HC Deb 19 February 1861 vol 161 cc655-63

in rising to move for leave to bring in a Bill to extend the Parliamentary franchise in the boroughs of England and Wales said, that the object of the Bill was single and simple—namely, to extend the franchise which was fixed by the Reform Act of 1832 at £10 to £6, according to the Bill proposed by the Government last year. His belief was that such a measure might be discussed by this House with greater advantage than in the form of those great and comprehensive measures hitherto introduced. He had not intended saying anything on the merits of his Bill, for he had reason to hope its introduction would not be resisted. But, after the observations of the noble Lord at the head of the Government at an early period of the evening, the tendency of which was to discredit and impede Motions such as the present, and after the observations of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli), the House would, he trusted, in fairness allow him to offer a few observations on the remarks of those distinguished persons. He must express his great regret at the tone which the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) had adopted on the question of Reform, upon which the noble Lord had come into office.


rose to order. He wished to know whether the hon. Gentleman was in order in referring to a speech made in a debate on another subject?


The hon. Member will bear in mind that the noble Lord in his speech referred to two measures, only one of which was then before the House.


said, the hon. Gentleman could not have been in the House at the time when the noble Lord spoke, or he must have known that observations by anticipation were made by the noble Lord with regard to the Motion which stood in his (Mr. Baines's) name. Though the noble Lord did not deem it wise or expedient to bring forward a measure of Reform himself, yet they had a right to expect that he would not try to throw any obstacle in the way of those private Members who, in conformity with those principles which they had held all their lives, had thought proper to bring forward a question of this nature for the consideration of the House. The noble Lord's first objection was, that the measure would interfere with the other business of Parliament. He stood in the midst of Members who had much more experience than himself, but he thought he might venture to challenge the noble Lord, out of the half century during which he had been a Member of that House, to point out one Session in which a measure of this nature might have been more conveniently introduced and discussed than in the present Session. What were the great and absorbing questions of public interest that were likely to demand the attention of the House of Commons this Session? What measure had the noble Lord or his Government brought forward? A Bankruptcy Bill had been introduced, but fifty clauses of that Bill had been agreed to the previous night, and the Attorney General expected to carry it through before Easter. What other important measure was there? He wished to know what great question of foreign danger, what domestic crisis, or what great and complicated measure of legislation was there, that pressed upon the attention of that House which would I prevent the discussion of a measure of that simple form which he now asked for leave to introduce? The noble Lord also objected that it was not expedient for private Members to introduce questions of Reform. But he thought he might fairly ask the noble Lord whether almost every Gentleman by whom he was then surrounded on the Treasury bench had not, when a private Member of that House, introduced measures of Reform which he afterwards, j as a Minister, carried to a successful issue? Did not the noble Lord the Member for the City of London begin in the year 1819, eleven years before he took office, by a Motion on this very subject of Reform, a Motion which had reference to the borough with which he (Mr. Baines) was connected? Did not the same noble Lord bring forward the question of the Repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts when he was still out of office; and were not many of the questions which involved the greatest triumphs of Constitutional principles, of justice, liberality, and freedom introduced and advocated in that House by independent Members? He was aware they had been introduced by men of very distinguished station and talents, and that his hon. Friend (Mr. Locke King) and himself must be very bumble in the positions which they took, but that did not affect the principle. Did not Lord Grey himself bring forward a measure of Reform forty years before he carried it as a Minister? Did not Mr. Wilberforce, also out of office, for twenty years struggle for the abolition of the slave trade? Did not Mr. Pitt and the Duke of Richmond bring forward measures on this very question? Did not Mr. Plunkett, when he was out of office, bring forward his Bill for Catholic Emancipation? And did not his hon. Friends the Members for Rochdale and Birmingham contend for the Abolition of the Corn Laws before any official man took up that question? And he asserted that the greatest measures which had ever been introduced into that House had been introduced by men not in office, and forced upon those who were in office. Another objection of the noble Lord was, that changes in the Constitution of Parliament should be carried out by great and comprehensive measures. He (Mr. Baines) appealed to the House whether, after the experience of the last few years, the question could be successfully treated by a great and comprehensive measure? The measure had been so treated, and perhaps for that very reason it bad failed. Such a measure attacked many interests, many prejudices, and combined many in hostility to it, and he very much doubted whether the time had not come when they must see an end of great and comprehensive measures of Reform. The noble Lord had said that neither his hon. Friend (Mr. Locke King) nor himself had taken up the questions of the disfranchisement of boroughs and the redistribution of seats. But did not every one see that these very points bad been impediments to the carrying of the large and comprehensive measures which had been introduced? What Constitutional means had they in that House to overcome the opposition raised by the patrons of those boroughs, or the hon. Gentlemen who represented them? Again he appealed to the judgment of the House whether Reform had not many distinct parts, whether those parts might not be treated distinctly—whether, indeed, the House was not more likely to arrive at a cool, dispassionate, and safe conclusion by taking them separately rather than all together. There was the borough franchise separate from the county franchise, and both were separate from the mode of voting, either secretly or openly. Then there was the disfranchisement of those boroughs which were thought unworthy to retain two representatives, and many other questions bearing on Reform might be treated with advantage by separating them from each other, and by giving each a distinct consideration. It appeared to him, looking to the state of parties, that they had gone beyond the time when great and comprehensive measures were likely to be carried, and if there was to be a practical Reform in this country, it must be presented, examined, discussed, and decided point by point. The noble Lord the Member for London had made use of a very expressive figure, which had been much repeated since. The noble Lord had said that a great wave of public favour was required to carry a measure of Reform over the bar of the House of Lords. Well, that might be the case if it was to be one of those great comprehensive measures—a first-rate ship of the line, or Queen's ship—but a small bark might find water enough to float it over the bar, and might afterwards obtain a safe anchorage in the haven of the Constitution. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli) had been pleased to make himself merry with those private and independent Members who were so arrogant as to presume to offer to the House a measure of this kind, and the term he applied to them was that of "hucksters." He really wondered that the right hon. Gentleman, who had himself for all but two years of his public life been a "huckster," should have cast that imputation on private and independent Members; and when the right hon. Gentleman entered on a vast Governmental branch of trade, he did not carry it on with so much advantage as to be entitled to assume so high a tone with private Members, for in a very short period his Governmental business terminated in the Court of Bankruptcy. The right hon. Gentleman seemed quite at a loss to understand the motives which influenced him and the Member for East Surrey to persevere with measures of this nature; but the answer was so simple that he was almost ashamed to trouble the House with it. He earnestly believed in the truth of the principles of Reform. It was because he was a Reformer—because there were rights that ought to be granted, and wrongs which ought to be redressed, that he, having special information bearing on the subject, and seeing that it was the determination of the Government not to bring forward any measure of Reform, felt it a duty to introduce the Bill which he now offered to the House. His opinions were the same this year as they were last year. The question of Reform and of the rights of the people, and the wrongs of those excluded from the franchise by a degrading proscription were the same this year as last year. Therefore, if others failed in their duty, or, being differently circumstanced, thought it no longer their duty to bring forward measures of this kind, he did not see why private and independent Members should be prevented from doing so. That they were founded on good principles would not be denied in that House, inasmuch as the two points embraced in his Bill and the Bill of the hon. Member for East Surrey were taken from the measure introduced by the Government last year. To the objection urged by the noble Lord at the head of the Government, and also by the noble Lord the Member for London, that the country did not want Reform, he answered that nothing was more certain than that the deliberate opinion of the people of England was in favour of Reform, and nothing was more certain than that that opinion would sooner or later find expression, and carry a measure of Reform to a triumphant issue. Could this be doubted, when, during the last nine years, Reform had been brought forward by four successive Governments, and when the extension of the rights of the people had been recommended five or six different times by the Queen from the throne? Could it be doubted, above all, after the last general election, which took place on the issue of Reform or no Reform, or, at any rate, on the issue of Lord Derby's Reform or Lord John Russell's Reform? It was well known that Lord John Russell sketched out his plan of Reform before the election, and the very point on which it differed most from the plan of the right hon. Gentleman opposite was in regard to the borough franchise, which the present Bill sought to extend. Gentlemen opposite lost office in consequence of the disapprobation of the country with the measure they proposed on this particular point, and the present Government obtained office on the promise that they would introduce a more extended borough franchise. He might, then, say that the Government of the day stood on the basis of an extended borough franchise. It was not consistent, and he did not know that it was right, in the Government to give up this question; but it was their duty, after what had taken place in respect to the manner in which they were put into office, to give every facility to independent Members in bringing forward, point by point, those great principles which they had themselves been compelled to abandon. He believed that there was an amount of dissatisfaction arising in the country in consequence of the declaration made by the noble Lord the Member for London at the opening of the Session. He neither blamed nor praised the course taken by the noble Lord on that occasion, but he had heard from several quarters that great dissatisfaction had been caused by it. He knew that a great many of his constituents were greatly grieved by the tone then adopted, and he believed that still more dissatisfaction would be created by the tone adopted that night by the noble Lord at the head of the Government. The assurances which he received, both in and out of the House, convinced him that it was the sincere and earnest desire of a vast number of honest men to have questions of Parliamentary Reform brought forward in the shape in which he and the hon. Member for East Surrey now ventured to place them before the House. It was undoubtedly his intention to persevere in asking the assent of the House to the measure which he moved for leave to introduce, because for several years he, not taking an extreme position in politics, or in this question of Reform, bad been convinced that the extension of the borough franchise was a measure of justice, safety, and true statesmanlike wisdom. He believed that he should be able to prove such an advancement on the part of the people of this country, especially among those dwelling in boroughs, in education, intelligence, and political knowledge—such an improvement in religion, in temperance, in providence, and, in fact, in everything which constituted men fit to exercise the elective franchise—that it was no longer wise, and he did not know that it would be any longer safe, to delay the admission of the great class which his Bill embraced to the full privileges of the Constitution. That class comprised much of the pith and marrow of the nation; he had laboured long to promote their intellectual, moral, and social improvement, and he had seen that improvement realised; and he had the most perfect and intimate conviction that they were entitled to the franchise. He would appeal, then, to the calm and deliberate opinion of the House, and, if it were Parliamentary to do so, to the country also, to decide between the noble Lord and the humble individual who addressed them, and to say whether he was not justified in pressing this upon the House. The hon. Member concluded by moving for leave to bring in a Bill to extend the Parliamentary Franchise in Cities and Boroughs in England and Wales.


seconded the Motion. Half the revenue of the country was paid in taxation by the classes who were not represented. That was a state of things that could not be allowed to continue much longer. With what hilarity, wit, and playfulness the noble Lord had treated the subject the House would, no doubt, remember; and the country would remember it also. The industrious classes of society could no longer be treated with indifference, and they would persevere in demanding their rights till they were conceded.


Sir, any one who had just come into the House, and who had only heard the observations of my hon. Friend who has proposed this Motion, would really imagine that I had opposed the Motion of the hon. Member for East Surrey, and that I had announced an intention of opposing that before the House. But, so far from it, I distinctly stated I should not oppose either the one or the other. As to the remarks of my hon. Friend on the tone of the observations I made at an earlier period of the evening, his criticism—if I may use the term—is totally misapplied. I am not conscious of anything in my tone open to the objections he has made. I am not conscious of the hilarity and levity he describes. I certainly did state plainly that the House last Session indicated in the most conclusive manner its indisposition to pass the measure of Reform we proposed, which measure combined in itself both the proposals of my hon. Friends plus another measure that I thought very likely to be proposed by some other independent Member; and I stated that the decision of the House given by that indisposition—for I may call it a decision, since it led to the withdrawal of the Bill—at any rate that indisposition of the House was not followed by any strong indication in the nation at large of displeasure with the course the House pursued. I stated that my objections to reintroduce the measure of last year were two—one as to the point of time, the other in point of substance. In point of time I think that a sufficient interval of time has not elapsed to lead us to suppose that the opinion of the House is much altered; and, in substance, that the two proposals now made approached so nearly the provisions of the measure the House did not approve, that I do not think either measure is likely to be more successful than the Bill we introduced. I stated that the Government had not thought it their duty to bring in this Session the measure of last year. My hon. Friend, in the first place, condemned the Government for not having brought in a comprehensive measure; but, in the further progress of his reasoning, his mind appeared to come to a clearer conception of the nature of things, for he then told us it was more particularly the function of private Members to introduce reforms of this sort. But I do not think he held out a very brilliant prospect of success in the instances he quoted of private Members who laboured for a great number of years before they accomplished the ends they had in view. I can only say I do not think his observations apply to the course the Government has adopted. I offered no objection to bringing in this Bill; but I simply said we shall not think it our duty to make way for Bills like this and that of the hon. Member for East Surrey by giving up for them days that may be appropriated to the public business.

Motion agreed to.

Bill to extend the Parliamentary Franchise in Cities and Boroughs in England and Wales ordered to be brought in by Mr. BAINES, Mr. BAZLEY, Mr. SCHOLEFIELD, and Mr. DIGBY SEYMOUR.

House adjourned at a Quarter before Twelve o'clock.