HC Deb 12 February 1861 vol 161 cc346-56

in moving for leave to bring in a Bill to prohibit the payment of the expenses of conveying Voters to the Poll in boroughs, said that, as no great measure of Reform now stopped the way, it might be a convenient time to pass a few small ones; and he had a small measure of Reform which he believed to be a very useful and important one. Several of his hon. Friends had other small measures, and the Government had their own small measure to transfer certain seats to large constituencies; and it might be that this mode of dealing with the subject might lead to the best solution of the great Reform question. He was one of those who really desired that the Reform Bill of last Session should pass, and knowing that there was a combination to talk it out, he determined to give it a silent support. He regretted that the measure should have been withdrawn; but it was impossible not to see that that was the act rather of the House than of the Government. The Ministry had no choice, and, therefore, it was unfair to blame them. It was true that the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs overthrew the Government of Lord Derby upon the question of Reform; but it should be borne in mind that the noble Lord then announced in substance the measure which he would introduce, and upon his accession to office he introduced the very measure which he had promised. That a number of Gentlemen who had supported him on the division by which Lord Derby's Government was overthrown should afterwards turn round and do all they could to thwart, obstruct, and defeat the measure which the noble Lord had then promised, was a course for which no statesman could have been prepared. They all knew how that measure was received. The failure of the Reform Bill of last year was due not to any shortcoming of the Government; it was damaged by the admirers of Reform in the abstract; but who, nevertheless, felt it their duty to expose and dwell on the faults of that particular Bill. Some Gentlemen, who had objected to Lord Derby's Bill as too complicated, complained of Lord John Russell's as too simple; while others exaggerated its proportions for the purpose of creating alarm. Everybody was for Reform in general and nobody for that particular measure. He appealed to the House whether every speech tending to damage it was not received with uproarious applause, while every speech delivered in its favour—of which he believed there were but two—fell coldly on the ear of the House. It seemed to him that, without a greater pressure of public opinion than had last Session been brought to bear, the House would not pass a comprehensive measure of Reform, and in the present Session he confessed that he did not see any stronger manifestation of public sentiment in its favour than was exhibited in the last. If, therefore, the noble Lord had introduced a similar measure, he did not see any reason to suppose that it would receive more cordial support, or encounter less opposition. There would have been a repetition of the same dreary debates and interminable speeches, resulting in the delay and obstruction of all business of a practical character; and, therefore, he thought the noble Lord was not to blame for not having introduced some similar measure on the present reassembling of the House. Some Gentlemen, he knew, were of opinion that the noble Lord ought to have brought in the Bill, and, if it was not supported, that he ought then to have appealed to the country. But the fact was, that the Reform question would not have afforded a favourable subject for such an appeal. It would be a mistake to suppose that the public were indifferent to Reform; a deep-seated conviction prevailed among all reasonable men that our electoral system required amendment, that the franchise was too narrow, and that the representation was unequally distributed. But this opinion had not yet risen to the surface, and as it was always the subject uppermost in the public mind by which elections were influenced, the last thing which a Reformer ought to desire at this moment was a dissolution of Parliament. The country was in an attitude of expectation, looking for what Garibaldi would do next, where a European war would break out, and where it would end; it was, moreover, perplexed between the pacific assurances and the iron-plated frigates of the Emperor of the French, and it was engaged in forming Volunteer corps. But this diversion of the public mind from the question of Reform was, he believed, but temporary; at some future time it would be forced on the occupants of the Treasury benches, whoever they might be; and when the mind of the country was made up, and not before, a Reform Bill would be carried. He did not believe, with the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright), that a repetition of the scenes which preceded the passing of the first Reform Bill would take place, for the House now was more sensible to popular influences. All that was required to insure the adoption of such a measure, and to carry it over the bar of the House of Lords, was a steady breeze in its favour. The noble Lord the Member for the City of London had set sail three times in the Reform ship, and each time had been becalmed; his crew had struck work, and some had even attempted to reverse the engines, and the noble Lord had been obliged to return into port. He was, therefore, quite justified in refusing to start again without a steady breeze and a willing crew. He (Mr. Collier) was unable to give his support to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. White), because it implied a censure on the noble Lord, whose whole career, from youth to age, had been one continued testimony of his earnestness in the cause of Reform. The House had already addressed the Crown four times in favour of Reform, and nothing had come of it; and with the greatest respect for the hon. Member for Brighton, he believed he had framed his Motion in such a manner as to secure for it the least possible amount of support. There could be no greater mistake than to suppose that the forty-six. Gentlemen who went with the hon. Gentleman into the lobby were the only Reformers in the House. Many Liberal Members who did not wish to be misunderstood by their constituents had left without voting; and he himself had thought it better to take the responsibility of voting against the Amendment. But though he would not consent to censure the Government for not introducing a Reform Bill, there was no reason why independent Members should not deal with the question themselves; and he, for one, would be prepared to support every measure with that object which was brought in by his Friends, though, perhaps, he ought slightly to qualify that declaration. He himself was now asking for leave to bring a special measure calculated to remove what he considered a special grievance. As the law at present stood, it was illegal to give a voter money to pay his own travelling expenses, but it was perfectly allowable to pay them for him—a distinction between money and money's worth which was totally frivolous, and could not be maintained even logically. The Bill which he brought in in 1859 for the purpose of rendering illegal the conveyance of electors to the poll, whether in boroughs or in counties, was defeated by a dissolution; but some of its provisions were borrowed in Lord Derby' Reform Bill. Last year, when he brought forward a similar measure, it was referred to a Committee on Corrupt Practices, who reported in favour of the plan, as far as boroughs were concerned, but opposed its application to counties. Although he believed that the same principle ought to be applied to both, his desire was to avoid opposition; and in the present instance he, therefore, confined the operation of his Bill to boroughs. The Secretary of State for the Home Department had apprized him of his intention to introduce a measure founded on the recommendations of the Committee, in which it was probable that the object he desired to accomplish would be included. But, as the measure was of a comprehensive character, he confessed that he was afraid of the result, and the right hon. Gentleman would not consider him guilty of discourtesy when be said that he preferred his own measure on account of its simplicity. It was important to pass it speedily, in order that if a dissolution took place in the course of the Session — an event which was not impossible—the Act might be in operation; in which case certain Gentlemen, especially those representing metropolitan constituencies, would find its provisions beneficial. Since the conveyance of voters had been legalized, a notion had sprung up that it was altogether un-English and unconstitutional to walk to the poll, and the candidate who would not hire cabs was regarded as a mean-spirited wretch, unfit to sit in Parliament. The hon. and learned Member concluded by asking leave to introduce a Bill which would repeal the property qualification which was now virtually imposed, and which was inconsistent with the legislation enabling a poor man to sit in Parliament.


thought the hon. Member, if he were satisfied with the conduct of Her Majesty's Government, ought to have left this question in their hands. It would be discourteous to offer any formal opposition to the introduction of the Bill, and he should not therefore meet the Motion with a negative; but at any future stage he should certainly do so. There was no difference in principle between the conveyance of voters in boroughs and in counties, and he begged to inform the hon. Gentleman that there were some boroughs three times the size of some counties or Parliamentary divisions of counties. The borough he had the honour to represent (Maldon) extended for seven miles, and that of Aylesbury, he was informed, was three times the size of the county. He would not oppose the Motion for leave, but be gave notice that if this Bill were carried with regard to boroughs, he should move that the principle be extended to counties as well.


said, be did not intend to follow the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Plymouth (Mr. Collier) into the general subject of Reform. The hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to consider the Bill which he asked leave to introduce a small Reform Bill; but, according to the manner in which the word "Reform" was generally understood in that House, a Bill which merely related to the conduct of elections—to the manner in which votes were to be taken—was not a measure of Parliamentary Reform. It was his (Sir George Lewis's) intention, within a short period, to ask the House for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the present law relating to corrupt practices at elections; but if he imagined that such a measure would be open to all the objections which might at the present time be taken to a general measure of Reform, he certainly should not press it on the attention of hon. Members. He wished to remind the House that they already had a comprehensive enactment on the subject of corrupt practices at elections; and that a Select Committee was last Session appointed to consider its provisions. That Committee having carefully considered the subject, had offered a number of recommendations; and he hoped to be able to introduce at an early day a Bill framed on the recommendations of that Committee; and one part of it would deal with the subject to which his lion, and learned Friend's Bill was directed. Indeed, he believed they had taken their respective plans from the same source— the recommendations of the Committee of last Session. He should not, therefore, enter into the question of travelling expenses when the Motion before the House was merely for leave to introduce the Bill; but in answer to the observations of an hon. Gentleman (Mr. Peacocke), that nothing could be more inconsistent than to allow payment of these expenses in counties, and to prohibit such payment in boroughs, he (Sir George Lewis) would observe that counties were in general much larger than boroughs. In the next place, no one was qualified to vote in a borough who was not resident within seven miles of the borough in which the vote was to be recorded, while a person might have a vote for a county and yet reside in any other part of the United Kingdom. Therefore, there were reasons for those payments in the case of counties which did not exist in the case of boroughs. Whether they were sufficient to induce the House to make the proposed distinction, was a question which had yet to come under discussion. If the House were willing to deal in this fragmentary form with the question of the conditions under which Parliamentary elections were to be carried on, he had no objection to make to the Motion of his hon. and learned Friend.


said, he did not think it would be sufficient to make the payment of travelling expenses merely illegal; it should also be made penal, and treated as an act of bribery, which should vacate the seat. Otherwise the practice would still be continued. The Committee which sat on the Huddersfield case decided that it was illegal to make a positive payment to the voter for his travelling expenses, but they did not deprive of his seat the Member who had made such payment, and consequently the penalty was entirely inoperative, since no candidate for a seat in this House would care one straw for being pronounced illegal—the only thing he cared about, was the forfeiture of his seat.


said, the Home Secretary had described the Bill as a fragment: he (Mr. Scully) should characterise it rather as the fragment of a fragment of a Bill. There was no reason in the world why the provisions of the Bill should not be extended to counties. It was a rather serious thing to have to contest a county in which 2,000 or 3,000 voters expected to be conveyed to the poll at the expense perhaps of £1 a head. If voters would not come to the poll of their own accord they did not deserve to have the franchise.


wished to guard himself against being supposed to concur in the proposition of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Plymouth, and if the hon. Member for Maldon had moved a negative he would have voted with him. His experience of Cambridge had led him to conclude that the payment did not lead to any illegal expenditure in the borough. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that the Bill of Lord Derby's Government contained a similar proposition. That was true; but it should be remembered that in that Bill the proposal was accompanied by another, affording a new mode of voting — namely, by voting papers. The measure of Lord Derby's Government would have led to a great increase in the franchise; but some of the Bills brought in by hon. Gentlemen on the Liberal side of the House would practically result in its restriction.


said, that when Alexander died his lieutenants struggled for his Empire. A somewhat similar struggle appeared to be going on among the lieutenants of the noble Lord, for the Bill which had been supposed to be in his charge. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Plymouth said, that his measure was a first 3mall modicum of Reform. Now, that seemed to place the question of Reform in an awkward position. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary that the proposal could not be called a measure of Reform, because it was one to carry out an existing franchise rather than to confer a new one. However, he thought the Bill useful in its way, and it should have his support. He thought, nevertheless, that as the Government had taken upon themselves the task of dealing with the question of Parliamentary Reform, the introduction of Reform Bills by private Members of that House only relieved the Government from the responsiblity which they had undertaken. None had been more severe on Lord Derby's Government in reference to their dealings with Reform than the Members of the present Government. In 1859, when Lord Derby's Government was in office, the noble Lord the Member for the City of London said Lord Derby was pledged to bring in a Reform Bill and ought to do so. The noble Lord now at the head of the Government twitted the Derby Government with having taken office with all its engagements — a sporting phrase which Lord Derby would well understand. He told them they were bound to go on with a Reform Bill, and went so far as to say that the Government of Lord Derby "could not resign and should not resign," but should proceed with a measure of Reform. He would apply the same principle to the present Government, and say that the proper course was to leave the responsibility of introducing a measure with them, seeing that they also took office and received the support of the Liberal party under a solemn engagement to take up the question of Reform. No doubt the Government would rejoice at seeing small measures of Reform brought in by private Members, as it shifted the responsibility from their own shoulders—a responsibility which they incurred when they removed the Government of Lord Derby from office. What had they now before the House? A Motion for one kind of Reform, and no doubt a very proper measure. The hon. Member for Southampton (Mr. Digby Seymour), had given notice of a Bill for a £6 franchise, and the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Baines), had a Resolution on the paper for a £6 borough franchise. The hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Locke King), had a notice for a £10 franchise in counties. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department had a species of bit by bit Reform Bill, by which he intended to give the vacant seats of St. Albans and Sudbury to two other places. The hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Massey), bad likewise a Motion to appropriate one of the vacant seats; and the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Viscount Enfield), sought to give representation to Chelsea and Kensington. These might be all very proper Bills, but their introduction only had the effect of relieving the Government from the responsibility that rested upon them, and they referred to reforms which the noble Lord at the head of the Government and the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary had both said ought to be introduced by the Government of the country. There was a very extraordinary Motion of which notice had been given by the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. Warner); it was to refer the whole question of Reform to a Select Committee. To send the question of the representation of the people of England to a Select Committee. Had the hon. Member for Norwich thought for a moment what would take place before that Committee? Who were the parties whose business it would be to be present? There would be the advocates of universal suffrage, ballot-men, old freemen, and all persons struggling for an extension of the suffrage, to whatever extent. And who would be the witnesses? They would be so numerous, and the proceedings would be necessarily so prolonged that long before the end of the Session the Committee would become wonderfully select, and but few would remain to take part in the inquiry. Among the witnesses would be all the advocates and all the opponents of Reform who chose to attend. Perhaps the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be there to tell them that close boroughs were, the salvation of the country; while the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ashton (Mr. M.Gibson) and the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Villiers) would be called to say that close boroughs were the disgrace and degradation of our political system. In short, they would have before that Committee everything that was contradictory, not to say absurd. Such was the position in which the great question of Reform stood. He did not wish to blame the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary for withdrawing his Bill of last Session. On the hustings the noble Lord said he would introduce a Reform Bill and submit it to the criticism of the House of Commons. The Bill was introduced, criticism was bestowed upon it, and under that criticism the Bill withered. But the Government were not on that account absolved from the responsibility of introducing another Bill. They were responsible to the country for not having done so; and he repeated that it would be better and more politic to leave them under that responsibility.


rose to deny that the forty-six Members who had divided in favour of the Amendment to the Address had any wish to take the question of Reform off the shoulders of the Government. But they thought that the absence of all reference to Reform in the Royal Speech made it imperative on the Liberal Members to take some steps towards the vindication of their principles. They felt that they had been deserted by their leaders, and they thought it their duty to redeem the pledges they had made on the hustings by thus declaring their sentiments. With the same view, he (Mr. Seymour) felt himself bound to give notice of the Motion which he had put on the paper, in order to give the House an opportunity of considering the important question of the franchise. He agreed with the hon. Member for Marylebone (Mr. James) in thinking that the duty of introducing that question belonged to the Ministers of the Crown; but if they failed in their duty the House was bound to take measures to maintain its own position. The noble Lord the Member for the City of London had a great deal to answer for, and could urge no reasonable excuse for his conduct. There were no peculiar circumstances connected with the present Session such as occurred in the last to prevent a Reform Bill being introduced, and the calm which prevailed was peculiarly favourable to the consideration of such a measure. The noble Lord had told them last Session that a time of peace was a fitting time to carry a Reform Bill, and contrasted the period of the riots of Nottingham with the peacefulness and loyalty of the present time, which he thought gave a good opportunity of introducing his measure. They all remembered the lines of Canning in the Anti-JacobinNow these and more, a phrenzied choir, Sweep with bold hands confusion's lyre; While mad'ning crowds around them storm For one great Radical Reform. The very contrast of the present to those times indicated that now was a fitting opportunity for dealing with a measure of Reform, and after having been six times announced in Royal Speeches, and after a Parliamentary history of fifteen years, he could not help thinking that it was time this important question was disposed of. He had put a notice for a Bill on the paper, but, the hon. Member for Leeds having given notice of a Motion on the same evening, he had thought it right to give way to one holding so high a position in the country and possessing so much more experience than himself.


said, he wished to correct a mistake made by an hon. Member in a former debate with respect to his Motion of last Session.


said, it was out of order to refer to a former debate unless on a matter of personal explanation.


bowed to the ruling of the Chair. It had, however, been said that he had been acting in concert with the Government when he came forward to postpone the Reform Bill last Session. Now, upon his honour, as a gentleman and a Member of that House, he had no communication, direct or indirect, with the noble Lord at the head of the Government before opposing that Bill. Nor had he any communication either with the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs or any other Member of the Cabinet. He might be asked why he took it upon himself, not being in office, to throw out the Reform Bill last Session. He had done so for these reasons. He happened to be Chairman of a Committee which sat for two or three Sessions to inquire into the best mode of settling disputes between masters and operatives. This inquiry gave him an opportunity of knowing; the feelings of the middle and lower classes on the subject of Parliamentary Reform. He found that the middle classes were apprehensive of a farther extension of the franchise, fearing that their power would be swamped by the lower classes; while the working men, who it was said would be enfranchised by the £6 franchise, were totally indifferent about the matter. He, therefore, thought it right to oppose and to annihilate the Bill, and the attitude both of the middle and lower classes since the withdrawal of the Bill had convinced him that he had come to a sound conclusion. If the noble Lord had brought in a Bill this year, he would have acted in an injudicious and imprudent manner in going against the feelings of the middle classes and the perfect apathy of the lower classes.

Motion agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. COLLIER and Mr. MELLOR.