§ Order for Second Reading read.
Mr. Speaker, I am sure I shall receive an indulgent hearing from the House on this occasion, because I have to plead the cause of those who neither in person nor by their representatives are 286 present among us. Moreover, I have to plead before an aristocratic jury for plebeian clients. For, strange as it may sound, this House of Commons, which I have the honour to address, is in the main an aristocratic assembly, with an admixture of the middle classes, and to a large extent nominated and influenced by those classes. I believe the House will at all times, so long as the structure of society remains as at present, continue to be an aristocratic assembly in a very considerable degree, because of the great advantages which rank, wealth, and the highest education give men for serving their country in a legislative capacity. But the grievance which is felt by those for whom I plead is, that the great bulk of the Commons of England have no voice whatever in returning the Commons House of Parliament. Of course, I do not mean to say that there are no boroughs and no counties in which there are working class electors; but the broad fact remains, that the working classes of England, with trivial exceptions, are not represented in this House. I feel this to be both my weakness and my strength;—my weakness, from the entire absence of the classes whose rights and interests are to be considered; but my strength, from the generosity and sense of justice which this House, in common with every assembly of Englishmen, habitually displays towards those who most need it. The House will perceive that the Bill which I now offer, and by which the franchise in boroughs would be extended from £10 to £6 occupiers, differs essentially from that offered by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey (Mr. Locke King), inasmuch as, whilst he sought only to give a fuller representation to classes already represented, it is my object to extend the range of representation by bringing it down lower, so as to take in some considerable and yet not excessive number of the working classes. It is well known that the working classes comprise about three-fourths of the population; and yet I may say, speaking generally, that they are excluded almost wholly from any participation in those privileges and franchises which are not only the machinery, but the very life and soul, of popular liberty. The hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Cave) has given notice that he shall move "the Previous Question," and I suppose I must infer from this that he does not intend to dispute the principle of the Bill, but 287 rather the expediency of discussing the subject at this time. In the first place, with regard to time, allow me to say that it seems to me no time could possibly be better than the present for discussing a question of this nature. There was one practical difficulty which was not much mentioned when the subject was last before the House, but which every Member felt as a serious objection to the introduction of the subject at that time—namely, that a new Parliament had lately been elected, and it would have been inconvenient to Members and to the country at large that there should be another General Election so soon after the Election of 1859. But now the Parliament has entered on the sixth year of its existence, and the present Session must either be the last or the penultimate Session of its legal duration; and I apprehend that the question of extensively altering the franchise could never with so much advantage be brought before Parliament as when a Parliament is approaching its termination. On that ground, therefore, I conceive this is a much more favourable time for discussing the subject than when I first had the honour of introducing it. But it is said to be inexpedient, on account of there being no call for reform in the country—that even the working classes themselves are not demanding it, and consequently that it would be unwise to stir the question. If I were to admit this allegation to the fullest extent, as to some extent I do admit it, I cannot see how it would relieve us from the obligation which most of us distinctly incurred at the last General Election. I appeal to this side of the House at least, and I believe I may also appeal to some on the other side of the House, whether we did not at the last General Election promise to support a Bill more extensive in its provisions than the Bill which had been introduced by Lord Derby's Government. The £6 franchise proposed by Lord Russell was then before the country, and it was upon that the constituents declared their judgment and their wish. Again, I appeal to the House whether a period of political calm and industrial prosperity is not the very time in which it is most desirable to bring forward a question which is generally considered to have an agitating tendency. At the present time, I apprehend, there is no political measure which can legitimately interfere with the bringing forward of 288 this question; and I do feel, therefore, that there is no substantial objection; for surely no Member would take ground so derogatory to the House as to argue that it should never act except under the coercion of popular agitation. The people have spoken out on the subject distinctly; we stand here as the expression of their opinion; and it is right that we should take the first convenient and favourable opportunity to carry out the pledges we have given. There have undoubtedly been causes which did tend in a certain degree, I will not say to create indifference, but rather to divert public attention and public interest from this great question of Parliamentary Reform. Those causes are perfectly familiar to all of us. We recollect the Session of vast excitement which almost immediately followed the last General Election. There was first the state of Europe; then there broke out the civil war in America; then there was the most alarming prostration of a great industry which has ever taken place within my recollection—the prostration of the great cotton industry; there was also a most happy event, which nevertheless led to immense discussion and excitement—the Commercial Treaty with France, and the budget connected with that treaty; and lastly, there has been what I must call the singular—I wish it may not prove the inflated—prosperity which for some time has attended the various manufactures and trades of this country, and which has absorbed men's minds, both employers and employed, and materially interfered with the expression of political opinion on any subject whatever. But I do not admit in the least any change in public opinion on this subject. I may appeal to many grounds as evidence for that opinion. One is, some of those petitions which I have had the honour of presenting this morning—one from the National Reform Conference held at Manchester, at which one hundred and fifty delegates from the principal towns of the kingdom were present, and another presented by my hon. Friend the Member for the West Riding (Sir Francis Crossley) from a similar Conference at Leeds. One petition I presented from the "Working Men's Parliamentary Reform Association of Leeds, together with many others from my own town and county; and I know the feeling exists in favour of this measure to a very great extent. I am persuaded it would be found that it is not be much a change of opinion, 289 as a diversion of attention for awhile; and so soon as circumstances arise to call for an expression of that opinion, you will find identically the same opinion that has been held and expressed before, rising up again; and if you choose to wait until a period of agitation, the people may present to you demands very different indeed from that which I now make on you in their behalf.
But if it be admitted to the fullest extent that the working classes have lately been indifferent to the franchise, there are various circumstances passing around us which show that it is morally impossible they should long continue thus indifferent. And I infer that moral impossibility from what is taking place perpetually in the exhibition of their tendencies and sympathies on the subject of popular freedom. Have not the people of England manifested sympathy on behalf of the liberties of the whole world? Have they not shown it on behalf of Italy, and have they not within these few days given an unparalleled reception to the great and heroic deliverer of Italy? Have they not manifested this sympathy on behalf of Hungary, and of Poland? And there is one fact which struck very much a distinguished foreigner from the other side of the Atlantic who visited this country, and that was, that when he went into the cotton districts of Lancashire he found a strong attachment to the cause of the Northern States and a strong detestation of slavery, and that the operatives were not to be induced, even by regard for their own temporary and immediate interests, to move in favour of an acknowledgment of the Confederate States, although told that such a step would lead to their getting a supply of the raw material for their labour. I consider that to be one of the most striking proofs I have ever heard of the deep attachment of the working classes of this country to right, to justice, and to liberty. I conceive it is totally impossible that those who value liberty so highly for others should be insensible to its value for themselves; and you may depend upon it the time will soon arrive, if it has not already arrived, when the people will demand as a right the possession of those franchises which have been so long withheld.
Once more, I would ask, do you think you are wise in deferring the concession of the claims of the working classes? I ask you to consider the spirit of the age, 290 and to consider the changes which have occurred since the Reform Act of 1832 was passed. What have you seen in Europe since that period? You have seen representative institutions spread gradually over nearly the whole of Europe. You see them established in Austria, in Prussia, in Spain, in Portugal, in Italy, in Hanover, in Saxony, in Bavaria, in Denmark, and even in the Danubian Provinces; and in Australia and all our other colonies representative institutions have been formed. In many of those countries, too, a much more extensive franchise exists than exists in this country. Then I say this is an exhibition of the spirit of the age which a wise Legislature would do well not to neglect. But I do not need to go so far to find arguments in favour of the rights of the working classes. I have not to confine myself to the Friends whom I see around me, but I have to look to my Friends opposite, and to the Conservative aristocracy of England, for an amount of sympathy with the rights and interests of the working classes which I say will compel them, agreeably compel them, to concede the franchise which I now ask of them. We have had some very remarkable expressions of that opinion here. On the occasion of my hon. Friend's (Mr. Locke King's) Motion for the County Franchise Bill, the hon. Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. Knightley) opposed the Bill on two main grounds, one of which was, that it did not recognize the rights of the labouring classes to some share of political power. His words were so remarkable that I must quote them. He said—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.He added—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.Again, the hon. Gentleman maintained that the borough franchise was so high as quite to exclude the labouring classes from its enjoyment, and he said that even in the large borough of Birmingham, my hon. Friend who represents that borough 291 "did not represent one" of that class. I hope, therefore, I may confidently rely on the vote of the hon. Member for Northamptonshire to-day, as he has proved the two main points of my case—namely—1. That the labouring classes in the boroughs are excluded from the franchise; and 2. That this is one of the defects of our institutions most loudly calling for remedy, I find that I am trespassing upon the rules of the House in alluding to a former debate in the present Session, and, therefore, I will only ask hon. Members to bear in mind that there have been opinions expressed by, a Gentleman so much respected and so candid as the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate),—an opinion which goes, I will say, in favour of; the consideration of the rights of the working classes, and of the question of Parliamentary reform. But there have been opinions expressed by many hon. Gentlemen opposite in which I so heartily agree that I hope I shall be justified in calling attention to them. They have been expressed, not this year, or last year, but several years ago, and they stand on record in a volume which we have often occasion to look to as a very authentic record of the views of hon. Members of this House — namely, Dodd's Parliamentary Companion. If I quote the opinions of two or three hon. Gentlemen opposite, it is in no invidious spirit; I do it with a most hearty concurrence in every word I quote, and only because I find in those speeches what I conceive to be liberal, and noble, and just sentiments, in which they have expressed my views better than I can find words to do. I find that the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Du Cane) declares himself to be "in favour of extending the franchise to the industrious and intelligent portion of the working classes." The hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Benyon) says, he is—Not opposed to the extension of the franchise to those who are well qualified by education and the increase of intelligence to exercise such a trust.The hon. and learned Member for Belfast, who was Solicitor General under Lord Derby's Government (Sir Hugh Cairns), says, "he would not reduce the franchise in boroughs so low as £5." I hope, therefore, I may infer that he would reduce it to £6. The Member for Stoke-upon-Trent (Mr. Copeland) is "in favour 292 of a moderate extension of the suffrage coincident with education." So am I, and on the same principle. The right hon. Member for North Wilts, who was a Secretary of State under the Conservative Government (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt), is "in favour of a moderate extension of the franchise." The hon. Baronet the Member for Hertford (Sir Minto Farquhar) is said to be "in favour of admitting the working classes to a large share of the franchise." The hon. Baronet who represents Ayrshire (Sir James Fergusson) would "place the franchise within the reach of educated industry." The Member for Carnarvon (Mr. Finch) is "in favour of a larger extension of the suffrage than Lord Derby's Bill effected." The right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), and the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Walpole), actually quitted the Government of Lord Derby because of his unsatisfactory reduction of the borough franchise; and the latter Gentleman was understood to favour a £6 rating franchise. The Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Hodgson) is "in favour of a £6 franchise, with some restrictions." The noble Viscount who represents West Kent (Lord Holmesdale) is "in favour of a sound practical measure of reform commensurate with the growing intelligence of the country." I could desire nothing better. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Hubbard) is "in favour of the elective franchise being extended on principles which recognize education and intelligence," The hon. and learned Member for Chester (Mr. Humberston) is "in favour of the franchise being granted to a £5 rental in boroughs." The Member for Chippenham (Mr. K. Long) "will support any measure which would admit to the privileges of the franchise the steady, sober, and intelligent portion of the working classes." The hon. Baronet the Member for Stamford (Sir Stafford Northcote), also a distinguished Member of Lord Derby's Government, is "in favour of removing the anomalies from and moderately extending the franchise." The hon. and, learned Member for Truro (Mr. Montague Smith) is—In favour of the franchise being extended to all those among the working classes who, by education and intelligence, and the moral training: produced by habits of industry and thrift, are qualified to make choice of a representative.The Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. 293 Smollett) is "in favour of the extension of the suffrage, both in counties and boroughs." The hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Somes) is "in favour of the franchise being lowered in boroughs." The right hon, Baronet who represents Lincolnshire (Sir John Trollope), who was President of the Poor Law Board under Lord Derby, is "in favour of lowering the franchise, especially in towns." And the gallant Member for West Sussex (Mr. Wyndham) is "in favour of extending the franchise to the intelligent portion of the working classes."
These are but a few out of no less than upwards of sixty Conservative Members of the House, who are recorded as having reform sympathies, and disposed to go a considerable way in that direction. The House will perceive that two points are distinctly admitted in the opinions which I have just read — namely, in the first place, that there has been an educational advance on the part of the people to qualify them for the franchise; and secondly, that such an educational advance entitles those classes to a participation in political privileges. I am relieved by the admissions I have quoted from the necessity of demonstrating the popular improvement by such a mass of evidence as I adduced on last bringing forward this Bill in the House. Some hon. Members may perhaps remember that I then laid before the House numerous facts drawn from official documents or trustworthy sources, to show the extraordinary advance which the people had made between the passing of the Reform Act and 1861, in education, in habits of reading, in political knowledge, in habits of association for mutual improvement and insurance, in temperance, in providence, and in attendance upon public worship. The results of the statistics on these points were in the highest degree gratifying. They showed that whilst the population had increased only 43 per cent within the thirty years, in many of those elements of intellectual and moral improvement which go to qualify for the franchise, there had been an advance of from 200 to 400 per cent. I believe a general impression prevails that those facts are indisputable; by the authorities I have just read they are substantially admitted on the other side of the House, and I will not, therefore, trouble you by reproducing those statistics. You will allow me, however, to 294 bring before you two branches of evidence; which are to my mind absolutely conclusive and irresistible on the subject. The first has reference to education, the second ' to our periodical and popular literature. I can well understand that a man who appreciates education as Earl Russell does would shrink in 1831 from proposing any great extension of the franchise to the working classes from the facts and statistics which were then before him on the subject of education. At that time there were no statistics of education later than those obtained by Lord Brougham's Commission in 1818; and indeed it was the children of 1818 who were the men of 1831, and had to exercise the franchise. What was the proportion, according to these statistics, of the educated among the population? The whole number of day scholars in England and Wales was only 674,883, and the proportion to population was one in seventeen. It is true that after the Reform Bill passed there was another Royal Commission, which showed that the proportion at that time had very much increased, and in the year 1833 it was ascertained that the number of scholars had increased to 1,276,947, being in the proportion of 1 to 11 of the population. In the year 1858 it was found by the last Royal Commission on Education that the scholars amounted to 2,535,462, bearing the proportion of one in 7.7 to the population. And we learn from the Census of 1861 that the number of scholars (including, however, those receiving private tuition) was then 3,150,048, being in the proportion of 1 in 6.4. This shows England to have become one of the best educated countries of the world. Between 1833 and 1861 the population of England and Wales increased only 40 per cent, but the increase of day scholars was 147 per cent. I most confidently present that fact as a ground which, whatever your (the Conservative) previous fears may have been on this subject, will justify you in granting the very moderate extension of the franchise for which I now ask.
But there is another branch of evidence which is still more important, and that is the amount of popular literature which is now distributed. There has been a marvellous spread of cheap literature, and the facts I shall lay before you will, I hope, induce those who were inclined to find a good deal of fault with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the President 295 of the Board of Trade, for advocating the repeal of the paper duty, to forgive those right hon. Gentlemen for the part they took in that question. For the facts I am about to state I am indebted mainly to Mr. John Francis, the publisher of the Athenaeum, who has obtained the assistance of Messrs. Mitchell, publishers of the Newspaper Press Directory, and of the principal publishers of periodical and serial literature in London. The newspaper circulation is given for the United Kingdom—
This is only as to political information, but there has happily sprung up a vast amount of most useful and interesting literature in the shape of magazines, periodicals, and serials, the increase of which has been even more marvellous than the increase of the newspapers. I have got here the monthly Returns of the magazines and journals of a literary, scientific, and religious kind in London, and some of the principal cities. I will not trouble the House with all the details that have been furnished to me, but will select the leading points. I find that in London there are published monthly— 296
NEWSPAPER CIRCULATION IN 1831 AND 1864. 1831. STAMPS ISSUED TO NEWSPAPERS IN 1831. In England 32,000,000 " Ireland 4,360,564 " Scotland 2,287,750 Total for the United Kingdom 38,648,314 1864. Copies issued in the whole year. LONDON PAPERS. Daily (Daily Circulation) 248,000 87,776,000 Weekly (Weekly Circulation) 2,263,200 117,686,400 Total Circulation of London Papers 205,462,400 PROVINCIAL PAPERS. DAILY (Daily Circulation). In England (27 Papers) 263,000 In Wales (1 Paper) 2,000 In Ireland (14 Papers) 96,000 In Scotland (9 Papers) 77,000 In Jersey (1 Paper) 1,000 (52 Papers) 439,000 137,407,000 [In 1854 there were only 5 Provincial Daily Papers, with an aggregate circulation of 10,000 copies per day.] WEEKLY (961 Papers)— (Weekly Circulation) 3,907,500 203,190,000 Total Circulation of Provincial Papers 340,597,000 Grand Total in the United Kingdom 546,059,400 Or 1,313 per cent more than in 1831!
Can you compare this state of things with that which existed in 1831? The aggregate circulation of monthly magazines at that date, as estimated by those best qualified to judge, did not exceed 125,000, whereas now it is three millions. I believe the sale of weekly magazines would not then be more than 125,000. There were serials published, which I believe may be taken at something like 120,000; and I should be far beyond the mark if I say that at that time there were 400,000 297 monthly and weekly copies of literary periodicals issued. The number now is 6,094,950, or fifteen fold the number in 1830! I am sure this result will be regarded as most gratifying, and I believe there are few who could have anticipated the possibility of such a change from sweeping away the taxes on knowledge, and throwing open, I may say, the floodgates of knowledge to the people.
LITERARY PERIODICALS & SERIALS IN 1864. MONTHLY. Description. Number of Publications. Price. Monthly Issue. Religious 84 ½d. to 5d. 1,469,500 Do. Magazines 22 6d. and upwards. 400,000 Temperance 20 ½d. to 3d. 793,250 Useful, Educational, and Entertaining 19 1d. to 6d. 338,500 Magazines and Serials of a higher class 54 1s. to 2s. 6d. 244,850 Serials issued by great Publishing Firms, highly embellished and illustrated (per number) 1s. to 3s. 6d. 363,250 Total of Monthly Publications 3,609,350 WEEKLY. Weekly Issue. Religious 15 1d. and 1½d. 489,600 Useful, Educational, and Entertaining, including serial republications of standard works 32 1d. to 3d. 734,000 Journals, containing Novels, Tales, Biographical Sketches,&c 13 ½d. and 1d. 1,053,000 Romances, exciting wonder and horror 8 1d. 195,000 Immoral Publications 1d. 9,000 (Three years ago, 52,500) Free - thinking, under 5,000 Total of Weekly Publications 2,485,600 Grand Total of Monthly & Weekly Publications 6,094,950
As I thought it desirable that my case should not rest on facts drawn from London alone, I have asked the opinion of two gentlemen of the highest authority in two of the largest towns in England — Mr. Alderman Heywood, late Mayor of Manchester, and Mr. Guest, of Birmingham, both of them extensive publishers. I will first read the letter of Mr. Guest, which bears out, and more than bears out, the general evidence I have already offered. He says—I consider that every grade of the working classes is in a state of progression. Our Free Library has been opened with great and increasing success. The number of volumes issued during the past year was 357,436— daily average 436— and about 10,000 persons have visited the reading room every week. Building societies have increased in number and amount of business, proving that careful and provident habits are understood and practised. Sunday and other schools have progressed in the amount of usefulness. I have every reason to think that, in the last three years, the class in whose hands you wish to place the franchise—namely, the £6 householders—have materially increased in intelligence, and that they are fully entitled by their qualifications to the right to vote. The newspapers have made rapid strides. We have two dailies and four weeklies, circulating about 250,000 copies per week. Periodicals and other newspapers have by no means diminished in sale, but I am not in a condition to give you even an approximate number. There are about 300 families wholly or partially supported by the sale of the various publications, and they employ 1,000 persons at the least. This state of things, contrasted with the state of things up to Midsummer, 1830, when we had two local papers only, whose total circulation was not more than 6,000, and only three periodicals, at 2d. and 3d., for the whole country, is such, that a parallel can only be found in the extension of trade and travelling from railways, and letter-writing from cheap postage.The next letter is from Mr. Alderman Heywood, the Mayor of Manchester, during last year—a year of the severest trial that any large community ever passed through, in consequence of the total prostration of the Cotton industry. He says—It is frequently asserted by Members of Parliament and by those who copy them, that the people care nothing for the right to vote, that they are apathetic, and want not the franchise.He then accounts for their present quiet- 298 ness by their being wearied of political agitation, and of asking in vain for the franchise; and he says they have turned their attention to the co-operative societies as a means of improving their circumstances. He adds—But all these men are advocates for the right to vote, without any other qualification than that of enrolment. But it is amazing to see the progress they have made during the last twenty or twenty-five years. Whatever may be said to the contrary, there is a sturdy self-reliance being implanted in the people, which will exhibit itself whenever the right man in the right place is displayed before them. Great measures have been carried during years gone by, of immense value to the workman, such as the abolition of the bread tax, the uniform system of postage, and the entire abolition of the duty upon newspapers—measures which, had they been accompanied with a progressive admission upon the electoral lists, would have silenced political agitation for ever, Are the people fit for the exercise of political power? I thought they were in 1832, I am the more firmly convinced of it now. Since 1849, no political emeute or disturbance has taken place here or in the neighbourhood, nor would the bitterest foe to popular right find occasion to justify his resistance in the conduct and behaviour of the people. I need not refer to the example they have shown, the sufferings they have borne, during the last two years, as instances to prove how greatly the principles of law and order have become associated with their daily life. The newspaper is the idol of the working man. Every day unfolds to him new action, stirring events mixed up with the grave and the gay, imparting to him more extended sources of knowledge and pleasure, which, before the removal of the tax, he was incapable of attaining. I am pleased to find that you are intending to make another appeal to the wisdom and justice of that House, which all lovers of their country would desire to call the people's. You may depend upon one thing with certainty, that should the present Ministry be displaced and a Conservative one called to the helm of affairs, the apathy of the people will be no longer a reproach to them; on the contrary, a storm will be created of such intensity as will require a Reform Bill to subdue it,These facts, I think, will justify the House in coming to the conclusion that there has been so vast, so satisfactory an extension of education and intelligence in the country as to warrant it in extending the franchise to those who are now excluded from political privileges. I may also remark, in passing, that the very class on which we I seek to confer the franchise, is exactly that upon which almost all those influences to which I have referred are concentrated— namely, the better part of the working classes. It is not the idle, it is not the spendthrift, it is not the vagrant, it is not the people gratifying themselves with sensual indulgences; it is the steady, the sober, the industrious, and the provident 299 portion of the working classes, who would gain the franchise. Can we doubt that men so improved in education and intelligence must be fit, not to sit in this House —I do not ask that, though I know many who would be—but to choose men who are fit? Can you doubt that they are that? Every grievance, every abuse swept away has been followed by an increase in the tranquility and prosperity of the country. Reform has proved to be of all things the most Conservative. I believe the more you trust the people, the more you will find they deserve to be trusted. But, notwithstanding the confidence I feel in the people, I do not believe it is morally possible you should have an educated people, with a free press such as I have described, and the right of meeting, combined with a very restricted franchise. Some have said, if you reduce the franchise be as to include a portion of the working classes, you introduce a more dependent, and, therefore, a more corruptible set of men. From what I know of the upper part of the working classes, I believe it is utterly untrue. I believe they are a thinking, self-reliant, and independent body of men. Their social position is such that they really are not dependent to the extent some may imagine. The master is as much dependent on a good and skilful workman as the workman is dependent upon the master. If the workman should be turned off for giving a vote contrary to his conscience, the master becomes the scoff of the community. The workman takes his tools and goes to another master; so that there is really no ground whatever for maintaining that the working class—those who are educated, intelligent, and industrious—are a dependent class. I believe most firmly that amongst those who would be excluded if this Bill should pass, there are very many who are also well qualified to vote, but I propose a moderate measure; I go to that extent to which the Government of this country has gone, which the people of this country has sanctioned, and which you approved in this House in the year 1860, when you read the Bill containing this very franchise a second time, thereby affirming the principle of that Bill, and when no man durst rise and say, "No," when the question was put. It remains for me now to state the effect which I believe the extension of the franchise to £6 occupiers would have in increasing the number of borough voters. 300 It may be remembered that when the same proposition was made by Lord Russell in 1860, he produced a Return, obtained by the Poor Law Board, which showed that the number of electors on the register for boroughs was then 443,208; and that the addition likely to be made by extending the franchise to £6 occupiers was 210,022, or 48 per cent. That would make a total of 653,230 electors. Four years having elapsed since that Return was obtained, and a new valuation of property having been made, I moved for a Return of the same purport last Session. I find, however, that the Returns asked for by the Poor Law Board have been only partially made, that is, by 77 boroughs, out of 200. But an estimate has been made, founded on the Returns actually received, and it has been made by a gentleman of large experience at the Poor Law Board, who prepared the Return of 1860. The general result is nearly the same. The number of borough voters on the register for 1863 has increased to 487,604, and the number estimated as likely to be added by extending the franchise to £6 occupiers is 240,705, being 49 per cent on the existing number. That I think a very moderate increase. The whole number of male occupiers between £6 and £10 rental is, indeed, considerably larger, namely, 383,901. But it is well known that a large proportion even of the occupiers of £10 and upwards fail, from a variety of causes, to get upon the register. The proportion which thus fail is 27.3 per cent; and it is reasonably supposed, by the experienced official gentleman who has made the calculation, that 10 per cent more of the lower class of voters, namely, 37.3 per cent, would fail to be registered as voters. Making this deduction, the net addition to the voters would be, as I have said, 240,705. Adding the new and old voters together, the whole number of borough voters would be 728,309. I find that the number of males above twenty years of age in the represented boroughs is 2,268,169. At present, therefore, only one in five of the male adult population of the boroughs has a vote; and the measure which I submit would increase the voters to about one in three of the male adults. Two-thirds of the population, however, or 1,539,860, out of 2,268,169, would still remain without the franchise;—an extent of exclusion which surely may satisfy the most 301 timid Conservative. But I must be allowed to say that, unless Parliament should make some additional enactment to carry out its own clear intention, manifested in the two Acts of the 14 & 15 Vict. c. 14 & 39, to prevent tenants from losing their votes in consequence of their landlords compounding for the rates, the number of voters added by the present Bill would be nearly 100,000 less than I have stated. I rely, however, on the determination of the House not to suffer its intentions on behalf of the humbler class to be frustrated.
I now come to the last point, and that is, the proportion of the working classes who will be admitted to the franchise by this measure. The proportion which the working class voters would bear to the middle and upper classes in boroughs, if the measure I ask you to grant be adopted, would, I believe, be between one in four and one in three. It is known that the upper and middle classes are only one-fourth of the population, while the working classes are three-fourths. The upper and middle classes, with only one-fourth of the population, would still constitute two - thirds of the number of voters in boroughs. But it must be remembered that in the counties the working classes have no appreciable weight whatever, I know my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire says he has a number of working class constituents. That is true, and there are also some in the West Riding and other counties; but they are so few that I may say the working class have no appreciable representation, and that the whole of the county constituencies are in the hands of the landed interest— I might say the landed aristocracy. You have therefore to add the county voters to the borough voters of the upper and middle classes; and then it would leave the working classes, even with the extension I have asked you to grant, with a proporion of only about one-fifth or one-sixth of the whole number of electors in England and Wales.
I think, then, Sir, I may appeal to the House that this is a moderate and safe measure. I believe most confidently that it will conduce to the concord of the people of this land and to the stability of our institutions. I believe it would redeem the honour of Government and Parliament, which is in great danger of being sacrificed by the non-carrying out of the pledges entered into at the last General Election. 302 If you should introduce a considerable number of the sons of industry to the political franchise, I am confident that you would find them to be the truest defenders of the Throne and of the Constitution— a great accession to your strength in war and your prosperity in peace. We might then, in the language of a prophet of old, foretelling to an ancient people a period of enlargement and prosperity, bid constitutional England "lengthen her cords and strengthen her stakes."
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
Sir, in moving the Previous Question, I shall not attempt to follow the hon. Member for Leeds through a mass of statistics and figures, which cannot be checked in debate, and which he has adduced apparently for the purpose of proving that the change he proposes is really no change at all. It is enough to say that it has been made quite clear on former occasions, that in almost every borough in England the addition he would make would be quite enough to turn the scale. I shall now endeavour to show that if, as the House decided by a large majority in 1861, the time the hon. Member then chose for his Motion was not a convenient one, the present cannot be considered more happy. I shall try to prove this from the arguments brought forward then, and reiterated now by the hon. Gentleman, as well as by suggesting that the reasons which I then adduced have, if anything, gathered strength in the interval. It was objected before, and probably may be again, that my Motion ought to be for the rejection of the Bill altogether; but, though the effect would undoubtedly be the same, I have chosen this form as evincing no hostility to the hon. Member's doctrine, that the working classes ought to have a share in the representation.
A very able professor, whose talents I admire, and whose misfortune I deplore, Mr. Fawcett, said the other day in a lecture on Reform, in Manchester, that "he hated the phrase that the working men ought not to have the franchise because they had no stake in the country." Now, I should not like to endorse all the learned Gentleman's views, but I entirely concur in this; and therefore I feel disposed to ask the House to agree with me in postponing the consideration of the 303 amount of that share which the working man has, and that which he should have, to a more convenient season, rather than to move the direct negative, since my motives in doing this would certainly be misrepresented by those whose interest it is to give themselves out as friends of the working man. I say the share which he has, for has not a great change taken place since 1832? In these thirty years has there not been a vast alteration in the material condition of the working classes? The £6 and £10 houses of that day bear a very different value now. We know that house rent has doubled and trebled in large towns, and the wages of skilled labour risen in proportion, so that if, as the hon. Member avers, education and intelligence have reached a lower social stratum, then, I answer, that these changes to which I have referred have already raised the best of that stratum to a higher political position. The Committees under the new Assessment Act have told us that the question of valuation is now entirely unsettled, and the general impression appears to be that the majority of houses of this description are even now valued far too low. Therefore the changing value of property is effecting a reform in the direction aimed at by the hon. Member, silently, and gradually, and safely to the nation, though I can well imagine that this may not be satisfactory to those who prefer a violent change with a flourish of trumpets, and would sacrifice anything for a little fleeting popularity. I hope the hon. Member will understand that I make these remarks generally, and am far from supposing them to apply personally to himself, as I believe his character to be entirely above such imputations.
And now I will proceed to examine those arguments of the hon. Member in his former Motion on this subject, which were based upon his conjectures of what might happen in future. I need hardly say that prophecy is very dangerous, unless the prophet's predictions are so vague, that, like the oracles of old, they may be read in more ways than one. But the hon. Member was, if I might presume to say so, almost rashly precise. He said; that the spring of the year 1861 was the proper time for deciding this question; and why? BecauseWe had had one bad harvest, and were threatened with a second. Recent events across the Atlantic had raised doubts as to the supply of our most important raw material. The nations of Europe 304 were bristling with arms. It was possible that a time of trial awaited us from domestic distress and foreign danger. Should it be so, where would be our security but in a people satisfied with their institutions?I beg the attention of the House to that expression. We have been much worse off than the hon. Member even imagined we might be. Not only was his anticipation, of a bad harvest in 1861 realized, but we had another in 1862. Not only were there doubts as to our supply of cotton, but it was almost wholly cut off, and the industry of the northern counties received a blow unparalleled in their history. For some weeks of the very year in which the hon. Member made that speech, we did not know whether we were not at war with the United States; and what was the conduct of the working classes of England? Did we hear of a repetition of the Reform riots of Nottingham and Bristol? ["Opposition cheers."] I understand those cheers, and will answer them immediately. Was there any evidence of bitterness against the wealthier classes, or any disposition to take advantage of the calamities and dangers of the country? Was there not, on the contrary, an universal outburst of loyalty on the mere rumour of war? and did not the nation work together, high and low, north and south, east and west, to tide the factory operatives over the cotton crisis, as if, instead of the hard strata of unsympathizing castes, as hon. Gentlemen opposite sometimes are pleased to represent us, we were members of one family, with a common object and common interests? I ask whether the conduct of the people of England during these twenty-four months of the severest trial we have ever known, was not that of a "people satisfied with their institutions?" The hon. Member is entitled, no doubt, to use this most admirable behaviour in support of his present Motion; but I appeal to the House, against the ironical cheers of hon. Gentlemen opposite, whether I have not at least an equal right to employ it in demolishing his former position? The hon. Member for Birmingham also took up his parable, and said a little earlier that if the Bill of 1860 did not pass there would be delegates from every Trades' Union in the country sitting in London. That shows by the way, the hon. Member's idea of the independent exercise of the franchise by the working man. Well, the Bill of 1860 did not pass, and in 1862 305 there were delegates, if not from all the Trades' Unions, certainly from all the trades in the country, assembled in London, and for what purpose? Not for a barren agitation in which the best working men take no real interest, though some of their leaders make a profitable trade of it, but for the real, tangible, sensible, and legitimate object of improving their taste and skill in workmanship, and so attaining that material prosperity which quickly enables the intelligent and industrious to cross the almost imaginary harrier of disfranchisement whenever they care to do so. But are there no signs of discontent now? Why, we have had mass meetings and indignation meetings within the last few days, and with what object? The mass meetings were to plant trees in memory of Shakspeare; the indignation meetings had no greater grievance to declaim against than the premature departure of an illustrious stranger.
In listening to the speeches of some hon. Members, one would suppose that we live in a political state resembling that of France before the first Revolution, when there was a barrier against which talent, industry, and ambition surged in vain on one side, while pride, indolence, and luxury looked carelessly on on the other; and yet even while they are speaking hundreds upon hundreds of the working classes rise with ease to competence and the franchise; while the commanding intellects among them, who formerly led the masses against the ranks above, now simply come forth from the crowd, obtain affluence and position, and not only votes but seats in this House, and may aspire, without either presumption or despair, to the highest offices. And as, in a well-ventilated room, when the heated air rises the cold falls in constant circulation, so in this free country there is a perpetual recruiting of the higher ranks from the lower, and sinking of the higher into the lower again, until, as was once observed, it is difficult to decide whether we have the most democratic aristocracy or the most aristocratic democracy in the world. Surely it is far better that men should rise to the franchise than that the franchise should be lowered to them. Surely those who have so risen ought to be the last to advocate the indiscriminate scattering of the privileges they have worked for; and I believe, as a matter of fact, the great body of £10 householders have no wish to be swamped by a vast influx of the ranks 306 below them. Indeed, it stands to reason that a transfer of power to the masses, as masses, by mere lowering of the franchise must be dangerous, because those classes which work from morning till evening have, to use the words of the Member for Birmingham, "Limited means of informing themselves on these great subjects." They are, therefore, at the mercy of mere declaimers, who bow the hearts of great masses as one man by the force of rhetoric alone, as an eloquent counsel excites the sympathy of his audience without the least reference to the justice of his cause. There are times of great excitement when masses of people cannot be induced to hear reason, and therefore the transfer of power to those who naturally and habitually act in masses is dangerous, even without question of the intelligence and education of the component parts of the mass. I have seen, at least on one occasion, even this House act very like an infuriated mob. [Mr. BRIGHT: Hear!] Yes—but perhaps the best illustration of what I mean is afforded by a scene in which the Member for Birmingham himself took a part in 1857, when not even his powerful voice, and readiness of speech, and former popularity could gain him a hearing from a body of people, scarcely one of whom perhaps knew the real objects of the war for which they were so enthusiastic, and, if he had known them, would probably not have given a day's wages or an hour's thought on their behalf.
A publication of Liberal views (The Scotsman) recently observed how little reality there is in the confidence so loudly expressed by certain people in the working classes, concluding with these words—The same agitators who would control by law the working man in meats and drinks are mainly the same people who affect a desire to hand over to him the power of making laws for all other people. They cry out that the working man cannot be trusted to take care of himself, and also that he ought to be intrusted with the care of everybody else. They make him socially a slave and politically a despot. They govern him as a child in his own affairs, and would make him governor over men in the affairs of the nation. They must be wrong on one point or the other. Our view is that they are wrong on both, that the working men are neither unfit to be socially free, nor fit to be politically omnipotent.The working men are, like other people, good, bad, and indifferent; but, like all others, who from circumstances live much in common, are apt to be led by the worst among their number. The true, honest, 307 industrious workmen—the men who are respected by their employers—are rarely much of politicians, and seldom have the "gift of the gab;" yet in times of excitement, as we have already seen, they too often lack courage to assert their independence, and surrender their will to unscrupulous agitators, just as in American elections the majorities, or "self-styled" majorities, to use a classical expression, exercise a complete tyranny over the rest of the community, and drive them like sheep to the poll. Why, it was only the other day that a newly-made corporation elected as their chief magistrate a man who had been twice convicted of using false weights before the very bench on which he is now to sit; and we know that the £6 element pretty nearly controls municipal elections. Those amongst us who remember our own school days, and how often we followed the multitude against our better judgment, will know what I mean, and will make every allowance for these men, but will not be disposed to hand over a preponderance of power to them. I am not now talking of working men pressing their own interests against those of other classes, but of their sending here as their representatives strike-leaders, and such like, when there are Members on both sides of this House whom individually they would consult on any emergency fifty times rather than their ostensible leaders, at whose chariot-wheels they are unresistingly dragged. But, supposing they do understand and work their own interests, then they must not be allowed to over-balance the rest. I would not trust any interest with overwhelming power; and it is the excellence of our Constitution that one interest checks another, and all are kept within proper bounds. Exciting questions may arise, in which the value of such checks may be appreciated. There has been some vague talk, some very vague talk, about land. I imagine the clients of certain hon. Members do not confine their views to a Land Transfer Bill, which will probably increase the purchase price; but this is certain, that land becomes more and more of a luxury every year, and less within the reach of the working classes, and when such questions are started, it will not do to have all the property on one side and all the power on the other.
I remember many years ago having the advantage of an acquaintance in Boston, 308 in the United States, with the late Mr. Abbott Lawrence, who was afterwards American Minister at this Court. At a party in his house the repudiation of the State debts was being discussed, and compared, as Americans were fond of doing, to the suspension of cash payments by the Bank of England. When the company had gone, their host remarked to me—After all that has been said, it was a very disgraceful thing; but, if your cabmen in London were told that if the National Debt was wiped out they would get beer at half-price, don't you think they would vote for it? Because that is our case; those are the people who govern us here.I believe our cabmen have much improved since those days, and, perhaps, the American statesman might have done them an injustice even then; but I was much struck with his words, and still more when he went on to say—England seems hurrying towards universal suffrage. Ah! if she had only our experience; but she seems judicially blinded.The hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. Warner), in an able pamphlet, has explained this danger, and proposed a certain number of mouth-pieces for working men, in the shape of delegates from their own body, representing extra seats in large towns. Whether the Sussex labourer would think the Manchester artizan a better representative of his interests than his own landlord or neighbour I question.
In Sweden, the peasantry have a House of Parliament to themselves, as have the nobles, the clergy, and the burghers. These four Chambers must concur on all legislative measures, but the system works badly, and naturally, therefore, throws more power into the hands of the Executive, the result being that the Parliament meets only once in three years, the Government doing pretty much as they like in the interval. I must say I have no great faith in symmetrical Constitutions. I prefer that which works fairly to that which ought to work perfectly. England should remember the epitaph on a tombstone, "I was well; I wanted to be better; and here I am." A Prussian once said to me—I cannot understand your English Constitution—it is full of the most absurd anomalies, but everything seems to turn out right; while in Prussia we have a perfect Constitution, but we are always in trouble, everything seems to go wrong.But these anomalies are not all in one direction; a double first-class man or Se- 309 nior Wrangler, who objects to pay for commons he does not eat, and sermons he does not sleep under, and has, therefore, taken his name off the books, is called to the bar, or has the cure of two or three thousand souls, and if he lives in furnished lodgings — a very common case — has no more vote than a pauper. The same is the case with officers in the army and navy, and many others; so that the £6 franchise by no means produces the symmetry so much desired. Do these people consider themselves unrepresented? I did not when I was one of them, and I believe the working classes are fully represented in this House as far as their material welfare is concerned. Has not the tendency been to relieve them of taxation? To give merely one instance of a trifling character, but of very recent occurrence. The Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed in his budget to remit a portion of the duty on the licences to sell tea in places outside Parliamentary boroughs. I took the liberty of stating to the right hon. Gentleman grounds, which he considered sufficient, for extending the boon to people within those limits. And to whom has this concession been made? To those who, by means of their votes, could exercise pressure upon the Government or their representatives? No; it is confined to occupants of £8 houses. The Chancellor, by-the-by, may be said to have made his concession in anticipation of his Motion, but I, at least, cannot be accused of any arrière pensée of that kind. Whenever there is a genuine feeling in the great body of the English people that they want something, they generally get it, and in such cases they have almost always a good reason for the demand. What is the general feeling now—a feeling which is not very likely to be weakened by the state of surrounding nations? Why, that peace, and equal laws, and security of life and property, are things worth having; not an artificial symmetrical Constitution which is always coming to a dead-lock, as in Prussia —not extended suffrage, ending in despotism, as in France—not extended suffrage, tending to anarchy, as in America. The people do not consider a vote a good thing in itself, and they do not want it as an engine to bring about great changes, as was the case in 1832. Pour times within a very brief period (without reckoning minor measures) have Reform Bills been introduced by the Government of the day, and four times abandoned, without exciting 310 more feeling in the country than, so many Railway or Canal Bills.
In 1861, the hon. Member for Leeds introduced his present measure, which was defeated, without much remark out of doors. Very strong speeches were undoubtedly made in its favour within, these walls by two hon. Members opposite. They seem, however, to have modified their views; for one of them, the hon. Member for Huddersfield, on a late occasion called the present proposal a single - barrelled Reform Bill, meaning, I presume, by this disparaging description, that it is an antiquated weapon, not adapted to the wants or habits of the present day; and the other, the hon. Member for Halifax, who denounced the Government for their Coolness on the subject of Reform, became afterwards a member of that Government, judging — and I think wisely judging— that more good was to be done by applying his time and talents in limiting the expenses of Government establishments than, in ventilating speculative questions. The few petitions presented in favour of Reform, when not mere copies of one model, vary most materially in the very principle of the measures they demand. In 1861, I ventured to suggest that certain objects seemed to belong to certain periods, and that our whole attention was then concentrated on foreign affairs. I instanced the unsettled state of Austria and Italy, and I said thatSeeds of discord were being sown in Hungary and Poland, that Prussia was threatening Denmark and France threatening Europe.Will the House say that this argument has not gained force by the lapse of these three years? And will any one assert that, when the Conference is sitting within a few yards of this House, with peace and war depending on its breath, and has been more than once, as we understand, on the point of breaking off at the very threshold of its deliberations—when the Channel Fleet is riding in the Downs, with fires banked up, anchors short stay speak, and—as the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty told us the other night in the most significant manner— ready to sail anywhere in twenty-four hours—will any one assert that this is the time to plunge the country into the troubled waters of domestic revolution? The true policy is not to meddle with our institutions except in an emergency which renders it absolutely necessary, and then to do our work in such a manner as 311 to settle the question, at least for our day. If, therefore, the country does not feel that the present is the time for even a comprehensive, well-considered measure, brought in by the Government with the solemnity befitting the occasion, still less favourably does it feel towards this bit-by-bit reform, this pecking at our institutions, this instalment, as we have heard it called; but it is the kind of instalment which one of the ingredients of a physician's prescription would be without the rest. The whole may be a salutary remedy, part alone may be fatal. If there is to be a more numerous constituency, care must be taken so to balance the new proportions as to gratify a desire for enfranchisement without destroying the present Constitution, which works so well. That man must hare attended the House of Commons to very little purpose who is not convinced that every interest—I care not whether landed, mercantile, shipping, railway, or any other—would be disposed to use preponderating influence for its own advantage. I cannot suppose that the working classes would be more abstinent; therefore I fear that what the hon. Member calls moderate Reform may turn out to be a dangerous revolution. If my fears are groundless, and if the hon. Member's own estimate be more accurate, then it is merely throwing a tub to a whale, and will be simply the prelude to more sweeping changes. In either case, Sir, I venture to repeat that a far more comprehensive, more deeply considered measure is requisite for the attainment of the hon. Member's object, without grave peril to the common weal; and as I believe that the House and the country are indisposed just now, for the reasons which I have endeavoured to state, to enter upon so intricate and difficult a task, I venture humbly to move that the present is not the time for putting this Question. The hon. Member concluded by moving, as an Amendment, the Previous Question.
§ MR. MARSH
had much pleasure in seconding the Amendment. Nobody seemed to want reform. There were no public meetings in favour of this measure, and it seemed to him that nobody outside wanted it. It was a measure more sought for in the House of Commons than anywhere else; and he confessed he did not know why that should be, because he, for one, thought he had constituents enough. It had been said that the time when the people did not ask for reform was the best 312 time to carry it; but he did not agree in that doctrine. If they looked to the history of the world, they would find that all great political and social reforms had proceeded from the people; and the monarchs and aristocracies who had attempted to lead the people in those directions had not been the luckiest. A great deal had been said about the working man not being represented in the House of Commons. He had analyzed his own constituency, and he found that a very large number of the people who occupied £10 houses either had been mechanics or were at the present moment living by the work of their hands. The people who lived in the great squares of London were virtually unrepresented, while the publican at the corner who had his rooms engaged as committee-rooms at an extravagant charge very likely had scores or hundreds of votes at his command. The same was the case in the Tower Hamlets—all those who owned the great docks and warehouses there were virtually unrepresented. No one could complain that the interests of the working classes were not well looked after. There was always a cheer when anything was said in their favour in the House, and sometimes Bills were passed in utter defiance of all principles of political economy for their supposed benefit. If any one wanted to encourage bribery and corruption, he had but to support the lowering of the franchise. In all the boroughs which had obtained notoriety on this score, it was the freemen, and not the £10 householders, who formed the bribed classes. For these reasons he seconded the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman opposite.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER*
I must begin, Sir, by observing, that the speech of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Cave), in my opinion, went far beyond the scope of the Motion which he has submitted to the House. For it was really a speech against all extension of the franchise in the direction of the working classes, and it did not refer merely to the subject of that particular franchise, which we have to adopt or reject in connection with the present Bill. However, it may be said with truth, that it is not the speech in question, but the Motion of my hon. Friend on the one side, and the Amendment of the hon. Member opposite on the other, with which we have principally to deal. Let us, then, consider what is the practical issue raised for our present decision.
313 There are two points bearing upon this question, the one a matter of fact, and the other a matter of judgment, upon which it may be reasonably supposed there will be a general concurrence of opinion. With regard to the matter of fact, there is no doubt that those who sit on the other side may be said to be unanimous in deprecating at the present time—and certainly, as far as the argument of the hon. Gentleman, and the reception of that argument, afforded an indication, at any time—the extension of the franchise. I do not attempt to conceal or deny, on the other hand, that the other great party in the country is not unanimous on the subject. No small number of those, who profess liberal opinions, are indifferent, some may be even averse, to any change such as is proposed by the Bill, from a £10 to a £6 franchise in towns. The second point, upon which I think all parties are agreed, is this—that at the present period, and in a state of opinion such as now subsists, it would not be advisable, I might even say it would not be justifiable, for the Government of the Queen, however it might be composed, to submit a measure on this subject to Parliament. Under these circumstances, and with these admissions freely made, the question we have before us for to-day is this — What course ought we to take on the Motion of my hon. Friend, having regard to the Amendment which has been moved in favour of postponement? My hon. Friend, without communication with the Government, and acting, as far as I am aware, entirely in the exercise of his own discretion, has brought his proposal before us as a subject for discussion. I treat this, without praise or censure, merely as a fact, And now, I admit, it may be said that the Motion of the hon. Gentleman opposite, which is a Motion for time, does, in fact, no more than embody the admissions I have myself made—namely, that this is not a period for a Government to deal with this question, and that even the party which represents the liberal opinions of the country is not unanimous on the subject. Why, then, do I vote against the hon. Gentleman's Motion? It is because, even when taken apart from his speech, although much more if taken in connection with the speech, it appears to me to support, to justify, and to confirm a state of facts and opinions, which I deeply deprecate and deplore. Admitting the existence of those opinions within the limits I have described —and it is useless to shut our eyes to their existence—I must say that I deeply deplore 314 them. I will not go the whole length of my hon. Friend in respect to the precise terms he used as to the broken pledges of Governments and parties, but I will not scruple to admit that, at least as it appears to me, so much of our Parliamentary history during the last thirteen years— I mean during the years since the vote on Mr. Locke King's Bill in 1851—as touches Parliamentary Reform, is a most unsatisfactory chapter in that history; and has added nothing to the honour of Parliament, or to the safety and well-being of the country. Now I cannot expect any sudden change for the better as likely to arise from any debate or decision on the present Bill. Yet I am convinced that the discussion of the question in the House of Commons must, through the gentle process by which Parliamentary debates act on the public mind, gradually help to bring home the conviction that we have not been so keenly alive to our duties in this matter as we ought to have been; that it is for the interests of the country that this matter should be entertained; and that it ought, if we are wise, to be brought to an early settlement. The conditions requisite for dealing with it can only be supplied by a favourable state of the public mind; but the public mind is itself guided, and opinion modified, in no small degree, by the debates of Parliament.
One especial advantage attends to-day the discussion of this question, that, at present, at all events, it is not to be held strictly a party question. I am afraid, indeed, if I take as a criterion the cheers with which the speech of the hon. Gentleman opposite was received, and the quarter from which they proceeded, that the time may come when this may, and will, once more become a party question. For the present, however, we may discuss it without exclusive reference to party associations; and I may take the opportunity of saying that for this reason I am glad—though for others I am not so — that my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury has stepped into the arena on this occasion; because the circumstance enables us the more easily to find our way into the discussion of the question without the apprehension that we are irritating and exciting those passions and party sentiments, which necessarily enter into our debates when party interests are concerned, and which might help to obscure the true merits of the case. I will address myself, then, to the question actu- 315 ally before us, admitting again that if I deeply deplore the state of opinion opposite, I am far from being satisfied with the state of opinion on this side of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury appears to think that he has made out his case when he has advanced three propositions: one of them, that nobody desires, nobody petitions for, the Bill; the next, that to propose the extension of the franchise downwards is to propose also the encouragement of bribery; and the third, that the working classes have their interests well attended to by the House of Commons as it is at present constituted. Now, Sir, I decline altogether to follow my hon. Friend into an argument upon the question whether or not the extension of the franchise downwards would really lead to the encouragement of bribery. I would simply record my emphatic dissent from that statement. Again, with respect to the allegation that the working classes have their interests well cared for by this House, far be it from me to deny that this House has a strong feeling of sympathy with the working classes; but permit me to say that that sympathy is not the least strongly felt, and that its practical exhibition has certainly not been least remarkable, among those also who are the immediate promoters and supporters of this Bill. And next I come to the assertion that nobody desires a measure of this sort. But before otherwise dealing with this assertion, I want to know where, in a discussion such as is now before us, lies the burden of proof? Is the onus probandi upon those who maintained that the present state of the representation ought not to be touched, or upon those who say it ought to be amended? The hon. Member for Shoreham says the case of the British Constitution, after a Bill of this sort, will be like the case of the man over whom was written the epitaph, "I was well; I would be better; here I am;" and he told us again that to venture on a change such as is presented in this Bill was to enter on a "domestic revolution." Sir, I entirely deprecate the application of language of such a kind to the present Bill. I will not now enter into the question whether the precise form of franchise, and the precise figure, which my hon. Friend has indicated, may or may not be that which, upon full deliberation, we ought to choose; I will not now inquire whether the franchise should be founded on rate- 316 paying or on occupation; neither will I consider whether or not there should be a lodger's franchise; I put aside every question except the very simple one which I take to be at issue, and on this I will endeavour not to be misunderstood. I apprehend my hon. Friend's Bill to mean (and if such be the meaning I give my cordial concurrence to the proposition), that there ought to be, not a wholesale, nor an excessive, but a sensible and considerable addition to that portion of the working classes—at present almost infinitesimal— which is in possession of the franchise. Now, Sir, if I am asked what I mean by a "sensible and considerable addition," I reply that I mean such an addition as I think, and as we at the time contended in argument [see 3 Hansard, clviii. 461] would have been made by the Bill which the present Government submitted to the House in 1860. Does then the onus of proof that there is a necessity for such a mensure lie with us? Has the hon. Member wholly forgotten, or does he set wholly at naught, all the formal and solemn declarations of the years from 1851 to 1860? What, again, is the present state of the constituency, any departure from which the hon. Gentleman deprecates and stigmatises as a "domestic revolution?" At present we have, speaking generally, a constituency of which between one-tenth and one-twentieth — certainly less than one-tenth—consists of working men. And what proportion does that fraction of the working classes, who are in possession of the franchise, bear to the whole body of the working classes? I apprehend I am correct in saying that those who possess the franchise are less than one-fiftieth of the whole number of the working classes. Is that a state of things which we cannot venture to touch or modify? Is there no choice between excluding forty-nine out of every fifty working men on the one hand, and on the other a "domestic revolution?" I contend, then, that it is on the hon. Gentleman that the burden of proof must be held principally to lie; that it is on those who say it is necessary to exclude forty-nine-fiftieths that the burden of proof rests; that it is for them to show the un-worthiness, the incapacity, and the misconduct of the working classes, in order to make good their argument that no larger portion of them than this should be admitted to the suffrage. ["Oh, oh!"] I am sorry to find that it is anywhere thought necessary to treat this question 317 by what, perhaps, to use a mild phrase, I may call "inarticulate reasoning;" and I will endeavour not to provoke more of it from a certain quarter of the House than I can help. But it is an opinion which I entertain, that if forty-nine-fiftieths of the working classes are to be excluded from the franchise, it is certainly with those who maintain that exclusion that it rests to show its necessity. On the other hand, my hon. Friend indicates that kind of extension of the suffrage which would make the working classes a sensible fraction of the borough constituency; an important fraction, but still a decided minority ns compared with the other portion of it. That is the proposition which we have before us for our present consideration.
We are told that the working classes do not agitate for an extension of the franchise; but is it desirable that we should wait until they do agitate? In my opinion, agitation by the working classes, upon any political subject whatever, is a thing not to be waited for, not to be made a condition previous to any Parliamentary movement; but, on the contrary, it is a thing to be deprecated, and, if possible, anticipated and prevented by wise and provident measures. An agitation by the working classes is not like an agitation by the classes above them, the classes possessed of leisure. The agitation of the classes having leisure is easily conducted. It is not with them that every hour of time has a money value; their wives and children are not dependent on the strictly reckoned results of those hours of labour. When a working man finds himself in such a condition that he must abandon that daily labour on which he is strictly dependent for his daily bread, when he gives up the profitable application of his time, it is then that, in railway language, "the danger signal is turned on;" for he does it only because he feels a strong necessity for action, and a distrust in the rulers who, as he thinks, have driven him to that necessity. The present state of things, I rejoice to say, does not indicate that distrust; but if we admit this as matter of fact, we must not along with the admission allege the absence of agitation on the part of the working classes as a sufficient reason why the Parliament of England, and the public mind of England, should be indisposed to entertain the discussion of this question. I may presume, Sir, to mention that I happen to have had a recent opportunity of obtaining some information respecting 318 the views of the working classes on this subject. It arose incidentally; but I thought it worth attention at the time, and I still think it may be worth the attention of the House. It was in connection with the discussions on the Government Annuities Bill, when a deputation, representing the most extensive among all the existing combinations of the working classes of Liverpool, came to me, and expressed their own sentiments and those of their fellows with respect to that Bill. [Mr. HORSFALL: It was not a deputation from Liverpool, but from London.] I am not aware of having said Liverpool. ["Yes, yes."] I beg pardon, then, I meant London; and I thank my hon. Friend for the correction he has supplied, as it enables me to report the views of a body of men perhaps some six or eight times larger than any corresponding body in Liverpool, After disavowing opposition to that measure, they proceeded to hold language such as this: "If there has been any suspicion or disinclination to this Bill on the part of the working classes, it is owing in a great measure to their dissatisfaction with the conduct of Parliament during recent years in reference to the extension of the suffrage." Part of my answer to them was, "If you complain of the conduct of Parliament, depend upon it the conduct of Parliament has been connected in no small degree with the apparent inaction, and alleged indifference, of the working classes themselves with respect to the suffrage." The reply which they then returned was one which made a deep impression on my mind. They used language to the following effect: "It is true that, since the abolition of the Corn Laws, we have given up political agitation; we have begun from that time to feel that we might place confidence in Parliament; that we might look to Parliament to pass beneficial measures without agitation. We were told then to abandon those habits of political action which had so much interfered with the ordinary occupations of our lives; and we have endeavoured to substitute for them the employment of our evenings in the improvement of our minds." I do not hesitate to confess that I was greatly struck by that answer. And, after hearing it, I, for one, am more than ever unable to turn round on the working classes and say, that it is plain they do not care for the extension of the franchise, because they do not agitate in order to obtain it. The objection made by the hon. Gentleman opposite 319 and by many others is, that the working classes, if admitted even in limited numbers, or at all events so as to form any considerable proportion of a constituency, will go together as a class, and wholly separate themselves from other classes. I do not wish to use harsh language, and therefore I will not say that that is a libel; but I believe it to be a statement altogether unjustified by reference to facts. It is not a fact, as I believe, that the working men, who are now invested with the franchise, act together as a class; and there is not the slightest reason to suppose that they would so act together if there were a moderate and fair extension of the suffrage. If, indeed, we were to adopt a sudden and sweeping measure, a measure which might deserve the epithet of revolutionary; if we were to do anything which would give a monopoly of power to the working classes; if, for example, instead of adopting a measure which would raise the proportion of working men in the town constituencies to one-third, you gave the franchise to two-thirds, there would be some colour for the anticipation, and some justification for the language so lightly used; there might then be some temptation to set up class interests on the part of those who might thus have the means of obtaining, or, at least, a temptation to grasp at a monopoly of power, and it would, under these circumstances, be for us to show, if we could, that no danger would arise. But I appeal to the evidence of all, who know anything of the facts, to say whether we have not seen the working classes, in places where they possessed the franchise, instead of being disposed to go together as a class, rather inclined, as a general rule, and under all ordinary circumstances, to follow their superiors, to confide in them, to trust them, and to hold them in high esteem. Their landords in the country, their employers in the town, their neighbours, and those whose personal characters they respect—these are the men whom the working classes commonly elect to follow; and for my part, I believe, if there is anything which will induce them to alter their conduct, and to make it their rule to band together as a class, it will be resentment at exclusion, and a sense of injustice. Whatever tends to denote them as persons open to the influence of bribery—as persons whose admission within the pale of the constitution constitutes "a domestic revolution;" whatever tends to mark them as unworthy of confidence and respect, is 320 calculated to drive them back to the use of their natural means of self-defence, and might, possibly, in times and circumstances which we can conceive, become the motive cause of an union among the working classes, which would be adverse to other classes of the community.
It would, Sir, be worse than idle, after the able and luminous speech of my hon. Friend (Mr. Baines), to detain the House with the statistics of the question. But I take my stand, in the first place, on a great legislative fact; on the Reform Bill of 1832. Before 1832—the epoch of the Reform Act—although the working classes were not supposed to be represented in this House, yet we had among the constituencies some of an important character which were in an entirely preponderating proportion working class constituencies. I myself was elected by a scot and lot borough, the borough of Newark. At the time that I was first returned for that borough, in December, 1832, the constituency was close upon 1,600. That same constituency is now a little more than 700; nor has it yet, I believe, reached its minimum; in fact, it is in progress of regular decay, until it reaches the limit fixed by the number of;£10 houses. That borough was enfranchised in the time of Charles II., when the Crown did not fear to issue writs calling for the return, in, certain case?, of Members by constituencies that consisted of all inhabitants who paid scot and lot. But since the Act of 1832, there has been a large deduction made from the number of working men in the possession of the franchise by the changes which have taken place in the condition of the boroughs called pot-walloping boroughs, scot and lot boroughs, and by other denominations. I greatly doubt whether, even after making fair allowance for the bettered circumstances of working men, as large a proportion of the entire body hold the suffrage now as held it in December, 1832. If that is so, is it fair and proper that, in the thirty-two years which have since elapsed, a, reduction should have taken place in the proportion which they bear to the rest of the constituency? Have their condition and character retrograded in a manner to justify this retrogression of numbers? Have they no claims to an extension of the suffrage? I think the facts are clear, and I think my hon. Friend has shown that a great portion of the facts are reducible to figures, and are capable of being represented in a form and with a 321 force almost mathematical, with reference to education and to the state of the press. Let me, then, refer to one or two points which are not reducible to figures. We are told, for instance, that the working classes are given to the practice of strikes. I believe it is the experience of the employers of labour that these strikes are more and more losing the character of violence and compulsory interference with the free will of their own comrades and fellow-workmen, and are assuming that legal and, under certain circumstances, legitimate character, which they possess as the only means by which, in the last resort, labour can fairly assert itself against capital in the peaceful strife of the labour market. Let us take, too, that which in former times I believe to have been the besetting sin of labour—the disposition of the majority not to recognize the right of the minority, and, indeed, of every single individual, to sell his labour for what he thinks fit. On behalf of the labouring classes, I must, in passing, say that this doctrine is much harder for them to practise than for us to preach. In our condition of life and feeling, we have nothing analogous to that which the working man cannot but feel when he sees his labour being, as he thinks, undersold. Yet still it is our duty to assert in the most rigid terms, and to carry high the doctrine of the right of every labouring man, whether with or against the approval of his class, to sell his labour as high or as low as he pleases. But with respect to this point, which has certainly been in other times, and which I fear still is in certain cases, a point of weakness, I appeal to those who have experience of the working classes, whether there is not reason to believe that the progress of knowledge, and the experience of good Government, and the designs of philanthropy and religion, have borne their fruit? Has not the time come when large portions, at the least, of working men admit the right of freedom of labour, as fully as it could possibly be asserted in this House?
Again, Sir, let us look for a few moments at the altered, the happily altered, relations of the working classes to the Government, the laws, the institutions, and, above all, to the throne of this country. Let us go back—it is no long period in the history of a nation—to an epoch not very many years before the passing of the Reform Bill, and consider what was the state of things at a time when many of us were 322 unborn, and when most of us were children—I mean, to the years which immediately succeeded the peace of 1815. We all know the history of those times; most of us recollect the atmosphere and the ideas, under the influence of which we were brought up. They were not ideas which belonged to the old current of English history; nor were they in conformity with the liberal sentiments which pervaded, at its best periods, the politics of the country, and which harmonized with the spirit of the old British Constitution. They were, on the contrary, ideas referable to those lamentable excesses of the first French Revolution, which produced here a terrible re-action, and went far to establish the doctrine that the masses of every community were in permanent antagonism with the laws under which they lived, and were disposed to regard those laws, and the persons by whom the laws were made and administered, as their natural enemies. Unhappily, there are but too many indications to prove that this is no vague or imaginary description. The time to which I now refer, was a time when deficiencies in the harvests were followed by riots, and when rioters did not hold sacred even the person of Majesty itself. In 1817, when the Prince Regent came down to open Parliament, his carriage was assailed by the populace of London; and what was the remedy provided for this state of things? Why, the remedy was sought in the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act; or in the limitation of the action of the press, already restricted; or in the employment of spies and the deliberate defence of their employment, who, for the supposed security of the Government, were sent throughout the country to dog the course of private life, and to arrest persons, or to check them, in the formation of conspiracies real or supposed. And what, let me ask, is the state of things now? With truth, Sir, it may be said that the epoch I have named, removed from us, in mere chronological reckoning, by less than half a century, is in the political sphere separated from us by a distance almost immeasurable. For now it may be fearlessly asserted that the fixed traditional sentiment of the working man has begun to be confidence in the law, in Parliament, and even in the executive Government. Of this gratifying state of things it fell to my lot to receive a single, indeed, but a significant proof no later than yesterday. [Cries of "No, no!" and laughter.] The 323 quick-witted character of hon. Gentlemen opposite outstrips, I am afraid, the tardy movement of my observations. Let them only have a very little patience, and they will, I believe, see cause for listening to what I shall say. I was about to proceed to say, in illustration of my argument, that only yesterday I had the satisfaction of receiving a deputation of working men from the Society of Amalgamated Engineers. That society consists of very large numbers of highly-skilled workmen, and has two hundred and sixty branches; it is a society representing the very class in which we should most be inclined to look for a spirit of even jealous independence of all direct relations with the Government. But the deputation came to state to me that the society had large balances of money open for investment, and that many of its members could not feel satisfied unless they were allowed to place their funds in the hands of the Government, by means of a modification in the rules of the Post Office savings banks. Now that, I think, I may say, without being liable to any expression of adverse feeling on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite, was a very small but yet significant indication, among thousands of others, of the altered temper to which I have referred. Instead, however, of uttering on the point my own opinions, I should like to use the words of the working classes themselves. In an address which, in company with my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, I heard read at a meeting which was held in the Potteries last autumn, they say, of their own spontaneous Motion, uninfluenced by the action of their employers, in relation to the legislation of late years—The great measures that have been passed during the last twenty years by the British Legislature have conferred incalculable blessings on the whole community, and particularly on the working classes, by unfettering the trade and commerce of the country, cheapening the essentials of oar daily sustenance, placing a large proportion of the comforts and luxuries of life within our reach, and rendering the obtainment of knowledge comparatively easy among the great mass of the sons of toil.And this is the mode in which they then proceed to describe their view of the conduct of the upper classes towards them—Pardon us for alluding to the kindly conduct now so commonly evinced by the wealthier portions of the community to assist in the physical and moral improvement of the working classes. The well-being of the toiling mass is now generally admitted to be an essential to the national 324 weal. This forms a pleasing contrast to the opinions cherished half a century ago. The humbler classes also are duly mindful of the happy change, and, without any abatement of manly independence, fully appreciate the benefits resulting therefrom, contentedly fostering a hopeful expectation of the future. May heaven favour and promote this happy mutuality! as we feel confident that all such kindly interchange materially contributes to the general good.Now, such language does, in my opinion, the greatest credit to the parties from whom it proceeds. This is a point on which no difference of opinion can prevail. I think I may go a step further, and consider these statements as indicating not only the sentiments of a particular body at the particular place from which they proceeded, but the general sentiments of the best - conducted and most enlightened working men of the country. It may, however, be said, that such statements prove the existing state of things to be satisfactory. But surely this is no sufficient answer. Is it right, I ask, that in the face of such dispositions, the present law of almost entire exclusion should continue to prevail? Again, I call upon the adversary to show cause. And I venture to say that every man who is not presumably incapacitated by some consideration of personal unfitness or of political danger is morally entitled to come within the pale of the Constitution. Of course, in giving utterance to such a proposition, I do not recede from the protest I have previously made against sudden, or violent, or excessive, or intoxicating change; but I apply it with confidence to this effect, that fitness for the franchise, when it is shown to exist —as I say it is shown to exist in the case of a select portion of the working class—is not repelled on sufficient grounds from the portals of the Constitution by the allegation that things are well as they are. I contend, moreover, that persons who have prompted the expression of such sentiments as those to which I have referred, and whom I know to have been Members of the working class, are to be presumed worthy and fit to discharge the duties of citizenship, and that to admission to the discharge of those duties they are well and justly entitled. The present franchise, I may add, on the whole—subject, of course, to some exceptions—draws the line between the lower middle class and the upper order of the working class. As a general rule, the lower stratum of the middle class is admitted to the exercise of the franchise, while the upper stratum of the working 325 class is excluded. That I believe to be a fair general description of the present formation of the constituencies in boroughs and towns. Is it a state of things, I would ask, recommended by clear principles of reason? Is the upper portion of the working classes inferior to the lowest portion of the middle? That is a question I should wish to be considered on both sides of the House. For my own part, it appears to me that the negative of the proposition may be held with the greatest confidence. Whenever this Question comes to be discussed, with the view to an immediate issue, the conduct of the general body of the operatives of Lancashire cannot be forgotten. What are the qualities which fit a man for the exercise of a privilege such as the franchise? Self-command, self-control, respect for order, patience under suffering, confidence in the law, regard for superiors; and when, I should like to ask, were all these great qualities exhibited in a manner more signal, I would even say more illustrious, than under the profound affliction of the winter of 1862? I admit the danger of dealing with enormous masses of men; but I am now speaking only of a limited portion of the working class, and I, for one, cannot admit that there is that special virtue in the nature of the middle class which ought to lead to our drawing a marked distinction, a distinction almost purporting to be one of principle, between them and a select portion of the working classes, so far as relates to the exercise of the franchise.
But, Sir, this Question has received a very remarkable illustration from the experience of the last few years. So far as Lancashire is concerned, we have the most extraordinary evidence—evidence amounting almost to mathematical demonstration —of the competency of the working man to discharge those duties of retail trade and the distribution of commodities, which are commonly intrusted to the lower part of the middle class. I allude to the evidence afforded by the marvellous success in that particular county (and I hope the example of that county may not be too eagerly followed elsewhere) of the cooperative system. For my own part, I am not ashamed to say that, if twenty or ten years ago anybody had prophesied to me the success of that system, as it has recently been exhibited in Rochdale and other towns in the north—if I had been told that labouring men would so associate together with mutual advantage, 326 to the exclusion of the retail dealer who comes between the producer and the consumer of commodities, I should have regarded the prediction as absurd. There is, in my opinion, no greater social marvel at the present day than the manner in which these societies flourish in Lancashire, combined with a consideration of the apparent soundness of the financial basis on which they are built; for the bodies of men who have had recourse to the co-operative system have been, as it would appear, those who have stood out with the most manly resolution against the storms of adversity, who have been the last to throw themselves on the charity of their neighbours, and who have proved themselves to be best qualified for the discharge of the duties of independent citizens. And when we have before us considerable numbers of men answering to this description, it is, I think, well worth our while to consider what is the title which they advance to the generous notice of Parliament in regard to their appeal to be admitted in such measure as may upon consideration seem fit, to the exercise of the franchise. I, for myself, confess that I think the investigation will be far better conducted if we approach the question at an early date, in a calm frame of mind, and without having our doors besieged by crowds, or our table loaded with petitions; rather than if we postpone entering upon it until a great agitation has arisen.
And now, Sir, one word in conclusion. I believe that it has been given to us of this generation to witness, advancing as it were under our very eyes from day to day, the most blessed of all social processes; I mean the process which unites together not the interests only but the feelings of all the several classes of the community, and which throws back into the shadows of oblivion those discords by which they were kept apart from one another. I know of nothing which can contribute, in any degree comparable to that union, to the welfare of the commonwealth. It is well, Sir, that we should be suitably provided with armies, and fleets, and fortifications; it is well too that all these should rest upon and be sustained, as they ought to be, by a sound system of finance, and out of a revenue not wasted by a careless Parliament, or by a profligate Administration. But that which is better and more weighty still is that hearts should be bound together by a reasonable extension, at fitting times, and among selected portions of the 327 people, of every benefit and every privilege that can justly be conferred upon them; and, for one, I am prepared to give my support to the Motion now made by my hon. Friend (Mr. Baines), because I believe, and am persuaded, that it will powerfully tend to that binding and blending and knitting of hearts together, and thus to the infusion of new vigour into the old, but in the best sense still young, and flourishing, and undecaying British Constitution.
§ MR. WHITESIDE
Sir, I think it must be admitted that we have had reason to deplore the absence of the noble Viscount at the head of the Government more than once during our recent discussions. His presence would be of value to us in the discussion of matters, not only of foreign policy, but of domestic interest; but never would it have been more useful than in the reply we might expect from him— an unanswerable reply—to his refractory Chancellor of the Exchequer. In the midst of grave events of European interest the question of Parliamentary Reform suddenly re-appears, and I would beg the attention of the House to the way in which it turns up at such a crisis. It appears that individual Members, for whose character and consistency I have a great respect, are of opinion that the Constitution of the country should be changed. The hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Locke King) introduced a few days ago a Bill to extend the county franchise, and he must have been pleased with the result of his Motion, for he had the support of the noble Viscount in a most enthusiastic speech [a laugh] which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has thought it fit to follow up to-day in a speech directly leading to universal suffrage. The Motion of the hon. Member for Surrey was rejected—the sun has set and risen since — nothing unusual has occurred — and if this Motion also should be rejected, such is my opinion of the intelligence of the working classes, of which we have heard so much from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that I believe the result will be received with the same national unconcern as was the consequence of the rejection of the Motion of the hon. Member for Surrey. But why, let me ask, should the House entertain a Motion of the magnitude of that under our notice, emanating, as it does, from a private Member? On this point I shall again refer to the authority of the noble Viscount. On one of those fortunate occasions when he was for a 328 short time driven from office, the noble Viscount was asked by Mr. Duncombe to lay on the table the Bill for Parliamentary Reform which he had intended, had he remained in office, to have brought forward. The noble Viscount, though out of office one of the foremost men in the House, replied to Mr. Duncombe that a measure proposing a change in the representation of the people was a matter of such importance that, in his private station, he could not venture to lay it before the House. A measure of that kind, he said, must emanate from the Government, be introduced by the responsible Ministers of the Crown, and maintained by their authority before Parliament. Now, that answer supplies, I contend, a complete objection to the present Motion, even if there were no other; because if one private Member can carry a Motion to reduce the borough franchise to £6, there is no reason why another hon. Gentleman below the gangway may not propose to reduce it to £3, which has been mentioned in the present debate as a possible franchise. Therefore, the answer of the noble Viscount refusing, as a private Member, to introduce a Reform Bill, is a satisfactory reply to the Motion of the hon. Member for Leeds, and sustains the Amendment of my hon. Friend near me (Mr. Cave). I heard the observations of the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon this point with some surprise, because when he spoke of the shortcomings of Parliament, and when the hon. Member for Leeds spoke of the necessity for redeeming the lost honour of the Government (the word "lost" is my own), I daresay that the House had forgotten the language of the right hon. Gentleman on the memorable occasion when the Government that he served then, and serves now, were invited to withdraw their Reform Bill. I shall trouble the House with his observations—The right hon. Baronet the Member for Herefordshire, whose good faith in giving us the advice no one can doubt, also recommended us to withdraw the Bill. The course which the right hon. Gentleman asks us to take, however, is one which it is impossible for the Government to adopt. I may, at all events, venture to say for myself, that in my opinion any Ministry which should have introduced a measure such as this with so little caution, and in a shape so unfitted to undergo discussion as to render it expedient that it should be withdrawn, without the decision of the House being taken upon it, would in so acting have covered itself with irretrievable disgrace. I may add that no such idea, or intention, or dream as the adoption of such a course presupposes has ever entered our heads.329 To withdraw that Reform Bill would, according to the strong language of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, cover the Government that introduced it with irretrievable disgrace. In a few days afterwards they withdrew it. I leave every hon. her to draw the necessary conclusion. When observations are made upon the conduct of Parliament and the honour of the Government, I am justified in appealing to the testimony of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and while I admit that a Government which introduces a Bill of vast importance must be understood to have asked their character and credit upon it, I shall presently have occasion to show that the same men who resorted to the factious contrivance of an abstract Resolution to evict their opponents from power, when they themselves introduced a Bill not as good as the one they rejected, covered themselves, according to the words of the right hon. Gentleman, with "irretrievable disgrace," by withdrawing it without the decision of the House having been taken upon it. When we are told that we ought to adopt this Bill, I ask the House to consider another subject. A great measure of Reform was introduced by the Government I admit, and a very important measure by the Government of Earl Derby. What is the present method of managing Parliamentary Reform? One hon. Gentleman cuts a slice out of the first Bill, lays it on the table, and calls upon the House to adopt it. Another highly respectable Member of Parliament cuts out another slice, and says, "Adopt that," regardless of the general scope of either of those measures to which I have referred. Without any or safeguards, a particular clause is abstracted from a Bill, and the House of Commons is required to settle the question by selecting one part of an important measure and rejecting the rest. My confident belief is, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer in making the speech which we have heard, never imagined that the House of Commons would assent to the proposal, but that he thought it to be a safe opportunity and a good occasion on which to make a little political capital. He took care to tell us very unequivocally that the hon. Member for Leeds had no connection with the Government; that the Government had nothing to do with the hon. Member, nor the hon. Member with the Government. I understood him to hint in his usual peculiar manner—vague and undefined as his language sometimes is, still 330 we can make out his meaning—that the time was not suitable for the Government to deal with the subject; that, personally, he had no objection to the details of the measure, but would not pledge himself to them; that he was not quite certain that, being the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he ought to touch the figures to which reference had been made, but that he thought that he might give a safe, indefinite, and worthless support to an impracticable scheme. I think I might almost content myself by giving to the Chancellor of the Exchequer the answer which the noble Viscount at the head of the Government gave to Mr. Duncombe. But the right hon. Gentleman has a peculiar mode—rather an abstract mode— of presenting a question to the House by telling us what the hon. Member for Leeds means by his Bill. That is no argument. The question is what the Bill means. Now the Bill speaks for itself, and we can all understand it. It proposes to introduce some 250,000 or 300,000 men whom we do not know much about, suddenly into the Constitution. ["Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members opposite cheer; but if I do not know much about a very difficult subject, I do not like to touch it. Hon. Members are quite satisfied to introduce half a million of persons into the constituencies, and to do it under the allegation, which has no foundation in fact, that the introduction of this vast body is to be scattered over the whole of the country. Now, we know that this Bill cannot apply at all to the great cities, and must apply with overwhelming effect to certain boroughs in the country. We know very well that in this city there are very few houses the rent of which is not £10 a year, and that a great number of the working classes vote for the Members representing our metropolitan boroughs. Are we not satisfied with what we have got? Are we ungrateful for what Reform has done for us? Are we such political cormorants as to demand that all England shall be metropolitanized? I confess that I am slow to believe it. Abstracting the large cities, and remembering that the change will apply only to a certain class of boroughs in the country, we must see that the sudden admission to the franchise of these 250,000 or 300,000 persons is a very perilous political experiment, which once made can never be altered or reversed—an experiment which, if made at all, ought to be propounded by the responsible Ministers of the Crown, acting 331 as a body, through their Chief, who is unfortunately absent to-day, but who if present would, I have no doubt, have delivered as enthusiastic a speech in favour of this Bill, as he did in favour of the Bill of the hon. Member for Surrey. [A laugh.] It was a damper. The noble Viscount destroyed every clause of that Bill, showing very clearly what a difference may exist between theory and practice, and how a theoretical Reformer may be a practical Conservative. The first word which I heard from the hon. Member for Leeds, as I came into the House, was the word "distraction." He said that foreign events had caused a distraction in the public mind, or else it would have been turned strongly towards Parliamentary Reform. Where are the signs of it? Looking at the petitions which have been presented in favour of Parliamentary Reform during the last few years, the mind of the nation would appear to have been distracted in a very remarkable manner. In 1863 there were no petitions; in 1862 there were two, signed by 1,097 persons; in 1861 there were fourteen, signed by 2,225, and I am sorry to be obliged to admit that in 1860 the hon. Member stood alone in the country zealous upon the subject. That is what I call a strong sensation in favour of Reform, backed by the popular voice. But a return to the word "distraction." I have heard of an eminent Minister in a constitutional country, governed in a very constitutional manner—I mean Prussia—who, whenever it is necessary to bamboozle the Parliament, organizes a foreign invasion of another country that does not deserve and has not provoked the favours bestowed upon it. Whenever the Parliament asks questions about the number of soldiers who are to be paid and the taxes which are to pay them, forthwith this M. Bismark organizes a foreign war, which is carried on in a humane and chivalrous manner. I can reverse that illustration. I can look at home and I can conceive a Ministry who are apprehensive of a great act of retributive justice overtaking them suggesting the discussion of Parliamentary Reform in order to distract attention from their own misdeeds. The hon. Member for Leeds asked us to look round the world and consider the course of events. I will do so, and I ask what the Government have done? They have alienated France. They have bombarded Japan, bullied Brazil, distracted China, inflamed and then deserted Poland, and have nearly finished Denmark—and this is the 332 moment when you are to reform the Parliament! During the Crimean war, in Lord Aberdeen's Government, they said that the moment that war or danger of war approached, Parliamentary Reform was not to be thought of. You accepted that excuse. You forgave them the non-introduction of a Bill then. The Gentlemen below the gangway who are sincere upon the subject of Reform have, for several years, endured a Government which has introduced no measure of Parliamentary Reform. They have been contented with the performance of the compact of Willis's Rooms as it has been performed. The Whigs embraced you, and they choked you in their embrace. If we are invited to an investigation of that transaction we will not shrink from it. I maintain that there is in the records of Parliament nothing so unjustifiable or so difficult to be reconciled to reason, justice, or common sense as the abstract Resolution moved by Earl Russell when in this House, and moved not to advance the question of Reform, but to oust the Government and seize power. The hon. Member for Leeds talked about education. On our table was laid the Bill of Lord Derby's Government that provided an educational franchise. You refused to entertain it. It contained clauses providing a lodger franchise, on the ground that the clerk in a bank who paid five times as much rent as that of the house which you make the basis of the franchise had a better claim to be an elector than the £6 man who is engaged in daily toil all his life. You refused to allow it to be considered. Vast bodies of educated gentlemen were to have been enfranchised. You refused to allow that Bill to be read a second time. You voted for an abstract Resolution to prevent deliberation — a course which, if generally acted upon, would make your proceedings ridiculous, your debates impossible, and would convert your assembly into a mere conclave of factious men looking out for a pretext to prevent the discussion of a measure which, according to their avowed opinions, it ought to be the dearest object of their hearts to promote. I except the Chancellor of the Exchequer from the blame of that transaction. I admit that he did not vote for that abstract Resolution. I admit, gladly, that it is a point—a redeeming point in the political and peculiar character of the right hon. Gentleman, that he stood up against Earl Russell insisting upon that device. The Attorney General 333 also pronounced a memorable opinion, that in his judgment it wag a Motion that emanated from a party—I forget whether he used the word "faction"—which emanated from a party, and was not intended to promote the discussion of the subject. How, therefore, does this question now stand before you? You would not listen to a Bill which had in it much that was good. Then a new Government comes into power. The first year of their ministry they are too busy to introduce a Reform Bill. Multifarious occupations engross their minds, and there is no Reform Bill; yet you Reformers are all content. The next year arrives and brings with it a Reform Bill; but, as far as I could understand, no body of gentlemen were more rejoiced to see it die out tranquilly than were its creators. I believe that the inventors of the measure submitted to its withdrawal with perfect composure. I cannot read the hearts of men; but, although the Chancellor of the Exchequer must have conceived it to be an act which would subject his Government to "irretrievable disgrace," he quickly recovered his spirits, shook off the disgrace, and has remained in office from that time to the present without any: Reform Bill, or any proposal to introduce one. Now, when a Conference is sitting; upon Denmark—and there is, I suppose, a prospect of an early dissolution—it is advisable to make a speech which is to lead to nothing, and to announce to the working classes of this country, who are not to be caught with chaff, that at some indefinite time, in some indefinite manner, by somebody, nobody can tell whom, a Bill will be introduced which will recognize their many virtues and acknowledge their growth in knowledge and industry. Thus the matter stands. Has the right hon. Gentleman said that the Bill is to be carried? Has he said that the Government as a Government will support it? I listened with all possible attention to ascertain whether there was anything serious in his support of the Bill; but, although he spoke from the Treasury Bench, I heard nothing to induce me to think that he spoke the sentiments of the noble Viscount. I heard nothing to show that he was authorized by the head of the Government to deliver that eloquent though sophistical speech; therefore, I come to the conclusion that in this assembly of busy and practical men the Motion is only intended to afford an opportunity for making speeches useful for electioneering pur- 334 poses. Might I ask Her Majesty's Government whether the £6 men are to be introduced to restore the balance of power in Europe, or to restore the balance of party in favour of Her Majesty's Government? What way will it be? Was there ever before heard in an assembly of reflecting and educated men such an argument as the Chancellor of the Exchequer employed? "There you sit," he said to us; "I throw the onus upon you." I answer, "There you sit; I throw the onus upon you." A proposal is made to change the constitution and to introduce, it may be, 300,000 men into the constituencies of a few boroughs in the kingdom, and the person who propounds it says, "I have no need to prove the wisdom of the innovation. It does not lie upon me to consider the facts or to offer arguments. I throw upon you, who are the objectors, to find reasons, if you can, for I can find none, in favour of the measure." Would such an argument be endured in any tribunal or in any assembly of reasonable men? No! On the contrary, it lies, according to every rule of reason, on those who propound this scheme to show, not only that it is wise and safe, but that it is expedient. The hon. Member for Leeds repeated the word "right." I deny the abstract right of any class of persons in this country to possess votes. I deny that the Constitution ever asserted that principle. I also dispute the truth of what has been said as to unrepresented people. Are the working classes unrepresented? Does not the hon. Member for Birmingham feel for them? Does he not represent them? Every word that has been spoken to-day is an argument to prove that they are felt for, that their interests have been considered, and that legislation has been directed to their benefit. And when you come to the practical result of your argument, it is that the people are in perfect concord, harmony, and affection with the classes who are above them. If so, how does the argument apply? If the working classes are happy, if they are prosperous, if they have been advancing in knowledge and education under the system which exists, how does it follow that you should, therefore, radically change the system which has produced such results? The figures that have been referred to, the newspapers that have been cited, the eloquent passage just read by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, only prove how much good feeling and good sense there is in the people of this country; and it must be conceded that those who argue 335 in favour of a Bill of this kind, at such a time and in such a manner, are more likely to disturb that good feeling than to secure it. I do not admit that it is the theory of our Constitution that there should be no unrepresented men. At what time, I ask the hon. Member for Leeds, was the franchise ever separated from this condition—that it was to be associated, not with multitudes or vast masses of men, but with those who had sufficient property and would exercise a free and independent will? The last argument of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was that the working classes are so contented with their superiors that they would always vote with them, and never differ from them. I do not think that proves that they would have an independent will. And what was 40s. a year in the reign of Henry IV., the time that it was made the test of the franchise in counties? Has the hon. Gentleman considered that the equivalent for that sum was, in the reign of Queen Anne, £12, then £20, and now £30 a year? These Gentlemen would exclaim against reverting to the ancient principles of the Constitution, but the wisdom of our forefathers is not to be forgotten. Their idea of a county constituency was that the voter should be able to gird his sword upon his thigh and follow the knight of the shire to fight against the enemies of the Crown and Kingdom—and it was an excellent idea. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Baines) says that he objects to all sharp lines. Is not £6 a sharp line? What will you say to the man who pays £5, or £4, or £3 a year, and who is hinted at in the second clause of this exceedingly curt production? That argument is well put by Mr. Austin, who says—Every extension of the franchise in the direction of universal suffrage tends to introduce it, for the jealousy and ambition of the excluded classes are inflamed by the admission of those whose place in the social scale is not higher than their own.The argument is a very philosophical and, in my judgment, a very wise one. It is this. If you admit 200,000 or 300,000 new men to the franchise, what will be the feelings of the persons below them? They will say, according to the argument of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to-day, Is not the superior workman equal to the lowest of the middle class? I clearly, would the working man exclaim, am equal to those who are included; I am excluded because I pay only £4 a year; I demand 336 my right; and I should like to know how it could be refused. The origin of the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer can very easily be traced. Some time ago he received a deputation, to whom he made a statement which, when I read it in the newspapers, prepared me for a brilliant oration at the first convenient opportunity, and during the sittings of the Conference that opportunity has arisen. On that occasion the right hon. Gentleman said—He thought the remark of Mr. Odgers respecting the franchise perfectly justifiable" (as I do not know what the remark of Mr. Odgers was I cannot state it); "there was no doubt the Liberal party in the House of Commons had failed in their duty in this respect towards the working classes, to whom he thought the franchise should be extended, and about which he should shortly have something to say in the House.We have had that something to-day. Let me refer for a moment to those meetings which have been held on Primrose Hill, and their mode of dealing with the right hon. Gentleman. I beg those respectable men not to suppose that I think their original meeting ought to have been dispersed. I thought it a most reasonable thing that they should inquire what had become of General Garibaldi. He had been well received here, the diet was good, the company excellent—I believe equal to that of the selectest circles of Caprera; he was in the enjoyment of rude health, as every one who saw him could perceive; he was quite content with the country, and the country with him—he was about to visit the provinces — when suddenly he vanished. The working classes thought fit to meet upon the classic site of Primrose Hill to inquire into this matter, and immediately with a happy instinct, they selected the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Shaftesbury, and one or two other eminent persons, as the chief offenders, and determined to deal with them accordingly. They said that it was absolutely necessary that Parliament should be reformed; and why? That as soon as they got admission to this House they might demolish the Chancellor of the Exchequer. So that if the right hon. Gentleman should attain the object of his new-born zeal, which must have grown up since he represented Newark in the good old times—so soon as these decided characters gain admission into the House, they will make an attack upon the Treasury benches which it would be impossible for the Ministry, feeble as they are, to withstand. The Chancellor of the Exchequer advocates the extension of the franchise on 337 the ground that the working classes are industrious and respectable. I believe they are what he has said. So little inclination have I to speak disrespectfully of any class of people, that when a Bill was introduced conferring a lodger and educational franchise I thought it was wise. But what is the argument of the hon. Gentleman who introduces the Bill? He sums up all the newspapers, and contends that they are only read by the non-electors. How does he prove that they are not read by the electoral body? I, too, have some figures here, and I consider them quite as good as those of the hon. Gentleman. The total number of borough and county voters is 1,285,385, and multiplying the constituency by 300, which excludes the odd 65 days on which they do not read newspapers, it gives a total of 385,615,500. I only allow one newspaper to each elector, and yet there is a calculation surpassing all the statistics of the hon. Gentleman. Having disposed of the argument founded on the newspapers, I willingly admit with the hon. Gentleman that many of the penny newspapers are well conducted and very largely read. Either he or some one else referred to America, where newspapers are published at a halfpenny, and where they influence the Government of the States very largely. I am told that Congress is seriously considering the propriety of taking a halfpenny newspaper into its pay in order that its proceedings may be reported. At present nobody minds what Congress says or does, and unless a halfpenny journal condescends to report what Members say their orations will never be known to posterity. The hon. Gentleman has spoken of the middle classes and of their refusal to admit the just claims of those below them in the social scale; but among the middle classes must be included a large number of the better order of working men who, by their own industry and energy, have worked their way upwards. Those men are now in possession of votes —for in this great and thriving country a large estate is not needed to constitute an elector. Let me ask the hon. Gentleman, does he think that the right moment to make an experiment on a great scale in the direction of democracy is just at the time when the democratic principle itself is on its trial? And in putting this question to him, I must in candour add that there was a vast contrast between the moderation of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds and the extravagance of the right hon. Gen- 338 tleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say—and I thought the words so remarkable that I wrote them down—"Every man who is not subject to any personal incapacity ought to have the franchise." That points directly to universal suffrage; and although the right hon. Gentleman immediately afterwards went on to explain —his talent for copious explanation I take to be even more remarkable than his power of luminous exposition—those were the very words he used. When the idea so thoroughly carried into practical operation across the Atlantic is now put before us, as men of sense we ought to express an opinion upon it; and though the democratic principle invigorates such a Constitution as ours, the question whether it ought to be made the predominant element of the State, and whether this House should be thrown into utter want of harmony with the other branch of the Legislature by the concentration of the whole power of the country in the masses proposed to be enfranchised, assumes a magnitude and importance not to be overrated. Inquiry was made in a city of 20,000 electors, with which I am acquainted, as to what classes of householders were at present excluded from the franchise; and it was found that there were some living in wretched back lanes and in the most filthy parts of that large city who let out portions of their small and frail tenements at 1s. a week to one person and 6d. a week to another, retaining an. interest perhaps equal in amount in their own possession, besides the key of the hall door. Persons in such a position are among those proposed to be admitted to the franchise, and they are precisely those who would be exposed to the influences so well described in the course of the debate, not having a free and independent will to exercise. The Chancellor of the Exchequer says, "Are we to wait till the working classes agitate?" Now, that looked to me very like an invitation to agitate. If I may express it in my own humble, unoratorical fashion, it seemed to me that the meaning of that observation was, Why don't you agitate— why don't you complain? Why, Sir, the working classes might naturally reply, we have no grievance. Oh, but you ought to imagine a grievance — can it be that you have nothing to complain of? Well, no complaint in particular, except the dispersing of the meeting on Primrose Hill and the sending away of Garibaldi. Practically, what griev- 339 ance has been put forward, what petitions have been presented, what complaints have been made? It is said that the feeling of the English people in favour of liberty is so strong that they have expressed sympathy with every free State and every nation striving for liberty all over the world. I rejoice that they did so; but, according to my estimate of the event which has most recently taken place, they expressed their sympathy with an eminent Italian, not because they admired his political views, but because they thought him an unselfish, disinterested, heroic man, who risked his life in an undertaking from which he gained nothing, though achieving the liberties of others. Yet are you aware that this same eminent person proposed that the Chambers at Turin should be dissolved, and the King made Dictator, in order to carry out the objects on which he was bent? Surely, such a proposal would not be consistent with constitutional Government. It would be a very interesting question to solve, whether liberty has suffered most from democracy or despotism; whether the wits who write, and the men who think, have not found out that by appealing to the suffrage of the masses, always ready to be governed by master minds, the ambitious cannot obtain power as complete and uncontrolled as the absolute Imperial rulers of the world. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, who to-day addressed to the working classes such dangerous arguments in favour of agitation, introduced into his speech a very curious passage about the results of the French Revolution and the relations at that time subsisting between the people and the State. What is the use, on a practical subject of this kind, of introducing what occurred before most of the Members now in the House were born? I do not know how matters touching Reform stood in 1815. I only know that we had then just concluded a glorious war conducted by the great Wellington; and I know what was said by M. Thiers in the French Senate of the results then achieved by Castlereagh, and I believe that if he were now our Foreign Minister England would not be the laughing stock of Europe. Lord Castlereagh was a Minister who knew how to assert the dignity and power of England at the right moment; and, as M. Thiers said, he achieved more than the great leaders who conducted the armies and fleets of England to victory. Why does the right hon. Gentleman connect 340 this question with the French Revolution? What has that to do with the question before the House? I venture to say that upon the records of no popular assembly which ever existed in the world can a greater number of remedial measures be found than have been passed by this House from the time of the French Revolution to the present in favour of the mass of the English people? Merciful laws, wise improvements in every branch of the State, ending in the enjoyment of all those blessings and comforts and advantages which Gentlemen opposite admit indeed, but which they use to furnish them with an argument against the value of the system under which they live, instead of being the most powerful and conclusive argument in its favour. The right hon. Gentleman read a passage from a paper which we all admired. But it seems to me a very illogical process to produce the compositions of particular persons, who think correctly and who write in terms and language that command our approval, and then to say, "Will you not admit these admirable critics and thousands like them to the right of voting?" If he will bring me those selected individuals who write so gracefully, I shall be proud to assist in passing a special Act, even to introduce on their behalf the educational franchise which Gentlemen opposite refused to listen to. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer no doubt believes that the opinions which he advocated to-day would, if adopted, be for the benefit of the country; but I ask the hon. Member who introduced this measure, does he, or does anybody believe that the Government of Her Majesty are about to take up his cause, or that if the Bill be read a second time they will give him their support cordially and sincerely, after the fate which has overtaken the proposition of the hon. Member for Surrey (Mr. Locke King), who sits behind him? No, they will both share the same fate; and a Reform Bill will be reserved, in the words of the noble Viscount, till there is a Government "strong enough to take up a measure of the kind, and sincere enough to prosecute it to a satisfactory conclusion." The right hon. Gentleman called on this House in a marked manner to say in what consisted the security and strength of States. Those who assert and advocate the absolute necessity for a great increase of democratic power in the State will allow me to refer not merely to what 341 is passing across the Atlantic at the present hour, bat to the whole page of history. According as democratic influence has been increased until it became overwhelming, liberty in every State has perished. Look at the patrician Senate, when supplanted by democracy it fell beneath military power. Look at the brilliant Commonwealths of Italy. They had their day of freedom, and, with one striking exception, they fell, and quickly—A thousand years scarce serve to form a State,An hour may lay it in the dust, and whenCan man its shattered splendour renovate?A step in the wrong direction may be fatal to the greatness of a State. I, therefore, ask the House to refuse its assent to an experiment the consequences of which cannot be foreseen, and to preserve to posterity the incalculable blessings which Gentlemen bringing forward this Motion admit that the people possess, and which may they long continue to enjoy.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he could not but think that the right hon, and learned Gentleman who had just sat down had widely diverged, in the course of his eloquent address, from the essential merits of the question then under consideration. He did not, however, rise to follow the hon, and learned Gentleman into the history of the Primrose Hill meeting, or of those measures for the benefit of the working classes, nearly every one of which he and his Friends had opposed, but to congratulate the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Baines) on the great advantage to the cause which he advocated that had been gained, not only by his able and moderate speech, but by that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The cause of Reform would manifestly receive a great impetus from this discussion. The hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Cave) was surprised that there had been no Reform riots on the part of the working men. The fact was that the working men had long outgrown ideas of that kind—there would be no more Reform riots—but the secret of their inactivity lay in the fact that they were puzzled by the conduct of Parliament about the question of Reform. They could not bring themselves to believe that promises made on both sides of the House to give them a share in the representation would be violated, and therefore they had not spoken out as they would have done if they had had any substantial opposition to contend with. There was, nevertheless, a substantial opposition, and 342 it was all the more dangerous because it was a covert one. Therefore, this discussion would help on the cause of Reform, because, in the speech of the hon. Member for Shoreham, the Opposition boldly disclosed its opinions, and declared it to be better that the working classes of England should not have any share in the representation.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
thought that when the hon. Gentleman read the report of his speech in the newspapers, he would find that that was the real purport of the language he had employed. The hon. Member said that a man who was engaged in daily labour could not bring an intelligent mind to the consideration of public questions. But if the hon. Gentleman would go down to Bradford, he (Mr. W, E. Forster) promised to afford him an opportunity of addressing an audience composed entirely of working men, who would listen to him patiently, and who would make to him an answer which would show that although they went daily to their labour they could bring an intelligent mind to bear upon questions of public policy. The hon. Member had certainly talked about a domestic revolution, and he was bound to explain his meaning.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, the hon. Member for Birmingham was well able to explain his own meaning, and he, therefore, should not attempt to do so. Without entering further into the speech of the hon. Member for Shoreham he would say this—that it showed the objection entertained to the extension of the franchise to the working classes was no longer based on a question of time, but of principle. The Conservatives were evidently about to return to their old policy of preserving the Constitution from encroachments. Taking the borough of Bradford, there was no class there more deserving than the working men, whom he found to be intelligent and industrious. This Bill would bring into that constituency a number of working men to equal a third of its whole number. The proportion in Bradford, he believed, would be as large as in any other borough; and to designate a measure of that kind as a domestic revolution was most absurd. The conduct of the Govern- 343 ment hitherto had been marked by hesitation and indifference on Reform questions; but after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) it would be difficult for them to continue that policy; and the sooner the country knew where it was, and with whom it was dealing on home questions the better. If—which. he very much doubted—the present constituencies were Conservative on all constitutional grounds let them have a Conservative Government carried on upon Conservative principles by acknowledged Conservatives, and not a Conservative Government carried on by Liberal leaders on professedly Liberal principles. He hoped that the discussion which had taken place would bring things to an issue. If so it was possible that Members like his hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Marsh) might go over to the other side of the House, and that others who thought they had constituents enough already might not like to increase them. It was better for them and every one else that they should know exactly how they stood. One result, however, was certain to follow from the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Hitherto they had been in the extraordinary position of having some of the strongest supporters of the Government sitting on the other side of the House—not men of moderate opinions, whose views were akin to those maintained by the leaders of the Liberal party, but strenuous, exclusive Conservatives, like the hon. Member for Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), and the hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck). The effect of the right hon. Gentleman's speech that day, no doubt, would be to make these Conservative supporters forget the speech delivered on a similar occasion by the noble Viscount at the head of the Government, and withdraw their support in future. The Government, no doubt, would be losers to that extent; but the Liberal party would gain very greatly. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had been taunted with holding different views now from what he formerly entertained; but as his views became enlightened and enlarged he never retracted from those views. It might be that the country would first have to pass through a Conservative Government; but the time was certainly hastening on when it would no longer be open to the reproach of lagging behind all Christian civilized countries in the share of political power which it accorded to its working classes.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, he felt bound to answer the appeal of the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), and to acknowledge that he had been accurately described by the hon. Member. He was a decided Conservative, and, as such, he would support any Government that would serve Her Majesty truly to the extent that his principles would admit; and he declared also that, call themselves Conservatives or by whatever other name they chose, he would oppose any Government which departed from the great principles of the Constitution. That was the Conservatism which he professed, that was the Conservatism by which he intended to abide; and he believed that the great strength of the House and of the country consisted in the fact that there were men in that House independent of mere party ties, though he fully acknowledged the propriety of party connection when it was founded on principle. He wished to address himself for a moment to the Question before the House. The hon. Member for Bradford had said truly that this Question of Reform was assuming a practical shape. He (Mr. Newdegate) rejoiced in that as much as the hon. Member, for he held that it was no principle of Conservatism to assume that the temporary arrangements on which the representation of the people was ordered should be treated as permanent and immovable, and as though these arrangements formed the basis of the constitution. He admired that part of the eloquent speech delivered by the right hon. Member for Dublin University (Mr. Whiteside) in which he said, "The constitution of this country had never been based on anything like universal suffrage," and he also approved of the sentiment of the same speech, that "The franchise in England from the earliest times has always been treated as a privilege and as a trust;" while he was as far as the Chancellor of the Exchequer from desiring that the limits assigned to the franchise should exclude the working classes. Why did he resist the Bill of the hon. Member for Surrey (Mr. Locke King) a few weeks ago? Because by transferring to counties the £10 franchise they would have swamped the 40s. freeholders, the only representatives of the working classes in the counties. What were the facts? The actual definition of the present limits of the constituencies were designated in a Return referred to in a former debate, No. 410 of the Session of 1862; 345 and he begged to call the attention of all the working classes, and of the people generally, to the contents of that document. This Return showed that 8,000,000 of persons, or a minority, were directly represented by 338 Members in that House, while 11,000,000, or the great majority, were represented only by 159 Members. He objected to proceeding in a matter of Reform on the partial basis indicated in this Bill, because it would increase the power of the inhabitants of towns and boroughs, who constituted the dominant class, while it took no steps for removing the unfairness of the representation assigned to those who resided beyond the limits of boroughs and cities. In the interests of the majority of the people, in the interest of the working classes, he should vote for the Previous Question, because any measure which would enlarge the constituencies in cities and boroughs would increase the domination which existed, would strengthen the dominant class, and, instead of adjusting the representation of the people in that House, would increase the injustice. On such grounds he opposed the Motion—not because he desired to exclude the working classes from a larger share of the representation, but because he considered that the majority had a right to be considered, and that any benefit conferred by this Bill would be conferred upon the minority.
§ MR. BASS
said, it was impossible to conceal that the aspect of this question had very materially changed, both in the House and in the country. It would be very interesting to determine in what proportions the House, the Government, the constituencies, and the unenfranchised classes had contributed to place the Question of Parliamentary Reform in its present unpromising aspect. It was, however, of the last importance that the House should be able to show that they had not misled the people, and had not made promises which hon. Members repudiated as soon as they got back to the House. He took it that all the supporters of Lord Derby who voted for the Reform Bill brought in by his Government had clearly acknowledged the necessity of Parliamentary Reform, and those who supported the present Government were committed to it. [At this time the impatience of the House for a division became so great, and the cries of "Divide! Divide!" so continuous, that the address of the hon. Member could be heard only at intervals.] He was understood to refer to the opinions expressed by the leaders of the Oppo- 346 sition in addressing their constituents; and to say that, although the number of voters in the borough he represented (Derby) would be nearly doubled by a £6 franchise, he did not think that that would be so in many other places, or that if it was such an extension would not be attended with danger.
§ LORD FERMOY
was understood to say that he should support the Bill because he believed an extension of the suffrage to be necessary. He did not know how hon. Gentlemen opposite could be considered sincere Reformers after the speech of the hon. and learned Member opposite (Mr. Whiteside). Here was a moderate measure of Reform offered to them and they refused it? Were they ready to go before their constituencies as anti-reformers? He believed that if they did they would find the feeling of the country was decidedly against them. He supported the Bill because its effect would be to introduce a large body of the working classes into the constituency.
MR. SOMERSET BEAUMONT
said, he had listened with great admiration, but not without great surprise, to the eloquent speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, coming as it did from the most prominent Member of a Government, which, more than any other, had damaged this question of Parliamentary reform, which upon this very question had struck their flag, abandoned their party, and handed over the measure to the statistical championship of the hon. Member for Leeds. He would not enter into the discussion of the Bill, for while, like the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Cave), he did not disagree with its principle, but did not think it opportune, he (Mr. Beaumont) must say that in this matter the excellence of the Bill and its opportuneness so hung together that the best thing they could do who did not think the moment opportune was to vote against the second reading. He saw no special reasons for changing his opinion about the opportuneness of the measure, because, though he had heard a great deal upon that and other occasions of an "ugly rush," the only "ugly rush" that he knew of was the "ugly rush" of a certain party when in opposition to the pigeon-holes of White hall and Downing Street. It was because he did not think the present moment opportune that he would record his vote against the Motion.
§ LORD HENRY SCOTT
said, he felt called upon to protest against the assumption laid down by the other side, that they (the Opposition) were opposed to reform, 347 It was a mere election manoeuvre to say so. There were hon. Gentlemen on that side who had always said that they were not opposed to a measure of Parliamentary reform, but who could not support the details of this Bill, the general result of which he thought would go far beyond the expectations of its supporters.
§ MR. WATKIN
supported the second reading of the Bill on the ground that there were numbers of the working men throughout the country who were qualified to exercise the franchise, and yet were without the power to do so.
§ MR. GREENALL
, as one of those to whom the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Bass) had referred, declared that any promise which he had ever made to his constituents he was ready honourably to perform. He had said that he would support any well considered measure of Reform, and that promise he would keep. He was as favourable as any hon. Gentleman in that House to a fair, a liberal, and a just extension of the suffrage, but he should vote most unhesitatingly against the Bill of the hon. Member for Leeds, because he regarded it as unfair, unequal, and calculated in its action to do more harm than good to the cause of reform.
§ SIR JAMES ELPHINSTONE
begged to assure the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Bass) that he, for one, was quite ready to go on the hustings, and when he got there he would most assuredly tell his constituents where Reform originated in that House, and how it was defeated; and in doing so he would not shrink from naming those who had reduced the question of Reform to an organized hypocrisy.
§ Previous Question put, "That that Question be now put."—(Mr. Cave.)
§ The House divided;—Ayes 216; Noes 272: Majority 56.351
|Adair, H. E.||Beamish, F. B.|
|Adam, W. P.||Bellow, R. M.|
|Agar-Ellis, hon. L. G. F.||Berkeley, hon. Col. F. W. F.|
|Agnew, Sir A.|
|Alcock, T.||Berkeley, hon. C. P. F.|
|Andover, Viscount||Blake, J.|
|Angerstein, W.||Blencowe, J. G.|
|Anstruther, Sir R.||Bouverie, rt. hon. E. P.|
|Athlumney, Lord||Bouverie, hon. P. P.|
|Ayrton, A. S.||Brady, Dr.|
|Bagwell, J.||Brand, hon. H.|
|Baring, T. G.||Bright, J.|
|Barnes, T.||Bruce, rt. hon. H. A.|
|Bass, M. T.||Buchanan, W.|
|Baxter, W. E.||Buller, J. W.|
|Butler, C. S.||Henderson, J.|
|Butt, I.||Henley, Lord|
|Buxton, C.||Hibbert, J. T.|
|Caird, J.||Hodgkinson, G.|
|Calthorpe, hon. F. H. W. G.||Hodgson, K. D.|
|Cardwell, rt. hon. E.||Howard, hon. C. W. G,|
|Carnegie, hon. C.||Hutt, rt. hon. W.|
|Cavendish, Lord G.||Ingham, R.|
|Childers, H. C. E.||Jackson, W.|
|Clay, J.||Jervoise, Sir J. C.|
|Clifford, C. C.||Johnstone, Sir J.|
|Clifford, Colonel||King, hon. P. J. L.|
|Clifton, Sir R. J.||Kinglake, A. W.|
|Clive, G.||Kinglake, J. A.|
|Cobbett, J. M.||Kingscote, Colonel|
|Cobden, R.||Kinnaird, hon. A. F.|
|Cogan, W. H. F.||Layard, A. H.|
|Coke, hon. Colonel||Langton, W. H. G.|
|Collier, Sir R. P.||Lawson, W.|
|Colthurst, Sir G. C.||Leatham, E. A.|
|Cowper, rt. hon. W. F.||Lefevre, G. J. S.|
|Cox, W.||Lee, W.|
|Craufurd, E. H. J.||Lewis, H.|
|Crawford, R. W.||Lindsay, W. S.|
|Crossley, Sir F.||Locke, J.|
|Dalglish, R.||Lysley, W. J.|
|Davey, R.||MacEvoy, E.|
|Davie, Sir H. R. F.||M'Mahon, P.|
|Denman, hon. G.||Maguire, J. F.|
|Dent, J. D.||Marjoribanks, D. C.|
|Dering, Sir E. C.||Marshall, W.|
|Dodson, J. G.||Martin, P. W.|
|Duff, M. E. G.||Martin, J.|
|Duke, Sir J.||Massey, W. N.|
|Dunbar, Sir W.||Merry, J.|
|Dunbas, rt. hon. Sir D.||Mildmay, H. F.|
|Dunkellin, Lord||Mills, J. R.|
|Ennis, J.||Mitchell, T. A.|
|Evans, T. W.||Moffatt, G.|
|Ewart, W.||Monsell, rt. hon. W.|
|Ewart, J. C.||Morris, D.|
|Ewing, H. E. Crum-||Morrison, W.|
|Fenwick, E. M.||Neate, C.|
|Fenwick, H.||Norris, J. T.|
|Fermoy, Lord||North, F.|
|Fitzroy, Lord F. J.||O'Conor Don, The|
|Foljambe, F. J. S.||O'Hagan, rt. hon. T.|
|Forster, C.||O'Loghlen, Sir C. M.|
|Forster, W. E.||Onslow, G.|
|Fortescue, hon. F. D.||Owen, Sir H. O.|
|Fortescue, rt. hon. C.||Padmore, R.|
|Gibson, rt. hon. T. M.||Paget, C.|
|Gilpin, C.||Paxton, Sir J.|
|Glyn, G. C.||Peel, rt. hon. F.|
|Glyn, G. G.||Peel, J.|
|Goldsmid, Sir F. H.||Pender, J.|
|Goschen, G. J.||Pilkington, J.|
|Gower, hon. F. L.||Pollard-Urquhart, W.|
|Gower, G. W. G. L.||Ponsonby, hon. A.|
|Greene, J.||Potter, E.|
|Greenwood, J.||Powell, J. J.|
|Gregson, S.||Price, R. G.|
|Greville, Colonel F.||Pritchard, J.|
|Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.||Ricardo, O.|
|Grosvenor, Earl||Robartes, T. J. A.|
|Gurney, S.||Robertson, H.|
|Hadfield, G.||Roebuck, J. A.|
|Hanbury, R.||Russell, A.|
|Handley, J.||Russell, Sir W.|
|Hankey, T.||Salomons, Mr. Aid.|
|Hardcastle, J. A.||Scholefield, W.|
|Headlam, rt. hon. T. E.||Seely, C.|
|Seymour, A.||Vane, Lord H.|
|Shafto, R. D.||Verney, Sir H.|
|Shelley, Sir J. V.||Vernon, H. F.|
|Sheridan, R. B.||Villiers, rt. hon. C. P.|
|Sheridan, H. B.||Vivian, H. H.|
|Sidney, T.||Warner, E.|
|Smith, J. A.||Watkin, E. W.|
|Smith, J. B.||Watkins, Colonel L.|
|Stacpoole, W.||Western, S.|
|Staniland, M.||Westhead, J. P. B.|
|Stanley, hon. W. O.||Whalley, G. H.|
|Stansfeld, J.||White, J.|
|Steel, J.||White, hon. L.|
|Stuart, Colonel||Wickham, H. W.|
|Sykes, Colonel W. H.||Williams, W.|
|Talbot, C. R. M.||Winnington, Sir T. E.|
|Taylor, P. A.||Wood, rt. hon. Sir C.|
|Thompson, H. S.||Wyld, J.|
|Tite, W.||Wyvill, M.|
|Tollemache, hon. F. J.|
|Tracy, hon. C. R. D. H.||TELLERS.|
|Trelawney, Sir J. S.||Baines, E.|
|Tynte, Colonel K.||Bazley, T.|
|Adderley, rt. hon. C, B.||Cole, hon. J. L.|
|Annesley, hon. Col. H.||Copeland, Mr. Ald.|
|Anson, hon. Major||Corry, rt. hon. H. L.|
|Arbuthnott, hon. Gen.||Cubitt, G.|
|Astell, J. H.||Curzon, Viscount|
|Bailey, C.||Dalkeith, Earl of|
|Baillie, H. J.||Damer, S. D.|
|Baring, A. H.||Dawson, R. P.|
|Baring, H. B.||Dickson, Colonel|
|Baring, T.||Disraeli, rt. hon. B.|
|Barrow, W. H.||Drax, J. S. W. S. E. D.|
|Barttelot, Colonel||Du Cane, C.|
|Bateson, Sir T.||Duncombe, hon. A.|
|Bathurst, A. A.||Duncombe, hon. W. E.|
|Bathurst, Colonel H.||Dunne, Colonel|
|Beach, W. W. B.||Du Pre, C. G.|
|Beaumont, W. B.||Edwards, Colonel|
|Beaumont, S. A.||Egerton, Sir P. G.|
|Bective, Earl of||Egerton, hon. A. F.|
|Beecroft, G. S.||Egerton, E. C.|
|Bentinck, G. C.||Egerton, hon. W.|
|Benyon, R.||Elcho, Lord|
|Beresford, rt. hon. W.||Elphinstone, Sir J. D.|
|Bernard, hon. Colonel||Estcourt, rt. hon. T. H. S.|
|Bernard, T. T.||Fane, Colonel J. W.|
|Black, A.||Farquhar, Sir M.|
|Booth, Sir R. G.||Farrer, J.|
|Bovill, W.||Fellowes, E.|
|Bramley-Moore, J.||Ferrand, W.|
|Bramston, T. W.||Filmer, Sir E.|
|Bremridge, R.||Finlay, A. S.|
|Bridges, Sir B. W.||FitzGerald, W. R. S.|
|Brooks, R.||Fleming, T. W.|
|Bruce, Major C.||Floyer, J.|
|Bruce, Sir H. H.||Forde, Colonel|
|Bruen, H.||Forester, rt. hon. Gen.|
|Buckley, General||Franklyn, G. W.|
|Burrell, Sir P.||Fraser, Sir W. A.|
|Butler-Johnstone, H. A.||Gallwey, Sir W. P.|
|Cairns, Sir H. M'C.||Galway, Viscount|
|Cargill, W. W.||Gard, R. S.|
|Cartwright, Colonel||George, J.|
|Cecil, Lord R.||Getty, S. G.|
|Clive, Capt. hon. G. W.||Gilpin, Colonel|
|Cobbold, J. C.||Gore, W. R. O.|
|Cochrane, A. D. R. W. B,||Graham, Lord W.|
|Codrington, Sir W.||Greaves, E.|
|Cole, hon. H.||Greenall, G.|
|Gregory, W. H.||Mainwaring, T.|
|Grey de Wilton, Visct.||Malcolm, J. W.|
|Griffith, C. D.||Malins, R.|
|Grogan, Sir E.||Manners, rt. hn. Lord J.|
|Haliburton, T. C.||Manners, Lord G. J.|
|Hamilton, Lord C.||Maxwell, hon. Colonel|
|Hamilton, Major||Miller, T. J.|
|Hamilton, Viscount||Mills, A.|
|Hamilton, I. T.||Mitford, W. T.|
|Hardy, G.||Montagu, Lord R.|
|Hardy, J.||Montgomery, Sir G.|
|Hartopp, E. B.||Moor, H.|
|Harvey, R. B.||Mordaunt, Sir C.|
|Hassard, M.||Morgan, O.|
|Hay, Sir J. C. D.||Morgan, hon. Major|
|Heathcote, Sir W.||Mowbray, rt. hon. J. R.|
|Heathcote, hon. G. H.||Mundy, W,|
|Henley, rt. hon. J, W.||Murray, W.|
|Hennessy, J. P.||Naas, Lord|
|Henniker, Lord||Newdegate, C. N.|
|Hesketh, Sir T. G.||Newport, Viscount|
|Heygate, Sir F. W.||Nicol, W.|
|Heygate, W. U.||North, Colonel|
|Holford, R. S.||Northcote, Sir S. H.|
|Holmesdale, Viscount||O'Neill, E.|
|Hood, Sir A. A.||Packe, C. W.|
|Hopwood, J. T.||Packe, Colonel|
|Hornby, W. H.||Pakenham. Colonel|
|Horsfall, T. B.||Pakington, rt. hn. Sir J.|
|Hotham, Lord||Palk. Sir L.|
|Hubbard, J. G.||Palmer, R. W.|
|Humphery, W. H.||Papillon, P. O.|
|Hunt, G. W.||Parker, Major W.|
|Ingestre, Viscount||Patten, Colonel W.|
|Jermyn, Earl||Paull, H.|
|Johnstone, J. J. H.||Peacocke, G. M. W,|
|Jolliffe, rt. hon. Sir W. G.||Peel, rt. hon. General|
|Jolliffe, H. H.||Pennant, hon. Colonel|
|Jones, D.||Pevensey, Viscount|
|Kekewich, S. T.||Phillips, G. L.|
|Kelly, Sir F.||Portman. hon. W. H. B.|
|Kendall, N.||Powell, F. S.|
|Kennard, R. W.||Powys-Lybbe, P. L.|
|Kerrison, Sir E. C.||Quinn, P.|
|King, J. K.||Repton, G. W. J.|
|Knatchbull, W. F.||Ridley, Sir M. W.|
|Knight, F. W.||Rogers, J. J.|
|Knightley, R.||Rolt, J.|
|Knox, Colonel||Rowley, hon. R. T.|
|Knox, hon. Major S.||Salt, T.|
|Lacon, Sir E.||Sclater-Booth, G.|
|Laird, J.||Scott, Lord H.|
|Langton, W. G.||Scourfield, J. H.|
|Leader, N. P.||Selwyn, C. J.|
|Leeke, Sir H.||Shirley, E. P.|
|Lefroy, A.||Smith, A. (Herts)|
|Leighton, Sir B.||Smith, A. (Truro)|
|Lennox, Lord G. G.||Smith, M.|
|Lennox, Lord H. G.||Smith, S. G.|
|Lennox, C. S. B. H. K.||Smollett, P. B.|
|Liddell, hon. H. G.||Somerset, Colonel|
|Long, R. P.||Somes, J.|
|Longfield, R.||Stanhope, J. B.|
|Lopes, Sir M.||Stanhope, Lord|
|Lovaine, Lord||Stanley, Lord|
|Lowe, rt. hon. R.||Stracey, Sir H.|
|Lyall, G.||Stewart, Sir M. R. S.|
|Lygon, hon. F.||Stuart, Lieut.-Col. W.|
|Macaulay, K.||Sturt, H. G.|
|M'Cormick, W.||Sturt, Lieut.-Col. N.|
|Macdonogh, F.||Talbot, hon. W. C.|
|Mackie, J.||Taylor, Colonel|
|Mackinnon, W. A.||Tollemache, J.|
|Torrens, R.||Way, A. E.|
|Tottenham, Lt.-Col. C. G.||Welby, W. E.|
|Trefusis, hon. C. H. R.||Whiteside, rt. hon. J.|
|Treherne, M.||Whitmore, H.|
|Trollope, rt. hon. Sir J.||Williams, Colonel|
|Turner, C.||Woodd, B. T.|
|Vance, J.||Wyndham, hon. H.|
|Vandeleur, Colonel||Wyndham, hon. P.|
|Vansittart, W.||Wynn, Sir W. W.|
|Verner, Sir W.||Wynn, C. W. W.|
|Verner, E.W.||Wynne, W. W. E.|
|Vyse, Colonel H.||Yorke, hon. E. T.|
|Walcott, Admiral||Yorke, J. R.|
|Walker, J. R.|
|Walsh, Sir J.||TELLERS.|
|Walter, J.||Cave, S.|
|Waterhouse, S.||Marsh, M. H.|