§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. BAINES
Sir, I am sure the House will favour me with its indulgence whilst I once more appeal to its sense of justice and wisdom to redress an acknowledged wrong, pressing upon the great majority of the people. I say an acknowledged wrong, because the defective state of the representation has been admitted as such by the highest authorities in the kingdom. Indeed, I know of no subject in modern times on which there has been a greater weight and concurrence of authority. Nor is the question admitted merely as a grievance, but also as a grievance demanding practical and immediate remedy. With this view no less than five times has the defective state of the representation been recommended by Her Majesty on the Throne to Her Parliament, with a view to practical reform. Four Prime Ministers, at the head of five Administrations, have introduced measures for that purpose. This House itself has passed the second reading of a Bill for the Reform of the representation without a division; and the House which preceded it still more emphatically acknowledged the grievance by rejecting a Bill presented by the then Government, in consequence of its falling short of the amount of extension of the franchise which they thought should be granted. Above all, the constituencies of England and of the United Kingdom have at the last general election expressed their opinion on this subject in a way not to be mistaken. For it is notorious that this was the question that was submitted to the constituencies at that election, and that they sent us here, charged above all other things with the duty of reforming the representation of the people.
Sir, I shall be pardoned for offering a single word of personal explanation. It is known—because I have publicly and repeatedly declared it—that I have not been anxious myself to continue in charge of this question. I was anxious it should de- 1373 volve upon those whose influence was more extensive. I wished that the charge of the question should be assumed by the Government, and especially to leave it in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) whose opinions, expressed last Session in this House, did him so much honour, and gained him so much gratitude in the country; a gentleman who has the heart to appreciate the rights and wrongs of the people, and the talents and influence to obtain the redress of those wrongs. In this hope, however, I have been disappointed; but I never can allow that it is right to wait for a Ministerial initiative in a measure of this kind. If we were to admit that principle we should be sacrificing some of the most important rights and some of the most sacred duties of this House. If that rule had been acted upon, the most important reforms of modern times would have been prevented. When I found that the Government had laid aside the Reform question, and inasmuch as I had given them my most zealous help so long as they had it in charge, it seemed to me my duty to present one point of that great question before the House. It was only a single point, but one which it seemed to me no presumption for an independent Member to present, especially as I had bestowed upon it considerable labour, and as it was the prominent and distinguishing point of the measure of the Government, and that in which this House, or rather its predecessor, bad manifested an especial interest. When I received the charge which sent me to this House, I gave my constituents a pledge that I would support the measure sketched by Lord John Russell before the general election took place. I considered that pledge to he binding, and when I came here I felt bound to do what I could to act on the pledge. Moreover, I have been asked by that association of working men—the Working Men's Parliamentary Association of my own borough—from which I have just presented a petition, by public meetings in my own borough presided over by the Mayor, and by several other boroughs, to persevere with this Bill. And having always bad a firm conviction that an extension of the suffrage was absolutely inevitable, and that it was as just and wise as it was inevitable, I have thought it my duty once more to present the Bill to the House. I may, perhaps, be met by the preliminary objection, that in the last Session of 1374 a Parliament, when the Parliament has only twelve months to run before it dies a natural death, there is no time to carry such a measure as this, and to bring it into operation before the next general election. But to that objection I reply that it is altogether mistaken. The precedent of the year 1832 seems to me abundantly sufficient to remove that objection. In that year three Reform Bills, for England, Ireland, and Scotland, were passed in the months of June and July. Bills were also passed for regulating the boundaries of boroughs and of divided counties; the new system of registration was brought into operation; and the appeal was made to the country before the close of the year. That objection, therefore, falls to the ground. But, Sir, on the other hand, I conceive there is a special advantage in introducing the measure in this the last Session of Parliament. It is known that whenever any considerable extension of the franchise shall be carried, it must be followed by an early dissolution, in order to give an opportunity to the new voters to exercise the franchise of which they have been thought worthy. It is therefore evident that whenever a Reform Bill is passed that must be the last Session—the expiring Session—of the Parliament in which it is passed. Then there is a very great convenience to Members of this House, to the constituencies, and to the whole country, in having a Reform Bill carried in the concluding Session of Parliament. We know the immense indisposition there is on the part of Members of this House, on both sides, to go again to their constituencies soon after they have had the cost, excitement, and toil of a general election. It is known that one considerable obstruction to the passing of the Reform Bill of 1860 was the indisposition that existed on both sides of the House to go again to their constituents. Therefore one general election would be spared by passing a measure of this nature at the conclusion instead of the beginning of the Session. But, independent of that, it seems to me that it is right at the present time that opportunity should be given to Her Majesty's Government and to the Members of this House of declaring the opinions which they hold and the principles by which they intend to abide on a question of this constitutional magnitude. This was the question on which the last election turned and it is a question which I believe never will be settled until a satisfactory measure of en- 1375 franchisement shall take place. It must therefore continue to agitate the country; and on such a question it may fairly be expected Her Majesty's Government will give an explanation as to the principles by which they are actuated and by which they intend to be guided. I believe the country expects such an explanation. It is well known that the Government came into office pledged to a measure of Reform—pledged to this House—pledged to their own friends assembled before they became a Government, and pledged to the Queen. Before the last Parliament was dissolved, Lord John Russell, then in this House, sketched a Reform Bill, which he intimated his willingness to introduce. At the meeting at Willis's Rooms, before the present Government was formed, he adhered to that measure; and when Parliament met, in the second Session, a Bill was actually introduced by the Government; but it has not yet become law. The question was allowed to drop, and it is for the Government to explain how it was allowed to drop, and what will be their course in the future in regard to a question upon which high expectations have been raised, and upon which decided opinions have been expressed by the people of this country. The measure which I have taken the liberty again to lay before the House is one which is copied in so many words from the Government Bill of Lord John Russell, of which it was the most distinguishing and important feature. The Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Locke King), to enlarge the county franchise, though that would have admitted many excellent and well-qualified persons, was not calculated to meet the great want which the Borough Franchise Bill is intended to meet. The Borough Franchise Bill is avowedly intended to lower the franchise so as to bring in a considerable portion of the working classes who now are all but wholly unrepresented. That is its distinct ground. I believe the noble Lord (Lord Elcho) who will move the Previous Question, and who was a consistent supporter of the Reform Bill of Lord Derby's Government, will avow his opposition to any lowering of the qualification. Now, what to the noble Lord appears the vice of the measure, is to me its recommendation. It is distinctly and avowedly intended to admit the better portion of the working classes to the franchise, and I am glad that the issue is so broad and clear, and that the noble Lord's candour will 1376 allow so distinct a discussion of the question, and not suffer any ambiguity to remain regarding it. Many persons have charged the Government with having broken their pledges, and I have heard in very crowded meetings in important boroughs, most hitter and indignant denunciations uttered against the Government for having, as it was said, betrayed the country on the Reform question. I do not wish to use strong language. I am known to be a consistent, though perfectly independent supporter of the Government, and I wish to give a just view of their position. But I am bound to say that I do not know how to defend the Government from this charge. I admit that there were some reasons, though I think inadequate, in the state of foreign affairs, and also in the prostration of the largest branch of our manufacturing industry, for postponing legislation. But I see no justification for postponing it when those reasons have passed away, or beyond the existence of the Parliament which was specially elected to legislate on the subject. If Government had shown the same resolution on this question as they showed on the French Treaty, on the great Budgets of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and oven on the repeal of the paper duty; if they had staked their offices, as I think they had previously staked their honour, on carrying a Reform Bill, I believe they would have carried it. And if they could not have carried it, they would at least have stood in a much more satisfactory position before the country; while the party to which they belonged would have been placed in an altogether better position than they now occupy. I am bound, however, in candour to admit that the Government was not sustained, either in the House or out of the House, in the manner in which it ought to have been sustained on this question. It is quite right to admit that most frankly; but there are two things I must also say. First of all, there was apparently a luke-warmness on the part either of the Government, or of some of its more influential Members on the question of Reform, which threw a fatal chill upon it; and further, the constituencies, having done their part at the general election, considered they had a right to rely on Government and Parliament doing the part to which they were publicly pledged, without the spur of popular agitation. Admitting, as I must, that the popular demand for Reform has not recently been so loud 1377 as I think it should have been, but believing that the demand will as certainly be renewed with increased and augmented power as the sun will rise to-morrow morning, and that unmistakable signs of this renewal are displaying themselves in many quarters, I find in the existing quietude a strong reason for settling the question at the present time. I appeal to the House to consider whether it is not the part of a wise, a prudent, a foreseeing Legislature, to legislate for a subject avowedly calculated somewhat to excite public feeling, in a time of the greatest quietude. Shall we discuss it in a time of calm or in a time of storm? Shall we discuss it when the country is lulled by prosperity, or shall we wait till the people are roused, and perhaps inflamed, by adversity and distress? It seems to me the wisest to discuss it at such a time as this? If you call upon the wind, may you not evoke the whirlwind? If you refuse to discuss this measure in a time of tranquillity, I am afraid you may have to consider it with claimants thundering at your doors, and with a call throughout the kingdom from political unions for household or manhood suffrage.
I would remind the House that Parliament has not acted in this way in other matters which are prospective. It has not considered that, because we now enjoy peace, we ought not to prepare for war. So far from it, the two sides of the House have vied with each other in urging the adoption of every improvement in our national defences that is called for by the changes in the art of war. You have reconstructed your navy, you have re-armed your army, you have re-fortified your coasts, you have planned defences for your colonies, you have established reserves of seamen and soldiers. All this has been done, and the noble Lord who is to move the Amendment has been himself honourably conspicuous by his efforts, begun years ago, and continued to the present time, to raise up a Volunteer force for the defence of the kingdom, when there was no well-founded apprehension of any enemy threatening us. Was all this dictated by prudence? And can it then be prudent to leave a great majority of the people with a degrading and insulting grievance, pressing upon the great majority of the people; a grievance that does you no good whatever, dividing classes which ought to be welded together, and weakening the body politic—when by simply doing justice you might give the Empire more strength than 1378 it would derive from a million of fighting men?
I invite the House seriously to look at the condition of the representation. In 1861 the population of England and Wales—to which portion of the kingdom, in accordance with former precedents, my Bill is confined—was 20,000,000; of whom 5,000,000 were adult males. And how many of these had you represented? The number of electors was nominally somewhere under 1,000,000; though, deducting duplicate entries, and those who, having votes both for counties and boroughs, ought only to be counted once, probably the real number does not much exceed 800,000, and certainly is not more than 900,000. Of these it is quite certain that the upper and middle classes form the great proportion. I do not object to any measure—such as the lodger franchise—which would fill up any vacancies in those classes, by admitting persons who are well qualified to vote; but, as classes, they are abundantly represented at present. Indeed, they have the representation entirely in their own hands, although they form only one-fourth of the people of England. The working classes comprise three-fourths of the population, and I venture to say that this great body is all but wholly unrepresented. I do not deny that there are several Gentlemen in this House who have among their constituents a few members of the working class; but the number on the lists of voters is so exceedingly small that it has no appreciable weight in the representation. Yet that class numbers 15,000,000 of people; and the male adults number nearly 4,000,000. These are the men who carry on the vast and varied industry of the country; they till your soil, they work your mines and machinery, they manufacture the products which command the markets of the world; their labour and skill make all your capital available, and produce all your comforts and luxuries; they navigate your ships of war and trade, and they fill the ranks of your armies. Their sinews are strong, their energies are not surpassed, their courage is high, their natural abilities are as good as those of the classes above them, they are now an educated people, who daily read the news of all the world. These 15,000,000 of people have vast interests to defend the annual income of the working men and their families can scarcely be less than £200,000,000 sterling. They require the protection of the law for their persons, 1379 their earnings, their savings, their houses, their wives, their children, their civil and religious liberties. They have the feelings which belong to human nature; and they have a spirit which, though not disposed to violence or tumult, is perhaps still less disposed to submit to injury or insult. And this is the people—these 15,000,000—possessing an amount of moral, mental, and physical power not surpassed by any community in the world, whom we think it wise and safe to leave under the infliction of a degrading exclusion! I do not know what hon. Gentlemen may think, but I cannot understand how you can believe it to be safe to leave a people like this unrepresented. And, allow me to say, these people are not inferior to us in natural talents; they have brought those talents to a considerable degree of cultivation; I believe the working men in the workshops of the manufacturing districts are as well acquainted with the news of the day and of the whole world, as most of the Members of this House. You exclude them, and yet you expect them to remain obedient, contented in times of distress as well as in times of prosperity; well affected, loyal, bound up in heart and feeling with the classes above them, ready to obey the laws which they have no hand in making, and, if needful, to shed their blood in defence of institutions from which they derive neither honour nor immunity! Is this a wise and reasonable course?
I admit that the House has a right to demand, when an extension of the franchise is asked for, satisfactory evidence that those whom you seek to introduce to its exercise are likely to make a good use of it. If I could not give such evidence, I could not conscientiously propose this measure. I think I can prove that they are well qualified. But, before doing so, let me ask the House to consider what kind of qualifications it is reasonable to demand in a body of electors. You do not require, of course, that they should themselves be qualified to be legislators, that they should possess a knowledge of all subjects upon which this House is called upon to legislate, but only that they should be able intelligently to choose, among the candidates offered to them, the men who will best protect their interests and represent their views. If you should demand, in a constituent body, an understanding of all the questions to be discussed in a legislative body, I am afraid you have already gone too far, and that your constituents 1380 would be a very select company indeed. But if you ask for elementary education, general intelligence, the habit of political reading, and some habits of business in their own concerns and associations,—then I am certain, you may as safely go to the £6 occupiers in 1865 as you went to the £10 occupiers in 1832. I do not think you have a right to ask for much more. If you do, it seems to me you confound two things which ought not to be confounded—the qualification of legislators and the qualification of those who have to choose legislators. They are the men to select from a number of candidates the man whom, from their knowledge of his character, his independence, and his talents, they judge to be best qualified to represent their views and feelings in this House; and I conceive that it does not require a very high degree of scholarship for men who daily read what is passing in this House and criticize freely our debates, to be qualified to elect those who are to be their representatives in Parliament. I believe, Sir, a fallacy lurks in the minds of many honourable men, which makes them, to a most remarkable and most unworthy extent, afraid of a perfectly safe extension of the franchise. The fallacy is this. They suppose that any lowering of the qualification for electors would correspondingly affect the character of the legislative body. Now, clearly this could not be the case if the people are in a state of rapid advancement, so that education and intelligence have anticipated, and more than equalled, the extension you propose to make of the suffrage. The advance of education and intelligence has now made men of somewhat lower rank equal or superior in intelligence to men already intrusted with the franchise, and about whose qualifications no one has ventured to express a doubt. But, independently of this, the point I wish especially to impress upon the House is this—that the character of a legislative body is determined much more by the class from whom the legislators are taken than by the class who elect them. Now, as a rule, it may be said that the class from whom the legislators are chosen in England consists, and is always likely to consist, of those who have enjoyed the best education, who possess good property, or who have already gained experience and distinction in the public service of their country, their county, or their borough. A seat in this House is an honour to which the foremost men in the country always 1381 have aspired, and always will aspire. This would be the case, whatever were the composition of the electoral body. It is not in the power of working men in any considerable numbers possessing very small means, and dependent on their own industry, to live half the year in London at considerable expense, and either separated from their families or bringing their families with them. Moreover, there is only too strong a tendency in human nature to look with favour upon rank, wealth, and adventitious distinctions; and, in general, constituencies will choose candidates who possess those distinctions; not to mention that cultivated talents and experience of affairs necessarily and properly recommend candidates to electors, as rendering them worthy of being intrusted with the duty of making the laws and carrying on the Government of the country.
In my opinion, Sir, it would be a positive advantage both to this House and to the constituencies if some intelligent and virtuous working men, who had won the confidence of their fellows by their characters and talents, had seats in this Assembly. They would communicate valuable information to the House as to the interests and feelings of their own class, and would help us with their sound sense and unsophisticated feelings; and it is probable that they would learn something here which would expand and enrich their minds, modify their prejudices, and have a beneficial influence out of doors. It is altogether unlikely that any considerable number of working men will ever be found here; but if they were, I, for one, believe it would be productive of decided benefit to the public interests. Entertaining this view, I do not sympathize in the least with the fears which some entertain of the consequences that would ensue if, in a dozen or a score of boroughs, a £6 franchise should give the working classes a clear majority of the electors. It seems to be thought by some that they would, in such a case, either return men of their own class, or extreme politicians, and perhaps mere adventurers. I know that vague fears of this kind have given the ague fit to many honest men in contemplating an extension of the suffrage. But surely this implies a strange forgetfulness, not only of those principles of human nature to which I have been referring, but also of our own history. There is nothing that goes so far with this House, or with practical politicians all over the country, as fact and 1382 experience. Now, we have it in our power to test the validity of these apprehensions by an appeal to a large and long experience. We have had in this country, in many of its largest towns, not merely a £6 franchise, but household, and even universal suffrage. In those towns, therefore, the working classes constituted a large majority of the electors. The working classes, indeed, composed a much larger proportion of the borough constituencies in the Unreformed Parliament than they do in the Reformed Parliament. A fatal blow was struck at the working classes by the Reform Bill, which did full justice to the middle classes. Its virtue was in bringing the middle classes into a position of influence, but to the working men it was a most fatal act, because that class were either cut off at once, or placed in a position in which they gradually wasted away, and there are now comparatively few of those who formerly constituted the majority of the constituencies who have votes. Now, what was the effect under the old system? Did the large towns, in which the widest suffrage prevailed, return demagogues and adventurers? I have been looking over a list of the Parliaments for 120 years, from the union of England and Scotland, in 1708, down to the Reform Act, as given in Beatson's Chronological Register of the British Parliament, and other works; and I especially looked at the Members for the large towns where the suffrage was the most extended. As far as my local knowledge went, the Members for that long period in these towns were—I may almost soy without exception—from the old and principal families in the respective neighbourhoods, great landowners, rich hankers and merchants, together with an infusion of men who had distinguished themselves in the service of the country. As this is a point of the utmost importance, I will ask the House to allow me to read a few notable illustrations of cities and towns which had the largest body of electors, with a selection of the principal names which occur in successive Parliaments and generations. In the City of London, where before the Reform Act there were 12,000 voters, we find such Members as Bernard, Hoare, Heathcote, Glyn, Beckford, Sawbridge, and Curtis. In Westminster, where there were 16,000 voters, we find the names of Fox, Rodney, Townshend, Hood, Romilly, Burdett, and Hobhouse. In Liverpool, where there were 5,350 voters, there are the names of 1383 Gascoyne, Tarleton, Roscoe, Canning, and Huskisson. In Bristol, with 6,000 voters, were Burke and Lord Sheffield. In Hull, which had 2,200 voters, occur the names of St. Quintin, Maister, Manners, Weddell, Hartley, Wilberforce, Mahon, Graham, and Sykes. In Norwich, with 4,200 voters, are found Bacon, Walpole, Harbord, Windham, Frere, Gurney, and Grant. In Leicester, which had 5,380 voters, are found Beaumont, Babington, and Smith. In Nottingham, which had 5,050 voters, occur Warren, Howe, Anson, Coke, and Denman. In York, with 3,750 voters, are Robinson, Milner, Cavendish, Wentworth, Milnes, and Dundas. In Chester, where there were 1,300 voters, are found Grosvenor, Bunbury, Wilbraham, Bootle, and Egerton. In Worcester, which had 2,200 voters, are Boulton, Ward, Lechmere, and Robarts. In Durham, with 1,100 voters, Lambton, Shaftoe, Tempest, and Wharton. In Stafford, with its 1,000 voters, Foley, Vernon, Chetwynd, Monckton, and Sheridan. In Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which had 3,000 voters, occur Liddell, Blacket, Fenwick, Ridley, and Brandling. In New-castle-under-Lyne, which had 830 voters, were Leveson Gower, Waldegrave, Egerton, Bootle, and Evelyn Denison. In Preston, which had 7,500 voters, we find the names of Hoghton, Fleetwood, Hesketh, Stanley, and Horrocks. In Coventry, with 3,500 voters, occur Conway, Wilmot, Eardley, Glyn, and Ellice. In Gloucester, which had 1,900 voters, are the names of Selwyn, Barrow, and Howard. Many other county towns and populous seats of trade had very large constituencies, the suffrage there being household or that of freemen. For example, Lancaster had 4,000 voters, Southwark 4,500, Northampton 2,400, Southampton 1,350, Canterbury 2,325, Exeter 1,300, Ipswich 1,150, Dover 2,385, Colchester 2,500, Lincoln 1,333, Maldon 4,000, Cardigan 2,300, Great Yarmouth 1,800, and many more with numbers nearly as great.
Now I have Beatson's work here; and I challenge any hon. Gentleman to find names in the Parliaments for the last 120 years, giving the slightest shadow of a justification for the fear that working class constituencies would return persons of a low class as their Members. I say that the investigation to which I appeal must sweep away like cobwebs every fancy like that which I have been combating, and satisfy the most timid person that even a wider suffrage than I propose would still 1384 return to this House an overwhelming preponderance of men who are identified with the property and education of the country. I can conceive that Gentlemen may say, "Oh, but there was a property qualification." We all know what that meant. We know it was possible for any attorney to get up a qualification for £80. It was deposited, as every one knows, with our librarian, and at the conclusion of Parliament the property was again transferred to the owner. It was so broad a farce, so ridiculous and contemptible, that the House entirely repealed the property qualification. Then I may say that the experience of the country before the Reform Act has been entirely confirmed by its experience since that Act. Indeed, I may add to my former argument that the mere necessity of party strife compels each party (as a general rule) to put forward the best men it can find.
And now, Sir, I come to consider whether those whom I propose to admit, the occupiers of houses between £6 and £10, are worthy of the franchise. I must express to the House my unhesitating conviction that they are. I may remind the House that both the noble Lord who so frequently brought forward this question of Reform in this House, and the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), based their respective Bills on the assumption of a very great progress in popular intelligence. The right hon. Gentleman made these striking remarks—I beg the House to consider well those effects of time, and what has been the character of the twenty-five years that have elapsed since the Reform of 1832. They form no ordinary period. In a progressive country and a progressive age progress has been not only rapid but precipitate. There is no instance in the history of Europe of such an increase of population as has taken place in this country, during this period. There is no example in the history of Europe or of America, of a creation and accumulation of capital so vast as has occurred in this country in those twenty-five years. And I believe the general diffusion of intelligence has kept pace with that increase of population and wealth. In that period you have brought science to bear on social life in a manner no philosopher in his dreams could ever have anticipated. In that space of time you have in a manner annihilated both time and space.Those eloquent words were uttered six years since; and within that short interval two other mighty impulses have been given to the popular intelligence, by the abolition of the taxes on knowledge, which has led to an enormous extension of the education of the country, and by the general establishment of the submarine telegraph. These have led to a very great extension 1385 of political and general reading, by the establishment of the penny daily newspapers all over the kingdom, and of cheap periodicals of every description.
It is important that I should not trust my case to general observations, like those of Lord Russell and the right hon. Gentleman, however notoriously well founded. The fact of an advancement which I believe to be quite unparalleled in history admits of being proved by official evidence; and a Return has this day been laid upon the table of the House, on my Motion, which gives a large amount of evidence in the most condensed and most authentic form. That Return presents a comparison of the condition of the people in the years 1831 and 1864 respectively, that is, the year in which the Reform Act was presented and discussed, in comparison with the last year for which the accounts have been made up. The comparison could not always be made between those years, but an approximation is made to it. I believe a Return more gratifying to every patriotic mind was never issued; and I confidently invite the attention of the House to a few particulars extracted from it, as triumphantly proving the advancement of the people in education, virtue, and good habits. I shall not give the figures in full, but simply state the percentages of increase, which will give simplicity and distinctness to the statement. The basis of the whole is the increase in the population of England and Wales, and with that all the other items are to be compared. In the thirty years from 1831 to 1861 the population increased, according to the census, 44 percent; but, bringing down the population by computation to the year 1864, the increase within thirty-three years was 50 per cent, and perhaps hon. Gentlemen will bear this in mind as the datum line with which all the rest are to be compared. Within a shorter period, namely, from 1833 to 1861, the number of day scholars increased 146 per cent, or nearly three times as fast as the population. From this some deduction ought to be made on account of children educated at home, which are included in the last Return, and not in that of 1833. Between 1831 and 1860 the quantity of paper, the raw material of books and newspapers, which paid duty, increased 230 per cent. And since the abolition of the paper duty there has been an augmented production at home, together with large importations from abroad. Between 1839 and 1864 the number of letters which passed 1386 through the Post Office increased 834 per cent; and these may be regarded both as an evidence and as a stimulus to extended education. Between 1831 and 1864 the number of depositors in savings banks increased 338 per cent, and the amount of their deposits increased 209 per cent. In addition to this mode of saving, between 1847 and 1864 (or half the thirty years) the number of enrolled or certified friendly societies increased 120 per cent. Between 1831 and 1861, whilst the population increased 50 per cent, the amount expended for the relief of the poor actually diminished 15 per cent on the expenditure of 1831. In the twelve years from 1849 to 1861 the number of paupers diminished 18 per cent. Between 1831 and 1864 the number of persons committed for trial actually fell off, though only fractionally. Between 1831 and 1864 the official value of our imports increased 249 per cent, and of our exports 350 per cent, evidencing a vast improvement in the condition of the whole population. Within that period 8,500 miles of railway were constructed at a cost of £322,237,978—one of the most marvellous creations in the history of the world. Looking at the consumption of some of the principal articles of food, we find that those which indicate domestic comfort have increased in far larger proportion than those which are consumed in self-indulgence, and sometimes in demoralizing intoxication. Of tea, the increase was no less than 195 per cent; of coffee 44 per cent; and of sugar 91 per cent; of wine the increase was 93 per cent of malt only 33 per cent, and of spirits only 39 per cent. I appeal to the judgment of the House whether these figures do not prove beyond all dispute an enormous advance of the body of the people in education, reading habits, habits of providence and temperance, together with an increase of domestic comfort, whilst they also show a great diminution in pauperism and crime. I have to add to the information contained in that paper two facts, which, I think, are still more striking, with regard to the increase in the political and general reading of the people, as evidenced by the increase in the number of copies of newspapers, magazines, and serials issued. In 1831 the number of single copies of newspapers issued was 38,648,000 in the whole of the United Kingdom; while in 1864 it was 546,000,000, or an increase of 1,313 percent. The increase in magazines and 1387 serials issued weekly and monthly was from 400,000 a month to 6,094,000 a month, or 1,423 per cent. I say that those facts evidence progress which is something marvellous in this country, and one which, you may rely upon it, has afforded a sufficient foundation for that extension of the suffrage which I am now inviting you to make. I might multiply greatly the evidences of improvement, but it would be perfectly superfluous no man can possibly doubt the advancement of the working classes of England in all the qualities which fit them for the exercise of the franchise.
I must now. Sir, in conclusion, state to the House what I believe would be the addition made to the number of electors by the reduction of the borough franchise from £10 to £6. I regret not to have received the official information which I had expected when I moved for a Return of the male occupiers in boroughs some weeks since. When I inquire the reason that that Return has not been made, I am told that it would cost a considerable sum of money, owing to the necessity of paying the clerks of the guardians for their trouble, and that, as the Treasury has not authorized the payment, the Return has not been made. I am therefore driven to refer to the information obtained for Government in 1860, and thoroughly sifted by a Committee of the House of Lords, supplemented by partial Returns made on a Motion of mine last year. According to the Returns of 1860, the addition that would have been made to the borough voters by a £6 franchise would have been 210,022, or 48 per cent on the existing number of voters. According to the information which I obtained last year at the Poor Law Board, the addition to the borough voters would have been 240,705, being 49 per cent of the then existing number. I am assured, by the gentleman who has always prepared these Returns at the Poor Law Board, that if we had obtained the Return which I moved for this year, it would have shown very little difference. But it has been objected to the Government estimate of 1860 that the metropolitan boroughs ought to be deducted from the total number of borough electors, inasmuch as their position would scarcely be changed by the adoption of a £6 franchise, and, therefore, the new voters would almost all belong to the other boroughs. I admit the validity of this remark, and therefore I have deducted the metropolitan boroughs, and, at the same time, endeavoured to calculate 1388 the number of the working classes who would be put on the register by a £6 franchise. It would weary the Honse if It were to attempt to carry it through all the steps of my calculation; but the result at which I have arrived is this—that the whole number of borough voters, exclusive of the metropolitan voters, under a £6 franchise, would he 443,480, of whom 302,159, or 68 per cent, would be of the upper and middle classes, and only 141,321, or 32 per cent, of the working classes. This calculation was made on the figures given in the official Return of 1860, and I have every reason to believe that the same proportion, or very nearly, would still hold good. If I am right in my calculation the proportion of working class voters in boroughs would be one third of the whole. But when we take into account the county voters, and remember that no appreciable number of these are of the working class, it would follow that the working class voters in England and Wales would not be more than one in five of the whole electoral body. My firm belief, therefore, is, Sir, that if any smaller extension of the franchise than to £6 were offered, it would not be worth acceptance by the classes now unrepresented, and that they would regard it as a mockery and an insult. I am sure the extension sought by this Bill might be made with perfect safety. I would appeal then, Sir, to the justice and the prudence of this House not to reject so moderate a measure for settling a great constitutional question. I would encourage hon. Members to believe that in removing a great grievance from the majority of the people, they would be removing a great, though at present it may be a hidden, danger. I would conjure them to act with a wise trustfulness, and to try whether enfranchisement will not prove a better safeguard to the realm than exclusion—will not narrow the area and lessen the intensity of all future discontent. I would ask them to look back at all the great reforms of the last forty years, and to consider if they have not every one, being adapted to the spirit of the age, proved not merely safe, but conducive in the most eminent degree to the contentment and prosperity of the people. This concession, Sir, would cost not a farthing to your Exchequer, but, on the contrary, would enrich it; it would not aggravate, but mitigate, your anxieties in any future period of war or distress; it would not deprive any man in the country of any 1389 privilege or advantage he now enjoys; it would add to the sweetness of your political rights, by taking from them all savour of monopoly or injustice; it would elevate, as well as gratify, the classes whom it enfranchised; and it would swell into an invincible phalanx the ranks of those who now proudly and affectionately guard the shrine of the Constitution.
§ MR. BAZLEY
said, that in seconding the Motion, he must congratulate the hon. Member for Leeds for the excellent speech in which he had brought forward this Bill. He thought the speech was worthy of all praise because it truly represented the opinions and feelings of a large proportion of the working classes of this country. All classes had become, as it were, more federated in consequence of the spread of education and the means afforded to the great body of the people to form opinions, equally with the upper and middle classes, on all the great events which took place from day to day. The people out of doors were close observers of what passed within the House, and he believed that they would obtain—and that at no distant day—not only a considerable extension of the franchise, but a redistribution of political power. Much had been said about the apathy of the public on this question; but he believed that the charge of apathy attached more to that House than to the people out of doors. Broken pledges had not done much to give the people of the country confidence in their representatives. On both sides of the House the necessity of Reform was admitted by leading politicians; and on both sides measures had been introduced which would have enfranchised the people to a great extent, and provided for a redistribution of political power. Neither side, however, had been able to carry the measures they had proposed, and he feared that those failures had not tended to increase the confidence of the people in the present Parliament. He feared impressions prevailed that the conduct of the working classes in the northern counties and the manufacturing districts had to some extent diminished the confidence of the Legislature in the great body of the working classes in this country; but it was a mistake to suppose that the active and intelligent men of the North, because they occasionally spoke out in plain language, were disloyal, and not fit to be intrusted with political power. On the contrary, his belief was that in expressing these opi- 1390 nions freely they were discharging something like a duty, and that in those very ebullitions of feeling there was increased safety. He would remind the House that at the time of the Reform of 1832 the people of Lancashire were in a state of great excitement upon the necessity of Reform, and the Duke of Wellington, who had even declined to give representatives to Manchester, Leeds, and Birmingham, saw at length that the spirit of the people would be roused and the constitution endangered unless something like a comprehensive system of Reform were established. There was a revolution threatening at the time; but happily the good sense of the Legislature made great concessions to the just demands of the people, and from that moment the prosperity of the country had increased, and the people had been better satisfied. In 1832, when the population of the United Kingdom numbered about 24,000,000, the amount collected and paid into the Treasury did not exceed £47,000,000 sterling, and the expenditure was laudably less than at the present time. Now, with 30,000,000 of people, the country was contributing at the rate of £70,000,000 per annum, and that £70,000,000 was paid to the Exchequer with less animosity and with more confidence, and was levied less oppressively, than was the £47,000,000 collected in 1832. He hoped the House would continue to legislate in the direction of reducing expenditure; but, for himself, he apprehended that they would never have an economical Government in the strict sense of the word, till they had a reformed House of Commons. Nor did he think they would have the non intervention principle carried out, and that pacific relationship with other countries which was necessary to the diminution of expenditure secured, till the people were in possession of more power, and had a broader field of representation. If a larger number of practical men were admitted to Parliament there would be fewer blunders and extravagancies in the navy and the other public departments than there were at present. If the labouring classes had improved their position by increased intelligence and good conduct, surely Parliament could not deny their simple request that they should have the privilege of voting in the election of Members of Parliament. The people of Lancashire had on many occasions been sorely tried, but had always evinced their loyalty 1391 and good conduct; and he had known workmen say to their employers, "We know that you have been paying us wages out of capital, and we are perfectly prepared to submit to a reasonable reduction, if you will only be moderate in your demands." In Lancashire vast numbers of people had frequently assembled, and had conducted themselves with extreme propriety. When the Queen and the lamented Prince Consort opened the Manchester Exhibition there was no disorder and no confusion; but, on the contrary, there was but one feeling—a feeling of respect to those who occupied the highest positions in the kingdom. It was a mistake to suppose that calling in the aid of the labouring classes to support the good government of the country would be attended with danger to the wealthier classes. We depended upon them for the protection of our shores, for the preservation of peace, and for the safety of our property, and the only disqualification under which they now laboured was the denial of their right to vote for their own representatives. When the Queen went to the manufacturing districts on the occasion of the opening of the Peel Park, she was received with a spirit of rapturous devotion by the assembled multitudes, and a chorus of 80,000 school children welcomed the Royal visitors, and probably not one in a hundred of those children who have since grown to maturity, and have become parents, possess the privilege of voting for Members of Parliament. Recently gloom and depression had fallen upon the cotton manufacturing districts, and the patience with which the people had home the privations to which they had been subjected afforded abundant proof of their good conduct and good intentions, for they were peaceful under the most lamentable circumstances, being willing to work, but deprived of the material from which they usually derived their employment. It would appear, then, that there were only imaginary reasons why they should not give the franchise to these people, and provide a redistribution of the political power of the country. Everything surrounding them spoke of their good conduct and intelligence, and there was evidence of their fitness to take their share of the responsibility of electing Members of Parliament; they were anxious to promote their own interests, but they were also anxious to promote the dignity and honour 1392 of the State. He hoped the Government would give due consideration to the Bill proposed by his hon. Friend, and if they should not be successful on that occasion in carrying the measure, that at least some declaration would be given that in another Parliament the great question of Reform might be fairly and impartially considered. Let the Legislature be just and wise in time, and do not let them rouse that unfortunate intimidation which came upon them some thirty years ago. The people had earned the confidence of the Legislature, and he hoped they would receive that confidence for which they had worthily laboured. The people on every hand had conducted themselves not only judiciously but in the best manner possible; and in the spirit alone of a reward for faithful service he asked the House to extend to them the franchise. They were not in the position of mere hewers of wood and drawers of water; they were intelligent people. It was not to the privileged classes that we owed our railways and great public works, but to the George Stephenson class. Let them, then, call to their aid the counsels of those who had given increased wealth to the country, and by their advice and cooperation, raise the fame of this country to a higher pitch than it had ever yet attained.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Baines.)
§ LORD ELCHO
Sir, I rise to move the Previous Question, and in so doing I must claim the indulgence of the House for a short time. I do not feel with the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bazley) that the fact of 80,000 Sunday-school children having been enabled to sing the National Anthem upon the opening of Peel Park is a sufficient reason for conferring the franchise upon the parents of those children. Neither can I adopt the view put forth by the hon. Member who moved the second reading (Mr. Baines) who, in his last observations, urged that the franchise ought to be extended in the manner he proposes because of the existence of railways and electric telegraphs. I must, however, refer to some former observations of the hon. Gentleman, who, as far as I could gather, seemed to reproach the Government with inconsistency upon this question. I have no desire to pronounce whether they have or have not been inconsistent in the course 1393 they have pursued. They require no answer from me—I am not the defender of the Government; but the answer was really given by the hon. Member himself when he excused the conduct of the Government. On what ground? On the ground of the apathy of the country. And if there was apathy when the Government brought forward their Bill, has not that apathy continued to this very hour? When we came down to the House to-day, did we see a single working man anywhere near who manifested any interest in the passing of this measure, which, to use the words of an hon. Member who has recently been returned to this House, is to "free him from a state of serfdom?" The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Potter) has stated that he comes into this House in order to free the people of this country from serfdom, and also to make war upon the aristocracy. Do we find any sign out of doors that any interest is taken in this question by the public at large? And what do we find in this House? Was there any sign when the Order of the Day for the Second Reading of this Bill was read that any interest was aroused among the representatives of the people? Very few petitions have been presented to-day—only six, I believe; and were they in favour of Reform, or of this Bill? The first petition was presented by an hon. Member who, I believe, is to follow me in debate—the hon. Member for Huddersfield. [Mr. LEATHAM: Not on this subject.] The hon. Member tells me that he did not present a petition upon this subject. I know it, and that is the point I am coming to. The hon. Gentleman was one of the first to present a petition to-day. Knowing the relation of the hon. Gentleman with another distinguished Member of this House, and knowing the position which he justly occupies upon these Benches, one would naturally expect that the petition which he presented this morning would have been from Huddersfield in favour of Reform; but he got up and presented a petition about the Union Chargeability Bill. Another petition was presented by the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield. [Mr. ROEBUCK: Not I.] No, not the hon. and learned Gentleman. He has presented no petition on this subject, and I expect to have the benefit of his speech in support of my Motion; but his Colleague did present a petition. Did that relate to the question? No; it was a petition about some part of the 1394 Budget. Another Gentleman, who, I believe, goes "the whole hog" in favour of universal suffrage, the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lawson), presented a petition, but it was not in favour of Reform, but referred to something connected with tea. So that both in the House and out of the House the utmost apathy prevails upon the question. That is the justification of the course which has hitherto been adopted by the Government, and, continuing in that course, I hope the Government will not support this Bill, seeing the continued apathy which exists. I now come to the question of the consistency of the hon. Gentleman himself. The hon. and learned Gentleman—[Mr. HADFIELD: Not learned]—I must apologize for calling him learned in the law, but I may call him learned upon the question. He contrasts his own consistency with that of the Government. Now, as the hon. Gentleman will have a right of reply, I will put to him a question to which I hope he will give me an answer. It is this. The hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. White) if I recollect right, in 1861, when there was no mention of Reform in the Queen's Speech, moved an Amendment to the Address, incriminating the Government for the omission. Forty-six Members voted for that Motion; and I wish to ask the hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill, and who twits the Government with inconsistency, and prides himself on his own consistency, whether his name will be found among the forty-six? [Mr. BAINES: It is not.] I thought so. The hon. Gentleman left the House in a sudden and unexpected manner, with difficulty escaping from being shut in, and in his hasty exit he came into collision with another hon. Member who was coming in to the division, and who, I believe, suffered during the remainder of the evening from the effects of that collision. Wishing to know whether so remarkable a story was true, I asked the hon. Member for Brighton about it, and he told me that it was true that the hon. Member for Leeds did not vote on that occasion, and that he (Mr. White) considered the Bill to be a perfect sham, and that, although he had been asked to speak and vote for it, he had refused to have anything to do with it. So much for the inconsistency of the Government and the consistency of the hon. Gentleman. Now, as regards consistency, I claim to be a better and more practical reformer. The hon. Gentleman tells us that under his Bill 240,000 voters would 1395 be added to the constituencies of the kingdom. Now, if the relative claims of men to be considered practical reformers are to be judged of by the numbers to be introduced into the constituencies by the measures they respectively supported or opposed, I claim to be a better reformer, as I supported a Bill brought in by the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli) which would have added 500,000 persons to the constituencies. That Bill was rejected by a Resolution to which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds gave his support. I voted for that measure, not believing that any measure was required then, any more than I believe that a great re-construction of the Constitution is needed now. I believed then, as I believe now, that we have the best and most working legislative machine in the world, and that it is not necessary to take the machine to pieces because of any imperfect working, or in consequence of any dissatisfaction on the part of the people of this country with the present system of Government. But, when urged by party motives, hon. Gentlemen on both sides competed upon this question, and when it was formally brought before the House there was no choice but to vote for or against the proposition, and I voted for it. But in voting for that Bill, and in voting against the Bill of the hon. Gentleman, I will show that I am quite consistent. There is in the question before the House a broad principle to start from—the question of departing or not from the £10 household line drawn by the Reform Act. I do not wish to argue this question upon points of detail. The hon. Gentleman invites us to pronounce upon a broad issue, and I put it on the broad issue, whether or not it is advisable to depart from the base of borough franchise defined in the Reform Act. I will not enter into details as to the number of persons who would be added to the electoral list by the Bill of the hon. Gentleman, nor as to how different constituencies would be affected; but I wish to notice a petition which was presented recently from Blackburn and which seemed to me to be so curious that I copied the prayer. The petitioners say—Your petitioners believe that any measure short of manhood suffrage will fail to secure justice, or give entire satisfaction to that great body who are at present deprived of political power.That is a remarkable fact. Here is a petition in favour of the hon. Gentleman's Bill which begins by saying that any mea- 1396 sure short of manhood suffrage will not give satisfaction nor render justice. Now, if the question of justice is urged, it must be borne in mind that manhood suffrage, which these petitioners look forward too as justice for their own class, they being a majority of the population, would be an injustice to all other classes in the Kingdom. That is not a question to be discussed upon an abstract question of justice. These petitioners go on to say—Nevertheless, they pray that, as an instalment of political justice, your honourable House will pass into law the provisions of Mr. Baines's Bill, which confers the franchise on all inhabitant householders paying a £6 rental, and whereby the number of Parliamentary electors within the borough of Blackburn would be increased from 1,845, as at present, to upwards of 7,000.I think that sufficiently shows what would be the effect of this measure upon the constituencies of the Empire if it were passed into law. [Mr. BAINES: No.] That is the statement as to Blackburn, and it is for the hon. Gentleman to disprove it. The hon. Gentleman has read from some old book a list of Members elected before the Reform Act under the potwalloping system—a kind of universal suffrage—and it struck me that if he had gone on much longer he would have induced the hon. Gentlemen who sit behind him to vote against his Bill, for he went on reading one historic name after another until it seemed as if his Friends behind him did not approve the results of universal suffrage as much as might be expected. However, as I have said, we ought not to discuss this question upon mere details, but to consider whether it be wise to depart from the £10 limit of the Reform Act. Now, what are the reasons put forward by the hon. Gentleman? I think I shall fairly state his case in this way:—At present it appears that the middle and upper classes are represented, but the working classes are not represented—that they are, therefore, dissatisfied; that this Bill will satisfy them, and will strengthen the bases of the Constitution. Now, as to the working classes not being represented in this House, if it is meant that they have no special representatives, I admit it; but I can say, from many years' experience in Parliament, that although the working classes have no special representatives here, yet their interests are well looked after—and that in preference to the interests of any other class of the community. The first question which generally arises in the minds of hon. Members in consider- 1397 ing any measure is how will this affect the masses of the people? That is the ruling principle of all the Budgets of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The working classes may not be personally represented here, but I doubt very much whether it will be a wise thing for the Constitution of this country that we should have in Parliament, not men representing the whole people, but merely delegates to represent certain opinions. If these persons, taking extreme views, should find themselves in a minority, dissatisfaction would be the result. I therefore greatly prefer the system under which men are sent to this House, not to represent one class but the whole people. But how far are the working classes excluded by the present line? The hon. Gentleman admitted that a great many might come under the £10 line. The hon. Member for Salisbury, I believe, stated last year that the mass of his constituents came in. I have been endeavouring to get information on this point, and I believe I can show either that the working men do now come in, or that if they do not they exclude themselves by their own fault. A friend connected with the iron manufacturing districts has collected the following statistics for me, from the works in his neighbourhood, relating to workmen whose average wages are £2 5s. per week. There are 41 men living in houses of from £12 to £10 rental; 51 in houses of from £10 to £8; 34 in houses of from £8 to £7; and 28 in houses of from £7 to £6, making a total of 154. Of the other men employed at the works the greater proportion lived in houses above £12, and the remainder were labourers. It is easy to see from these figures with what a slight effort a large proportion of these men might, if they chose, have raised themselves to the possession of the franchise. If those living in houses of from £10 to £12 would only raise themselves to the franchise, two-thirds would be represented. What is true of these works is true of other works throughout the kingdom. When this Bill is spoken of as a gigantic instrument for raising the condition of the working classes, I believe it will have the effect of taking away a stimulus to providence and to the ambition of getting into a good house, and so getting possession of the franchise. On this point we have recently had some instructive information from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who told us the other night that a tem- 1398 perate working man drank eight quarts of beer a day. ["No, no."] That is certainly what he is reported to have said in The Times newspaper. [An hon. MEMBER: It was workmen of a particular class.] Well, that may be; but any one can calculate, taking the price of beer at 6d. per quart—for these men will not drink the fourpenny beer—that the difference between a £6 and £10 house may easily be surmounted by knocking off one quart of beer per day. It is not unreasonable, therefore, to say that it remains with the working men whether they will cross the present line or not; and, according to the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it appears as though there will be a considerable dilution of beer in the cream of the working classes of which the hon. Gentleman speaks. The hon. Member said there was at present a great deal of dissatisfaction among the people, which would be removed by this Bill? But is it probable that the people will be satisfied with this Bill? The facts are certainly against the hon. Gentleman's assertion. An attempt has recently been made to establish a Reform League between the middle and the working classes, and a conference has been held between the representatives of the working classes and of the middle classes to establish what is called in the United States a "platform" for a reform agitation. Mr. Odgers, the Secretary to the London Trades Unions, attended it, and he reported to the working men the result of the conference. In this report of his he says:—"Mr. Bright made a speech in favour of household suffrage" (so that the hon. Member for Birmingham is not in favour of this Bill, but goes beyond it), "which produced a most desponding effect on the meeting." Then he went on to say—After him came Mr. Ayrton, who expressed exactly similar opinions, notwithstanding that he had been elected solely and simply because he advocated manhood suffrage. He would not follow Mr. Ayrton, as his twaddle was too contemptible to notice.Then came Mr. Mason Jones, an Irish gentleman, a very clever man, who gives lectures, a friend, I believe, of the hon. Member for Bradford. [Mr. W. E. FORSTER: He was not before.] On Easter Monday there was to have been a great meeting on the subject of reform, at which 100,000 working men were to have been present, and Mr. Jones waited on my hon. 1399 Friend the Member for Bradford in the lobby and asked him to attend a preliminary meeting and "go the whole hog" for universal suffrage. My hon. Friend said that he would attend if he might express his own views; and the answer was, "Then, Sir, we don't want you." Whereupon my hon. Friend turned away and went off into the House, and Mr. Jones apostrophized him in these words, which the hon. Member himself did not hear until I repeated them to him afterwards:—You have no business to set your foot in those walls—a man of such opinions as yours has no right to a seat in there.That is Mr. Mason Jones. At this same meeting of the working classes that gentleman moved a resolution in favour of manhood suffrage, which was seconded by Mr. Beall, Mr. P. Taylor, M.P., and Mr. Lawson, M.P., and carried without a division. I believe it will be said that this merely applied to the working men of the metropolis; but at a recent meeting of the working men of Bradford to consider this Bill a resolution was passed in favour not of this Bill, but of a rating suffrage, which was a very different thing from a £6 franchise. Therefore the working classes, as represented by their agitators (and these must not be confounded with the thoughtful portion of the working classes) are not satisfied with this Bill. Among others Mr. Potter. ["What Potter?"] Why, the Potter. Not the hon. Member for Rochdale, who came into the House to rescue us all from serfdom, but Mr. Potter of Trades' Union notoriety. He said at a recent Reform meeting—None of the Reform Bills hitherto brought forward were acceptable to the working classes. The admission of 150,000 by the £6 franchise cannot for a moment be considered satisfactory. We ask for manhood suffrage, equalized electoral districts, ballot, triennial Parliaments.Therefore the agitators were hostile to the Bill. And how did the thoughtful men among the working classes regard it?—for I quite agree in all that has been said by the hon. Member as to the high qualities of the working men, and, probably, if we were all put on our P's and Q's by the Civil Service Examiners some of the working men might turn out better than many Members of us. Were these men satisfied with the Bill? Hon. Members, who in reality know nothing about working men, occasionally talk of them as if they were the only persons acquainted with their feelings and opinions, just because they 1400 have a few working men in their constituencies or employ a few. But what are the facts? We have recently had a great strike in the iron trade; and to whom did the working men go in their difficulties when they wanted arbitration and conciliation? Birmingham is the great centre of that manufacture, and the men certainly did not go to the hon. Member for Birmingham, perhaps because they thought that for a work of conciliation it was not wise to go to a man whose whole public life has been spent in setting class against class. ["No, no!"] I repeat it, and it is a statement incapable of denial. No—they went to one of those men whom the hon. Member would tell them were opposed to the working classes and who disliked them, they went to a lord—to the lord-lieutenant of the county. If there is one man who has done more than any other to raise the working classes, and that, too, in the teeth of those who would represent that men of his order are the enemies of the working classes, it is Lord Shaftesbury. The good which the noble Earl has done is written in the Statute Book. The hon. Member himself referred, in terms for which I thank him, to my humble services in the Volunteer movement. I do not put myself forward as empowered to speak on behalf of the working classes, but I have been thrown much into contact with them since the commencement of the Volunteer movement. I have always struggled to get the working men into that movement, because I have always felt that nothing in the world will do more to strengthen this country against her enemies, wherever they are to be found. I am happy to say that that result has been obtained to a great extent, and I believe that two-thirds of the Volunteer force is composed of the working men of this country. Among those working men was one in my own corps with whom I had some little difference. He went away, but came back again to the corps, and subsequently became one of my best sergeants. He then went to America; but finding very soon that he did not like it he came home again. However, thinking that food was cheaper and employment more remunerative there—for he was a very clever workman, a painter and grainer—he went back to the United States, where he now is. I have kept up a constant correspondence with him; and when this Bill was coming on I wrote to him, with a view of ascertaining what the working men really think on the subject. The 1401 following is an extract from his letter, which, with the permission of the House, I will read:—My dear Lord—Returning from a trip of 400 miles, I found your letter. I had been away some time graining the cabins of the big steamers that run from Grand Haven to Wisconsin. I consider the time favourable for a consideration of the suffrage question, but only for a consideration of it. Any action of a satisfactory kind is impossible without a long, careful, and searching inquiry into the intellectual and moral condition of the masses, directed in good faith by the heads of parties, with a view to the extension of the suffrage. There is no ground between the present standard and manhood suffrage, save educational tests or the evidence of providential habits. The proposal of a £6 rental qualification would be an insult to those among the working classes whose intelligence, loyalty, and patience deserved consideration. Stop any workman you meet in our cities, he will tell you that his rent amounts to at least a sixth of his weekly earnings, or a fifth of his yearly income; this is of necessity, but from choice the proportion of an intelligent workman's rent to his income is much higher. I know London, Manchester, Glasgow, and many other towns and cities well, but do not know any mechanic, having respect for himself or his family, who would live in a £6 hovel. Workmen, heads of families, pay for lodgings 5s., 6s., 7s., and 8s., a week in London, and from 4s. to 6s. in all our provincial cities. Clerks pay more than mechanics in proportion to their income, but they prefer half of a £30 house to the whole of a £15 house. Rut if rent is to have anything to do with voting, why not lot all who pay £10 a year, but who are not rated because they are lodgers, vote? Domicile for a given time would be necessary, as it is here, for identification, and landlords' receipts give title for registration. You would thus greatly enlarge the constituency by men who prove their respectability by their own respect for the decencies of life.But for this large and important class of lodgers not the slightest provision is made in this Bill. The writer goes on to say—Universal suffrage was part of my youthful creed, but I have seen it in operation. The illusion is dispelled. There is no man in America who will deny the existence of the most frightful baseness and corruption in all political matters here, and while you are pressing forward this nation wants to go back. Educational tests are proposed by most, but many, desirous to throw the odium on emigrants, propose that all persons shall reside twenty-one years here before becoming entitled to vote. This would be a long apprenticeship to liberty for a freeborn Briton. It is easy to talk about the working classes, but there are few who have studied them. The Volunteer army has got the flower of them; those who enter the ranks are dead to faction.He then goes on to mention some men to whom he referred as authorities, describing them as not active politicans, but thoughtful men, and far ahead of their class; and in particular he mentioned two who were pianoforte makers, and who, he said, knew 1402 well every wire and hammer of the political instrument. The letter, I believe, was written in March last. I sent for these two men, and I found that their views coincided exactly with those of my friend in the United States. I have also talked with a gentleman connected with 280,000 working men—an official of the Foresters' Society—and his views also concurred with those expressed in this letter. I have also conversed with another gentleman, Mr. M'Donald, the President of the Miners' Association, who represents some 60,000 men, and who has recently been in London on a mission of practical good for the workers in mines. It was greatly through his exertions that a Committee to inquire into the Workmen and Masters' Act had been appointed—another instance, by the way, of the manner in which the House, as at present constituted, attends to the interests of the working classes. Mr. M'Donald has some right to speak on behalf of the thoughtful and provident working men, because when he was a miner in Lanarkshire, he worked during all the summer months in order to save money to pay for his classes in Glasgow University during the winter. He had not got a vote—[Mr. BAINES: Hear, hear!]—because he lived in lodgings. I asked Mr. M'Donald to put his views on this subject on paper, and the following is the letter which he wrote to me:—I think that fancy or provident franchises might well be carried out on the following or other bases:—1. By giving a vote to all who could show that for two years they had had not less than £50 in any chartered or Government savings bank. The effect of this condition would be to increase providence among the working classes to a very great degree. 2. By giving votes to all who pay income tax, and to all entered as Government annuitants under the recent Government Annuities Bill. As regards the question of Reform, the working classes at this moment, so far as I see, take but little interest in it. They look more to substantial comforts than to Reform. This much I do know, that they have little sympathy with that class of Reformers who would as yet have had the factory children working all but interminable hours in the factories, who would have had still the young engaged in the bleaching and dye work, all but chained to the stoves, and who are at the present time totally indifferent as to the long hours that the young are engaged in the mines of this country.The ground I take is this—I find all those thoughtful men think that by lowering the franchise as is proposed in this indiscriminate way, while you will get a certain number of good, prudent, and intelligent men, yet inasmuch as the mass of men are improvident and ignorant, in spite of 1403 mechanics' institutes, and perhaps will be so till the end of time, the thoughtful and provident working people will be swamped as entirely as any other class of the community. I maintain, therefore, that this is not a satisfactory mode of dealing with the question. I say boldly that the grounds on which this Bill is brought forward will not hold water. The measure is one which strikes at those of the working classes who are thoughtful and provident, and places the political power of the country in the hands of the thoughtless and improvident. These, generally, are the grounds as regards the working classes—and it is in their interest the hon. Gentleman says he comes forward—on which I oppose the Bill. But I object on principle to lower the franchise, because once you do so the result is inevitable. This will not be denied by hon. Gentlemen; for, indeed, they have admitted it to me in private conversation. ["Oh, oh!"] I do not see any objection to my alluding in general terms to such private conversations as those to which I refer. Hon. Gentlemen are perfectly at liberty to repeat every word that I have said in this sort of private conversation. They admit, I say, that the result of this Bill, or any measure like it, will be to lead to universal suffrage. I have brought forward facts to show you that such will be the result; that this Bill will be taken only as an instalment, and that even now those who attend meetings in its favour are obliged to "go the whole hog." And looking to the history of the past, this is only what may he expected. Why, two years after the passing of the Reform Bill, a measure was introduced having for its object to bring about another great change in the Constitution; and from the date of the passing of the Reform Bill to the present time there have been something like forty great measures for a change in the suffrage and the constitution submitted to Parliament. Is there any likelihood that the history of the future will differ in this respect from that of the past? Is it not one of the peculiarities of the Liberal party that however they may advance, there will always be advanced Liberals? There will be different grades; there will be democrats at one end of the scale, and men of moderation at the other. There is no such easy way of obtaining popularity as by taking up the Constitution and giving it a good shake. That is a much easier mode of becoming popular than for the Retrenchment party to come 1404 down here night after night, and, by taking part in the debates on the Estimates, endeavour to keep down the expenses of the country. I happened to be here one night when a question of £14,000,000 was being discussed, and the only Member of the Retrenchment party present was the hon. and learned Gentleman who represents the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton). My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgewater (Mr. Kinglake) will hear me out in that. If you adopt a £6 franchise now, you will have a £5 franchise hereafter. I object to this lowering of the franchise, as being certain to lead to universal suffrage. I say that if any change is made it should be in a contrary direction, as the principle of universal suffrage is contrary to the whole system of our Constitution. I shall not enter into a long argument to prove this, because I think it must be admitted. The theory and principle of our Constitution does not rest on "the rights of man," but as Lord Russell once said, every man in our community has a right to be properly governed, not a right to vote. It is contrary to the spirit of our Constitution that you should have a representation of individuals. Classes and not individuals ought to be represented. This point is so ably put by one of your School Inspectors, the Rev. J. Norris, that I shall take the liberty of reading what he wrote in reply to a question which I asked him, with respect to the feelings of the working men, as far as his experience enabled him to form an opinion on the subject. He says—In this sort of talk (not caring for individual representation) and in these instincts, surely one may trace the true principle of representation—that it should be a representation of classes and of great interests, not of individuals. A Parliament elected on the former principle (the organic principle) is a true mirror of our national life. A Parliament elected on the latter principle (the principle of disintegration) is a smashed mirror—each fragment represents something, but what the whole represents who shall say? Now a mere lowering of the franchise is a step in this last direction; neither right in philosophy nor likely to meet the healthy desire of the people, to have the wage paid class (as a class) more proportionately represented.But there is another argument. You hear a great deal said about the pressure of an arbitrary line. No doubt £10 is a line which you have drawn; but there is no argument founded on that which will not apply with equal force to a £6 or any other line. As I said in 1859 the line which you drew in 1832 has changed, is changing 1405 daily, and will continue to change, and this, through the increase that has been gradually going on in the relative value of property and money. I have had this matter calculated in Edinburgh by the actuary of one of the greatest of the Scottish Assurance Companies; and he says—Houses which in 1832 were let at £10 would now bring a rental of £12 10s. Other property has increased in money value to something like the same extent. Land, which in 1832 was sold for twenty-five years' purchase, giving for what then rented at £10 £250, would now sell for thirty years' purchase of the increased rental of £12 10s., or £375. The probable change hereafter will, no doubt, be in the direction of a similar increase; whether the tendency will be accelerated or retarded, must depend on many contingencies. Perhaps a safe assumption would be that the same rate of enhancement will continue to prevail.In addition to this, remember the 40s. freehold, which in the reign of Queen Elizabeth represented eleven times the value of what it represents now; so that this arbitrary line is perpetually changing. In sixty years the franchise, which was fixed at £10, may, as a consequence of those changes, be reduced to a £5 franchise; and when dealing with a Constitution which has lasted for so many centuries this is an element that ought not to be left out of consideration. I wish to say, in conclusion, that I think the real danger to the country lies in the way in which this measure is treated within this House. We have this side roughly divided into advanced Liberals and orthodox Liberals. [A laugh.] Well, then, regular Liberals. I say it is roughly divided by this gangway into regular Liberals and advanced Liberals. Above the gangway you have Liberals, men who are members of the Fox Club, and who are inheritors of the traditions and policy of the Whigs of the days of that eminent statesman—men who are lovers of the Constitution and who wish to transmit it to posterity. Below the gangway you have advanced Liberals, men who, I think, can hardly be said to be in favour of the Constitution. ["Oh, oh!"] I make that assertion because they constantly, in their speeches, endeavour to throw discredit on the Constitution. ["No, no!"] You have a philosophic but not practical section, men whose views are represented by such writers as Mr. Goldwin Smith—who advocates pure Republicanism and who is Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford, to which professorship he was appointed by Lord Derby—and Mr. Mill. The hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. White) advocates within the House some- 1406 what the same principles as Mr. Mill does out of doors; but without those checks and counterpoises which Mr. Mill would apply. I think I may say that the philosophical Radical is not represented in this House, because I must admit that the philosophy propounded in this House is of a most practical character. Take the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) for instance. His philosophy consists principally in holding up the institutions of America in contrast with our own. In everything we see his wish is to assimilate the institutions of this country—I do not think they would go the whole length of republicanism—to the institutions which prevail in America. Now, Sir, I do not think there is any danger to this country from the speeches of those gentlemen, honest and conscientious as I believe them to be—able as I know them to be. Why? On account of the very apathy on this question which I referred to in the commencement of my speech, and because the country knows too well the practical advantage of the Constitution which it enjoys. It knows that we shall do away with the force of representation if we give a vote to every man and woman in the country on the condition that he or she do a sum in the rule of three before they go up. Unpractical theories like these find no place in the thought of the people of this country, nor do they appeal to the sympathies of a practical people. On the other hand, persons of extreme radical views, seeing that such a measure as the present would give a stimulus to improvidence, and eventually lead to universal suffrage, and knowing that there was no wrong which could not now be remedied and redressed, recoil against the notion of going in the direction of American institutions. Therefore it is that no danger is to be apprehended from gentlemen holding these extreme views. Where the great danger lies is in the way in which this question is treated—namely, not as a great question of principle, but as a question of party—because it is undeniable that it is dealt with in this way. You hear two different languages on the subject; you hear one outside, and the other inside these doors. I will go further, and say that even within these walls you hear one language, Sir, behind your chair and another in front of it; and you have men voting for this measure who dislike it in their hearts. You also have Governments sanctioning a guerilla war on this question, and not 1407 having the pluck to come forward and stop it, though they, too, dislike the Bill quite as much in their hearts. Two reasons are assigned for this inconsistency. One, duty to party; the other, duty to self. I believe that the Government of this country must be carried on by party; but I believe, likewise, that there are great questions which ought to be taken out of the demesne of party; and that after you have got the Constitution fixed this question of the suffrage is one that ought to be settled by the two parties in this House, not in the interests of party but in the interests of the nation. It so happens that I cast my eye the other day on a page in Mr. Kaye's History of the Indian Mutiny—a book which contains writing as pleasant, effective, and exciting as anything in any of Mr. Wilkie Collins's or Miss Braddon's novels. In reference to this question of party Mr. Kaye says—In that country (India) public men are happily not exposed to the pernicious influences which in England shrivel them so fast into party leaders and Parliamentary chiefs. With perfect singleness of aim and pure sincerity of purpose they go with level eyes straight at the public good, never looking up in fear at the suspended sword of a Parliamentary majority, and never turned aside by that fear into devious paths of trickery and finesse.I do not believe that even the interests of party require that great questions of this kind, on which the very ground under us depends, on which the inheritance of our children may be said to rest, should be made party questions. They ought to be settled in a reasonable manner by both parties uniting to devise the means by which this can best be done. Neither do I believe that in the interest of individuals it is wise to use one language in public and another in private. I believe that a mistake we too often make is to listen to the noisy section of our constituents, and suppose they speak the opinion of those who send us to Parliament. Those who are inclined to act in this manner would do well to remember a beautiful passage in the writings of Mr. Burke, where he observes that listening to the hum of bees and the noise of insects you might imagine that they were the sole inhabitants of a field in which a herd of oxen were quietly browsing. I believe that the heart and the head of the country are sound on this question, and that the country is not in favour of those wild organic changes. In 1848, when an attempt was made by force to storm the Constitution the people of all 1408 classes uprose as one man and defended it. What we have to guard against now is not an attack upon the Constitution by visible forces, but an attack by sap and by mine; but I believe that if the Members of this House will stand by the Constitution the people—their constituents—will stand by them. I have, on these grounds, determined to move the Previous Question. There are other objections to the Bill, but they are self-evident—such as the fact that it is brought in at the end of a Session and of a Parliament, and the inconvenience of such a measure being taken up by a private Member—the fact of its being a Bill which its Mover and supporters know cannot, under any circumstances, become law this Session—for we are all aware that any Bill in the hands of a private Member, even though it may have been read a second time, stands very little chance of being passed this Session. But, as I have observed, these objections are self-evident, and therefore I have not argued them. I have endeavoured to argue on the broad question whether or not it is wise and for the interest of the country to lower the franchise. At the same time, I wish to guard myself against being one of those who believe in finality in human affairs. There is nothing final, except the close of human life. But I say that if changes are to be made, they ought not to be made in the direction of this Bill. It is a dangerous direction; while in any change of the franchise you should secure justice for all classes of the community, including the working man. By breaking through the £10 arrangement—by lowering the suffrage—you cut the string of the pendulum which regulates the working of the machinery. If you find extension necessary, you should try to secure it, not by cutting the string, but by extending the chord of the are which the pendulum describes without lengthening the line. [An hon. MEMBER: How would you do that?] I am asked how would I do that. By giving more momentum to the machinery in the way pointed out by my friend the working man. I can hardly hope that what I have said will influence the votes of hon. Members on this occasion. But I have spoken of the faith that is in me; and as an humble instrument sometimes leads to considerable and notable ends, I hope that in endeavouring to change the current into another channel I may have done some good; and, as this Bill professes to be in the interest of the working 1409 man, I have thought it not inappropriate to quote the opinions of intelligent, thoughtful, and industrious persons of that body; and I hope I may be the humble means of effecting some good in connection with this question, if I have suggested to men of more ability than myself points which are worthy of being considered in the course of this discussion. With these remarks I beg to move the Previous Question.
§ MR. BLACK,
in seconding the Amendment, said, that he considered the course proposed by this Bill to be exceedingly dangerous, that it was only the first step in a downward progress towards revolution. What is it that this Bill proposes to do? It is to confer the electoral franchise on every occupant of premises of the yearly value of £6—which premises, it is explained, must consist of a dwelling-house exclusive of land, and the house must be of the yearly value of not less than £3, or 1s. 3d. a week. It does not stimulate the working man who is anxious for a vote to increased industry, economy, and prudence, in order that he may obtain the object of his ambition, and, at the same time, provide himself and his family with a dwelling conducive to health and decency, but it in effect says, "You need not exert yourself to rise, for we will come down to you." No prudent man would step into a railway carriage without first ascertaining where it was to stop; it will be too late to inquire after the train has begun to move; so I consider it will be prudent, before we begin to move in this direction, to ascertain where we are to stop. There is obviously a want of agreement on this point. Some propose to stop at the £6 house, some at the £5, and some to go beyond the houses altogether; and if we are to go in this direction at all, it is with these last I am persuaded we shall be obliged to travel. If in the elective franchise we agree to a downward movement, we must be prepared for an accelerated descent, and that by geometrical progression, till we reach the bottom. To the arguments generally used by those who advocate Parliamentary Reform by merely lowering the franchise, certainly tend, they say, that those from whom it is withheld are unjustly deprived of their rights, that they are degraded by their exclusion, that they are worse treated than the serfs in Russia; but if it is injustice and degradation to be excluded from the franchise when you relieve the £6 tenants, you inflict, according to your own arguments, injustice and degradation on all below 1410 £6. The first question they were called upon to decide was whether the franchise was an inherent and inviolable right, or a trust committed to those on whom it is conferred, for the benefit of the nations. If it is a right which the possessors are entitled to exercise for their personal benefit, then it must appertain to every individual in the kingdom, and its exercise ought not to be limited to persons inhabiting houses of a £6 rental. The hon. Gentleman who had brought forward the Bill, had laid before them most valuable statistics, showing the vast increase in the quantity of paper used in printing political and other works; and they would have strongly supported his argument as to the advances which the £6 householders had made in political and general knowledge, and consequently their fitness to exercise the franchise, if he could have shown that the whole of the works for which the paper was used had been purchased exclusively by persons inhabiting houses the rental of which was between £6 and £10. It was said that withholding the franchise from £6 householders was a degrading and insulting grievance. If that assertion were correct, did it not apply equally to those who inhabited houses of a less rent, and, in fact, to all persons from whom the franchise was withheld? Surely it was adding insult to injury to open the door to a portion of the community, and to tell those who were excluded that the fact of their not being admitted degraded them in the eyes of their fellow-countrymen. The Bill before the House proposed to admit only 240,000 out of 6,000,000 adult males. What was to become of the odd 5,750,000 who were to remain unrepresented? The Bill applied only to England and Wales. He could not understand why Scotland and Ireland should have been omitted, because if the franchise was to be given to those who occupied £6 houses, why should not the Scotch and Irish £6 householders also be entitled to a vote? If the hon. Gentleman's argument were correct, an enormous injustice was being done to every man from whom the franchise was being withheld. In fact, the logical and consistent deduction from the arguments of those who advocated the reduction of the franchise, in order to enfranchise particular sections of the community, was decidedly in favour of universal suffrage. It would be well on this point to look at the language of those who were demanding to be admitted into the franchise. He had taken notes of the different petitions in favour of 1411 Parliamentary Reform which had come before the House in the course of the present Session. Of the ten which had been presented three were professedly in favour of this Bill; but when they were examined it would be found that they went considerably further in their demands than the terms of the Bill itself. In a petition from the inhabitants of Carlisle he found the words to be these—Your petitioners desire the enlargement of the Reform Bill, extending the borough franchise to all householders.Again, the inhabitants of Norwich said—We the undersigned loyal subjects of Her Majesty are industrious working men who pay our share of the taxes and help to maintain and increase the national wealth. We think it unjust that we and our brethren throughout England should as a rule be declared unworthy to enjoy the rights of citizens. We pray, therefore, that another Reform Bill may be passed to give to all honest, industrious, and loyal men their rights of election.The North London Political Union in their petition asked that every sane man over twenty-one years of age, not undergoing punishment for crime, and not having been arrested within six months prior to the time for registration, should be put upon the register and entitled to vote at-the election of Members of Parliament; they also demanded vote by ballot. Several Other petitions were couched in somewhat similar terms, and they proved one thing most clearly—namely, that those who were agitating for Reform would not be satisfied with the Bill which the hon. Gentleman had proposed. If there were any reason in the arguments of the hon. Gentleman, and of those who advocated this Bill, the persons who drew up those petitions were quite right in going as far as they did—because if the Bill were carried, there could be no escape from universal suffrage; and unless the advocates of the present measure gave the franchise to the whole of the people they would not be acting up to the logical deduction from their own arguments. Let hon. Members be assured that if they stood with their hand upon the half-opened door and, after admitting the 240,000, said to the others, "You are unworthy of being admitted and we shall leave you standing out in the cold," there would then be that "ugly rush," and the millions who were outside would press forward, and in the end, in the course of a longer or a shorter time, they would arrive at their object, namely, universal suffrage. The question, therefore, lay 1412 simply between universal suffrage and the preservation of the British Constitution—the destruction or the continuance of the system of Parliamentary representation which they possessed at present. He, for one, would lift his voice against any attempt to destroy or impair the Constitution, as he believed there was more freedom both of speech and of action and greater peace and prosperity in this country than in those where there was either universal suffrage or a much lower franchise than ours. He could not help, under these circumstances, regarding the Bill as being somewhat of a revolutionary character—not that he was opposed to a well balanced Parliamentary Reform, but because he considered that the tendency of this Bill was to bring into our representative system an overpowering number of one class which would swamp the others, and end in universal suffrage. The hon. Member (Mr. Baines) said the£6 householders ought to be admitted because they had made such great progress in political and other knowledge. But if that were to be admitted as an argument they had better at once send round Civil Service Commissioners to examine the entire bulk of the population, in order to ascertain who among them were entitled to be enfranchised. Earl Russell, in his introduction to his Essay on the English Constitution, gives an account of the manner in which the Reform of 1832 was prepared. When asked by Lord Grey to prepare a sketch of the plan he says—There were evidently two modes in which Reform might be approached. The one was to consider the right of voting as a personal privilege possessed by every man of sound mind and of years of discretion as an inherent inalienable right, belonging to him as a member of a free country. According to this theory the votes of the whole male adult population form the only basis of legitimate government. Other political writers and eminent statesmen while of opinion that a free and full representation of the people forms a necessary condition of free Government acknowledge no personal right of voting as inalienable and essential. They consider that the purpose to be attained is good Government, the freedom of the people within the State, and their security from without, and that the best mode of attaining these ends is the problem to be solved. It seemed to me that these last reasoners were in the right.I agree with the political writers and eminent statesmen to whom Lord John Russell referred, that the elective franchise is not a right but a trust, and the people are entitled to that system of Government which will confer upon them the greatest amount of happiness and prosperity.
§ Whereupon Previous Question proposed, "That that Question be now put."—(Lord Elcho.)
§ MR. LEATHAM
Sir, it is an admitted maxim that it is never too late to mend, and we may all further admit that it is never too late to learn. Now, if I recollect rightly, the hon. Member who has just sat down (Mr. Black) gave his constituents a few years ago a series of speeches in approval of the measure proposed by the noble Lord the then Member for the City of London. [Mr. BLACK: No, no.] Then I am misinformed. The hon. Gentleman is a fitting seconder of the Amendment which has been moved by the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire, because the noble Lord the Member for the City of London stated that he withdrew his Bill in deference of the speeches of the hon. Gentleman and of another hon. Gentleman not now a Member of the House (Mr. Massey). I do not propose to reply to the arguments of the hon. Member, as both his arguments and his conclusions were quite inaudible where I sat. I should, however, like to say a few words with reference to the extremely able speech of the noble Lord who has moved the Previous Question. The arguments of the noble Lord naturally fall under two heads; first, those which are proper to his Motion, which is a Motion for time; and secondly, those arguments which are not proper to the present Motion, but to another Motion, which, whatever may have been the noble Lord's inclination as evidenced by his speech, yet, sitting upon this side of the House, he seemed hardly to have the courage to move—namely,that the Bill be read a second time upon this day six months. I will first dwell upon those arguments—or rather I ought to say assertions—which are proper to his Motion. I The noble Lord said that this Bill ought not to be supported—in fact, that it ought never to have been introduced at all—because it has not been introduced by the Government. I might say, in reply, that when a similar proposal was introduced as part of the Bill of the noble Lord then Member for the City of London, as a Government measure, it did not receive the support of the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire. But how does he suggest that this question should be kept alive in Parliament if, when the Government is too weak or too supine to deal with the subject, independent Members are to be equally precluded from doing so? 1414 No doubt hon. Gentlemen who sit in this part of the House give what is called a general support to the Administration; but surely they are not expected to carry their allegiance quite so far as to refrain from the discussion of, or to be debarred from introducing measures which they believe to be of incomparable importance—measures which have received the deliberate sanction and approval of the existing Administration which have been recommended from the Throne, and which have only not been pressed on because of reasons best known to the Government themselves. Independent Members are not to be put to silence because the Government choose to run away from the opinions they have expressed and the pledges they have publicly given. And how are we to act for the future upon the Government if, when they choose to drop a great question to which they are distinctly pledged, our lips are to be sealed and there is to be no remonstrance and there is to be no appeal? How are we to clear ourselves from the charge of connivance in that shelving of the question? There is no doubt that the Government ought to have introduced this measure, and that they should have brought it forward with all the weight and authority of a responsible Administration. But how does the fact that the Administration have failed in their duty release us from the pledges we too have given, and from which we too are not disposed to run away? I do not think it helps the noble Lord to say that there is no chance of passing this measure unless it receive the active support of the Government, and that, therefore, it ought not to have been introduced. It was by debate in Parliament, and especially in that House, commented upon as they were by the press, and originating and maintaining as they did, discussion all over the country that public opinion was formed and confirmed and though it is the province of a responsible Government to deal with great constitutional questions, it is also the province of every Englishman, and especially of every Member of this House, if he pleases, to take the initiative in all matters relating to public opinion. But the noble Lord said that the last year of an expiring Parliament is not the time to introduce a measure of this character—will he prescribe a given period in the life of a Parliament when he thinks such a question as this ought to be discussed? Is it when we are fresh from the country? There is no great inclination at that time to under- 1415 take the discussion and settlement of a question which involves an immediate revisit to our beloved constituents. How many years of that absence which "makes the heart grow fonder," are necessary before our yearning towards them reaches such a pitch that we should be inclined cheerfully to arrive at a decision which would involve an immediate return to the country? If it is not immediately after a general election, or immediately before a dissolution, when ought we to discuss Reform? When anything is asked to which the House has a repugnance it will be found that it is always asked too soon—except when it is asked too late. These are the arguments proper to the Motion of the noble Lord, at which he glanced very briefly. I will now pass to those which are not proper to the Motion, but which the noble Lord elaborated very carefully. And here I may say that it is no part of my intention to enter upon any sustained argument, or to give the House any laboured statistics on this question. I think we have reached a phase in the history of this question when candour is more wanted than statistics. It has been admitted by both sides of the House that there exists in the country a large number of persons who are wrongfully excluded from the franchise. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have admitted this by the fact of their having introduced a Bill, the object of which was, according to their own statements, to admit some hundreds of thousands of persons within the pale of the constitution. Both sides will admit, in the second place, that it is inexpedient to keep this question dangling for ever before the eyes of the people; and, in the third place, if we are to arrive at any settlement at all, that it ought to be a settlement broad and liberal—broad and liberal enough to last our time. Surely the noble Lord and his friends do not suppose that any less liberal settlement of this question than that proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds is likely to answer these conditions, or that by temporising you can defer the settlement of this question to a time when it may be settled more in accordance with the views of the noble Lord. Now, what is the real obstacle to the passing of this Bill? It seems to me that the attitude of the noble Lord and his friends resembles nothing so much as that of a patient about to undergo a painful operation. The patient knows that he must have it out, yet he begs for five minutes' grace, and this craving for grace takes the form of argument as 1416 inconclusive and incoherent—if I may be allowed to say so—as those to which the House has listened to day. The noble Lord argues against this Bill on the ground that no Reform is necessary. He says the State is well governed; therefore we have no need for Reform. ["Hear!"] Hon. Gentlemen opposite think we have not, and I am not surprised at their thinking so. This is a time-honoured argument of which we heard a good deal forty years ago. It is the "Vellum and Plumpkin" argument, which was so well ridiculed by Sydney Smith—Under Vellum and Plumpkin we have become a great nation. Under Vellum and Plumpkin our ships have covered the ocean. Under Vellum and Plumpkin our armies have triumphed over the strength of the hills. To turn out Vellum and Plumpkin would be, not Reform, but Revolution.The Question before the House is not whether the country is well governed or not. We profess that in this country we live under free institutions; we do not regard the Government of this country as the noble Lord regards it, as an admirable mechanical contrivance, but as something with a soul in it—the intelligence of the country governing itself; and so long as there is admitted to be a large amount of intelligence outside of the Governing body, so long we contend is our ideal of Government not realized; and so long wherever it is practicable there is need of Reform. The noble Lord went on to say that if we conceded this Bill the probability would be we should have to concede something else. That is the old, old stumbling block over which hon. Gentlemen have fallen times out of mind—they refuse xo concede something justifiable and unobjectionable, because they may afterwards be asked to concede something unjustifiable and objectionable. And what happened? When justice was at last extorted they had to fight their real battle, or what appeared to be their real battle, mortified, humbled, and prostrated by defeat, instead of being fortified by a graceful and timely concession. I now pass to the argument of the noble Lord that we are about to swamp the constituencies. I would ask the noble Lord, in the first place, where it is that the preponderance of the working classes would be so great as to swamp the constituencies? Is it in the large boroughs or the small boroughs? Unquestionably not in the small boroughs—but in the very places in which we have the authority of the right hon. Baronet the Member 1417 for Hertfordshire (Sir Bulwer Lytton) for saying, "that democracy may be said at present practically to prevail." It would seem, therefore, that all the mischief which can be done has already been accomplished. But have hon. Gentlemen opposite observed a remarkable fact in reference to some of these large boroughs, that now and then they return Conservatives? Why is that? Strong individuality of opinion is the forte, it may be also the foible, of Radicalism. Where the Radical element is very strong divisions take place, and of those divisions the Conservative readily avails himself and thus enters this House. Now, by this Bill hon. Gentlemen opposite tell you you are showing them the Radical element. Depend upon it then that these instances will be multiplied; and if that be so, that is nothing of which the hon. Gentlemen opposite need complain. I maintain that the whole argument about swamping the constituencies is based upon an entire fallacy—that the unit of a vote is the measure of the political power of the man to whom the vote belongs. This fallacy has been exposed by a right hon. Gentleman now in the House, whose words are always received with great attention, and with the consent of the House I will read them—We know very well what takes place at a Parliamentary election in this country. The man of princely fortune has, when he goes to the poll, no more votes than the humbler dweller in a £10 house, because we know very well that his wealth, his station, and his character will give him an influence which will adequately represent his property, and the Constitution shrinks from a plurality of votes in such a case."—[3 Hansard, clii. 975.]These are the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire. Well, Sir, I maintain that, unless it can be shown that the Bill of my hon. Friend will enfranchise so large a number of persons that they will positively outnumber the persons in possession of the franchise, and not only outnumber them in the gross but in the majority of the constituencies, and that they will so far outnumber them as to outweigh the influence which belongs to wealth, station, and education, and which practically gives twenty or thirty or fifty-fold votes to individuals; and unless it can be shown that the opinions of the class to be enfranchised are absolutely and dangerously at variance with the opinions of those who are at present enfranchised, it is idle to come down to this House and in accents of apprehension deprecate this measure, as the noble Lord has done, as dangerous and revolutionary. 1418 I did not rise solely with a view of replying to the arguments of the noble Lord, but I wish to say a few words upon the interpretation which he gave to the wishes and views of the working classes. I mean no disrespect to the noble Lord, but I cannot regard him as quite so sound and reliable an interpreter of the views of the working classes as, for instance, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford and my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds. They have not derived their knowledge of the working classes through the post—their knowledge is personal—the growth of a lifetime; which the noble Lord would substitute for this Bill. They condemn them because they consider that the working classes would not receive their due share of political power under them, and because they would introduce into our electoral system a totally new principle, and that at a time the admission of a new class of voters, when it was most desirable to escape from the least suspicion of insincerity. Now, it is of incalculable importance in dealing with the working classes that you should convince them that you are dealing fairly and honestly with this question, and unhappily the course of procedure followed by this House tends rather to establish an opposite conclusion. Depend upon it that any attempt at filtration—for such I believe to be the nature of the franchises indicated by the noble Lord—will be regarded by them as an attempt at evasion. I would also say that the time is rapidly passing when this can be regarded as a question of what we are to give; it is rapidly becoming a question of what they will take. Reference has been made to the course of policy pursued by the Government, and I wish to call attention to the strange and anomalous position which the Government appear to occupy in reference to this subject. I had hoped, especially after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer last year—which was sufficiently pronounced—that the approach of an impending dissolution might have quickened the perceptions if it did not brace the consciences of the Whigs. Whatever excuse there might have been six years ago for postponing the solution of a question which involved, on the part of Members, an act of immediate self-immolation, surely it is quite impossible for a Parliament which is approaching the natural and inevitable termination of its existence still to postpone its engagements and still to retain its honour. Now the engagements of this Parliament with 1419 reference to the question of Reform are positive. The engagements which the Government made with the country—made to their constituents—and made especially to those of their supporters who sit in this part of the House—are if possible more positive still. They constitute a deliberate compact from which right hon. Gentlemen have never been released—and upon the faith of which, and on the faith of which alone, they were permitted to obtain that preponderance in the House which enabled them to displace the Government which preceded them. Do right hon. Gentlemen suppose that they can enjoy all the advantages of this bargain, and repudiate all its obligations? In the face of these obligations—for they are incontrovertible—how are we to explain the fact that the Government still refuse to proceed with this question? I think the explanation is sufficiently curious. It is curious on account of its originality and ingenuity; and it is still more curious when we consider the special Minister who was selected by his Friends to make the explanation to the country. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade—who of all men in the House it might have been supposed would not so soon have forgotten the compact which was made between his Friends who sit in this part of the House and his Friends who sit on the Treasury Bench—volunteered the other day a very elaborate apology for the policy of the Government. The gist of his apology seems to be that he thinks that there is a special code of morality for the use of Ministries, the principal postulate of which is that you may run away from your engagements with honour if you can only do so with impunity. The right hon. Gentleman endeavoured to shift the burden of blame from the Ministry to the people. What does he say? His words are, "He defied any Administration that had laid a Bill on the table of the House, however sincerely"—I suspect he meant insincerely—"to have receded from that position if the great body of the electors had been in earnest in keeping them to their promises." I ask the right hon. Gentleman what is the use of a representative system—what is the use of a general election at all—if, when you have raised a great question at the elections, and have solemnly taken the verdict of the people upon it, and armed yourselves with that verdict for the discomfiture of your political opponents, you turn round, and because your tergiversation does not instantly provoke disorder, take it for granted 1420 that you are released from all your engagements, and with a coolness which is perfectly exquisite you say to the people to whom you have forfeited your word, "The fault is not ours but yours—yours because you were credulous enough to place confidence in the faith of public men—yours because you were weak enough to believe in such things as Queen's Speeches, repeated manifestoes of Cabinet Ministers, express Resolutions of this House—yours, because believing in these noisy abstractions you did not come to the aid of our consciences with your menaces and to the rescue of our honour with your indignation." Let us go a little further into this remarkable apology. How is it that the right hon. Gentleman deals with the measure which was laid on the table of the House by the Government? "By a curious combination of causes, which he was at a loss to unravel, that Bill was apparently smothered—smothered by speeches and all sorts of things—delaying and delaying—until at last the discovery seemed to break in on the minds of many in the House that there was no sincerity whatsoever as to the support which the Bill had received. They had all got uneasy consciences about this Reform question." The House will doubtless agree with me that there is something very lucid and instructive in all this. "By some curious combination of causes, which he was at a loss to unravel," "smothered by speeches and all sort of things," "discovered that there was no sincerity whatever as to the support which the Bill had received," "they had all got uneasy consciences;" and so the right hon. Gentleman salved his uneasy conscience by discovering that no one was in earnest about Reform. I confess I am at a loss how to describe in adequate, yet Parliamentary, terms this ingenious attempt to get rid of a distinct political pledge. When were the Government released from their pledge? They have not gone to the country yet, nor do they show any disposition whatever to go to it. If they were unable to meet their obligations, why did they not do what other people do under similarly distressing and embarrassing circumstances—call their creditors together and take the benefit of the Act? The right hon. Gentleman and his Friends showed no disposition to take the benefit of the Act; the noble Viscount appears to have a positive aversion to what is technically termed "whitewashing." He has no inclination whatever to go to the country. He postpones the evil day till the latest possible 1421 moment. And no doubt he is right; because, depend upon it, it is altogether premature to assume that the people are prepared to make things so pleasant to those whose conduct with reference to the Reform question, if it reminds them of anything, reminds them of the fast-and-loose performances of the Davenport Brothers, which have ended so disastrously to those eminent performers, and in what some of the papers call "smashing the Cabinet." The right hon. Gentleman falls hack upon the fact that the people are quiescent. No doubt they are quiescent—suspiciously quiescent—as quiescent as the right hon. Gentleman under the pangs of his uneasy conscience. But what is the meaning of this quiesence—I do not mean on the part of the right hon. Gentleman, but on the part of the people? Is it because they are waiting for a better Bill? There is nothing about this Bill—nothing about the Bill of the noble Lord (Earl Russell) which was likely to raise to a great pitch the enthusiasm of the working classes. Many of them regard it as very little more than an attempt to establish within their own class a privileged and conservative caste. The class which would be enfranchised by this Bill and by the Bill of the noble Lord is too limited in number, too cautious, too busy and responsible to indulge in vehement agitation. Even if they were not all this, what prospect would there have been of raising an agitation loud and turbulent enough to have alarmed this House and to have restored right hon. Gentlemen to the use of their uneasy unconsciences? Any such agitation must be based on an appeal to the great mass of the working classes, and when the object of that agitation is a measure the effect of which would be to erect a barrier of distinction, if not of jealousy, between the upper class artisan, who would he admitted to the franchise, and the lower class artisan who would be excluded, it is not surprising that the great bulk of the working classes refused to become the instruments and witnesses of the aggrandisement of their fellows. It is thus that you have no agitation, no monster meetings, no huge petitions, no interminable processions, no black flags, none of the paraphernalia, which the right hon. Gentleman seems to wish to see, but which, I hope, we shall never see again in this country, and which forty years ago scared out of their remaining senses all the old women in the country, whether in or out of breeches. The right hon. Gentleman argued, therefore, that the policy of the Go- 1422 vernment has been a justifiable policy. But let him observe what is actually occurring. Convinced that there is no hope of spontaneous justice from this House, and that he cannot achieve his own enfranchisement, the upper class artisan is making up his mind to cast in his lot with his humbler classmate, and the result is, that we are about to have the only combination which can contain any element of danger. The trades' unions, possessing in their secret machinery and endless ramifications that unseen and incalculable force, which, when applied to politics, has in less happy countries again and again precipitated the State into troubles, are tardily, I own, as though reluctant to bring into play their tremendous organization, embracing the cause of Reform. Radical though I am, I confess that when I regard this new movement side by side with the manifest disinclination of the House of Commons to deal justly and fairly with the question of Reform, I am not altogether free from apprehension. It would be better, no doubt, that Reform should be extorted even by an agitation of that character than that its concession should be postponed until one of those periods when the spirit of innovation, and perhaps of mischief may be abroad; but it would, I think, have been better still if disregarding at the outset the paltry suggestions of a hand-to-mouth expediency Parliament had achieved the incorporation into the body politic of a portion of the working classes, and with the manliness which belongs to us as English public men had carried out cost what it may—yes—even the horrors of a dissolution—the policy which, after mature deliberation and abundant information, the Liberal party had avowedly espoused. If that incorporation must after all take place under less favourable circumstances—if it must result from a combination which was originally formed for other objects, the special and—I use the word in no invidious sense—the selfish objects of a class, then we shall have taught the working classes their first great lesson in political isolation; and we shall have to thank for it those who, like the noble Lord, are postponing and postponing the settlement of this inevitable question in the almost puerile hope that hundreds of thousands of intelligent men, surrounded by everything which cannot fail to remind them that they are no longer ignorant and powerless, will be content to remain as long as you please to leave them under the brand and under the ban of your distrust.
§ MR. LOWE
Sir, in order that I may obtain and merit the indulgence of the House I shall endeavour to confine myself as much as possible to the exact question at issue in this debate, which is, as I apprehend it, whether it is desirable to extend the franchise in boroughs by lowering its pecuniary amount. That appears to me to be a sufficiently large question for a single speech, without touching any other part of the subject of Reform, because it involves the consideration whether it is or is not expedient, in the existing circumstances of this country, to make a further advance in the direction of democracy. I congratulate the hon. Member for Leeds on having to-day succeeded in enlisting the advocacy of the hon. Member for Huddersfield in favour of his one-barrelled Reform Bill, although I have no doubt that hon. Gentleman would have preferred to handle a revolver. I cannot, however, congratulate the hon. Member for Leeds on the arguments in support of his views which the hon. Member for Huddersfield has advanced. Let the House for a moment reflect upon what fell from him towards the close of his speech. He said that if this Bill were passed it would form an aristocracy among the working classes, which would be regarded by the remainder of those classes with jealousy and dislike. He reminded us of the agency which Trades' Unions afford ready to the hands of those who would be animated by this jealousy and dislike to enable them to extort from this House further reforms. Is the prospect he thus holds out to us satisfactory? Does he give us any hope that when this Bill has passed, we shall have settled anything, or does he not make it quite clear that we shall have unsettled everything? If I am to judge by this debate, no position is happier or easier than that of those Gentlemen who undertake to advocate the cause of democracy in the House of Commons. It is a task which seems to require the smallest amount of thought and least copious vocabulary of words. One hon. Gentleman says the working classes are "wrongfully" excluded from the exercise of the franchise; another describes their exclusion as "unjust;" a third looks upon them as being in consequence "degraded;" while a fourth speaks of them as being "slaves." So we go on until we have an accumulation of about a dozen such terms, by the use of which some hon. Gentlemen seem to think they have done sufficient to prove their case, and to throw the onus probandi—as it is now the fashion to say— 1424 upon those who differ from them in opinion. This extreme facility arises from the fact that the House permits on this subject arguments very different in their nature from those which we are accustomed to expect in dealing with other subjects. Mr. Mill, for instance—a great authority—tells us that his ideal of good government is that every citizen should have a share in it, while the Chancellor of the Exchequer, a still greater authority, says—Is it right, I ask, that in the face of such dispositions the present law of almost entire exclusion should 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 political danger is morally entitled to come within the pale of the Constitution.Now, this kind of argument is the easiest in the world, and is widely different from that style of reasoning which the House is in the habit of demanding from its Members. Hon. Gentlemen will, I think, concur with me in thinking that the true view of the science of Government is that it is not an exact science, that it is not capable of á priori demonstration; that it rests upon experiment, and that its conclusions ought to be carefully scanned, modified, and altered so as to be adapted to different states of society, or to the same state of society at different times. If so, nothing can be more difficult than to meet such concise and sweeping arguments as those to which I have referred, because a man who is careful to weigh what he has to say on a subject like this cannot put the results of an intricate and exhaustive process in a single sentence. And to what do the arguments of those who, like the Chancellor of the Exchequer, advocate the right of the working classes to be admitted to the exercise of the franchise amount? To that assumption of the á priori rights of man which formed the terror and the ridicule of that grotesque tragedy the French Revolution. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the onus probandi lay with his adversary in this instance he must have meant that anterior to the existence of society there was vested in every man some personal á priori right which nobody had authority to touch. When Mr. Mill, in like manner, speaks of every citizen of a State having a perfect right to a share in its government, he appeals to some á priori considerations, in accordance with which every man would be entitled not only to be well governed, but to take part in governing himself. But where are those á priori rights to be found? The answer 1425 to that question would lead me into a metaphysical inquiry which I shall not now pursue, contenting myself with saying that I see no proof of their existence, and that the use of the term arises from a bungling metaphor, by which a term appropriate to the rights arising under civil society is transferred to moral considerations antecedent to it. Can those alleged rights form a ground on which a practical, deliberative Assembly like the House of Commons can arrive at a practical conclusion? If they do in reality exist, they are as much the property of the Australian savage and the Hottentot of the Cape as of the educated and refined Englishman. Those who uphold this doctrine must apply it to the lowest as well as to the highest grades of civilization, claiming for it the same universal, absolute, and unbending force as an axiom of pure mathematics. A man, according to the theory of which I am speaking, derives a right of this kind from God, and if society infringe it, he is entitled to resist that infraction. He is judge without appeal in a cause over which no human tribunal has jurisdiction; he is executioner as well as judge, and so this seemingly harmless dream puts the dagger into the hand of the assassin. Those abstract rights are constantly invoked for the destruction of society and the overthrow of Government, but they never can be successfully invoked as a foundation on which society and Government may securely rest. We heard little of these metaphysical subtleties in 1832, for that generation remembered the controversies which sprung out of the French Revolution; they had the Anti-Jacobin by heart, and were conversant with those arguments by which Bentham, the Arch-Radical, the advocate of universal suffrage, had effectually exploded them. I come to those arguments which may be described as sentimental. It is contended that it is our business to elevate the working classes, and there is not one of us, I am sure, who would not feel the utmost pleasure in effecting that object. But the way to elevate the working classes is not, it seems to me, to lower the suffrage, the very means of the proposed elevation, or to seek after that sort of elevation which has resulted in Australia in the franchise being so despised that people hardly care to pick it out of the gutter. In Victoria suffrage is universal. People are registered either in respect of property or person. This last registration must be every three years. In order to raise the franchise and so improve the Government, an Australian 1426 statesman hit upon the happy device of requiring a shilling fee for registration. The effect was magical. I am informed that it diminished the personal voters by one-half. A franchise which in the estimation of those who have it is literally not worth a shilling cannot be a very powerful lever for the elevation of the working classes. Another argument is, that we ought to reward the working classes. This, however, is not a question of patronage; it is a question of selecting the best agency on behalf of a great community to decide in the last resort who are the persons who shall sit in this House, and therefore indirectly what shall be the policy which the British House of Commons is to pursue. It is not a question of sentiment, of rewarding, or punishing, or elevating, but a practical matter of business and statecraft, with the view to rendering our form of Government as good as possible. It is said, however, that those who are deprived of the franchise are slaves and degraded. Now, on this point I should like to read to the House a few words which appear to me to be extremely apposite—Many persons do not inquire if a State be well administered if the laws protect property and persons, if the people are happy. What they require, without giving attention to anything else, is political liberty—that is, the most equal distribution of political power. Wherever they do not see the form of Government to which they are attached, they see nothing but slavery, and if these pretended slaves are well satisfied with their condition, if they do not desire to change it, they despise and insult them. In their fanaticism they are always ready to stake all the happiness of a nation upon a civil war for the sake of transferring power into the hands of those whom an invincible ignorance will not permit to use it except for their own destruction.Where do those words occur? In the Principles of Morals and Legislation of Jeremy Bentham, the advocate of universal suffrage. They seem to me to answer the question, whether in all countries the happiness of the people at large is not the end which ought to be sought in the establishment of a government; and that end being as far as possible secured, whether we ought to overthrow the fabric by which it has been accomplished on the grounds of sentiment or á priori right? I therefore take the liberty of putting aside the sentimental argument, simply observing that the single question is of good government, and not whether by making some change which does not tend to good government we may do some collateral good to the working or any other class. We should do one thing at a time, and think ourselves 1427 very lucky if we do that one thing well. We often hear persons speak of killing two birds with one stone, but I apprehend that the man who tries to do so would be more likely to miss both than to kill either.
There is an another argument—the fatalistic argument—which has been put forward by the hon. Member for Huddersfield, who has unintentionally, I am sure, done me a great service, for I have constructed for myself a sort of chart or scale of fallacies used on this subject, and he has had the goodness in a single speech to illustrate every one of them. "You must have it out," the hon. Gentleman says, felicitously comparing the constitution of this country to an unsound tooth; "sooner or later you will have to give way"—using a line of argument which is at once the foundation and the blemish of the great work of De Tocqueville. M. de Tocqueville assumed that democracy was inevitable, and that the question to be considered was not whether it was good or evil in itself, but how we could best adapt ourselves to it. This is ignava ratio, the coward's argument, by which I hope this House will not be influenced. If this democracy be a good thing, let us clasp it to our bosoms; if not, there is, I am sure, spirit and feeling enough in this country to prevent us from allowing ourselves to be overawed by any vague presage of this kind, in the belief that the matter has been already decided upon by the fates and destinies in some dark tribunal in which they sit together to regulate the future of nations. The destiny of every Englishman is in his own heart, the destiny of England is in the great heart of England, and to that, and not to dreams and omens, I look as the arbiter of her fate.
I come next to the argument of necessity. We are told that the working classes are thundering at our gates, and that we shall be in the greatest danger if we do not accede to their demands. But when, in answer to this argument, it is suggested that they are not at our gates, and that they are making no noise, the reply is, "Oh, wait awhile and see what they will do." Now I, for one, am disposed to take that advice and to wait awhile. If this which we are asked for be a good thing in itself to concede, let us grant it without any compulsion; but if it be bad, let us not be driven from our sense of manliness and duty to our country by any fear as to what may happen if we refuse it. I am inclined to think that democracy 1428 in the present state of things would be a great misfortune. If driven to it, we must, of course, submit, and it may, perhaps, be better to do so than to give rise to a great internal commotion or civil war; but it will take a very severe compulsion to induce me to counsel suicide. The advice to yield at once lest a worse thing befall us reminds me of the lines—He thought with a smile upon England the while,And the trick that her statesmen had taught her,Of saving herself from the storm aboveBy putting her head under water.I have now gone through a series of arguments to which, in my opinion, the House ought not to attach any weight. To what kind of arguments, then, do I think they ought to listen? I will not state them in my own language, but in the language of one, the poetical charm of whose mind and style have, perhaps, a little overclouded his reputation as a political philosopher. I allude to Lord Macaulay, and these are his words—How, then, are we to arrive at just conclusions on a subject so important to the happiness of mankind? Surely by that method which, in every experimental science in which it has been applied, has signally increased the power and knowledge of our species, by observing the present state of the world, by assiduously studying the history of past ages, by sifting the evidence of facts, by carefully combining and contrasting those which are authentic, by generalising with judgment and diffidence, by perpetually bringing the theory which we have constructed to the test of new facts, by correcting or altogether abandoning it, according as those new facts prove it to be partially or fundamentally unsound. Proceeding thus—patiently, diligently, candidly—we may hope to form a system as far inferior in pretension to that which we have been examining and as far superior to it in real utility as the prescriptions of a great physician, varying with every stage of every malady and with the constitution of every patient, to the pill of the advertizing quack which is to cure all human beings, in all climates, of all diseases.That, I humbly submit, is the way in which you must look at this Question. You must deal with it as practical men, upon grounds and for reasons of which I have scarcely observed a vestige in this debate. What should be the nature of your previous inquiries into the subject I shall now venture to point out. To use the words of one whose name ought never to be mentioned in this House without respect, if not with a warmer feeling—the late Sir G. Lewis—I might say that what we have to do is to find out any practical evil in the working of our institutions, and then to suggest a remedy for it. We ought always to be ready to listen. The inductive me- 1429 thod abhors dogmatism, and therefore excludes finality. Its ears are always open to new facts. It recognizes knowledge as perpetually advancing. It rejects no new light. It leaves overweening confidence to á priori reasoners, sentimentalists, and fatalists. It is a safe, because a modest guide. No one has, however, in this instance, shown a single practical grievance under which the working classes are suffering which would be remedied by the proposed alteration. Mr. Holyoake, speaking on behalf of those classes, tells us that the Frenchman, who has voted away his own liberty, is far superior to the Englishman, who possesses his liberty, but does not possess the franchise. I think we have a right to ask for even a more tangible grievance from the working classes than the absence of the power to ruin themselves. Having thus shown what kind of arguments we ought and ought not to receive, I think I may confidently assert, in opposition to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the onus probandi, in this case, rests not with those who deny the existence of the á priori right for which he contends, but rather on those who, unable to point out the existence of any practical grievance, call upon us virtually to destroy our present form of Government, and to put something else in its place. It may be said, however, that a practical grievance does exist, and that the interests of the working classes are not consulted by the House of Commons; but in answer to that argument, I would simply refer to the admirable speech of the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire, and remark that hon. Gentlemen frequently bring forward questions which really relate to rich bodies, as if they were connected with the poor, convinced that by such means they will secure for their applications a greater degree of sympathy. I entirely deny that the interests of the poor are neglected in this House. I maintain that legislation is not altogether a matter of good will, as in the small republics of Greece, the study of whose municipal squabbles is the occupation of our boyhood, but of intelligence and study, and that the abstruse problems which it involves cannot be satisfactorily dealt with by men at that time engaged in daily labour. In 1842 the late Mr. Duncombe presented a petition to this House signed by 3,000,000 persons. This petition may, therefore, I think, be looked upon as containing a fair expression of the views of the working classes, whose political views must be toned 1430 down to the comprehension of persons, and in it they say—Your petitioners complain that they are enormously taxed to pay the interest of what is called the National Debt, a debt amounting at present to £800,000,000, being only a portion of the enormous amount expended in cruel and expensive wars for the suppression of all liberty by men not authorized by the people, and who, consequently, had no right to tax posterity for the outrages committed by them upon mankind.There goes the National Debt.Your petitioners deeply deplore the existence of any kind of monopoly in this nation; and while they unequivocally condemn the levying of any tax upon the necessaries of life, and upon those articles principally required by the labouring classes, they are also sensible that the abolition of any one monopoly will never unshackle labour from its misery, until the people possess that power under which all monopoly and oppression must cease. And your petitioners respectfully mention the existing monopolies of the suffrage"—pointing, of course, to universal suffrage—"of paper money"—looking naturally to unlimited issues and greenbacks—"of machinery"—meaning property, because machinery is only one kind of property—"of land"—of course there could be no question about that—"of the public press"—such portion of it as was opposed to their views—"of religion, of the means of travelling and transit, and a host of other evils too numerous to mention, all arising from class legislation.That was the working men's programme of the steps which Parliament ought to take for the regeneration of the country and the advancement of the class to which they belonged. The middle class Parliament, if I may call it so, did not adopt that programme. It took another course. It struck off the shackles from trade, meeting, while doing so, with every possible opposition from the working classes, who, organized by their leaders, did everything they could to break up the meetings of persons engaged in forwarding this beneficial policy. And it founded a system of education which, though no doubt, imperfect, has been an enormous boon to the working classes. If the working classes had had their way then, instead of the middle class having had theirs, by which course of action would the working classes most have benefited? Would it have been a gain to them to obtain control over the affairs of the country? I do not speak of monopolists like ourselves, who, of course, would have disappeared off the face of the earth, but of the working classes themselves—would they have gained by the attainment of their own wishes?Evertere domos totos optantibus ipsisDi faciles.I venture to think they would not have 1431 gained by it, and that the working classes, instead of being neglected by the existing Parliament, have been better cared for, and according to sounder and more carefully considered principles, than if they themselves had been charged with the administration. These are the reasons that appear to me to show that no satisfactory grounds have been laid which should induce the House to read this Bill a second time. And now I go a little further, and thanking the House for the patience with which they have listened to an abstract and distasteful discussion, I propose to take on myself the burden of showing that the Bill ought not to pass. The first thing that strikes me is that this Bill will give the franchise to very few of the working classes in whose power it is not to obtain it now. And on that point I beg leave to read a passage from the Report of the Factory Commissioners for the present year, which seems to me very interesting and suggestive. One of the Inspectors, Mr. Baker, speaking of a freehold land society that has been eminently prosperous, says—The simple fact of these savings being effected, and of these houses being erected by the will of working men is an immensely significant one. All these owners of houses are freeholders, and every man has earned his own freehold from a desire to possess it. While in the same locality, employed at the same work and the same wages, and without any extraordinary drawback, a vast number of those who possess no such properties, live on from day to day, regardless of every enjoyment which is not sensual, exhibiting no desire for an elevation of character among their fellow men, wasting their money in profitless pursuits, or in degrading pastimes, and being for ever unprepared for the commonest vicissitudes which bring such misery in their train.I ask the House upon which of the classes here described will the Bill of the hon. Member for Leeds operate? Not upon the provident, but mainly upon the improvident class. For the provident are not only in possession of the franchise—they have soared far above it, and have got into the region of freeholders. It will, therefore, apply to the men who waste their time in these profitless and degrading pursuits, in order that they may be elevated and fished out of the mire in which they delight to grovel, introduced to power, and intrusted with control over the Constitution of the country. Not to take an extreme case, the Chancellor of the Exchequer says that 600 quarts of beer is a fair average consumption for every adult male in the course of the year, and, taking beer at 4d. a pot, the consumption of 240 1432 quarts represents an annual outlay of £4. If, therefore, persons who live in £8 houses would only forego 120 quarts annually, they might at once occupy a £10 house, and acquire the franchise. That is the exact measure of the sacrifice which is required on their part to obtain this much coveted right, to raise themselves from the position of slaves, to wipe off from their characters the mark of degradation and all the other horrors that have been so feelingly depicted. That is by no means all. I have so wish to demand from the working man any great amount of rigid self-denial. I am neither an ascetic in theory or practice. But I would point out that there is a certain amount of accommodation, especially of sleeping accommodation, which is absolutely necessary for the preservation of the commonest decency and morality, for the avoidance of the most frightful impurities and even crimes. The amount which it is necessary to expend in rent for these purposes, and the preservation of the health of the poor man, and his family will, with a very slight addition, infallibly obtain for him the franchise. And the question for you now to determine is whether you ought to bring down the franchise to the level of those persons who have no such sense of decency or morality, and of what is due to the health of themselves and their children—whether you will degrade the franchise into the dirt, and imperil your institutions—or whether you will make this franchise a vast instrument of good, a lever by which you may hope to elevate the working classes—not in the manner which a mawkish sentimentality contemplates, but by fixing the franchise at a reasonable level, requiring a little, and only a little, effort and self-denial on their part, a little security that they are able to conduct their own affairs before we intrust them with ours.
Another objection which I have to the Bill refers to its swamping aspect. I have made an analysis of the figures presented to us in 1860—for we have no later—and I find that the effect of this Bill, which is described as harmless and innocent, would be in five large towns to treble, and in twenty-eight large towns to double, the constituencies. Now I ask hon. Members when the present constituency is doubled or trebled by an Act of this House, what becomes of the present constituency? Quid superest de corporibus? You might as well abolish it altogether. Not only is it increased, it is diluted, and the additions 1433 being all of persons rated below £10, these have a sort of chemical affinity with persons of the same class a little above themselves, and the two united become masters of the situation. In these cases, therefore, the present constituency, including all the property and all the intelligence of the place, would be disfranchised without a prospect of escape; and this I venture to think would be a very great evil. The noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire has truly said that many people want something in the way of change; but that something is anything in the world but what this Bill proposes. They want universal suffrage they want an educational franchise; they want a provident franchise; but nobody wants a £6 franchise. I know not whether that was the intention, but it seemed to me that the speeches in support of the Bill, especially the speech of the hon. Member for Huddersfield, go direct to universal suffrage. Can you believe that this thing, which nobody wants, will be accepted as anything but a step to universal suffrage, or that it is likely to form in any way a permanent settlement of the question? It is assumed by every speaker in favour of the Bill that when it passes the matter will be settled for ever, and that we shall be freed from these terrible visions of pressure from without which are always conjured up and brought in aid of the argument. But is that so? If you cannot maintain a £10 franchise, how can you hope to make a stand at £6? Look at the prestige surrounding this £10 franchise, created when the country was in the highest state of discontent. I can remember the time myself when the House of Commons was regarded not as representing the wishes and forwarding the views of the bulk of the English people, but as the greatest obstacle in the way of carrying out improvements which were desired by them. And that was not merely the opinion of the working classes; it was an opinion shared to a great extent by the education and property of the country, and but for which conviction the Reform Bill never would have passed into law. Let me ask, have not the results fulfilled and exceeded the expectations of the most sanguine prophet of that time? Look at the noble work, the heroic work, which the House of Commons has performed within these thirty-five years. It has gone through and revised every institution of the country; it has scanned our trade, our colonies, our laws, and our 1434 municipal institutions; everything that was complained of, everything that had grown distasteful, has been touched with success and moderation by the amending hand. And to such a point have these amendments been carried that when Gentlemen come to argue this question and do all in their power to get up a practical grievance they fail in suggesting even one. The £10 franchise, if not the most venerable, is at any rate one of the most respectable institutions that any country ever possessed. The seven Houses of Commons that have sat since the Reform Bill have performed exploits unrivalled, not merely in the six centuries during which Parliament has existed, but in the whole history of representative Assemblies. With all this continued peace, contentment, happiness, and prosperity, if the £10 franchise cannot maintain itself against such speeches as we have heard to-day, what chance have we of maintaining any other franchise whatever? It is simply ridiculous to suppose that we can do so. The thing is fated from the moment that the House, abandoning a position which should never be yielded while hope remains, consents to take up another not one-hundredth part as strong, on the road to universal suffrage. It is trifling with the House to suggest that when you have passed this Bill you have settled anything; all that you do is to unsettle everything, perhaps to lay the foundation of a real agitation, because people, when they find that so much can be gained with such little trouble, will be encouraged to ask for a good deal more. Two answers have been suggested to this view. It is said that the working classes will not act together. Assertions are very cheap on such subjects, but look at the probabilities. If you have a large infusion of voters from the working classes, they will speedily become the most numerous class in every constituency. They, therefore, have in their hands the power, if they only know how to use it, of becoming masters of the situation, all the other classes being, of necessity, powerless in their hands. Is it possible to suppose that in the present state of society, with the widely-conducted operations of the press, and public discussions on every subject, the working classes can long remain in ignorance of their power? You cannot treat them like pigs or cattle, or like Curran's fleas, "which if they had been unanimous, would have pulled him out of bed." You know very well that they will soon 1435 possess the secret of their own power, and then what is to prevent them from using it? What are the restraints that you propose? I know that very pretty metaphors have been given us; we were told, for instance, that society is divided into vertical, intead of horizontal strata, but, nevertheless, when men have power conferred on them, infallibly they will employ it for their own purposes. Are we without information to guide us in the matter? Have we not examples before our eyes? Look at Australia. There universal suffrage was conceded suddenly, and the working classes immediately availing themselves of it, became masters of the situation. Nobody else has a shadow of power. Does anybody doubt that in America the working classes are the masters? Why, there is the greatest apathy among the upper classes, because, though not actually disfranchised, we know that virtually they are so by reason of the supremacy of numbers that weighs them down. And why should it be otherwise in England? It appears to me that nothing can be more manifest, looking to the peculiar nature of the working classes, than in passing a Bill such as is now proposed you take away the principal power from property and intellect, and give it to the multitude who live on weekly wages.
I am sure the House will agree with me that it is an observation, true of human nature as of other things, that aggregation and crystallization are strong just in proportion as the molecules are minute. It is the consciousness of individual weakness that makes persons aggregate together, and nowhere is that impulse so strong as in the lowest classes of society. Nothing is so remarkable among the working classes of England as their intense tendency to associate and organize themselves. They have done so for the purpose of establishing benefit clubs, and to make provision for sickness and old age. These associations once existing for praiseworthy objects, one might suppose that they would end there. But no. Once having established the principle of association, this has been used for very different purposes. The working classes select leaders—by no means the best or wisest among them—and to those men they submit with a docility which would be admirable were it not perpetuated and enforced by the reign of terror kept up among and by themselves. I shall not refer to the subject of strikes; but it is, I contend, impossible to 1436 believe that the same machinery which is at present brought into play in connection with strikes would not be applied by the working classes to political purposes. Once give the men votes, and the machinery is ready to launch those votes in one compact mass upon the institutions and property of this country. It is so in America. The wire-pullers and log-rollers there correspond exactly to the leaders whom the working classes follow in the matter of strikes at home. These leaders may be, probably are, men little known; apparently very retiring and insignificant, but nevertheless they wield the masses with the greatest ease. The elector, perhaps, does not know the name of the candidate for whom his vote is to be recorded. Papers for the election of every one, from a Governor down to a constable and up again to a member of Congress, are handed to him in a bundle, tied round with a dirty piece of string, and the elector votes in the sense required—I have often seen it done—because his Mr. Potter or his Mr. Odgers desires him to do so. It is said, "Oh, but though we are to have an increase of democratic power, we shall also have safeguards," and Mr. Mill and Lord Grey, the philosopher and the statesman, have busied themselves in inventing these safeguards. I can fancy no employment more worthy of the philosopher and statesman than the invention of safeguards against democracy, but I can fancy no employment less worthy of either statesman or philosopher than counselling us to give a loose rein to democracy in order that we may see whether we cannot get back what we have given in anther way. It may be very wise to throw £100 out of the window to a mob, it may be very right to give largese in that manner; but it is the height of folly to throw out the £100 in the hope and expectation that the mob will bring it back again to you in detail sovereign by sovereign. Besides, consider how this is trifling with a great question. If we make these concessions to the spirit of democracy, if we give facilities for getting rid of some of those monopolies to which I referred just now, are the gentlemen who lead the Democratic party, are the persons who make up the mass of that party, so silly as to allow themselves to be tricked out of the fruits of their victory by a few transparent dodges, so clear that they would not deceive a child? The question is, are we making such concessions as are required 1437 to meet any practical grievance? That we ought to do and no more; if we make more in the hope of getting them back again we shall be allowing the fish to run away with the line, which we shall never be able to wind up again. I think I have shown the House that it is neither wise I nor safe to rely on the measure before us.
The only practical mode of dealing with this question, in a manner worthy at once the dignity of this House and the character of the English people, is to guide our course by the light of experience, gained from what has been done in former times—above all, in our own country, the great nurse of freedom and of the happiness of the whole human family. I have I shown you that the Bill of the hon. Member for Leeds, while it satisfies nobody, will cast us loose from our only safe moorings in the £10 franchise, and set us adrift on the ocean of democracy without chart or compass; and I think I have also shown you that, as it is ridiculous to expect the working classes, once in possession of absolute power, would refrain from using that power, the British Constitution ought never to exist upon sufferance. I am not going to inflict on the House an essay on the British Constitution, but this I will say—that it is the most complicated probably that the world ever saw. The number and variety of interests, and the manner in which these are entwined with each other, serve to make up a most curious piece of mechanism, but, in practice, well confirm the precept which Aristotle laid down 2,000 years ago in the words, "Happy and well governed those States where the middle part is strong and the extremes weak." That description well embodies the leading merit of our Constitution. Are we prepared to do away with a system of such tried and tested efficiency as no other country was ever happy enough to possess since the world was a world, and to substitute for it a form of Government of extreme simplicity, whose tendencies and peculiarities have been as carefully noted and recorded as those of any animal or vegetable, with whose real nature we have no excuse for not being well acquainted—pure democracy? I am no proscriber of democracy. In America it answers its purpose very well; in States like those of Greece it may have been desirable; but for England, in its present state of development and civilization, to make a step in the direction of democracy appears to me the 1438 strangest and wildest proposition that was ever broached by man. The good government which America enjoys under her democracy—whatever estimate hon. Gentlemen may be disposed to form of it—is absolutely unattainable by England under a democracy, and for this reason:—America, in her boundless and fertile lands, has a resource which removes and carries off all the peccant political humours of the body politic. Turbulent demagogues out there become contented cultivators of the land; there are no questions between landlord and tenant; every one can hold land in fee simple if he chooses and transmit to his children. The wealth which America possesses is of a kind which her people did not make, and which they cannot destroy; it is due to the boundless beneficence of the Giver beside whose works those undertaken and executed by the human race sink into insignificance. The valleys even of the Nile, the Tigris, and the Euphrates, seem ridiculously small when compared with the valley of the Mississippi, which it has been calculated would afford residence to 240,000,000 of people without overcrowding. No tumult, no sedition can ever destroy these natural advantages. But what is our property here? It is the fabric of the labour of generations, raised slowly and with infinite toil, and to continue it is indispensable that it should rest on secure foundations. Look at the land question alone. In America nobody covets land, because he can get as much as he likes there for less money than would represent the trouble of kicking anybody else out of his holding. But here the case is different; nothing is easier than to get up a cry about land, and at this moment it is believed all over the Continent that there is actually a law in existence under which the possession of the land of England is confined exclusively to the aristocracy. Our prosperity rests more than anything else in the world upon our credit. What sort of credit should we maintain had we a Government like that of America, where the rate of interest at which their National Debt has been raised is such that they will pay more for a debt of £500,000,000 than we do for a debt of £800,000,000. Once introduce the American system of government here, and the mighty fabric of English prosperity would, I am satisfied, vanish like an exhalation. And now I do solemnly ask the Liberal party to pass in review their own position with 1439 regard to this question. They have to make their choice not merely on the fate which shall befall this particular Bill, but with a full knowledge that a general election is to follow. And I ask whether it is to go forth that the party of liberality and progress in this country does or does not for the future cast in its lot and identify its fortunes with that particular form of government called democracy, which has never yet been the Government of this country? It is a momentous issue which we have to try; and nothing but a sense of its enormous importance induces me to do what the House will believe is not a pleasant duty, to make my present speech in the neighbourhood in which I stand. I view this, however, as a question between progress and retrogression. So far from believing that democracy would aid the progress of the State, I am satisfied it would impede it. Its political economy is not that of Adam Smith, and its theories widely differ from those which the intelligent and clear-headed working man would adopt, did his daily avocation give him leisure to instruct himself. It is always introducing an ungrateful subject to make personal references, but perhaps I may be allowed for a moment to quote myself. Gentlemen think it the height of illiberality on my part, and believe that I am abandoning the cause of progress, because on this occasion I refuse to follow their steps. Of course, I was quite prepared for that; but nevertheless I have been a Liberal all my life. I was a Liberal at a time and in places where it was not so easy to make professions of Liberalism as in the present day; I suffered for my Liberal principles, but I did so gladly, because I had confidence in them, and because I never had occasion to recall a single conviction which I had deliberately arrived at. I have had the great happiness to see almost everything done by the decisions of this House that I thought should be carried into effect, and I have full confidence in the progress of society to a degree incalculable to us; my mind is so constituted as to rely much on abstract principles, and I believe that by their application the happiness and prosperity of mankind may be enormously augmented. But for the very reason that I look forward to and hope for this amelioration—because I am a Liberal, and know that by pure and clear intelligence alone can the cause of true progress be promoted, I regard as one of the greatest 1440 dangers with which the country can be threatened a proposal to subvert the existing order of things, and to transfer power from the hands of property and intelligence, and to place it in the hands of men whose whole life is necessarily occupied in daily struggles for existence.
I earnestly hope—and it is the object I have in view—that I may have done something to make men think on this question—to pick it out of the slough of despond in which it has wallowed. Sir, I have been weary and sickened at the way in which this question has been dealt with. The way in which the two parties have tossed this question from one to the other reminds me of nothing so much as a young lady and young gentleman playing at battledore and shuttlecock. After tossing the shuttlecock from one to the other a few times, they let it drop and begin to flirt, The great Liberal party may well be presumed to know its own business better than I do. I venture, however, to make this prediction, that if they do unite their fortunes with the fortunes of democracy, as it is proposed they should do in the case of this measure, they will not miss one of two things—if they fail in carrying this measure they will ruin their party, and if they succeed in carrying this measure they will ruin their country.
§ Mr. BERNAL OSBORNE and The LORD ADVOCATE rose together; but the House appearing to desire to hear the former hon. Member.
§ MR. BERNAL OSBORNE
proceeded, and said: Mr. Speaker, I think it highly natural that, after five hours' debate on a question which was once reckoned great and important, some Member of the Government should rise to answer the great, exhaustive, and philosophical speech that has just been delivered to this House—a speech, than which, however I may differ from its conclusions, I will venture to say, none, even at the time of the great debates on the Reform Bill, was ever surpassed in force or energy by any gentleman opposed to reform of any kind. I could have wished that our great leader—I am speaking of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—would have risen, for he is probably the only man in the House who is equal to the work of answering such a speech—I say I could have wished that at its close he had sprung to his feet instead of putting the onus probandi on a Scotch official—for, unfortunately, in this debate the Liberal party have had little reason to regard the 1441 sons of Scotland either with hope or affection. My noble Friend the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) opened the opposition to this Rill with a speech which, although he merely moved the Pevious Question, was a speech directly against the Previous Question, and which, if it were worth anything at all, would justify the House in reading this Reform Bill—now, for the first time, called a revolutionary measure—a second time this day six months. The noble Lord was followed by another Scotch Reformer, an advanced Liberal of old days, and he fairly told the House that this was a revolutionary measure for which be could not vote. I say we have thus little to hope for from that great country of Scotland; and I should be sorry to interfere between the House and the learned Lord who represents the interests of Scotland on the Treasury Bench, because it is due to some Scotchman in an official position to let us know that he, at least, of Her Majesty's Government, is not of that opinion, that he still clings to the early love of his youth, and is not afraid of being charged with entertaining revolutionary sentiments. But, Sir, this question of Reform has been treated, not only by the Treasury Bench, but by the House at large, in an insincere spirit. All have pretended to be Reformers when it suited their purpose. While this Parliament was young and able we coquetted with a measure which we had no intention of passing into law. But now that Parliament is worn out and dying, we, as political invalids, come forward and seek to be canonized as reforming saints, when we know that we shall repeat the old game over again as elected convalescents, and shall discover that although the question of Reform is well suited as a cry for the hustings it is not adapted to the meridian of this House. Can we wonder that there is apathy without, when we see the way in which this question is treated by the representatives of the people? You have all heard the speech just delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne—a speech which, if it proved anything at all, was launched against all change. I was the more surprised at a speech from that direction—the more surprised at the civil war that has broken out on this side the House, and which has been so artfully promoted by the silence of Gentlemen on the other side—I was, I say, the more surprised at the right hon. Gentleman's speech, because I could not help calling to 1442 mind that he sat in two Reform Administrations, and that he was present on one occasion and heard the following Amendment put from the Chair, and which hurled those Gentlemen opposite into outer darkness. At that time we declared—That no re-adjustment of the franchise will satisfy this House or the country which does not provide for a greater extension of the suffrage in cities and boroughs than is contemplated in the present measure.This, Sir, was the Amendment which we, the ardent and advanced Liberals—and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne was one of the devoted band—passed in 1859, but which it is now discovered was not only abhorrent and destructive of ail property, but revolutionary and likely to overthrow the National Debt, the landed aristocracy, and the Crown itself. I cannot help for a moment affecting to impugn the motives and conduct of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds (Mr. Baines), although no one could have heard him and come to the conclusion that he entertains revolutionary sentiments. At any rate, a more quiet revolutionist has never existed. I cannot help remarking upon the different aspect which this question has presented to our notice on former occasions. Who does not recollect that this revolutionary measure has been urged upon our notice by four successive Speeches from the Throne—that five Administrations have advocated this measure which is to upset the kingdom? The question has now rather fallen from its high estate. It may be said to be in the position described by the poet—Deserted in its utmost needBy those its former bounty fed,and has become so shrunk and withered in its proportions that it is reserved for an hon. and independent Member at a morning sitting to present a stump as it were—a fragmentary stump—of the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill, to contemplative Reformers on the eve of an expiring Parliament. Something has been said by my noble Friend (Lord Elcho) about advanced Liberals throwing discredit on the Constitution. Now, I think that there is no more certain way of doing this than by both sides agreeing to play at battledore and shuttlecock with this question, as the right hon. Gentleman has just said. We have affirmed the justice of the claim for an extension of the franchise; and yet, when the moment arrives for 1443 satisfying those just demands, we declare that we have no intention of conceding them because the claimants do not knock loudly at our door. That is my idea of throwing discredit on representative institutions. Why, Sir, what do we owe our seats to? What were we sent here for but to vote for an amendment and extension of the franchise? What are the special grounds on which the present Government hold office? Why, the amendment of the franchise. What has become of the compact entered into at the Dancing Academy at Willis' Rooms five years ago? I had not the honour of being at that meeting because I was out of Parliament at that time, but I remember hearing of the Reformers holding that meeting at Willis' Rooms, and waving their hats and rushing about filled with enthusiasm at the idea that a Reform Bill was to be brought forward by Lord Palmerston as the head of the Liberals of England. What has become of that Reform Bill? We have many Reformers in the Cabinet. We have aristocratic Reformers in another place. The noble Lord the great progenitor of this measure sits in another place; and on the Woolsack is a noble Lord who when a Member of this House made the strongest speech in favour of the Ballot and Reform that I ever heard, but who has been silent on these subjects ever since. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Milner Gibson) is a Member of that Cabinet. He is a tried Reformer, who goes much further indeed than my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, and yet he now comes under the revolutionary category so forcibly depicted by the right hon. Member for Calne. Then there is my right hon. Friend the President of the Poor Law Board (Mr. Villiers). What has become of him? He confines his attention solely to the suffering poor, and he never thinks of the suffering working classes. ["Oh!"] Non meus hic sermo. But all this was when the Liberal party was in opposition, and before the hon. Gentlemen opposite had taken their seats on those Benches. I want to know what has become of the Government Reform Bill? There can be nothing so disheartening—nothing so calculated to open the eyes of the public out of doors, as the treatment which this question is receiving at the hands of the Government and in this House at the present time. We declared, when we passed that Amendment in 1859, that neither this House nor the country would, 1444 or ought to, be satisfied without an extension of the franchise. We know, however, that the House is not very much dissatisfied, and that a Reforming Ministry are quite resigned to the present position and situation of the question. The conduct of the House and of my right hon. Friend—who, if he did run away on one occasion, was, as I am in a position to know, excessively unwell at that time—our conduct, I say, on this question of Reform reminds me of those professional mourners at an Irish funeral who, while they are groaning and bemoaning the dead, have a very keen eye to the good-will of the incoming tenant. We have all a keen eye to the incoming Parliament, and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds that there cannot possibly be a better time for "waking" the corpse of Reform than the eve of an expiring Parliament, when the Liberal party are rather hard up for a cry. This, however, is not a question with which the House can trifle with impunity. We cannot take it up and lay it down without subjecting ourselves to the charge of shuffling and insincerity. My right hon. Friend the Member for Calne says that no one has brought forward any blots in the Constitution. Let us test that assertion. He is well satisfied with things as they are, and probably he has reason to be satisfied. But I will give a few instances of the anomalies that exist in regard to the distribution of the franchise. In Aberdeen there are 3,586 registered electors who send one Member, while Honiton, with 269 electors, sends two Members to this House. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that a satisfactory state of things? Lambeth contains 25,000 registered electors. ["Question!"] I hear the Member for Marlborough (Mr. H. B. Baring) calling question! Marlborough has 256 electors, and also returns two Members. Then there is Calne. Calne has 173 registered electors, including six freemen, and it sends one Member to this House, the same as Salford, which has 5,100 electors. Let us now take the smallest borough—Portarlington. ["Question!"] Can it be said that Portarlington, with 99 registered electors, has a claim to one Member, while the Tower Hamlets, with 31,000 electors, only sends two representatives? ["Question!"] This is the Question. Why, one vote in Portarlington is equal to 290 votes in the Tower Hamlets. Gentlemen opposite appear to be satisfied with that; but do they 1445 suppose the country is satisfied? Will the country be satisfied to read the speech of the right hon. Gentleman declaring this Bill to be revolutionary, and God knows what, and at the same time to see these shocking anomalies? I think that the right hon. Gentleman might have reflected that the Bill of 1832 was a Bill that effected a transfer of power entirely to one particular class; it took away the power from the upper class to give it to the middle class; and he might have remembered that the working class on that occasion submitted to be deprived of an extended franchise in many towns, and gave their unflinching aid and co-operation in advancing the political power of the middle classes. I think, then, it would be a little hard of the middle classes to come forward now and, not openly, but covertly, to deny the extension of the franchise to the working classes. How many Bills have we had during the lust fourteen years? We have had five Bills in this House. Look at the measure of 1852. That proposed a £5 rating. Look at the way in which we treated the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire. That might have been made a most excellent Bill. It gave a savings bank franchise, and diminished the expense of elections for counties. But what is our dog-in-the-manger policy? We will neither allow Gentlemen opposite to bring in a Reform Bill nor bring in a Reform Bill ourselves. Therefore, although I think the time for bringing in this measure is most inopportune, still no one who has ever given a vote for Reform can help giving his support to this fragmentary measure. I am aware that it is impossible for an independent Member to pass a measure of this kind, but still, until we get a Minister who will risk the continuance of his power in passing a Reform Bill, we must take what we can get and support a measure of Reform, however fragmentary and however incomplete.
§ MR. GREGORY moved the adjournment of the debate. [Cries of "No, no!" "Go on!"]
§ MR. AYRTON
desired to observe that the debate must be adjourned, because the House had not heard the sentiments of the Government, and it was quite evident that a quarter of an hour (it was now half past five o'clock) would not suffice, as several Members of the Ministry might wish to speak on this question.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he quite agreed with his hon. Friend. The House 1446 could hardly do otherwise than adjourn the debate, and the Government could hardly do otherwise than to give every facility for its renewal. He thought that the question of Reform was not only involved in the measure before the House, but also the conduct of the Government as to the past, and the conduct of the Government as to the future. Up to the present time the House was left in utter darkness as to the future conduct of the Government in respect to this question. Reform was a Government question, yet no Member of the Cabinet had as yet attempted to speak upon this subject. He was sure that the Members of the Cabinet would see the necessity of not allowing the debate to rest without expressing their opinion upon the measure before them, and in giving every facility for the renewal of this discussion.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
A Member of the Government, though not a Member of the Cabinet, did rise ["Oh, oh!"]; but seeing the indisposition of the House to listen to him, I advised my hon. and learned Friend not to throw away his speech by attempting to force it on a reluctant House. ["Oh, oh!"] I am aware that several Members wish to address the House, and at the hour we have arrived at there is no alternative but to adjourn the debate. As to the day on which the debate should be resumed, if my hon. Friend the Mover of the Question will consent to name Friday I think it may be resumed on that day. ["No, no!"] But, in the absence of my noble Friend at the head of the Government, I can give no pledge with regard to the time. ["Oh, oh!"]
§ MR. DISRAELI
Sir, I think that the House, under the circumstances, has a right to require from Her Majesty's Government that they should give an early day for the renewal of this debate; and I am of that opinion for two reasons. In the first place, it is impossible for us to forget the circumstances connected with this question under which the present Government was formed. In the second place, I hold that it is the duty of the leader of this House to give the House an opportunity of continuing such a debate. Sir, the leader of the House is the trustee of the honour and interests of the House. He does not sit in his place for the mere purpose of transacting the business of the Government. He is, I repeat, the trustee of the interests and honour of 1447 the House; and I say it will not he creditable to the House if this debate so ably commenced and conducted, and in which it is evident from the appearance of the Benches so great an interest is felt, should be allowed to drop without the prospect of a continuance of it at the earliest possible date. I trust, Sir, that the right hon. Baronet will take immediate steps to secure the renewal of this debate, so that we may be favoured with the distinct opinions of Her Majesty's Government upon this question. And I will say, with all respect to the learned Lord Advocate, who rose to address the House—with all respect to his station, character, and abilities, I do not think, under the peculiar circumstances of the case, that he was a competent and proper representative of the Government upon this question. Sir, I think it moat undesirable to all parties concerned that a debate of this kind should be allowed to terminate without a clear expression of opinion on the part of Her Majesty's Government. Sir, I cannot but remember, that only very recently, upon a question avowedly of not much less importance—upon another question of great constitutional importance—the House was left, so far as Her Majesty's Government was concerned, in a very unsatisfactory state. I allude to the debate upon the Irish Church. To-day we have not been favoured with the opinion of any Member of the Cabinet upon the question before us. On the other occasion to which I have referred we were certainly more fortunate. Two Members of the Cabinet did address the House upon the question of the Irish Church, but they expressed opinions utterly at variance with each other. According to my view it is for the honour of this House and the interest of the existing Government, of whatever materials it may be formed, that some decision should he arrived at, and that the country should be put in possession distinctly of what are the opinions of the Government upon questions of Imperial policy. Had the debate upon the Irish Church been continued as it ought to have been continued we should probably have been favoured with the expression of opinion of other Members of Her Majesty's Government, and have had fresh light thrown upon the subject. But to-day, after a debate upon an important public question—a debate conducted with great ability, and in respect of which a large amount of interest is excited, as is 1448 evident from the number of Members that are in attendance—it would be most unsatisfactory, disappointing to the country, and discreditable to this Assembly, if some definite arrangement be not made for the immediate resumption of this debate and the bringing it to a conclusion. I trust, then, that Her Majesty's Government, will confer with each other on the Treasury Bench, and that they will be enabled to assure the House, by the mouth of the right hon. Baronet opposite, that some arrangement will be made satisfactory to the House, and in compliance with what appears to be the universal feeling on both.
§ MR. BAINES
I beg to say that I understand that Friday is an evening on which this debate might be resumed. [Cries of "No, no!" "To-morrow!"] I think we have a right to ask the Government to help us to fix a day. It is quite evident it is the wish of the House to continue the debate. ["Hear!"]
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
I spoke of Friday, because there is every prospect that the Motion which stands previous to Supply will occupy but a short time; and I told my hon. Friend if that were the case the Government would be willing to put this Question second. They could not put it first, because, according to the Standing Orders, Supply must stand first. ["To-morrow, to-morrow!"] The Government cannot give to-morrow, because that day has been fixed for the Resolutions on the Budget, and the public interest would suffer if their were postponed, therefore Friday is the earliest day. ["Monday!"] We shall now put it for Friday—["Monday !"]—and if we shall be unable on Friday to bring it on at an early hour, I shall communicate with my noble Friend at the head of the Government with a view to make arrangements for bringing it on as early as possible.
§ MR. DISRAELI
Sir, I think that this question ought not to be left in this undecided state. The House has a right to know on what day precisely the debate will be resumed. It certainly ought not to be left contingent upon the disposal at an early hour of desultory discussions and Motions that may or may not be brought forward. It appears to me that the best thing to do under present circumstances is to decide that the debate be adjourned 1449 to Monday, when it shall be positively resumed, and, if necessary, that it shall be continued de die in diem.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Gregory.)
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, it was impossible that the debate could come on on Friday, as he himself had a Motion fixed for that evening which he was determined to proceed with. It was, therefore, impossible that he could enter upon the subject matter of his Motion and to continue this debate at the same time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be adjourned till Monday next."—(Mr. Gregory.)
§ MR. E. P. BOUVERIE
reminded the House that there was a Standing Order under which the Government had the arrangement of all the Orders for every day except Wednesday. If this debate be fixed for Monday it would be placed at the end of all the other Orders, and, therefore, could not come on until at a very late hour. If the right hon. Baronet would consult with the noble Viscount the leader of the House no doubt some more convenient arrangement would be effected. Let the adjourned debate then be fixed for Friday, and if it could not then be resumed they could fix another day on which it could be taken without fail. ["No, no!"]
§ MR. DISRAELI
What the House can do is to come to an agreement that this question shall betaken on Monday; unquestionably the Government can arrange the business of the House as they think fit, but it does not follow that an Order of the Day, placed last upon the paper, must necessarily be delayed until all the previous Orders are disposed of. The right hon. Baronet will probably be enabled to-morrow to say whether the adjourned debate can be brought on first on Monday or at some other convenient time.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
Let the House determine and let the Government give notice to rescind the Standing Order on Monday, in order that this question may have precedence. They frequently do this in respect of matters of special interest to themselves—why should they not take the same course as respects the adjourned debate?
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
The Government have no intention whatever to avail 1450 themselves of their right under the Standing Order, in order to prevent the resumption of this debate. If my hon. Friend will name Friday for the resumption of the debate, and our expectations in respect to its coming on are disappointed, the Government will take care to give the earliest day possible for the purpose.
§ MR. BAINES
I think after the assurance given on the part of the Government, I ought to adhere to Friday. ["No, no!"]
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
It is well that we should understand the position we occupy. The financial Resolutions stand for to-morrow, and we have no reason to suppose that there will be any opposition, or that the discussion upon them will occupy any very great length of time; still we are entirely in the hands of the House, and notice has already been given of one Motion relating to those Resolutions. Now, suppose we do not get those financial Resolutions through tomorrow night, I am by no means prepared to say it would be our duty to surrender Monday for the disposal of this question. ["Monday!" "Friday!"]
§ And, it being a quarter of an hour before Six of the clock, Debate adjourned till To-morrow.