the last twenty years to fill the county Members with such an amount of alarm? Had they done anything to excite suspicion or justify timidity? Had not the decent and loyal behaviour of what were called the masses of England been the theme of admiration throughout the whole world? He knew all the arguments about undermining the Throne and destroying the constitution. But he did not believe in them. He shared in no such apprehensions, he laboured under no such hallucinations. He had faith in the people of this country. It was in consequence of his faith in the people of this country that made him protect against any tampering directly or indirectly with what 427 were their acknowledged constitutional rights. He did so protest, because he was a Conservative. [An hon. MEMBER: Hear, hear!] Yes, because he was a Conservative; and he would tell that hon. Member who cheered him so melodiously that more worthy of the name Conservative was that man who advanced with the times in which he lived, and who supported progressive improvement, than that man who had no trust in the people, and who upon all occasions was to be found recording his vote and raising his voice in favour of a standstill or a retrograde policy. Again he would repeat he so protested because he was a Conservative; and, moreover, when the time arrived he would also record his vote in favour of extending the borough franchise; because in his conscience he believed that at that moment there were thousands and tens of thousands of the working classes—and he knew what the working classes were, although the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) appeared to be ignorant upon the subject—excluded from that right to which their intelligence and education so eminently entitled them; and having said thus much, perhaps the House would bear with him for a moment longer while he explained his reason for the vote he was about to give, because if he were not permitted to do so he feared he should he presented to the House and his constituents in the unenviable and somewhat humiliating position of a person negativing by his conduct the very principles he had professed. As an individual Member, but in concert, he believed, with the wishes of the majority of the Members in that House, he was exceedingly anxious to sec a fair and ample measure of Reform passed through both Houses of Parliament during the present Session. And the question naturally suggested itself to him whether he should be obtaining that object by voting in favour of the noble Lord's Amendment. He thought not; because he believed if that Amendment were carried all chance of obtaining a Reform Bill during the present Session would be irretrievably lost. Ann whatever his noble Friend might say against such a proposal surely it was in the power of any hon. Member of that House to move in Committee Resolutions embodying the same principles as those upon which the Amendment was based. Surely Her Majesty's Government had during their tenure of office shown no great disinclination to advance half-way, and meet the wishes of 428 the majority of this House, and he could not sec any reason why this Bill, after one or two omissions, and two or three alterations, and three or four additions, should not be modified into a Bill consonant with the feelings of that House and the country at large. Such was his opinion of the proposed measure; but he would say a few words upon the question of party, which he feared would somewhat predominate during the present debate. He desired to ask hon. Members on the opposite side of the House, what advantage they were likely to derive from joining with the noble Lord the Member for the City of London in what he must call his extremely dexterous party move. They were a disunited party. To those hon. Gentlemen who shook their heads he would just mention one word—namely, the ballot; he was quite convinced that those hon. Gentlemen who sat below the gangway would make the ballot question a sine quâ non for their acquiescence to any measure of Reform. Believing that no good would result to the country or to any party by agreeing to the noble Lord's Amendment, he should vote against it and in favour of the second reading of the proposed Bill. He had to thank the House for the kind indulgence it had extended to him. He believed he had not trespassed beyond the proper bounds of Parliamentary debate; he hoped he had not hurt the feelings of any of his right hon. Friends, and he trusted he had not quite petrified his hon. Friends around him by aught that he had said. He would only further state that he had addressed the House as a free and independent Member, having no ambition to gratify, and animated only by the wish—which, he was sure, guided every Member of that assembly—to secure to the utmost extent the safety, honour, and welfare of his native country.
§ VISCOUNT BURY
said, he must congratulate Her Majesty's Government on the accession to their ranks of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Worcestershire. He thought it was Mr. Fox who, contesting an election on one occasion, was told by one of his constituents, "I admire your sentiments, but hang your principles." He would make the same remark to the hon. Gentleman who had last spoken. "I admire your sentiments and the able speech by which you have conveyed them to the House, but I must dissent from the conclusion which you draw from them." He hoped to be able, in a few plain words, to place before the 429 House his reasons for the vote which he was about to give; but in doing this he would not follow the noble Lord the Secretary for India in the elaborate argument which he gave for the second reading, because he should first have to examine whether the Bill was not wrong in its primary principles, and then go into its details. The charge which the noble Lord the Secretary for India had made against the noble Lord the Member for London, of entertaining factious motives, was one which would, he thought, be reprobated by the. House and the country. When the Ministers now in power succeeded in ejecting the previous Government, how did they retain their newly-acquired power? It had been only by the support they received from that—the Opposition—side of the House. But that support had been given on the understanding that when the time came the Government would bring in a satisfactory Reform Bill. They had failed in doing so, and ought not therefore to complain at that support being withdrawn. Before he (Viscount Bury) voted for the second reading of this Bill he would ask the Government what they meant by a Reform Bill. If they meant simply a re-hash of what already existed—a re-distribution of political power—if they meant Locke King and water, he could understand, though he could not agree with them. He understood reform to mean an extension of the Bill of 1832. By the Bill of 1832 the middle classes were enfranchised and received their full share of power; but the working classes were still left without those civil privileges which it was the boast of England that she extended to all her citizens. The tendency of all legislation since the Reform Bill had been to elevate all those classes, and fit them for the reception of political privileges; and any change of the law which did not now enfranchise them would be a mischievous innovation and nothing else. How did the proposed Bill in any way meet this requisite? Did the £60 in a savings' bank qualification let in a, single working man? There were various other franchises, but none of them seemed framed with the intention of allowing the working classes to exercise the franchise. In short it was simply a redistribution of existing elements. Some Gentlemen supported this Bill on account of its mildness, and because it would do less than any measure which would be introduced by the noble Lord the Member for the City of London; 430 but if they were against any reform why did they not rise in their places and say so. If those Gentlemen were to range themselves under a "No Reform" banner, then he thought they should have the House of Commons divided into Reform and no Reform parties; they should then know what they were about, and the country would feel much mere confident in the morality of public men. He was sorry, therefore, the Government had thought it right to introduce this Bill for the reasons he had stated. The Bill was evidently intended to pacify the country with a something bearing the name of Reform, as a child was pacified with a toy; but the measure of Reform contained in the Bill was equally unsubstantial. The Bill, indeed, was a delusion and a snare. But he objected to the Bill, not because it contained so small a measure of Reform only, but because that Reform was not in the right direction. It was a Bill that ought to be nailed to the table of the House, as a bad shilling would be treated by a shopkeeper; it was not true metal; it wanted the proper ring. Who were the coiners of the Bill, and why was it introduced? In order that the noble Lord at the head of the Government, who said that his mission was to stem the tide of democracy, and the leader of that House, who declared that he considered Reform subversive of the best interests of the country, might exhibit themselves floating down that tide which they could not stem, and spreading their sails to catch the veering wind of popularity. This Bill unsettled everything and settled nothing. It removed no incongruities, it grappled with no defects, but it did not stop short at the most violent innovations. Sir R. Inglis said, "If we are to have reform, let it come from its friends, and not from its opponents." It appeared to him that Her Majesty's Government had no reverence for the constitution, or why would its leaders have given expression to such sentiments as those he had quoted. The right hon. Gentleman who had introduced the Bill had taken great pains to inform the House why Her Majesty's Government had dealt with the subject of Reform. He might have saved himself that trouble, and simply have referred to the political history of his party during the last thirty years. From that history he would have found that it had been the invariable practice of his friends to resist all necessary change as long as possible; and, when it 431 could no longer be staved off, either by coalescing with the extreme party of their opponents to damage the status of those to whom they handed over the question, or to turn round and in defiance of all previous professions introduce the Reform themselves. Such, was the conduct of the Duke of Wellington with reference to Catholic emancipation, such the course pursued by Sir R. Peel with regard to the repeal of the Corn Laws. Having followed those precedents so far, it was a pity that the present Government had not imitated them to the full extent. Both the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel gave good measures while they were about it, but hon. Gentlemen opposite had done neither one thing nor the other. He was aware that there were some who differed with him as to the advisability of admitting the working classes to the franchise; but he still maintained the propriety and justice of such a course. If he wished to show the conduct of the working classes he would refer to the general election immediately after the Reform Bill. No one was able to move the working classes from the position they then took; they said, "If we have no hand in the legislation of the country at present, at any rate it has now got into hands that will deal with it fairly;" and they fairly, but firmly, urged their right to participate in the franchise. The House of Commons were now asked whether they would continue to refuse political power to the working classes, and which power they had meted out to the middle classes. He thought that the middle classes would be behaving in a most ungrateful manner, and with small trust in the class immediately below them, if they did not contribute to the full extent to get the enfranchisement of the working classes embodied in any measure passed through that House. He had considered the arguments in reference to enfranchising the working classes, and they seemed to resolve themselves into these. First, it was said that the Government was a committee appointed by the general body for the general good, and that when that Government said to any one class that it was not to participate in the benefits which Government represented, the Government ceased to be the representative of the general body and degenerated into a tyranny. It was further argued that the small holders of property were usually found to be the most Conservative, and that for a very simple reason. Suppose that taxation were 432 increased in any very great proportion, the great proprietor who held half a shire for his domain might be a little cramped; it might even extend to this, that he must give up spending the season in London, but the small proprietor would be ruined, and therefore he contended that pro tanto the small proprietor had as great or a greater interest in the preservation of law and order than those above him. Further, it had always been seen that the exclusion of any class operated unfavourably on that class; and that if they denied to any class the rights of citizenship the members of that class would cease to feel and act as citizens. He would refer to the case of the police force; they all knew from what class of the people that most useful body came, and they all knew with whom they sided. There was no class upon which a more firm reliance could be placed than on the metropolitan police force. It seemed to him that the argument would be equally good if it were applied to the whole body of the working classes. If they were admitted to a fair share in the representation there would be no men who would be stauncher to the constitution. He had heard it said that we were tending towards democracy, and that we should have a general scramble. He did not admit that the Government was so conducted that it was for the interest of any class to rise against it and overthrow it; for, if that were so, then the Government was a tyranny. At the time of the first Reform Bill, Lord Macaulay said in that House that the case was continually recurring of one class treading on the heels of another; that continually a class was increasing in wealth and prosperity, and demanding the same civil rights as were possessed by the class above it. If those rights were accorded at first, well and good, but if they were refused, then there came a continued and prolonged battle between the new energies of the one class and the old power of the other. This was seen in the case of the tiers etat in France, and the nobility of the old régime, and in the case of the middle classes in this country, struggling on until 1832 against the aristocracy of land. Again, there was the same case now with the working classes struggling against the aristocracy of the middle classes. He had heard it said that there was "no cry" in the country, and that therefore it was inexpedient to have any Reform. It was said also in France. But a proper measure of Reform might 433 have served in the time of Louis the Well-beloved, and in the time of his unhappy son. He was quite aware that at present the working classes in this country were in good humour, and that they were asking fairly what they believed the House would grant freely; but he was quite sure if Reform were withheld there would then be a dangerous agitation. He would say to the House, "What you give to the working classes give it to them without hesitation and without distrust." It was impossible to say what would be given by this Bill to the working classes. There was not a man who knew whether he would, by this Bill, be enfranchised or incapacitated from voting. It was no Reform Bill; it was simply an innovation. It was framed on an erroneous principle, because it only made a shuffle of existing interests. For these reasons he should give his vote for the noble Lord the Member for London, but he should do so only because he could not now touch the second reading of the Bill; and he must say that when he had the opportunity he should oppose the Bill in every way.
§ MR. KER SEYMER
said, when they were considering a Bill to amend the representation of the people, the first question they ought to ask themselves was this,—what end did they propose to themselves by popular representation, and how far did our representative institutions answer that end? We in England desired good laws and good government. We desired security for those good laws and for that good government, and we believe that that security was best attained by representative institutions; but we knew nothing of the "rights of man." Let the House go back for a moment to the state of affairs at the time of the old Reform Bill. The great centres of manufacturing industry, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, had no Members; and other largo towns which had Members were very often represented by close corporations, which could not in any way be said to represent the opinions or the interests of those towns. Seats in that House were openly bought and sold. All attempts to remedy that state of things had been pertinaciously resisted. A great man, who afterwards became a wiser politician, declared that no Reform was necessary. It was under those circumstances that the Reform Bill was brought forward, and, speaking from the Ministerial side of the House, he had no hesitation in saying that he regarded it as a great and success- 434 ful measure, It was not a perfect measure, but a cry arose for "the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill"—a stupid parody of the form in which oaths were administered in our courts of justice which prevented the defects of the Bill being remedied. But, although it was not a perfect, it was a great and successful measure. Had our political and social progress during the last thirty years been, as we were told, a dream? Was it true, as the people had been told in speeches out of doors, that we had been the slaves of a landed aristocracy, who had involved us in expensive wars for their own benefit and against the interests of the country? Had there not, on the contrary, as the noble Lord stated, been passed many most admirable and important measures of political progress during those thirty years? But perhaps some hon. Member would say to him, "You have no right to speak of those measures, for you opposed the passing of them." Now, some of those measures his party opposed, and for others they voted; but whenever the public opinion of this country declared itself in favour of a measure that measure was carried by the House of Commons, and it passed through the House of Lords. He admitted what the noble Lord had said with respect to the question of Free Trade. He agreed with him in what he had said about Catholic Emancipation—namely, that it was put off to too late a period, and that it was carried by a very dangerous process. Still the passing of it by an aristocratic Parliament was in advance of the general feeling, and he believed that if the Reform of Parliament had been carried two years earlier Catholic Emancipation would not have been granted. With regard to the remarks of the noble Lord on the Corn Laws and on Free Trade generally, he must say that it was not merely the agricultural interest that deemed itself affected by the question of Free Trade; the shipping interests and many manufacturing interests, also took a part in the struggle. He would remind the hon. Member for Birmingham that the Anti-Corn Law League was opposed by large portions of the labouring classes, and that the league found it necessary to issue tickets for admission to its meetings to exclude those who used to disturb those meetings by raising questions about the five points of the Charter. But when public opinion had declared in favour of the great measure of Free Trade a large majority of the 435 House of Commons and a considerable majority of the House of Lords, which was called the landlords' House, passed that measure. The working classes distrusted the hon. Member for Birmingham on account of his opposition to the Ten Hours Bill? Who supported that measure mainly? Why, Lord Ashley? And who opposed it but the hon. Member for Birmingham and his friends? He said, in the course of the debate on that Bill, that he had been taxed with having signed a petition for a Ten Hours Bill, but he said that was done in the days of his youthful folly. He (Mr. Ker Seymer) preferred that act of youthful folly to those of his riper age. In legislating upon that subject, Parliament went as far as was consistent with sound principle; it interfered on behalf of women and children, who were unable to protect themselves; but who could believe that a Parliament returned by the labouring classes would have stopped at the right moment? Had we never heard of an Eight Hours Bill for adult males? Again, were the working classes quite sound en the subject of capital and labour? The shoemakers, as a class, were extreme Radicals, and yet they fiercely opposed the introduction of machinery into their handicraft, which reminded him of the recent conduct of the licensed victuallers of Marylebone, when they passed a vote of confidence in their new and learned Member as a sound and earnest Liberal—and opposed to the opening of the trade. It might be said that, though the Reformed Parliament had passed some good measures, yet its foreign policy had been expensive to the country, and productive of advantage only to the aristocracy. Who turned out the hon. Member for Birmingham from his seat at Manchester? It was not the landed gentry, but the genuine English impulse of the men of Manchester that rejected him because he was for peace when they were for war. Who was the Minister that made himself so unpopular by his supposed lukewarmness in the late war with Russia? It was the Earl of Aberdeen, an old Tory colleague of Wellington and Liverpool. The hon. Member for Birmingham had been saying some unpleasant things of the aristocracy during the last few months. What did the aristocracy say of him? They thought it a great misfortune for a man who aspired to be a statesman to commence public life by a course of agitation out of doors. They thought that the habit of addressing large and en- 436 thusiastic meetings, where only one side was hoard, had produced a bad effect both upon the mind and the oratory of the hon. Member. They traced to that source the entire impossibility under which he appeared to labour of placing himself in the position of his adversary, or of supposing that anybody who held a different opinion from him could be either honest or good. To that they attributed the incorrect statements, the unsound logic, the violent and intemperate language of which we had heard so much during the last few months. The opinions which the hon. Member had expressed, and the manner in which they had been received by large masses of working men, lay at the root of the question of Reform. At Birmingham, the hon. Member, after giving a very eloquent description of the various employments among the operatives, stated that owing to our system of legislation there had been abstracted from the industry of the people the enormous and incomprehensible sum of two billions. To be able to sustain such a depletion the industry of the country must be pretty vigorous, but the hon. Member must have forgotten the income tax and that our war expenditure was borne in the greater measure, not by the industrial classes, but by a class far above them. In order to show that the House of Commons did not represent the country the hon. Member stated in the same speech that the question of free trade, long after the country had made up its mind on the subject, was only carried by a majority of 19 in 1852. Did not everybody know that the division in 1852 turned upon the budget, the house tax, the possibility of a prospective deficit, and, above all, the desire of the Opposition to turn out the Government and take their places? The hon. Member also laid great stress upon the amount of our pauperism, and seemed to connect it with the proceedings and constitution of the House of Commons. Where large masses of labourers congregated together for the purpose of manufacture and commerce, and where there was necessarily a great deal of improvidence and some vice there must always be distress and misery. Every true friend of the working classes would speak to them of these things, and would try to persuade them to reform themselves; but it suited the demagogue better to talk to them of universal suffrage and the wickedness of the House of Lords. In America, even in the new cities that had risen up on the 437 banks of the Mississippi, the same overcrowding, the same want of the common necessaries of life, the same vice and misery prevailed; while in New York there was a place called the Brewery, which he could assure the House matched anything to be found in St. Giles or Saffron-hill. The hon. Member proceeded in this way ["Question, question!"] This was the question; these opinions were expressed by the hon. Member before large audiences of working men, and they were said to have been received as gospel, and they were made to show the way in which the House of Commons worked in reference to government for the public good. The hon. Member, proceeding on his tour, told the people of Manchester that under our present system of Government the aristocracy received far more than they contributed to the revenues of the State. But in order to make out that statement he was obliged to include among the receipts of the aristocracy all the property and livings of the Church of England, though he must have known that he himself, or any man with money, might buy livings in the market. Nothing could be more unfair than to make such statements, and it argued a want of intelligence on the part of an audience to receive such statements as true. The aristocracy and wealthy classes had paid millions in income-tax more than they received for the services of their children, who shed their blood so freely on the plains of Waterloo and the heights of Sebastopol. The hon. Member next proceeded to calumniate the assembly of which he was so distinguished an ornament, for he said that during his Parliamentary experience, extending over fifteen years, he never knew the House of Commons pass a great measure of justice because it was just. Now, the questions which arose in that House were not questions of pure justice, but questions of relative justice, and, if it were admitted that the House sometimes passed great measures of justice, it might fairly be allowed the credit of passing them because they were just; at all events, the statement of the hon. Member was uncharitable in the extreme, and ought not to have been made by a Member of Parliament. That it was accepted as true by a large audience of working men ought to make the House cautious in lowering the franchise. In Glasgow, the hon. Member said the present electoral body was so corrupt and so managed that almost all the objects for which a representative assembly should 438 exist were frustrated. He might leave the hon. Member to settle that question with the noble Lord the Member for the city, who it seemed had in 1832 perpetrated a fraud upon the people of England. But it was not correct to say that all the various interests of the country were not fairly represented in that House. The agricultural, the manufacturing, the commercial interests—the public opinion of this country—together with the large, the moderate sized, and the small towns, were represented in that House. If the Hon. Member attempted to make such a statement in that House, he would find that it was much easier to persuade labouring men to believe in it than an intelligent audience cognizant of the affairs of the country. Then the hon. Member for Birmingham, again addressing a large number of the labouring classes at Glasgow, told them that entails, primogeniture, and large farms were the cause of all their evils, and that he wondered how people could breathe freely on those large properties. Now, if they could not breathe freely in the Highlands of Scotland, that could not arise from the want of pure air, but must be occasioned by envious feelings towards the possessors of property. The hon. Member added that if they only had free representation all this would be reformed according to the principles of political economy. The political economy of the hon. Member was very well handled by the Economist, in which publication he was told that he was sinning against all the principles of political economy in respect to large farms. The people bought their corn in the cheapest market, and the landlord let his land in the dearest, it was a question of Free Trade, and had nothing to do with the legislation of that House. Considering the inflammatory language of the hon. Member it might be supposed that if he made any reform in respect to the land of this country it would not be a Reform according to the principles of political economy but according to the "rights of man." At length the hon. Gentleman produced what was intended to be a scheme of Reform, but it was so manifestly unfair to the agricultural interest that some explanation was felt to be necessary, and he then stated that the agricultural interest was represented in the House of Lords. He (Mr. Ker Seymer) denied this. The agricultural interests—the fanners, whose skill, energy and money had mainly contributed to produce in this country the highest state of 439 cultivation in the world, were not represented in the House of Lords. A few years ago the then Government brought forward a scheme for the collection of agricultural statistics, and though that was repudiated by the farmers of this country it passed the House of Lords without discussion—certainly without opposition. The moment, however, that the Bill came down to the House of Commons, where the agricultural interest—the farmers—were represented by the county Members, the opposition to it was so strong that the Government never ventured to proceed to a second reading with it. Therefore he contended that the agricultural interest—that those who cultivated the soil—were not represented in the way stated by the hon. Member. But the question which lay at the bottom of all this was, what was the position of the House of Commons in the practical working of the constitution. The hon. Member sneered at the idea of the constitution, and asked his audience if they had ever seen it. On the same principle he (Mr. Ker Seymer) would ask the hon. Member if he had ever seen liberty? Considering that the Crown never exercised its veto, which it possessed by the constitution, and that the House of Peers never systematically opposed measures passed by the Commons, it was necessary that that House should work harmoniously with the territorial and landed interest, strongly represented in the House of Commons, or there would exist in this country a thorough democracy which would overthrow the Crown and the other branch of the Legislature. The hon. Member spoke out rather broadly, and said that an hereditary House of Peers could not be a permanent institution of a free country. There had, however, been both freedom and an hereditary House of Peers, for some time in this country, and he fancied that when the hon. Member used the word "free" he meant "democratic." Having noticed the inaccuracies in the statements of the hon. Member, he would now proceed to consider some of the provisions of the Bill, the extension of the suffrage, the partial disfranchisement of some small towns and the enfranchisement of other places. With respect to the extension of the suffrage, it had been admitted for some years past that there were scattered throughout the country, not living within the boundaries of boroughs or occupying a £50 house, many intelligent and excellent persons thoroughly entitled to the franchise, but 440 who did not possess it. The Government intended to meet the case of those persons by the £10 franchise in counties and by what were called the "fancy franchises," which in his opinion were valuable. The Government, he confessed, might well hesitate here in proposing a £10 franchise for the counties, and if he considered that it would dissever the representatives of the counties from the agricultural interests he should consider it a disastrous measure; but he did regret their having made up their minds to disfranchise the borough freeholder, for he should not like to give the noble Lord the Member for the City of London the opportunity of profiting by this. Last year it was "Palmerston and the British flag," and it was successful; but he should be sorry if the cry was raised of "Russell and the British freeholder" this year, with similar results. He had had great experience in canvassing county voters who voted for boroughs, and had reason to believe that the majority of them were a throughly honest and independent set of electors. They were free from corruption, and knew the full value of their county vote. He hoped the Government would reconsider that part of the question, for he was not quite convinced by the ingenious arguments of the noble Lord that it would be a good thing to introduce again out-voters for boroughs. Neither was he convinced, in spite of the provisions of the Bill, that there would not be a system of splitting freeholds. He desired to maintain the small boroughs, and thought it inexpedient to introduce into them the freehold franchise. With regard to the labouring classes he certainly assented to the mode in which the Government proposed to enfranchise them. If the limit taken was deemed too high by some hon. Members that was a question for consideration in Committee, and it would be perfectly consistent with the principle of the Bill to admit men to the franchise with a smaller sum in the savings' banks or in other institutions. The real problem to be solved was, how to admit the labouring classes to the franchise, without swamping the rest of the constituency. The hon. Member for Birmingham at one time proposed the parochial system of voting, but the moment the hon. Member discovered that that proposition would give a preponderance to property over numbers he dropped it as if it were a hot potatoe. Another principle of the Bill was the enfranchisement of certain districts, and he 441 might here say he believed there had been a general expectation that the nomination boroughs, or quasi nomination boroughs, which still existed, would have been disfranchised by the measure of the Government. It was an old tradition of the Tory party—founded partly upon the able speeches of Mr. Croker in Committee upon the Reform Bill—that the Whigs got much the best of it under that Bill, so far as the disfranchisement of boroughs was concerned. It was quite natural, from the large territorial possessions of the Whig aristocracy, that they should be able to control a considerable number of nomination boroughs, and he thought the Government in abstaining from the disfranchisement of those boroughs had shown that they were not actuated by party spirit in the preparation of this Bill. He also thought the Government had acted with perfect fairness with regard to the boroughs proposed to be partially disfranchised, for those boroughs returned thirty members to that House, fifteen of whom were Liberals and fifteen Conservatives. The proposal for the enfranchisement of new districts was also, in his opinion, characterized by perfect fairness, although, probably, the majority of the new Members would sit on the opposite benches. He could not conceive what valid objection could be taken to the use of voting papers, for, although it was true that the system might be open to abuse, he thought it would not be difficult to devise a remedy. It seemed to him somewhat hard that hon. Gentlemen opposite, who wished to make everybody vote by ballot, should oppose an arrangement which would enable persons suffering from sickness or bodily infirmity, or who were prevented by other causes from going to the polling booths, to record their votes. By increasing the number of polling districts and permitting the use of voting papers they would do away with the necessity for travelling expenses, and would thus get rid of the corruption which had undoubtedly been carried on under the cloak of such expenses. With regard to the speech of the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, he took the first clause of the Bill in his Resolution, and said, I object to the principle of the Bill entirely; but he had always understood the practice was to take the discussion on the principle of the Bill on the second reading, and to say aye or no to that; but although the noble Lord objected to the principle of the Bill he would not take the sense of the House on 442 the second reading of the Bill. The noble Lord said, there were many persons who lived in houses under £10 who ought to be let in, but he let them in with many others who were not qualified to vote; but the Government had let in those who by their prudence had shown that they made the best use of their abilities and industry as members of the working classes. The noble Lord had said the country would not understand him if he opposed the second reading, because they liked the £10 county franchise, but he (the hon. Member) was of opinion that the country would understand him, and that the country would he of opinion that the noble Lord was more anxious to change places with the right hon. Gentleman who sat below him (Mr. Ker Seymer) on that side of the House, than to amend the representation of the people.
§ MR. ALDERMAN SALOMONS
said, he hoped for the indulgence of the House while for the first time he took a brief part in one of its debates. He wished he knew its Members sufficiently well to be able to distinguish between the two hon. Members from Dorsetshire, with one of whom he agreed, whilst from the other he differed, He entirely sympathized in the sentiments of the hon. Member for Dorsetshire who first addressed the House, though he differed with him in his conclusions. He had had an opportunity, from an intimate connection with them for some years, of forming an estimate of the working classes of this country, and he thought that the way in which they had exerted themselves to improve themselves and their social position, and the praises that had been bestowed upon them by eminent public men, had produced a fixed impression in their minds that whenever a reconstruction of the constitution took place they should be admitted to their fair share in the extension of the suffrage. Neither could he see that the Legislature could, without danger, exclude them. He could not believe in any new Reform Bill which excluded the most popular element in the constitution, more particularly at a time when the people were looking for a larger infusion of opinion in their favour in that House. He believed the statistics of savings' banks would show that the working classes did not form the largest portion of those who invested their money in them, but that there was a large class of them who invested their savings in benefit and building societies, and he believed that if the extension of the franchise 443 were confined only to savings' banks, it was not likely to confer any increased power in the Legislature on behalf of the working classes. But what they were now considering was not so much the various clauses of the Reform Bill as the Resolution before the House. Much had been said with, regard to party, and he did not deny its influence. He did not deny the sympathy he had with the Liberal party, but he had much greater sympathy with liberal measures, and on whichever side they were introduced he should vote for them; and if he gave his vote against the measure it would be because he believed that no Reform Bill could be passed without danger to the country unless the working classes had a share in it. He would ask the hon. Member for Dorsetshire, and all thinking statesmen, to consider what might be the consequences of passing a Bill that did not duly consider the claims of the working classes of this country, and how they would be able to stem the torrent of discontent that might take possession of the working classes if they were left out. They had hitherto fought Chartism and other theories of different classes of politicians with the argument, that whenever the time came for reconstructing the constitution, every class should be considered, and a very large class of the community not being so considered was, he thought, a great objection to the Bill before the House, and justified the Resolution brought forward by the hon. Member for the City of London. It was evidently the view presented to the Cabinet by some of its Members when considering the measure for improving the representation of the people,—that the working classes should not be overlooked, and he was at a loss to conceive how it was that this prudent advice was overlooked and neglected. A very fair test of public opinion was observable in what had occurred during the last three weeks, since the provisions of the Bill had been known. During that time it had been condemned on every platform in the kingdom, and it was a matter of great surprise that when a measure had been brought forward, that might decide the fate of a Ministry, or of a Parliament, or perhaps of both, that there was not a town or city in the kingdom where a proposal had been brought forward in favour of the measure. To him personally it was a matter of the greatest regret that on the first opportunity he had of giving a decided vote it should be in 444 opposition to a Ministry to whose exertions he was no doubt in some degree indebted that he had the opportunity of addressing that House. But the duty he owed to his constituents, to the country, and to his conscience, must lead him to vote against a Bill so objectionable as this; and believing that the Resolutions of the noble Lord were founded on wisdom and justice, he must vote in favour of them.
§ MR. LIDDELL
said, he rose to address the House under circumstances of some difficulty. Had he in the early part of the evening trusted to his ears rather than his eyes, he should have thought that some mighty political change had taken place, or that he had forgotten his place and his principles, for he heard the noble Lord opposite (Lord John Russell) defending the franchise of the freeholder on the ground of prescriptive right. He thoroughly agreed with him, but he could not forget that only four or five years ago the same noble Lord proposed to abolish at one fell swoop the rights of several thousands of freemen who had equally prescriptive claims with the freeholder. He knew well that whether he was freeman or freeholder, every such elector had a pride in the thought that he was born to a vote for the election of a Member of Parliament, and that each would be unwilling to abandon it. Almost immediately afterwards he heard an hon. Member (Mr. Sturt) in terms more witty than discreet, abuse the Government behind which he sat for not having made an indiscriminate enfranchisement of the working classes. Upon that point, however, he would have a word or two to say afterwards; but he owned it had always appeared to him a matter of difficulty how the present Government, with the principles they professed, would be able in a Reform Bill to satisfy hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House without, at the same time, alarming their supporters on their own. But now that the Government had produced their measure he gave them credit for having acted up to the principles on which they took office. They had come into power prepared to meet this question, they had met it; they had laid their measures fully and fairly before the country and were prepared to discuss them. He therefore claimed on their behalf from all candid men the credit and praise to which they were entitled for their manly and straightforward conduct. But as he could not regard the Bill either as quite so democratic as some hon. Gentleman supposed, 445 or as so illiberable in the extension of the suffrage as hon. Gentleman opposite chose to represent it, he hoped the House would allow him to make a few observations in justification of the vote he intended to give against the Resolutions of the noble Lord. What, after all, were the great defects of our electoral system? They came, generally, under three heads. The first of these was the too exclusive possession of the franchise; the second, the large number of rising manufacturing towns that were unrepresented, while some small or decaying boroughs sent two Members each; and the third was the almost totally unenfranchised condition of the mass of the working classes of the country. Now, he would ask whether the proposal of the Government did not go to a considerable length in each of these directions. Government dealt with each of these three defects. Take, first, the exclusive possession of the franchise. The Government proposed to reduce the county franchise from £50 to £10. He believed that was as great an extension of the franchise as was ever proposed by any individual in that House, even the noble Lord the Member for the City. Besides, it got rid, to a great extent, of that other defect of unrepresented towns. He looked upon that extension of the franchise with some degree of apprehension; it was a large experiment; but how the Liberal Members could reject it—how they could abstain from receiving it with gratitude—he was unable to understand. His apprehension of the effect of this provision arose from this—that he feared the large towns now unrepresented, and whose inhabitants would, therefore, have a vote for the counties, would have a preponderating influence in returning the county Members. With regard to those non-represented towns, however, he wished to treat the question with perfect fairness, and he regretted that Government had not grouped some of the smaller boroughs together, which would have given a larger number of seats to be distributed among the great manufacturing towns, and thus taken them out from the constituencies of the counties. But the Government had gone further than this, and proposed to confer the franchise upon educated persons without property. That, he thought, was a dangerous step, because, though he would be the last person to deny the advantages of education, though he knew what the poet said of itEmollit mores nee sinit esse feros.446 [A laugh]. Yes, he knew the quotation was an old one; but he was about to observe that the poet said feros, not malos, and he believed that some of the worst enemies to religion and to the settled institutions of the country had been persons possessed of education, but without any other qualification. He was surprised to hear the noble Lord the Minister for India express his regret that Government had not proposed an educational franchise. [Lord STANLEY: I said that was a now experiment which the Government had not ventured to try.] He was also sorry to hear the noble Lord say that they could not maintain the small boroughs on any principle. If they could not be maintained on principle, he thought they ought not to be maintained at all. But he believed they could be maintained on principle, and that the very principle of the constitution itself, which was an intricate piece of machinery, composed of many wheels, and which, in order to work, will require that each particular part should perform its allotted office. In other words, it was necessary, for the full development of our constitutional system, that no class or interest should be borne down by numbers, but that each should have its due weight in the social scale, and it was for that reason that he thought the existence of small boroughs might, on principle, be defended. They served as a means of procuring a representation for a great many important interests in the country, which could not be included under the head of cither agriculture or manufactures. He now came to what was considered the third great defect in our system—the non-representation of the working-classes. So great weight was placed upon that part of the question, that he would say a few words on it. He would be the last person in that House to hold in low esteem the individual qualifications of the working classes. No class had shown greater energy or skill in conducting their own business, none had shown greater honesty and intelligence of character. But there was a marked difference in the British workman in his individual character and when he acted in combination with others. When he entered into combination with others to effect a particular object, what course did he pursue? When the pressure of want came upon him, for instance, and he took counsel with his fellows with the view of bettering his condition, was he always guided by foresight and prudence in the selection 447 of those to whose hands he delegated his cause? Did prudence or foresight mark those "strikes" of which we sometimes heard? No; the men whom the working classes selected under those circumstances to represent them were frequently persons who gave them bad counsel, and who but too often led them into a course of conduct most prejudicial to their interests. It was often made the subject of complaint that the working classes were not represented in that House; but he thought the conduct of those who acted on their behalf in the House, and who had succeeded in shortening their hours of labour, cheapening their food, and providing for their poor, stood out in honourable contrast with the conduct of their own chosen representatives, whose evil counsels had often led them to starvation and ruin. He was not opposed to a fair representation of the working classes; he thought that while they ought not to scatter the franchise broad-cast over the land, they might confer the privilege upon the more prudent, thoughtful, and economical of the class, and such a test he thought was afforded by the proposition of the Government to enfranchise those that had a certain sum in the savings' banks. It was all very well for hon. Gentlemen opposite to laugh at this proposition, and to say that if the money were drawn out on any emergency, the man would be disfranchised; but it was the character of the man who saved up the money that was the point for consideration, not the amount of his savings—that was a mere question of detail. He saw no better means of selecting from the great unrepresented mass of the people those who ought really to possess the franchise than the adoption of such a test as that furnished by the possession of money in the savings' banks. It might be said that a few persons only would be enabled to avail themselves of that provision in the Bill. But he had been informed by a director of a savings' bank in a town in the north of England, as the result of a careful investigation, that the proposal of the Government would extend the franchise to 1,200 persons in that borough and neighbourhood who did not at present enjoy the right; and those persons were fully equal in number to one-fifth of the present borough constituency. It could not, therefore, be maintained that that provision would be attended with little or no effect, and there could be no doubt but that the class whom it would enfranchise were peculiarly well qualified 448 by their prudence and their steadiness to take part in the election of hon. Members of that House. One principle in the Bill had his entire concurrence—namely, that persons should vote for the place where their property was situated. He thought that was a sound principle, because it was consistent with our habits, and he thought that some very important advantages would be secured by its adoption. In the first place the elector naturally took a special interest in the proper representation of his own district, and in the next place, the duties of the Member would be much simplified, and a greater fixity would be given to his labours, by his having to deal with the definite and well-known views of the constituency. Under all the circumstances of the case, he should feel it his duty to vote against the Amendment of the noble Lord, because it was an unfair mode of dealing with a great question and one calculated to defer its settlement to an indefinite period, besides pledging its supporters to an indiscriminate extension of the suffrage. But there were portions of the measure of Her Majesty's Government which he could not support. The main defect of the Bill was to be found in the simple fact, that it was not a measure calculated to allay all agitation on the subject of Parliamentary Reform. It was not calculated to settle the question, because it left uncured two or three of the main causes of agitation. He should, therefore, hold himself perfectly free hereafter to support or reject any proposal that might be made for amending the Bill, or still further extending the franchise amongst the great mass of the people. Parliamentary Reform had long been a subject of agitation both in and out of the House; and if ever there was a time when the question could be fairly and hopefully settled, that time was the present. The country was prosperous and tranquil; people's minds were free from passionate excitement, and a safe and sound measure would be readily and cheerfully accepted. Why, then, should not the House seize the opportunity to form and pass such a measure? Let the House adopt this Bill with the view of amending it in Committee. In that spirit he should vote for the second reading, and he should do so the more freely because he believed a Reform Bill, coming from the party now in office, would stand the best chance of passing "another place." Reserving to himself the right of supporting Amendments to be proposed in Committee, he could 449 arrive at no other conclusion than to negative the Resolutions, and vote for the second reading of the Bill.
§ SIR CHARLES WOOD
I cannot congratulate the Government upon the kind of support which they have received from those hon. Members who have spoken in favour of the Bill. Both the hon. Member for Dorset and the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down have declared that they found serious and grievous faults in the main enactments of the Bill, and they have argued in favour of provisions which are utterly inconsistent with the view which the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) stated so clearly as to the uniformity of franchise, and with what my noble Friend (Lord John Russell) has described as the main principle of the Bill, namely, identity of franchise in towns and counties. Both the hon. Gentlemen who have spoken are in favour of lowering the borough franchise; but that is quite inconsistent with that identity of franchise, contained in the first clause of the Bill, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us in opening this measure to the House contained the great principle of the measure. The noble Lord seemed to think that to carry such a Resolution as that proposed by my noble Friend would be inconsistent with the passing of any Reform Bill at all in the present Session; but I really do not see the impossibility which he anticipates. Indeed, I do not see why the present Government should not carry an amended measure if they choose to do so, believing, as I do, that a large majority of this House are desirous of coming to some reasonable settlement of this question in the present Session of Parliament. The noble Lord, however, gives us no hope of any amended Bill. He would regard the adoption of the Resolution as an expression of want of confidence; and he says that he is prepared to accept it as such, and submit to the usual consequences of such a Motion being carried. The noble Lord defends every particle of the Bill—the principle of identity of franchise and all the consequences that flow from it; but I confess I, for one, consider that principle is so objectionable that I would infinitely prefer no Bill at all to the one now before us. The noble Lord says, that he objects to electoral districts; but does not identity of franchise lead at once to electoral districts? He says he is prepared to maintain small boroughs; but with identity of franchise in the county of Sussex and the borough of Arundel how 450 could he defend the maintenance of that small portion of the county as a separate constituent body, with less than 200 electors, of precisely the same description as the thousands of electors in the county itself? If you treat boroughs as communities having rights and franchises of their own, altogether different and distinct from county franchises, you may defend the maintenance of small boroughs, but I defy any one logically to adopt identity of franchise without being driven to the system of electoral districts. Again, I ask, is the same principle to be applied to Scotland and Ireland? Are the Members for Scotland prepared for this? In Ireland the borough and county franchise is lower than in England; but how can any one justify the principle of this Bill if identity or franchise is not established in all parts of the united kingdom? We must have an £8 franchise, which is that of boroughs in Ireland, extended to the whole kingdom. The noble Lord argued ably in favour of that principle, but I think it is one of the most revolutionary ever submitted to this House, upsetting our existing constitution, and every principle on which our representative system has hitherto been based. I consider such an innovation most dangerous. But the proposal also precludes what is considered to be indispensable by all parties in the House, namely, that there should be some lowering of the franchise in boroughs. The noble Lord's proposal admits scarcely any additional class of the community whatever. What was it that led some years ago to the mention of any further reform? Why, because everybody felt that it was desirable, to some extent at least, to admit the working classes to a participation in the franchise. As the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) said, this feeling very much arose from a sense of the admirable conduct of the working classes in 1848. The noble Lord (Lord Stanley) tells us he admits the working classes by selection, not indiscriminately; but I think the Bill will admit hardly any at all. In fact, it is a perfectly inadequate measure to meet what is really the demand of the country—the admission to the franchise to some extent of the working classes. I was glad to hear to-night from the hon. Member for Dorset (Mr. H. G. Sturt) that he admired and trusted the working classes. I entirely agree with him that they may safely and advantageously be admitted to participate in the election of Members of Parliament to a larger extent than is pro- 451 posed by the present Bill. And I agree with the noble Lord (the Member for London) that a proposal ought to have been made for the admission of a larger number of them to the franchise. I am opposed to a sweeping and indiscriminate admission on the mere principle of numbers. I utterly repudiate the doctrine of founding our representative system on a mere numerical basis. Such a measure would be to undo the advantage of the Reform Act of 1832. Before the Reform Bill passed the great landed aristocracy and the moneyed interest, by their possession of rotten boroughs, had established an overwhelming preponderance in the legislature. By the Act of 1832 that predominance was swept away, and the middle classes were admitted to their fair share in the legislation of the country. I am not now prepared to establish a similar preponderance in another class, and that the least educated class of the community, without the leisure to acquire the knowledge that would enable them wisely to use the power intrusted to them. I think the House of Commons should consist of representatives of all classes of the community, and not of delegates of the largest but least informed class. It is undeniable, however, that there is one great defect in the Act of 1832. Before the Reform Bill there were many places where the working classes enjoyed the franchise. There were the householders at Newark and Preston, the pot-wallopers at Pontefract, the freemen of Liverpool and Grimsby. I know something of all these places. I sat for Grimsby, and I remember that there was only one voter who declined to receive the usual head money. I served upon an election committee on Liverpool, and move gross and universal bribery I never knew. The householders and freemen were disfranchised with the general concurrence of all Reformers of that day, and I do not think that the disfranchisement of such voters as these was any disadvantage to the country. I hope and believe, however, that the improved tone of public morals would prevent the recurrence of such scenes as formerly took place. The working classes are improved in education and in moral condition, and it is high time to restore to them at least a portion of the power of which they were deprived by the Reform Bill of 1832. I am not in favour of making them the ruling power of the country, but I think the views of the working classes ought to be expressed in this House by men in whose choice they have 452 some voice. I agree with an hon. Member who spoke a short time ago that those interests have not been neglected by this House, for our legislation has shown that we are not insensible to the claims of the working classes to our careful consideration. But they ought to have a share in choosing the representatives who' are to advocate their views and interests, and the measure of the Government is an inadequate means of giving to them the power they ought to have. I do not object to the clauses giving a vote to lodgers or depositors in savings' banks. I believe that these would be very wise provisions, with some modifications in the mode of carrying them into effect. I do not think, however, that any considerable number of the working classes would be enfranchised by them. I am of opinion, too, that whatever the amount of the savings' bank franchise, it ought to be held for a longer time than the Government propose, since otherwise it would afford an easy mode of creating votes for the purpose of carrying an election. In estimating the number of votes to be thus created, we must remember that it is not the habit of the working classes to deposit largely in savings' banks. Even if they have done so as young men, when they marry they withdraw their money, and, indeed, they more frequently invest their savings in building societies and other investments which afford them larger interest than the savings' bank. To married operatives and householders the franchises proposed by the Bill will be of no use. We were promised a return of the probable number of voters likely to be enfranchised by these clauses, but we have not yet received it, and any one acquainted with the working classes in manufacturing towns will know that very few will be admitted by these proposals of the Government. It is on all sides admitted that it would be desirable that the higher paid and more intelligent portion of the working classes should be enabled to exercise the franchise, and for this purpose it is indispensably necessary that some lowering of the qualification in boroughs should take place. No such proposal is made by the present Bill, and indeed any such proposition would be inconsistent with the principle of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford would have been satisfied with a £6 rating for boroughs. I think that would have been a fair and reasonable proposal. I have myself been a party to proposals both for a £5 and for a £6 franchise. 453 We have no information of the extent to which such a rating would admit the working classes, but I remember making some inquiries at the time a Reform Bill was proposed by the Government to which I belonged which satisfied me that no very large number of the working classes would be admitted by such rating, and that those who would obtain votes would generally be over lookers, foremen, and the highest paid class of workmen. This information applied to the borough which I have the honour to represent; and there I should anticipate no objection to the lower of the two sums for the franchise. But probably the same amount would operate very differently in other places. I do not think that this would be a disadvantage. We cannot hope to restore the anomalous franchises that existed before the Reform Bill, but I think that uniformity in the class of voters is undesirable even in boroughs, and still more undesirable when applied both to town and country. I concur with my noble friend that some lowering of the franchise is desirable, and I concur with him in his opinion of the mode in which the Government propose to deal with the county and town franchise. I approve, therefore, of both parts of his Resolution. Nor can I be so grateful as one hon. Member who has spoken tonight for the £10 franchise in counties as it is proposed to be dealt with by the Bill. I believe that the Government measure will bind the counties hand and foot to that portion of the landed proprietors who have been designated to-night in no very complimentary terms by the hon. Member for Dorset. I do not believe that there is any wish on the part of the country gentlemen generally to see a broad distinction between town and country. I am strongly of opinion that the interests of agriculture, manufacture, and commerce are joined in one indissoluble bond of union; and I believe that the worst thing that could happen would be a sharp line of demarcation between town and country, such as would be drawn by this Bill. But the proposal of the Government is fatal to the independence both of counties and boroughs. I will speak first of the effect on the counties. The proposal of the Government, after saving existing rights, is to eliminate one-fifth of the most independent voters of the counties. I do not know or care whether they are Liberals or Conservatives, but I am sure they are the most independent class of county voters. Nearly 100,000 454 of them are to be taken out of counties and transferred to boroughs. This will reduce the county constituencies by one-fifth, and deprive them of their most independent element. Let us now see what will be the effect of the £10 franchise as proposed by the Government? When the hon. Member for East Surrey first proposed to identify the county franchise with that of the boroughs I voted against him. The hon. Member afterwards told mo that I had been obliged to apologise to my constituents for the illiberal course I had taken. I can assure him that I was under no necessity of doing so. They well understood the matter, and when I told them what I had done, they were perfectly satisfied. They knew, from what they had seen themselves, that such a clause would put it in the power of the landed proprietors to swamp the independent county constituency. I represent a borough in which there is an agricultural district. All hon. Gentlemen may not know to what extent votes, perfectly fictitious, may be created. I will state a few of the votes made in the borough of Halifax. I will not mention names. The gentleman whom I will call Mr. A. is a most worthy and excellent man, but the House will see how he proceeds as to making votes. I will state only a few cases. The first case which I will take is a farm occupied by farmer W. There are four voters registered on this farm. The first is Mr. A.; the second Mr. A.'s brother, who resides five miles off; the third and fourth Mr. A.'s bookkeepers. The next case is three fields and shed, value £3, occupied by Mr. S.; two voters registered, one a servant of Mr. A.; the other a gamekeeper of Mr. A.'s brother. Then come two fields and a shed, one voter registered, Mr. A 's bookkeeper. Then we have two fields and a shed, occupied by Mr. A.; the voter registered is his servant. Then comes field and shed; the voter, an ex-bookkeeper of Mr. A. Again, a field and shed, owned and occupied by Mr. E.; the voter Mr. A. 's coachman. Hero are ten votes, and all except in one case are made by building sheds of the value of about £3 in a field. There would have been little difficulty if this state of the law had been applied to counties in creating an indefinite number of faggot votes. Sheds in fields are very useful things, and any gentleman might create as many votes as he could make divisions of his property into fictitious £10 holdings. There would be no need of disturbing the actual occupiers. But the 455 plan of the Government goes a great deal further. It dispenses with the necessity of any building, however trifling, a nominal holding of £10 is all that is required. Residence is not needed. There is no question of real occupation by the party who is registered, and such a plan would have destroyed every shadow of independence in every county in England. Is there, then, much reason to thank the Government for the liberality of their measure as regards the counties? It is no better in respect to the boroughs. By means of the 40s. freeholders and the system of voting papers, any person who possesses a number of acres within the limit of a borough may, if this Bill passes, so contrive as to swamp the rest of the voters. It is just as easy to create 40s. faggot votes as £10 faggot votes. There are seventy votes of this kind in Halifax, and for the same expense you might have 350 faggot 40s. votes in that borough under this Bill; more than enough to carry any election. But, in the case of smaller boroughs, of course such a result is much more certainly attained. Anybody, if he chooses to lay out the money, may purchase land within the limits of the borough, and create a number of freeholds; he may put his footmen and those of his friends into them—all living in London—and when the election comes on, 300 or 400 of this kind of votes may be sent clown by means of the post; and what, then, becomes of the independence of the borough? When parties run high even in a large boroughs, any dead weight of this kind thrown into the scale must have an overwhelming effect, and how much easier will it be in a small borough for any large landowner to make himself complete master of the returns? These are the liberal provisions of the Bill to which we are asked to assent. It seems to me that it restores the worst evils which existed before the Reform Act. It puts it in the power of the landowners to return the members for the counties, and it gives to all those who choose to buy land within the limits of any borough the power of obtaining a complete sway over the elections for that borough. I will not enter into any other objections which I entertain against other provisions of the Bill. These two are struck at by the Resolution of my noble Friend, and I therefore heartily concur in that Resolution. Indeed I should have been prepared to vote against the second reading of a Bill containing provisions so obnoxious, and 456 I am the more confirmed in this view since the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) gives us no hope that they will be modified. Both he and the Chancellor of the Exchequer declare that the principle of the Bill lies in this identity of suffrage, and we are therefore left to choose between the Bill itself and a course which its authors declare they consider will be entirely fatal to it. I confess that I cannot see myself why the carrying of this Resolution must necessarily be fatal to the Bill. The Government have it in their power, if they please, to insert in the Bill—that which I believe will be in accordance with the recorded opinion of this House—a provision for the lowering of the borough franchise; and also a different mode of dealing with the county franchise. There is no good reason why they should not adopt this course. If they refuse to do this—if they are so wedded to the principle of their Bill as to determine to stand or fall by it, on their heads be the responsibility, and not on my noble Friend. For myself, believing that this Bill is worse than no Bill at all, I have no hesitation in giving my vote for my noble Friend's Resolution.
§ *MR. HORSMAN
Sir, the noble Lord who has moved this Amendment stated that there could be no question of grayer importance to us, our children, and our posterity than the one now before us. Sir, it is my sense of that gravity, so forcibly described by the noble Lord, which emboldens me now to give expression to opinions which, though it gives me pain to differ from many of my Friends around me, I do hold so strongly, that I cannot incur the responsibility of concealing or suppressing them. I have great doubts as to the expediency of the course proposed by the noble Lord, and those doubts are much increased by the speech of the right hon. Member for Halifax.
The right hon. Gentleman, in order to justify his support of the Resolution, has found it convenient to represent the Bill before us as one that the House is compelled to accept or reject in its present form, with no power in any way to amend or change it. If that were true, and if we had no alternative but to accept or reject the Bill as now presented to us, we should be unanimous in its rejection. But such is not the case, and I think it is to be regretted that any parties should attempt so much to exaggerate the authority of the Government or depreciate our own power and functions by giving currency to an idea so entirely at variance with our every- 457 day Parliamentry procedure. The hon. Member for Dorsetshire has reminded us truly of our general rule and practice, that if we object to the principle of a Bill, we negative the second reading; if the details are faulty, we correct them in Committee but the occasions when we deal with large legislative measures by abstract resolutions are happily extremely rare, and the results are not encouraging.
If I might venture on any criticism of the speech of the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, it would be that it was an extremely able and powerful speech against the second reading of the Bill. The same, too, might be said of the speech of the right hon. Member for Halifax; but if this Bill deserve one-tenth of the condemnation which has been heaped on it, there is no reason why it should not be condemned on the second reading instead of being met by a Resolution which, as the hon. Member for Dorsetshire says, is so skilfully drawn as to provoke, if not to justify, the accusation of being a mere party manœuvre.
Before I proceed to speak either of the Bill or the Amendment, let me consider what is the relation in which we, the opponents of the Government, stand to the Question of Parliamentary Reform, and what it is our duty to do in the interests of Reform.
During the recess a question was put to me by my constituents, which I saw by the papers was also put to many Gentlemen around mo by their constituents,—I was asked what I intended to do with the Government Reform Bill. To that I gave the answer which I saw was given by most of the Members of the Liberal party. I said, "I will give a full and fair consideration to it irrespective of its parentage. If it be a good Bill, I will support it; if it be a bad Bill, I will endeavour to amend it in Committee; and after I have seen the effect of our Amendments in Committee, I will determine what course to pursue on the third reading; but I will not join in any party move against it." That pledge, as a man of honour, I feel bound to redeem; and I feel sure that others of the Liberal party who have given the same pledge would also redeem it, and that no secondary considerations of party exigencies or requirements ought for a moment to weigh against what is due to that question of Reform which we are all pledged honestly and unselfishly to promote. The interests of Reform, then, and not the interests of party, being what we have to consider tonight, what do those interests demand at 458 our hands It is admitted that we, the Liberal party, have excited the national expectation of Reform—and it is we who have proclaimed the necessity for that Reform. It is admitted that our own efforts at legislation have hitherto failed. It is admitted that it is the most difficult of all questions to cope with, and the most delicate and perilous to trifle with. It is admitted that a settlement is desirable—that a period of tranquillity is the most favourable for that settlement—and that it can only he accomplished by the honest cooperation of both sides of the House, and a scrupulous abstaining from all mere party moves. Above all, and over all, it is admitted that we—the Liberal party—have an immense numerical majority in this House; and if we go into Committee, sincere and united in the desire to pass a good Bill this Session, we have an absolute power to mould the present Bill into any shape we please, and to cast on our opponents the responsibility of rejecting it. Yet, with all these admissions—with all these advantages—with the opportunity they furnish—the responsibility they impose, how are we about to act? We are invited to-night by a short, summary, and, as it may prove a suicidal process, to forego every one of these advantages, and to incur the peril and the odium that must sooner or later attach to rendering all legislation at this time impossible, and postponing it to a period when the passions of the million may be brought in to override and usurp the functions of the statesman.
Now, Sir, I feel that there never was a question with regard to which it behaves the Liberal party to walk more warily and circumspectly, and that—whether we consider the interests of Reform, or collectively and individually our own political character. It is we who, ever since 1851, have kept the question dangling before the eyes of the nation. It is by us that promises have been made, and performances postponed in a manner which has certainly not diminished the difficulties of legislation. We are, on this Liberal side, a numerous, an active, and an earnest, and we ought to be an influential, body, and yet, while we are doing penance on these benches for past mistakes, we are to-night on the point of precipitating ourselves into another mistake, greater than all, and with our dear-bought experience, the most unpardonable of all. I differ from what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman below me as to the effect of passing this Resolution. I can 459 consider it as nothing but tantamount to the rejection of the Bill. I should he very much surprised if the Government received it in any other sense. My Parliamentary experience is not quite so lengthened as that of the right hon. Gentleman, but in the course of twenty-three years I can recollect no precedent for a Government accepting such an Amendment on the second reading of a Bill, and submissively retaining office one day afterwards. It is a rejection of the Bill, which is to be brought about by an alliance of those leaders who have most influence among sections of Liberals. The three great liberal potentates, the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton, the noble lord the Member for London, and the hon. Member for Birmingham, have agreed to vote for this Resolution, but the House should consider what is the real character of this agreement. Is it founded upon any community of opinion? I feel bound to put the question in order that we may clearly understand what upon the question of Reform itself, are to be the consequences of the vote we are to give to-night. I ask whether the unanimity which has been arrived at is founded upon the love of Reform? Is it founded upon an identity of sentiments on the shortcomings of the Government Bill, or is it founded on a common understanding as to the basis of the Bill which should be substituted for it? I feel that before we rush into this division we ought carefully to contemplate the consequences. I know there are many people who imagined that the very dwarfish proportions of this Bill, which called down consistently the condemnation of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, would be merits in the eyes of other opponents of the Government and would have induced them to support the second reading.
As to the opinions of the Member for the City of London on reform, there can be no doubt, and if any question is any-where raised as to the motives by which he is actuated, and throwing any doubt on his zeal or attachment to the cause, it will meet with no sympathy in this House, and will be refuted by the whole tenor of his life. Of all the official men of our day, the noble Lord has stood out so prominently as to stand almost alone in his advocacy of reform. His name will descend to history imperishably engraven on the Act of 1832. He was the parent of the Bill of 1852. He was the author of the Bill of 1854. It was the secret dread of the noble Lord's 460 influence which exacted the unredeemed pledge of 1857; and again, it was the same mysterious terror of the noble Lord that persuaded a Conservative Ministry of the very questionable expediency of making Parliamentary Reform a Cabinet question. Now, all this is a great homage to the noble Lord's power, founded on a conviction of his sincerity; but it casts on him a proportionate responsibility—for no one knows better than he does the difficulties which surround the question. Twice has he essayed to pass Bills of his own. The last, in 1854, went further than anything sketched in the Amendment to-night in extending the franchise, in extinguishing small boroughs, and granting all that he could again attempt in another Bill. Why did that Bill fail? because, as the noble Lord told us at the time, the country failed him. The Bill excited no sympathy in the House, and no enthusiasm out of it. [Cries of "No!"] I beg pardon. I remember the noble Lord's words. The noble Lord knows it excited no sympathy in the House, and he stated that it created no enthusiasm out of doors. As a proof of the national apathy, the noble Lord, in withdrawing that Bill, stated that in the course of the whole Session only eleven petitions had been presented in favour of Parliamentary Reform, and only four of them were in favour of the Government measure.
I have always thought that it was a mistake on the part of the Government of 1854 to lay down the Resolution to deal with Parliamentary Reform only by a large and comprehensive measure. I thought it a mistake for two reasons. In the first place, I think a Minister of the Crown, in his very responsible position, before he proposes a great change in the constitution of the country, ought well to estimate his strength to carry it. While I think nothing so mischievous as for an honest Minister to open a question which he cannot settle, and let loose opinions which he cannot guide, I think it positively criminal in any colleague of that Minister to become a party to proclaiming to the world that our representative system is replete with injustice and abuse, unless in his heart he be clearly convinced of the existence of those abuses, and resolutely determined to uproot them. The second reason why I thought it a mistake was, that the Bill, which was intended to propitiate a large section of Reformers, did not touch the question to which they attached the most importance. Every representa- 461 tive of a popular constituency must be aware of one fact—in the opinion of the House it might be right or wrong: it might be reasonable or unreasonable; but of the fact there could be no doubt—that the point in reform to which popular constituencies attach the most importance, is the question of the ballot. They say that, compared with that question, all other concessions are insignificant and worthless. Many who are without the suffrage say that enfranchising them without protecting them is conferring a curse rather than a blessing. If this be so, the fact must he known to every Liberal Minister who attempts to settle the question.
But the Bill of 1854, without popular support, failed, and unsettled everything; if, without the ballot, it had been passed, it would, as regards the largest section of Reformers, have settled nothing.
Subsequent experience has only confirmed me in the opinion, that there is no wisdom in making legislation on Parliamentary Reform an exception to legislation on all other subjects. In other matters the rule is to proceed gradually, safely, and with as little general disturbance as possible; but on the question of Parliamentary Reform we have laid down the rule that we shall only legislate once in a quarter of a century—that for twenty-five years abuses and evils shall go on accumulating—that Reform shall he postponed until it become a revolution-—and no sooner have we settled down after one revolution, than Ministers ask us to enter on another.
There were thus the Bills of 1852 and 1854, and the Cabinet Bill of 1857; the last measure, from causes unnecessary to go into, never came before the House. The Ministry of Lord Palmerston undertook to steer us through the question; but no sooner did they launch their vessel than they run aground for want of the old captain who had alone studied the chart.
Three Liberal Ministries, one after the other, have failed in what was their special mission, a Conservative Cabinet undertook the task, and with their Bill we have now to deal. They invite the House to read it a second time, that the necessary Amendments may be made in Committee, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself has given notice of some Amendments. I do not put the construction on the speech of the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) given by the right hon. Member for Halifax (Sir C. Wood)—that he intimated that the House 462 must accept or reject the Bill, as it lay on the table, without any Amendments.
I hold that Bill in my hand. I have examined it, and compared it with previous Bills, as carefully perhaps as any Member who will vote on it to-night; and this I undertake to say—and I say it boldly and publicly, and without fear of contradiction—that if we are sincere in the wish to pass a good Reform Bill this Session, this Bill is so constructed that it may be made in Committee a far better Bill than is indicated by the noble Lord's Resolution, and a far more liberal, and popular, and comprehensive measure than has been submitted to us since 1832; and that by fewer Amendments, and shorter Amendments, and simpler Amendments, and less derangement and disturbance of its general structure, than takes place in ninety-nine out of every hundred Bills of the same length that pass through Parliament, and become law.
If this be so—and I challenge refutation—for I shall be surprised if any lay Member of this House denies it—I shall be still more surprised if any lawyer, versed in the mechanism of Acts of Parliament, hazards his reputation by an attempted contradiction—if this be so, I ask what reason can we give to the country—what excuse shall we offer to our constituents—for having thrown the country into all the turmoil of a general election, and that, at a most critical moment in national affairs, by refusing even to consider a Bill which Parliament has the fullest opportunity to amend and pass?
I wish to make one remark on what has been said, rather hastily, I think, as to the position in which the Government has placed itself towards the House and the country by proposing a very small and insufficient measure. Many hon. Gentlemen expected that the Government would propose a very large measure, and indeed that it would make a very high bid for Radical support. Some believed that, if it did not rival the plan of the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright), it would at least relieve the hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. H. F. Berkeley) of the necessity of making his annual Motion on the ballot. For myself, I had no such expectation, and therefore I feel no such disappointment; and for this reason, because I never desire to see—the occupants of that bench—the Ministers of England—take a course that is detrimental to the public morality of Eng- 463 land. I have seen great questions carried by Ministers surprising and surrendering their party, but it has impressed me with no wish to see the experiment repeated. I have observed that those surprises and surrenders never take place till public opinion has practically settled the question; and the very slight acceleration then given to a popular triumph, is a most inadequate compensation for the irritation that is caused—the imputations most unjustly cast—the shock that is given to confidence in Parliamentary leaders, whose influence would still be valuable among us; and, above all, for the wound inflicted on the nation in the very heart of all that is at once our pride and our security—the unsurpassed and priceless honour of our public men.
We saw the other night how the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Walpole) and his colleague (Mr. Henley) were received when they rose to explain to the House why they had quitted office. They were lately Ministers of the Crown; with their reasons for ceasing to be so, we may or may not concur; but we all feel that the position they now occupy is at least as exalted as any that office could bestow. And we all, on both sides of the House, political friends or political opponents, acknowledge to them a common obligation for adding another to the many evidences already existing, that it is something higher than talent and nobler than eloquence that constitutes the true greatness of the assembly to which we are all proud to belong.
It is, therefore, no matter of regret or astonishment to me, that a Minister in the position of Lord Derby should not have propounded a scheme that would have justly excited the indignation of his friends and the taunts of his opponents—aye, and the scorn of the country.
I feel the difficulty in which I stand, while expressing opinions with respect to the Bill, which, of course, are not favourably received by many with whom I am anxious to agree. At the same time, it is the duty of every one to study the measure for himself and form his own opinion on its merits. The Resolution of the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) strikes at two blots of the Bill, which are not only defects, but great defects. Others might, perhaps, be pointed out; I am not prepared to say, that others could not have been selected as great as those on which we are asked to 464 pronounce condemnation. But still less am I prepared to say that they cannot be amended in Committee. The first fault is, the change as to the 40s. freeholders—resident in towns—with respect to the county franchise; but what proportion of the Bill does that change affect? It is contained in the first clause; and in how much of the first clause? That clause runs through three pages. By striking out the last line of the first page, and eighteen lines of the second, or about one-fourth of the first clause—in a Bill containing seventy clauses—we shall get rid of the provision affecting the 40s. freeholders. Is that a very serious Amendment? Why, I have often seen whole clauses expunged from a measure? and it would be a far more regular, business-like, and effective way of getting rid of the obnoxious provision to make the Amendments in Committee, than to meet it by a Resolution on the second reading.
The other defect is in the provision relating to the franchise in boroughs; the non-extension of that franchise is a great and admitted defect—but that was dealt with in the noble Lord's Bill of 1854. How? By one single clause, f have that Bill of 1854 in my hand, and I find that the 18th clause reduces the borough suffrage to £6. Then if we are anxious, as we all are on this side of the House at least, to extend this right of voting in boroughs, I ask any candid man whether the course I suggest is not the more reasonable course, namely, to propose it as an Amendment in Committee, and there to insert it in the Bill? The amendment of the Bill by a precise clause, stating the exact point to which we will reduce the suffrage, is surely a more business-like proceeding, than the adoption of a Resolution so vague and indefinite as the one before the House.
The provision respecting voting papers is another defect in the Bill; but nothing can he more easy than to move that those clauses be expunged.
But whence arises the dread of going into Committee on this Bill? There are, as I have shown, many reasons for it besides the good rule of Parliamentary usage. I can conceive only one against it. It may be apprehended that if we once get into Committee to a discussion and reconstruction of details there might not he that entire harmony and accord which now dawns so auspiciously upon us; and united action might he found impossible. Well, 465 but if we, the great Apostles of Reform, have no common creed, and cannot trust one another on Reform, is that a reason why we should tell the Gentlemen opposite to make way for a Ministry that is ready to settle the question? But that is what we are about to do. Union for one pitched battle is accomplished—Union for a campaign may be impossible—but unanimity, even for one night, is a great Godsend—let us make the most of it while it lasts—and though we may damage Reform, at least we may storm Downing Street.
This opens a new and interesting aspect of the question; and my only remark on it is this—that if we, on this side of the House, are ready to assume the Government—and anxious to turn out the present Government—I think it would be a more manly and a more direct course—and, considering the enormous disparity of force on the two sides of the House, it would be a more magnanimous and elevated course—to show a hold front to opponents whom we outnumber in the proportion of two to one, and meet them before the country, face to face, with an avowed purpose and a true issue, rather than mask our approach under a disguise that is too flimsy to conceal either our weakness or our designs.
I have been for many years as ardent a party-man as any in this House; and I am as ready now as any of my Friends to join in any party move that can be openly avowed and justified. But I have a most painful recollection of party moves that could not be justified, and of which the disastrous consequences have recoiled fearfully upon ourselves.
Sir, I remember, not many years ago, the case of a great Minister who had placed himself at the mercy of his opponents by a display of patriotism that had wrung sacrifices from himself, proportioned to the benefits he wished to confer on his country. The resentment—the natural, and perhaps pardonable, resentment of his friends placed him in our power. It was an occasion for magnanimity. But the temptation was before us; it was great—too great; in an evil hour we yielded to that temptation, and perpetrated a great Party crime.
The vote which I gave on that occasion was the one act of my political life to which I look back with shame and self-reproach. I was the last man that passed most reluctantly behind the Speaker's chair to the Division lobby; and mine was the first 466 voice raised against what I characterized as the infatuation of the new Government, in proposing to continue the very act on which they had ejected their predecessors. That vote, in 1846, impressed me with a painful conviction of something more than the fallibility of those who so absolutely disposed of the fortunes and character of the Liberal Party. I have ever since exercised, on party questions, that independent judgment which no man to-night can, without very serious responsibility, abandon.
But what were the effects of that vote on our party generally? A speedy retribution followed. Is it not a matter of history that the Whigs, as a party, have never prospered from that day? In that severance of friends that dealt the death-stab to the Cabinet of 1851—in the humiliation of 1853—in the yet heavier trial that smote and consumed them in 1855, when the most illustrious of their body went out from among them, in the meridian of his days—to seek other sympathies for the time—carrying with him all the noblest traditions and living renown of the Party, and leaving such a void behind—in that material and moral ruin of a great historic Party, the world saw both a retribution and a moral.
And did the plague which smote the leaders spare the followers? Why, in what condition have we been ever since? In what condition as a Party are we now? Can we be justly dignified with the title of a Party? For the last twelve months we have been less a Party than a mob. Without leaders—without union or combination—without a common policy, principle, or purpose—we have exhibited the most piteous spectacle—a spectacle of the utter disorganization and the low estate to which a great party may sink, never to rise again as long as it persists in dealing only with the superficial causes of its calamities, and leaving the real cause untouched. Look at the Resolution before the House. Wise heads, secret influences, have been at work upon it. It has come forth in the name of the noble Lord who is the putative parent; but whose image and superscription does it really bear? Not the noble Lord's, for it is a satire on the manliness and directness with which he grappled with the Bill on its first appearance. It does not reflect the wishes of the noble Member for Tiverton, because we are well assured that his sympathies and sagacity would lead him to favour the second read- 467 ing of the Bill. No, Sir, it rather indicates that another victory has been achieved by that lower substitute for statesmanship which has so often meddled and manœuvred within Whig Cabinets, and outgeneralled both the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton and the noble Lord the Member for London—discrediting their Governments, and involving them and their followers in one common ruin.
I can only now repeat what I stated at the outset, that the gravity of the vote we are about to give can scarcely be overrated. If I felt that by supporting the Amendment I should be increasing the noble Lord's influence for public objects, I should be anxious to afford him every assistance; but believing, as I do, that if we reject this measure, we shall be rendering all legislation for some time impossible, the success of the noble Lord would only be the commencement of his difficulties, and would involve the country in still greater difficulties. The Ministry has been likened to a sick man, sick even to death; and if the noble Lord must rush in to despatch him, it is unfortunate that this question of Parliamentary Reform should be used as the instrument with which to deal a blow that is sure to recoil upon himself. If the Ministry have to go out upon Reform, we (the Opposition) should have to construct our new Government on that question. We should have to propose a larger measure of Reform: but can we carry it? Nothing, as I said before, can justify a Minister proposing a large measure of Reform except the certainty that he has the strength to carry it. Has the noble Lord that certainty? Popular support failed him in 1854. Has he more assurances of that popular support in 1859? And be it remembered he will have before him a more compact and formidable Opposition; the contest will be embittered by the contumelious rejection of this Bill; and the Opposition, if it chose to use Parliamentary Reform as an instrument of embarrassment, may allege that you have furnished them both with a precedent and provocation.
What, then, would be his position? His Bill is introduced. The hon. Member for Bristol would place on the Votes a Resolution which, after your successful example, he could not avoid, that no Bill having for its object a Reform of Parliament ought to pass that did not concede the ballot.
But suppose Gentlemen who would be then on the Opposition side of the House, 468 chose to deem this a family difference which the Patriarch of Reform should be left to settle with his "own children;" and instead of taking part in your family division, should go home to their own family dinner, what would become of your Government? You would he outvoted by five to one; your Government would be gone, but would the question of Parliamentary Reform be gone? No—it would not be gone. It would have slipped from the hands of Parliament, it would have gone out of the Councils of Cabinets—but it would fall into other hands elsewhere; legislation you will have made impossible, but agitation inevitable and more successful. That agitation will proceed year by year with more and more party dirt thrown upon it, with Ministers, and Parliament, and public men weakened and damaged, and discredited, until a period shall arrive when the. sky may not he so tranquil; when commercial difficulties and manufacturing distress may dispose an ill-employed and heart-wearied population to meet the tale of their grievances half-way; and then, with tumultuous gatherings in the provinces, with telling references to official speeches delivered for one purpose, but now available for another; with the table of that House laden with petitions, and its avenues thronged with excited crowds, then even the hon. Member for Birmingham, whose position among leaders to-night is the only one that is sound, and logical, and consistent, even he will, if his influence should still survive, which is very questionable, for a man who believes what he says, and will only say what he believes, will find numberless candidates for popular favour anxious to discredit him—even he, if his influence should remain—may be looked to as a Preserver, and his Bill accepted gratefully as a compromise against the angry passions which our blindness and folly will have done so much to stimulate and inflame.
Sir, I can understand Gentlemen voting against the second reading of this Bill, and I can understand Gentlemen voting for it, in the hope of having opportunities afforded for amending it in Committee; but I confess I do not envy either the courage or the conscience of the man who can bring himself to-night to assist in the rejection of a measure which his judgment approves.
§ MR. A. MILLS
said, that one result of the noble Lord's Amendment would be to compel many to speak their sentiments who 469 might otherwise have been contented with giving a silent vote. He thought that to call on the House of Commons to vote on a proposition involving two issues, and on which a simple "aye" or "no" was, if unexplained, liable to be misconstrued, was a great Parliamentary evil. It was for that reason he had voted against the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ashton, to which the noble Lord the Member for London had referred. It appeared to him that the movement on this occasion was distinctly open to the same objection. The practical consequence of passing the abstract Resolution of the noble Lord would be the indefinite postponement of all Parliamentary Reform. The noble Lord had said his Amendment would not necessarily lead to that result; but if he (Mr. Mills) had entertained a doubt on that point it would have been dispelled by the able speech of the right hon. Gentleman who had just addressed the House. At the same time he must say that he acquitted the noble Lord of designing to make a mere party move, for he had heard the noble Lord express his views on the Ballot most decidedly and manfully, even to those who threatened to withdraw their support from him if he opposed it. But if the necessary consequence of the Amendment would lead to indefinite postponement he should conclude that they were trifling with the question by assenting to the noble Lord's proposition, though he thought some parts of the measure would need alteration in Committee. To the proposed disfranchisement of the freeholders, and still more to the introduction of non-resident freeholders into boroughs he decidedly objected. He did not share in the opinions of those who mistrusted the working classes but he thought one of the best ways of disarming agitation would be to bring them gradually within the franchise. The demonstrations that had taken place throughout the country on this question had no doubt been numerous, but he thought they were not deserving of the highest consideration, and, as showing the style of some of the resolutions, he might say that at a late meeting held at Rochester one of the Resolutions unanimously adopted was, that unless the police interfered the party there assembled "would not go home till morning." A strong expression of public opinion on the Bill had not yet been made. There was a very strong opinion, however, amongst both electors and non-electors, that the Bill 470 should be allowed to go into Committee. He believed that there were those who wished for no Reform Bill until bread was dear, in the hope that they might then be able to agitate with greater effect in support of their own extreme measures. He hoped that the wishes of that party would be disappointed. If the present measure were unfortunately rejected, he should feel it his duty to give his earnest support to any Ministry, whatever might be their peculiar politics, who would endeavour to procure an adequate and satisfactory solution of this question during the present Session.
§ MR. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN
said, he must congratulate Her Majesty's Government upon the supporter whom they had found on that side of the House. After the very lukewarm support which they had received from their friends, it must have been satisfactory to them to find upon the opposite benches a right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Horsman), never very famous for agreeing with his friends, who had found it possible to agree with them. Great indignation was expressed at the noble Lord having proceeded by way of Resolution, which indignation arose, he thought, from the recollection of the Resolution of February of last year, and a fear lest it might lead to similar consequences, and result in the displacement of a Ministry. Parliamentary Reform had become a matter of necessity. Successive Ministers had sanctioned the opinion that something must be done. What they had to answer was the great and important question. What did they want? He believed that no Reform would be satisfactory to the country unless it contained two important ingredients—a largo extension of the franchise and a redistribution of seats. He did not go in the latter respect as far as the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright). He did not agree in his schedules. He believed that to abolish all the small boroughs would be a great misfortune; but it was impossible not to recognize the fact, that during the last twenty-five years many small towns had become large ones, and many boroughs had become insignificant places. With regard to the extension of the franchise they ought to be able to show some reason for extending it, and some reason for stopping at a particular point, The £10 franchise in counties, he thought, must be introduced; first, because the £10 householders in boroughs had now been tried and proved worthy of the franchise; and, secondly, because the House of Commons 471 had more than once deliberately pronounced an opinion in favour of this extension. But when they came to boroughs they must of necessity deal on more general principles. They must consider the advance of knowledge which had taken place on the part of the working classes. He did not advocate manhood suffrage or household suffrage, but he believed the £10 occupation franchise did not reach the working classes. He thought the borough franchise must be lowered; but, in that lowering, he believed that it would not be wise to include men unless they were rated to the poor and paid their own rates (instead of having them compounded for by their landlords), and he conceived that to adopt a franchise founded upon such a basis would be a conclusion satisfactory to the House and the country at large. It might be unsatisfactory to hon. Members below the gangway, but it was desirable that they should unite on a suffrage which was likely to be carried. This Bill fell short of those great principles which ought to guide them, but when they considered by whom the Bill was introduced, he did not wonder at it3 defects, nor did he blame the Government, because he knew the difficulties they had to contend with. Like every other measure which Her Majesty's Government had brought forward it was a measure of compromise. He recollected that the present Prime Minister once described the British constitution as founded upon a series of compromises; and his followers since their accession to office had proved themselves faithful adherents to the noble Lord's doctrine, for they had compromised, one by one, all those great principles which formerly held them together as a political party. The Liberal Members were told by the supporters of the Bill that unless they allowed the second reading of this measure they would get no Reform this year. Well, anxious as he was for Reform, he would infinitely prefer seeing it postponed, than consent to a bad measure. Then they were told that the Bill could be amended in Committee. So it might he as regarded details—but the points referred to in the Resolution of the noble Lord were not details—they were the vital principles of the Bill; and, if they were altered, the Government would not proceed with their measure—when a measure was introduced, the House in giving leave to introduce it, merely affirmed that they were willing to consider the subject of which it treated, as a fit subject for legislation; but when they Were voting upon the second reading of a 472 Bill, they were called upon to affirm or to deny—not that the subject ought to be dealt with—but that the Bill dealt with it in that manner and upon those principles of which they approved, He objected to the principles of this Bill—to the uniformity of suffrage—to the disfranchisement of a class of county electors—to the refusal to lower the borough franchise, and therefore he could not consent to the second reading. The Government boasted that under their Bill no borough and no person would be disfranchised, though certainly the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) admitted that the dockyard labourers would be "disqualified." This was a distinction without a difference. But they might be asked why, then, they did not vote against the second reading at once? But if they did that, the country would be told they had voted against Reform. Now the Liberal party did not mean to be "done" in that manner. They meant to raise an intelligible issue before the country, namely, that while desirous of Reform they preferred waiting for it to accepting the miserable abortion which had been presented to them by the Government, and they meant to state distinctly the principles upon which they were prepared to legislate. The Government, no doubt, hoped to carry the second reading by the support of those Liberal Members of small boroughs whose constituencies they had so mercifully spared, but he trusted that those hon. Gentlemen would pursue a more manly and straightforward course. The borough for which he himself sat (Sandwich) was one that had been scheduled in the scheme of the hon. Member for Birmingham, but at the proper season he should be prepared to show that, being an increasing and independent borough, it ought not to be so treated. Nevertheless, whatever the fate of his seat, he should be ashamed of himself and of his constituents if he were to think of voting, or if they thought of asking him to vote for a bad Bill, merely because they were safe from attack under its provisions. Although some hon. Gentlemen might doubt it, he still believed that there was such a thing as political principle in the world; and he was not himself at any rate old enough to have repudiated all his. It had been rumoured that if the Government were defeated, there would be a dissolution. Did Ministers think that the House was composed of children, to be frightened by such threats? For his own part he did 473 not believe that the Government dared go to the country on this question, and that if they did make such an appeal they would find themselves woefully mistaken. However the Liberal Members might be taunted with factious motives, he had no doubt that they would persevere, would reject the Bill, and would agree to the Amendment of the noble Lord.
§ MR. NEWDKGATE, who had been loudly called for, observed that he could not help appreciating the force of the remark made on the introduction of this Bill by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sheffield, who said that it would have been better if the Government had brought in no Reform Bill than that now under discussion; and he put it to the Government whether they were not now creating their own difficulty by adhering to the principle of uniformity of suffrage and equality of franchise. He had listened to the statesmanlike speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stroud (Mr. Horseman) with satisfaction, for it showed that hon. Gentlemen opposite, inspired with moderate views in favour of Reform, were ready to assist in any well-devised scheme having that object for its end, but were opposed to uniformity of qualification. He asked the Government whether any one of their own supporters had ventured to defend that principle. He had been one of the earliest Reformers on the Conservative side of the House, and he had for years urged on the Conservative party that they should not refuse a moderate reform or oppose the second reading of any Reform Bill, provided it did not contain some vicious principle. But the misfortune which appeared to have overtaken the Government was that they had contrived to base this Bill upon a principle which was objected to by both sides of the House, and which was vicious. He was most unwilling to oppose a measure proposed by the Government—he was most unwilling to find himself at variance with those with whom he had acted for fourteen years, and whose policy he had long and earnestly and to the best of his ability laboured to support—but nothing would induce him to vote for equality of suffrage, or any measure which tended directly to place the institutions of England upon that false principle which had already been tried in Franco, and had led to anarchy and bloodshed, resulting in the destruction of the liberties of that country. Nothing would induce him to vote for the introduction into 474 the political framework of this country of that principle which having been adopted as the basis of the Constitution of the United States, was scarcely sooner adopted than departed from. Everyone who knew anything of the Constitution of the United States was aware that soon after the Constitution was established the coloured population of the country generally were declared incapable of the franchise: and yet the principle of equality of the franchise was mitigated by the system of federation of the States, each of which was to a certain extent sovereign in itself, and each, or most of which, instituted differences in the qualifications for the franchise. Was the British Parliament about to adopt principles which had been tried and had failed in other countries, to the degradation of those great features of our Constitution which even the most advanced Liberals were ready to defend? Was it, he asked, natural that a Government drawn from the Conservative ranks should force upon their followers the adoption of a principle of so democratic a tendency that even the hon. Member for Birmingham, when he thought it would be carried to its legitimate issue, condemned it as the most democratic proposal he had heard enunciated. He did not think hon. Members really understood how the principle would work. The principle which, the Government sought to enforce was the equality of the franchise in boroughs and counties. What was their avowed object? The preservation of small constituencies. They told the voters in the counties that by lowering the franchise to £10, and by the new arrangement in respect to freeholders, they conferred a great boon on the county electors. But the county voter would say, "True you have given me a £10 franchise, and thereby placed mo on an equality in that respect with the borough voter; but why do you not give me something approaching equality of representation? Are you going to give me the franchise as you would give a bauble to a baby? How comes it that, after you have declared me and my neighbour, who holds a 40s. freehold, equally qualified with our neighbours within that borough on the limits of which we live, the £10 franchise and the 40s. freehold give each of us, the county voters, the 14,000th part, perhaps, in the return of a Member, but gives our borough neighbours each the 1,000th part in the return of their representative?" He (Mr. Nowdegate) must declare his conviction that it was contrary to common sense to adopt the prin- 475 ciple of equality of suffrage, and yet make little or no advance towards that of equality of representation. The English were a composite people, and, as a people of composite race, had never been represented on the principle of equality. He agreed with the Government that the different interests of the country should be represented; the English people were of various races, and had interests as varied. There was the agricultural interest, there was the mineral interest, the manufacturing interest, the monetary interest, the maritime interest, and the colonial interest to be represented in the House. He contended that full scope and means should be given for the representation of each of these interests, and he knew no better mode of affording that scope and those means than by the retention of differences in the size of constituencies; but the principle of the Bill was inconsistent with that system. There might be a difference with respect to the length to which the principle of small constituencies should be carried, and as to the number of Members that should be added to large constituencies. There might be variations in opinion with respect to the degree to which these principles should be directly applied, but as far as the present debate had gone there had been only one opinion expressed on this point, and that was that the principle of the Bill was inconsistent with the object of the Government, if that object was the preservation of small constituencies. He was a Conservative. He desired to see the framework of the English system of representation preserved; and he trusted that the Government would not attempt to fetter the House by insisting on the adoption of this arbitrary principle, which led directly to the establishment of equal electoral districts, a measure which even the Member for Birmingham had denounced as democratic. He hoped the Government would yield to the unanimous expression of opinion, and not endeavour to fetter that House by a principle which hon. Members of very different opinions in other respects were all agreed in repudiating. He understood that the reason for the adoption of the £10 franchise in counties was, that the majority of the House had, in the opinion of the Government, voted for the unnatural reduction of the county franchise. The reasons for the adoption of this principle by the Government were transparent. They sought in the principle of uniformity a compensation for their defeat on the county franchise, a 476 decision which they erroneously fancied to be final on the part of the House. But if the Government wished to carry a Reform Bill, they must not endeavour to fetter the House by this principle of equality. At all events, it was one which he, as a firm Conservative and a consistent Reformer, could not support.
§ LORD ROBERT CECIL
said, he would move the adjournment of the debate. ["No, no!"] Well, as it did not seem to be the wish of the House to adjourn the debate, he should proceed. As he had not heard any hon. Member enter into a vindication of the ministerial proposition for taking away the second vote in the case of freeholders in boroughs, he should briefly call the attention of the House to the position in which the counties stood in respect of the boroughs in regard to the franchise. It appeared clear to him that there was at present no equality in the representation of the counties and boroughs. The rural population did not enjoy that consideration in the apportionment of seats which their numbers and wealth deserved. If they enfranchised the £10 householder in counties they immediately infused into the rural populations an enormous element, the sympathies of which were exclusively with towns. The populations ceased, in fact, to be rural. Some counterpoise must be given, and how was it to be obtained except by taking away a franchise which was utterly anomalous and without principle? He did not think that the disproportion between the representation of counties and that of boroughs had been sufficiently considered by gentlemen who had spoken throughout the country on the subject of Reform. The property in Schedules A, B, D, for counties, as appeared by the official Returns recently laid before the House, was £117,000,000; for boroughs, £101,000,000. The proportion of the representation was as 159 to 339. If they adopted the property qualification as a standard, the representation should be as 262 to 234; and thus 103 Members ought to be taken from the boroughs and given to the counties. Taking the Schedule A alone, it would be necessary, in order to redress the inequalities of the representation, to transfer 130 Members from the boroughs to the counties. Taking Schedules B and D as the standard, the number of Members to be transferred from the towns to the counties would be 134; taking population, it would be 134; taking electors, which was the weakest 477 point of comparison for the counties, they would still have a right to eighty-one seats which at present were in the hands of the boroughs. In the remarks made by the hon. Member for Birmingham on the subject of votes in boroughs and votes in counties, that hon. Member said that there were many boroughs which were rural in their character, but he left out of consideration the difference between the franchise in counties and towns. There might he many acres round boroughs, but those acres would not give a vote, which every house in the town would, and therefore a large extent of rural property could not outweigh a small amount in boroughs. In the case of those boroughs which the hon. Member had called small counties, the fields round the outskirts were held by large farmers, and no large amount of rural voting was infused. Nor was it correct to say that agricultural boroughs were entirely rural in sympathies and feelings. A shopkeeper was a shopkeeper still, whether he lived in a largo borough or a small, and he took an interest in none but shopkeeping questions. In agricultural boroughs they did not ask you about the malt-tax or financial boards for counties, but the teadealers asked you about the tea duty, the chemist inquired about the Sale of Poisons Bill, and the attorney requested you to oppose any scheme for registration. The truth was, that in small boroughs as well as everywhere else every man looked after his own interest, and did not care a straw for those of his neighbours, and that small boroughs were as much urban in their sympathies as huge ones. But, said the noble Lord the Member for the City, the counties were so dependent upon the will of the landowners that it was necessary to pour in some 95,000 or 100,000 borough freeholders, because they were more independent and liberal than the rural voters. He fully believed that those freeholders had been the mainstay of the noble Lord's party, but he did not understand the noble Lord to say that he would adhere to this principle hereafter. There were many persons in that House who spoke as if the influence of educated men had something in it obnoxious and poisonous; they looked upon those who were not influenced by any above them in rank, such as the electors of Finsbury and Lambeth, as model constituents. He did not join in this sentiment; the principle guiding it was not a good one. The hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright), and 478 those supporting him, had professed that they did regard property in their schemes for reconstructing the representation of the people, because in selecting the towns to which they proposed to give new Members they chose those where there was the largest amount of taxes, or the largest amount of property existing. If they entertained an idea that that was really a protection of property, or that it could take the place of any other guarantee of property interests being consulted, they were labouring under a very great and obvious fallacy. They said they represented property, but they could not say that except by a metaphor; what they represented, if anything, was wealthy men. But in giving these Members to wealthy constituencies they did not represent wealthy men, but poor men who lived in the same district with wealthy men, and the poor men would always outvote the men of property. Consequently there was no sort of protection to property in constructing the representation on such a basis. Some other protection to property than that was, therefore, necessary, and it was not wise to apply the language of depreciation used by the noble Lord and his supporters to the influence of men of superior education. But another great fallacy was apparent in the arguments of the supporters of the second part of the noble Lord's Resolution. They urged extension of the franchise to working men, not because the condition of the working man would improve the character of that House, but because the working man was worthy of it. He admitted the soundness of their view as far as the abstract question of their worthiness was concerned, but the worthiness of the working men was not in question. The question was would their introduction conduce to the security of the institutions of the country and form a change in the Legislature of a beneficial character? The reason that it was not considered judicious to descend to the principle of voting by Ballot or to that of cutting up the country into electoral districts, was that it was impossible to admit the working classes indefinitely, however worthy they might be, even if educated morally up to the last degree without swamping every other class. The great object of all constitutional restrictions was to prevent any majority tyrannizing over a minority—any class dominating over another. No matter what the class, if it were able to rule another class, such was the selfishness of mankind, tyranny was 479 almost sure to result. The principle, therefore, of constitutional perfection was to check every class by another class, If every one worthy of the franchise were admitted to its enjoyment it would not be possible to stop at a £6 or £5 franchise, for at the rate at which education was going on everybody would soon be worthy of it, and then the whole political power of the kingdom would be launched into the hands of a single class, and that the lowest—a class which had the least stake in the welfare and prosperity of the country. Here intervened the fallacy of those who supported the second part of the noble Lord's Amendment, and who called for the admission of the working-classes, or those worthy of it, to what they called "a share" of the Government of the country. They perpetually used that word "share;" but it was not a question of share at all; indeed, there was no idea of "share" in the subject. It was a question between them and the class at present enjoying the franchise. If they come in, all other classes must abdicate. Their number was such that every other class would be swamped. Therefore it ought to be treated as a question of absolute surrender or nothing at all. He admitted that the question was surrounded with difficulties of an extreme character. The working classes naturally felt sore at having this privilege denied them by an arbitary line being drawn, it was certainly felt by them hard that they should be excluded by a £10 franchise and those who came nearest to the line thus drawn, naturally felt it a very great privation. But it was necessary to draw the line somewhere, and however low it was taken there would always be a class below it as discontented as the last. The only way, therefore, of reconciling the impossibility of handing over to the working classes the political power of the kingdom seemed to be by maintaining that influence of the educated classes over the lower which it was the object of many modern Reformers to destroy. The great model of a modern voter was what was called an independent man, and as the lower classes consisted entirely of independent men, he did not see how, under such a representation, it was possible that any Government, except that of a democracy, could be earned on. He called upon those supporting this Amendment to consider the course they were taking, and to ask themselves whether supporting a mere party move was a course reconcilable 480 to their patriotism for their consciences. Those who sat above the gangway did not mean the same as those below it. It was clear that the public opinion on which they relied to discredit the Government Bill was not the public opinion with which they sympathized or which would support them hereafter. Every meeting that had been held had advocated measures which the hon. Gentlemen opposite would refuse to grant. All the great towns had called for manhood suffrage, triennial Parliaments [Cries of "No, no."] He repeated the assertion; Nottingham, Manchester, and all the Metropolitan boroughs had spoken in favour of every principle advocated by Mr. Ernest Jones, and it was quite clear hon. Gentlemen opposite would not grant them. He would refer, not at any length, however, to the speech of an hon. Gentleman well known in that House at a meeting at Walsall reported in the Times of that morning. Mr. Foster had stated his opinion with respect to the course that would be pursued by Lord John Russell and Mr. Bright. A Mr. Duignan, a banker, wanted rather more explicit explanations, and he asked—What about John Bright?—Mr. Foster: I believe it will be found that John Bright and Lord John Russell will sail in the same boat.—Mr. Duignan: Who would have brought on this measure of Reform but for John Bright?—Mr. Foster: I can assure my friend Mr. Duignan that I should be the last person to deprive John Bright of the credit to which he is entitled. [A voice: 'Three cheers for him, then. The appeal was not responded to.] But if my friend will only wait till next week he will see that there is perfect agreement between John Bright and Lord John Russell. I may say that John Bright fully concurs in the confidence which Reformers entertain in Lord John Russell. [A voice: 'Let John Bright form a Ministry.'—Laughter and confusion.]The hon. Member for Walsall (Mr. Forster), was well known in that House as having played an important task last year, when he was selected to fulfil, in respect to a portion of the Liberal party, the delicate duty so long performed by the right hon. Member for Wells (Sir William Hayter). He presumed that the hon. Member for Walsall was fully in the confidence of his leaders, and his statement was, no doubt, based on good authority. Probably the hon. Member for Birmingham was too pure a statesman to have anything to do with so degraded a machinery as that of "whips;" but still the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Forster) must have had his information from high authority. Perhaps he would 481 enlighten the House upon this remarkable conversion, but hon. Members opposite—pointing to those above the gangway—would do well to reflect upon this ominous alliance. Directly the sacrifice was consummated a test would be applied. If the noble Lord's Amendment was carried, he and his party no doubt would occupy the benches opposite, and then the House would see how far the hon. Member for Walsall was justified in his idea of the perfect unanimity existing between the noble Lord and the hon. Member for Birmingham; but it was quite clear either that Mr. Forster must be wrong, or the hon. Gentlemen who sat opposite would be the first to overthrow the Ministry they were endeavouring so laboriously to form. It was evident that both parties to the alliance opposite were trying which could get the best of the other—whether the moderate Liberals would climb to power on the shoulders of the Radicals, and then kick thorn into the gutter, or whether the moderate Liberals would consent to hold office with men whose political principles they opposed. Which would be the case he could not predict; but he might safely predict that out of that alliance would come no political credit to either party, and he thought they would regret it when that dark picture drawn by the right hon. Member for Stroud was realized—when one of those impulses of confusion which occasionally afflicted the Continent should vibrate even to our own shores, and when, amid the various exciting causes that might exist, and which even the best Governments could not always be certain to avoid, they would be forced to consider a Reform measure under very different auspices to those under which they were now able to arrive at a decision.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he thought that it would be convenient that the debate should proceed continuously, and therefore he would suggest that it should be adjourned until the next day. Of course he was in the hands of hon. Members who had notices of Motions for that day. He had looked through the paper, and though those notices were of an interesting, yet he did not think that they were of an urgent character. He hoped that hon. Members would accede to the course: which he suggested.
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow.