§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
I rise, Sir, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government to ask leave to bring in a Bill further to amend the laws relating to the representation of the people in England and Wales. But before I enter into the subject it is necessary for me to make a few remarks. I wish to disclaim entirely any intention, by the measure I ask leave to introduce, to frame a new Constitution. I disclaim such a project for two reasons. One reason is that I have no wish to alter the Constitution of this House; the other is that, if any such alteration were sought, I should feel totally unable to propose anything that would stand in the place of the ancient and glorious Constitution of this country. And I have this further to say, that if I propose a Bill to amend the representation of the people, it is not as a confession that the Reform Act of 1832 has failed; it is rather because that Act has succeeded. I do not think that any Act was ever passed by this House that has had more complete success, or with which so few faults have been found as the measure of 1832. And when I compare the present state of this country with what was its state some years before the Reform Act, I cannot but congratulate this House that by that measure so much discontent has been allayed and so much satisfaction been given. I do not allude to our material wealth, or the great increase that has taken place in our prosperity, because that progress may be attributed to other causes. But it is that the people since 1832 have been more generally satisfied with the institutions under which they live. If I compare the year 1820 with the year 1860 I remember that in the former year Lord Castlereagh had introduced measures which he himself designated as measures of severe repression; they were measures intended to restrain the press, to prevent public meetings in the open air, with other restrictions upon the liberty of the people of the same kind. These restrictions were thought necessary by the Government of that day; and I think that, according to the system 2051 of Government then pursued, such measures may be considered necessary. But looking at the state of the country in 1860 I find a generally prevailing spirit of loyalty to our institutions—a spirit that wishes to preserve and extend, not to destroy them. Sir, with this preface I proceed to say what we propose to do, in some degree at least, to supply the omissions and remedy the defects of the Reform Act. In doing so, I shall pass on at once to the questions on which I mean to ask the opinion of the House.
Sir, there is one point that has more than once attracted the attention of the House, and on which it has clearly pronounced its decision. It is the franchise in counties. During the progress of the Reform Act through this House it was decided that freehold and leasehold tenures should no longer give the sole title to a county vote; but that an occupation, merely, of the annual value of £50 should also confer on the occupier the right of voting. That was an obvious change in the nature of a county franchise. That claim having been sanctioned by Parliament, those who since that time have looked into the subject, with the view of amending the law, have very naturally said, "If an occupation merely is to give a title to a vote, it should no longer be restricted to a £50 holding; the occupier of a £20 or £10 holding is as fully entitled to a vote, and would form as good a class of electors as the occupier of a value of £50." That view of the question has been more than once adopted; in principle it was adopted by the late Government. Therefore, in the Bill I now introduce we propose to add to the county franchise an occupation franchise of £10 a year. But we propose also to take further securities than were taken in the Bill of last year, that this shall be a bonâ fide franchise. It is obvious that under the plan of a £10 holding the land might be covered with small occupations that could not be properly called beneficial holdings. We propose that where land is attached to a dwelling-house no sum shall be required as value in respect of the dwelling-house, but where there shall be on the land any building other than a dwelling-house a sum not less than £5 shall be required as the value on such building. We propose, therefore, that the building not being a dwelling-house should be assessed at the value of not less than £5 per annum We expect, however, that in the case of a dwelling-house the annual value shall be not less than £10.
2052 I now proceed, Sir, to the consideration of a question which has occasioned far more disputes, which gave rise last year to warm debate in this House, and with respect to which various opinions were expressed—I mean the question of lowering the borough franchise. It appeared to me, I must confess, that the late Mr. Hume had good reason to complain, some time after the Reform Bill of 1832 had come into operation, that a £10 franchise in boroughs drew too arbitrary a line; that a number of persons were in consequence of the line being so drawn deprived of the light of voting who might fairly enjoy the privilege, and that in that respect an injury was done to our system of Parliamentary representation. The longer the time that has elapsed the more distinctly have I perceived that that complaint was founded in justice. It has been said that the franchise in boroughs was in 1832 purposely framed to exclude the working classes from the right of voting; but to that statement I cannot subscribe, although I am ready to admit that it was framed with the view generally of giving weight to the middle classes in this country, whose information and character appeared to us at that time to be such as to entitle them to obtain that vast accession of power which they then received. I own, however, that I think it would be a great evil if we were to continue much longer to exclude from our representative system that large number of the working classes who, by their knowledge, their character, and their other qualifications, are fitted to exercise the franchise freely and independently. It appears to us, then, that the constitution would derive additional strength from the fact that a certain number of those working men best qualified for the privilege were admitted to the franchise, and that they would thereby be induced to set a greater value on the benefits which the constitution confers. I am aware that it is said there has been no agitation on this subject; that we have seen manifested with respect to it nothing of that eagerness which took possession of all classes of men at the period of the Reform Act, and that we ought not, therefore, until something like a successful agitation is set on foot to proceed to extend the franchise. That, Sir, however, is not the sort of political doctrine which I have been taught. I have, on the contrary, been accustomed to regard the well-known maxim of Mr. Burke with respect to early re- 2053 formation as being both deep and wise. I have not failed to perceive that in those instances in which agitation has been carried to a great length, and in which just demands have been refused—as in the case of the Catholic question—the country has been on the eve of having its peace disturbed and brought almost to the brink of insurrection, because Parliament had obstinately refused the concessions that have been asked. The consequence has been that, when those concessions have at length been made, although they were wise and founded on just principles, yet that, coming somewhat too late, and being as it were watered by delay, we have witnessed the land vexed and troubled by agitation arising out of those very measures the object of which was to pacify. I, for one, am, therefore, of opinion that we ought not to wait in the present instance until agitation arises, and those classes which are excluded from the enjoyment of the franchise combine together to enforce their demands upon the consideration of Parliament. On the contrary, I maintain that, if their petition be just, if their claims be founded on a fair appreciation of their own qualifications, and that it would be likely to contribute to the strength and durability of the constitution to accede to their request, we ought not to hesitate to comply because no agitation of the question prevails. I have no wish to see again the flames of Nottingham and of Bristol blaze forth to warn the House of Commons that it must delay no longer to pass a further measure of Parliamentary reform. I much prefer taking advantage of these quiet and tranquil times, when any proposition on the subject can be fairly and calmly discussed, to submit such a measure to Parliament, to deferring its introduction to a moment of greater excitement, when it might be out of our power to fix, as we might deem expedient, the exact limits by which our proposal ought to be defined, and the exact concessions which ought to be made. In dealing with this great question, then, Sir, we have deemed it better, upon the whole, in order to make our measure as simple as possible, to avoid those proposals which we ourselves made in former years, and which were likewise made last year by our predecessors in office—I allude to the introduction into our representative system of franchises hitherto unknown to the constitution, which my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham calls "fancy franchises," and which, although many of them might 2054 confer the right of voting on persons well qualified to exercise it, yet are almost every one of them liable to abuse and to result in the creation of fictitious votes. The principle on which we propose to proceed, therefore, is to extend still further the £10 franchise which is now enjoyed; to take that franchise generally with its present conditions; to require the payment of rates, as is now the case; but, at the same time, to extend it to a lower degree than that at which it stands. With that view we have made many inquiries, and carefully considered their results.
There is, I may here observe, one question which has been frequently discussed, and which formed the foundation of the provisions of the Bills introduced 1852 and 1854,—I allude to the question whether this should be a rating franchise. In examining that subject we found that great variety in the proportions of the rating franchise to the true value of houses existed. We discovered that there were some instances in which there was a difference of 9 per cent between the gross rental and the rated value of a house, while in many instances there was a difference of 28, and in others of 30 per cent. Now it is obvious that it would not be possible in a Reform Bill to make a change based on that mode of valuation; that, in so doing, you would be subject to the discretion of local authorities, and, as a consequence, either through ignorance, custom, or prejudice, in some boroughs many persons would lose their votes, while in others persons possessing the same amount of property would enjoy the franchise. I have stated the practical difficulty which would be involved in making the change; but, there is another objection to its introduction. In striking the poor law rate the rental of a house is calculated according to its true value, subtracting from it, however, not only the rate charged in point of fact, but also the sum necessary for repairs. Now, in taxing property it is quite right to subtract that sum; for, if a house be valued at £10, and £2 are each year laid out for the purposes of repair, it is obvious that the property is not in reality worth more than £8 per annum to the occupier. The question, however, with respect to the meaning of a £10 "clear yearly value"—the phrase used in the Reform Bill of 1832—came before the Court of Common Pleas, and it was then contended that the "clear yearly value" intended by Parliament was the same as was signified by the "net annual 2055 value" under the Poor Law Act, and that the Reform Act should, therefore, be construed after that manner. The Court of Common Pleas, however, decided that in the case of the Reform Act the Legislature had proceeded diverso intuitu, and that in that particular case its object was to confer the franchise according to the capacity to pay rent, and not to impose a tax on a man according to the value of his property;—that is to say, that if a man paid £10 a year for his house, it was no matter whether £2 a year were laid out by his landlord for the purposes of repair; that he was the man who paid the £10 a year, and the Legislature declared that the man who paid a rental of £10 a year was entitled to a vote. That being so, we did not think it advisable—indeed, we are of opinion that it would be practically inconvenient, and in point of abstract right unjust, to fix upon a franchise that should be dependent on rating.
Then, the question next came as to what would be the franchise taking the gross annual rental, or, as it is expressed in the Reform Bill, the "clear yearly value," of the premises. The returns at first showed a very great addition which almost any reduction in the franchise would make to the number of the electors. For instance, reducing it to £8 seemed to add an almost overwhelming number; but, when the question came to be tested and examined, it was found that a very great number of these persons, though holding houses of the value of £8 a year, yet in consequence of living at a distance, of not having paid their rates, and from various other causes, were disabled from having a vote; and that the deductions on these grounds were so large as to amount to 27½ per cent. Now, Sir, having arrived at that conclusion, the next question was to consider what would be the numbers added generally in the whole boroughs in England and Wales by taking any particular sum. It appeared that the whole number of electors on the register was 440,790 in the cities and boroughs. A very considerable number of these 440,790 were freemen, or persons having an old scot and lot right of voting, or in the enjoyment of old rights which are expiring. A deduction ought to be made for the number of freemen and others to the extent of 30,765; the remainder, therefore, only 410,005, may be said to have the right of voting as electors on the register by virtue of the ordinary right of voting—the possesion of a £10 2056 qualification. Well, in considering what should be done we found that if we took those who occupied at a gross rental of £9 and over we should get 440,717 electors, being only 30,712 additional voters. If we took those at £8 and over, the number of voters would be 476,004, being an additional number of voters of about 66,000—i. e., 65,999. Sir, it appeared to us, although that is apparently a very considerable lowering of the franchise—namely, not to £8 rated rental, which some persons talk of, but an £8 occupation—that disturbing the arrangements of the Reform Act and introducing a measure which might excite great public expectations, and adding no more than 66,000 to the 440,000 electors now on the register for the cities and boroughs of England and Wales, would not be a satisfactory or a wise proposition. It then became worth while to see what would he the effect of placing the franchise at £7. At £7 and over the total number of voters, subtracting always the 27½ per cent, would be 532,817; giving 122,812 additional voters. Well, but we did not stop at that number. We went down to the £6 rental. We considered what effect would be produced by taking the rental at £6 and over, and we found that the total number of voters for all the cities and boroughs of England and Wales, including the metropolis, and such places as Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, and Birmingham, at this franchise would be 604,804, making an addition of 194,199 voters; so that if we add the present number of electors—namely, 440,770—we shall have as the total number of voters for the cities and boroughs in England and Wales 634,969. Sir, it appeared to us that in point of number that was no extravagant amount—that when you have already 440,000, including freemen, to add to them somewhere under 200,000, less than 50 per cent of the present number, was no exorbitant addition. With regard, however, to the character of the persons who would be thus admitted, I must say the accounts from different cities and boroughs have been extremely various. In some places the rental is very low; in others it is high; accordingly, in some places therefore the number of electors added to the present number would be very large, in others very small. In the city of London there would be very few indeed. In Plymouth there would be some 200 or 300. In other places—at Liverpool, for instance—there would be a 2057 greater number, perhaps 15,000. But then the question is, what is the character of those who would thus be added to the constituency? I remember asking a gentleman now deceased, Mr. Fletcher, who was inspector under the Poor Law Act, to take the trouble of going through the manufacturing districts and inquiring for me what was the general rent the highest-paid of the working classes gave for their houses; and when he came back he said he thought about £7 a year gross rental, or much about the same sum I have mentioned. Now, it is difficult to lay down any rule or fix any particular amount as regards this class; but I think if we add what I have stated to the present number of electors, we should have a great number of the working classes included; and I think it would be a great benefit to our representation and to our constitution to have this class included; and I repeat, I do not think that would be any very extravagant number to add to the whole body of electors.
Well, Sir, I come now to another question—a question of a totally different nature, and one on which I think it behoves this House to consider well as to the changes they make now or may hereafter make. When I had the honour, twenty-nine years ago, of introducing a Bill for the Reform of the Representation of the People, the task was so far easy that the general sense of the country condemned places which were mere mounds or ruins, which no persons inhabited, while such places as Manchester, Leeds, and Birmingham were allowed no representatives in this House. I remember the last effort I made before the Reform Bill was to endeavour to obtain representatives for these three towns, Manchester, Leeds, and Birmingham; and one would scarcely believe, unless he looked back to the proceedings of that day, that a very considerable majority of this House decided against the admission of these great towns to the representation. But when the country once took up the question, the absurdity of the state of things to which I have alluded became evident. There were certain places that continued to have representatives without having the least semblance of population; there were others—among them the great towns which are the chief seats of our staple manufactures—in which Parliamentary representation did not exist. But, Sir, the case at the present day, and the case for future consideration, is a very different 2058 one; and I wish to call the attention of this House to what, in my view of this case, are circumstances which must, I think, have the greatest weight in any decision as to what is to be done. There was, more than two centuries ago, before the names of Whig and Tory were ever known, a great dispute between two great parties as to the nature of the functions of the House of Commons. The one party declared and maintained that the persons holding the chief weight in this House should likewise be Ministers of the Crown; that they and those who agreed with them should carry on the business of the House in the name of the Crown, and that thus the connection should he maintained between the Crown and the House of Commons. According to the view of these persons, in the time of Charles I., Mr. Pym was to be Chancellor of the Exchequer. He would have been called what is now styled leader of this House, and would have conducted, in the name of the Sovereign, the business of the country. But there was another party that said this ought not to be the function of the House of Commons. The function of the House of Commons was to check and control the Crown; let the Ministers of the Crown he disqualified for sitting in the House of Commons, and let their measures be discussed by a perfectly independent House of Commons. That dispute continued till the reign of Queen Anne, when the former party finally prevailed. The only remains of the theory of their opponents is to be found in that provision by which the Members of this House, on accepting offices under the Crown, vacate their seats, but are eligible for re-election. In fact, one of these doctrines expired with Bolingbroke, the other triumphed with Sir Robert Wal-pole; and from that time it has been necessary that this House should not only represent generally the opinion of the people on propositions emanating from the Crown, but it has been necessary that this House should contain within itself persons capable of conducting the business of the country—capable of conducting, as things at present stand, the affairs of a great empire, whether with regard to our colonial dependencies, the affairs of our Exchequer and the taxes to be imposed, or with regard to foreign affairs, representing the Crown, and at the same time having seats in the House of Commons. Now, I very much doubt whether this can be done if you have a representation consisting either of elec- 2059 toral districts or divided solely into counties and great towns. With regard to the counties it is obvious that the greater portion of the country gentlemen who represent them would be unwilling to leave their present occupations in the country or to sacrifice their ease in order to undergo the labours of office and the drudgery which in these times office imposes. With respect, again, to the Members for the great cities and great manufacturing towns, we often find that they are gentlemen who are themselves engaged in business, who can indeed give a certain amount of attention to the business of this House and can be present at all it3 principal debates, but who would never be induced to risk their prospects in life that they might attain the precarious position, for six months or a year, of Ministers of the Crown. I hold, therefore, that it is quite necessary, having regard to the great business of government, that besides the counties and the larger cities and manufacturing towns, you should have smaller places returning Members to this House. There is another reason which makes it essential that there should be something of this kind in our representation, and it is this, that you have from time to time seen men of the greatest ability, and fitted to render the greatest service to the country, but who, representing a great popular body, incur the momentary displeasure of their constituents, and are thereby deprived of their seats in Parliament. That, Sir, was what happened to Mr. Burke, because he contended for the great principles of liberty both here and in Ireland, as well as in America. The same was the case in more recent times with a man who was famous in this House and who has lately departed from among us, but who will live for ever in his immortal writings—I mean the late Lord Macaulay. I say, then, that if, according to the system which has now been established for a century and a half, you are to have the government of this country carried on this House, it is necessary that you should have more than these two classes of representatives—the Members for the counties and those for the great cities and towns. Nor has there been any plan of reform proposed of late years which would do away with that kind of representation. The measure brought forward by the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) last year made the least change that any one has proposed in this respect; while, perhaps, the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Birming- 2060 ham (Mr. Bright) made the greatest. But it is singular enough that my hon. Friend's proposal left us with between forty and fifty Members for towns having from 8,000 to 15,000 inhabitants, and therefore being towns of a moderate size, such as those to which I have referred. I infer from this, then, that however our plans of reform may differ, all those who have taken part in proposing such plans of late years have been of opinion that there should be a certain number of moderate sized towns which should send Members to Parliament, as well as the other larger constituencies that I have mentioned. Having laid down that, Sir, as a general principle, I am far from intending to discuss whether, as an abstract question, the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bucks or that of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham would be the best—best I mean as an abstract principle—but I wish to deal with this question as one which concerns us practically. For my own part I should be quite satisfied with the proposal which we made in 1854. That proposal was that about sixty seats, or rather more, should be taken from the smaller boroughs and transferred chiefly to the larger counties and some to the large towns. There is another question with which I do not shrink from dealing. It is a question which concerns the present state of this House. When the Reform Bill of 1832 was introduced there were many of those boroughs which, as I have said, contained only a ruined wall or a green mound, and there was no difficulty, when Parliament was once disposed to touch those boroughs, in abolishing their franchises. I remember one hon. Gentleman who, much to his honour, when it was proposed that the borough of Ludgershall should be placed in schedule A, got up and said, "I am the patron of Ludgershall, I am the elector of Ludgershall, I am the Member for Ludgershall, and in all three capacities I vote for the disfranchisement of Ludgershall." But the case at the present time is very different. You have no men who can dispose in that way—even if they were willing to do it—of these small boroughs. If a town has but 250 or 300 voters, these 250 or 300 voters will feel as keenly as the electors of much larger places. They and their representatives would join with those Gentlemen, whatever their numbers might be, who are the most Conservative party in this House, and I have no doubt they would be able to defeat any such measure 2061 as I proposed to introduce in 1854. Therefore, without meaning to go into the question, which does not immediately concern us, as to how many small boroughs there ought to be, and how far the growing wealth and population of the country require their seats to be sooner or later transferred to other places, I may state that our proposal goes only a certain length beyond the proposal made last year by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. That right hon. Gentleman's proposition was, that fifteen boroughs, now returning two Members each, should henceforth return only one. This I think was to be done by fixing on 6,000 as the limit of population, and taking one Member from each of the boroughs whose population was below that limit. Now we propose to go up to the limit of 7,000 inhabitants, and in the same manner to take away one Member from every borough that falls below that point. It appears to me that it would not be desirable to raise the question of total disfranchisement unless we went to something like the length we proposed to go in 1854. The principle of total disfranchisement is one of very grave importance. It ought not to be adopted without some great and palpable public benefit would accrue from it. I cannot think, therefore, that the abolition of some six, seven, or ten boroughs, leaving eight or ten others of a similar character immediately above them in population, would be a wise or expedient measure. It would evidently create great dissatisfaction among those thus disfranchised, and they would certainly be able to show that other boroughs immediately above thorn were of much the same description. It is a much milder proposition to say that at the bottom of the scale there are a certain number of boroughs which may still continue to be represented, but which are now overweighted in the representation, and some of their seats should be given to the more populous towns and larger counties. We, therefore, propose that those boroughs, whose names I will read, shall no longer send two Members to Parliament. They are:—Honiton, Thetford, Totnes, Harwich, Evesham, Wells, Richmond, Marlborough, Leominster, Lymington, Ludlow, Andover, Knaresborough, Tewkesbury, and Maldon. Thus far, I believe, the list agrees with the list contained in the Bill of last year. We go on; however, to Ripon, Cirencester, Huntingdon, Chippenham, Bodmin, Dorchester, Marlow, Devizes, Hertford, and Guildford. 2062 That gives us twenty-five seats, on the whole, which would have to be disposed of by Parliament. Now, we propose that the following counties should return additional Members—namely, the West Riding of Yorkshire two additional Members. All the rest, which I will read, are to return one additional Member—namely, the southern division of Lancashire, the northern division of Lancashire, the county of Middlesex, the western division of Kent, the southern division of Devonshire, the southern division of Staffordshire, the north riding of Yorkshire, the parts of Lindsey (Lincolnshire), the southern division of Essex, the eastern division of Somerset, the western division of Norfolk, the western division of Cornwall, and the northern division of Essex. It will be seen that we do not propose to divide the West Riding of Yorkshire, and the reason is that there is a great repugnance in that vast riding to have its magnificence at all diminished by a partition. There will thus be fifteen seats given to counties, of which, though some are manufacturing, others are essentially agricultural in their character. Coming to boroughs, we propose that Kensington and Chelsea combined shall form one borough to return two Members to Parliament; that Birkenhead, Staleybridge, and Burnley should in future return one Member each; and that Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, and Leeds should henceforth return three Members each instead of two. The House may remember that upon a former occasion I made a proposition which was not very palatable to the House, and which was certainly not popular in the country—namely, that there should be a division of votes; in other words, that where there were three Members each elector should have only two votes. As that proposition was not very popular, although I think it was a fair and just one, I shall not attempt to renew it upon the present occasion, I have observed that where there are three Members and there is a division of parties, one being the majority but the other comprising a very large number of electors, there is a growing tendency, arising from a sense of fairness and justice, that the minority, though it be the weaker party, shall not be altogether excluded from the representation, but that the third Member shall be given to it. That may not be so in times of great party contests. It did not so occur at the time of the great fight between protection and free trade. For a long time, 2063 chiefly because of the questions of protection and free trade in which the agricultural counties felt a deep interest, those counties which now possess three Members generally returned gentlemen all belonging to the same political party—the Conservative; but, on looking at the returns made to the last Parliament, I find that, in five out of the seven counties which enjoy the privilege of electing three Members each, two were of one party and one of the other. I regard it as a great benefit to those counties themselves, as well as to the country at large, that there should exist such a disposition not to exclude altogether a very strong minority, but to allow it to have part of the representation. I know it is said that the vote of the third Member, the representative of a minority, neutralizes the vote of one of the other two. That is not altogether true, because in many instances where the questions at issue are not directly party questions all three Members may, and, we find, often do, vote together, although sitting on different sides of the House. I think, therefore, we shall not do wrong in giving three Members to some of the more populous towns, as we have given three Members to some of the larger counties.
Sir, I have stated the distribution of seats which we propose to make with respect to counties and boroughs. But there is another seat at our disposal, and we propose to give it to a learned body which contains within it a sort of representation of those who are excluded from the older Universities—I mean the London University.
Sir, I have already said that we wish to make our measure as simple as possible. We do not propose, in substituting £6 for £10, to change any of the conditions of the franchise except one—namely, that which makes it necessary to pay the assessed taxes. It appears to us that it is sufficient if a householder pays his poor rate, and that it would be a needless restriction to render obligatory the payment of the assessed taxes. The House will also observe that all we propose, with the exception of the twenty-five seats I have mentioned, is in the way of enfranchisement, and enfranchisement with as little novelty as possible. Seeing the objections that have been made and the failures that have occurred in former years, we have sought to confine the attention of Parliament to the question of the franchise, and to such changes as seem absolutely to be 2064 required by the number of places which demand and deserve representation, rather than to alter other things which, however objectionable they may be considered, do belong to our ancient customs and our long-established forms of representation. I believe in so doing we are taking the safest and the best course. At all events, we shall enable Parliament to decide upon those questions by themselves, without having its mind disturbed or its time consumed by the discussion of refinements and novelties. Although I have not succeeded in carrying two measures of reform which I have had the honour to introduce of late years, I am by no means discouraged by that fact. For ten years I laboured hard to obtain the assent of Parliament to measures of reform before I introduced the Bill of 1831. I laboured in vain, but that did not prevent the success of the Bill of 1832. I feel sure that if hon. Gentlemen will apply their minds to the present measure, if they will look upon it as a measure bringing, at all events, a considerable portion of the working classes within the temple of the constitution, enabling them to exercise privileges of which they are worthy by their character and acquirements, they will agree with me in thinking that the foundations of the Constitution will be strengthened, and that we shall hereafter rejoice at having passed such a Bill. The noble Lord concluded by moving for leave to bring in a Bill further to amend the Laws relating to the Representation of the People in England and Wales.
§ MR. DISRAELI
Will the noble Lord have the goodness to state when he proposes to take the second reading of his Bill?
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
I am not sure, but certainly not within a fortnight from the present time. I will fix the day tomorrow.
§ MR. BRIGHT
May I ask the noble Lord whether he has included the four seats which have been so long vacant in his scheme?
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
We hare disposed of all the seats which we propose to take away by the present Bill; and, with respect to the four to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, and which have been so long vacant as to be freely at the disposal of Parliament, we think it fair to give them to Scotland and Ireland.
§ SIR HENRY WILLOUGHBY
said, he had the honour of a scat in that House when the noble Lord introduced the Re- 2065 form Bill of 1831. At that time he felt that there existed a great practical necessity for some change in the representation of the people, and he gave his cordial support to that Bill for the enfranchisement of large towns. He thought it utterly impolitic and unsafe that great towns like Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham and Leeds, should be unrepresented. But on the present occasion the case was very different. He wished to call the attention of the House for a few moments to a very important question of principle—one on which the House would do well to pause. He had failed to learn from the noble Lord the principle upon which he proposed to seize on half of the rights and privileges of twenty-five towns of this kingdom. The noble Lord had failed to lay down any intelligible principle whatever for this proceeding. It was clear that he might have seized 100 seats as easily as twenty-five. But was it right that the privileges of every town in the kingdom should be placed at the arbitrary will and mercy of the majority of the House of Commons? While a great number of cases in which large places had abused their privileges and which had been brought under the notice of the House and were allowed to pass unpunished, it was now proposed to forfeit one-half the privileges of twenty-five of the smaller towns of England against which no offence had been alleged. The progress of the discussion would show that the noble Lord was creating more anomalies than he was destroying.
§ MR. C. P. VILLIERS
said, some were already on the table, and the others would be laid on the table in a day or two.
§ MR. BYNG
said, as one of the present representatives of the districts which the noble Lord proposed to create into a borough—he meant the districts of Chelsea and Kensington—he could not refrain from thanking the Government for this measure. He wished, however, to ask the Government whether it was intended to continue the county franchise to those who possessed property within boroughs according to the present system; or whether they had adopted the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, which took away all county 2066 votes for property situate within electoral boroughs.
§ MR. VANSITTART
wished to know, whether the noble Lord had it in contemplation to make any alteration in the boundary limits of the present boroughs.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
said, that the Government did not propose to take the county franchise from the voters referred to by the hon. Member for Middlesex. The question put with respect to the boundaries of boroughs involved an important subject, and raised the ulterior question whether it would be desirable to add to existing boroughs certain other small towns in their neighbourhood. But the Government did not now propose to introduce any provision on the subject.
§ SIR WILLIAM JOLLIFFE
wished to ask a question on which considerable interest was felt, and on which important considerations would hinge. He wished to know whether the property which was to confer the franchise in counties was to consist of land and buildings as in boroughs, and in what proportion of each; and whether the property was to be rated in the same manner.
§ MR. WALPOLE
had understood the noble Lord to intimate that the Returns by which he had computed the number of electors to be added to the boroughs had already been presented or would be laid on the table of the House in the course of that evening or to-morrow. The noble Lord also stated that the payment of rates was to form part of the qualification for boroughs as now; but he wished to know whether the payment of rates must be made by the tenant himself, or whether it might be made by any other person on his behalf? With regard to the general scheme proposed, he thought the House seemed to be of opinion that it would be very desirable to postpone any discussion on the matter until the Bill was laid before it; and the only observation he wished now to make was that, the more he reflected on the subject, the more he was convinced that the old distinction between counties and boroughs ought to be maintained, and he thought that the noble Lord would find, if he wished that property should be fairly 2067 represented, that it ought to be maintained to a greater extent than the proposed Bill provided.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, he desired to correct what he thought somewhat erroneous views of the past history of reform since the period of the introduction of the measure which the noble Lord had formerly submitted to the House. At the time when the first Reform Bill was brought under the notice of Parliament a franchise of £10 was a real line of demarcation between the working classes and those who were considered the classes above them. A few years after the measure had been passed, the working men of England considered they had been systematically excluded from participating in the representation of the people. Now, the noble Lord had laid before the House a measure which was to enfranchise some 200,000 people in the boroughs and towns of the country; but he had also stated that the working classes in general paid a rent of at least £7. The House knew full well that the population within the towns might be estimated at about 2,000,000 of inhabitants. Was it possible to suppose, that with so large a population as this, if the measure would really enfranchise the respectable working artizans, no more than 200,000 would be added to the register? He believed the solution of the difficulty was this, that a great number of working men occupied not an entire house but a part of a house. He had expected, therefore, that the noble Lord would have told them what were his views with respect to those who occupied only a part of a house within the limits of a borough. Some explanation on the subject was certainly due to the House, and he was anxious it should be given by the noble Lord. He did not desire to express any opinion upon the Bill generally, but he would ask whether it was expedient to pass a very small measure of reform which would only lay the foundation for considerable excitement and great agitation throughout the country, without affording any efficient means for allaying that agitation.
§ MAJOR EDWARDS
wished to know whether, if this Bill became law, it would be necessary to have recourse to a dissolution of Parliament.
§ MR. W. WILLIAMS
said, the proposition of the noble Lord would cause great disappointment throughout the country, and complained that there was to be no addition to the Members representing the 2068 present Metropolitan boroughs. He contended that the largest of the constituencies to which it was proposed to add one Member was much below any of the metropolitan districts, both in population and property.
§ SIR JOHN OGILVY
said, that the Bill, so far as it related to the re-apportionment of representation, would greatly disappoint the people of Scotland.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, the noble Lord had omitted to state what addition would be made to the county constituencies by the measure which he had proposed. He had intimated that the county representation would be increased by a certain number of Members, and that information was necessary in order to complete his statement.
§ LORD ROBERT CECIL
inquired, whether, as in the old Reform Bill, there was anything in the present measure respecting polling places.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, there was no provision in the Bill respecting polling places. He did not think his hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Sir W. Jolliffe) did not understand the £10 county franchise. Where the occupation consisted jointly of land and buildings, the noble Lord said that the qualification for counties would be of the same character as that for boroughs, namely, a house or building, held separately or jointly with land. If the building were a dwelling-house no question of value would be raised; but if it were not, and were some building other than a dwelling-house, then it was provided that the building should be of a value equal to half of the qualification—that was to say, it would be required that where the building was not a dwelling-house it should be of the clear yearly value of £5. That proposition, he need not say, was intended to prevent a few boards being run up to meet the requirements of the Act in order to create fictitious votes; but in the case of a dwelling-house no such provision would be required. In reply to the hon. Member for Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) he had to state that they could not give the same accurate information as to the increase of votes in counties under the Bill as the noble Lord had done with respect to boroughs, and the difficulty arose principally from the circumstance to which he had just referred. They had obtained accurate information with regard to the number of occupiers of a certain amount of rental in boroughs, and they could do the same in respect of counties; 2069 but it was not enough to show the number of persons holding occupations between £10 and £50 in counties. Though that would show the maximum number to be added under any circumstances, it would not show the deduction—and it would probably be a large one—which would have to be made as regarded those qualifications where the occupation consisted partly of land and partly building, and where the building was to be of a certain value. The rate books did not supply that- particular information. Returns already on the table showed the number of persons occupying under the different classes, and further information would be laid before the House on the subject.
§ MR. T. DUNCOMBE
Having had the honour of a seat in the Parliament which passed the last Reform Bill, and having heard the noble Lord propose that Bill, I cannot help contrasting his gallant spirit on that occasion with his very subdued tone this evening. I congratulate hon. Gentlemen opposite, because no violence can possibly be done to their feelings by the small measure now proposed. When the old Reform Bill was introduced I remember a highly respectable metropolitan banker rising in his place behind the noble Lord and saying that the scheme actually took away his breath. Nobody's breath has been taken away by the present proposal, though some of us seem to be deprived of our powers of speech. We hear none of the Reformers from Birmingham and elsewhere coming forward with the schemes about which they have been agitating the country, and which certainly go far beyond that of the noble Lord. Twenty-eight years have elapsed since the passing of the Reform Bill, and when the noble Lord abandoned the doctrine of finality to which he so obstinately clung, I think we had reason to expect that a real change—a real extension of the franchise—which would have conferred electoral privileges on the working classes generally. What has happened within the last few years? In 1852 the noble Lord brought in a bad Bill, to which nobody listened. In 1854 he brought in another Bill, which was ten times better than the one he has just submitted. The noble Lord, therefore, is not so good a Reformer now, as he was six years ago. The Bill of 1854 proposed wholly to disfranchise 19 rotten and nomination boroughs, and it also took one Member from 33 other boroughs. We have now a mild measure, by which one 2070 Member is taken from 25 boroughs, and not a single word is said about disfranchisement. Calne and other pocket boroughs are not included in the scheme, and yet formerly the noble Lord's princiciples were that as long as nomination boroughs existed the seeds of a further and a necessary reform would remain sown. Will not nomination boroughs be left after the passing of this Bill? Of course they will, and the noble Lord's object must therefore be to have the question of Reform mooted every Session in this House. We want a lodger franchise. It is totally impossible that a Bill which adds only 200,000 voters to the borough constituencies can satisfy the working classes of this country. What was the promise—I will say the compact—made with these men in 1831–2? They were disappointed then because they were excluded from the franchise; and they were told, "Keep quiet; your time will come, and we shall then give votes to the working classes." Depending on this promise, they rallied round the Reformers of 1831–2 for "the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill," and have been waiting patiently ever since for something to be done in their behalf. But what will this Bill do for them? I remember that Lord Althorp, who was then the leader of this House, being present at a dinner given by Sir Frances Burdett on the introduction of the Reform Bill, said, "To tell you the truth, I think this Bill but a very poor concern; and the only thing which makes me regard it more favourably is that when the Bill was settled by the Cabinet we sent a copy of it to Lord John Russell and Mr. Stanley"(now Lord Derby), who were not then Members of the Cabinet. [Lord JOHN RUSSELL: Nothing of the kind.] Does the noble Lord mean to say he was a Member of the Cabinet? I do not know whether my right hon. Friend (Mr. E. Ellice) was not there, and if so he will remember the circumstance. "The only thing," added Lord Althorp, "which gives me hopes of the Bill is, that when Stanley saw it he wrote to me and said, What a pretty kick-up you are going to make in the country!'" And when he heard that, Lord Althorp did think something of the Bill. Mr. Stanley was quite right; there was a pretty kick-up. The Bill was passed under great pressure. We had 100,000 men threatening us from Birmingham; there was a run upon the Bank for gold; there were fires in different parts of the 2071 country; a black flag was hoisted from the steeples of the Glasgow churches; and, amid these scenes, the measure was carried. There will be no such kick-up in favour of the present Bill, I'm sure. Then, I should like to know whether the Government intend this Bill to be a "finality" measure, or whether they mean it shall be amended from year to year? There is certainly one great blemish in it. Not one word has been said by the noble Lord about registration. One great complaint now is the difficulty of registration. We want more frequent registration. The noble Lord said the payment of poor-rates is to be the condition of registration, but I say that the payment of no rate or tax ought to be a condition of the enjoyment of the franchise. Why, at present it sometimes takes two years before a man can get in the register; and I say we ought to have a registration every quarter. As to the proposed redistribution of seats it is impossible to call that anything like a reform Bill. Another blemish in this scheme is, that no notice is taken of lodgers. There are men paying £10 or £15 a year rent, but living in lodgings; they have, and are to have, no vote; those men are respectable mechanics, and educated men, who are quite fit for the franchise. The fact is that in the metropolis and in large cities and towns you cannot find such a thing as a £6 house. A house of £20 or £30 is occupied by two or three families, and the head of each of them is entitled to have the franchise. If you do not give it to them, they will be discontented, and agitation will go on from year to year. What the decision of Parliament will be as to this measure I cannot say, but I am sure, whether it be its adoption or rejection, it will be a matter of perfect indifference to the great body of the people.
§ MR. SLANEY
said, he had supported, in common with his hon. Friend who had just addressed the House, all the provisions of the Reform Bill of 1832; but in following his hon. Friend upon the present occasion he felt bound to express his belief that the measure which the noble Lord had just brought under their consideration would be hailed by the people of England as one of a very beneficial character. The £6 franchise would bring within the limits of our electoral system a large number of industrious people, who would, he felt convinced, use their new right justly. He wished to repeat a question which had been already put by an hon. Gentleman oppo- 2072 site, and that was whether the measure was to lead to an immediate dissolution of Parliament.
§ MR. KNIGHTLEY
also wished to repeat a question which had been put by another Member—namely, what was the number of persons who were likely to be added to the county constituency under the £10 franchise?
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
said, he had to state, in reply to a question which had been put by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge, that the Government did not propose any alteration in the existing law with regard to the payment of the poor rate. The tenant would be obliged to pay the poor-rate as at present, and he would have the same facilities of having himself put on the rate-book which he now enjoyed. With regard to another question which had been put by two hon. Members, he had to state that he did not think he would be justified in attempting to define what would be the number of £10 voters in counties. From a return which he held in his hand it appeared that the number of persons in England, rated at between £10 and £50 was 381,000, and that the number of persons in England and Wales so rated was 415,000; but that return included many people who were freeholders rated at £10, and others; and therefore it afforded no accurate test of the number of electors. He had also been asked whether it would be necessary that the passing of that Bill should be immediately followed by a dissolution of Parliament; and in reply to that question he had to state that what the Bill proposed was, that at the November registration the claim to the franchise should be made, and, of course, when the November registration was completed it would be competent to the Crown to dissolve Parliament and to summon a new one at any time that might be thought necessary or convenient.
§ MR. BRIGHT
said, that in consequence of what had just fallen from the noble Lord, he wished to know whether any change was intended in respect of the Compound Householders Act passed a few years since? That Act gave the franchise to the tenant whose landlord paid the rates, and he wished to know whether it would be applicable to those who would be enfranchised under this Bill.
§ MR. BRIGHT
said, that in municipal boroughs where the landlord paid the rate, the tenant was entitled to vote. He hoped there would be no change, for a departure from the present arrangement in that respect would falsify all the promises of the present measure as far as the working classes were concerned.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
wished to direct the attention of the noble Lord to one point in which he (Mr. Roebuck) must confess that he felt a special interest. Among the towns to which the noble Lord would give an additional representative Leeds was included, while Sheffield was excluded from the list. But if the noble Lord would look to the returns upon the subject he would grant that Sheffield at present possessed a larger constituency than Leeds.
§ MR. CONINGHAM
would not now enter into the details of the Bill, but he could not view without alarm one of its characteristics, which seemed to be the transference of borough Members to the counties. He doubted whether the liberal party had anything to gain by such a transfer. Looking at the enormous expense of a county election, and the class of persons returned from counties, he doubted whether the representation that would result would be more in consonance with the feelings of the liberal side of the House than at present.
§ Leave given.
§ Bill further to amend the Laws relating to the Representation of the People in England and Wales, ordered to be brought in by Lord JOHN RUSSELL, Viscount PALMERSION, Mr. CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER, and Sir GEOROE LEWIS.
§ Bill presented and read 1°.