§ Order for Second Reading read.
MR. LOCKE KING
, in moving the second reading of his Bill to extend the franchise in counties in England and Wales, said, that there had never been a measure with regard to the principle of which such singular unanimity hail prevailed among the leaders on both sides of the House. The history of the progress of the measure which he had given on moving for leave to introduce the Bill, must have convinced every Member that such was the case. It was a happy omen to all supporters of the Reform, that its justice had been admitted by those who, to their honour and to the benefit of the country, had led parties in the House for something like a quarter of a century. If he understood the matter rightly, the House must be taken to represent the mature views of the nation at large; and it must be admitted that the opinions of the majority were, to some extent, represented within those walls; in this view the history of the measure was an undeniable proof that there existed a demand for the extension of the franchise. It might, however, be asked why, if such wore the case, some of the measures in which the extension of the county franchise was included did not pass? The answer was, that in these Bills the question he advocated was in evil company. There had been, as it were, a binding together of the living and the dead. The Bills with which his was associated had all perished unheeded and unmourned, while the extension of the county franchise remained a living principle. It had been repeatedly proposed and had found the greatest acceptance in the country. It might, indeed, be likened to a bud which was now and then nipped by chilling blasts, but which had so much vigour and strength in its constitution that, sooner or later, it would be sure to blossom; and if by any accident the measure did not succeed on this occasion, it would certainly be passed at last. The Bill of 1852 was, as they all knew, a compromise; it was unsatisfactory to the country, and after a little while no more was heard of it. The Bills of 1854 and 1859 contained the very principle he was now contending for; but they happened to be unpopular and came to an untimely end. The Bill of 1860, which he might call the Bill of the noble Lord the present First Minister, also dis- 917 appeared in some unaccountable way. It seemed to him that it was like a child badly nursed. It was never allowed to take the air in any way. It vanished before it had received any ventilation or discussion in the House, and few of them knew how the unfortunate passed away. He was quite prepared whenever the question of the representation of the people was brought before the House, to hear a great many lectures delivered by hon. Gentlemen opposite on the subject of interests, what interests are, and what interests ought to be represented, and especially on the necessity of doing justice to one interest in particular. It appeared to him that all who loved the Constitution must desire to see it maintained in an efficient condition, and improved where that was possible; not to limit or deteriorate the noble result of so many ages of wisdom, and of conflict. This Bill had for its object to improve that portion of the Constitution on which the healthy action of the whole so much depended. Those who imagined that it was intended merely to increase the number of electors wholly misunderstood the proposal. That was not its sole object. Owing to the vast expansion of trade, the enormous accumulation of wealth, and the growing spread of education in the country, a great number of interests had sprung into existence since the Bill of 1832, for which, consequently, there was no provision in that measure. Hence, any system of representation from which these interests were excluded must naturally be imperfect. Hon. Members opposite, who were so fond of talking about interests, rather ignored the new ones which had arisen. Had the new classes which had come into existence no right to claim representation? And if that claim were admitted, what reason was there to fear that they would overturn the balance of the grand structure of the Constitution? He was satisfied that the classes whom he proposed to admit to the franchise would be as anxious to preserve the Constitution as those now in possession of the privilege. To the principle of the Bill no objection could be raised. It was no novelty. In 1832 the principle of an occupancy franchise in counties as well as boroughs had been fully recognized by the introduction of the celebrated Chandos Clause. There being no objection in principle, the question was reduced to one of limit. The line had been drawn at £50; and there it might have been allowed to remain if trade, manufactures, and all that tended 918 to make the country great, had continued stationary and unprogressive. The country had, however, developed in and extraordinary manner, and to retain the limit of 1832 would be most unwise and unfair. It would be as bad as binding a strong man down with cords and then bidding him be up and doing. The principle of the Bill was essentially that of the representation of interests. In any redistribution of political power, interests must be held in primary respect, and the Bill would give admission to interests which were now almost entirely shut out. The term "interests" had a vague meaning, but he might define it as implying property of various kinds, and would divide it into four heads — agriculture, commerce, manufactures, and professions. Now, there were in England 338 borough Members, and 160 county Members, giving a total of 498 Members. Speaking generally, there might be said to be about 129 Members to each of the classes he had mentioned. He did not wish, however, to apply the "short division" and ''rule of three" mode of reasoning to the question, with any intention of testing the representation by the rules of arithmetic or geometry. He desired merely to show that some of the interests were over-represented, and others under-represented. Was it not the case that one of the interests — the first and most powerful of them, agriculture, was represented by more than 129? In the first place, there were the 160 county Members who were specially charged with the duty of representing the political interests of agriculture. It might, perhaps, be held that considering the importance of these interests, thirty-one additional Members was not an excessive representation. It must be recollected, however, that there were many boroughs, the interests of which were mainly agricultural. All boroughs were not great centres of trade like Southwark with its 10,000 electors and £1,500,000 of rateable property; Finsbury, with its 20,000 electors and £2,000,000 of rateable property; or Marylebone, with its 21,000 electors, and £6,000,000 of rateable property. It might be truly said that all interests were represented in these boroughs except agriculture. He did not expect that all boroughs should come up to the same standard, or that those which did not should be disenfranchised. Far from it: what he wanted to call the particular 919 attention of the House to was the fact that there were a great number of boroughs in which the interests represented were mainly agricultural. In regard to the boroughs, he was quite at a loss to know what principle had guided the framers of the Act of 1832. They had been dealt with without reference to their size, Some, like Bridport and Dorchester, covering only one square mile, were placed on the same footing as regarded representation as Wenlock, which extended over seventy-three square miles. What limit should be assigned to boroughs not mainly agricultural? Should it be three square miles as in the case of Southwark, or seven as in the case of Marylebone or Finsbury? He had no objection to be as liberal as possible, and would, therefore, suggest as a limit, twelve square miles. He would take the boroughs of twelve square miles where the interests represented were nearly, if not purely, agricultural. Taking that standard, he found that 38 boroughs returning 52 Members, were more than 12 square miles, omitting 12 Welsh boroughs which were also mainly agricultural. There were 15 between 12 and 20 square miles, nine between 20 and 30, eight between 30 and 40, three between 40 and 50, and one, Wenlock, as already mentioned, amounting to 73 square miles. He had no desire to speak of these boroughs invidiously. The electors were men of high character and intelligence, and returned some of the most valued Members in the House. Thus a considerable addition must be made to the Members representing the agricultural interests in that House. It might be said there were counties in which other interests were blended with those of agriculture; but he had taken no note of the twelve Welsh boroughs he had referred to, and also of a great many boroughs under twelve miles in area, which were mainly interested in agriculture. He had also omitted Aylesbury, as he did not know its extent. The one deduction might, therefore, be set off against the other. In the agricultural boroughs there was a vast number of agricultural holdings of between £10 and £50. Why should a small farmer, rated between £10 and £50 rent, be directly represented within a borough, while without its limits that qualification would give no representation at all? The argument that the Bill would reduce the county constituencies to a dead level was quite erroneous. It 920 was the present system which had the effect of creating a dead, dull, uninteresting level. He would not say a word against the £50 voters. They were very intelligent, respectable men, but it must be owned that they had a knack of looking at everything in one way. It was also said that the county Members under the Bill would be lowered to the condition of mere delegates; but there was no ground for that apprehension. Speaking roughly, there were about. 520,000 county electors, of whom 100,000 held occupation votes. The object of the occupancy clause in the Reform Bill was to give a new element to the county representation, but it had signally failed. It had to some extent multiplied the number of electors, but had not introduced any new interests. The only advantage it had conferred was the recognition of the principle of an occupancy franchise in counties. A grievous error was committed in not going below £50, because there was scarcely any difference between the old county qualification and the new one. The men entitled to vote under each occupied much the same social position, shared the same kind of views, and were susceptible to much the same influences. This Bill was intended to remedy this great and glaring defect, by introducing a large number of interests which were entirely shut out from the franchise at present. But it was alleged that many of those who were at present without the franchise were nevertheless indirectly represented. The suggestion was absurd. Who were some of these men who were said to be indirectly represented? There were in counties many persons occupying houses rented at £25, £30, and up to £50—ministers of religion, retired officers of the army or navy, commercial or professional men, who possessed education, intelligence, and respectability. How could they say to such men, "Oh, be content, you are represented by your neighbour in a £50 house." Then, were the interests of the class living in houses between £10 and £25 per annum to be lightly passed over? They were, many of them, men who had risen by their own endeavours from the condition of being employed to that of employers; and was it to be said that they were directly represented under the present system? Those were anomalies that ought to be removed, and would be removed by the adoption of his Bill. Estimates were constantly made of the num- 921 bers who would be introduced by his Bill; but those who talked of the county constituencies being "swamped," made that statement on fallacious information—on Parliamentary Returns of the number of houses rated to the poor between £10 and £50 per annum. One sought to make out that 300,000 new electors would be added to the roll. He was sorry to say that his Bill would add nothing like that number to the county constituencies. The total number of persons rated above £50 was about 200,000, but only 100,000 were actually on the register. Of the persons rated below £50, probably not more than 250,000 would be affected by his Bill; but from that number there must be large deductions, as a considerable proportion of the small shopkeepers in the counties, lodging-house keepers, heads of schools, and many others paying between £10 and £30 per annum rent were widows and spinsters; besides the 40s. freeholders already on the register, not to speak of double returns in parishes. Even, however, if 250,000 were added, the House should bear in mind that the county constituencies had for a long time been in a state of decay; they had not in any degree kept up in numbers with the population and wealth of the country. In a country like this, standing still was going to decay; but the county constituencies had actually decreased, and it was high time they should be reinforced. Many persons; said that £50 was too high and £10 too low, and that there ought to be a compromise. His own opinion was that, whatever might have been the case in former times, the day had gone by when a compromise could be effected. Both sides of the House were committed to the principle of a £10 franchise in counties, and it would be next to impossible to stop at a qualification above £10. If the class whom he wished to bring within the pale of the Constitution were tainted with a revolutionary or seditious spirit there might be some reason for rejecting his Bill; but the whole country was never more peaceful or loyal—in the full sense of the word, more Conservative—than at the present moment, and he did not think any attempt at a compromise would be attended with the slightest success. He might also derive an argument in favour of his Bill from the peculiar state of the times. At no period were our relations with Foreign Powers in such a delicate and difficult position as they were now; but at this 922 critical juncture there could be no doubt the country feels the greatest confidence in and gratitude to the Government for the manner in which they had carried us through—not entirely—but would get us out of those difficulties. But when the great question of peace or war came to be decided, would it not be desirable that a larger body of electors should be consulted? It might be necessary to increase taxation, and, if so, surely it would be satisfactory to the Government to know that their measures had been submitted to the great mass of persons whom he desired to introduce, and that those who were great payers of direct taxation had had a voice in any proposal that rendered necessary an increase in our taxation. It had been urged on a former occasion, and would probably be so again, that this Bill should be postponed till some more convenient time, or a more comprehensive measure was proposed. The postponement of the Bill on either of those points would be degrading to the House, especially as the leaders on both sides of the House had pledged themselves to Reform, and had introduced measures for that purpose He would remind hon. Members on the Liberal side of the House, that many of them were elected at the last general election on the cry of Reform, and the Members of the present Government were placed on the Treasury benches solely on the distinct pledge and promise that they would do their best to carry a measure of Reform. Was chucking a Bill on the table of the House and getting it printed, he asked, doing the best a Government could to get Reform? But he was not without hopes that the noble Lord at the head of the Administration would do something more. Were the Liberal Members to tell their constituents at the next election that the Government whom they had placed in office had neither helped Reform themselves, nor permitted others to do so? He trusted the noble Lord would assist him to pass his Bill, which, though a fragment, would yet go far to remove a great and crying injustice. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. AUGUSTUS SMITH
, on rising to move the Previous Question, expressed his regret that the subject of Reform should 923 have been again brought under the notice of the House during the present Session. The first two Sessions of the present Parliament were wasted by their attention being diverted from their ordinary and proper business to measures for reconstructing the constitution. They were now in the "sere and yellow leaf," and what remained of their time ought not to be consumed in profitless discussions, but should be devoted to the real business of the country. On the occasion of the introduction of this Bill, after he had given notice of his intention to move the Previous Question, the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Locke-King) was kind enough to advise him to consult his constituents on the subject. The fact was that he consulted his constituents at the last two general elections, when he told them plainly and frankly, in answer to questions, that he had the greatest objection to the proposed alteration of the county franchise, and could not support it. But he wished to ask his hon. Friend, whether it was constitutional for Members of that House to consult their constituents upon all the questions that came before them. He had no hesitation in saying, for his own part, that since he had occupied a seat in the House he had never once allowed the thought to cross his mind what his constituents might think of any opinion he might express in that House, or any vote he might give. [Lord HENLEY: Oh, oh!] The hon. Member for Northampton and others might choose to follow a different course, but he should be ashamed of himself if he allowed considerations such as those he had indicated to influence his votes, and, what was more, he believed his constituents would be ashamed of him if he did so. He dwelt on this the more, as when the hon. Gentleman showed how little he understood such a fundamental principle of our Constitution, he was a very unsafe guide as to any changes to be adopted; and he, for one, was not disposed to place himself at his feet as his constitutional Gamaliel. Further consideration had strengthened his conviction of the unreasonableness, danger, and impolicy of the Bill under discussion. He regarded it as one that must inevitably lead to a series of changes which, when completed, would entirely alter the character of our Constitution. The fundamental principle of our Constitution was, and always had been, the equal representation of interests—of separate and independent interests. Just as an elector, no matter 924 what his property might be, had only one vote, so each interest, provided it was sufficiently important to be represented at all, ought, as near as possible, to have an equal voice and share in the Legislature. Many centuries ago, when our Constitution first assumed its present form, Simon de Montfort summoned two knights from every shire, two citizens from every city, and two burgesses from every borough. All the important interests which then existed were required to send the same number of representatives. This principle of duality singularly prevailed, and does so still through a great portion of our civil polity. It was rather Norman than Saxon, and by these same Normans was introduced, much about the same period of history, into Sicily and Hungary. It was unfortunately lost sight of by the Reform Act of 1832, which gave three Members to some places, and one Member to others; and thus, to a certain extent, admitted that the principle of representation should be regulated according to population; but it still regulated the elections to the American Senate. Rhode Island, with a population of not 200,000, about equal to that of Hertfordshire or Oxfordshire, returned the same number of representatives to the Senate as the great State of New York, with a population of 3,000,000, equal to what are comprised in our metropolitan districts. One result was that the Senate stood higher in the estimation of the American people than the House of Representatives, If we were to have a reconstruction of our Constitution, the principle of equal representation of interests ought to be kept steadily in view. He wished to say a few words as to the operation of the measure before them. The hon. Member for East Surrey had said that the county constituencies had been gradually decreasing. He would take the county the hon. Gentleman himself represented. A few years ago the number of electors in East Surrey was about 6,000 or 7,000; it was now 10,000. [Mr. LOCKE-KING said his remark referred to the counties generally.] Then the hon. Member should recollect that the county electors greatly outnumbered the borough electors. There were upwards of half a million county voters, with only 160 representatives, whereas there were about 460,000 borough electors, who returned 338 Members. He objected to great, overgrown, bloated constituencies, because in many respects they operated most prejudicially. Let the House consider what the effect of the present Bill would 925 be. In East Surrey there were 35,000 houses irrespective of those within boroughs, rated for the relief of the poor, and about 20,000 of these were in the immediate vicinity of the metropolis, forming the outskirts of the boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark, such as Battersea, Streatham, Kennington, &c., together with about 7,000 congregated together as a town at Croydon. Thus the Bill would simply give the House two more metropolitan Members. Far be it from him to call in question the merits of the metropolitan Members. They were energetic, well-informed, and industrious; but he might say, at least, that the county Members were possessed of merits which, though different, were not of less value to the deliberations of the House, and well qualified them to hold the candle on occasions to the others. It was to be remembered, moreover, that the metropolitan Members had great advantages over the rest of the House, They, for the most part, lived in London, and had only to walk from their counting-houses or offices to attend to the interests of their constituents in the House and elsewhere. Sydney Smith once said that Bishop Bloomfield, from his residence in London, monopolized all the business of the Ecclesiastical Commission; and embodied in himself the Church of England militant here on earth. In like manner, he was afraid that if the number of metropolitan Members was increased, the proceedings of the House would come to be governed almost entirely by that body of representatives. Another effect of establishing an uniformity of franchise for counties and boroughs might be illustrated by the case of West Surrey. The number of electors in West Surrey at present was between 4,000 and 5,000. In Guildford the voters numbered 500 or 600, each returning the same number of two Members. Nobody objected to that, because the Guildford electors had separate interests of their own; but if by lowering the franchise to £10 the voters of West Surrey were increased to 12,000 or 14,000, the anomaly would become so glaring and absurd that a great cry would be got up for some further change, and a call for an equalization as to Members in the several electoral areas, the franchise being the same, and no longer an expression of separate and distinct interests, which it would be difficult to resist. He believed, indeed, that the Bill now on the table must necessarily lead to electoral districts, which 926 would swamp all the small towns. The small towns might be called the heart of the Liberal interest; they were more independent, and acted under a greater sense of responsibility, than the enormous masses congregated in great cities, and it would be a mistake to allow them to be swamped. On the occasion of both the two last Reform Bills, an agreement seemed to have been come to by the territorial and manufacturing magnates, to allow the remaining nomination boroughs—such as Launceston, Tavistock, Calne, Arundel, and the rest—to stand intact; but he, for one, thought with the late Mr. Hume, that towns above a certain population should be joined together for electoral purposes. Hon. Gentlemen who command these nomination boroughs may rest assured they cannot be retained much longer. They are not strong enough to stand by themselves; but if they are united with other places, while the objectionable principle of individual nomination will be neutralized, if not got rid of, they will become sufficiently large and powerful to preserve their existence. The hon. Member for East Surrey had referred to the fact, that the present Parliament was elected under the promise that they would consider the question of Parliamentary Reform. But it could not be disguised that the general apathy on the subject was such that no blame could attach either to the Government or the Parliament for the course they had taken in reference to that question. He thought the hon. author of this Bill and the House itself would do far better if they applied their skill and diligence to the reduction of the expenditure rather than to devising schemes for remodelling the franchise. In return for the advice his hon. Friend had been pleased to give him, he would venture, in conclusion, to offer him, therefore, this advice—namely, to take care to be more frequently in his place when Estimates were under discussion. It, to be sure, was not a very glorious struggle, but still much was to be done by the machinery which exists. He begged to move the Previous Question.
§ MR. KNIGHTLEY
agreed with the last speaker in thinking that the House could be more usefully employed than in engaging for the twentieth time in flat, stale, and unprofitable discussions which could lead to no practical result. He had no wish to attribute improper motives to the hon. Member for East Surrey, whom everybody respected; but he could not 927 help suspecting that his real object in bringing forward this Motion, was to give himself and his friend something to talk about at the next general election. The hon. Member was evidently afraid that his constituents might ask him how the question of Reform had been dealt with, or why, since the Government had abandoned all their pledges, he had given them so steady and systematic a support. He, doubtless, wished to be able to tell them that he and his party had done their best, and that the censure of the country ought to fall upon the obstinate, wrong-headed, retrograde Members on both sides who had opposed even the mildest measure of Reform, and refused to take a single step in the right direction. No doubt the hon. Member and his friends were entitled to supply themselves with as good an answer to disagreeable questions as they could find; but he, for one, would do what he could to prevent them indulging in frothy claptrap at the expense of the rest of the House. With that view he would endeavour to show that the Bill as it stood, so far from being a step in the right direction, was opposed to all the fundamental principles of Reform laid down by hon. Gentlemen opposite at the last general election. The principles upon which, according to all the authorities, a measure of Reform ought to be based were—first, a more equal distribution of the representation in respect to property and population; and next, the recognition of the rights of the labouring classes to some share of political power. How did the Bill propose to deal with those two principles? First, as to a more equal distribution of the representation. It seemed a strange anomaly that small unimportant places, like Ripon, Richmond, or Tavistock, for example, with a nominal constituency of 200 or 300 electors, and which were really under the dictation of a single individual, should have as many Members of Parliament and as much political power as the whole county in which they were situated, with a population of hundreds of thousands, and an amount of property to be estimated only by millions; and that in divisions in that House the votes of the representatives of Devonshire or Yorkshire should be absolutely neutralized by the nominees sent from two or three insignificant villages. But how did the hon. Member for East Surrey seek to rectify that anomaly? Did he propose to enlarge the area of boroughs or to increase the representatives of coun- 928 ties? He proposed to do precisely the reverse; he proposed enormously to increase, possibly to double, the constituencies of Yorkshire and Devonshire, and to leave the pocket boroughs exactly as he found them. Was that a step in the right direction—was that their enlightened policy—was that consistent with the principles of their Reform programme? But it might be said he had taken an extreme case, and that there were some very large towns and some small counties. The hon. Member for East Surrey did not want to go into arithmetic, but he (Mr. Knightley) did. By the last census it appeared that every county Member in England and Wales represented 71,423 inhabitants, while every borough Member represented only 25,557. That was to say, every county Member on an average represented very nearly three times as large a population as every borough Member. That was an important fact, which he could impress on the attention of the rural districts. Representation and taxation were convertible terms, and those who were least represented in that House would almost infallibly find themselves most overburdened with taxes. But not only did the hon. Gentleman propose nearly to double the number of the county electors, while what the counties required was a very large increase in the number of their Members, but he sought completely to alter the character of the county constituencies. That brought him to another very important point — namely, how the Bill affected the rights of the labouring classes? Hon. Gentlemen opposite, and many also on his side of the House, said at the last general election that, by their improved intelligence and increased respectability, the working classes were fairly entitled to some share of that political power from which they were excluded by the operation of the first Reform Bill. That might be perfectly true in regard to the boroughs for which the hon. Member did not propose now to legislate; but it was not true in regard to the counties. The county franchise was very much lower than the borough franchise. Those who had not looked closely into the matter talked as if the county constituencies consisted mainly of the class to which the hon. Gentleman alluded—namely, the £50 occupiers, or tenants at will under the Chandos Clause That was an entire fallacy. In round numbers the total county constituency was about 500,000 electors. Less than 100,000 voted in the counties by reason of occupa- 929 tion, and more than four-fifths voted in respect of freehold and independent property of their own. Of those freeholders a considerable number belonged to the labouring population—to men who were not of the professional or trading class, but who earned their daily bread by the sweat of their brow and the labour of their hands. A 40s. freehold was in these days an extremely low franchise; it was about 10d. a week. They could not well go much lower than that. He did not say it was too low; for he thought the 40s. freeholders constituted a most valuable element in our representative system. The fact of their retaining their small patrimony of garden ground, or little cottage, or whatever it might be, was strong presumptive evidence at least that those people were industrious and steady in their habits, and as such they were well qualified to exercise some share of political power. Nevertheless, it was an exceedingly low franchise, and it did include a large proportion of the labouring class. He spoke from personal knowledge as to his own county, and he had no reason to suppose it differed in that point from other counties. No doubt, the county Members also represented the large territorial interests of the landed proprietors; but there was nothing incompatible in that. Notwithstanding what the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) might be pleased to assert, there was no antagonism of interest or hostility of feeling between the labouring agricultural class and the great landed proprietors. And if any one doubted the fact that the country Gentleman in that House was the poor man's truest friend and best ally, let him look to the division lists for those who carried the Ten Hours' Act, the Bleaching Works' Bill, and other measures for regulating the duration of labour, and relieving the working class, and he would find that one and all of those measures were passed by the votes of the country Gentlemen. He might be told, perhaps, that these were town questions ["Hear, hear! "] in which the county constituencies had no concern. The hon. Member who cheered, it was clear, did not know much about it. The county Members represented the artisans in the large towns quite as much as the agricultural labourers in the villages. That was a matter of fact, not of mere inference. Take the town of Birmingham, which he selected, because one of its Members had made himself somewhat conspicuous on this subject, and he would bring the question 930 home to his own door. He found from a Return laid on the table some time ago, that in that borough there were 1,910 electors, or in round numbers 2,000, who voted for small property of the value of £2 and upwards of yearly rental. Among them were included a great number of the common operative class; but they were the constituents not of the hon. Member for Birmingham, but of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), and, as such, undoubtedly exercised a very considerable influence in all county contests. No man could vote for the borough Members of Birmingham unless he occupied a house of £10 and upwards rental; this, of course, excluded all the working men in the sense in which he used the term. Therefore, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire did represent a very considerable number of the labouring class in Birmingham, while the hon. Member for that borough did not represent one of them. But if Parliament passed this Bill, it would completely alter the relation that now existed between the county Members and the labouring classes, because it was quite obvious that if to the 100,000 county electors, who now voted by reason of occupation, they added all the £10 occupiers, not one of whom belonged to the working class, properly so called, they would swamp all the small freeholders. Thus they would deprive the poor man of his only political power in the counties, without giving him any equivalent in the boroughs, where they said he ought to have some. Was that their enlightened policy?—was that a step in the right direction? Was that compatible with the principle of Reform? He might be told that that was not their only measure; that they were all, as one man, in favour of the Bill of the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Baines), for a £6 borough franchise. He declined to listen for one moment to that argument; he declined to debate a Bill before the House on the vague assumption that another measure not then before them might be brought forward. Nay, he said, the object of the two measures was not only distinct, but absolutely conflicting. The Bill then under discussion would place the occupier in the county in the same position as the occupier in the borough. The Bill of the hon. Member for Leeds would entirely destroy that principle; and the House could not go on tinkering the Constitution in that way. The other day he read in an ably-conducted periodical these remarks on those Bills— 931Such proposals as that of Mr. Baines and of Mr. Locke-King are simply a nuisance, and nothing more. It is absurd to suppose that they can ever be allowed to pass so long as any kind of statesmanship exists in either House of Parliament. Unless they are stupid blunderers, they are grossly insincere. They are measures in effect revolutionary, and yet even in that sense incomplete; and they are proposed under the plea that no great change would come of them. It may be right that the Constitution should be recast, and that a new class should be installed in power, but no statesman of any party will endure that it should be done surreptitiously by measures of professed innocence and under the guise of sham moderation.That was the opinion of the Saturday Review. He was far from saying that that proposal might not properly form part of a large, a comprehensive, a statesmanlike, and well-considered measure of Parliamentary Reform; but in its present hare and bald state, and as an isolated proposition, he objected to it, because it would be most unjust to the rural districts, and detrimental to the political influence of all the small freeholders. He begged to second the Motion.
§ Previous Question moved, "That that Question be now put."—(Mr. Knightley.)
§ VISCOUNT ENFIELD
said, it was useless to deny that hon. Members sitting on his side of the House were placed in considerable embarrassment by the Bill of the hon. Member for East Surrey; and he was not ashamed to own that he was one of that number. It would be very easy for those who merely wished to give a vote which might please their constituents, or which might, perhaps, have reference to a general election, to vote simply for the second reading of that Bill. But he was one of those who was anxious that the vexed question of Reform should not year after year be dragged through the dirt, and really desirous that, if possible, some definite solution of it might be attained. He was not afraid to own that he thought such a solution was almost hopeless at the present moment. And why did he think so? He looked to the two measures of Reform which were severally introduced by the Government of Lord Derby and by the Government of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton. Neither of those measures received Parliamentary assent; they were hardly even accepted with any feelings of satisfaction by either side of the House. He would say nothing about the Bill brought in by Lord Derby's Government, except this—and he was not averse to make the confession — that it 932 contained, in his judgment, the elements of a solution that would have been more practical, and perhaps more satisfactory, than the measure proposed by the Government of the noble Viscount. But the Bill of the present Government had met with a reception equally unfavourable at the hands of its so-called supporters and opponents; indeed, its professed friends and adherents had treated it with as little favour and courtesy as those who were its declared enemies. In one of the most able and powerful speeches which he had ever heard in that House, the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Massey) exposed in all their hollowness whatever faults that measure contained, and after the delivery of that speech the fate of the Bill was sealed. If Members on his side had not supported the Bill with all the readiness and zeal which they should have shown, considering how they were returned at the last general election, it was hardly becoming that they should now find fault with those who attempted anew the solution of that question. But, even supposing the second reading of the present Bill acceded to, what was the chance of its becoming law? He, for himself, confessed that he was not prepared to support the extension of the county franchise as low as £10, but he should be ready to agree to £20, on the ground that taxation and representation would then go together. The hon. Member for East Surrey said, that the days of compromise were past. He denied that assertion. He believed that a reasonable compromise had never been fairly suggested, except by one right hon. Gentleman, whose position and popularity were deservedly great in that House—the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Walpole); and that proposal had been endorsed by one whose memory would ever be green in that House—the late Lord Herbert. Both of those high authorities said, that if they extended the franchise to £20 occupiers in the counties a satisfactory solution would be attained. He entirely concurred in that view. £20 was the point at which taxation ceased, because below that sum a man did not pay the house tax, and was not qualified to serve on a jury. If, therefore, they went below that point they would not satisfy the reasonable expectations of those who wished to see the county franchise fairly extended, but not too far reduced. What course, then, ought he to take on that occasion? He was anxious to see this question settled, but despaired of its 933 being finally set at rest by his hon. Friend's Bill. The Previous Question had been moved, but he confessed that he did not like that way of getting out of the difficulty. It was hardly fair, and did not accurately represent the feelings either of those who supported or of those who wished to object to the Bill. If the measure went into Committee, he meant to propose that the limit should be £20. He had little expectation of seeing the Bill arrive at that stage; but, considering the importance of the question, and also considering the way in which those especially who sat on his side were returned at the last election, he could not give either an adverse or a silent vote. He could not agree with the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Augustus Smith) in saying that the question ought not to be put. He thought it ought to be put, and, if possible, carried to a satisfactory solution, and he should therefore support the second reading of the Bill, with such reservations and modifications as he had ventured to shadow forth.
§ LORD ROBERT MONTAGU
thought that the arguments of the noble Lord were sound, but the result at which he had arrived was a very lame conclusion to his able speech. His own great objection to the Bill was that it was founded on a delusion. It assumed that the representation of the country was a real thing. This was a hallucination. He begged the House to consider two facts. The first was that the representation of the counties was in the hands of the large landowners. It was chiefly in the hands of the Peers. Every one, he thought, would confess that—even the country Gentlemen themselves. This was certainly an anomaly; but this he must say, that he did not disapprove of that so much as he did of that to which he was about to allude. It was right that it should be so to a certain extent, because it secured an adequate representation for the wealth of the country. The other proposition, which he thought would be equally accepted, was this, that the borough representation was in the hands of the "whips" on the two sides of the House. ["No!"] If a man wanted a seat, it was well known that he applied to one of the "whips;" and that, he supposed, was the way in which every Member got in for a borough. Sometimes, when a vacancy occurred in a borough, if no candidate had been already provided, then a deputation was sent up by train to an office in London for a candidate. Then some gentleman, whose name 934 had been previously placed on a list kept by the "whip," went down to the constituency and was, perhaps, returned for the borough, although he had never been heard of before. That the borough seats should be in the hands of the two "whips "on each side of the House, was very objectionable. If the representation was in the hands of patrons, faction was sure to be nourished. For the question put to the constituencies was merely, "Whom will you have for Prime Minister—the leader on this side, or the leader on that side?" So that the whole matter at issue was one of men and not of measures. The electors were asked to decide on the names, not on the policy of the Administration. He called this a mummy franchise, or representation embalmed in parties. This could not be rectified except in one way. For there was only one thing which the people of England cared about, and that was to accumulate wealth. They desired to have their hands free and unshackled in order to amass riches. Hence their worship of free trade; for restrictions on trade were restraints on the increase of wealth. When men had accumulated wealth sufficient, then their only object was to enjoy it in peace and security. They invested it in land and became conservatives, and thought of handing it down to posterity. Sometimes manufacturers, who had heaped up riches, purchased estates with a fine park and mansion, and came to that House to support the Ministry of the day and obtain a peerage. Thus they acquired the power in the country which belonged to landed property, which was, indeed, inseparable from wealth. If they did separate wealth and political power, with the intention of putting a real franchise in the hands of the electors, they would only be generating a constant conflict. Wealth would strive to increase its power, and the mob would attempt to grasp at wealth, by seeking to confiscate the property of those who possessed it. The hon. Member for East Surrey tried to alter that state of things, and to make the county representation a reality by means of lowering the franchise. But that would not divert power into other channels besides property; it would increase the power of the landowners; it would give a greater hold to the aristocracy. In the counties they would buy up the votes of the mob; and the lower the franchise the easier these votes could be bought. The effect of that would be that the landowners would degrade and corrupt the people. The leaders 935 of Parties would seek power by the same means—by moral degradation and corruption. They also would bribe the electors; they would moreover not only maintain but create offices to give to their friends in return for support. Such would be the results of a lowering of the franchise—the moral degradation of the people. At first the franchise might be good-humouredly exercised amid beer and blarney; by-and-by the elections would be carried on, as in America, with the aid of bludgeons, until at last the reign of bayonets and despotism came in. The present electors, moreover, would not like to have their heels trodden on by a class now inferior; they already repudiate the notion of being swamped. The candidate would not trouble himself to enter the trim little parlour of the farmer when he could secure the votes of half a dozen labourers in the dung-yard. But how, then, were they to separate wealth from power? The only way of doing it was the plan lately suggested by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Cobden). It was most consistent in that hon. Gentleman to make such a suggestion. The only thing he had wondered at was that when he had chalked it up on the wall he ran away and denied it. The only mode of doing it was by abolishing the law of primogeniture, by subdividing property, by breaking up wealth into many hands, and thus pounding power into little impalpable atoms. But then they must remember that they changed the whole face of the nation; it would then become democratic. They would then give the farm of the freeholder, the estate of the gentry, the funds of the merchant, and the stock of the trader, to be taxed by an ignorant and indigent mob. This would rob men of the fruits of their industry, and therefore discourage industrial pursuits. That was why, if there were a true Conservative party, there could be no other party at all; because there would be on the one side all the wealth and power, which is conservative, and on the other side only the democratic mob, which would be penniless and politically powerless. Since the Reform Act of 1832, neither wiser legislators nor acuter statesmen had appeared on the stage to act their parts. The only difference now was that they heard, not that certain principles should be supported, but that the people desired so-and-so, and that their desires must be submitted to. Yet they knew how opinions were bred. They knew how desires and passions in the people were fanned. Men did not think 936 for themselves, but read their newspapers; and those newspapers, with but very few exceptions, were in the hands of the leaders of parties; and thus they came round to the point from which they first started. He objected to the measure of the hon. Member because it proceeded on a hallucination—namely, that a real franchise was in the hands of the constituencies, whereas it was really in the hands of the large landowners or the leaders of parties in that House; and because the only effect of lowering the franchise would, therefore, be to lower the moral feeling of the people.
thought that a Bill like the present might have been allowed to pass that House without much opposition from either side, and particularly from the Opposition, for a provision very much resembling it was contained in the measure of Reform, which the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire introduced. The Bill might, therefore, be permitted to go into Committee, and might there be thoroughly discussed. It was a step in the right direction—in the direction of that Reform which those on his side were taught to believe was part of their creed. The measure was a safe one. Our commerce and prosperity had largely increased since 1832, and the country had been kept clear, to a great extent, of foreign wars. That was, he believed, mainly due to the beneficial effects of the Reform Act of that year, and to the manner in which it had brought public opinion to bear on the conduct of national affairs. The Bill now before the House, however, required the addition of a few clauses, and then it would be a very valuable measure. As it stood it would increase the power of the landlords, from its admitting a small class of voters who were utterly dependent on their landlords. He had learnt for the first time that day, from the noble Lord the Member for Huntingdon (Lord Robert Montagu), that it was a very beneficial thing that the Peers should have influence in the elections to that House.
§ LORD ROBERT MONTAGU
had not said that that was beneficial, but that it was not so injurious as that the boroughs should be in the hands of the leaders of that House.
could assure the noble Lord that the boroughs were not in the hands of the leaders of that House, but that their Members were returned because the electors thought they would support their views in Parliament. Not one hun- 937 dredth part of the boroughs chose their Members because any "whip" in that House told them to do it. Any man of political standing was almost certain to find a borough to return him if his opinions coincided with those of the constituency, The present Bill would enfranchise occupiers of houses between £50 and £10 rent in towns—a class of men wholly unexceptionable. They consisted chiefly of tradesmen, ministers of all denominations, clerks, and men of business. Such tenants, for the most part, were as independent of their landlords as their landlords were independent of them. But when they came to the agricultural districts they found a very different state of things. Those who paid rents of between £10 and £50 were mostly very small farmers, the most dependent class which it was possible to imagine. If intrusted with the franchise they would be brought up to the poll in droves, to vote entirely at the beck of their landlords. The hon. Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. Knightley) had remarked on the wide disparity between the average amount of population represented by each county and by each borough Member respectively; but there was a good reason for that inequality—namely, that while the borough electors were independent, the county electors were dependent, and not allowed to have an opinion of their own. On another point this Bill did not go far enough—it totally excluded the labouring classes. The line which it drew would pass over the heads of labouring men, scarcely any of whom occupied £10 houses. Why, he would ask, were they to be excluded? These men paid taxes and were able to hold opinions on political subjects. Efforts were being made to ameliorate their condition in every respect, except giving them a voice in the representation of the country. It would be better, in his opinion, to have a household franchise than a £10 one. If they were to take the definition of a house as laid down by the Census Commissioners in their last Report, and if they were to admit each occupier of such a house to the right of voting, they would obtain a clear and decided criterion, which would admit almost every respectable occupier to the franchise. Considering the great addition which this Bill would make to the constituency, he thought his hon. Friend who brought it forward should have proposed in it some means by which the expense of county elections might be reduced 938 —for instance, by increasing the number of polling places, by providing that votes should be taken by voting papers, or by some other such machinery. He did hope that the subject would not be lost sight of. They must keep their eyes upon it, and even if this Bill were not carried in the form in which it now stood, he trusted they would have the opportunity of again discussing the subject, and that discussion would eventually lead to the adoption of some measure which would be for the good of the country.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
rejoiced at the tone and temper of the debate. He thought it showed that the House bad made great and effectual progress in the consideration of the question of Reform. It was welt known that he was a Conservative according to the meaning of that word in 1842—too decided a Conservative he feared for hon. Members who sat on the front bench on that side of the House. But why was he a Conservative? Because he was anxious to preserve that form of Constitution which secured our freedom, and because he did not believe that freedom—too often won by violence—could be defended against the aggressions that were directed against it without violence, except by law. Now, no subject, in his estimation, could be better worthy of the deep deliberation of the House than the constitution of the body which was to frame the laws that should defend our freedom; and it would be unworthy of that House to declare that they were not ready to examine and consider whether they in that House duly represented the intelligence, the power, the whole elements of the nation, the action of which it was the intention of the Constitution to elicit for the government of the Empire. He had felt the force, the truth, and the sound judgment manifested in the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Viscount Enfield), one of whose constituents he had the honour to be, and representing as he did another constituency which might be considered metropolitan—a constituency embracing almost as great a variety of interests as that which the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex represented, he agreed with the noble Lord that it would become neither of them to reject summarily every proposal for the re-arrangement of the legislative machinery of the nation, and to declare that they considered it immutable, and incapable of being accommodated to the change of circumstances and the altered 939 position of the country in the vast progress which it was making. But he totally differed from the conclusion at which the noble Lord appeared to have arrived. The noble Lord condemned the Bill as containing an objectionable proposal, and as insufficient in itself. He agreed with the noble Lord that the proposal contained in the Bill was objectionable, and that the Bill was insufficient, and, therefore, he should vote for the Previous Question, hoping that when next the hon. Member for East Surrey submitted a proposal of this nature to the House he would submit it rather more in detail, and with more clauses and machinery in it, to enable the House to judge what would he its practical effect. The hon. Member proposed a Bill containing but one element in a very few clauses; but the House must all feel that if this change was effected others must follow. He thought they had a right to expect that when a proposal of this sort was submitted the immediate consequences which must follow from the adoption of the principle of the Bill, should be provided for in the machinery of the Bill itself. Otherwise, the House was asked practically to take a leap in the dark. He thought they should not be called upon to scramble for results in the mere chance medley of a Committee. The Bill practically proposed a uniformity of franchises between the counties and boroughs. He thought that this uniformity of franchises would be greatly objectionable, because the representative constitution of this country, which had been pre-eminent in its success, was characterized more by its variety than by any other quality. We had a hereditary House of Lords, and we had a House of Commons, returned by constituencies of various character, ensuring the representation not only of all classes but of a great variety of personal characteristics within these classes; while a due representation of those interests on which the wealth and industry of the people depended was also ensured. He also objected to the Bill on a point which was touched by the noble Lord the Member for Northampton (Lord Henley). He (Mr. Newdegate) represented a large body of 40s. freeholders, and if this Bill passed they would be completely swamped, just as the tenant farmers would be. He did not think it would be right to swamp those two elements, because he did not consider that those two elements had proved unworthy of confidence. The 40s. 940 freeholders formed the most independent portion of the county constituencies; and he could say this in vindication of the tenant farmers, that he was returned by them at one period in direct opposition to the majority of the landowners of the division. Therefore, when he heard the independence of that class impugned, he replied that he sat for one Parliament in that House as the direct representative of their independence. He deprecated bit by bit Reform, on the ground that it was simply cheating the House and the country into the adoption of measures which, taken by themselves, must inevitably prove unsatisfactory. It was clear, as the case stood, that the majority of the people of this country ought to have a fuller representation in that House. He did not say this in the sense of merely wishing to favour the agricultural interest. He represented a county constituency which was a mixed constituency. A Return issued in the year 1851, after the Census of 1851, showed that in the counties the annual value of real property was £60,564,288. The inhabited houses were 2,053,998; the population was 10,495,930; and the Members returned were 159. The annual value of real property in the boroughs and cities in 1851 was £42,898,247, the inhabited houses were 1,383,000; and the population 7,431,679; the Members returned by this minority being 337, or more than double the number of those returned by the majority. He had wished to see whether this state of things had changed in 1861, and he found by a Return issued in that year, that the annual value of real property in the counties, exclusive of boroughs, was £66,208,505; the number of inhabited houses was 2,290,061; the population was 11,427,775; and the number of Members returned was 160. In the boroughs and cities the annual value of real property was £47,850,033, the number of inhabited houses was 1,449,444, the population 8,638,469, and the number of Members returned 338. According to that calculation each county Member represented an average population of 71,423, and each borough Member represented a population of 25,657. Thug the proportions were virtually unchanged; and he held that the House ought not to deal with the representation of the people unless it was prepared to adjust that representation, in some degree, to the number of the constituents. That was the principle of the Bill of 1832, and of the Bills 941 introduced by Lord Russell in 1851 and 1854. There were some objections to the Bill of 1854, but that was taken, as a whole, the best of the schemes of Reform that had, of late years, been submitted to the House. It did not contemplate merely an addition to the representation of the agricultural body, but it proposed to give additional representatives to those county populations which had increased more rapidly than the average borough populations, thus increasing the primary disproportion of representation to the disadvantage of the inhabitants of the counties. He thought no man could deny this fact, that by collecting voters into large constituencies they did not provide for the elicitation and expression of the real intelligence of those large constituencies which could only be elicited by due subdivision, and the establishment of a direct relation between the representatives and the inhabitants of well-defined localities. It was confessed that these vast masses were governed by cliques, and he thought if the House would consider the exhibition made where universal suffrage prevailed—if they would remember how easily undue influence had been made predominant through plebiscites for the establishment of despotism abroad, and if they had regard to the fact that democracy had established two despotisms in America, it would be evident that they should exercise great care in dealing with this question. Those who loved freedom as he did, would manifest the greatest care in dealing with the representation, which ought to be so regulated as to elicit the general sense of the people in such a manner as to render it worthy of being deemed public opinion.
§ MR. WARNER
did not much like the Bill, but he thought there were reasons why the House ought not to dismiss it in the summary manner which was proposed by the Amendment. The Bill was an attempt to remedy an acknowledged defect in the representation. If he might say so without offence, he thought it was a clumsy and an impracticable attempt. For that very reason, and in order to clear the way for future reform, he wished to see it thoroughly discussed in Committee. It had been admitted by all parties at different times, that the basis of the franchise was too narrow and ought to be enlarged. The great question in dispute, which had paralysed the action of Parliament for many years, was the question how to en- 942 large the basis wisely and safely, and consistently with the traditions of the nation. Large measures of reform had been introduced, but they had failed because they were too large for consideration. Members looked at these subjects from so many different points of view, that it was found impossible to agree upon any common principles for legislation. The great merit of the present Bill was, that it raised one definite point — that of uniformity in the franchise. He did not approve of uniformity. He believed that the diversity of our existing franchise, the distinct character of different constituencies, was the great safeguard of liberty against the tyranny of majorities. He hoped Parliament would never consent to abandon that safeguard. If we did so, we should have to try under difficulties to establish some other protection for our liberties in place of it; some one, perhaps, of the many forms which had been proposed of plural voting; or even the scheme known as Mr. Hare's, the most perfect system that had ever been devised for a theoretical constitution. But in this country it was very difficult to introduce innovations of this nature. It was easier to maintain the advantages we possessed than to introduce new securities for our protection. He was very anxious to have this question of uniformity in the franchise set at rest. If he might venture to offer a suggestion to the House, it would be to allow this Bill to pass a second reading, and to refer it to a Select Committee, where the questions which it raised might be thoroughly examined. He did not believe any Committee would approve of a uniform franchise; but a negative decision might be of great value. It might perhaps be said that it was inconsistent to affirm the principle of the Bill at the second reading, and then leave it to be negatived by a Committee. But this was not what he proposed. If the House agreed to the second reading, the only principle it would affirm was, that the £50 qualification in counties was excessive, and ought to be reduced. He thought there were few Members on either side of the House who would think that a very dangerous doctrine. A Select Committee might perhaps recommend a qualification intermediate between the existing £50 and the £10 proposed by the Bill; and if the House was dissatisfied with the decision of the Committee it would still be in its power to reject the Bill. He thought the course he had suggested would be more respectful to 943 the expressed opinions of large numbers of hon. Members' constituents than the course which had been recommended by the Amendment.
§ MR. BENTINCK
said, he would assure the hon. Gentleman who brought forward this measure, that the last thing he would do was to use a single expression in any way discourteous to him. He deserved, on the contrary, the tribute of every hon. Member in that House for the combined courtesy and ability with which he had always treated this question; and, therefore, in any remarks he might make, he hoped the hon. Gentleman would clearly understand that he was speaking solely with reference to the measure, and not in any way discourteously to himself. He must say, in the first place, that the hon. Gentleman occupied a somewhat false position in that House as the advocate of this measure; and, in the next place, he thought he had brought forward some most remarkable arguments in favour of it. First, as to the position of the hon. Member. Highly and deservedly respected as he was, both in the House and in the district he represented, he must beg to remind the House that, practically speaking, he was not a county Member. Nominally, he was so; and that he was worthy to represent any constituency in the country he fully admitted; but circumstances over which he had no control practically did not place him in that House in the position of a county Member. He was virtually one of that dangerous class of metropolitan Members who never rose without making the House tremble to its very centre, for it was always expected that they were about to press some unjustifiable and piratical attack on the public purse. He hoped never to see their number increased. The House was entitled to have some misgiving as to the sincerity of the hon. Member's views when he told them he came forward as the champion of the rural interest. The first argument he used to induce the House to receive his proposal favourably, was that all other measures of Reform had been cast aside unheeded. That was true; but was there anything in this measure that entitled it to more favourable regard? So far from that, it was open to even more objections than most of the unfortunate Reform Bills that had been already rejected by the House. He said all who loved the Constitution desired to improve its efficiency; and how did he proceed? Why, by taking away that very small share of 944 representation which a large proportion of the wealth, knowledge, and influence of the country now possessed. It had been said that objections were made to the Bill because it would be injurious to the interests of certain classes. He did not know what classes were referred to, but certainly the Bill, if passed, would deprive one particular class of all share of influence in the House, because it would entirely swamp the rural districts, which were already so imperfectly represented. The hon. Member said the Bill was intended to give a share in the representation to those who were now excluded; but that was not so. The real object was to increase the power of a class already, unduly powerful in that House. The hon. Member said he had not based his measure upon any mere arithmetical calculation; and that was true, for if he had paid regard to the Liberal maxim that numbers should be represented, he would not seek to diminish the small amount of power possessed by the most numerous and wealthy class in the country. He (Mr. Bentinck), therefore, congratulated the hon. Member for his discretion in giving up the arithmetical argument, for as his hon. Friend behind him (Mr. Knightley) had clearly shown, any reliance on that argument would have left him not a leg to stand on. But the most extraordinary argument of all in favour of this Bill was that of the noble Lord the Member for Northampton, that the Bill ought to be passed because the Members on both sides of the House were pledged, through their leaders, to reform. How had the House dealt with those who were spoken of as its leaders? If an onslaught was made upon the Government from that (the Opposition) side of the House, under the guidance of its leaders, the attack was easily repelled; but if made by independent Members it was almost sure to be successful. It was a known fact that those who were called the leaders on both sides of the House could not rely upon more than fifty or sixty men to follow them at all times. [A laugh.] Hon. Members need not laugh at that. Only last year there was a remarkable instance of the fact. Upon a question of great importance, as it was held to be, the leaders on the Ministerial Bench and those on the front Opposition Bench joined their forces, but the result was that they were beaten by an increased majority by the independent Members on both sides of the House. Thus it was 945 useless to talk of the House being bound by the promises of its leaders whom nobody followed. The noble Lord the Member for Northampton (Lord Henley) had spoken of the political creed of the great Liberal party, but did not go into detail upon that subject. Now, if any one would tell him what the creed of the great Liberal party was, it would solve one of the greatest mysteries of the time. The noble Lord also referred to the beneficial effects which he believed the Reform Act of 1831 had had upon the foreign policy of 1864. Now, if he (Mr. Bentinck) could believe that, he would become one of the most ardent Reformers. The noble Lord had not, however, explained how the connection could be proved between the Reform Bill of 1831 and the political events of foreign countries in 1864. The noble Lord had apparently misunderstood an expression of his noble Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Lord Robert Montagu). who had not said that Peers ought to exercise influence over the elections of Members of Parliament, but merely that Peers must necessarily exercise a certain influence at elections, not as Peers but as the owners of large properties. But among other dogmas of reform one was that Peers should not interfere at elections, and that prohibition required explanation. Why upon any principle of equity and justice, should not a Peer be allowed to take part in elections so long, at least, as the other House of Parliament was prevented from having any voice in matters of taxation? If that were the practice of the Constitution, the only thing they could do was to say to the Peers, "You shall have no voice in the taxation of the country, for by a parity of reasoning you are exempted from all taxation, otherwise you would be deprived of your rights as citizens." Until that principle was recognized by law he, for one, was prepared to say that the right of the Peer to vote for a Member of that House was indisputable, and any attempt to dispute that right was a gross and clear act of injustice. The noble Lord had spoken of the greater independence in boroughs as compared with counties; but that point was not admitted. In times of great public excitement the electors in boroughs were driven by popular clamour, and an amount of coercion was practised which contrasted strongly with the proceedings in counties, such as had been described by his hon. Friend behind him. It was well known, that in one-half the boroughs 946 of this country, the question at a time of election was what candidate had the most money. The experience of that House proved that nearly all the bribery cases which had arisen referred to boroughs and not to counties. Therefore, the effect of increasing the borough constituencies would be simply to increase the area of corruption. He concurred with the hon. Member for Truro in his objections to these bit-by-bit reforms. The inevitable consequence of admitting such measures as this—would be that, to the prejudice of the public business of the country, the House would be engaged every Session discussing some favourite reform project of particular Members. He now told the hon. Member for East Surrey that it was impossible to devise any measure, or to suggest any proposal more entirely destructive of the interests of the rural districts than that which he had introduced. The hon. Gentleman said his object was to increase the area of the rural franchise. The effect of his Bill would be precisely the reverse. The effect would be to flood every rural district in this country with an enormous infusion of what he might term the urban element. The rural districts were now unfairly and insufficiently represented, and the effect of the proposed measure would be to destroy in that House what little share of representation the rural districts at present possessed, by flooding every county in England with an enormous number of urban voters residing in the small towns. He appealed to the representatives of the rural districts to bear in mind that the only real existing grievance of which any reformer had a right to complain was the insufficient representation of the rural districts. All other complaints were only got up for the purpose of creating political capital and talking political claptrap.
§ MR. NEATE
said, that three-fourths of the representation was really in the hands of the landed aristocracy, and therefore it was a mistake to complain of the rural districts being not fairly represented. There were but few towns except the metropolis, one or two commercial ports, and some particularly independent constituencies, such as that which he had the honour to represent, which were not more or less under the influence of the landed aristocracy. And even Oxford, up to the time of his own return, was in part under the influence of the landed aristocracy. It had been imputed to him that he had accused the aristocracy of insensibility towards the 947 wants and feelings of the poor. He had never made such a charge, which would be unjust; but when the efforts of the landed aristocracy on behalf of the factory operatives was held up for admiration, he would remark that, although it was kind to ask their neighbours to treat their servants well, yet it would be kinder still to attend to the wants of their own servants. He hoped that when the question of union rating came under consideration, the landed aristocracy would consider the interests of the labourers rather than their own.
§ MR. TREHERNE
said, that although not the youngest, yet he was one of the newest Members of the House, and therefore asked their indulgence while he addressed a few remarks to them. He did not rise to abuse the landed aristocracy, nor to discuss whether they exercised too much influence in the smaller towns, because those matters had nothing to do with the question before the House. He only ventured to speak now, because, when he was a candidate at the last and previous elections, he had been rigidly questioned upon one point, and he had then declared it to be his deliberate opinion that, in order to calm the agitation and misunderstanding that prevailed, a £20 franchise in counties and a £10 rental franchise in boroughs was an arrangement which should have his support. [A laugh.] He assured hon. Members that he did not come into that House as a delegate, but as an independent Englishman, to express his opinion, whether it pleased or displeased Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House. An hon. Gentleman had asked what was the political creed of the great Liberal party; and upon that point he (Mr. Treherne) was equally ignorant, notwithstanding the fact that although he was but a young Member he was a candidate of thirty-two years' standing. He was not indebted for his seat to any of the landed aristocracy, but he sat in that House in consequence of the death of a very eminent gentleman who had been called "the Master of Whiggery." Had that right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Ellice) lived he (Mr. Treherne) might not have been now a Member of that House; but he had been returned by a triumphant majority over a gentleman bearing a name that was worthily honoured in Parliament and in the country. At his frequent elections he had always been questioned upon this subject of county representation, and if the hon. Member for Surrey had stuck to his text he would 948 have had his support. But the hon. Member had departed from his text. He had not had the prudence of introducing the thin end of the wedge, but he had sought to ram it home at once. He did not know what the opinions of hon. Gentlemen opposite might be, but to him it appeared that there was a considerable difference between £10 and £20. He thought this measure was both premature and inconsistent, but he was aware that it was a matter of policy just before a general election to revive the cry of "Reform;" and even to proclaim the name of Tory, which he had already heard several times in that House. When the elections came on the electors were puzzled to find out what was a Tory. They made antediluvian researches to discover the origin of Tories; they regarded them sometimes as bipeds of some abnormal shape—perhaps with a tail and hoofs—but they were always led to believe that they were men with the worst possible designs. He had been returned to that House as a Tory, and he rejoiced in the name, for he had achieved a greater victory than if he had come there under the name of a Liberal Conservative or a Liberal. A Tory was a gentleman of independent means, of independent mind, who would speak the truth, and would not be deterred by the laughter of one party or the frowns of another. With regard to the Bill under discussion, he thought there had been much assertion but little argument in its favour. This was not the time for a party one-sided measure. One Member ought not to come with a Bill for a £10 or £20 franchise, another with a Bill for the Ballot, and another with a Bill for something else; but there should be some comprehensive attempt to settle this vexed question, and to relieve parties from much of that asperity of feeling which unfortunately was so often exhibited.
§ MR. PEASE
said, he did not know nor care to inquire which political party would be gainers by this measure, but he regarded it broadly as a question whether there were not large numbers of persons who were well qualified to exercise the franchise and who did not yet possess it. Every one would admit that, since the franchise was first established upon its present basis, there had been great advances made in respect of intelligence and wealth, and it was inconsistent to allow the representation to remain exactly as it was when other and different circumstances existed. Every hon. 949 Member must be aware that in his own neighbourhood there were many persons qualified to vote, who nevertheless had no share in the representation. Objections were made to partial reforms; but because a complete measure could not be obtained, that was no reason why an instalment should not be accepted. When a complete measure of Reform was proposed it was rejected; and when a mere bit of Reform was asked for it was refused, because a complete measure was not presented. Such a state of things could not continue for ever. He had been sorry to be obliged to draw an inference from the discussion that many hon. Members had no confidence in their neighbours, and he must also deprecate the argument that those Members who supported Reform measures were indulging in political claptrap or making mere hustings speeches. The strength of that House depended upon its being a full, free, and hearty representation of the views and opinions of the country, and until the representation was placed upon that footing, Members must be expected to bring in Bills for the removal of admitted evils.
§ SIR JOHN WALSH
said, he thought they were much obliged to the hon. Member for Coventry (Mr. Treherne) for enlivening a debate which before had been remarkable only for its dull gravity and repose—a feeling he might remark which seemed fully shared in by people out of doors on this subject. There had been no gathering on Kennington Common or Primrose Hill in favour of Reform—almost no petitions to the House on the subject. This apathy on a question which once convulsed the country was not a little surprising. Another singular circumstance was that the Bill had not found a single supporter in that House, and it was doubtful whether even the hon. Member for East Surrey was a hearty admirer of his own Bill. Not one of those who had spoken that evening and said that they intended to vote for the second reading, had done so without qualification; every one of its professing supporters had found fault with it as imperfect, defective, or inadequate—and intended to vote for it only in order that they might alter and modify it. Another objection to the Bill was that it was not designed to be a final measure, but only as a prelude to future legislation. At present, however, it seemed to be brought forward merely as a matter of habit. The noble Lord the Member for Northampton had in his remarks argued very much on the post hoc propter hoc 950 principle. The noble Lord appeared to believe that all the progress that the country had made since the passing of the Reform Bill was attributable to that measure. Did the noble Lord, however, believe, that the introduction of railroads and steamboats, and the discovery of the goldfields of Australia and California were the results of the adoption of the Reform Bill? The real fact was, that not only had humanity in general made great progress, but the English nation itself had exhibited a growing conviction that the views and opinions upon which the Reform Bill had been founded were fallacious. He believed that the first Reform Bill was promoted by a number of Gentlemen who entertained, and, for ought he knew, might still entertain the idea that the true secret of progress was embodied in the extension of democratic principles. He was quite certain that the experience of France, and more recently that of America, had convinced many of the fallacy of those opinions, and that they no longer regarded as models the Constitutions of those two countries.
§ MR. COLLINS
said, he believed that the Bill was one which would not be supported by any hon. Member with sincerity. There were no two Members among those who supported the Bill supported it on the same grounds. One noble Lord had intimated his intention of supporting the second reading in order that the rate fixed by the Bill might be reduced, and another noble Lord also proposed giving it his support in order that he might double the amount. He maintained that the various Reform measures which had been introduced during the last fourteen years had all been in direct hostility to the principles of the Bill, Those measures had dealt with the questions of borough and county representation and the re-distribution of seats; but the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for East Surrey dealt only with one of those questions. The hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Baines) also had a Bill bearing upon borough suffrage, which he had proposed bringing forward, but it was understood that he now intended to abandon it. [Mr. BAINES: No!] His reason for that statement was, that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Sir Francis Crossley) had said that the Bill was only brought forward for the purpose of inducing the Government to transfer the assizes to Leeds instead of to Wakefield. The Bill of 1852 bad an opposite effect to that of the one now brought forward by 951 the hon. Member for East Surrey, because it took out of the county a number of towns and grouped them together, so that, instead of extending town influence in the county representation, its effect was exactly the reverse. The Reform Bill of 1854 was in like manner unfavourable to the principle at present proposed, because, while making a most considerable addition to the number of county Members, it selected a number of towns which had formerly shared in the county representation, and gave them the power of electing their own Members; thus doubly enhancing the county interest by the reduction of the urban element. The Reform Bill introduced by the present Government in 1860, although he believed it to be the worst of its kind that had been framed, dealt with the respective claims for representation to a limited extent in the same way. The Bill of 1859, proposed by Lord Derby's Government, made some addition to the number of county Members, and diminished the number of unenfranchised large towns. The Bill of 1854 was, in his opinion, the most statesmanlike attempt that had ever been made to grapple with this complex and difficult question. The real object of the hon. Member for East Surrey, as expressed in the Bill he had brought forward, was to disfranchise the rural element. He protested against the idea that the Bill had been supported by successive Governments. He believed that its second reading had only been approved in order to allow it to be sent into Committee. He was convinced that the majority of the House had never entertained the principle of extending the suffrage to all £10 county householders. It was said that hon. Members on his side of the House were bound by the Bill of Lord Derby. He did not, however, believe that they were averse to the principle of £10 householders in the country receiving the franchise, but they held that their voice in the representation should have effect in the town and not in the county elections. If it is thought desirable that the £10 householders in counties should be enfranchised, they should be annexed to the towns where they transacted their business, and the smaller towns ought to be grouped together, as was the case in Wales and Scotland. He would assume as correct the statement regarding the Members who sat for boroughs while they virtually represented county interest, though he believed that statement to be exaggerated. Supposing that statement 952 to be correct, there would only be 210 such Members in the House as compared with something like 280 representing the boroughs; so that the borough interest would still be much better represented than that of the county. The question ought to be looked at fairly, and not be brought forward just at the close of Parliament as a mere hustings' cry, which, in reality, it was, because, during the last four years, with a majority in the House favourable to liberal opinions, it had not been attempted to introduce the subject. The effect of the Bill in Middlesex, if it were to come into operation, would only be to add another metropolitan borough to those already existing—a thing against which, in the year 1861, this House had most emphatically protested. The question of Reform was one, he was convinced, which would be looked at one day in a statesmanlike point of view; but he should oppose the Bill, because he believed it was calculated to create a dominant town interest in county constituencies—an interest which was already too great.
§ MR. HIBBERT
said, he for one should go into the lobby with the sincerest desire that the measure should succeed; and he believed that was the feeling on his side of the House. He would support a proposition for the grouping of boroughs in certain cases, or any similar measure which would help on the cause of Reform. The hon. Member (Mr. Knightley) said that the county Members represented on the average 75,000 inhabitants, while the borough Members represented only 25,000, but the hon. Gentleman need not hold that conclusive against giving more voting power to the county Members. For his own part, he neither believed that the influence of Peers in the county representation was greater than it must naturally be; nor, on the other hand, that the borough Members were returned by the influence of the "whips" on either side. He believed that this measure would strengthen, and not weaken the Constitution, and he considered that many persons were unjustly treated in being excluded from the franchise.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Sir, I am anxious, before the House comes to a division, to state in a very few words the reasons for the vote which I intend to give. I cannot vote against the Bill of my hon. Friend, because that might warrant the supposition that I am indisposed to any change in the county franchise. Un- 953 doubtedly, I am of opinion that there might be some change effected. At the same time, it is but fair and candid to my hon. Friend and to the House to say that I cannot vote for the £10 franchise proposed by the Bill. It appears to me that the object we ought all to have in view is to form a legislative machine in which all interests in the country shall be fairly represented. The two leading interests of this country are on the one hand the trading and the commercial interests, and on the other the agricultural interest; and any alteration of our system which tends to introduce too largely the trading and commercial, or the town, element into the agricultural, or country element, would I think injuriously disturb the balance which it is essential for the interests of the country that we should maintain. That is the view which I take of the measure of my hon. Friend, and therefore, if it should go into Committee, I shall not he prepared to vote for the particular franchise which he proposes to introduce. It will be time enough when we are in Committee to consider what the franchise should be. Then, Sir, I venture to differ from my hon. Friend as to the expediency of the course which he has determined to pursue. It is quite natural, that having fixed his mind upon his particular measure, he should take every fair opportunity of bringing it under the consideration of the House. But I think it would have been better if he had abstained from mooting the question. It is plain to every man, I think, who attends at all to the indications of public opinion in this House and in the country, that there, does not exist at the present moment in this House or out of it the same interest in such changes as existed some time since. The fact is, that organic changes have been looked to not as a mere end so much as a means to an end. They were looked to as a means of effecting great alterations and improvements in our internal system, our commercial system, our laws, procedure, and other matters. Many of those improvements have been made. Commerce has been freed from its shackles, the industry of the country has been encouraged by liberty, and many of those alterations and improvements which were to be the result of organic changes have been accomplished by the Legislature as it stands; and therefore there is a less ardent desire for change than existed before those improvements were made. There are also other considerations connected with external affairs which have tended 954 to allay the desire for organic changes—I mean considerations arising from the events which have occurred in other countries, and which are attributable, in a great measure, to the influence of organic arrangements in those countries. Those examples seem to indicate danger from interfering with the organic system of the country, and have rendered us less anxious for changes that might possibly approximate to such a state of things as now exist abroad. I am not going to enter further into this question. I am merely anxious to state, that in voting for the second reading of my hon. Friend's Bill, I must not be understood as assenting to the particular franchise he has proposed, but as reserving to myself in Committee the right to take any view I please on the consideration of what amount of franchise it may be desirable to introduce into the measure.
§ Previous Question put, "That that Question be now put."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 227; Noes 254: Majority 27.