§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [19th March], "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. BLACK
Sir, it is with much reluctance that I venture to make any observations on the important measure now under consideration, especially as I fear my views on one essential part of the Bill are not in unison with the views of most of the friends with whom I am surrounded. But however painful it is for me to differ from them, I feel constrained by a sense of duty to give utterance to sentiments which I have often expressed in the city I have the honour to represent, and which I believe are entertained by the majority of one of the largest, most important, and, I may say, one of the most intelligent constituencies in the kingdom, who might charge me with shrinking from my duty, if I did not honestly state in my proper place the sentiments I have expressed to them. I hold, with Jeremy Bentham, that the best form of Government is that which produces the greatest amount of happiness to the greatest number; and, with this view, and this view alone, Governments ought to be constructed. Despotisms have been tried, oligarchies have been tried, and pure democracies have been tried; but under a mixed Government, with a balanced Parliamentary Representation, this country has secured a greater degree of power, and wealth, and liberty than has been attained by any other State. For the production of good Government, then, the Representative system, when properly constructed, experience has proved to be the most efficient instrument. It is a powerful and a delicate machine; to say that it is not perfect, is to say that it is only human, and must partake of the imperfections of humanity: it should be attended to with the greatest carefulness; but we must not be always tinkering at it. If it should at any time get out of gear, or if defects should be discovered in it, they 138 should be rectified; but no alteration should be allowed to be made in it, without its being first proved to be imperfect, and the proposed alteration an improvement that will remedy the defect. A machinist would consider it necessary that he should work upon sound, scientific principles. So, in the measure before us, we ought to act upon a sound political system. Is the elective franchise a right or a trust? Some have said that every man is naturally entitled to share in the Government of his country; that those who are to obey the laws, should have something to say in the framing of them; that taxation and representation should be coextensive. If the elective franchise is a right, it must be based on some ground—if it is on taxation, then every man who smokes a pipe, or drinks a cup of tea, has a right to the elective franchise. What the people have a right to demand is, that they should have that system of Government which will most efficiently work out the greatest amount of happiness and prosperity; you are not bound to gratify every demand of theirs, which would not tend to promote their happiness. It might be asked who is to decide. The answer was that this duty must devolve upon the Government of the day; this responsibility rests upon the House of Commons; and a tremendous responsibility it is. The elective franchise ought to be intrusted only to those whom we may reasonably suppose well qualified to exercise it for the general advantage. Taking this, then, as the principle which ought to regulate us in considering a reform of our Representative System, let us examine the leading propositions of this Bill. First, then, as to the introduction of the £10 occupants in the counties. I think there is good ground for that arrangement. It appears to me contrary to principle that a man should be excluded because he lives in the county and not in the burgh; and there is no reason to suppose that the dweller in the county will be inferior in intelligence, independence, and integrity to the dweller in the burgh. I hold, then, that on principle we are fully warranted in adopting that part of the Bill. Then, in the Bill for Scotland, the clause which reduces the property qualification to £5, is so far right; but to act upon precedent and principle, it ought to be 40s., as in England; not only because it is so in England, but because we have had proof that it has I worked well there; and a man who holds property yielding 40s, a year and upwards, 139 if he has acquired it, most probably is a man of industrious habits and good conduct; and if he has inherited it, you have reason to believe that he is well educated. The possessor of property, however small, takes as deep an interest in whatever affects it, as the possessor of the largest estates. These two classes, I think, may safely be trusted with the elective franchise. Holding to the principle which I have laid down, that no alteration should be made in the electoral body but such as will manifestly improve it, I ask would the introduction of the large class of occupants between £10 and £6 improve the electoral machine? I do not now enter into any calculation of the numbers or proportions of this class. It is, however, certain that in some cases they will add a quarter or a half to the present number of electors; in others they will double them, in others they will be a majority. Will this large infusion of the lower element improve the aggregate, will it increase the intelligence or independence of the constituency? Will it not throw a preponderating weight upon some part of the machinery? Do not imagine that I undervalue the virtues that are to be found in that class of the community, or that I am disposed to speak disrespectfully of them; but neither will I flatter them. I speak of them as a class, and a large class, which we ought to look at with impartiality and discrimination. It is nothing to the purpose to be told that you will find among them men as independent and intelligent as in the highest class. The question is, is it reasonable to expect, in the class occupying houses between £10 and £5 rent, the same amount of education and intelligence as in the various classes occupying houses from £10 to £1,000? If you had an important business of your own to manage, whether would you risk it to occupants of some of the lower streets of Westminster or St. Giles', or to the tradesmen in Cheapside or the Strand, not to speak of Belgravia? You say you will find as intelligent and independent men occupying £5 houses, as some occupying £60 houses; that maybe quite true, but you will likewise find men occupying £5, and £4. or £3 houses as intelligent as those who occupy £6 houses. Political questions are often among the most difficult that can be submitted to human decision, and cannot safely be committed to the arbitration of great masses of half-educated men, perhaps brought together under the excitement of passion and preju- 140 dice, and under the guidance of unscrupulous agitators. By conferring the franchise on such a large mass of half-educated people, you would not raise the character of the constituency: but, on the contrary, must inevitably bring it down, in some degree, to the level from which the new body of the electors sprung. Would that be an advantage? If so, it should be done at once; but if it were doubtful, it would be prudent to hesitate before taking a step which could not be retraced. Within these few months we have had a melancholy example of the manner in which they mismanage their own affairs. How easily they were led astray by noisy agitators, after an impracticable delusion to demand ten hours' pay for nine hours' work; and see the domination and tyranny that one set of them exercised over others. At, the factious and exciting harangues of their leaders they unite for impracticable purposes, and expose their wives and children to hunger and suffering in a foolish contest. We sometimes manifest indignation at great landholders who exercise undue influence over their tenants; but the largest landholder in the kingdom, or a dozen of them, would not he able to compete with Mr. Potter. Then there is danger from their acting in concert; they not only have their unions, but these unions are affiliated, and the leaders have only to give the word, and woe to the man who rebels. It has been said that were the power largely in the hands of that class, they would throw the taxation of the country unduly on property; but it would not be the holders of property only that would suffer, but the manufacturers. At a meeting with the operatives before my last election, one question that was put to me was, Will you support a Bill in Parliament to reduce the day's labour to eight hours? I told them to their face that the putting such a question only showed the danger of giving them the franchise. Depend upon it that one of the objects which they would exert themselves to attain would be to shorten the hours of labour, and that test would be put to every candidate; too many of whom, to obtain their sweet voices, would swallow the test. Are honourable Members aware of the extent of these affiliated unionists? They will, perhaps, be surprised to hear that Mr. Potter has stated their number to be 600,000. These are all under the orders of a small executive committee, most probably composed of a small number of the most energetic, enthusiastic, and ag- 141 gressive characters. A large number of these would secure the franchise by this Bill, and every one of them would vote as directed by the executive committee, and every one of those who did not obtain the franchise would be most active canvassers. The noble Lord, the Member for Stamford, said he had sat on several Election Committees, and found that the parties who took bribes were generally the freemen; men who were in the rank of those who would be enfranchised by the £6 clause. ["No!"and cheers]. He could give another proof. Before the Reform Bill of 1832, the freemen and the potwallopers in the boroughs of England were bought and sold. The Bill of 1832 left them still their privileges, but the dry rot was in them; and when the ten-pounders were added to the constituency, the rot spread into the new timbers. In fact, the tide of bribery and corruption rolled over England and stopt at Berwick. But in Scotland we had no freemen electors, and as the franchise did not descend below a £10 rent, we had none of the lower class; consequently bribery is almost unknown in Scotland. There was another view which must be taken of this Bill. There had not been much agitation about it; but there had been some meetings at nearly all of which resolutions in favour of manhood suffrage, or something of that sort, had been submitted. It was, however, argued by the leading speakers at these meetings, that they should be content with this Bill, because it was a step in the right direction, it was an instalment, and they need not fear that the whole sum will be paid in due time. You may go down by easy stages, but whether your steps are short or long, you will have got upon the slide, and you cannot stop till you reach the bottom. I can see a principle for universal suffrage, but I can see no principle for stopping at £6. The man who pays £5 or £4 will have a good right to say, I am as well entitled to the franchise as the man who pays 20s. of more rent. Do not imagine that you will stop the agitation; you will have given it a shove onwards and downwards, and the downward progress must of necessity be an accelerated one. In twenty years or less you may be obliged to descend to £5 or £4, and in other ten years you will have no standing ground but on universal suffrage. Well, perhaps you think universal suffrage the best. If it is, and certainly it has better ground of principle, it would be better to adopt it at once, and thus save all the agitation and 142 fighting that must accompany a downward progress, if downward we must go. Reference has repeatedly been made to the opinions of Lord Macaulay on this subject. I knew them well, but I will rather refer to a letter written by him in 1857 to Mr. Randall of New York:—I have long been convinced that institutions purely democratic must, sooner or later, destroy liberty, or civilization, or both. In Europe, where the population is dense, the effect of such institutions would be almost instantaneous. What happened lately in France is an example. You may think that jour country enjoys an exemption from these evils. I will frankly own to you that I am of a very different opinion. Your fate I believe to be certain, though it is deferred by a physical cause. …. But the time will come when New England will be as thickly peopled as Old England. Wages will be as low and will fluctuate as much with you as with us. But you will have your Manchesters and your Birminghams, and in those Manchesters and Birminghams hundreds and thousands of artizans will assuredly be sometimes out of work. Then your institutions will be fairly brought to the test. Distress everywhere makes the labourer mutinous and discontented, and inclines him to listen with eagerness to agitators, who tell him that it is a monstrous iniquity that one man should have a million while another cannot get a full meal. In bad years there is plenty of grumbling hero, and sometimes a little rioting; but it matters little, for here the sufferers are not the rulers. The supreme power is in the hands of a class, numerous indeed, but select—of an educated class—of a class which is, and knows itself to be, deeply interested in the security of property and the maintenance of order. Accordingly, the malcontents are firmly but gently restrained. The bad time is got over without robbing the wealthy to relieve the indigent. The springs of national prosperity soon begin to flow again, work is plentiful, wages rise, and all is tranquillity and cheerfulness.My chief objection to the part of the Bill that provides for the admission of occupants of £6 houses is, that the infusion of such large numbers into the burgh constituencies will dilute and lower the entire constituencies, and give an undue preponderance to one class, and that the least educated. The operative classes are entitled to have their interests represented in this House, but adopt a method by which this may be accomplished without lowering the whole electoral body. Before the Reform Bill of 1832 there were boroughs in which the freemen and pot-wallopers en grossed the electoral franchise. If there was a return to a similar plan you might accomplish the object sought to be obtained. But I do not acknowledge that the interests of the operative classes are neglected by the present representatives. I do not believe that the interests of any 143 class have been so carefully attended to. I know it will be said that all my objections were urged against the Reform Bill of 1832, but, upon the principle I have laid down, the Reform Bill of 1832 was just and rational. It was a measure of necessary reaction against the defects of an exclusive oligarchy. It transferred the power from small knots of a dominant party, possessing few, if any, popular sympathies, to large masses of the most highly educated, the most wealthy, and the most influential parts of the upper and middle classes of society, and embracing a number of the lower classes and those who sympathize with them. Experience has proved that the plan was wise and advantageous. I am unwilling to take up the time of the House by entering upon other plans of increasing the constituency which, I think, would be more advantageous, such as admitting lodgers, the holders of a certain amount of money in savings banks, and others, which may be taken up in Committee. As I have said, it is painful to me to differ from statesmen whom I hold in the highest honour and respect for the invaluable services they have rendered to their country, but the stake is too vast and the responsibility too great to shrink from a disagreeable duty from motives of affection.
§ SIR BULWER LYTTON
said:* Sir, the debate has hitherto chiefly turned on the quality and nature of the proposed borough franchise. It is evident from the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down, that this involves a question on which Gentlemen opposite have an interest fully equal to our own; I shall, therefore, so far imitate his example, that I will endeavour to state my views in a spirit that shall be as free from party bias as I an possible form and express it; and as I think it very important that we should have clear perceptions of the nature of our dispute, and of the consequences of any mistake we may commit, I will first entreat the House to bear with me for a few minutes, while I try to consider whether, at least, we cannot agree as to some broad principle upon which all good representative systems should be based. Sir, I will assume that every popular reformer, and every sound political thinker, who seeks to estimate the proper standard at which to fix an electoral franchise, must, in abstract theory, start from the same point;—and that point is the primâ facie right of manhood suffrage. Where you find a civilized 144 community in which nil the Members are equally free, and where, by a system of indirect duties, every man is more or less taxed to the support of the State, I can readily understand that every man should consider that he has a primâ facie right to vote for those who superintend his affairs and regulate the machinery by which his welfare is controlled. But here, from the origin of all political societies, commences another view of that same question, upon which popular reformers may differ—I do not know if they do—but on which all who are acknowledged to be sound political thinkers are agreed; and it is this: granting that every man in a free community may thus put forward his claim to the electoral franchise, still every member of a community merges all his individual rights, and many rights much nearer and dearer to him than an electoral franchise, in the paramount consideration how the State itself can be best sustained for the general safety and the social advancement; or, in the words of the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, how "the greatest happiness of the greatest number" can be secured from attacks, without and within, from foreign dangers or its own mistakes, for the longest probable period. The Member for Edinburgh says that he would wish to see established some definite principle by which we might construct our measure, and by which we might test its details. That which he asks has been the object of research to political reasoners for more than two thousand years; but I think the substance of all that that has been said by those whom we hold to be authorities may be found in this very simple definition: a free State will be thus best sustained and advanced by securing to its legislative councils the highest average degree of the common sense of the common interest. For this, intelligence is requisite, but not intelligence alone; you might have a legislative Assembly composed of men indisputably intelligent—nobles, lawyers, priests, who might honestly believe they used their intelligence for the common interest, when in fact they used it for their own. Hence it follows that no one class interest must predominate over all the others, or the common interest is gone—gone if that class be the great proprietors; gone if that class be the working men. But there is this distinction between the working class and every other, that, granting their intelligence to be equal to that of others, granting that it be not more likely to be misdi- 145 rected, still, when it is misdirected, the consequences are, if they are invested with the electoral power that determines legislation, immeasurably more dangerous both to the common interest and to their own. For they are the roots of society, and it is the roots of society that their errors will affect; while their numbers are so great that their votes could overpower the votes of all the other classes put together. When this happens, the instinctive safeguard of the rich is corruption; and the instinctive tendency of ambition, if it be not rich, is towards those arts which give dictatorship to demagogues.
The hon. and learned Member for Marylebone has done me the honour to quote expressions of mine in praise of the labourer and mechanic. I neither retract that praise, nor the qualification with which it was then accompanied. The working class have virtues singularly noble and generous, but they are obviously more exposed than the other classes to poverty and to passion. Thus, in quiet times, their poverty subjects them to the corruption of the rich; and in stormy times, when the State requires the most sober judgment, their passion subjects them to the ambition of the demagogue. To every man who has read history, these are not unsupported propositions. The history of all the old republics is uniform as to their truth; and as in all those old republics, at least where democracy was established, vote by ballot was employed, so the same history tells us that vote by ballot is no cure for the evils. Hence it is that those eminent writers on the Liberal side, who have lately examined this very question of a new franchise for England, with political courage as well as speculative acuteness, have all specially dwelt on the extreme danger of basing that new franchise rudely and exclusively upon a principle that, once conceded, must expand—a principle that, by avowedly reducing your borough franchise so as to admit manual labour without any equipoise, without any test or condition beyond that of finding a roof to cover it at 2s. 4d. a week, must end by giving to manual labour the political power over the capital that employs and the mind that should direct it. An hon. Member in the course of this debate referred to the opinions of Mr. John Mill, than whom no severer reasoner adorns our age; but what are Mr. Mill's opinions? Sternly against all the arguments by which the proposed franchise is defended. He would give, it is 146 true, a vote to every man, but in order to counteract the effect of numbers so created, he would give to a man of superior education or property, such as a farmer or a tradesman, four or five votes; to a man of still higher education and property, five or six votes. More lately Mr. Mill has declared in favour of the scheme propounded by Mr. Hare and explained by Mr. Fawcett in a very remarkable pamphlet; a scheme that is based upon the principle of securing representation even to the smallest minorities. These ideas are so against the taste of the House and the inclination of the public, that their adoption may be impossible; but I mention them to show that, here, are consummate reasonors whose doctrines of Government belong to the boldest school of liberal opinion, and who are yet more anxious than the highest Tory amongst us to secure to property and intelligence a power that shall not be overborne by the influence of numbers.
The Member for Birmingham says there is no cause to fear the influence of numbers or of the working class in the Bill that is now before us. He says, firstly, that the proposed addition as regards the boroughs is not considerable; secondly, that the total constituency will still be very small in proportion to the adult male population. But the Member for Birmingham fails to see or to grapple with the argument of my right hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire. It is not with my right hon. Friend a question of numbers alone, but rather of fitness. In fact, though I accept the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, that the most conscientious pains were taken to obtain accurate returns, yet he must pardon me if I say that, without entering into the dispute between him and the Member for Marylebone, those returns must seem incredible to any Gentleman who will use his own powers of inquiry and observation; for a £6 house is a house at 2s. 4d. a week, but if any Gentleman will inquire in the small rural towns or even the large villages in his neighbourhood, he will find that there are scarcely any houses in them that are let to the most ordinary artisans at less than 2s. 6d. a week; but if 2s. 6d. a week be the lowest rent paid by a journeyman labourer in a small rural town, what must it be in a populous borough where the average rental cannot fail to be higher? Just consider! Many Gentlemen, no doubt, have built plain cottages for their own day-labourers; those cottages 147 cannot cost them less than about £80 each; they would be contented with a small interest for their money, because, as it is truly said by the Duke of Bedford, who has conferred benefits on the working classes, the more signal, because so nobly unostentatious, "the country gentleman does not build cottages for immediate remuneration;" but in a borough town such houses are built on speculation by small capitalists, who would not be satisfied with less than 7½ or 8 per cent for their outlay—that is, more than 2s. 4d. a week, for a house equal to the humblest cottage you build for your humblest labourer. But, granting the returns to be correct, as to the present number of £6 householders, they can afford no criterion of what the number of £6 voters would be if this Bill passed into a law; for the poor labourer who now pays 2s. a week for a house (and less than that he could scarcely pay for any hovel in a borough town) would gladly pay 2s. 4d. to secure a vote as a good speculation, which will give him a claim on the wealthier tradesmen of the town who take an interest in elections, should he want a job of work or a charitable donation at Christmas—those small gleanings of calculating benevolence which are the perquisites of poor electors; and on the other hand, a landlord who now lets houses at 2s. or 2s. 2d. a week will screw them up to 2s. 4d., in order to increase his political importance by having a numerous tenantry at his command, in constitutional proof of the legitimate influence of property. And you must take with you the fact, which you seem to ignore—namely, that every year, as the prosperity and population of the country increase, the £6 franchise will become wider and wider as to numbers, lower and lower as to the condition of the voter. The £10 occupation is now, in the larger towns, a very much lower franchise than it was thirty years ago. You are legislating for posterity in a direction you can never retrace, and in less than thirty years a £6 franchise must, in the larger towns, be equivalent to household suffrage. We have, therefore, no fair criterion as to numbers; but, in the meanwhile, we find, even by your Returns, that the addition proposed is quite enough to overbear the existing constituency in a great proportion of the present boroughs; it must materially influence elections in most of the others. We then ask if that addition be composed of a. variety of classes; we find it is confined to a single class, and 148 we object to overbear the existing constituency by a single class, without any equipoise or relief.
I shall make our distinction more clear by proceeding at once to the second assertion of the Member for Birmingham. He says that the entire constituency, which he estimates at 1,000,000, will be very small, compared to the adult male population, which he estimates at 7,000,000. But when he would thus make manhood suffrage a standard by which to compose a suffrage that, if more limited, should fairly represent the diversified character and opinions of the whole adult male population, he forgets to omit from his 7,000,000 not only about 700,000 paupers, whom we will put aside, but more than a million and a half composed of soldiers, sailors, mercantile marine, domestic servants, and rural peasants; voters, whose tendencies might counteract the opinions of the special class this Bill selects for the franchise. And the right way to look at the present suffrage, and at the proposed addition, is evidently this: The present suffrage is a selection, made less than thirty years ago, from those classes of the male population with which popular liberty is most safe; excluding rural peasants as too much under the influence of landed aristocracy; domestic servants, as too much under the influence of masters; soldiers and sailors, as too much under the influence of the Crown. But if, while you continue to exclude from your constituency large masses of the population that represent Conservative elements, you admit a new element, which our common sense tells us must be exclusively democratic, you destroy the fair equipoise of representation even by numbers, and you do not impartially extend the area of a national franchise, but you pervert a national franchise into the monopoly of a single class. I close, then, this part of my argument with these plain propositions:—First, that it is not consulting the common sense of the common interest; secondly, that it is not a fair application of the doctrine of representation by numbers, to introduce into a constituency already so popular—that in this vast metropolis, and in many of our great towns, the richer classes are not represented at all, a new selection from that special class of artisans, who, crowded together in large towns, always have been, and always will be, the most democratic, and the most excitable part of the population, without any selection of an opposite tendency; so that the 149 more some town has been rendered populous and flourishing, by expenditure of capital and activity of educated intellect, the less capital and educated intellect will have a voice in the representation of the place, the prosperity of which they created and maintain.
And, now, Sir, let me observe that it was well said by my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster, in a speech which the Home Secretary censures for being animated—I cannot retort the charge on the right hon. Gentleman, who spoke as if "he came to bury Cæsar, not to praise him "—that much of this argument has been conducted on premises that are not strictly true. It has been too much assumed that all the working class are excluded by the present franchise. We are asked to open the door to them, as if the door had been kept rigidly locked and barred against them. But is that the case? I apprehend that in all the metropolitan boroughs artisans must form a considerable part of the constituency. In fact, if your Returns are correct, and if we must prefer them to the calculations of the Member for Marylebone, it is clear that the main reason why artisans living in houses below a £10 rental will not add considerably to the metropolitan constituencies, must be because a large number of artisans in metropolitan constituencies live in houses that are not below a £10 rental. But, take any borough, any county,—have not all and each of us several working men among our constituents? The working classes are, therefore, admitted at present. The door is not locked. You say admit more, many more; open the door much wider. Very well, do so; but, since you cannot admit them all, let us try and establish some better test than that of a certain amount of poverty. Do not lower your franchise upon the express principle of admitting the poor, solely and wholly because they are poor. The Member for Halifax, in a speech of much promise, and in the excellent taste of a Gentleman who can unite ardour for a cause with courtesy to opponents, said, "The best test of fitness for the franchise is the desire to possess the franchise." Let him reflect for a moment, and he is too good a logician not to see that his position is untenable. Desire is no proof of fitness. We all desire to be rich,—is that any proof that we all deserve riches? We all desire to be strong, healthy, and wise, and how few of us take the smallest pains to be strong, 150 healthy, or wise? We must have, then, a better test than desire.
In our Bill we, the late Government, sought to take that simplest-test by which the human being vindicates his claim to reason—I mean the habit of frugality and forethought for the morrow in the man who lives by the labour of the day. We thus did expand the franchise to the working class, not by regarding such voters as the more symbols of four crazy walls, but in proportion—I do not say as they had a stake in the country, for every child just born has a stake in his native country—but in proportion as they showed they were sensible of that stake, and had by the mere exercise of a virtue most useful to themselves—the mere principle of saving for the uncertain morrow—entered into the class of proprietors, and had become participators in that prudent regard for order which is the safeguard of property, and the main distinction between liberty, which is always thoughtful, and licence, which is always reckless. You dismiss these attempts of ours to modify, refine, and exalt a mere popular franchise—dismiss them without one effort of your own to improve them; and I believe they could be greatly improved and enlarged by a Government in whom Reformers had confidence, and whom this House honoured with a majority; you dismiss not only our notions, but all the remonstrances and all the warnings of your own ablest writers, and you who came into power upon the presumption of superior capacities for a comprehensive scheme, content yourselves with what?—rudely creating an additional constituency upon the express and sole principle that it is to be poorer and less intelligent than the present, without a single franchise of a higher nature; and you make that addition so numerous that in most of those large towns which are the centres of energy, which the Member for Rochdale once told us "govern England," it is that poor and less intelligent class which must take the lion's share of political power. And when we are told by the hon. Member for Birmingham and the hon. Member for Leeds, that a £6 franchise is not so rigidly confined to the working class but what there are several £6 occupiers who are not actually working men, I say that in no way touches our objection. They are equally men subjected to the conditions of poverty and passion; and though we are willing to admit poverty and passion into the franchise, we are not 151 willing to give poverty and passion the lion's share of political power over capital and knowledge. And I say this, not as against the representation of the working or the poorer classes, but on behalf of their genuine and true representation; for if you reflect a moment you will own that their true representation must be more or less perfect in proportion to the knowledge which may exist in this House of the inseparable connection between their interests and all our legislative functions.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in a speech which, whatever we may think of the Budget it introduced, will remain among the monuments of English eloquence as long as the language lasts, told us truly that "the interest of the working man was consulted less by our cheapening the articles he consumes, than by our stimulating the trade which gives him wages and employment." I advance upon that argument, and I say, therefore, that the true representative of the working man is in every wise legislator who stimulates trade, who strengthens credit, who exalts the standard of society, in which the working man rises with every step that raises the common interest of us all. I say that he has a true representative in every profound lawyer who renders justice more accessible; in every enlightened philanthropist who ameliorates the condition of humanity; nay, in every naval or military officer whose professional science suggests sounder defences, not only for the laud we inhabit, but for the protection of the commerce which employs the millions, and which rises or falls with the honour of the flag that is only the safeguard of our wealth, because it is the symbol of our power. But, are these the kind of representatives the working class would generally prefer if they constituted the great majority of electors? I say boldly, No. For even in America, where education is far more equally diffused than it is with us, it is the common complaint that such are not the kind of representatives they prefer. Just hear what is said on that score by an American addressing his fellow-citizens—not a political malcontent declaiming on a popular hustings, but a man of high education (Mr. Doherty), calmly addressing the Literary Societies of Lafayette College, and the title of his lecture is "Fears for the future of the Republic." After stating, as a well-known fact, that the more respectable citizens even of the commercial and industrial classes will tell 152 you that they "scorn to mix in politics, their time can be better employed," he goes on to say,Thus, the vast machinery of this huge republic in all its departments is for the most part left to the control of bands of men who make politics a trade,—men who laugh at integrity, are insensible to patriotism, are regardless of intellect, who hates the man who tells the truth and will not cringe to them, and love the one who lowest bends, yet cheats them in the end. …. Surely it is of vital importance to the well-being of a State that its Legislature reflect the wishes of the people. …. Yet there are those who legislate for the different States of the American Confederacy, who are unable to read, much less to frame a statute; who know nothing of our past history, present wants, or future prespects; who are ignorant of the constitution, and would not dare to fill the humblest of clerkships, yet occupy seats in legislative halls. But their ignorance is their least fault. Corruption swarms around each Capitol, daring the gaze and defying the power of outraged constituencies; legislation is bought and sold. Within a year it has come to light that in one of the vigorous States of the West, the majority of the legislature, with many of the State officers, in violation of their oaths and of honour, were purchased each for a given price. Better for us and for our posterity, better for our peace at home, our character abroad, that the legislature of Pennsylvania should meet but once in ten years, than that the State should be disgraced by such representatives and dishonoured by such laws.Yet these are the representatives whom the majority of the working classes elect, and these are the laws those representatives pass, uninfluenced by that aristocracy to whom the hon. Member for Birmingham ascribes all the evils we endure.
So much for America. Now look to England. Let me ask who in our time has been the man who has had the largest share of the especial confidence of the working classes? Not the hon. Member for Birmingham. No; it was Mr. Feargus O'Connor. And is there any Member present who would say that at this moment the interests of the working classes are not better represented in this House by such gentlemen as I have described, and whom we may recognize wherever we direct our eyes, than they would be if they could turn this House into a synagogue of Feargus O'Connors? But this Bill is to amend the representation. How will it do that? Will it make the House of Commons wiser? Will it make our councils more enlightened? Will it increase the knowledge, the integrity, the pecuniary independence, and the mental discipline, without which we should have no strength in public opinion if ever we had to protect our freedom against an able tyrant and a standing army? We read in that masterly contri- 153 bution to our history which Mr. Forster has just published, that when Charles I. attempted illegally to seize five Members of this House, all London rang with cries of "Parliament!" "Privilege!" and why? Because at that moment this House represented property, station, and knowledge, as well as patriotism and valour; and therefore, it had strength in public opinion. But a few years later Cromwell expelled all the Members, and locked up the House itself; and there were then no cries of "Parliament!" "Privilege!" There was scarcely a murmur heard out of doors. Why was that? Because the House was then only a Rump Parliament. It had ceased to represent property, station, and knowledge; and, therefore, it had no strength in public opinion, though its majority, even then, were stanch Reformers: nay, they were actually discussing a new Reform Bill, not altogether different from that of the hon. Member for Birmingham, at the very moment Cromwell and his pikemen entered. Is there any Gentleman here who will tell us he expects to return to Parliament a wiser man—a sadder man, perhaps, he may be—when he knows he has ceased to represent property, station, and knowledge, and has become the delegate of the poorest householders in the borough he represents?
But how will this measure improve the constituent body? When that question was asked in the debates on the great Reform Bill, the answer of the Reformers was crushing. You then got rid of the boroughmonger, who sold his borough—of the potwalloper, who sold his vote; and your substitutes were trade, commerce, manufactures—that combination of various interests which is found in the middle ranks of society, which cannot be called a class, because it comprises all classes, from the educated gentleman to the skilled artizan, and which, therefore, does represent a high average of the common sense of the common interest. You, then, did not merely extend the franchise. The Homo Secretary has taken pains to prove that. To use the words, I think, of the late Lord Grey, "you purified, you exalted the constituency." But when you are asked, "How does the little Reform Bill purify and exalt the constituency?" what will you answer? You will say, "It is true we found many persons of respectable means and excellent education, who complained that they were without a suffrage; 154 we did not attend to their complaint, but where we found persons living in lanes and alloys, at a rent which afforded the fair presumption that they had little property and less education, we conferred our new franchise exclusively on them. And so we purified and exalted the constituency!"
Sir, let me venture to give you an illustration of the manner in which the little Reform Bill will probably work out the Amendment of the representation and purify and exalt the constituency. I will first assume that the state of the world renders it likely that for some years to come our party differences will occur upon questions affecting our foreign relations. Let me suppose some such question on which Parliament has been dissolved, some question that shall not trespass on what we should now call delicate relations; only perhaps a new quarrel with China. Nothing more likely than that! Suddenly, then, there appear before your new constituency in one of those boroughs which the noble Lord reserves as the nursery of rising genius and the refuge of ill-treated states-men, two dignified and imposing persons, whom that new constituency do not know from Adam: but these are rival candidates—Thompson is a rising genius, Browne an ill-treated statesman; Thompson supports the Government—genius that rises generally supports a Government; Browne sides with the Opposition—ill-treated statesmen naturally do. They both proceed to canvass Mr. Smith, one of your new electors, a journeyman plasterer—the hon. Member for Leeds thinks that plasterers are entitled to a preferential difference—living in a frail tenement, much in need of plaster, and struggling hard to pay off a harassing debt of £3. Thompson, who supports the Government in a naval and military expedition to Pekin, appeals to Smith's patriotism for the chastisement of the Chinese barbarians and the prestige of the English name. Browne condemns that criminal and somewhat costly expedition, and is eloquent on the rights of humanity and the inoffensive character of an Oriental but industrious population. The more the candidates talk, the less interest they excite in the breast of Smith, one way or the other, for the affairs of China. In fact, his whole mind is absorbed in the consideration of those £3 which neither of these eloquent strangers helps him to pay. Now there appears a third person on the stage, and he whispers to Smith, "Vote for Humanity and Browne; vote for the preser- 155 vation of the Celestial Empire and its countless millions; and you shall have 30s." Smith indignantly rejects a bribe thus coarsely offered; nevertheless it cannot but occur to him that 30s. would pay off half his debt, and for the first time in his life he begins to conceive an interest in the affairs of China. Now there appears a fourth person, the real Deus ex Machiná—a solicitor, or a solicitor's confidential agent—a fellow-townsman, a man whose word is as good as his bond; and he whispers to Smith, "You are an honest man, and not to be bribed; I know all your affairs; you are tormented by a paltry debt of £3; that debt shall never trouble you any further if you vote for Thompson and your country's glory." Well, Smith begins to think of his wife's anxious face, of his children's scanty supper; thinks what a blessing it would be to rise the next morning free from the incubus of those £3; and as he so thinks, can you wonder that he begins to care no more for the Celestial Empire than the Celestial Empire cares for him? The man's heart is tempted, and the elector's vote is bought. That is the origin of corruption, and such corruption soon becomes contagious in proportion as you multiply voters to whose knowledge China is a phantom, and to whose wants £3 are the Indies.
These instances occur now; but will you tell me that they will not be much more numerous under your new constituency—ay, and on questions far more vitally important to England than an expedition to Pekin? But why more numerous? Because poverty and debt are not the staple of your present constituency. But reduce your franchise to almost the humblest tenements in which poverty can face debt, and I leave the conjecture of the probable result to your own indulgent knowledge of human nature. Are we to be told that the ballot would cure this? The ballot! Why, is there a Gentleman old enough to sit in this House and yet young enough to believe that if our friend Smith, who is not a bad man, and who will not break the promise he has given on a consideration, could drop into the ballot-box a vote, perhaps, against the inclinations of his party, he would not have a conscience still more placidly resigned to that chastisement of the Celestial Empire and that vindication of his country's glory by which thus quietly, unobtrusively, and without giving offence to any one, he could pay off his debt of £3, and, perhaps, by that vote serve to 156 add £3,000,000 more to the debt of England? The hon. Member for Birmingham has a more speedy and decided cure for this evil. He would get rid altogether of these nurseries of rising genius—these asylums of ill-treated statesmen; he would have only constituencies so numerous that they are less likely to be bribed in detail than bribed wholesale, by some system of direct taxation which shall reduce the duties on the articles £6 householders consume, or defray all the expenditure necessary to protect the houses they inhabit and the freedom they enjoy, at the exclusive cost of persons who are better lodged than themselves. This kind of corruption I hold to be infinitely more dangerous than the other; for a nation may continue great and flourishing even though rich candidates do bribe poor electors, but the greatest nation in the world must become bankrupt and ruined if the poor could carry any system of taxation which embodies a principle that confiscates the property of the rich. Therefore, though I am far from saying that a bolder redistribution of seats may not be required for the ultimate settlement of this question, I say that if that re-distribution is to be based on a £6 franchise, without any equipoise, in all the larger urban constituencies substituted for smaller boroughs, you will render the danger of a low franchise immeasurably more formidable, and though there may be less individual bribery than among small constituencies, you will incur a much greater risk of that general political corruption which ends either in the spoliation of property or the loss of freedom. Yet, if you pass this Bill, the Member for Birmingham is quite right in thinking that an extensive re-distribution of seats, which shall give the same £6 franchise to urban multitudes, must follow. "Give him," he says, "this £6 borough suffrage, and he will there fix a lever that shall lift about a hundred gentlemen round him out of their seats, and launch them into the abyss of space." That is the very next of what he mildly calls "successive steps;" and when I heard him thus inhumanly predict the massacre of the confiding innocents who were then actually grouped around his very knees, I turned towards those unfortunate gentlemen with a thrill of superstitious awe at the despondent resignation with which they seemed to hear the executioner announce their doom. Well, then, I think this change will not make the representative body wiser nor the constitu- 157 ent body purer. But an hon. Member said in the former debates that "this was an age of progress," and from that fact he argued that, because we had railways and steam, therefore we ought to have a £6 constituency. I do not see the sequitur. Steam and railways are produced by the science of the learned and the capital of the rich; and I cannot understand by what principle of logic I am to call that a progress which places our legislation at the mercy of men who are the reverse of learned and the opposite of rich. The Home Secretary says he supports the Bill "because the time has come to make some further progress in the same direction in which we made so great an advance in 1831." But by this Bill you do not advance; you go back, and in the direction from which that great reform so resolutely departed; you go back by one long stride towards the old scot-and-lot voters, whom the great Reform Bill was originally designed to get rid of—go back to the very constituency which the experience of centuries had proved to be venal. It seems to me that we thus engender the coarsest vices of democracy without any of its redeeming grandeur. Pure democracy, in the classic sense of the word, has conferred on the civilized world too many benefits as well as warnings not to have its full share of enthusiastic admirers among men of cultivated minds and of generous hearts. But for pure democracy you must have the elements that preserve its honesty and insure its duration. Those elements are not to be found in old societies with vast disparities of wealth, of influence, of education; they belong to the youth of nations, such as colonies, and when any Gentleman cites to us the example of a colony for some democratic change that he would recommend to the ancient Monarchy of England, I can only say that he has not studied the hornbook of legislation. The acute democrats of that sublime Republic by which we are all unconsciously instructed whenever we discuss the problems of Government—the acute democrats of Athens—were well aware of the truth I endeavour, before it is yet too late, to impress upon you; they were well aware that democracy cannot long co-exist with great inequalities of wealth and power; they, therefore, began by ostracizing the powerful to end by persecuting the wealthy. And I cannot forget, since I have referred to that noble commonwealth, which may almost be called the England of the ancient world, 158 that one main cause for the decline and fall of Athens has been traced by those writers, whose authority the scholars I see before me will agree to accept, to the adoption of the very principle you now commend to us—I mean the extension of the suffrage to a class the most eager for political change and the least accustomed to weigh political consequences. That extension would have been then justified by much the same arguments you use now. It could have been truly said that the extension was not very large in itself; that it still left the whole suffrage small compared to the whole of the male adult population; that it did not admit even the majority of the working classes, for the working classes there were chiefly slaves or settlers; it would have been said, "Do you fear your own countrymen? Can you dispute the intelligence of any class of Athenians?" and, indeed, the humblest Athenian had facilities for education that we cannot give to our working men. All such arguments would have been very plausible—they are the arguments we hear to-day. But, nevertheless, the extension did contrive to give to poverty and passion a preponderating power over capital and knowledge; and the results were soon visible in a series of "successive steps"—in new tamperings with the suffrage in the same direction, in a plentiful crop of eloquent demagogues outbidding Liberal statesmen; in a system of direct taxation, which was unjust to the rich, and made the rich either indifferent to politics or hostile to liberty; in unwise expeditions called for by a brave and eager population, who called for them the more loudly because the rich paid for them; in the destruction of the fleets which had secured to the England of the ancient world the empire of the seas; in her subjugation by her near and formidable rival, who possessed a genius more military than her own, whom her free speaking had seriously offended, and who, under the conduct of a chief of whom it was said—pause, and think whether the same can be said of any foreign chief now living—"that where the lion's skin fell short, he eked it out with the fox's," while her orators still talked about "progress," while her factions still wrangled for power, sailed into the Piræus itself, and gave her liberty to the winds.
But why do we all hastily yet languidly agree to shovel this question away, to accept this or any measure of Reform, though what it is to reform none of us could satis- 159 factorily explain? Is it not because we all do desire for the next ten or twelve years to have done with the subject? And I can well understand that Gentlemen on both sides should feel eager this very Session to try and effect a compromise which, though not final, will give a new constitution a trial for at least half the term of years which we have given to the Constitution of 1832. To attain that object I should myself be prepared to approve a measure really comprehensive and substantial, that should unite a larger representation of numbers with some prudent securities for the fair representation of property. For it is better, of the two, if we are to alter our house, to alter it so as to get rid of its chief inconveniences than it is to pass the best part of our lives in the hands of the architects. One may put up with a great deal of alteration if one can say, "Thank Heaven, one is settled at last;" but there is no inconvenience equal to that of never being settled at all. But is there one Gentleman who can flatter himself or us that if we pass this Bill we are one jot nearer to settling the question of Parliamentary Reform? There is not a single inconvenience of which educated men complain that this Bill even attempts to mitigate; no attempt to lessen the expenses of elections; in counties, I suspect that those expenses will be doubled; no attempt to enfranchise the many enlightened and respectable men who happen not to be householders; no attempt to lessen the chances of bribery—on the contrary, as we have seen, to increase them. Thus the next general election will not inaugurate this Reform Bill, but rather record the dissatisfaction of its own supporters at its crudity and incompleteness, and their solemn pledges that they will continue with increased ardour to struggle—what for? Why, for a new Reform Bill. So that this measure is only the shoeing-horn to some fresh miracle of cobbling, in which, with weary feet and in "successive steps," we shall plod the same dull road, sure to pass our nights again under the same old sign of the Blue Boar. I say, then, as men of business, we do not get our consideration; that when we have paid the bill we do not get that acquittance and receipt which can alone reconcile our doubts as to the justice and propriety of the demand. The Member for Birmingham says persuasively, "Take this, or you will get something worse." But if we take this do we not strengthen his hands to give us the some- 160 thing worse into the bargain? Thus we go into Committee on this Bill with the conviction beforehand that it pleases no one and settles nothing—that, do what we can with it, it will remedy no evil, produce no benefit, satisfy no class—not even the class of the working men; all we shall have done, if we pass the Bill, is to place an empire, which rests its wealth and greatness upon causes so artificial and delicate that, once destroyed, that wealth and that greatness could no more return to England than they could ever again return to Venice, in the hands of men whose means of existence and facilities for education are—if a household test be any test at all—nearly one half below the lowest standard of the existing suffrage in our towns.
So much for the Bill itself. A word now as to the time in which we are called upon to pass it. The Home Secretary says he hopes there is to be no ignoble resort to the Fabian policy of delay, while at the same time he rejoices that there is to be a Committee of the House of Lords to consider whether that Fabian policy in England may not be entitled to receive the same praise that it received in Rome, where it was called, in classical expressions that have passed into proverbs, "The salvation of the State and the shield of the Commonwealth." And it does seem to me the height of inconsistency to concede a Committee of the other House of Parliament upon the very points that we are called upon to take for granted, so that this House may stamp its approval on the Bill simultaneously with the publication or evidence which may show that if we had waited for three months we should have found that we had been legislating for remote generations upon data on which the Home Secretary would not have filled up the humblest office in his public department, nor accepted a tenant on a seven years' lease for the smallest farm on his private estate. But even if no such Committee had been conceded, I would ask if there be not two very evident causes which render this special time peculiarly unfortunate for discarding a legislative body with which the nation has become familiar, and choosing another of which it can know nothing. Those causes are, first, the state of affairs abroad; secondly, the state of our finances at home. On the one side all the signs and omens that indicate storm, on the other the gulf of an enormous deficit which this Parliament first sanctions and widens, and then, like many a private 161 speculator, commits suicide rather than face the day of reckoning.
But let us first glance at the slate of affairs abroad. The Chancellor of the Duchy said in the debate before Easter, "Affairs abroad were critical when you (Lord Derby's Government) introduced a Reform Bill. War in Europe was then imminent; you did your best to prevent it, but that war soon broke out." Perfectly true; and, as an ad captandum argument addressed to a £6 constituency, the right hon. Baronet's answer would be very clever and telling. But addressed to this House, as at present constituted, it seems to me to be a poor resort to what schoolboys call the tu quoque kind of logic, and not quite worthy the right hon. Baronet's just reputation for ability and candour. The difference between the two periods of time is immense. That difference has become infinitely more marked since the commencement of the Session. The noble Lord who is at once the introducer of this Bill and the responsible Minister for Foreign Affairs has not only acknowledged but enforced that difference in speeches in the House and despatches to Foreign Ministers, which have been equally worthy of himself and faithful to the sentiment of the country; and I am sure there is not a loyal Gentleman on this side of the House who will not pardon and perhaps even sympathise with me when I say that looking towards the chief under whom I once served as a private soldier, I rejoice to think that here at least I can equally defend my country's honour and his renown. Well, then, will not the noble Secretary tell his colleague the Chancellor of the Duchy that the difference between the two periods of time—between the time when Lord Derby's Government introduced a Reform Bill, and the time in which we now are—is immense? In a war undertaken by France for the independence of Italy, there was nothing that threatened England; in the peace concluded by France, with the enlargement of her boundaries, can we say the same? We see before us now, as we saw then, a neighbour of gigantic power. He said then to us, "This power I will not use for one selfish object." We had no right to disbelieve him. Now we not only see the power but the use that is made of it; and events have shown that our neighbour can say one thing and mean another. You now know the character and conditions of the French Empire; you now know 162 that the peace of the world and the security of England hang on the nod of a single man, whose thoughts none of us can penetrate; whose ambition none of us can measure. At the stroke of his pen the existing geography of Europe may be changed as rapidly, as in his own country a republic that vied with the American, collapsed into a sovereignty as imperial as that of the Roman Cæsars—a sovereignty, like theirs, preserving the forms, while it destroys the substance of liberty; more dangerous to its neighbours than the ancient monarchies around it, because it is as little bound by their scruples, as it is by their treaties. It has the young blood of the revolution out of which it sprung; it inherits the licence and the force of the multitudes who deem themselves crowned in its coronation. Thus, it combines in a terrible union, the arts and necessities of a brilliant demagogue, with the armies and the objects of a military chief. Such a combination is rare; it has never hitherto occurred in the history of the world without threatening the landmarks of its neighbours, and woe to the nation that it finds unprepared to cope with its twofold power over the multitudes that it dazzles and the armies that it wields? And the danger is the greater because we deal with no vulgar tyrant, no petty dissimulator. The Emperor of the French has those high attributes of genius which render even his defects popular and majestic with the people that he governs. He has capacities for organization not inferior to those of his illustrious uncle, and he consolidates both his ambition and his intellect by an inflexible singleness of purpose, by a mixture of secrecy in design and promptitude in action, which give the vigour of Richelieu and the astuteness of Mazarin to the leader of 600,000 soldiers. Such are the character and conditions of the French Empire, involving nothing that would justify our taking one step either to court its hostility or forfeit its alliance, nothing that should make us depart from our position as an insular commercial population by seeking to excite a counter league among the Powers of the Continent before they themselves invoked our assistance, but involving much that requires unrelaxing vigilance as well as disciplined judgment on the part even less of Ministers than of the House of Commons. And, therefore, it does seem to me a wanton imprudence to discard at this moment a legislative body whose fidelity to English interests and 163 English honour has been proved and tested, which certainly cannot be called worn out and effeté, which is actually younger than most of the youngest Members among us, which has not spent thirty years in acquiring some familiar acquaintance with its arduous duties, for a raw and untried legislative body, chosen by the minimum of political experience to meet times that may require the maximum of political knowledge.
The Home Secretary says this transfer of political power will be a security against invasion, and that if Napoleon I. had not been so unpopular, he might have defied the armies that invaded his capital. What is meant by that argument and that historical illustration? Is the Queen of England unpopular? Has the nation shown that it requires a £6 constituency to teach it the virtue of self-defence? Or, if it be implied that the House of Commons needs amendment in one simple respect to render it more disposed and more resolved to resist an invader, I deny the ungrateful imputation. This poor House, as at present constituted, has borne us gallantly through a war which tasked all our national virtues, and revealed to us all our administrative defects. With an energy which had no signs of decrepitude, it has adapted our armaments to the improved science of the ago, and placed this country in a state of defence which will need steady patience and self-sacrifice to maintain. Are we sure that that patience and self-sacrifice will equally characterize the new constituency and their new representatives? No doubt we shall have Members just as anxious for what is called the honour of the country, who will make high-sounding speeches against truckling to absolute Sovereigns, and insist on the right of the House of Commons to become the garrulous confidant of every secret which Cabinets would keep to themselves. But will the new representatives of the new constituency be as provident of practical defences as they may be lavish of verbal provocations? Will they as readily submit to the taxation which is necessary to self-defence, so long as the world shall see wars commenced for the propagation of ideas, and peace concluded by the acquisition of domains? Sir, it is possible that they may possess all such requisite qualities in a higher degree than ourselves and our constituents; but at least there is a-doubt the other way, and, seeing that doubt, it would be no such great infelicity 164 if, at a juncture so critical, we could be contented to let well alone—if we could defer putting this great nation into the lottery of chance until we could see more distinctly the face of the goddess who presides at the wheel; until we could judge whether, in truth, we behold in her that Fortune who smiles upon peace and commerce, "dominam æquoris," or whether she be rather that more terrible deity,—Clavos trabales et cuneos manuGestans ahenâ "——whose attributes are calamity and war. But still more do I think it would have become this Parliament to remit to its successor a less formidable balance-sheet of deficit and revenue. I say nothing here against the Budget or the Treaty, on which I have refrained from all other opposition than that of a silent and, I will add, a reluctant vote; reluctant partly because of the sincere and, may I say in his absence, the affectionate admiration in which I hold not more the talents than the character of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; partly because though I doubt the prudence of both those measures, the Treaty and the Budget, I fully recognize the generous and enlightened hopes upon which, whatever the issue, they may rest their vindication. I say nothing, then, against the financial scheme of the Government; but I do say to this House, which has sanctioned that scheme by so large a majority, that if we, the Parliament of Lord Grey's Reform Bill, have been the trustees for this infant constituency, it would surely be well if we could render accounts to the ward whose year of attaining majority we so impatiently advance, without presenting to its earliest consideration a debt or deficiency of £10,000,000 or £12,000,000, which we leave its inexperience to settle without an effort on our part to lessen its embarrassment or to warn its councils. If we are to assemble this new tiers état it is a sinister coincidence with a very dark page in history that the appeal to numbers should be simultaneous with a deficit which we have not the happiness to supply, and problems in the science of taxation which we have not the courage to solve, But all this is for your consideration, the consideration of the Queen's responsible Advisers, and of that majority by whom the late Government were displaced, rather than for any exclusive or obstinate resistance on our part, which, if unavailing, would he obviously unwise.
165 The Chancellor of the Duchy somewhat scornfully asked us, "Why don't you divide?" and answered his own question in the same breath, "Because you know you would have a majority against you!" In return, I ask him, not scornfully, but in a sober appeal to his love of truth, "Granting the fact of that alleged majority, does it not contain Members more than enough to turn the scale in our favour if they voted according to the opinions they express in private?"
Now, it is because there is at present to be no division, because we would not, if possible, make that strict demarcation of parties which would not faithfully represent a real difference of opinions, that I hope I may, without presumption, solicit the serious reflection of those enlightened Reformers who do not desire change for the mere sake of change. I know, indeed, that there are some persons who believe that progress consists in always stopping on the road to alter the springs of the carriage in which we travel. I know that there are some who think that man was made for nothing better than to pass his whole existence in the ecstatic contemplation of interminable Reform Bills.
But let us flatter ourselves that such amiable enthusiasts are to be found chiefly out of doors, and not among us, to whom education and knowledge of the world may fairly be supposed to have given the ordinary attributes of common sense. We cannot disguise from ourselves that, whether we look at home or abroad, this is a somewhat critical moment in the destinies of our country, one in which we would rather summon the highest wisdom, the ripest experience we could obtain for our guidance, than merge such wisdom as we do possess, such experience as we have acquired, in the arbitration of men who have never been hitherto called upon to judge of questions so complicated and grave, and from whom, if you once appoint them, you can never have a court of appeal. I do not say that the reasons I have urged as to the state of Europe or as to our own financial deficit are reasons that the Government could openly put forward for withdrawing this Bill; but they are reasons which their own supporters might privately urge upon them, and they are reasons which might satisfy their own good sense and. justify them before the public if, having honourably fulfilled their pledge to introduce a Reform Bill, this Bill was withdrawn on the obvious and unanswerable ground that it has failed 166 to give general satisfaction. Nor do I consider that failure a serious reproach to this or to any Government. A Reform Bill, so easy to the theorist, is very difficult to the practical statesman. The hand of the true artist may well tremble when he applies the hammer and the chisel to the palladium of his country's laws. I do not presume to think that anything I can say will have the least influence upon the Government, but they would be wrong, indeed, if they did not respect what may be said, or if not said, what they know is thought, by their own temperate and tried supporters. If, however, you tell us that, be the Bill good or bad, you are resolved to persevere in it; that what we think its defects you hold to be its main principles; that you will not wait for the Report of the Committee you have conceded to the other House; that you will avail yourselves of the natural reluctance which the Members for boroughs may feel openly to declare against those new constituents to whom, next December, you would condemn them to appeal,—if that be the course which, as the Queen's advisers, you deem it your duty to pursue then I can only express a fervent wish that the result may justify your reversal of all the rules by which the statesmen, even of republics, would rather seek in similar time and circumstance to strengthen the hands of the executive than transfer to the wide circle of an unaccustomed multitude the nice and permanent adjustment of national finances, and the cautious preparation against perils which already alarm the boldest statesmen and menace the strongest thrones.
§ MR. MARSH
said, that in answer to the challenge of the right hon. Baronet he for one was not ashamed to avow in public that which he had stated in private, and therefore declared that he would not support the Bill in its present shape. The only doubt he entertained was whether or not something might be made of it in Committee; whether the franchise might not be made £8 instead of £6, and whether securities could not be obtained that persons who compounded for rates should not be allowed to vote unless they paid the full amount as their fellow-townsmen. This was the first time in the constitutional history of England that any attempt had ever been made to lower the franchise. By the Reform Act of 1832 the franchise was raised rather than lowered. The copyholder, the £20 leaseholder, and the £50 tenant-at-will in counties was of a higher 167 grade than the old 40s. freeholder, and the £10 householder in boroughs and cities were superior to the ordinary freemen and the potwallopers of former time. What would be the effect of lowering the franchise? In quiet times bribery and other influences might be brought to bear so as to make the Parliament conservative when Conservatism was not wanted; but in times of war and bad harvests, when want and misery prevailed, how would the £6 householders act then? He would ask sincere Liberals like himself, who earnestly desired substantial reforms, whether they expected anything liberal from a low franchise. Democracies might be anything, but they were never liberal. Would the mob who followed Lord G. Gordon have granted Catholic Emancipation or the repeal of the Test and Corporation Act. It was true that the Reform Bill of 1832, was, in a great measure, carried by pressure from without; but at Preston, where there was almost universal suffrage, they returned a Member who voted against that Bill. The same might be said of the potwallopers of Wooton Basset and other places. Then there was the Poor Law Amendment Act, which had not only conferred great benefits on the rich but also upon the poor man, by-raising his wages; but had that Measure been left to the democracy, it would never have been carried. As to the repeal of the corn laws, the people could well understand cheap bread, but they did not, and never would, understand what was free trade; and as to the admission of the Jews to that House, he believed that if the people of this country had been polled, that they would never have admitted the Jews. He did not at all impeach the virtue and qualities of the working man, but he knew that he was liable to be led away by agitators. There had not been many meetings in the country in favour of the Reform Bill; but there was one meeting held in the recess at which an orator of considerable talent had told his auditors that those armaments which had been forced upon that House by the voice of the people and public opinion were but a mere trick for the purpose of providing places for the scions of a grasping aristocracy. The orator knew his audience, and his statement told, for it was received with cheers. The people believed that wars were made to provide the lucrative appointment of a cornetcy and the luxury of a midshipman's mess for the scions of the aristocracy. If such statements were 168 made now and believed, what would be the case hereafter if this Bill passed? Allusion had been made by the right hon. Baronet opposite in his eloquent address, to the democracy of America, but he (Mr. Marsh) had had experience of a democracy far more extreme in its form. He had seen the working of democracy in Australia, and he was sure that every true friend of freedom must lament the present condition of those colonies. One of the worst features was the apathy of the better classes, who left all affairs in the hands of mere political adventurers. He might refer to the colonial newspapers, for the unsatisfactory working of the new constitutions in several of the Australian colonies. In Sydney the franchise was made the stepping stone to official and personal advantage by mere adventurers, the respectable merchants and other persons of education and station not interfering, it being next to impossible to induce one of them to go to the end of the street to vote. It was a law in New South Wales that a poll could not be demanded unless six electors joined in the demand, but at two recent elections only five persons were present, the hon. Member being in each case elected on a show of hands by five electors. In the Legislature of Victoria, the pet colony of the hon. Member for Bristol, (Mr. H. Berkeley) he found there had been not long since a debate upon a Motion that a sum of money should be appropriated out of the public revenues for the payment of Members, almost the last downward step of democracy, which led to a very disgraceful scene, but which was ultimately carried. Worse still, the fountain of justice was poisoned; magistrates were appointed from the lowest classes—persons wholly unfit for such situations—and thus the habitual reverence Englishmen had for law was weakened if not destroyed. How was the poor man to respect law administered in a way which was unjust; unscrupulous, and possibly venal? It had been suggested that trades' unions might have great influence at elections if a very low franchise were adopted. That was a mere speculation here, but unfortunately in Australia it was a fact. It had been determined in New South Wales that railways should be constructed on the foreign principle of concession—that was to say, by giving people certain lands and privileges for the formation of a railway. He did not say whether that principle was good or not; but the result was that the 169 trades unions immediately petitioned the Legislature to make railways with the public money, in order that employment might be given to their members; and in one night £3,000,000 of the public money was voted for the construction of railroads. In another case 300 persons, who said they were unemployed, went in procession to the Secretary for Lands and Works. Mr. Robinson, the Secretary, received them very kindly, and promised them every aid in securing employment for them. Then a deputation of the iron trade appealed to the Government in favour of the eight hours' movement; the ground for all this could not be that they wore in want of employment, while at the same time there was an advertisement in the papers offering 15s. a day to workmen for three months certain. That was the state of society to which they would come if they lowered the franchise. Since the Reform Bill of 1832, many important measures with regard to commerce and navigation had been passed, mainly by the exertions of the able men whom the commercial constituencies had returned to that House; but if the franchise were lowered, what would become of such men? No Members would be elected who would not promise to secure for the working classes ten hours' pay for eight hours' work. Candidates would have to give a promise, like Jack Straw, that a penny loaf should be sold for a halfpenny. Political economists had to a certain extent been formerly radicals, and had flown to democracy to assist them; but he would ask whether democracies were even good Political Economists, witness the restrictions on trade in France and America, and the nonsense mooted by the trades unions in England. Financial reformers also were inclined to a democracy, but were democracies ever thrifty when they were spending other people's money. They had only to look to France, America, or Australia, if we wished to know of what extravagance, corruption, and jobbery a democracy could be guilty. There were persons now engaged in what all must call a holy work, endeavouring to bring about a time when war might cease, and these men fled to democracy for support; they sought for peace where there was no peace. He questioned whether democracy was ever peaceful. Were the small democracies of Greece peaceful? Was not the great democracy of Rome aggressive? Look at the enormous armaments of France. Look at the acts of America Was not America always 170 quarrelling with a weak neighbour, and annexing some of its territory? How often within the last few years should we have quarrelled with the United States but for the dignity and good temper of John Bull! The Oregon Question, the Enlistment Bill, the outrage at Vancouver's Island, would most probably have occasioned war with America, if England had been a democracy. He firmly believed that the military aspect of France was mainly owing to democracy. The French naturally were not so warlike as ourselves. There would be no army there without the conscription. The conscription was the key-stone of the gigantic military system which kept the whole of Europe in hot water, and made us pay the income tax. In time of peace and parade we no doubt experienced some difficulty in enlisting soldiers, but the moment a Crimean war began, or an Indian mutiny broke out, we could get any number of soldiers. The contrast between the French conscript and the English recruit was very great. In England, when a man enlisted as a recruit, he went with his comrades to the depôt of the regiment singing "Cheer, boys, cheer!" or some such inspiriting ditty as that; but when a young French conscript left home to enter upon his military career he took a formal and solemn leave of his family, finishing the ceremony by kissing his grandmother. The conscription in France was popular, because it was supposed to have a tendency to raise wages, by withdrawing a large portion of the population from the labour market. It could not be contended that this Bill was required on the ground that at present the interests of the unrepresented poor man were uneared for in that House. In the case of the Factory Act and other similar measures, all the rules of Political Economy were broken, in order that the working man might be benefited. By the Health of Towns Act everything was done to promote the poor man's health. Again, take the question of taxation. What taxes did the poor man pay? He paid no income tax. Nothing that he wore was taxed in the slightest degree. Nothing that he ate, except a plum pudding, was taxed. In fact, taxation was struck off everything he consumed, except drinking and smoking; and with regard to the tax he paid on his porter, he believed more of it went to support a monopoly than to the revenue. The question of Reform would not be set at rest by passing the Bill. If the Bill were passed there would still be 171 continual Motions about the extension of the suffrage, and about the ballot-box, or some other Pandora's box, out of which nothing but evil would come. As to the county franchise, he should suggest that if it was to be fixed at £10, it should be in respect of rental on a house, irrespective of land. On the general question he would say, let them proceed in a spirit of constitutional conservatism and social and economical reform, and let them leave the franchise, as it was now, in the hands of the great middle classes, who, since the passing of the Reform Act, had sent men to Parliament intent on discharging their public duties with earnestness and zeal, and who, under Providence, had raised this country to a pitch of prosperity and happiness never enjoyed by any other nation in the world.
§ SIR JAMES FERGUSSON
said, he felt the disadvantage of following the right hon. Baronet who had recently addressed the House, who had comprehended, if not exhausted, all the arguments against the principle of the Bill. Indeed, were it not that he (Sir J. Fergusson) had a strong feeling that those to whom large constituencies had entrusted their representation ill that House ought not to be indifferent to a settlement of a question involving interests so varied and numerous as those involved in the measure then under consideration, he would not have troubled the House on that occasion. But he thought one advantage was derived from this fact, that no one had risen that evening to support the Bill or attempt to cope with the arguments adduced against it, and that advantage, in his opinion, was that a feeling was thus manifested to follow the excellent advice given by a noble Lord in "another place" to attempt to grapple with this subject not in a party spirit, or to seek a party triumph, but to consider calmly and with that honesty of purpose which ought on the subject more than any other to actuate their deliberations, whether it would he more expedient, during the present Session, to legislate on the question or postpone it. The subject was further simplified by the unity of sentiment which seemed to actuate moderate men of all parties. The noble Lord the Foreign Secretary both at Aberdeen and in that House had expressed sentiments which could not but meet the approbation of the majority of that House. He said the great object they should have in view was to give the franchise to those best fitted to exercise it, and that it was not so much the question 172 of numbers as of fitness that should guide them in their deliberation. He (Sir J. Fergusson), however, regretted to find that the Bill of the noble Lord was not framed in accordance with that opinion. The expressions used by the noble Lord in 1832 were still more apt, and if the principles he had then put forward were recognized in the present measure, the noble Lord would not have provoked the opposition which he now encountered—an opposition the more powerful from the circumstance of its not having been as yet embodied in a distinct Motion. The measure of 1832 had wrought a cure for that deep-seated corruption which had existed for some centuries in the State. It proceeded from the same cause as had made the Walpole administration unfortunately remarkable—namely, the corruption that was brought to bear upon Members who then constituted a majority, but who were not amenable to public opinion because they were not elected by large or important constituencies. All expenditure of the public money for the benefit of individuals rather than the public, had been every year since gradually checked and lessened. Now he was afraid that corruption was more possible, and likely to be carried on by a such a democratic change as was now proposed, than by any legislation under which the representation of the country would be placed in the hands of the few. Evidence was not wanted to show that in countries were democratic principles prevailed, there also prevailed a low tone of public morality and a lavish expenditure of the public money. It was a question with him, whether the proposed Bill would not open the door to more corruption than had been put an end to by the first Reform Act. In considering the Bill before the House, and whether or not it was applicable to the present period, they ought to ask whether it was calculated to satisfy the aspirations of political reformers, and to remove existing anomalies, and whether it fulfilled those promises which its author in his opening speech had held out as an argument in its favour. At present the upper and middle classes had a fair share, without seeking for anything like a monopoly in the representation of that House. The working classes also held an important share in the representation, and were every year gaining a much larger one. If the noble Lord had proceeded in the spirit of the measure of 1832, whilst extending the franchise to all those who 173 possessed higher qualifications than those who now enjoyed it, he should have opened the door to such members of the working classes as had the energy and disposition to raise themselves to it. If he were sincere in his aim he should have so framed the provisions of his Bill as to hold out to working men inducements to aspire to the possession of the franchise, and not reduce the qualification arbitrarily to include large numbers of them. There were two very important omissions in the Bill—such omissions as entitled the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) to say that he did not consider it a Reform Bill at all, but only a Bill for the extension of the franchise. In any Bill deserving of the name of a Reform Bill, there ought to be an attempt made to remove existing anomalies. It appeared to him, though his opinion might not be shared by many hon. Members on his (the Opposition) side of the House, that the most startling anomaly was the large number of representatives that were returned by very small constituencies, and the small number of Members returned for the larger constituencies. Surely this was an evil that demanded a remedy in every Reform Bill. Then, again, the inequalities of representation, which were closely allied to the other anomaly. Some additional Members were given to large towns in the most objectionable manner, leaving large and important minorities as little represented as they were before. Could anything be more unjust than to give two additional representatives to the West Riding of Yorkshire, for example, where 11,000 persons had voted at the last election for the defeated candidate? That minority would no doubt be considerably increased under the present Bill, and yet in all probability they would continue as unrepresented as before, he thought it was wilfully to disregard an opportunity for a beneficial change to propose to increase the injustice rather than to correct it.
Notice taken that Forty Members were not present. House counted; and Forty Members being found present—
§ SIR JAMES FERGUSSON
resumed: An hon. Member referred to the great inequality of the representation as regarded Scotland. That country occupied much less attention from the Government than it deserved. Scotland, in respect to its wealth and population, was entitled to at least seventy Members. By the present Bill she was only to get an additional three 174 or four seats, and therefore Scotland had great reason to object that the inequality of representation of which she complained was continued by this Bill. This was another proof of the grave omissions of the Bill. It would be folly to pass it, too, without some attempt to remove the scandal and reproach of the intimidation and corruption which now existed. The obstacles which existed to the exercise of the franchise he looked upon as a standing reproach to all sincere reformers. Whether it were intimidation or corruption, intimidation by oppression or otherwise, it seemed to be practised in a great many places with perfect impunity. Whilst the noble Lord was extending the franchise to the lower classes he ought to have provided some means by which they would be protected in the exercise of their privilege. Without such protection it was better that they should be left wholly unenfranchised. The revelations in the Committee rooms up stairs bad shown that corruption and intimidation was the canker which was eating into the root of our representative system. That evil he thought would, in a great measure, have been obviated by the proposition made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli)—namely, the distribution of voting papers. If that provision were carried many of the better class of voters would be able to exercise the privilege of the franchise who were now unwilling to run the risk of facing a riotous mob. Again, when the Bill proposed to admit to the franchise a large mass of the working classes of boroughs, upon what principle was that privilege to be denied to the same classes in counties? Was it because the same class of dwellers in towns were more educated, more enlightened, and more independent? He denied that this was so. Trades unions and associations were fully as tyrannical as any masters. The hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Black) had shown the wide-spread influence of those unions, but he could not understand how the hon. Gentleman, whilst holding the opinions he had expressed that evening, could have been induced to vote a short time since in favour of a Resolution affirming the opposite principle, and upon the success of which Resolution the Reform Bill of the late Government was refused a fair discussion. The only intelligible principle of the present Bill was that it gave the franchise to a certain number of persons; but it was most un- 175 just and impolitic to give to the working classes the power to override all other classes in a constituency. Therefore, his great objection to it was that while it extended the franchise by giving power to mere numbers, it failed to include classes much superior to those who lived in houses of £6 value. Members of the learned professions, officers of the army and navy, certificated schoolmasters, and other lodgers were all persons paying much higher rents than the house occupiers who were enfranchised. The residence in lodgings was the condition, and not the exception, of many hundreds of persons well qualified to exercise the franchise. He trusted that the House would not consent to this great injustice and anomaly being maintained. For whom would the working classes legislate if they were invested with supreme power? Could they be expected to legislate with large and enlightened views, and look beyond their own immediate interest? As the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Black) had pointed out, the 600,000 new electors might be ruled over by a small junta in London, exercising an influence throughout the entire country greater than that exercised by any legitimate authority. The manner in which that influence would be exercised, and what its effects would be in cases where that junta was interested in carrying out its own views, might readily be imagined by all who did not wish to ignore the experience of the past, or to disregard the laws upon which human society was regulated. He contended then that it was a false principle to extend the franchise merely on the standard of numbers. If the working classes were not fit to exercise it they ought not to have it, no matter what their numbers. On the other hand, if they were fit to exercise it, it was wrong to keep it from them, no matter how numerous they might be. But was it just that they should have the franchise conferred upon them without any test of education—even to the extent of requiring that the voter should possess the education given in a charity school, or that he should read? It had often struck him, when canvassing in English boroughs, that it was a great anomaly to see officers, graduates of universities, and other persons of education without a vote, while perfectly ignorant persons, and in many cases persons following disreputable occupations, had the franchise. Surely that was an anomaly which ought to be removed. There could be no doubt 176 that this Bill would indirectly confer great influence on individuals. He was informed, for example, that the representative of one of the metropolitan constituencies was the proprietor of 800 dwelling-houses, the occupants of which would all acquire votes, and that an eminent manufacturer would have a larger number of his workmen enfranchised than was set down in the returns of the noble Lord for the whole burgh in which he lived. This subject had, undoubtedly, become too serious to be dealt with for mere party purposes. He feared the Bill, as now framed, would be likely to lead, not to a settlement of the question, but to further agitation and disturbance. The most notorious agitators had given fair notice that this measure would be used as a stepping-stone to further reform. Had not the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) over and over again intimated that the time was coming when those to whom the franchise was to be extended under this Bill would be able to carry a real Reform Bill, which he did not consider this to be? What security had Parliament, then, that if the franchise was lowered a Bill of revolution, and not one of reform, would not at some future day be the result? He believed that there were no hon. Members on either side of the House who proposed to gain a triumph for their party by the discussion of this Bill. The question of reform had, in the minds of serious men, become far too important for party triumphs. It was said that it would be dangerous to postpone the Bill, because less quiet times might come. He was not insensible to the force of the argument; but he did not see how a Bill would enable them to meet more dangerous times which settled nothing and removed some of the safeguards which still existed. It was, no doubt, desirable to settle the question, but a little delay would be well repaid if they were able more deeply to probe the evils which existed, and to devise a more effectual cure. He would cordially support the enfranchisement of the élite of the working classes, but he thought there were less hazardous modes of accomplishing that object than that now proposed. Surely the fancy franchises might be turned to some account. Could not Parliament open the door to men of energy and who had a disposition to improve themselves? If a man desired to raise himself above his fellows by acquiring the exercise of the franchise, could not means be found which would enable him to obtain the object of his 177 desire? He trusted there were many Members of the House better qualified and with greater experience than himself, who would turn their attention to the introduction of such clauses into this Bill in its future stages. They had been told that the Government were not averse to having the Bill improved by the House. [Lord JOHN RUSSELL: Hear, hear!] He had stated on a former occasion that the simplicity of the Bill testified to the desire of the Government to carry it, and their sincerity of purpose would be still further shown if they left it to independent Members to clothe the skeleton which they had presented. The hon. Member for Birmingham had said that the present Bill must be accepted, as the House would not pass a larger measure. He did not agree with that idea. He hoped the House would render the measure larger, more Conservative, more just and equitable to all classes of the people, and, as a consequence, more likely to secure a permanent and beneficial settlement of the great question before them.
§ MR. DENMAN
said, he cordially approved the Bill in the main, and thought the Government had discharged their duty to the country in bringing it forward. He had listened with pleasure to the eloquent piece of declamation with which the right hon. Baronet the Member for Herts had favoured the House, but he confessed that he had been unable to detect in it anything in the nature of an argument against this Bill. They were not considering the state of things in France or America, but whether the present Bill was an improvement of the representation. It did not follow that because universal suffrage and the Ballot had produced great evils in the United States a £6 franchise in England was to prove equally mischievous. Unless a £6 franchise could be shown to be bad in itself there was no validity in such an argument. The House had also been asked not to legislate on the subject of the representation when things were in so critical a position both at home and abroad. When were things to be less critical than they were at the present moment? Such an excuse could always be found for not passing a Reform Bill. Reference had been made to the apathy which was said to prevail on the subject. The people were not apathetic, but—to use the words of Sydney Smith when the same argument was used in 1831—they were waiting with patience for the completion of the Bill, "because they knew it was in the hands of 178 men who did not mean to deceive them." The necessity for a further measure of reform was now admitted on all hands. Another observation of the same rev. gentleman was one well worthy of remark, that he did not expect the Bill of 1832 would settle the question for ever, but he did expect it would settle it for thirty or forty years, "which was an eternity in politics." That prophecy had proved not far from the mark. A great change had taken place since 1831, and the people were no longer the same people who were dealt with by the first Reform Bill. The number and circulation of newspapers had immensely increased of late years, proving that the people were better educated and possessed more political information. In 1831 the total number of stamps issued for newspapers was 35,198,160. In 1849, the last year for which he had a return, the number was 89,346,000. Again, the number of persons who between 1839 and 1857 signed the marriage registries with their marks instead of their names had diminished to the extent of 5 per cent in the case of males and 10 per cent in the case of females. In the Registrar-General's 20th Report, published in 1839, it was stated as follows:—" of the total number of persons married, of the men 72 per cent, and of the women 61 per cent, wrote their names; while 28 per cent of the men, and 39 per cent of the women, made their marks. This implies a great deficiency in the elementary education of the people; but indications of improvement appeared in 1847, and, as the persons married were educated some years ago, it is evident that the education of the people made a new start on the passing of the Reform Bill, and has since made considerable progress." Railways, although the argument had been sneered at, must, by the freedom of intercourse which they had produced, have tended greatly to enlighten and improve the moral status of the people. The argument applied with remarkable force in the case of the Post Office, when, in 1839, the number of letters conveyed was 82,000,000, and ten years later it had grown to 337,000,000, showing an increase amounting to 308 per cent. If they looked at the frugality and care which dictated the large deposits in savings banks, there was still less reason to entertain dread of the classes that were about to be enfranchised, and he hoped means would yet be found by which those who had turned their money to such good account would 179 be enabled to participate in the benefits of this Measure. In 1833 the number of depositors was 402,607, and the sums invested amounted to upwards of £12,000,000. In 1851 the depositors had increased to 966,000, and the investments to £25,000,000. By the latest accounts in 1858, there were 1,194,726 depositors of sums amounting in the aggregate to £31,533,736. If they were to judge merely by the contentment and general good behaviour of the people in the present day, it would be evident that they were no longer dealing with the same population as in 1833. They were reproached, it was true, with their tendency to combine in support of exorbitant demands; but had a strike of the same magnitude as that of a few months ago occurred in 1831–1832, would there not have been scenes of violence, dilapidation, and cruelty? His hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone had recently discussed with an advocate chosen by some workmen of his own borough, and in presence of a meeting of from 1,500 to 2,000 persons, points with reference to which his opinions had been unpalatable to the great bulk of his hearers. He (Mr. Denman) had been present on the occasion, and no discussion, even in that House, could possibly have been conducted with greater decorum, and he was informed that on all similar occasions, however unpalatable might be the truths which were uttered, and however calculated to give offence to persons who were not capable of appreciating a political argument, the working men behaved with equal propriety. And such were the men a portion of whom the Bill professed to enfranchise. In considering a Reform Bill, the object which it was sought to accomplish might he best defined by saying that it was an effort to secure a fair, adequate, and impartial representation of the best features of the English character. The present Bill divided itself into three heads, the first of which consisted in the redistribution of seats. He could not agree with the champion of reform as the hon. Member for Birmingham had been styled, that the pith and marrow of the Bill consisted in this redistribution according to the principle of population; for by the doctrine of mere numerical majorities in particular places they only obtained a representation of a certain state of feeling among a portion of the population, and they failed to include some of their most important and characteristic features. It was idle to talk of any 180 attempt at reform as final: all that could he done was to remove anomalies from time to time. Perhaps the most formidable attack which had been made upon the present Measure had preceded from the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Massey), but his arguments resolved themselves very much into the claim for an additional Member for Salford. That constituency, however, bore a close resemblance to Manchester, which would obtain an additional Member under the provisions of this Bill. The towns were merely separated by a stream, and he thought it mattered very little whether that Member were given to the constituency at one side of the bridge or at the other. In any case it was only a question for Committee. The hon. Member for Leeds approved of the Bill on several grounds, but among the rest because Leeds was to have an additional Member. But whilst on this subject be could not refrain from referring to the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone as to the borough of Tiverton. The hon. and learned Member had put forward Tiverton as a specimen of a rotten borough, and complained that Tiverton was to retain two Members, while Guildford, which had more electors, was to be cut off with one. Tiverton was a thriving place, continually increasing in population and prosperity. It was the staple of the lace manufacture of Devonshire, as it had been the staple of the woollen manufacture. On looking to the Returns it would be seen that there were forty-six boroughs with two Members which were inferior to Tiverton in the number of population, inhabited houses, rateable value, and payment of direct taxes—inferior, in fact, in all points except one, and that was the number of electors. The number of voters at Tiverton was 526, and when the Bill was carried the number would be increased by from 270 to 300 persons entitled (as he was assured by persons well qualified to judge, of whom he had made inquiry) to exercise the franchise from their ability to exercise it in an independent and satisfactory manner. It was, then, unfair to call it "a rotten borough." The House had also been informed that it was "a nursery, a cradle for statesmen." and a "harbour of refuge." As he did not call himself a statesman, he would say nothing about the "nursery for statesmen." As to its being "a harbour of refuge," he asked whether the borough which had given refuge to the Minister now at the head of Her Majesty's Government, when ostracised 181 by the University of Cambridge and by Hampshire, deserved to be spoken of with disrespect? It was not "rotten, "and any one who attempted to canvass the borough would find the electors determined, liberal, and unflinchingly independent. The very fact that for twenty-four years, through good and evil report, it had stuck firm to the noble Viscount at the head of the Government, of itself was sufficient to show that it had a character of its own—a part of the general character of the English people. The arguments advanced on the other side with regard to the county franchise had surprised him very much, for he could not understand the horror which the idea of a man in a country district, who lived in a £10 house, having a vote seemed to excite on the other side. He could see no reason why a man living in a £10 house at Croydon was not just as fit to have a vote as a man of the same class who lived at Guildford—and fitness, according to the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bucks, was the only test which ought to be applied. The arguments advanced against the reduction of the borough franchise wore founded entirely on assumptions of the vaguest character. All sorts of "fancy" phrases of opprobrium were applied to the proposition, and these did duty for argument against it. It had been called "mediæval," "homogeneous," a "brick and mortar" franchise; and he had been reminded of the saying of Hume, that "brains and not bricks" ought to be represented. The right hon. Gentleman opposite complained that a largo mass of persons identical in feelings and habits were to be thrust upon the present varied constituent body, but he denied altogether that the working class were as "homogeneous" as the right hon. Gentleman imagined. It was a mere assertion, entirely unwarranted by the experience of those who had been among them and knew what their feelings were on political topics. It was a mere assumption, utterly incapable of proof, to suppose that all occupiers of £6 houses were labouring men. He had made inquiries in his own borough, and he was informed by friends on whose authority he could depend that in point of fact there were as many and more persons of a totally different description—small shopkeepers and retired tradesmen—who would come in under a £6 qualification. Constituencies differed very much in their characteristics, and the Bill would be attended with different results in different localities. He would 182 venture to predict that one effect of the Bill would be to return bonâ fide representatives of the working classes, themselves working men, for some of the largo boroughs, instead of hon. Gentlemen of great power, eloquence, and high station, but all drawn from the same class as the rest of the House. He would say with the greatest confidence that it would be a happy day for England when that took place. One of the difficulties which they felt in the House of Commons when talking upon subjects closely affecting that class was, that the opinions of working men were filtered through Members who did not belong to them, and necessarily entertained different notions from those which prevailed among them. He believed that the number of working men who would be sent to Parliament would be very small, but the difficulty of which he had spoken would be removed, and there would be the further advantage that the members of that class would discover how erroneous were some of their opinions. They would find their level. Their fellows would be satisfied when their Members had been heard, and the evil power of the agitator would be greatly lessened by their being heard within the wails of the House of Commons. He concurred in the wish which had been expressed by the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone to see a lodger franchise. He hoped a fair franchise of that kind would be added, and he believed it would admit numbers in the metropolis who were quite equal, if not superior, to those who would now be admitted in other boroughs, where it was the fashion for every man to live in a separate house. He also believed that the lower orders would be more likely to look for their representatives among the aristocracy than the class which possessed the franchise now were Constituencies were, generally speaking, very glad to have a Lord for their representative, if they could get him, and this feeling would be, he believed, increased rather than diminished. His hon. and learned Friend seemed, the other night, to be apprehensive that there would be a great addition to the constituency in the metropolitan boroughs, and said that as there were 3,796 houses in St. Pancras alone, the landlords of which paid the taxes under the Compounding Acts, that by a very simple alteration as many persons as houses could obtain votes. The hon. and learned Member entirely forgot that these 3,796 houses were let out in floors to, perhaps, four times as many people, 183 and that it did not follow there were as many £6 tenants as houses. The number of houses was no test of the number of voters. There would be no vote without a separate occupation at a £6 yearly rent, and these tenants did not occupy from year to year, but from week to week. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Hertfordshire seemed to have fallen into the same error when he said that a man who paid 2s. 4d. a week occupied a tenement worth £6 a year. It must be a clear annual value of £6, and weekly tenants were charged a higher sum than the value, because of the uncertainty of the holding. He apprehended that the statistics of the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone were entirely fallacious, and if they were to attend to such objections they might never legislate at all on the subject. Therefore they must take a fair average statement, such as was furnished by the Return on the table. By the present Bill every person would have a vote in a borough who occupied, as owner or tenant, a tenement of the clear yearly value of not less than £6. He must have an exclusive occupation, and not an occupation as servant or lodger, whether of the whole or part of a house, and his qualification would likewise depend on residence for a certain period and on the payment of rates. Were not these safeguards to prevent a flitting and uncertain population from having the franchise under the Bill? The question was whether the £10 qualification should be reduced to £6, and every one must be guided to some extent by his own inquiries and experience. Under the £6 qualification as under the £10 qualification, there would, no doubt, be many undesirable persons in possession of the franchise; and it was said that brothel keepers would be enfranchised. But he was not aware that that was more likely to be the case under the £6 than under the £10 qualification. If one person in 10,000 were vile and base enough to keep a brothel, were all the honest, hardworking, intelligent men living in £6 tenements therefore to be deprived of the franchise? There were certain objections taken to the Bill, not on account of what it did, but on account of what it did not do; and he for one should most gladly consider any well-conceived scheme to bring within the franchise respectable lodgers paying a certain amount of rent. He believed that that would be a Conservative measure, in a good sense of the word, and that it would be beneficial in admitting working men to 184 the franchise who would not come under the £6 franchise. It was objected by some that the Bill was imperfect because it did not contain a provision for the introduction of vote by ballot. Now, he was not going to argue that question at any length; but he had no hesitation in stating that if he believed the men who would be admitted to the franchise by the measure would require the ballot he would not support the Motion then before the House. He was firmly convinced that, as a body, they did not want it, and that the great majority of them would be as independent as the Members of our existing constituency. He felt persuaded that the ballot would make voting secret in those cases in which it ought to be public, while it would leave voting public in those cases in which it was sought to render it secret. It would secure secrecy in those cases in which it was the interest of the community at large to know whether or not bribery and intimidation had been practised; but it would never prevent the agents of corruption from learning through wives, or children, or apprentices, or other persons, whether the parties they had bribed had voted according to their promises. That was one ground on which he opposed the ballot. He believed that the present Bill was a good one in its main provisions, and he could not, therefore, refuse to give to it his support. It was true that some of those who supported the Bill from his side of the House had dealt it very severe wounds. But that arose from the nature of the case. They were a Liberal party, and it was of the very nature of a Liberal party that there should be serious divisions among them as to the extent to which reform should be carried, while all were agreed on the necessity of some reform. There were many points on which he did not agree with the hon. Member for Birmingham—particularly on the question of the ballot; but on this Bill the hon. Member, he held, had acted a wise and patriotic part in not insisting on his own ulterior views. With regard to the speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite, they would have been just as applicable to the Bill of 1832 as they were to the present measure. The Bill was certainly not absolutely complete or even perfect, but was a skeleton measure on which it would be easy in Committee to graft clauses which would make it more effective. In the course of the debate he had been alluded to as having signed a memorial in favour of an edu- 185 cational franchise. It was true that he had done so, in common with the present Lord Chancellor and other eminent men, but though he retained the opinion he then expressed, there might be valid reasons why no such franchise was allowed to form part of the present measure. It was difficult, for example, to find any one who would be entitled to vote under an educational franchise, who would not also be entitled to vote under a £6, or at all events, under a lodger franchise, so that they would be establishing a cumbrous system for the benefit of only a small number of voters; and besides this, it would give an additional vote, in many instances, to people who had one, possibly more, already. He thought the Government had done wisely in not introducing what were called the fancy franchises, though he thought the lodger franchise was desirable. There was one suggestion, however, to which he hoped the Government would listen. A Member was to be given to the University of London, the graduates of which were scattered over the country, and were very anxious that they should be allowed to vote by a system of voting papers. In the older Universities the existing system was found to work the greatest inconvenience. At Cambridge, for instance, there were about 230 resident and about 4,500 non-resident Members of the Senate, many of whom were poor curates and persons who could often spare neither the time nor the money to go the University on the occasion of an election. It used to be the practice to pay the travelling expenses of such persons, but he hoped that a clause would be inserted in the Bill enabling the graduates of the London as well as those of all the other Universities to record their votes by voting papers. With regard to the Bill generally, he should give it his hearty support, believing, that, as Earl Grey said of the measure of 1832, in the best sense of the word, it would be Conservative of the constitution.
§ SIR JOHN WALSH
said, he might congratulate the hon. and learned Member who had just sat down on having made a good speech, and gallantly fought an up-hill battle in defence of the measure. But he thought he might still more congratulate the Government in having at length had the good fortune to find a supporter, and he trusted the noble Lord who had taken this Bill under his more special protection would, for the sake of human nature in general, and the character of public men in 186 particular, not be wanting in gratitude. To the hon. and learned Gentleman the noble Lord owed it that when he next sat in Cabinet Council, if it should happen—as it might possibly happen—that some of his colleagues were lukewarm or reluctant, the noble Lord might venture to assume a firmer and loftier tone, and say with proud consciousness to his colleagues, "I have got a supporter." He (Sir J. Walsh) had attended pretty closely to these long debates, and up to this time his mind was in a state of doubt and perplexity as to which side of the House he ought to award the prize of merit for having levelled the heaviest blows and inflicted the greatest damage on this measure. For some time he thought the hon. and learned Member for West Glocestershire (Mr. Rolt) had inflicted the heaviest hit in that able speech which he terminated by pronouncing the emphatic "No" to the question of the second reading—a monosyllable that would be re-echoed by himself (Sir J. Walsh) at the proper time. But soon after the House was addressed by another hon. and learned Member, only second in authority among them to the Speaker, and to that Gentleman, the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Massey), he was obliged—although he (Sir John Walsh) leaned with some degree of partiality to his own side of the House—toward the merit of having inflicted the greatest damage upon the Bill. So things went on with doubtful success till on Monday night they had the pleasure of hearing the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Hardy), whose powerful and able speech all must admit to be among the happiest bursts of modern Parliamentary eloquence. Still, with every wish to award the belt—to use the language of the day—to the hon. Member for Leominster, be was obliged to admit that it had been taken fairly out of his hon. Friend's grasp by the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Mr. James), who, although not dealing with so many points, contrived to give the Bill a mortal stab. He might take the opportunity of adverting to a circumstance connected with himself, which arose out of the hon. and learned Member's speech, who, mistaking a quotation from a little work which he (Sir J. Walsh) had given to the world for a statement of the right hon. Member for Droitwich, had referred to a conversation which had actually taken place, in which a constituent of the hon. and learned Gentleman, a Conservative, stated that he had withdrawn from political contests for ten 187 years because he had no chance of getting a Member sympathizing with his views. The hon. and learned Member for Marylebone said if there was a sulky elector in that borough there might also be another sulky elector in Droitwich, whom the right hon. Baronet did not represent. It was not likely that there was a sulky elector in Droitwich, considering the conciliatory manners and great abilities of the right hon. Gentleman who represented that borough. That was the point which he (Sir J. Walsh) was endeavouring to prove—the great injustice which these proposed alterations in constituencies inflicted by shutting out whole classes of opinions. In all boroughs there were some persons who were not represented; but in the large urban constituencies, especially in the new boroughs, the evil was much greater than in the old and smaller constituencies. In the case of Marylebone the Conservative elector had nowhere to look for consolation; if he went to Finsbury, or to the Tower Hamlets, or to Lambeth, he found his principles equally unrepresented, while the Liberal elector at Droitwich had only to drive a short distance to Bewdley, and there he would find a representative of his opinions. The objections which had been urged by the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone against the accuracy of the Returns which had been laid upon the table were directed against the very existence of the measure. The noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs based all his arguments upon them. He claimed for the Bill the character of being a sound, moderate, safe, and wholesome measure; but if the Returns were as inaccurate as had been stated, it possessed none of these characteristics, and all the noble Lord's arguments fell to the ground. If the hon. and learned Member's assertion that the Returns only represented half the number of voters that would be enfranchised were correct they had better wait till more excited times, when brickbats were flying about and bludgeons flourished, for they could not be in a worse position. No argument had made so strong an impression upon his own mind as that advanced by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Hertfordshire (Sir Bulwer Lytton), who had pointed out what was really the fact, that scarcely any houses could be found of a smaller rental than £6. A comfortable cottage for a labourer with a garden attached, even in the country, generally let for £6; and therefore it was 188 fair to assume that in towns of the second order of importance only any houses which was more than a cabin or hovel would obtain £6 rent. If this were so, this was really a household suffrage Bill under another name. It had also been stated by the hon. and learned Member for Tiverton (Mr. Denman) that a house let off in flats or chambers might give votes to three or four persons. Under all the circumstances, he thought that a primâ facie case at least had been made out against the accuracy of the Returns; and it was possible that, if the noble Lord was once convinced that the measure would enfranchise 400,000 instead of 200,000 persons, he might see the necessity of withdrawing the Bill, which had been founded upon such erroneous data, and had met with so few supporters. In the absence of all proof of the correctness of the Returns, it was fraught with the greatest risk to the character of the House to go on with this Bill. They ought first to ascertain the grounds on which they were about to legislate. If through the investigation, which was going on in "another place" before a highly competent Committee, it should turn out that all the data on which the Government founded their measure were erroneous, the House would be placed in a false and humiliating position. Nobody could suspect the noble Lord of double-dealing, but one might suppose he was preparing a quiet sort of feather-bed to tumble his Bill upon. When the measure reached the House of Lords it might be found that it had been based on what might be characterized as false pretences. The hon. Member for Bristol, an old Whig, and one of the noble Lord's oldest supporters, on Monday night attacked the Bill with a degree of virulence with which few measures were assailed in that House, and bitterly complained of the painful position in which it would place him towards his constituents. There was, in fact, only one party anxious to pass the Bill, and it was led by the hon. Member for Birmingham. But that party avowedly accepted it only as an instalment. They were too straightforward to practice dissimulation or reserve on that point. They did not profess to rest upon it for one moment as a final measure, but wished to make use of it for the purpose of obtaining something else. It was the mere prelude to the changes that were to follow. Well, what were the ulterior objects contemplated by those hon. Gentlemen? Why, the redistribution of seats, the ballot, the abolition 189 of the rate-paying clauses, and all those measures which, coupled with this great extension of the franchise, would have the effect of changing the character of the House and converting it into a purely democratic assembly. Those Gentlemen, indeed, said it ought to be a democratic assembly—that being the people's House it ought to represent the people, meaning by that term the numerical masses. Now, that might be quite consistent in those hon. Gentlemen; but how could those who, if any of these subversive measures were proposed, would unhesitatingly vote against them, reconcile it to their consciences to support a Bill avowedly viewed as the means of effecting such unconstitutional objects? The hon. and learned Gentleman who had made so elaborate and excellent a defence of Tiverton did not seem to see that if this Bill were carried Tiverton must go, if not this year, the next. Surely the hon. and learned Member's constituents had aright to claim from him an effort to secure them a much more prolonged political existence. In the very nature of things this measure, if passed, must bring on further changes in the constitution. He was one of those—now a rather select band—who had the advantage or disadvantage of a scat in the Parliament which carried the Reform Bill of 1832, and, as hon. Gentlemen might be aware, he was one of the most strenuous opponents of that measure. Not only so, but he had the honour, at the request of the late Sir Robert Peel, of moving its rejection; and that was one of the few acts of his public life of which he was particularly proud. The difference in the tone and temper of the debates then and now was very remarkable. The Conservatives always rested their objection to the first Reform Bill on the ground that it could never be a final measure. Mr. Croker, Sir Robert Peel, and all who took an active part against that great measure, maintained that so great a transfer of power as it involved would inevitably lead to further attacks on the Constitution, until it entirely assumed a democratic shape. They did not deny that there were defects, blots, and anomalies in the representation. They did not defend Gatton and Old Sarum in the abstract, but said that the system was so nice, delicate, and complicated that if they began to alter and wore not very moderate and careful they would destroy the balance of the Constitution and render still greater encroachments certain. That line of argu- 190 ment was controverted by all the advocates of the Reform Act, and every endeavour was made to overturn it. The noble Lord the Member for Loudon and most of his supporters contended that the comprehensive nature of their measure was the very guarantee for its permanence, and said they had given it a sweeping character precisely in order that it might be final. The greatest pains were taken to create the same impression throughout the country. The cry was then "The Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill." Those Gentlemen who at the time represented extreme opinions—the late Mr. Hume and the late Mr. O'Connell, and the Gentlemen associated with them—entirely suppressed all movements of a kind which could at all interfere with the passing of the Bill. There was then no question of ballot or of rate-paying clauses, nothing that could tend to interrupt the unanimity of Reformers. It was all "finality" then on that (the Ministerial) side of the House. But now there was no pretence to "finality." All the predictions which came from the Conservative side in 1832 had been confirmed by the progress of time; and he said now—as he said of the Bill of 1832—if this measure were carried the House would not be able to stop there. Hon. Members who sat below the gangway, and who held the fate of the Government in their hands dictated their own terms, and expected to do so still more in the next Parliament, said that the Bill could not and should not be final; that it was a miserable and incomplete measure; and a measure which put Gentlemen like the hon. Member for Bristol in a painful position of defection. That hon. Member when appealed to would not even give place to the Bill by postponing for a night his annual Motion on the Ballot, declaring that his measure was a much more important one than that, of the Government. He had no doubt that the hon. Member for Bristol would bring on his Motion next year, and if the Bill now before the House passed he firmly believed that the hon. Gentleman would carry it. The Bill of 1832 was brought forward by a powerful party as a final settlement, and as such it was at that time accepted by the country; but there was not a shadow of probability that the present measure would be final; it would not even occasion a pause in the agitation on the subject. If it passed into a law the hon. Member for Birmingham in September next would be starring it again 191 in the provinces, addressing crowded and excited audiences from platforms, pointing triumphantly to the success which had been achieved in Parliament during the Session, and to the equanimity with which he had borne all the rhetorical blows of every hon. Member who had had a "shy" at him. He doubted not that the hon. Member would be perfectly successful, and would again present himself to the House with all the prestige which success in dealing with enthusiastic and exciting masses always gave a man. Of all the topics adverted to during the debate there was none so remarkable as the fact that a Bill so universally repudiated was about to pass the second reading without a division. It might be thought the most natural and obvious proceeding that hon. Members on both sides, who had so unanimously opposed the whole principle of the Bill, should testify by their votes to the sincerity of the opinions maintained in their speeches. But the fact was, that hon. Gentlemen on both sides had so entangled themselves with hustings' declarations and professions that now they did not feel themselves at liberty to give expression to their own impressions and convictions. The country was now, in truth, considerably in advance of the Government on the question of Parliamentary Reform; public opinion was ebbing away from it, and leaving Her Majesty's Ministers stranded. That public opinion was being exhibited in the defection of almost all their tried supporters, and in articles in all the most liberal public journals and periodicals. It was no longer a popular question. It might be a popular question on a Birmingham platform, but the sound public feeling of the community at large was not represented there. So far from the Bill being popular in the country, he believed if it was rejected tomorrow that the feeling throughout England would be one of relief and satisfaction. He took leave of it with considerable trust and confidence that it was not destined to pass into a law, and believing it was the last expiring effort of a mischievous agitation to which the natural good sense of the country was opposed, he trusted that in the next Session they would have to congratulate themselves on a good deliverance.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
Sir, it is agreeable to be reminded by the hon. Baronet of a time when we were younger than we now are. The prophecies of ruin to the country in which he has indulged, and 192 the attempts to show that wild democracy is about to overspread the land, are the exact counterpart of those which I heard made thirty years ago. The hon. Baronet (Sir John Walsh) refers with satisfaction to the prophecies which he then uttered. I am glad to find that he is not in that position described by the poet, and that he beholds the flourishing state of the country without any of those feelings, which are supposed to be inspired by envy. But that the hon. Gentleman should have referred with satisfaction to the efforts he made to defeat the Bill of 1832, I own surprises me, for it is notorious that since the passing of that Bill the most useful measures of legislation have from time to time been adopted. Our municipal corporations have been subjected to legitimate popular control; the tithe question, which led to continual bickerings between the clergy and their congregations, has been satisfactorily settled and given place to harmony; we have utterly abolished slavery in the West Indies; we have completely altered the tenure of our Indian Empire; we have by the adoption of free-trade measures, which I am persuaded an unreformed Parliament would never have passed, increased the wealth of the country. I will not refer to statistical returns to show how unparalleled that increase has been, for they have been in the hands of everybody lately. But I say, whether with regard to manufactures, whether with regard to commerce, or whether with regard to shipping, there is no parallel to the present condition of the industry of the country; and while this has been going on, so far from being in a state most alarming to the governors of this country, which prevailed before the Reform Bill, there has been a change for the better, which in itself is a remarkable circumstance. In 1817 the Government of the day proposed the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act in consequence of the prevalence of dangerous conspiracies. In 1819 they proposed six different measures of severe coercion to suppress the people, who were then believed to be aiming at the destruction of the Crown and the established institutions of the country. In 1830, not long before the Reform Bill was introduced, any one who travelled through the country at night might have seen fires blazing in the stackyards and houses of the farmers, and the peasantry were in such a state of discontent and insubordination that the Government were kept in a state of perpetual apprehension. And what has 193 been the case since that time, especially during the last few years? Have there been disloyalty and conspiracy, or general discontent with the laws? On the contrary, the feeling—the general feeling—of the country has been that of loyalty and contentment; and the people, whether it be the artisans of our manufacturing cities, or whether it be the farmers and their labourers, have been enjoying a degree of comfort and prosperity not known to them before the passing of the Reform Bill. Therefore it was with surprise that I heard the hon. Baronet who spoke last pluming himself on his prophecies relative to the first Reform Bill. It seems that the hon. Baronet and others believed, at the time that Bill passed, that the settlement it made could not be final. But has that prophecy been fulfilled? Does the hon. Gentleman mean to say that we are even now, twenty-eight years after the passing of the Bill, again in the midst of agitation? for if we are not again in the midst of agitation, what becomes of the prophecy? And if we are again in the midst of agitation, what becomes of the statement about the total apathy of the country? The prophecy was wholly misplaced—it was a mistake; it has not been fulfilled, and is not likely to be fulfilled. Sir, in listening to this debate, while I have heard many expressions of alarm and much eloquent declamation, especially to-night, from the right hon. Baronet who spoke early in the evening; it has appeared to me very singular that the hon. Gentlemen who have spoken with so much dislike of this Bill, and with so much alarm, have never taken the pains to reconcile the provisions of the Bill with their alarm, or to show that their arguments followed naturally from the contents of the Bill. They seemed to think it sufficient to say that it is a Bill which admits the poorest classes of the community to the franchise, and, not only so, but that it gives into their hands the whole representation of the country. They have a perfect right to say so; but what I complain of is that not one of them attempted to prove it. We have had eloquent declarations to the effect that the poorest classes of the community will entirely overbear the other classes; that the institutions of the country will in some degree be impaired; that our finances will be injured, and that a great deal of mischief will be done; but what has never been attempted from the beginning of the debate till now is to show that we have 194 really done what is alleged against us—that we have either, in the first place proposed to put the power of voting into the hands of the poorest class of the community; or, secondly, that we have given the entire representation into their hands. Now, it is worth while to consider a little, which I shall endeavour to do, some of the facts connected with this point. The hon. Baronet (Sir John Walsh) seems to be persuaded of the accuracy of the statistics produced by the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Mr. Edwin James), and I cannot say I am surprised at it, for probably he has not examined the grounds on which they rest; but to any one who has looked into the returns made by the Poor Law officers and to the facts must see that the blunders made by the hon. and learned Gentleman were perfectly ludicrous. The hon. and learned Gentleman says that in the Tower Hamlets there are 67,000 persons who live in houses above the value of £10, and that there are only 28,000 who have the right of voting; and that in Liverpool there are 39,000 who live in houses above £10, and that only 18,000 have the right of voting. But if you pass this Bill you would suppose, from what the hon. and learned Gentleman says, that every one of these persons—the 39,000 in the Tower Hamlets and the 29,000 in Liverpool—will possess the franchise. Now, in order to have it happen that all these persons should immediately become voters, there must be some alteration in the state of the law which this Bill does not make. The law of registration that now exists is continued in the present Bill, the only exception, as I am reminded, being in the case of the assessed taxes. In all other respects the state of the law remains the same. There is a deduction of 50 per cent to be made for the persons living in £10 houses, and who do not enjoy the right of voting, and the reason is, that there are various restrictions by which the £10 franchise is bound and confined. If any Gentleman will take the pains to go through the returns from the largest boroughs, including the metropolitan boroughs, he will find what these restrictions are. In the first place, there are many men who at the time of registration—the end of July—have not been in occupation of their houses for a clear twelvemonth, and who therefore cannot be put on the register. Such a man may remain in the house for a year, but in the meantime if any election takes place he will have no right to vote. There are many 195 others who have not paid their rates—some from negligence, many from poverty, and immediately the registration takes place their names are struck off the roll. There is another class of a very numerous description whose rates are compounded for by the landlord. The landlord compounds because he then pays a diminished rate, but the consequence is that, the names of the occupiers not being in the rate-book, they are not included in the register. But it may be said, though it would be a most extraordinary thing to say, that though not above fifty in a hundred £10 householders have the right to vote, yet between £6 and £10 a much larger number will be placed on the roll. The very contrary, however will be the case. There will be fewer, for those living in houses between £6 and £10 are a poorer class of people. Many of them will not pay their rates, and they are much more likely to go from one town to another, and so be often changing their residences. All these causes of diminution were left out by the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone. He does not seem to have taken them at all into his consideration. It was our endeavour at the time we framed the Reform Act to give the right of voting to householders who might be said to represent the ancient right of voting. I heard the hon. and learned Member for Gloucestershire (Mr. Rolt)—to whom the hon. Baronet gave the palm of having struck the earliest blow at the Bill—I heard that hon. and learned Gentleman say that we were endeavouring still more to separate representation from property. There was once in this House a very learned Gentleman, as learned a person probably as the hon. and learned Gentleman, though that is saying a great deal—that Gentleman who was at the head of a famous Committee in this House—I mean Serjeant Glanville; and the report of that Committee was that wherever there was not a right of voting settled by law or charter of the place the common law right of England entitled every person paying scot-and-lot to vote at the election of Members of Parliament. Did Serjeant Glanville think that he was separating representation from property? Did he, or those who acted with him, believe that they were injuring property or its representation by what they so did? On the contrary, these men were the founders of the liberties of England. These were men who thoroughly understood our institutions, and they said that scot-and-lot was the common law right of this country. But not only 196 was this the plan of Serjeant Glanville two centuries ago, but at the end of the last century Earl Grey, in proposing a Reform Bill, proposed this plan, that 400 Members should be elected in different electoral divisions of the country by all householders paying scot-and-lot. Thus after so long a time the principle of householders paying scot-and-lot was acknowledged by the authority of Lord Grey. When we were engaged in framing the Reform Bill it seemed to us that there had been that change in the manners and habits of the country that it could not be said that every man paying scot-and-lot was entitled to the franchise—that great numbers of them were not substantial householders as householders were two centuries ago—that many of them were in a state of poverty, and more especially that the payment of scot-and-lot, which was the payment of the poor rate, taking place at the time of the election gave room to a great deal of abuse, the candidates generally paying the rates at that time. We therefore proposed that this household suffrage should be accompanied as of old by the obligation to pay poor rates, but that that obligation to pay poor rates should be ascertained at the time of the registration fixed in July, and that no person should be entitled to the franchise unless he occupied a house of the value of £10. Well, we some time afterwards—at least, I, as a Member of the Government—considered that there were many reasons why we should reduce the money-value of the franchise. In the first place, I think the Committee who framed the Reform Bill were very prudent and cautious not to place the franchise too low. We considered, as some hon. Gentlemen do now, that if we placed it too high it might not be very difficult, or at least not impossible, to reduce it; but if we fixed it too low that would be an error which could not easily be redressed. We therefore placed the franchise high in fixing £10 as the qualification—perhaps it was unreasonably high; but, in the next place, there had been a very considerable change in the condition of the householders of this country. By various measures that had been introduced they were placed in a state of greater comfort, education had made great progress, the taxes which immediately fell on them had been very much reduced. There were, therefore, persons with houses much under £10 who were entitled to the franchise by their property and intelligence. Now, Sir, I have heard 197 much said—indeed the greater part of this debate on the other side of the House has been conducted on the principle—that no extension of the franchise should be allowed to reach the working classes. [Cries of "No."] I think the representation generally has been that the working classes are entitled to all our respect, but they are very poor—the working classes are persons whose good qualities we exceedingly esteem, but they are very ignorant—the working classes deserve all our care and our affection, but they are very corrupt; and, being poor, ignorant, and corrupt, they are not entitled to the franchise. ["No, no."] Hon. Gentleman opposite say "No," but I really have heard one speech after another to this effect, and that speech which on this point most excited my surprise was that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member fur Buckinghamshire. The speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Whiteside) and many speeches since, have all gone to that point. They have none of them said that the working classes, having a very great share of the £10 franchise, ought to be more largely admitted to the right of voting—they did not propose an £8 or £7 franchise; but they objected to this particular franchise which docs introduce a great number of the working classes. Therefore I say—and I can come to no other conclusion, and that is a very serious conclusion to come to—that a spirit of distrust of the working classes as holding any portion of political power is apparent in the speeches of hon. Gentleman opposite. ["No, no."] Hon. Gentlemen again say "No;" but what is their proposal for the admission of the working classes? They allowed there might be some cities of refuge in which the working classes might be allowed to vote for Members. The hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Black) said that something of that kind might be allowed, although he did not tell us that Edinburgh was one of those places. It really behoves hon. Gentlemen to reconsider their speeches if this were not their meaning, but I say the whole impression I have derived from their speeches is, that you ought not to trust the franchise to the working classes, and that they ought not to be generally admitted to it. Well, let us look at what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bucks (Mr. Disraeli) said upon this question last year. After saying that the Bill they had introduced would admit about 500,000 persons to the franchise, speaking 198 on the 7th of June, 1859, on the subject of another Reform Bill which might have been introduced by Her Majesty's then Government, the right hon. Gentleman then said—The question of the borough franchise, however, must be dealt with, and it must be dealt with, too, with reference to the introduction of the working classes. We admit that that has been the opinion of Parliament, and that it has been the opinion of the country as shown by the hon. Gentlemen who have been returned to this House. We cannot be blind to that result. We do not wish to be blind to it. We have no prejudice against the proposition. All that we want is to assure ourselves that any measure that we bring forward is one required by the public necessities, and will be sanctioned by public approbation and support, and therefore we are perfectly prepared to deal with that question of the borough franchise and the introduction of the working classes by lowering the franchise in boroughs, and by acting in that direction with sincerity; because, as I ventured to observe in the debate upon our measure, if you intend to admit the working classes to the franchise by lowering the suffrage in boroughs, you must not keep the promise to the ear and break it to the hope."—3 Hansard, cliv., p. 139.I must say that the right hon. Gentleman went on to argue most fairly on the subject. He said you might contrive a franchise so that it would appear to allow a great admission of the working classes, but, in fact, rather restrict than extend the qualification. He said, if you deal with the question, deal with it fairly, and provide for the admission of the working classes. But, although that was his opinion last year—although, speaking with the confidence of the Earl of Derby and the whole Government he represented, as well as the great party of which he was the leader in this House, he laid it down as a substantial proposition that in any Reform Bill to be introduced you must have a reduction of the borough franchise, and by that reduction of the borough franchise he meant the admission of the working classes. Then I ask how is this to be done? Let hon. Gentlemen opposite, if they do not approve this £6 franchise, frame some other proposition by which the working classes would otherwise come in. Some gentlemen, indeed, have said what I remember I suggested in 1837, that the proof of frugality, by a considerable deposit in the savings bank, might form a claim to the franchise; but, although that would admit some, the numbers admitted would be so small it could not be said to be a substantial admission of the working classes to the franchise. What other propositions have they made, and in what other way do 199 they mean to admit the working classes? Depend on it, much as hon. Gentlemen have talked of the danger of passing this Bill, suppose their anticipations were realized and no such Bill as this were passed—if no other measure were introduced by which the working classes were to be admitted, whatever might be the feeling now, all that expectation which has endured for the last five or six years being then disappointed, the working classes considering themselves as the mark of stigma, as the objects of the distrust of this House, would be in a very different temper from that in which they have been for the last few years. Is there no danger in that. You will perhaps say, then here was no use in introducing a Bill to lower the £10 franchise, and alter the Reform Act. But successive Governments have proposed measures on this subject. The Government of which I had the honour to be the head, the Government of the Earl of Aberdeen, the Government of my noble Friend near me, and, lastly, the Government of the Earl of Derby, although they did not propose to alter the £10 franchise, have all introduced Bills on this subject of Reform, and I own it is my opinion that, if you have a Reform Bill without a reduction of the franchise, that will he more perilous than passing this Bill. Now, so far as the character of the working classes is concerned, it needs no eulogium from me, and I am of opinion that every hon. Gentleman in this House, although he may not wish that they should be the recipients of political power, will admit that so far as their conduct and intelligence are concerned they are deserving of the highest praise. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh seems, it is true, to have a great distrust of them, and contends that they are not good judges of difficult political questions. But let me remind my hon. Friend that one of the greatest political philosophers who ever wrote has said that it is remarkable that while persons in general are not good judges of political questions in the abstract, they are able to form a very correct opinion with regard to the men in whom it is desirable that their confidence should be placed. Suppose, for instance, that Mr. Huskisson had presented himself to the freemen of Liverpool, and had delivered a lecture on the bullion question, it is doubtful, although he was right in the views which he held on the subject, whether he would be able to get his audience to concur with him. The probability is, indeed, that they would have regarded his 200 views as unsound, and that it was expedient that paper money should be abundantly issued, as wages would rise in consequence; but when the question was put to them whether it was likely Mr. Huskisson would make a good representative for Liverpool they had no difficulty in replying in the affirmative, being aware of his eminent qualities, his persevering industry, and the general estimation in which he was hold. I admit, therefore, that if you seek to make people in general, be they £6 or £10, or even £20 householders, judges of difficult questions, cither of political economy or constitutional right, it is not improbable you may find that they will come to a wrong decision on those points; but if the question submitted to them be to whom they should intrust the privilege of being their representative, although they may sometimes make a bad choice, yet I believe they will, as a general rule, be found to make a good selection. I cannot, I may add, agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh in thinking the constituency of that city the most enlightened in the kingdom, because I am of opinion that there are few counties or boroughs in the country which would have rejected such a man as Lord Macaulay; but, be that as it may, there is another point connected with the working classes which is well worthy of attention. It is a common error to suppose that they are always in a state of discontent, cither with the institutions of the country or with the circumstances by which they are surrounded, and that they therefore seek to pull down to their own level those who are above them in station and wealth. For my own part, I believe that the poem of Burns called "The Twa Dogs" contains more philosophy on the subject than most of the speeches to which I have listened. After describing the poverty of the poor labourer in Scotland, he says,—But how it comes I never ken't it,They're maistly wonderful contented.Indeed I cannot help thinking that the working classes take things more as they come than either the upper or middle classes, and that they are, whether from a spirit of philosophy, or rather, as I believe, from a true Christian feeling, as a general rule more satisfied with their lot in life. It is not therefore, I maintain, because they are discontented that we ought to refuse them the privilege of exercising the franchise. I now come to another part of the subject—I allude to the allegations which have been over and over again made with- 201 out proof, that we are about to intrust to this class the whole representation of the country. In answer to that charge let me take the representation as proposed by the present Bill. It must be borne in mind that there are a great number of boroughs and also a great number of counties which send Members to this House, which are not at all likely to be swamped by that flood of £6 householders of which some hon. Members seem to be so apprehensive. On rererring to the Returns, I find that boroughs, having a population of 20,000 and upwards, return 137 Members; that those having from 20,000 to 8,000 return 109, and that boroughs having less than 8,000, return not less than 87. Taking also the smaller boroughs having a population of less than 1,000, I find that no fewer than 111 return 172 Members, which added, to the 159 Members which are returned for counties constitute a majority in the list of returns. No one, I may remark, can fairly contend that with regard to those smaller boroughs any very great change will be accomplished, or that property, so far as they are concerned, will be less adequately represented than at present; for there can be no doubt that in them property rather than population is the prevailing influence, whether that influence be exercised through the medium of the landlord or the neighbouring squires. I of course quite concur with those who think that property and intelligence, as well as population, should be represented; but if any one were to attempt to frame a scheme by which the three should each be duly represented, I believe he must fail in the endeavour. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir E. B. Lytton) who spoke with so much ability and eloquence this evening, referred to the proposition of Mr. Mills, to the effect that a man of a certain degree of intelligence should have five votes and that another of greater intelligence should have seven or eight votes, as the case might be, and the right hon. Gentleman very properly sot aside that plan as one which it was not desirable to adopt in this country. In the sentiments of the right hon. Gentleman on the subject I entirely concur. Mr. Fox said, and I believe with truth, that if the wisest man who ever lived were to set about framing a constitution he could not invent one which would be even of a tolerable character. Concurring in that view, I, for one, while I am a reformer, and while I am desirous to improve our present political system so as to ender it suited to the changing circum- 202 stances of the times, am prepared to stand by the old frame work of this constitution of the country. Hon. Gentlemen have been talking for so many nights of a new constitution that one might really think that this is a Bill to introduce a new constitution to that House. The Reform Bill of 1832 did so to a certain degree, because at one blow it struck off 157 seats. This Bill takes away twenty-five seats, and of these fifteen are taken from small county towns and given to counties. This is a change that makes very little alteration in the character of the representation. The general frame work of the representation will remain very much what it has been. Then we are asked, "But will you be able to stand there, and will not other changes be introduced?" For my part I think that the question leads to two very difficult problems, and I cannot say which is the more difficult. One is—Should we attempt to induce this House again to disfranchise a very large number of boroughs? Any one who tries that task would find, as we found in 1854, that those boroughs, being not merely nomination boroughs and having a certain number of electors, and often very independent electors, there would be such a resistance on the part of the representatives of those boroughs as, joined to the objections of the Conservative party, would create an opposition to such a proposition that would be irresistible. Then comes another question, on which the hon. Member for Birmingham and I very much differ. That question is, supposing you obtain the disfranchisement of sixty or seventy seats, as proposed in 1854, how are they to be distributed? We proposed, in 1854, that a great number—I think forty-seven or forty-eight—should be given to counties. We likewise proposed, both with regard to counties and cities, that where a third Member was given the minority should have the power of electing him. I am not going to argue that question; but that was a representation perfectly safe, and there was, at all events, in that proposition no excess in the line of democracy. But that would have caused a great struggle, and if any one should now propose to give those seats to the counties all those hon. Members who represent the great industrial centres of the north of England would propose that the greater proportion of those seats should he given to the towns. I do not wonder that they should make that proposal; but it would cause a very great struggle, and would be very difficult to carry. For these 203 reasons we have not attempted any such changes in the present Bill. But we do not disguise from ouselves that if this Bill should pass, there would remain, with regard to the greater proportion of the boroughs, and the whole of the counties, very much the representation that at present exists. With regard to the counties, we have not done in respect of the franchise much more than the House has already decided. The House of Commons has decided in favour of extending the right of voting for comities to houses of the yearly value of £10. I do not say whether that is exactly the best limit, but we found it already decided by the House, and no one will say that occupiers of £10 will form any very dangerous element in the representation of the country. I think, Sir, I have now shown that so far from giving the whole representation of the country into the hands of the poorer classes, the class of householders we propose to enfranchise are very much above the poorest class, inhabiting houses for which they pay rents and rates, and in which they have had certain length of residence. A proportion of these are not working men, and a great proportion of the inhabitant householders will be excluded from this Bill. With regard to Edinburgh, I have seen returns, from which it appears that the present constituency is about 8,000, and that by a Bill of this kind the number will be raised to 12,000. With regard to many places the increase will not be so large. In Edinburgh there will remain about 12,000 houses for which no votes will be given. I cannot conceive that this will be so dangerous an extension of the franchise as hon. Gentlemen on both sides think. If it is found that we were right in choosing that franchise for boroughs, let the House affirm it. If, on the contrary, hon. Members do not agree with us, let some variation be proposed. But I own I cannot look with any satisfaction upon the prospect of this House declining to legislate on this subject altogether. In Committee any new clauses can be proposed, and that question of the lodger franchise may be very fairly taken. But do not be induced now by the absence of agitation to suppose that you can take this question up at any time and settle it when you please. I have seen an exemplification of a similar faith on the part of this House, but in which they were cruelly disappointed. Every one thought that the Catholic question could be settled at anytime. It was thought very well that there 204 should be a majority of five one year in favour of the Catholics, and the next year a majority of four against their claims. But there came a time when the country was close on the borders of civil war, and when yielding the Catholic claims was in fact a capitulation to a superior force, and many of those benefits which Mr. Pitt desired to derive from the settlement of this question were entirely lost to the country in consequence of the delay. Well, it was thought that the Corn Laws could be settled in the same way. It was thought, too, that the first Reform Bill could be settled at any time, and the consequence was it was settled in the midst of agitation. Who will assure you that events not now foreseen and that cannot be foreseen, may not happen to make this a question most difficult to settle? I remember that at the time of the first Reform Bill there was some feeling—no great deal—in favour of reform, and that when I proposed that Manchester, Birmingham, and Leeds should have Members, that Motion was rejected by a considerable majority. This House and the Government of that day thought that they could settle any such claims at any time, and that Manchester, Birmingham, and Leeds might continue without Members for twenty or thirty years more. But there was a revolution in France that contributed, not to cause the opinion in favour of Parliamentary Reform, but the agitation on the subject, and which fed the flame of that agitation until it got to a dangerous height. If you put this Bill off to next year or the year after, for the sake of the census, who will tell us what the circumstances may be under which we shall have to legislate upon this question? ["Oh, oh!"] The hon. Member treats this suggestion with great ridicule and contempt, but I remember saying at a quiet time, in 1825—the metaphor was not a very good one, but it expressed my feeling—that "If Parliamentary Reform did not flow on with the majesty of the river it would come on you with the madness of the torrent." Then came the riots at Bristol, and the Castle at Nottingham was fired, and you began to think that the time had really come to settle this question. History will tell you, and may you reflect on that history, that it would have been better if, ten years before or five years before these events, the question of Reform had been settled. It would have been better if prudent measures had been taken, if the franchise had been gradually 205 enlarged, and if that measure of Reform had been carried by general consent, instead of being an object of such hostility and violent agitation. In the belief that we can now legislate safely on this question Her Majesty's Government has introduced this Reform Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire told, as I have already shown, you last year, that it was right to admit the working classes to the franchise; that you should not attempt to hold them in a state of dependence; that, with regard to them, you should not "keep the word of promise to the ear, and break it to the hope."
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
"The lowering of the suffrage must be done in a manner which satisfactorily and completely effects your object, and is at the same time consistent with maintaining the institutions of the country." Well, I say that we, in proposing to lower the suffrage, believe that we shall satisfactorily and completely effect our object; that is our opinion; the right hon. Gentleman has another way of maintaining the institutions of the country; but I think we are as well entitled to be thought anxious to maintain those institutions as the Earl of Derby or the right hon. Gentleman. We proposed the Reform Bill in 1831, and Earl Grey advised His Majesty to declare in the Speech from the Throne that a measure of Reform was proposed with regard to the House of Commons that would respect and preserve every portion of the Constitution. Was not that promise kept? I have shown how well it was kept. I have shown that the institutions of the country are stronger now than they were in 1831; does the right hon. Gentleman deny that? Then, if we have kept that promise and have maintained those institutions, examine this Bill; examine it as much as you please, and if you find anything dangerous in it, alter that part of the measure. But my belief is that the Bill will tend, like the previous Reform Bill has tended, to preserve our institutions; and this I think above all, that if you find there is a numerous class that has advanced in intelligence, wellbeing, and comfort, and is fitted to possess the electoral franchise, it is an injury, not so much 206 to them as to yourselves and the institutions of the country, if you exclude them from it. I remember well the homely and forcible expression of the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) last year; if you draw a "hard line," and will have a £10 franchise and nothing below it, I think the "ugly rush "he spoke of may very possibly come to pass. I hope, therefore, that you will, by enlarging the franchise, strengthen the institutions of the country, and, by admitting a larger class to the exercise of the suffrage, give those institutions an increased safety.
§ MR. BENTINCK moved the adjournment of the debate.
§ Debate further adjourned till Monday next.