Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [4th June],
That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair:" and which Amendment was, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in
order to add the words "in order to obtain a safe and effective Reform, it would be inexpedient and unjust to proceed further with the proposed Legislative Measure for the Representation of the People until the House has before it the results of the Census authorised by the Bill now under its consideration,
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
Sir, in rising to address the House on this occasion, I must say, in the first place, that it is impossible for Her Majesty's Government to accede to the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Rye (Mr. Mackinnon), and that I think it would be most inconvenient for the House itself, in deciding upon the question of his Reform Bill, to fix the time to which they would postpone it, or to commit themselves to any pledge that they would not entertain it at any period before the expiration of two or three years. I trust, therefore, that my hon. Friend will not persist in his Amendment. I have also a further statement to make to the House with respect to the position of this Bill; and in making it I beg to say that it is not my wish to excite any asperity of debate, or to refer more than in passing to the debate which took place the other night. In the debate of Thursday evening, my noble Friend at the head of the Government stated the case in favour of the Bill, and against delay, and I do not wish to abate a single word of what my noble Friend stated on that occasion; but having said thus much, it is not necessary that I should repeat any of the arguments then used on behalf of the Government. This, however, is apparent on the division, that there were 250 Members of this House who declared for the postponement of the Bill for this Session. I say for the postponement, because if we had taken a different line—if we had said, "we are determined to go on, not only with the English Bill, but also with the Scotch and Irish Bills," I think it could have been said as strenuously, and to my mind with much more reason, "You cannot expect to carry these three Bills; you might possibly have carried the English Bill; but if you attempt to carry the three Bills, it is obvious there will not be time for the performance of the work." The Government therefore—250 Members having voted in affirmation of the proposal for postponement—thought themselves bound seriously 227 to consider the position of the question, and to ask themselves what was their duty to the House and the country. I must say that I think that if we are not of opinion that we can succeed in carrying this Bill through both Houses of Parliament in the present Session, it would be idle, perhaps culpable, to go into Committee for some four or five days and then to make the delays which would arise in Committee the reason for abandoning the Bill. The position, then, is this—we have not yet got into Committee on the 11th of June—250 Members have voted for a postponement—and there are, moreover, some sixty or seventy Amendments to be proposed in Committee. It cannot be expected but that all those Amendments would be discussed. The question of the representation of the people in Parliament is a very large one, and the Bill being before the House there is certainly no Parliamentary objection to the introduction of any topic immediately connected with the representation. There could be no objection to the argument that one part of the system of representation bears upon others, to the argument that the redistribution of Members bears on the question of the franchise, nor to the introduction of other subjects which, though not contained in the Bill, belong to the question of the representation of the people. It would, therefore, be a matter which must take up considerable time. But if we were able to command all the time from the 11th of June to what may be presumed to be the usual time for the close of the Session, I should then say that it was our duty to proceed with the Bill, and, even at a late period, to propose it for the consideration of Parliament. But it happens that there are other questions which must be considered, and some of them must inter pose during the passage of this Bill through Committee. There are questions which have arisen very recently. There is the question with regard to the Supplies, which depends upon the news we have received from China, putting an end to all hope that our dispute with China can be settled without hostilities, and therefore requiring this House to consider what Supplies will be necessary for the operations of our army and navy now in the China seas, and what Ways and Means may be required for bringing those operations to a successful termination. There is the question also which my noble Friend mentioned the other night—the propositions which may arise out of the Report of the Com- 228 missioners on the National Defences. No one could pretend to say, that either with regard to the China war, or with regard to the defence of the country, it would be allowable to the Government to make themselves responsible for the postponement to another year, or even to a late period of the present Session, of questions of such urgency and importance. The question, then, being whether we should be able to go through Committee on the Bill in the course of the present Session, we came to the conclusion that it was not probable we should be able to go through Committee, and to obtain the assent of the House of Commons to the various clauses of the Bill, in the time usually devoted to the Session. There was this further objection—that if we were not able completely to carry the Bill into law, it would not be fair to ask the House of Commons to decide prematurely upon the amount of the county and borough franchise, thereby fettering their discretion and injuring the discussion of the question in another year. Supposing, then, that in the ordinary period of the Session it was not possible to carry the Bill through this House in such time as to send it up to the House of Lords for them to decide upon it, there arose this further question—whether by extraordinary means, whether by the unusual step of an adjournment instead of a prorogation, it would not be possible to carry this measure through. But I think it is evident that, important as the question is, there is not that immediate urgency with regard to it, and I may say that there is not that demand that it should be proceeded with without any delay or postponement, which would justify the Government in resorting to an extraordinary measure of that kind. Well, Sir, such being the case, we have came to the conclusion—which I will at once state to the House—that it is not our duty to attempt to proceed with the Bill in the present Session. But, in making that announcement, I think I should hardly be justified if I were not to refer to some questions which may be asked, perhaps to some reproaches that may he addressed to the Ministry. It may be said that it was not till the 4th of June that we asked the House to go into Committee, and that if we had pressed the Bill at an earlier period of the Session we should have been enabled to get a decision of the House on the provisions which it contained. But I must remind the House that in the first instance it was necessary that the usual Supplies 229 for the army and navy should be granted to the Crown, and at a very early period of the Session we brought forward measures with that object, which were not only of the utmost importance, but likewise of the greatest urgency. We had thought it our duty to conclude a commercial treaty with France, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the name of the Government, proposed various measures connected with that treaty largely affecting the finances of the country. According to all the views that have been usually entertained by the most competent authorities under any Government it would not have been right to postpone for an indefinite time questions of taxation and of duties of so important a character as those to which I refer. For the sake of the trade and industry of the country, and for the maintenance of the financial stability of the State, it was necessary to proceed with those measures without delay. They occupied a very considerable time; and I therefore felt myself compelled to postpone to as late a period as after Whitsuntide the proposal that we should go into Committee on this Bill. There are other questions with regard to the usual Supplies of the year which remain to be settled; the Army Votes, or many of them, are not at present agreed to. The whole of the Civil Service Estimates have likewise to be taken; and, though it be reasonable and necessary to ask for a Vote on account of them, it would not be reasonable to postpone beyond a very limited time—say the early part of July—the discussion on those Estimates. These questions would again have impeded the progress of the Bill, and would have made it necessary for us to ask for frequent delays. But, Sir, there is a subject, with regard to which I must say a few words further to the House, and that is as to the nature of the Bill which we have proposed. I do not now intend to discuss those matters which are merely points of detail, but I think it is necessary to state that the Government were persuaded, and are persuaded, that the reduction of the borough franchise is required for the future safety of the State and for the improvement of our representative system. Many years ago, when I had to consider this question, Mr. Hume, who was then a Member of this House, and who from the first day that the Reform Bill passed in 1831 always told me what he intended to do, urged, among various other arguments, that six out of every seven of the male 230 adults of this country were excluded from the franchise; and that among those who were so excluded were men whose intelligence and probity would fully entitle them to the enjoyment of that privilege. I will own that his arguments on that occasion made a great impression on my mind, and induced me to set on foot inquiries and to send persons into the country to ask who were excluded, and to ascertain the character of those working men who did not possess the franchise. The result of those inquiries convinced me that there were many of those men whose intelligence and integrity qualified them for the exercise of the right of voting. But if that be the case, then their exclusion—their continued exclusion, their perpetual exclusion—must weaken, while their admission cannot fail to strengthen the basis on which our representative institutions rest. I am not speaking now of any particular franchise; but I am persuaded more than ever I was before that there are great numbers of persons who would exercise that franchise well and worthily, and that it they were admitted the result would be favourable to the maintenance and increased vigour of our institutions. It is, therefore, our intention at the earliest period which may be in our power to introduce a Bill containing provisions for the reduction of the franchise. Nor, Sir, am I discouraged by seeing that more than once measures of this kind have been obliged to be postponed; for I have remarked that, while proposals for the advancement of Liberal principles in conformity with the opinions entertained by the majority of this House have been frequently delayed, yet the result has been that when once they have obtained the assent of Parliament they have remained permanently enrolled among the statutes of the realm, and become permanent institutions of the country. For a long time the sacramental test was required as a qualification for office. No one would now think of proposing that test. For a long time Roman Catholics were excluded from this House and from office by old penal enactments. Nobody would now think of excluding them on those grounds. Reform itself was for a long time opposed, and successfully opposed, in this House; but nobody would now contemplate the restoration of the boroughs which were disfranchised in 1831 and 1832. And in the same way I am convinced that, when a measure has passed this House enlarging the franchise and extending to persons who 231 are qualified to exercise it a participation in the right of voting for Members of this House, no one will think of disturbing that settlement or will attempt to curtail those privileges. It is, therefore, with the utmost confidence that I look forward to the renewal of a measure carrying these principles into effect. I do not wish now to do more than to ask my hon. Friend (Mr. Mackinnon) to withdraw his Motion, and when that step shall have been taken I shall move the discharge of the Order for going into Committee.
In answer to the application made to me by the noble Lord I can only say that I congratulate him, I congratulate the House, and I congratulate the country on the step he has taken. I look upon the proposal of my noble Friend as a very satisfactory settlement of this question; and I trust that the powerful mind and ample talents of the noble Lord will find ample occupation in conducting our diplomatic relations, in settling the affairs of Europe, and in promoting the prosperity of this country and of the world at large—better occupied than if this House had sat night after night till two o'clock in the morning, haggling about this question of the franchise. I will take the liberty of saying that, though with the feelings of Englishmen in general, the Members of this House may cordially enter into any question which they take up, and may vigorously defend their opinions on one side or the other, yet, when the contest is over, they will, I trust, as Englishmen, sink all remembrance of differences, and show themselves anxious to promote the business of the country by putting their shoulders to the wheel, and making up for the great loss of time which has been incurred by the discussions on this measure. Under the circumstances it is with great satisfaction that I withdraw the Motion of which I have given notice.
§ MR. DISRAELI
—Sir, I think Her Majesty's Government have taken a wise and not undignified course. It is much better, under the circumstances in which the House finds itself with regard to the progress of public business, that the Government should at once have made up their mind as to the course which they are to adopt, rather than have allowed this Bill to go into Committee, to waste more time, without any prospect of coming to a satisfactory result, preventing what I think we shall now find ourselves able to accomplish—the carrying on the business of the 232 House with great effect and great unanimity on both sides. I should not have wished for a moment to touch on the subject of the Bill now about to be withdrawn; but the noble Lord made an allusion, which I hardly like to pass without comment. The noble Lord, referring—as is his custom on such occasions—to the pedigree of progress, seemed to intimate that on this side of the House there could be no authentic claim to assist in it. But I beg the noble Lord and the House to remember that this Bill is withdrwn, not from any successful opposition, or from any opposition of any kind that has been offered to the real and bonâ fide Amendment of the representation of the people of England. This Bill has not advanced, because, unfortunately for the Government, they were this year encumbered with a great mass of public business of a character which rendered it utterly impossible, with any support, to have carried a Bill of this kind through the House. And as there have been complaints on both sides of the causes of delay, I may be permitted to observe that the real cause of this delay is, in fact, that the Government have undertaken other questions of such importance, of such magnitude, and encumbered with such details, that it was physically and morally impossible for them to carry the measure which they have now so wisely withdrawn. In the heat of debate imputations are sometimes made on both sides of the House without sufficient grounds; but I am persuaded that I am now speaking what is literally the state of the case, when I say that the Government have withdrawn this Bill because it is impossible for them to carry on the necessary and urgent business of the country with this measure still under our notice. The delays and impediments to the Bill have arisen from the Government having other engagements which rendered progress with the measure impossible. I am not now expressing any opinion as to the policy of the measure—I do not think this is the occasion on which to enter into any discussion of the kind—but in reference to the general principles laid down by the noble Lord the Member for the City of London as to the necessity of the representation being extended in a certain degree to the working classes, I beg to remind the noble Lord this really has not been the question of controversy. The question of controversy has been as to the means and method of effecting that exten- 233 sion. And, so far as I can read public opinion and watch the progress of intellectual investigation on this subject, I cannot help thinking that before this House can ever be called on again to consider it, it will, be found that there are more satisfactory modes of effecting that important object than by what I venture to call the coarse expedient of a degradation of the franchise. I would, therefore, state, on the part of Gentlemen on this side of the House, why we receive with perfect approbation the course which Her Majesty's Government has taken in regard to this measure. We recognize that in taking that course they have acted in a spirit of honour and propriety to the House. We give them credit for this, that in the course they have taken they have acted with a sincere desire for the public welfare and the advancement of the public interest. And I can assure Her Majesty's Government that they will receive from us every assistance in the prosecution of the public business which is now so urgent, and to which they have sacrificed—and especially the noble Lord at the head of Foreign Affairs—objects which were dear, and no doubt honourably dear, to them. I would now sit down had it not been my duty to ask the House for a moment to consider a personal question. If it had concerned myself solely, I should not have taken this opportunity of alluding to it; but it concerns the feelings of an hon. Gentleman, a Member of this House, and it relates also a subject which must be interesting to every Member of the House; and that is, the relation between the House generally and the individual who may from time to time be responsible for the chief conduct of its business. The other night, in the course of a debate, the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) made a statement, containing no matter offensive to myself, but he said, that after the last general election, I entered into a compact with some hon. Gentleman on this side of the House that I would introduce a Bill for the Reform of Parliament, including a £10 franchise for counties and a £6 franchise for boroughs. That statement was very freely circulated, but like many other statements I had not thought it necessary particularly to notice it. But as the hon. Member for Birmingham was then about to found an argument on it, I thought I would take the liberty, which I do not often take, of interrupting a speaker. I thought it was as much for his convenience as for myself and 234 for the rest of the House, and inform him at once that he was under a complete misapprehension. It appears that the hon. Member for Birmingham afterwards mentioned the name of an hon. Member of this House—the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Lindsay), who was not then present, and that hon. Gentleman is under an impression that I stated that I had not been in communication with him on the subject, and that the statements to that effect which had been circulated were utterly unfounded I should be glad at all times to remove a painful and unfounded impression from an hon. Gentleman's mind, but I hope the House will not consider it impertinent on my part, as this probably is the last evening we shall, for some time at least, speak on this subject of Parliamentary Reform, if for a few moments I touch briefly on this topic. The subject concerns the relations between the House generally and that individual who may be responsible for the chief conduct of its business. Now, when I had the honour of leading the business of this House, I considered that my time was at the service of any Gentleman on either side of the House, with reference to the conduct of business in this House, or with reference to any business that might concern his constituents; and I see many Gentlemen on the benches opposite who have communicated with me on those subjects, and I trust that they always received from me every attention and assistance in my power. Well, Sir, I received a letter, among others, requesting an interview, from the hon. Gentleman who now represents the port of Sunderland (Mr. Lindsay). He immediately had an appointment. The appointment was not a secret appointment. The hon. Gentleman came to me at Downing Street on a subject of the greatest importance. It referred to the war commenced between France and Austria, and to the important question of what was contraband of war. I gave the hon. Gentleman all the information and advice I could, and pointed out to him the means by which he could obtain assistance from the other Departments. Now it so happened that on that occasion a newspaper was lying on my table, which contained the official announcement—official I mean, in the Opposition sense—that a vote of want of confidence was about to be proposed against Her Majesty's then Government, on the ground that they were going to throw over the question of Parliamentary Deform, and that it must be a 235 point with all sincere Reformers to insist that a measure be brought forward immediately. The hon. Gentleman called my attention to this paragraph, which he had observed before; and he said for his part he did not agree with it, and that he did not believe that a vote of want of confidence was at all one that the House would sanction. He spoke to me—I cannot say it was a confidential interview—it involved just that degree of discretion and reserve which prevents a conversation on business from degenerating into gossip. I spoke to the hon. Gentleman as I speak to hon. Gentlemen every day in my life, when I meet them in the lobby, and I trust that that sort of free intercourse will always exist in this House, and that it will not be merely in theory that we are an assemblage of Gentlemen, but in practice also. I said to the hon. Gentleman, "If they mean that they are going to introduce a vote of want of confidence unless we bring forward a Reform Bill immediately, you may rely upon it we are not going to introduce a Reform measure immediately; but neither are we going to throw over the question of Reform." On a subsequent occasion the hon. Gentleman said to me, "I can assure you there is a feeling of great dissatisfaction on the part of many independent Members of the House, and if you will only repeat to me that you are not going to throw overboard the Reform question, but intend to deal with it bonâ fide, it would have a great effect on public opinion." And I then said, "It is totally impossible for me, or any Minister of the Crown, in private, to say what will be the policy of the Government; what that policy will be will be stated in Parliament, and in no other place. But you may rely upon it we shall not bring forward a Reform Bill this year; that we are not going to throw overboard the question, that we shall endeavour to deal with the question in a satisfactory manner. But so far as a general course is concerned, you may take it for granted that, before the Vote is taken, I, as the organ of the Government, shall generally describe our policy, and therefore no persons will be able to pretend that they are ignorant on the subject." And there the matter ended. I believe the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sunderland had confidence in what I stated; I believe that he wished the Government to remain in office, and I cannot see what imputation there is on his honour 236 in his having entertained that wish. While we were in office, though he voted for the Amendment of the noble Lord (Lord John Russell), yet he had been amongst those of the Liberal party on whose generous support I had been accustomed to rely. I have no hesitation in saying that the conduct of the hon. Member for Sunderland was perfectly Parliamentary, honourable, and straightforward. I mentioned that in a letter when the hon. Member was unjustly attacked last year.—That letter was seen only by a very few persons,—and as the matter has been brought before the notice of Parliament with so much misapprehension, I thought I would take this opportunity of saying these few words on the subject in order to set the matter right. I take it for granted that the feeling which influences the House is that which influences myself, and that it has no desire to place any barrier on that frank communication which ought to be permitted at all times between the leader of this House and its other Members on whatever side they may sit, or sanction as a rule that a leader, in receiving those opposed to him, should treat them with the utmost reserve. I have now placed fairly and frankly before you the real state of the case, and I think hon. Members will be of opinion that the course which I took in the matter I was justified in adopting, and that no imputation rests on the hon. Gentleman to whom I allude, for the share which he has had in the transaction.
§ MR. BRIGHT
—Sir, the right hon. Gentleman has thought it right to refer to a matter which I mentioned in a speech the other night; but the House, I think, will remember that I did not introduce that topic for the purpose of attacking the right hon. Gentleman in regard to it. My object was to show that the course of the right hon. Gentleman when he was a Minister of the Crown, and up to the time of his resignation of office, was in favour, according to his own language, of a large extension of the suffrage. He said that the Bill which he brought forward would introduce 500,000 new voters; and he afterwards said he would go even further than his Bill. Then I said it was understood that he had intimated to a Gentleman on this side of the House that he was willing to go as far as, in fact, the terms of the measure, the withdrawal of which we are now engaged in discussing, and I quoted from a speech of an hon. Gentleman of this House. In alluding to the subject, 237 I made no charge against the right hon. Gentleman at all; but I was simply endeavouring to show how consistent he had been up to a certain time in his views upon this question, and I can only lament that his conduct in the present Session has not been equally consistent. But leaving this, which after all is, perhaps, of not very great importance, I will, with the permission of the House, proceed to say a few words in reference to the announcement which has this evening been made by the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs—an announcement which probably has not taken all the House by surprise, and which will be received with very different feelings in different quarters of the House. Down here, I believe, and I hope in some other parts, it has been received with great regret. I do not rise, however, for the purpose of blaming the noble Lord for the course he has taken, or of complaining of the Government for the decision at which they have arrived in this matter; because I know very well that this House is not the best place in the world for getting through business, and especially if the business be one which one-half the House do not at all like. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) tells us to be oblivious of all that has been done during the past few weeks. He tells us that he and his friends have not offered any opposition to the passing of this Bill. Now, that, it seems to me, is a somewhat daring statement, considering what we have all heard and seen take place within these walls on the subject. The right hon. Gentleman and his party have, no doubt, exhibited no small degree of adroitness in the course which they have pursued with reference to the Bill; but there has been opposition upon their part to it nevertheless. It was, if I am not mistaken, a Member of the party opposite who first placed the notice on the paper with regard to the Census, with a view to get rid of the Bill. Afterwards, I admit, the hon. Member for Rye (Mr. Mackinnon)—who sits on this side, and who did not like to be defrauded of the privilege of performing, I will not say an act of wisdom, but an act which, having done something similar thirty years ago, he thought it right to be unwise enough to repeat—placed on the paper a notice to the same effect. The hon. Member for Berwick (Captain Gordon) was consequently hustled—I had almost said bullied, but that is not a proper word to be applied to him—or cajoled, or coaxed into withdrawing his 238 Motion. ["No, no!"] I think I am right in saying that the hon. Gentleman's Motion stood first; but it was in some way managed that the Amendment with respect to the taking of the Census should be brought forward by the hon. Member for Rye. Then hon. Gentlemen opposite came with all their forces to his support, and having done all the mischief they could, they now turn round and say, "This is not our work, but that of an hon. Gentleman on the Ministerial side of the House." Now, I should wish hon. Gentlemen to bear in mind that the hon. Member for Rye has never carried anything in this House up to the present moment. We recollect, indeed, that he took an active part in a discussion about opaque smoke some few years ago, but nothing came of it, and I am not sure that there was not a pretty general opinion in the House, when the hon. Gentleman put himself forward to oppose the present Bill, that the circumstance did add somewhat to the prospects of the measure passing into a law. But, to return to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bucks. I cannot help feeling that he imagines we must have forgotten what has taken place with reference to this question of Reform. He says the noble Lord spoke about the working classes, and extending the suffrage to them; and then he says, "I hold precisely the same views as those entertained by the noble Lord the Member for London as to the expediency of extending the franchise to the working classes; but then I do not wish to do it by means of the coarse and vulgar method of lowering the franchise to the scale of a £6 rental. I should propose some other mode of effecting what I admit to be a desirable object." The public, however, will judge whether the right hen. Gentleman and his friends are in earnest from the fact that from them, and certainly not from the supporters of the Bill, have proceeded those grievous, and unjust, and unfounded charges which have been made during the progress of these discussions against that portion of the population living in houses whose value is below £10. Notwithstanding, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman would have us believe that he stands on a par in regard to this question of Reform with the noble Lord the Member for London, we must come to the conclusion—a conclusion at which I am sure the public out of doors will also arrive—that there exists a wide gulf between the noble Lord, who expresses confidence in the working classes, 239 and the right hon. Gentleman and his followers, who contend that they represent poverty and passion, and that to hand over power to them would be to subject ourselves to the control of debauchery and crime. Now, I suppose as it is with the tree, the orchard, or the field, so it is with legislation, and that we must not expect more than a given harvest in a given season. It may be, also, that in this season we have shaken off all the fruit we can gather, and that we must rest satisfied with the things which we have accomplished. Looking back on the course of the Session—and I wish to say this because I think there are those out of doors who will be greatly dissatisfied with the announcement which has been made to-night, and many persons within the House who may be disposed to assail the Government for having made it—it will, I am sure, at once be admitted by every impartial person that it has not been a Session barren of results. It must not at the same time be supposed that I am not dissatisfied also with what has taken place this evening. I lament it as much as anybody; for there is, I believe, no one in this House who has given so much time of late years to this question, and I hoped—you may think, if you like, with a too ardent enthusiasm—that something might he done this year towards its settlement. To-night, therefore, when this hope is blighted, I have a right to say that I deplore as much as any man the adoption of the course which the Government have deemed it to be their duty to take. And if I do not assail them for having pursued that course it is simply because I feel it would be unjust to make an attack upon them for that for which they are not, in my opinion, entirely responsible, and to denounce them for not having accomplished an object which any other dozen Members in this House would find it equally difficult to attain. I was, however, observing that the present Session cannot be regarded as having produced no fruit. It has seen 400 obstacles to the free development of our industry, which at its commencement existed, struck out of the pages of the tariff. So important an event would, if it had taken place only a few years ago, have been sufficient in itself to mark a Session as one in which much had been achieved, and almost to immortalize the reputation of a Minster. But we have had some more work done; we have had a Treaty concluded with France—which no 240 doubt hon. Gentlemen opposite will tell us by and by they never said a syllable against—which those who observe what is passing cannot fail to perceive there have been steady endeavours on the part of some persons in this House, and by some in "another place," and by one influential organ at least of the public press to disparage; it being contended that there is no good faith to be expected with respect to the mode in which it is to be carried out on the part of France; that everything connected with it has been a series of blunders, and that all that enthusiasm which found expression, both in the House and in the country, with respect to it at the opening of the Session has been entirely thrown away. Now, I would beg to refer those who advance such opinions to the authority of Gentlemen who have recently returned from Paris—I could refer them even to higher authority—to show that nothing can exceed the good faith of the French Government in their endeavour to carry into effect the purposes for which the Treaty was framed. I have the best reason for believing that the duties fixed on under its operation will be below the maximum stated in the instrument itself; and I am assured on the authority of one than whom there is nobody more competent to form a reliable opinion on the point, that the necessary details being settled the result of the Treaty will, in all probability, be such as to exceed the sanguine expectations with which it was at the outset of the Session received. But, passing from the question of the Treaty—I should like to know whether hon. Gentlemen opposite are disposed to consider the occurrence of this evening a triumph or not. I do not think it appears to have excited among them much exultation. There are many of them who in all probability would prefer that this Bill had been fairly discussed, and its main provisions passed into a law. I believe that there are very few of them who have been much affected by the exaggerated statements which have been made with respect to the terrible consequences which it is said to be calculated to entail, and I suspect that between this and next winter the great majority will have learned to regret that a measure so moderate has not found its way into the statute book. The Bill is, I contend, one of a very moderate and a very reasonable character, and when you who sit on the benches opposite heard it introduced you were of the 241 same opinion. I will undertake to say that you have been emboldened in your opposition to it mainly by the conduct of a few hon. Members on this side of the House. Now, I am told there are Gentlemen sitting on these benches who think the time is come when we ought to have what is called "a sound Whig Government;" that what they regard as the "foreign element" should be got rid of—meaning, of course, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. Well, I may perhaps be permitted to give hon. Gentlemen who entertain those views a piece of information, and it this,—that that which they call "a sound Whig Government" modelled after the old fashion, is just as much a thing of the past as the dodo. You may say there are some remains of it, as Professor Owen knows something of the head and foot of a dodo, and what it was like; but in my opinion, you will never see that sort of Government again in this country. But if we are to sit on one side, calling ourselves the Liberal party, the sooner, I think, we get rid of these old party distinctions the better, and endeavour in the conduct of affairs in Parliament, in connection with our principles, to act rather a more unanimous part, and act in a more ingenuous, a more open and a fairer manner to the Government than has been done this Session by some calling themselves followers of the Whig party. I say, then, although hon. Gentlemen opposite do not appear to exult, I think I have reason to exult that this Bill has been withdrawn, rather than it should have gone into Committee to be mangled so that its authors would hardly have known it, to settle this question in a manner that would render it of no advantage to the country. I have said over and over again that it was not worth while to deal with this question, unless you do so much as will make a substantial change in a direction which so many of your countrymen wish, and such as shall be felt to leave one without any strong excuse for asking you at an early period to proceed further. That is my policy with regard to this question. I think it a wise policy. I am, therefore, glad that the Government propose to withdraw the Bill, rather than go into Committee and submit the £6 franchise to be made into an £8 franchise, which would have been one of the most childish, and, to the great body of the working classes, to whom you are making some advances, one of the 242 most pernicious and insulting measures Parliament could possibly adopt. The noble Lord the Member for the City has referred to questions coming on; there is one question to which he has not referred, and that is the one which affects the conduct of this House with regard to its control over the taxation of the country. Now, I hope, if the House of Commons determines that this Session it will have no measure of Reform for itself, that, at least, it will not allow anything to be done that shall impair its powers and alter its inherent right over the taxation and finances of this kingdom. I hope that, if we are about to shut out the people, we shall not, at the same time, consent to let in the Peers. I hope the course you take with regard to this Bill of Reform is not an indication that you are willing, in any degree, to let down the character and power of this House with regard to those questions on which the public have looked up to us for generations and centuries more anxiously than to either of the other branches of the State. The noble Lord, as I understand, has given a pledge that at an early period—whether in November or in February—at the first time Parliament shall meet, the Government of which he is a Member will again introduce a Bill with a view to amend the Representation of the People. Now, I am of opinion that this determination and the measures of this Session and the discussion which has taken place on this question will throughout the country produce much healthy action. I hope that during the winter—between this time and the time when we shall meet again—such of us as may meet again—that there will be expressed throughout the country a firm and wise opinion with regard to the course Parliament should take in the coming Session. Why should not hon. Gentlemen opposite entertain more liberal views? [A laugh.] An hon. Gentleman near the gangway laughs. If this were the time I could easily show him that all the legislation of which we have reason to be proud—during his lifetime and mine—has been legislation according to what we term Liberal views—has been opposed by the party with which he is connected—["No, no!"]—has been supported uniformly by the party with which I have been connected. Well, if it be so in the past, why not in the future? We may be as right on these questions as on the previous questions. Look at the condition of our people. That great measure which the Chancellor of the Exche- 243 quer has passed this Session—the reform of the tariff—is but a portion of the great work which has been going on for twenty years; and yet I will undertake to say that that great work, completed within twenty years, has done more for the people and poor of England, in giving them the comforts of life and some taste for independence—than all the party contests, party triumphs, bloody wars, extensive conquests, martial renown, and historical glories, you have had for a century past. Now, what I want is this, that the House should always consider the great body of the people. The Peers, the rich, the powerful, can always take care of themselves, and never suffer, unless it may be for a time in great political convulsions, which we all hope may never again visit our country. Look at the condition of the great body of the people—their intelligence, their morality, their independence—and you find written in characters which you cannot mistake the real truth with regard to the Government under which they have lived. I say, then, that the course which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken is one laden with blessings to the great body of the people; and if the House of Commons would at the same time, whilst so much good physically was being conferred upon them—if in the same Session it could have shown its confidence in them by offering them this moderate extension of the suffrage which the noble Lord proposed—I think it would have been said in after times that there had been no Session of the Parliament of England comparable to that of 1860 for the good it had given the people and for the binding effect which its legislation had had between the great body of the people and the three estates of the realm.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that the proposition of the noble Lord to withdraw the Bill was a wise and judicious one, inasmuch as it was impossible that it should be passed this Session. But with regard to the Treaty with France, the hon. Member for Birmingham would excuse him if, when he talked of the blessings which that treaty had conferred on the working classes, he (Mr. Newdegate) reminded him that in a large district of the county which he had the honour to represent, the people were suffering the deepest distress in consequence of that treaty. There were at the present moment 10,000 people out of employment in Coventry alone; and he should have thought that Coventry was not so very 244 far from Birmingham that the hon. Member could be ignorant of that fact. The hon. Member had referred to favourable prognostications, and communications which he had received from France on the subject of the treaty; but he (Mr. Newdegate) did not share the bright anticipations of the hon. Member as to the result of the negotiations. He also had had communications, which informed him that the stipulations with respect to the treaty were such that the Government of Prance could not injustice to the expectations of the people of Franco reduce the duties to such a point as would allow a competition on the part of the English silk trade in the markets of France with a fair chance of an adequate profit. With regard to the Reform Bill, he entirely approved of the course which had been taken by the hon. Member on the side of the House on which he sat in not dividing against the second reading of the Bill, but in subjecting its provisions to a sifting debate. He was in favour of Reform, or rather a re-adjustment. But he (Mr. Newdegate) did not stand committed to the details of the Bill, notwithstanding his respect for the high character of the noble Lord who proposed it. He wished to take this opportunity of stating to the House that he had found from further inquiry that he had been misled as to the returns which purported to give the increase that the reduction of the qualification for county voters from £50 to £10 would effect. He would not trouble the House by stating how he had been misled, but would beg hon. Members to understand that the details of the calculation as to the increase of county voters by the operation of the Bill which he used on a former occasion were incorrect; but he begged the House also to understand that the further statement, which he made on the occasion to which he referred, showing the gross disproportion between the representation of the majority of the people who lived in the counties (that is, beyond the limits of the boroughs), as compared with the representation allotted to the borough population under the present state of the law, was, and is, perfectly accurate. He would shortly state the main objection which he entertained to the Bill. If the county franchise were to be reduced to £10, and the county constituencies were thus placed in the position which the borough constituencies now occupied, he insisted on a larger allocation of Members to the counties. The hon. Member for Birmingham had 245 said that the proposal for the better equalization of the representation was of a democratic character, and then, oddly enough, he had declared that the House of Lords represented the counties of England; but the hon. Member seemed quite taken aback when the House of Lords took him at his word, and, in some degree, exercised that right of representation in the matter of taxation. Who now so furious as the hon. Member? What did this show but a determination on his part to keep the majority of the people inadequately represented? The hon. Member for Birmingham taunted the hon. Member for Rye (Mr. Mackinnon) that he had never carried a measure in this House. But the hon. Member for Rye had never proposed a Reform Bill, circulated it through the country, prepared maps and plans in explanation of it, and, after all, feared to submit it to the consideration of the House. And why did the hon. Member (Mr. Bright) fear? Because he sought to perpetuate that inequality of representation between the counties and boroughs which was established by the Reform Bill of 1832—because he rather sought to aggravate that inequality, that he might strengthen the party he had already formed in this House. The hon. Member lately stated in the country this palpable truth, that the Reform Bill had admitted 100 Members to the House, of whom he was the leader, and through whom he managed to exercise the patronage of the Crown in the appointment of Her Majesty's Ministers. They had had an instance to-night of his dictatorial tone; to-night he had declared that the Government must retain its present form or perish. His belief was that the hon. Gentleman did not regret the withdrawal of this Bill, because he saw that if they had gone into Committee, the question would have been raised which the hon. Member sought to avoid, whether it was not just and constitutional, whether it was not in accordance with the Republican elements in our Constitution, that the majority of the population of the country—the people of the counties—should not have a larger representation than 129, while the minority had the unreasonable number of 354. His object in rising now was to call the attention of the House to this subject, and to declare that if the county franchise were reduced on any future occasion, he would never rest satisfied till that inadequacy were amended.
§ MR. EDWIN JAMES
said, that the hapless offspring of the noble Lord the 246 Member for London having been so peacefully consigned to its last resting-place, he hardly liked to interpose for a moment upon the harmony of the funeral party. He must, however, say that the speech of the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, though tinged with the most charming touch of satire, contrasted gracefully and strongly with the speech delivered by the noble Lord at the head of the Government on the occasion of the debate on the Resolution which led to the defeat of the Reform Bill introduced by the late Ministry. On that occasion the noble Lord declared that the then Government should neither withdraw their Reform Bill nor should they resign; but that, to use a sporting metaphor, they were bound to go on with their measure, having taken office "with all its engagements." The right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, on the other hand, respectfully leant over the grave of the departed, and paid "the tribute of a passing tear." If that Bill ever required an epitaph there were two lines among the Elegant Extracts familiar to his boyhood, which would forcibly illustrate its unhappy fate:—If so soon as this I'm done for,I wonders what I was begun for.That would form a very apt inscription In Memoriam of the innocent whose existence had been so chequered and so brief. The noble Lord was warned early in the Session by the right hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Horsman), that delay in the introduction of the measure would lead to the result which had just been witnessed. Her Majesty's Government had incurred a very serious responsibility by the withdrawal of the Bill. It was brought forward in such an incomplete shape as to be the mere skeleton of a great constitutional measure, and it was not fair to charge the Opposition with obstructing its progress because they had given notice of many proposals that would have been real amendments. He himself asked, on the introduction of the Bill, whether it was intended to accompany the Bill with any system of registration; and the cold, bureaucratic, Whigocratic answer he received from the Home Secretary was that "at the proper time Her Majesty's Government would introduce some measure for establishing a mode of registration." He had felt sure the measure could not pass from the want of such a provision; and, although the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster had accused the hon. Member for Ayrshire 247 (Sir James Fergusson) of ignorance of constitutional law; it was nevertheless the fact that if the Bill had passed in August there could have been no election till the year 1862. And if, from circumstances over which nobody could have control, a dissolution had happened in the Spring, it would have turned out that twenty-five seats would have been disfranchised by the measure, and they would have had a Parliament without a single Member to fill the new seats. He did not accuse the Government of insincerity, but they had certainly failed to provide the requisite constitutional machinery for the passing of a Reform Bill this Session. That was not the case in the Bill introduced by the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire. That Bill, as he (Mr. James) formerly pointed out, very properly contained clauses for effecting the registration of the new constituencies in the event of a dissolution following on the passing of his measure. The Government, however, took no notice of that suggestion, and when he and others called their attention to it, sneered at it—he did not mean uncourteously. Members of the Opposition had been charged with delay because they had supported the Motion for deferring the measure until the new Census had been taken; but the question of the Census had been made a material element in regard to the disfranchisement of seats, because the noble Lord, instead of adopting the number of electors for his basis, as he did in his measures of 1852 and 1854, had taken the basis of population. The noble Lord the Member for the City had accused him of making statements on the subject of population that were "ludicrous." If they were ludicrous, why had not some Member of the Government endeavoured to contradict them? The Bill of the noble Lord was unworthy of the name, when he left Salford, with its 7,000 or 8,000 electors, in no better position in the representative system than insignificant places like Calne or Portarlington. Such a proposal had no pretensions to be deemed a real reform. He repeated that the Government had incurred a serious responsibility by withdrawing their Bill. If they had not shown an apathy and indifference which discouraged those who had wished to assist them, and among that number he included himself, the Bill might have been put into a more satisfactory shape and carried. But the responsibility of withdrawing it now rested with the Government.
§ MR. DARBY GRIFFITH
thought that 248 hitherto the question of Parliamentary Reform had not been treated in a general and comprehensive manner. It had been made the mere battledore of party. All that the noble Lord said of his measure was, that it was the best that he believed he would be able to pass. That was, perhaps, a practical consideration with a Ministry; but in dealing with a great constitutional question it was one that was almost worthless and contemptible. Possibly there never had been at any former period so favourable an opportunity of dealing with the question as the present; but the inconsistencies of the various plans which the noble Lord had from time to time proposed had shaken the confidence of the House in his guidance on such a subject. The noble Lord had repeatedly shifted his ground. In 1852 he introduced a Bill formed on very different principles from those which he adopted in 1832. In 1832 he proposed a large disfranchisement; in 1852 he announced that wholesale disfranchisement formed no part of the principle of his Bill, but that he would transfer the franchise, whenever corruption was proved, to another constituency; and now in 1860 he adopted a principle of partial disfranchisement. If the principle of 1852 was good, how was it that the noble Lord abandoned it in 1854, and how was it on the other hand, that the great authority upon reform, who introduced a large and comprehensive measure of disfranchisement in 1854, could ask the confidence of the House and country when he produced a measure so limited and scanty as that which was now to be withdrawn? He did not indeed see that the present Bill proceeded upon any intelligible principle whatever—the extension of the suffrage was framed on a system that was utterly arbitrary, and yet at the same time no principle had been laid down which should prevent a further unlimited demand for a fresh extension at a future period. For his own part, he held that there was no ground for depriving England of any portion of her representation in order to confer it on Ireland or Scotland. There were, no doubt, anomalies in our representative system, but no one, he presumed, would venture to assert that the House did not fairly represent the intelligence of the people. He did not believe that there was any section of public opinion which failed to obtain representation in the House, in one way or another. If they once conceded any merely arbitrary reduction of the fran- 249 chise, it would be difficult to say where they would be able to stop. Just as the £6 and £7-pounders were jealous of those within the present pale of the franchise, so would they, if admitted as voters, in turn excite the jealousy of the £4 and £5-pounders, who would still be excluded. He took it for granted that the public professions of the House were contradicted by the private judgment and experience of every man in it. They did not in practice prefer the lowest classes to the higher classes. If they wished for any judgment or opinion, on any affairs, public or private, they would prefer that of an educated and superior class. If, therefore, they wished to extend the franchise to the lowest classes, they must do so on some certain principle and with some limit, while at the same time, they gave compensation to the higher classes for that extension. Such a principle would not be difficult to find, it was embodied in an Amendment he had put upon the Notice Paper, which was that of the Poor Law franchise, namely, to give a plurality of votes in proportion to the property and intelligence of the constituents. He believed that if the Government adopted that principle they would find less difficulty in settling the question than they had experienced on this and other occasions. He assented to the lowering the franchise in counties, and he should on some future occasion either propose or support a £20 qualification.
§ LORD FERMOY
said, that in the very few sentences which he wished to address to the House he should not attempt to follow the previous speaker, nor should he follow the right hon. Gentleman, the leader of the Opposition, upon the question between himself and the hon. Member for Sunderland; nor did he mean to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham in his discussion of the sincerity of the Emperor of the French, the advantages of the French treaty, and the merits of the Budget which had been altered in "another place;" but should confine his observations to the immediate question before the House—the bold and bare announcement of the noble Lord that he was about to withdraw the Reform Bill. The character of public men and political parties ought to be dear to every Member of the House, and he must say he heard the announcement which had been made that evening with feelings of disappointment—nay, with feelings of dismay, because if ever there was a Government, and if ever there was a House 250 of Commons, whose sole and only mission appeared to be to carry a Reform Bill for England, they were Her Majesty's present Government and the present House of Commons. He had not been able to discern in any of the reasons given by the noble Lord any good and sufficient ground for the withdrawal of the Bill. What had been the history of the Government with regard to this question of Reform? They came into power on the express and clear understanding that they were the only parties in the country who were willing and at the same time able to carry a Reform Bill through that House of Parliament, and that—and that alone—was the ground upon which they entered office. Now, the noble Lord gave as his first reason for withdrawing the Bill the time of the Session at which they had arrived; the next ground was the Chinese war and the necessity of voting the Estimates for carrying it on; then he gave as a reason the state of the national defences; and finally, he wound up by implying—more than by saying—that there was a want of enthusiasm in the country which compelled him to withdraw it. Now, with regard to the late period of the Session, whose fault was it that they had arrived at the month of June without the Bill having got into Committee? Parliament assembled this year much earlier than usual, as they all thought for the express purpose of enabling the Government to carry out their pledge on the subject of Reform, and he, in common with many others, had been led to expect that on the very first day somebody would have announced that it was the noble Lord's intention to bring in the Bill after the lapse of two or three days, or a week at most. But what took place? On the second day, he believed it was, after Parliament met they were told that the Reform Bill was not to be brought in for a month—when the month was up it was postponed for another fortnight—and then it was again postponed that it might be brought in on an auspicious day—that day of fair auspices being the first of March. Here then was a loss of two mouths—["No, no!"]—well, of at least, six weeks—and by whom was it caused? By the Government. The noble Lord, though he had not actually said it, had implied that the delay was owing to hon. Gentlemen opposite. Now, in candour, he (Lord Fermoy) could not say that any proposal or Amendment had been brought forward by the other side of the House, as a body, 251 which could fairly be characterized as unreasonable on such an important subject. No question could possibly arise that was more likely to give rise to long discussions and important Motions than a Reform Bill, and hon. Gentlemen opposite were perfectly justified in giving notice of questions which they considered of moment in reference to the principle of representation on going into Committee. He must say then, that the House was perfectly free from any charge of wasting time, and the argument of time fell to the ground, when it was remembered that this, which was to have been, par excellence, the Reform Government, had lost six weeks at the commencement of the Session before they even brought in their Bill. Then as to the Chinese war and the defences of the country, he did not see any reason why they should not provide for the Chinese war and the defences of the country, and for a Reform Bill also. At all events, if that was the only reason of the Government for withdrawing the Bill—if, after having got into office as sincere and ardent Reformers, they now swallowed all their pledges in order to discuss the China war and the national defences, he could not help saying that the Chinese Estimates might be as well submitted, and the defences of the country as well provided for by hon. Gentlemen opposite as by those who now filled the Ministerial benches. Again, as to the want of enthusiasm on the part of the country on the subject, the noble Lord had, as he always did on such occasions, favoured the House with sundry chapters of constitutional history, and reminded them that in the several cases of Catholic Emancipation, the Test Act, the Reform Bill, and free trade, and other great measures, when the principle of those measures was once carried by a majority of the House of Commons, they were certain to triumph. But he would ask the noble Lord did those measures triumph by being abandoned by their own promoters?—yet such was the course the noble Lord took in the present instance. How could they expect enthusiasm in the country, when the very men who came into power for the express purpose of carrying forward a Bill for improving the Representation of the People, abandoned it as soon as they experienced the slightest opposition? At the same time, after the speech of the noble Lord on Monday night, he scarcely thought that the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli) was acting in the most open 252 and generous manner. The noble Lord on that occasion made a declaration which carried dismay to the minds of many Members of the Liberal party; and when he said let us go into Committee, and endeavour to arrive at some sort of a franchise, the real meaning of which was, "I am not tied to anything: if you won't have a £6 franchise, let us agree to an £8 franchise; but let us adopt the rating test." That was a declaration which carried dismay to the minds of many on that side of the House, but which ought to have induced hon. Gentlemen opposite to go into Committee on the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman said that he and his party were Reformers and sincere Reformers; here, then, was an opportunity of showing it. He would venture to tell the right hon. Gentleman, that he would never again have the chance of getting a Reform Bill that would be so agreeable, or at all events so little disagreeable, to his party, as the present Bill. But the right hon. Gentleman and his friends, instead of accepting the offer of the noble Lord, had refused to go into Committee. If be (Lord Fermoy) were the hon. Member for Birmingham, and desired to agitate the country, he should be delighted that the right hon. Gentleman had refused that offer, and doubly delighted that the noble Lord bad now withdrawn the Bill. This was no settlement of the question, notwithstanding what had been stated by the hon. Member for Rye (Mr. Mackinnon), and the right hon. Gentleman opposite. What the people would have received this year with gratitude, they would reject next year with disdain. The party opposite, as well as Members on that side, had admitted Reform in Parliament to be necessary, yet they refused to go into Committee, to determine how far that reform should go; they refused to go into Committee to pledge themselves to a £6, or an £8, or any other franchise; and to say to what extent the Parliamentary institutions of the country required reform.
§ MR. BERNAL OSBORNE
Although I was not so fortunate as to collect the tenor of the observations of the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Darby Griffith), still I gathered from his mournful tone and manner that if he was not a mute he was a sincere mourner on this occasion. At any rate, he gained by contrast with the senior Member for Marylebone (Mr. E. James), for it must be apparent to the House that the hon. and learned Gentleman was somewhat of a merry mourner. The hon. and 253 learned Gentleman, indeed, differing from his noble Colleague in this respect, made no secret that he did not regret the dissolution of this Bill. I, for one, do not agree that any discredit attaches to the noble Lord the Member for London for his conduct in regard to this Bill, and I think the criticisms of the two hon. Members for Marylebone are equally unjust and ungenerous. The noble Lord (Lord Fermoy) it appears was somewhat astonished the other night at the attack of the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire on the noble Lord the Member for the City of London. I was much more astonished tonight to hear the attack of the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone on the noble Lord the Minister for Foreign Affairs; because, if there were a noble Lord in the House from whom that criticism could not have been expected, it was the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone. But different positions oftentimes made different men. But I must say I do not think the House will endorse the opinion of either of the hon. Members for Marylebone. I do not think the noble Lord is responsible for giving up the Bill on this occasion: if responsibility attaches anywhere, it is to the conduct of this House. The hon. Member for Rye (Mr. Mackinnon) got up to-night in a jaunty manner—he has an idea that he is the man who has killed Cock Robin—and he says, "let us shake hands and say nothing about it;" and he congratulates the House on what he calls the settlement of this question. I, for one, can neither congratulate the House nor the hon. Member for Rye on such a settlement. I came down to vote on the Motion of the hon. Gentleman, and I should be very sorry if the House consents to its withdrawal. In bringing it forward, the hon. Member stated that he was a follower of the noble Lord, and that thirty-one years ago he had brought forward the same Motion. Yes; but on referring to the records of that date I found that the hon. Member for Rye was not then a devoted follower of the noble Lord; he spoke and voted on every occasion against the Reform Bill, and he predicted the same revolution which he now foretells from the alteration of the £10 franchise. If I recollect rightly, the Member for Rye at that time represented the borough of Lymington, which was put into Schedule B; and he brought forward his Motion not in exactly the same terms as at present, but proposed that the operation of the Bill as regarded all the boroughs in- 254 cluded in Schedule B should be postponed until the results of the Census had been ascertained. He has no longer the same complaint to make as to Rye, because I believe that borough was excluded from the operation of this Bill; but, forsooth! he is so enamoured of his first love of thirty-one years ago that he returns to it again; and now, although a devoted follower of the noble Lord's, he brings forward this ridiculous Motion, which has no more to do with the subject than the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Devizes. We have heard something to-night of the dignity and wisdom of the course which has been taken. I think the noble Lord has discharged his duty with dignity; but I much question the wisdom of the House in the course they have taken with regard to this Bill. What are we doing? We are doing nothing but offering a premium to out-of-doors agitation. We say the people are indifferent. I do not think that is a theme for congratulation at all; because, when the people are indifferent on such a subject, it shows a conviction that they have no sympathy with this House—that this House does not understand their wants and requirements. And what has been the pretext for the postponement of this measure? The Instructions to the Committee have been framed for no other purpose than to be obstructions to the passing of the Bill. There has been no open, honest, fair, stand-up fight on this question; the Bill has been got rid off by a species of Parliamentary assassination, by the administration of small doses of adjournment and other poisonous ingredients. We are told, indeed, that in the month of June the noble Lord is able to contend against this homoeopathic system of assassination, and the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone holds him accountable for having dropped the Bill. The noble Lord the Foreign Secretary had no other course; but I think it becomes the House very seriously to consider the position in which they have been placed, for I have a very strong idea that out of doors we are neither regarded with respect nor favour by the great body of the people. In my opinion, we hold a most discreditable position in the eyes of the country. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bucks well described the state of Reform when he said that for fifteen years it had been a Parliamentary question, and for ten years a Ministerial question. Five times have different Cabi- 255 nets pledged themselves to measures of Reform; five times has the Sovereign from the throne promised legislation on the subject; and yet here we are, by a most ex traordinary coincidence, on the 11th of June, 1860—throwing over a Reform Bill. ["Hear, hear!"] I can understand that cheer. I think it a most unfortunate thing for his own reputation, and for that of his party, that Lord Derby ever brought forward his Reform Bill. At the same time, I grant it was unfortunate for the country that when he did bring it forward it was so summarily rejected. I will do justice to my hon. Friend there; I think he was right in the course he took; and I think the rejection was most unfortunate, because we are shuffling off this question till God knows when, and we do not know under what circumstances the consideration of the Reform Bill may next be forced upon us. The hon. Gentlemen on the other side, the recent converts to Reform—for everybody is a Reformer now; the only question is as to the pace at which we shall go, and probably as to who shall drive the coach—did they offer any opposition to the principle of this Bill when it was first brought forward? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) opposed it rather in the spirit of Sir Fretful Plagiary. He complained that there was "not enough of incident in it," and concluded by saying that although the Bill was most meagre and unsatisfactory, he would offer no opposition to the second reading. The right hon. Gentleman the leader of the party took a different view, and complained that it would swamp property and intelligence; but, nevertheless, no hostile division was called for, and the second reading was allowed to pass almost sub silentio [Laughter]. Well, not exactly sub silentio, because we all know the "gift of tongues" has been enormous; but it was certainly allowed to pass without a division. What has happened then? We have had all those pretexts put forward which are too transparent to deceive anybody except the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone, and probably the next meeting which he attends at the "Yorkshire Stingo" will lead him to give up that delusion. I am of opinion that the country, so far from being dissatisfied with the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) will sympathize with his position; but I do not think it will sympathise with that of many Members of this House. 256An open foe may prove a curse,But a pretended friend is worse.What is the language that has been held on this subject? I find that a noble Lord in "another place," when he came into power, made the following declaration on the subject of Reform:—In my opinion it is highly inconvenient that from Session to Session a question of this importance and interest should be perpetually kept dangling before the Legislature, and that Session after Session it should he hung up till a future day;and, without pledging himself to details, he promised to give the subject his attention "with the sincere and earnest desire to trifle no longer with this great question." What have we been doing all this Session but trifling with this great and important question? That was the opinion of the noble Lord the head of the late Government in "another place." What was the view of the leader of this House on the same occasion? In bringing forward his Reform Bill, he asked,—Is Parliamentary Reform a subject which touches the interest of all classes and all individuals, to be suffered to remain as a desperate resource of faction? Or is it a matter to be grappled with only at a moment of great popular excitement, and settled, not by the reason, but by the passion of the people?Now, I ask the House what they are going to do—will they allow the passions and not the reason of the people to settle this question? Could there have been a time more opportune than the present for dealing with this subject? I have no intention of going, as other hon. Gentlemen have clone, into a discussion of the measure; but this I say, that if from year to year the House is content to shuffle off this question with pretexts and pleas which deceive no man in this House or out of it, the time may come when, with a bad harvest and with discontent reigning both at home and abroad, you will be called on to pass a measure, not by the reason, but by the passions of the people. I am surprised that the Conservative party, with such a fair offer as has been made by the noble Lord, should have been so lost to the tenets of their creed as not eagerly to accept a proposal made at a moment when men are disposed to be satisfied with much less than I am convinced will eventually have to be given. By assisting to pass this Bill they would, at any rate, have given an earnest to the country that they were sincere in their desire to amend the representation of the people.
§ MR. HORSMAN
Sir, Although the announcement made by the noble Lord tonight could not have been very long delayed, yet when it was made I think it was not the less agreeable to the House that it was somewhat unexpected. I should be glad to leave the withdrawal of the Bill where it was left by the judicious speech of the noble Lord, had it not been partly for the speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, and partly for some other remarks which have been made—and which, deriving importance not so much from their reference to the past as to the future, I think it is the duty of the House not to allow to pass altogether unnoticed.
Sir, there was no necessity for the hon. Member for Birmingham to attempt to mystify the subject. The reasons for the withdrawal of the Bill are obvious,—the lateness of the season, and the general unpopularity of the measure. More than a month was lost by introducing it in March instead of January, and when introduced it caused very general disappointment. No one liked it—few expected or wished it to pass—fewer still thought it could pass. From the moment we entered on the second reading, the Government lost all command of the House upon it. The strongest speeches against it, the most vehement denunciations of it, the fiercest outpourings of reproach on it, came from the benches behind the Government; and not only that, but there was this prospect before us in going into Committee, that whereas on the last trial of strength on the Bill, the Government had only a majority of twenty-one, there were, to set off against it, no less than seventy notices of Amendments placed on the paper by Members on the Government side of the House. The noble Lord said just now there were upwards of seventy Amendments on the notice paper, but there were more than that, for I have had the curiosity to examine it—and there are in fact more than ninety Amendments, of which seventy are from this side of the House.
The general feeling, on one side and on the other was unfavourable to the Bill, but there is one section of the House to which it was most particularly unpalatable. That section is not composed of the Gentlemen below the gangway. In so far as it may be considered a democratic measure, it would rather give strength to those whose sympathies are democratic. It is not the Gentlemen on the opposite side who would be most affected by it, for Members of the Conser- 258 vative party are not returned to this House by the popular element, but rather in spite of it. But the Gentlemen who most dreaded the Bill were that section of the House that is neither Conservative nor democratic, but who, representing both the aristocratic and popular element, were elected by constituencies that would be made democratic by the improvement, of which the first effect would be to improve their present representatives off the face of the Parliamentary arena. They are the Gentlemen who have really felt the greatest dislike of the Bill. There being therefore a common feeling on both sides,—when an attempt is now made to fasten that responsibility of delaying the Bill on one side of the House, which attaches to all,—and to construe the disinclination to entertain this particular measure into hostility to any Reform whatever—I think the House ought to interpose, and if we are to get rid of the Bill, we ought at the same time to get rid of all the hypocrisies and delusions that have disgraced its history. When I see, as I have to-night, the seed sown for a new crop of misrepresentations—when I see those who have become bankrupt by trading on bad Bills of Reform, scolding, and warning, and threatening those whom they have been in vain endeavouring to cajole, I think we ought to have—as for a few moments I will ask leave to have—an opportunity of settling one or two short accounts of the past before we allow them to issue a new prospectus for the future. I should not have thought of doing so had not so many references and allusions been made to the past history of the Reform question. We have heard repeated the history of all the various Reform Bills brought forward, and I really think that with regard to the future, the House ought now to take stock of the question, especially as the hon. Gentleman near me has endeavoured to pin down the noble Lord to a promise to introduce another Reform Bill in the autumn.
The country has become familiar with the whole of the Reform agitation. It originated in the mistaken belief of some shortsighted politicians, that because the Reform Bill of 1832 gave great strength and popularity to the Liberal party, therefore, when that party was at a low ebb of popularity, it had nothing to do but resuscitate the cry of Reform, and its leaders would once more be borne aloft on the shoulders of the people. That was the beginning of the second Reform of the Constitution in 1852. We have lately had 259 some very curious and interesting revelations as to the history of that Bill. In that Reform Cabinet of 1852 it appears there was only one Reformer; he was very sincere and ardent, no doubt, and his sincerity requires no explanation; but I think the country may be curious to know how the other members of that Cabinet, that was almost unanimous in dreading and deprecating another measure of Reform, thought it consistent with their personal honour and public duty to propose to Parliament a great constitutional change that they believed, if carried out, would be dangerous and disastrous to the country. But the question we know did not stop there. Two years later these same Gentlemen who had been alarmed by the comparatively moderate Reform Bill of 1852, made themselves parties to another measure, so much larger that it is difficult to understand how it could emanate from the same Ministers and the same red box. No Minister has asked permission of Her Majesty to make a similar revelation as to the Bill of 1854 to that which Lord Grey has made as to the Bill of 1852; but, if made, they would probably be a very interesting continuation of the chapter already published. The Bills of 1852 and 1854, though brought in with all the authority of statesmen possessing a popular character, failed—as the simultaneous agitation of Mr. Hume, to which the noble Lord has just referred, for a much larger measure also failed—because the practical intelligence of the English people could distinguish between the real demand for Reform in 1832, and the artificial demand for it in 1852. They would not lend themselves to further organic changes, the necessity of which they did not see, and the plan for which they did not approve. There were, doubtless, still great anomalies in our system; but the people knew that anomalies were not grievances, and they would not lend themselves to crude, immature, rash, and mischievous attempts to tamper with the Constitution—they wanted rest rather than agitation.
But the agitation, though discountenanced by the country, was not suffered to drop by those in high places. In 1858, the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton once more raised public expectation only to disappoint it—I had almost said to trifle with it—and in 1859, the Government of Lord Derby inherited, as they believed, the duty and the difficulty of dealing with the question. The hon. Member 260 for Liskeard alluded to the measure introduced by that Cabinet, and to the mistake of the Liberal party in its treatment, and my hon. Friend noticed the cheer that I gave him when I remembered that on that occasion he was one of my severest assailants for the course I took. I have this Session avoided taking any part in these discussions, because last year I took a course that was very painful to me—a course that separated me from my political friends—["Hear, hear," from an Hon. MEMBER on the back Ministerial benches.]—after twenty-four years of more constant, more arduous, and more consistent action with my party than that of the hon. Gentleman who sneers at me. I did not separate from those Friends without giving them, in private, the warnings I repeated afterwards in public; and I did not wish this Session to undergo the imputation of assisting to verify my predictions. When it was first made known to me—I was then in the confidence of those hon. Gentlemen—that they had determined to reject the Bill of Lord Derby's Government, I used what was once a familiar mode of illustration among us, and said, "The Liberal party may pursue one of the three courses. It may reject the Bill on the second reading—it may amend it in Committee, or it may strangle it by an abstract Resolution. The two first," I said, "are perfectly legitimate, and must succeed, and I am ready to go with my Friends on either of them; but the third course is illegitimate, and must prove discreditable and embarrassing, and I am not prepared to support it." And I showed how it would prove embarrassing. I said, "You will have a narrow division, a damaging dissolution, a reduced party majority, and after a year lost, a new Bill no better than the one rejected." My protest and my opinions are recorded; they are on that record to which any one can refer. I have no occasion to reproach myself for them, and I ought not to be reproached by any one on this side of the House. I was answered by the Member for Birmingham, and others, "A year will not be lost. A new Bill can be introduced before Parliament rises—it can be passed in an autumnal Session, and in February, 1860, we shall meet under the new Constitution."
The Bill was rejected—followed by the dissolution, the bare announcement of which took away the breath of the framers of the Resolution, followed again by the elections, which took away some valuable 261 elements of their party majority. But when the new Government was formed, and when the new Parliament met, there was no hurry for a new Reform Bill. In that summer Session there was no Bill. The autumn passed, and no signs of a Bill. This year Parliament met unusually early, but the introduction of the Reform Bill was put off for more than a month. I protested very strongly against the delay; but my protest was not backed up by the ardent Friends of Reform, nor by the hon. Member for Birmingham, I protested, because I felt the absolute necessity of showing an honest desire to deal with the question this year, and because, adhering to my former views, I had no reason to dread a Bill which I believed would verify my predictions, and more than justify the course I had taken. But I found that a great change had come over the dream of the advanced Reformers. The secret of the forthcoming Bill had partly oozed out, and had produced on them a very tranquillizing effect. Their patience in 1860 presented a remarkable contrast to their chivalrous impetuosity in 1859; and while on the part of the Government there was no disposition to be prematurely communicative on the details of the measure, there was on the part of the supporters an amiable desire not to be too inquisitive. The fact was that the Ministry and their supporters were equally in a dilemma—and while the occupants of the Treasury Bench felt that they had burnt their fingers by rejecting the very moderate measure of their opponents, the occupants of these other benches were afraid of also burning their fingers by having to accept an equally unsatisfactory measure from their own leaders. So the Bill was by common consent postponed till the ides of March, with a fervent prayer on both sides that some Providential interposition would put it off till doomsday.
But Providence was not propitious, and when the day came, the appearance of the Bill was the bursting of the Bill; and the Liberal party immediately opened out their fire upon it. Of all the Reform Bills ever proposed, this was pronounced by common consent to be the very worst. "Others have been bad," said the Member for Bristol; "but this one is contemptible." "It is not Liberal," said the Gentlemen on this side; "it is not Conservative," said the Gentlemen on that. "On the most important point of Reform," said the Member for Birmingham, "it unsettles every- 262 thing and settles nothing," It gives one party fresh cause for agitation," said the Member for Huddersfield. "It gives another great reason for alarm," said the Member for Edinburgh. "Where it tries to be Conservative," said the Member for Marylebone, "it relapses into old Toryism." "Where it professes to be liberal," said the Member for Galway, "it becomes revolutionary." And when at the close of all these friendly criticisms the Committee on the Bill was postponed on the 3rd May to the 4th of June, everybody knew that it was virtually abandoned. And it has been abandoned to-night.
There is only point in the speech of the noble Lord (Russell) to which I wish to refer. The hon. Member for Birmingham tried to pin the noble Lord down to a pledge that another Reform Bill would be introduced at an early period; and my hon. Friend endeavoured to fix upon his political opponents in this House a result which the public ought well to understand is due to the general feeling of the House against the Bill. It is not a result of which the responsibility attaches to one side of the House more than to another, but arises out of the general feeling on all sides—a feeling endorsed by the country out of doors, which sees plainly that this question of Parliamentary Reform has been trifled with in the course of the present Session, and that there has been on the part of the Government no effective or satisfactory attempt at its solution. But I must say that of all the men who may be charged with inconsistency on this question, and who is least justified in bringing a charge of insincerity and want of zeal against other Members, that man is the hon. Member for Birmingham. He has abandoned every principle and violated every profession in endeavouring to support a Bill which he has told us was utterly worthless. Two years ago he had a Bill of his own, which was carried with a great flourish through the country. We have never seen that Bill, but he has allowed this Bill of the Government to be substituted for it, though it does not contain a single provision that he had been accustomed to say was essential to a Reform Bill. He has approved of the £6 franchise, though he was at the pains on Friday night to show that this was a franchise which would introduce only 300,000, or less than 5 per cent of the classes who are now excluded. He told us to-night that he would have been sorry to see the 263 Bill proceeded with if it had ended in the adoption of an £8 franchise; but when the noble Lord said on Friday night that be was ready to adopt a modification of the £6 franchise, and even to accept a higher franchise, the hon. Gentleman was a party to that compromise, and following the noble Lord in the debate, he said he was ready to do all he could to carry out the objects of the Government, so that, instead of a £6 rental, the hon. Gentleman was ready to take a higher. On the question of the franchise he is ready to exclude, as he admits, at least 95 per cent of the unenfranchised operative classes; but on what he considers the greater question of the redistribution of seats, which affects, not the operatives, but the masters, which implies a transfer of power from one class to another, and which will greatly facilitate the admission to power of his own class—on that question the hon. Gentleman will hear of no compromise. This is not the first time that my hon. Friend has failed to be the peculiar representative of working men. He has applied the same principle in matters of taxation wherever he has had to choose between removing a tax that fell on the operatives and one that fell on the master employers. In cases of taxation, as of representation, he has acted to the injury of the poor, while he has endeavoured to benefit the master classes. I believe no man is more sincere or more honest than he is in the advocacy of his own particular views; but there is this peculiarity about him, that on all questions affecting the education, the taxation, the representation of the working classes, the Member for Birmingham has been an ardent, unflinching, outspoken champion of the operative class against the rich landowner. But when it is a question not of landowners but of millowners and master manufacturers on one side, and operatives on the other, then in these cases the interests of the manufacturers and masters have been upheld, and those of the poor trampled on. Therefore, I decline taking the hon. Gentleman as a representative of the working people of this country. I do not believe that he represents their opinions.
I have said that I wish to refer to one remark made by the noble Lord, in what I have described as, with one exception, his moderate and judicious speech. But the noble Lord said something that sounded very like a promise to introduce another Reform Bill. I can sympathize with the 264 general feeling of the House to spare the noble Lord any of those reproaches which he anticipated might be cast on him on this occasion; and I only speak now in the same spirit in which I sincerely told him last year, that if by supporting his Resolution I could promote reform, and strengthen his position, he would have no readier follower than myself; but it was because both objects would be defeated by his Resolution, and that with the success of his Resolution his difficulties would commence, that I warned him against it. And in the same earnest spirit in which I warned him as to the past, let me now once more warn him as to the future. Let me tell him that it is no light thing for a Minister of England to discredit the only free constitution now left in Europe. It is no light thing for one in the noble Lord's position to promulgate the doctrine that it is a legitimate function of the Ministers of this country once every twenty years to remodel the Constitution and effect a new distribution of political power always in one direction, giving less and less influence to intelligence and property, and more and more power to numbers, and to establish the fatal principle that the Constitution of England is only capable of expansion in a downward direction. I concur in the opinion expressed by the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Bucks, that this may be the last occasion on which, for some time to come, we may have an opportunity of discussing the question of Reform, and I cannot let it pass without saying,—what indeed we are all well aware of,—that this Reform Bill did not emanate from without, that it did not arise from the aspirations of the unenfranchised classes. It is the off-spring of official rivalries and Ministerial necessities. Political and party chiefs, racing and wrestling for power, endeavoured to outvie each other in bidding for the support of a political minority that held the balance between the great powers in the State. And while that political minority,—that party, as regards its representation of national opinion, is the least important party in the nation, it still has ruled the Cabinet, it has ruled the House of Commons, it has ruled the country, for its support was a political necessity to Ministers, who dreaded Reform very much, but dreaded exclusion from office a great deal more. The authors of these insincere Bills have, indeed, much to answer for. I cannot but recollect how, when in the autumn of 1858 the hon. Member for Birmingham was making 265 his tour in the provinces, they and their organs denounced him because, as they said, he was discrediting the Constitution. No, Sir, he was not discrediting the Constitution—he was only illustrating that great law of the Constitution which enables every man in this free country publicly to promulgate his own political belief. But I will tell you what it is that discredits the Constitution. It is when public men, ministers and statesmen, vie with one another in promising what they do not wish to perform—in conceding what they think dangerous—denying what they hold true—pandering to unwholesome appetites, and endorsing what they despise—then it is that they not only discredit but imperil the Constitution, and arm men of more advanced opinions, but also of more earnest purpose than themselves, with a power which they find it impossible to resist; and which is capable of being resisted in the present instance, simply because the hon. Member for Birmingham happily neither understands nor represents the sentiments of the great mass of the English people. Indeed, there is, in my opinion, no man possessing his powers and his opportunities who so completely fails to excite their sympathies or to arouse their enthusiasm. They do not understand my hon. Friend's idiosyncracies; they cannot conceive how one and the same individual can be a great friend to freedom at home and a great advocate of despotism abroad. They are unable to comprehend how a great upholder of the doctrines of peace in this country can be the great admirer of the representative of war in another; nor can they approve the principle in accordance with which free nations may be absorbed or swallowed up and enslaved by a despotic Power, because the small but free State is a bad customer, and the larger one may be a large purchaser of Manchester manufactures. Least of all do they desire to Reform our institutions after the Transatlantic model. The masses in this country are sound at heart—English to the backbone; and, thank God, intelligent enough and well-conditioned enough to appreciate the Constitution under which they live. They know that under that Constitution they enjoy politically, socially, and religiously, such rights as are not enjoyed under any other Government in the world. That Constitution is precious to them as it is to us. They know that its blessings have not been easily attained, and that they ought not to be lightly perilled. The House of 266 Commons is one of its appointed Guardians. In our hands, Providence has at this time confided this sacred trust, and that as we discharge ourselves, now or at any future time, of that high trust, honestly, faithfully, and righteously, we shall be surely judged.
§ MR. ANGERSTEIN
said, he could not agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the question was hazarded by the Government, and he thought the time would come when they would regret that this Bill had not been allowed to go into Committee, where it might have been moulded into such a shape as would have secured it passing into law. Had the Government taken that course the people would at length have had that Reform which had been promised them by four Governments in succession. He would leave to the country to determine whether the Opposition, who had opposed this Bill in every stage, were the persons to whom was to be entrusted the question of Reform.
§ MR. SLANEY
thought that on the whole the Government had adopted the best course that lay open to them under the circumstances of the case; but he humbly hoped that the noble Lord's failure on this occasion would not prevent him from bringing the subject forward in another Session. It appeared to him that by a fusion of provisions contained in the two last Bills a satisfactory measure might be arrived at; but he hoped the noble Lord would in his next attempt fix his borough franchise somewhat higher. That, with a county qualification of £15, and some of the franchises out of the Bill introduced by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, would, in his opinion, make up a measure likely to meet with general approbation.
offered his thanks to the Government for the course they had taken that evening. The House was in the position of a contractor who had undertaken to do more than he could perform; and the best thing they could do was to confess that they were unable to perform it. The people of England cared more at the present moment about reconstructing their rotten gunboats than about reconstructing their rotten boroughs.
§ MR. W. E. DUNCOMBE
felt it must now be admitted, although the noble Lord opposite had attempted to rouse the feelings of the people on this subject, that an almost universal apathy prevailed in regard to it. He ventured to think that apathy could only be accounted for by the general conviction 267 that there existed no necessity for Parliamentary Reform. In his opinion the whole proceeding on the part of the Government had been got up for party purposes, to secure their position in office, and not with a view to any real remedy for abuses alleged, but which certainly had not been proved to exist. Since 1832 there had been no question which had excited the attention or moved the interest of the public that has not been brought before the consideration of that House, received full discussion, and been settled in accordance with the wishes of the people. There was he great question of free trade, for instance, peculiarly affecting the working classes—that was debated in 1846 on both sides of the House, with a view to promote the welfare of the working classes. It was a question in which the people took a deep interest, and he would ask the House whether it had not received a solution in accordance with the people's wishes? And for himself he was ready to admit that free trade had been of great benefit to the people of this country. And so, if there had been any general feeling in the country in favour of Parliamentary Reform, it would have made itself heard. Besides, before they concluded that Reform was necessary, they were bound to prove that the recent legislation of the House had not been in accordance with the views of the people. On the other hand, he believed the people attributed much of the happiness, wealth, and prosperity they enjoyed to the satisfactory legislation of that House; and it was because they were contented with the principles of Government which had been adopted, and with the legislation which had been carried out, that they now felt there was no necessity for changing the constitution of a Parliament, which had conferred on them so many and such signal blessings. He regretted to hear the statement from the noble Lord that they were next year to be favoured with another Reform Bill. He hoped the noble Lord and the Government would reconsider that matter. Surely they did not wish again to expose the House and the country to renewed uncertainty, and to an interruption of all useful and practical legislation, by the futile reproduction of such a measure, for the purpose of conciliating the hon. Member for Birmingham, who would never be satisfied with any measure of Reform the noble Lord might introduce. The Government must not judge the hon. Member for Birmingham by his speeches or professions 268 in Parliament, but rather by the speeches he made and the principles he maintained in his tours of agitation throughout the country. He believed the principles of the hon. Member to be inconsistent with our present form of Government, and the sooner the connection between the Government and the hon. Member ceased the better. Many of the principles, and much of the policy, of the Government, particularly their financial policy, certainly savoured very much of those recommended by the hon. Member for Birmingham. He begged them not to follow in that direction. If they did, they would bring themselves into hostile collision with the real wants and wishes of the people; and though they might for a time retain the honours of office, their course would terminate in future disaster to themselves, and great disadvantage to the country.
§ MR. WARNER
sincerely regretted that the noble Lord had been compelled, by circumstances which no doubt he regretted, but over which he had no control, to take the course he had announced to-night. The Session was eminently suited for passing a satisfactory and comparatively permanent Reform Bill. There was no excitement in the country and there was a general wish to have the question settled. He regretted that such an opportunity should be lost; he only hoped another would before long recur. Both sides of the House had the strongest interest in attaining a satisfactory settlement of the Reform question. That was especially the interest of hon. Gentlemen opposite, who so long as the question was left unsettled were placed in the wrong before the country and kept excluded from office. There would be no chance of a Reform Bill passing until both sides agreed not to treat it as a party question. He thought, however, that the time which had been consumed in discussing this Bill had not been wasted, for it had been shown that neither the House nor the country was yet prepared to deal with the question of Reform. A variety of Reform measures had been introduced of late years, containing a great variety of propositions. All these had failed to gain acceptance; and then the noble Lord was obliged to content himself with the simplest measure that had ever been presented. He brought in a skeleton Reform Bill, leaving it to others to fill it up and clothe it with flesh. The attempt, however, like all the others, was obliged to be abandoned. In any future Bill he 269 hoped that there would be no uniform line of rental or rating to give the franchise. Such a line of demarcation was very well where the line was kept to a high standard, but when reduced to a lower level it would be impossible to retain it. He desired to see a representation of classes and of interests and not of mere numbers.
§ MR. WHALLEY
said, he was willing to give the Government credit for honest intentions in withdrawing the Bill, but he thought that this would have been a proper occasion for them to inform the House and the country what course they intended to take on the constitutional question in debate between the Lords and the Commons. The country would not be satisfied of the sincerity of the Government if they withdrew the Reform Bill without pledging themselves to repel the insult which the House of Commons had received at the hands of the Lords. The country would not willingly allow the privileges of their representatives in that House to be overridden by the Lords on account of any paper precedents which might be discovered by the Committee, even if such could be found. Their Report ought by this time to have been laid before the House; and he thought the Government were exposing themselves to great suspicion by the course they had taken, and the appearance of trifling with the question which had been exhibited. Until this matter was settled the functions of the House were almost in abeyance. In former times it was the practice to adjourn the House until any assault on its privileges had been fully repelled; and still it was the rule that privilege questions took precedence of all others. Why did the Government depart from this practice? The noble Lord the Minister for Foreign Affairs had expressly declared that the question was more important that any that had arisen within his experience; and what could he expect but that the opponents of Reform, and those who were supposed to sympathize with the Lords should endeavour, and most successfully, to bring that House into contempt by its own conduct, as most effectually they had done by the frivolous debates on Reform? The noble Lord had submitted to that indignity, and had withdrawn the Bill. Was the Government also ready to submit not merely to the postponement of Reform, but to what was nothing less than a change in the constitution of the country. For the Lords to interfere with the Government financial arrangement was to 270 deprive this House of the only function by which it held authority in the State, coupled with the fact that the revenue of this country is almost entirely by Act of Parliament, and that the House, in excess of its authority, had voted not merely subsidies for present wants, but had imposed on the country a permanent system of taxation. It constituted the Lords beyond all doubt the paramount authority in the State. He trusted the conduct of Government in this matter would be such as to justify the confidence with which he desired to regard them, and though at present their conduct was to himself and to others wholly inexplicable, that they would not forget the gravity of the question, or the importance that the public, when it became fully understood, attached to it. He thought it would be a great relief to the country, and a great credit to the Government, now that they had abandoned the Reform Bill, if they would give some expression of their opinion with regard to the vital question to which he adverted, and that it was not their intention to sacrifice the Constitution of the country and the privileges of that House to the arbitrary rule of the Lords.
§ Amendment and Motion, by leave, withdrawn. Bill withdrawn.