Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [12th April], "That the Bill be now read a second time;" and which Amendment was—
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House, while ready to consider, with a view to its settlement, the question of Parliamentary Reform, is of opinion that it is inexpedient to discuss a Bill for the reduction of the Franchise in England and Wales, until the House has before it the entire scheme contemplated by the Government, for the amendment of the Representation of the People,"—(Earl Grosvenor,)
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. BAXTER
said the question before them appeared to him to be one of such paramount importance, and its decision by that House must of necessity exercise such a mighty influence upon the history of the empire, that he hoped they would not allow considerations of a mere party nature to prevent their discussing it in a dispassionate spirit, and in eventually disposing of the Bill upon its merits alone. All he could say for himself was that he would not introduce into this debate any 1228 thing whatever of a personal nature; for he confessed that he was somewhat tired of the personalities which had been indulged in upon both sides of the House. Differing very widely as he did from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe), and regretting the course which that right hon. Gentleman had thought it to be his duty to take on this great public question, he had no intention of saying one word in his disparagement:—in the first place, because he thought the great abilities and the logical powers of the right hon. Gentleman reflected lustre on the House; and secondly, because he believed conscientiously that no man in England had done more both to promote the enfranchisement of the working classes, and to promote the passing of the Bill before the House. He might be permitted to say, at the same time, that lie hoped the discussion would be allowed to go on without any more personal and monotonous attacks upon the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright). He was sure the country was tired of those incessant personal references. The other day he met a gentleman who was constantly in the habit of attending the debates in that House, and who entirely differed from the hon. Member for Birmingham in politics, and he (Mr. Baxter) asked why he had not appeared lately in the gallery? He replied, "You people in the House of Commons seem to be doing nothing but discussing John Bright, and I am quite sick of it." He could not help thinking that that mode of warfare did not tend to uphold the dignity of the Imperial Parliament. He did not stand there as the apologist of Her Majesty's Government. He was not a party man, for he had before now helped to turn out previous Whig administrations, and it was extremely probable that he should have to do the same again. Therefore, whatever faults might be justly or unjustly laid to the charge of Her Majesty's Ministers in regard to the management of the Reform Bill mattered very little to him: his concern was not with the merits or demerits of the actors, but with the piece itself. Having bestowed much thought and taken great pains in considering this subject, he would venture to offer one or two brief observations to the House upon it; and he assured them that those observations should be brief, as he had too much respect for the House, and was too 1229 conscious of his own inability, to detain them long. They had heard a great deal lately of the dangers which were impending from what was called unbridled democracy; and in looking over the speeches which had been delivered in that House, not only on the present Bill, but on previous Bills of a similar nature, one might imagine that there were embodied in all those schemes provisions at least as democratic as those which were embodied in the People's Charter. Such expressions as "the dominion of mere numbers"—"the rule of the uneducated masses "—"the swamping of property and the transfer of power entirely to the lower orders," had been made use of with a consistency and a levity which was most astonishing, considering the small foundation which they had in fact. The speeches of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Huntingdon (General Peel) and of the hon. Member for North Lincolnshire (Mr. Banks Stanhope) were still ringing in his ears; and if any hon. Gentlemen in that House really believed in the dangers which these Gentlemen stated threatened the landed interest of this country, the House of Lords, and the throne of their beloved Queen herself, he did not think they could have slept in their beds. The speech of the right hon. and gallant Member for Huntingdon, if it meant anything, was an attack upon the great Reform Act of 1832; but he was surprised how any one with his admirable sense could possibly believe that the pro position on the part of the Government to enfranchise 400,000 men would be attended with consequences so outrageous. It quite passed his (Mr. Baxter's) comprehension. There was no man in that House more alive to the great danger of handing over the monopoly of political power to mere multitudes and uneducated masses than he was. Those who had studied the history of the question as taught by the events in Europe from 1789 to 1848, and those who had had, like himself, an opportunity of studying politics in the south-western States of America, where no admirable school system, as in the North, fitted the people for the possession of political power, might well be alive to the great perils of universal suffrage; but he thought that the acknowledged existence of those very-perils afforded undoubtedly an admirable and cogent argument in favour of the changes now proposed by the Bill before 1230 the House. Gradual changes made in time, wise concessions gracefully given, did not tend to bring about revolutions. It was that policy of determined resistance to all changes, and the persistent refusal to grant reasonable popular demands, which in the end endangered the constitution. He would join issue with the hon. and gallant Member for Huntingdon when he said, there was no danger to the institutions of this country during the perilous times of the Reform Bill of 1832. When he listened to the speeches which had been delivered upon this question, they reminded him not so much of the speeches of Sir Charles Wetherall and others against the Reform Bill of that year, but they had a ring about them reminding one of the tone adopted by the different continental regimes before the great popular commotions swept them all away. He had heard it over and over again said in those debates, that if they reduced the franchise below £10 they would remove the barrier which prevented the rush of democracy. His opinion was that the consequence of reducing the franchise now would be precisely the same as that which followed the Act of 1832. That change bore back the tide of the uneducated masses, and it had saved them from a further change for more than thirty years. If the Upper Ten Thousand had refused to give way upon that occasion, he believed the people would have insisted n having universal suffrage; and if the present bill should be refused now, he thought the same thing would be asked for, and hon. Members would perhaps have cause to repent that they had not yielded to just demands in time, 11 is complaint against the opponents of the Bill was that it was impossible to divine the precise grounds of their opposition. Their resolutions and their speeches were in entirely different language. They argued—nearly all of them—foi' hi; did not include the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn—against the enfranchisement of the working classes; whereas, to judge from their resolutions, they seemed to wish for a much more comprehensive measure of Reform than hail been proposed by the Government. Their voice was the voice of Jacob, but they hands were the hands of Esau. If that wanted any confirmation it would be found in the speech delivered last night by the noble Lord the Member for Chester (Earl Grosvenor). The noble Lord took care not to tell us what were 1231 his views, but the general impression conveyed by his observations was that he was opposed to all extension of the borough franchise. Having refreshed his memory that morning by a reference to the papers, he found that the noble Lord thought that there was so much difference of opinion, as to make it impossible to settle this question of Reform without taking it out of the dominion of party and referring it to some impartial tribunal, such as the Privy Council. But his resolution, on the other hand, told an entirely different story, inasmuch as it appeared to pledge the House to the opinion that they were ready not only to grapple with, but to settle, the question of Reform. He asked these Gentlemen what they wanted the country to believe; and were they, as their resolution expressed, greater Reformers than Her Majesty's Ministers? Judging from the resolution, they were in favour of a more extensive plan than that proposed by the Government, whereas they were in reality opposed to the vertical extension of the suffrage altogether. The right hon. and gallant Member for Huntingdon had made no secret of that on the previous night, when he told them that if he was opposed to a £7 franchise with the present distribution of seats, he would, in the event of a redistribution of seats, be more opposed to it still. Judging, therefore, by the speeches of Conservatives, and of some Whigs also, the complaint was that Government had not embarked all at once in a vast series of measures including the redistribution of seats, a rearrangement of boundaries, laws for preventing corruption at elections, and various other matters. Why, one would imagine that they were the greatest Radicals in the country. Lastly, one of the most distinguished of our advanced Liberals was accused of demanding too much, and now Gentlemen opposite turned round on them and asked, were they going to be so green as to be satisfied with so little. But he could assure them that the whole country thought the thing a mere farce. [Opposition Cheers.] He understood the meaning of that cheer. What the country said was, that it was a mere farce to pretend to want all manner of reforms whilst their speeches were directed against all Reform. [Cheers.] Gentlemen on that (the Opposition) side of the House, and the men who supported them in the country, were opposed to any Reform Bill 1232 which had the slightest chance of passing, whilst all their admiration was given to some comprehensive scheme which they knew could never be carried. He thought, however, that the country had pretty plainly indicated its opinion of such a policy by the petitions which had poured in from every quarter, and which had been presented by Gentlemen on both sides of the House. These petitions must have convinced the House that all true Liberals had found out the hollowness of the pretext upon which the Bill was opposed. He was also delighted to find, from certain indications, that even the great united Conservative party were not entirely at one on the question. He had the pleasure of knowing several Conservatives who said that their leaders had not adopted a wise policy in opposing the Bill. He was anxious they should know what Conservatives in remote parts of the country thought of the amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Chester; and if the House would permit him, he would read a short extract from the leading article of a Conservative newspaper published in one of the boroughs with which he was connected. The writer said there could be little doubt that the object of the Resolution moved by the noble Earl the Member for Chester was not merely to postpone the Bill as a partial exposition of the Ministerial intentions, but the real aim was a complete shelving of the whole question. The writer described the Bill as a more Conservative measure than any other the Conservative party were likely to get, and was likely to extend the privilege of voting to large numbers of intelligent artizans. Finally, the writer said it would be a lasting settlement of the question. ["Name."] It was The Standard—The Standard of the borough he had the honour to represent. He believed that the course the Government had taken was not only a wise course, but the wisest and most honest course that was open to them. Had they brought in a great comprehensive scheme such as they were now told they ought to have introduced, nobody knew better than the framers and supporters of this Amendment that such a measure would have been sure to be a failure; and even the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn had admitted on the previous night, that it would take the whole of the time at their disposal this Session to discuss the 1233 Franchise Bill then before them. If they were told that it was because a great comprehensive scheme had not been introduced that the present measure was opposed, what became of the action of that great party in 1860 when they had a comprehensive Bill, and opposed it by talking against time for several weeks? ["Oh, oh!"] He had never been able to see why they should not discuss these questions seriatim, and if they adopted any other plan no measure could pass during the present Session. July would not see the end of the discussion. To have dealt first with the redistribution of seats would have been inconvenient, because it would have necessitated an immediate dissolution before the question of the franchise was settled. Had the Government adopted such a course lie for one would have had great doubts of their sincerity; but he regarded the present Bill as an evidence of their honesty and their desire to succeed. He was one of those who did not believe in the necessity of doing all these things at once, and he had never seen any good reason against what was called bit-by bit Reform. He must confess that the Bill of Her Majesty's Government did not come up to his expectations: he believed that it would have been more beneficial to the country had it gone further, and had extended the franchise more in a vertical direction; but still he thankfully accepted a measure which enfranchised 400,000 of his fellow-countrymen and gave tin-working classes a larger share than they had at present, although still a very small one, of political power. He now came to the electoral statistics which had been laid before the House, and he could not help thinking that they conveyed to their minds rather an exaggerated idea of the number of artizans who were at present entitled to vote Ho had never understood—in fact it was quite new to him—that persons working at handicraft trades and employing apprentices, or whose wives kept shops, were to be classed among the artizans. Me had always regarded them as traders, as in fact the lower portion of the middle class. If they deducted them, the freemen, and the artizans employed in the public dockyards, they would find the total of 128,500 to be much reduced. Another important point which had not been touched on was the extremely unequal distribution of the working men in the existing constituen- 1234 cies. In these constituencies, in which there were many freemen, or where the Government had large works, the proportion was very large; whilst, in the great seats of our textile manufactures, it was very small. In Birmingham and Ashton-under-Lyne it was about one-sixth; in Bradford, where there were 5,189 electors, of whom only 438 were working men, the proportion was one in eleven; in Dudley it was one-sixth; in Halifax, with 1,771 electors, it was one-tenth, or 171 working men. In Hudders-field the proportion was about one-eighth, whilst in Leeds, with7,217 electors, there were 523 working men. or about one-fourteenth. He could go on multiplying examples of that sort, but he would not take up the time of the House. He told the great party opposite that greater attention should have been given to the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the previous evening, which was entirely borne out by the statistics, that with regard to the majority of borough constituencies in which the proportion of working men was the largest. Conservatives were generally returned. In Beverley, Canterbury, Coventry, Devonport, Dover, Harwich, and many other places, this was the case. With these facts before them, he could not understand why Gentlemen opposite should show such newborn zeal in favour of the redistribution of seats whilst so much opposed to a vertical extension of the franchise. He thought that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had put the number of working men who were, under the Bill, to receive the franchise, much too high; it appeared to him that 110,000 would be much nearer the mark than 200,000; but even granting the proportions of the right hon. Gentleman to be correct, admitting that the old and new constituencies together would give 300,000 working men, that was only one-fifth the whole constituency of the country; whilst the upper and middle classes would have more than a million: so that if any element of danger really existed in that class, they would never have the power to develop it. But he denied that there was the slightest danger in enfranchising a much larger number of his fellow-countrymen than was proposed by the Bill of the Government. This peculiarity he had noticed in all the discussions on the subject, that the measure which went to a vertical extension of the 1235 franchise was opposed by Gentlemen who had few opportunities of mixing with the working classes, and therefore few opportunities of judging of their fitness for political power; whilst the men who supported this measure were the men who knew the working classes best, were great employers of labour, and who were in the habit of frequently acting with them at public meetings. During the Easter recess he met a friend who had spent his life among the working classes, and had made a fortune. That gentleman, who was no politician, said to him, "That was an exceedingly able speech which was made by Mr. Lowe, but surely he knows nothing of the working classes. Had he known them, as well as I do—had he been present at the great meeting in Dundee, where, out of 2,000 of the working classes, only 13 hands were held up in favour of manhood suffrage, he would have had a very different opinion of the class." No doubt he has by this time been convinced how mistaken he was in saying that the working men would not accept a £6 Bill, or anything like it, but would go for manhood suffrage. The fact was quite the other way. The working men would unanimously support this Bill. But there were other reasons why he approved this measure. He thought the existence and splendid success of co-operative societies afforded a strong argument for the extension of the franchise. Nor was he at all scared by what was said about trades unions. He believed the existence of these unions, with their many faults and their many evils, showed the desire of the working classes to do better for themselves, and were indications of intelligence on their part which only required to be directed to proper objects. He would read a single sentence from the opinions of the Rev. Mr. Kingsley, who knew as much as any one of the opinions and sympathies of the working classes. In Alton Locke he said:—These trades unions still talk violence, nonsense, and false political economy, inherited from the evil times of 1830–40. Very likely; but the working classes feel they have no alternative, no other means of making their opinions known to the British Government. Could they but send a few men to Parliament who would state their case fairly to the British House of Commons the case would be different.It was said that the working men were indifferent to the franchise. Trusting, perhaps too implicitly, to the re- 1236 peated promises of Government, but chiefly relying on the justice and wisdom of the Imperial Parliament, they believed they would at length obtain enfranchisement without clamour, agitation, or violence; but if they were told those promises ought not to be fulfilled, they would very soon assume a different tone. He quoted the opinion of a Scottish clergyman, the Rev. Dr. Blaikie, of Edinburgh, who had devoted a lifetime in endeavouring to improve the condition of the working class, and had an excellent opportunity of obtaining their confidence, to the effect that political exclusion created a sense of neglect and mistrust, and tended to separate their sympathies from the governing class. The gradual extension of the suffrage would have a happier and better effect upon them than most people believed. The extension of the franchise would greatly diminish corruption. Large masses could not be bribed. There was no bribery to speak of in the counties or in the large towns. There was nothing like bribery in American elections. ["Oh, oh!"] He repeated the statement. He had never met an intelligent American, however much he might be opposed to universal suffrage, who said that anything like bribery existed in America. The only clause in this Bill which he thought objectionable was the savings-bank clause, and he did earnestly hope it would receive further consideration from the Government. At the very best it would enfranchise an infinitesimally small number; but it was open to very grave objection. It was very likely to open the door to fraud. It might be taken advantage of for the manufacture of votes. Let hon. Gentlemen opposite remember that, whereas under the operation of the act before 1832 working men formed 30 per cent of the constituency, they had since been reduced to the extent of 10 per cent, whilst during the same period they had made unprecedented strides in intelligence, and in everything, in fact, which fitted them for the due exercise of the elective franchise. Notwithstanding all that had been stated in the interesting speech made last night by the right hon. and gallant Member for Huntingdon (General Peel), his thorough conviction was that all classes of the community were now much more loyal and firmly attached to the institutions of the country than they were before the Reform Bill. He did not think that because at 1237 some distant period of time the increased value of money and the increased rent of houses might bring about a greater enfranchisement of the working classes than now existed; they should on that account refuse to grant the franchise to a body of men—the very bone and sinew of this great nation—who were in every way qualified to exercise it. He had the firmest confidence that Parliament would do nothing of the kind. He believed that House would receive them cheerfully—not with a grudge, but with a welcome—and in so doing they would not only extend the basis but increase the stability of the Constitution. A larger representation of the working classes would also, he believed, have a happy effect in bringing about an early settlement of some important questions affecting capital and labour. These were briefly his reasons for supporting the Bill, and for applauding the honest course which had been taken by Her Majesty's Government. He earnestly hoped that it would become law before the autumn, because he feared that its rejection would be attended with danger to the peace of the country, whilst it would be disrespectful to the oft repeated recommendations of the Crown.
§ SIR E. BULWER-LYTTON
Sir. I approach this subject with deep and sincere anxiety. I cannot bring myself to regard it in a mere party point of view. It is not to my mind a question, whether the Government of to-day is to be confirmed or displaced: it is not to my mind only a question, how many seats a party called Liberal, or a party called Conservative, may gain or lose. The consequences of the measure before us go far beyond these considerations. They affect, for good or for evil, the permanent character of this House, whether it be regarded as the fair representation of various classes and various interests, or as a faithful likeness of the mind and slate of the whole nation, or as a deliberative assembly-requiring an amount of prudence and of cultivated intelligence beyond that, of any other popular chamber in the world; because no other popular chamber, either in Europe or America, exerts the same control over the executive, arrogates the same authority in maintaining peace and provoking war, or, by the temper of its debates and the grandeur of its renown, commands the same influence over the ideas and the destinies of mankind. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the 1238 Exchequer, speaking elsewhere, said that the magnitude of the proposed change is imperfectly understood in the country; yet in his speech here last night it seemed to me rather his object to conceal its magnitude and parade its insignificance. A reform is the correction of abuses, a revolution is a transfer of power. A Bill for the redistribution of seats is a correction of abuses; a Bill for a large alteration of the franchise is, and must be, more or less, a transfer of political power. The Chancellor of the Exchequer gives no glimpse of that part of the Government scheme which belongs to Reform, and I think can show that he greatly understates that part which belongs to Revolution.
Sir, the last time Her Majesty's Government proposed a Reform Bill I ventured to state that, while the admission of a certain proportion of the working class into the franchise was essential to a well-balanced representation, first, that that class was not inconsiderably represented at present; and, secondly, that a £6 franchise would give to it the lion's share of the representation. Both of these propositions were strongly contested, but contested by none with more confident assurance than by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In condescending to answer my remarks, he asserted that the working class were now. except in some infinitesimal degree, altogether excluded from the, pale of the Constitution, and that a £6 franchise, according "to the best, most comprehensive, and most accurate information that could be obtained," would admit them in numbers so moderate that it would be idle to talk of the lion's share, it would admit them to less than one-third of the whole borough constituency. Now, it is clear from the statistics furnished by the Government, that in both those propositions I was within the facts. Now. we know that by the existing suffrage the working class already commands something more than a fourth of the whole borough constituency, and that a £6 franchise would give to it that lion's share, that electoral preponderance over all other classes of the borough constituencies which the Chancellor of the Exchequer frankly says Parliament never contemplated, and is not prepared to concede. Therefore, as the lowest verge to which the Government can venture to descend, my right hon. Friend contents himself 1239 with proposing a £7 franchise, which gives to the working class not far short of half the borough constituency, taking it altogether, namely, as 333,000 to 362,000 electors of the other classes. That may be the proportion this year; but it is not for this year that we legislate. And even granting that a £7 franchise is not lowered by Parliament, a £6 rental is raised to its level by time, and raised so rapidly that within three years from the next registration, owing to permanent causes which necessitate the rise of urban rentals, the man who pays between £6 and £7 a year for his house will pay £7 and become a voter. And if you pass this Bill you give in all Parliamentary boroughs an additional and irresistible impetus to the rise of lent. It will be the interest of landlords and builders, the object of political parties, the natural desire of petty householders who covet a vote, whether for its own sake or as money's worth in some shape or another, to bridge over the narrow space that divides the £7 voter from the man who pays a trifling iota less; for it is not the rental of £6, but rather the rental of £6 10s., or 2s. 6d. a week, which forms the general staple of rents between £6 and £7; and the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Baines), addressing his constituents the other day, truly said that the absence of the ratepaying condition is equivalent to the other 10s. in the pound. So that it must be perfectly clear to every man of sense and candour that, should you pass this Bill, that which is now a £6 rental will be a £7 franchise within three, or at most four, years, viz. within the natural life of the present Parliament; and thus that you will create that very preponderance of the working class which the existent £6 rental would insure, but which the Chancellor of the Exchequer tells us Parliament never contemplated, and is not prepared to concede. This does not rest on assumption; we have ample evidence of the fact in the case of the £10 franchise. Look down these statistical tables and see how comparatively few occupiers there are in the £9 column; and why? because the old £9 occupiers have been absorbed into the £10 franchise. And the reason why the increase of the £10 voters was more rapid in the early years after the Bill of 1832 than it has been lately is, that in those years the process of the absorption left less for the following years to effect. As a general rule, at whatever rent you 1240 wish to fix a franchise, especially if freed from ratepaying conditions, you must calculate the real numbers so admitted to be within three years those that are represented by the rental of £1 below it. But some hon. Gentlemen have said, that if the poor householder was induced, by the gain of the franchise, to pay more for a better house, that would be a social benefit, and an argument in favour of the Bill. Yes; but the rise of rent does not necessarily mean the improvement of the house. Many Gentlemen present know that they must now pay £300 a year for a London house which four years ago would have been thought dear at £200. Nothing in this age of progress is so rapidly progressive as the rise of rents in all the large towns. In Parliamentary boroughs the house that is now worth £6 10s., or even £6, will remain just as squalid as it now is; the £7 franchise raises its rental without bettering its accommodation. But then it is said, with great plausibility, that the vote itself is a moral benefit to every man, whatever his education or condition of life; it raises his sense of dignity and self-respect. Does experience tell you so? Was the vote a moral benefit to the freeman and potwalloper? Do you suppose that the freemen were corrupt merely because they were called freemen? No; they were corrupt because they belonged to a condition of life in which, no doubt, there are many upright and earnest politicians, but in which there are many others who, of two rival candidates, prefer Smith and a £5-note to Brown and the Rights of Man. You disfranchised the freemen of Yarmouth. Did you extinguish corruption at Yarmouth? No; you find this very year that the same class of men are not less corrupt as petty householders than they were as freemen. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the first reading of this Bill, cited as a notable illustration of the soundness of his proposal a distinguished instance of "the intelligence and self-guiding power of the working class." Where does he go for that instance? To one of those eight boroughs in which the electors of the working class are most equal in number to those of the middle class? No; he goes to the borough of Rochdale, where the electors that belong to the working class are only as one to twenty of the electoral population. Does he not see how his illustration tells against his argument? These admirable speci- 1241 mens of the working class required no £7 franchise to develope their intelligence and self-guiding power. Is there anything in the air of Rochdale more favourable to virtue than the air of Yarmouth? No; but those voters of Yarmouth had been for a long series of years exposed to the strongest temptations poverty can undergo when it is canvassed by wealth—temptations to which these noble operatives of Rochdale had never been subjected. But the operatives of Rochdale having been left thus free to mature un-corrupted their self-guiding power would now, I grant, be strong enough to resist such temptation. To artizans of that kind, whatever their political creed, I am willing to grant the franchise. Willing, do I say? That word is too cold. I might almost wish that, like some old commonwealth of Greece, we could admit them to the franchise by acclamation, too proud of such fellow-citizens to ask what rent they pay for their houses. But if you want to make a safe experiment of a working class suffrage, and an experiment fair to themselves and true to the dignity of honest and thoughtful labour, are you sure that it can be made by the abstract principle of your Bill? that is, by an uniform abasement of the franchise applied equally to all boroughs, whatever their population and whatever their character? Perhaps for such an experiment the wiser plan would be to revive that variety of suffrage which is agreeable to the ancient custom of the Constitution, and which was strongly recommended by the high authority of Sir James Mackintosh, in any further extension of populous constituencies; and having decided how many boroughs should be devoted to majorities of the working class, then select those constituencies in which the prevalence of skilled labour tends to create a superior class of artizans, and in which their numbers alone would be some safeguard against the bribes of a candidate; and giving there such a suffrage as would amply secure your object, decline to apply the same low rate of franchise to those other and numerous middle-sized boroughs in which the skilled artizans are too few to become a fair representation of the intelligence and integrity of their class, and the electoral population not sufficiently large to frustrate the bribery by which the ambition of the rich man tempts the necessities of the poor. For, do consider what are these boroughs in 1242 which, take them altogether, we are asked to make this abrupt and wholesale transfer of electoral power. Are they not really the predominant influence on the legislation of this House, and therefore in the choice and control of tire Imperial Government? Despite the greater wealth, despite the larger numbers represented by the county Members, the boroughs have so decided a majority in the House of Commons, that no Government can last which does not obtain the support of a considerable proportion of the borough Members; whereas a Government opposed by the almost unanimity of county Members, if it has the general support of the boroughs, carries its measures, and secures its existence. Gentlemen have gone into calculations as to the number of boroughs in which the working classes at a £7 franchise will have majorities. The Chancellor of the Exchequer estimates the number at 60 boroughs, or 101 seats; but in a very able pamphlet by Mr. Baxter—a namesake of the hon. Member for Montrose—the result given of a very elaborate calculation is, that the effect of a £7 franchise would be absolute majorities in the election of 95 Members—nearly majorities in the election of 93—and from one-third to two-fifths in the election of 85. But if I am right in maintaining that the rise of rent in Parliamentary boroughs will rapidly make what is now a £6 rental a £7 franchise, the number will be considerably increased; and in most of the boroughs where the working classes will not actually have the majority, their proportion will be so large that the election will be practically in their hands. It seems to me that this fallacy pervades the argument of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—that it is only in those boroughs where the working classes are to have a clear majority that he considers their influence predominant. But a class may have a minority so large as to be practically predominant. In the county I represent it is said, and perhaps truly, that the tenant-farmers can carry an election; yet the tenant-farmers do not appear by the books to be much more than a third of the constituency. A class that has a third of a constituency has, by combining itself with one party or the other, an election in its power. When, therefore, you hand over the boroughs to the urban working class, it is the urban working class who will ultimately become the arbiters of all that con 1243 cerns the system of this elaborate monarchy and this commercial commonwealth.
But it is said, "Well, but you have been admitting the urban working class to a fourth share of the suffrage without danger; you have not even been conscious that they were admitted, and therefore it can be no danger to give them a half share upon a principle which must rapidly give them a preponderant majority." Sir, that argument reminds me of the Irishman's bull: "If one quince can give so good a flavour to an apple pie, how wonderfully good must be an apple pie that is all quinces." The franchise of the urban working class is a generous stimulant to the action of a free state. But it is a stimulant, and you may carry a stimulant too far. The physician may recommend a certain quantity of alcohol in our daily drink, and the more it does us good the less are we conscious of the amount of the alcohol we have taken. But would the hardy Scotchman, who was all the better for his temperate glass of whisky and water, advance to a finer state of health, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer implied in his speech at Liverpool, in proportion as he swamped the water and. increased the whisky?
So much for the persuasive line of argument adopted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer: but the hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) gives us, instead, what schoolmen call the argumentum baculinum. He says, "wretched Parliament that you are, take this change now before some accident occurs, by which the working class may compel you to take something much worse." And it is not the fault of the Member for Birmingham if one of those accidents does not now occur in the shape of a fortuitous concourse of tumultuary atoms, extending from Charing Cross to the doors of the House of Commons. Sir, on this subject of accidents, something is said by Montesquieu, which the Emperor of the French thinks sufficiently striking to quote with approval in his preface to the History of Cœsar. "It is not Fortune," says Montesquieu, "which rules the world. There are general causes which act in every monarchy, and all accidents are subject to those causes. If the failure of a battle has ruined a state, there was a general cause which made it necessary that state should perish through a single battle. In a word, the principal cause drags with it the particular accident." If, then, we 1244 wish to create a general cause that may make any particular accident of a revolutionary character fatal to the independence and dignity of this grand Assembly, let us accept this argument of the bludgeon, and proclaim to the masses that we yield to intimidation that which we refuse to reason. And, Sir, if we desire to create a general cause that may make any particular accident of a democratic character fatal to the mixed Constitution of this country, let us at once accept this Bill, which, should any accident occur of a nature to accelerate the impetus and widen the circle of democracy, makes the political leaders of the urban working class the masters of the situation. Sir, I am not one of those who have an abstract and absolute horror of democracy, and who can only speak of it in the language we apply to something monstrous and abnormal. I recognize democracy as one of the genuine and legitimate forms of national polity. Like every form of government, it has its defects and faults. But it has also merits of its own—merits identified in the history of the world with marvellous achievements of individual genius, of national energies, of passionate devotion to the public cause. I would even here undertake the defence of our Anglo-Saxon colonies from much that has been said against them. But democracy seems to me essentially the Government that belongs to societies in their youth, and in which the habits of men, even more than their laws, produce a certain equality of manners and education. There is no special form of Government adapted to every varying community in every different epoch of its existence. But if there be a country in the world in which democracy would be a ruinous experiment, it is surely a country like England, with a very limited area of soil compared to the pressure of its population, with a commerce so based upon credit and national prestige, that it would perish for ever if by any neglect of democratic economy, or, what is more probable, any adventure of democratic rashness, our naval power were destroyed; and with differences of religious sects so serious that we should find it impossible to precede democracy by that universal and generous system of education without which it would be madness to make the working class the sovereign constituency of a Legislative Assembly. I may here, indeed, quote the authority of 1245 the Member for Birmingham, who, speaking the other day at Manchester on the subject of education, showed that in the States of New England education did not follow, but long preceded, the establishment of democracy. So that even in America, despite the unequalled bounty of nature, the true fathers of the future republic made a period of 150 years of education, brought home, to the door of the poorest citizen, precede the establishment of a democracy, the action of which is even now qualified by checks on the Representative Chamber which, as I will show you presently, are unknown to the English House of Commons. But this Bill, you may say, does not create such a democracy. No; but it is the inevitable step to it, and it is received and understood as such by its enthusiastic supporters out of doors, who, laughing at it as a settlement of the question, even of the franchise, hail and applaud it as an instalment of the principle to which absolute democracy is the only goal. This Bill, I say, is the inevitable step to democracy, not so much because of the actual franchise it gives now either in towns or counties, but because of the abstract principle, adorned by the eloquence of members of the Government, which alone wins to their Bill the approval of the National Reform League, viz. that every working man has a right to a vote: and while, no political community could exist for a quarter of an hour if all rights which speculative philosophers say we take from nature were not merged in an acquiescence to the social compact, that we have no rights except those that we take by law, this solitary right of an electoral vote forms an exception, and the privation of it constitutes a wrong. By this principle you create and sanction and perpetuate a discontent on the part of every working man whom the suffrage you bestow on his fellow-workmen still excludes, and you gather round the doors that your principle keeps ajar the millions whom your principle invites to enter. "What, then," say1 the Chancellor of the Exchequer? "Do not regard these new applicants as an invading army. Are they not your own fellow-Christians? Are they not, your own flesh and blood?" I share in the amazement general among his warmest admirers, how a man like my right lion. Friend can descend to a species of argument so hollow in itself, and so perilous in its logical deduct ions, so hollow 1246 in itself, because suppose, for instance, I introduced a Reform Bill by which I admitted rural voters to swamp the urban voters, as you propose to admit the urban voters to swamp the agricultural element; and suppose I said, "Do not regard these honest farmers as an invading army. Are they not your own fellow-Christians? Are they not your own flesh and blood?" Would you not answer then—perhaps less civilly than we wish to answer now—"All that maybe very fine; but the mind and opinion of one set of fellow-Christians are not to be overborne by the flesh and the blood of another set?" But see how perilous are the deductions to be drawn from an irrelevant platitude when it is used as an argument by a man in authority, and inscribed, as the very few Liberal journals which favour the Bill say that this platitude shall be inscribed, on the banner of Democratic Reform. I will assume for the moment—my right hon. Friend will pardon and correct me if I am wrong—that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not in favour of universal suffrage. But how can he oppose it consistently with his own inscription on his own banner of Reform? What has he to say to the millions who will ask him one day, "Are we an invading army? Are we not fellow-Christians? Are we not your own flesh and blood?" Does he think it will be answer enough to give that kind of modified opinion which he put forth last night, and to say, "Well, that is very true. For my own part, in my individual capacity, I cannot see that there is any danger in admitting you, but still you know it is wise to proceed gradually, A £7 voter is real flesh and blood, but you are only gradual flesh and blood. Read Darwin on the origin of species, and learn that you are fellow-Christians in an imperfect state of development." That which is an amiable sentiment when applied to the claim of all mankind to our humanity and compassion, becomes a doctrine formidable to those who dislike universal suffrage when it is applied to a principle of political franchise by the most conspicuous Minister of the British Crown. Sir, the most painful part of this discussion is that which is forced upon us by the Government statistics, sharply separating the working class from the rest of the community, and thus rendering it difficult to argue against the abstract, principle of Democracy without wounding the 1247 honourable pride of men with whom every employer of labour, be he manufacturer, merchant, or country gentleman, is brought into affectionate and familiar contact. Do you suppose it does not go to the heart of a gentleman if he utter a word which, either from his own defect of language, or from an unfair perversion of his meaning, hurts the manly feelings even of the humble labourer with whom he has formed an intimacy as cordial as any which exists among those equals whom he calls his honourable and noble friends? And what man of letters does not revere those lofty aspirations of the educated artizan towards a more perfect form of human society—which may, indeed, be Utopian, but which form an eternal link between the aims of educated labour and the dreams of philosophy and genius? But surely, looking to this present state of this workday world, it is no disrespect to the urban working class if, in their relation to the State, I object to cut out of them a rude slice, and, without any test whatever of intelligence, give to that slice a preponderating influence in the constituent body and the legislation of this complicated empire. Why, Sir, I should have the same objection to the preponderating influence of scholars and men of science, or of great merchants, or of a territorial aristocracy. Each of such sections, however indisputably honest and intelligent, would fail to represent that common sense of the common interest which is best expressed by the word "commonwealth," and which can only be fairly represented where the middle class is, on the whole, largely preponderant. Not that the middle class has not as many faults of its own as any other class above or below, but that, on the whole, it the most faithfully represents all the interests and opinions which constitute the mind and welfare of a nation, and the most felicitously reconciles the securities of order with the demands of freedom. And are men to be stigmatized as traitors and conspirators because they desire to preserve from virtual disfranchisement and political subjugation the middle-class constituents of which they are as yet the trustees? The Chancellor of the Exchequer lays much stress on the fact that all the working class do not pull together—that they are not all of one mind as respects politics. I do not say that they are; but I say this—that where the working class obtain a marked and general predominance, they cannot fail to colour and 1248 influence legislation, especially where questions in which they feel a special interest are concerned. All clergymen do not agree in politics; but if they returned the majority of Members, I fancy you would feel their influence in a division on church rates. All farmers do not agree in politics, but if they returned the majority of Members you would feel their influence in a division on the malt tax. All working men do not agree in politics, but as soon as they return the majority of Members, rely upon it you will feel their influence in those questions between labour and capital, between manufacturer and mechanic, between supply and demand, upon which the very existence of this commercial England depends. Even in foreign affairs as well as domestic, the very virtues of the working men, in their detestation of what they consider tyranny and injustice, would be a perpetual source of danger, did they return a majority of Members. The Member for Birmingham says, this Bill is wanted to save the country from the risk of war, provoked by the depravity of Tories. It might be answer enough to say, that all the wars in which we have been engaged since 1815 had their origin under Liberal Administrations. But what says the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett), who spoke on the first reading of this Bill with so much ability and promise? Why, that the working class would have gone to war with Russia on behalf of Poland. That is quite consistent with their generous tendency to side with the weak against the strong. A House of Commons, had the large majority been chosen by the working class, would then have wished to provoke a war with Russia. But a war more disproportioned to our powers, less sanctioned by our interests, and more vainly exhaustive of blood and treasure, the imagination of man cannot conceive. Why do such dangers never occur in America and France—countries in which universal suffrage is adopted? Because both in America and France the popular Chamber has not the same voice in foreign affairs, in creating Cabinets and determining the choice between peace and war. And the example of both those countries makes the fact clear, that in proportion as you lower the scale of franchise to the preponderance of the working class, the safety of the State compels you to limit the powers and authority of the Repre- 1249 sentative Chamber. Nay—if law did not, public opinion would. The more you lower the standard of the constituency below the average education of the country, the more you will transfer the intellectual power of this House to some upper Chamber, whether it be an English House of Lords or an American Senate. Take America itself. Everyman there looks, not to the House of Representatives, but to the Senate, on questions that affect the general interests of the nation. The Senate there alone discusses foreign affairs, and when it likes can become the executive, body, resolve itself into a Secret Committee, and exclude the reporters. The wise safeguard of America against her popular suffrage is in the scantiness of the powers she leaves to her House of Representatives. I dare say you might grant not only the £7 franchise, but even universal suffrage in this country, with safety as to foreign affairs, with safety as to making and unmaking Cabinets, and with safety to everything except genuine freedom, if you then left to the House of Commons as little influence, power, weight, and authority as are left to the Representative Chambers of America and France.
But, Sir, whatever objection there may be in the principle of this Bill itself is increased to an extent which no man can define by the mode in which the Government propose to deal with it. We are favoured with a volume of statistics, by which we are to compute how many boroughs will represent a majority of the working class, how many will represent a majority of the middle class, to what degree the balance between rural and urban constituencies will be disturbed or maintained; and yet it is perfectly clear that all our calculations may be made utterly worthless by a new distribution of seats and a new definition of the boundaries of boroughs. It is true that, before we proceed to Committee, the Government will favour us with their ideas on these subjects. But how? By Bills with which they do not intend to proceed till this Bill becomes law. What answer have you to the masterly argument of my noble Friend the Member for King's Lynn? "Supposing we were satisfied with the scheme submitted as to re-distribution, what guarantee should we have that that scheme might not be altogether changed next Session?" Possibly, during the recess, those "advanced Reformers" 1250 who advise Her Majesty's advisers may declare that a scheme much more comprehensive is absolutely essential, and Her Majesty's Ministers may think it necessary to listen to their advice. Possibly the material and spirit of the Government may be as much changed; next Session as by one lamented loss it has been changed since the last; and the Cabinet of 1867 may as much vary from the Cabinet of 1866 in its views of Reform as the Cabinet of 1866 has varied from the Cabinet of 1865. But the Government will, I understand, declare that, as it stands or falls by this Bill, so: it will stand or fall by its other Bills—that is, next year. Well, but if it carries this Bill and stands, before it carries the other Bills it may fall, or Parliament may be dissolved, and the whole question as to I seats and boundaries and remedies against corruption may be referred to new constituencies created by a Bill of which the only ardent advocates are in favour of electoral districts and vote by ballot. But if, having once passed this Bill and made it law, we were then to proceed immediately to the other Government measures necessary for the completion of their scheme of Reform, would this House be as competent, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer assures us to the task of making that scheme conclusive and binding? We should be literally Members without constituencies. We should i have extinguished our old constituencies, and be without authority to act for the new constituencies, that have never chosen us. Suppose we did deal with some 20 or 30 seats, and in so dealing failed to satisfy the next Parliament, chosen by a more democratic suffrage, would not our successors say, with truth, that when we extinguished our constituencies we had lost the right of representatives to prejudge questions affecting the electoral bodies to which we were without any existent responsibilities? And with what heart should we set about the most ordinary work of legislation! With what uncertainty of temper should we address ourselves, no longer to the men who sent us here, but to that Virgilian threshold of souls net yet launched into the world, whom we must seek to propitiate before they are even born! We should drag out the rest of our doleful existence like those monks of La Trappe who have no other thought but that of memento mori, and no other 1251 occupation but that of digging their own graves. Sir, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer must forgive me if I venture to doubt, whether there is an educated man in this House or out of it who accepts the validity of his reason—the want of time—for thrusting upon us this measure, isolated and detached from all other portions of a general scheme of Reform, and insisting that we shall affirm its principle without even a guess as to the constituent bodies to which that principle is to be applied. No, Sir; every one must feel that the true reason for this mode of dealing with the question is that which was so frankly announced some months ago by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, namely, that if the House can,be persuaded to pass this Bill in its simple and severe integrity, the Bill itself becomes the leverage for lifting out of the representation, whether in this Parliament or the next, many of the very Members who may thus be entrapped to their own perdition—many Members, indeed, whom a Bill for redistribution of seats may spare for the moment, but whom a Parliament chosen by the provisions of this Bill will sacrifice to the manes of those whom they have assisted to destroy. Indeed, I have observed that in all the public meetings held in favour of this Bill, no speaker has accepted the reason for not proceeding simultaneously with the question of redistribution, but every speaker has accepted the reason stated by the Member for Birmingham (often interrupted by loud cries from the body of his audience),—"Let us in, let us in, and we'll soon settle the question of seats." Sir, no one can blame the Member for Birmingham for the candour with which he avows his share in a conspiracy to which I will not be so discourteous as to apply the epithet of "dirty," but a conspiracy in which Members are to be allured to resign "this pleasing, anxious being," and kept so blindfold that they have even not the privilege to "cast a lingering look behind." But, with all deference to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I think the House has a right to complain of him that he does not imitate the candour of the Member for Birmingham. Sir, the leader of this House is more than the chief of party, more than the organ of a Cabinet—he owes a duty to the House itself, and in all things that appertain to 1252 our common existence we have a right to expect from him an ingenuous frankness, incompatible with these masked batteries and these crafty decoys into the dark. If there be among us any Members who, in voting for the principle of this Bill, will by the completion of the scheme it involves destroy their own seats in Parliament, I think they have a right to be so far warned of their fate as to have the scheme put plainly before them by the Minister who, in leading the House of Commons, represents that good faith and straight-forward dealing between man and man, without which no conceivable suffrage could make us the true image of the English nation.
Now, Sir, before I conclude, let me, with great respect, address a few words to those moderate Liberals who do not desire to be buried alive in that memorable tomb in Westminster Abbey in which the last of the Whigs is to rest, and his countrymen to be thankful that he can repose. To them I say, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, "Be wise, and be wise in time." Be wise before you cross the Rubicon and burn your vessels. There is a story of a famous French preacher, who, delivering a sermon on the duty of wives, said, "I see a woman present who has been guilty of disobedience to her husband, and, in order to point her out to universal condemnation, I will fling this breviary at her head." He lifted the book, and every female head present ducked and dived. "Alas!" said the preacher, "the multitude of the offenders necessitates a general amnesty." Now, I see a Gentleman opposite who is guilty of detesting this Bill, and yet intends to vote for it; and if, in order to point him out to universal condemnation, the courtesies of Parliament would permit me to fling these statistics at his head, so many heads opposite would duck and dive that nothing but a general amnesty could deal with such a multitude of offenders. Sir, I am the last man to disparage that loyal discipline of party by which we must all so often suborn our individual opinions to the decision of those whom we accept as our leaders. I do not, therefore, presume to impugn the motives of any fellow Member who, though detesting this Bill, yet intends to vote for it. But I believe that the respect and gratitude of that large portion of the Liberal public which is represented by so powerful a majority of the Liberal press, will be the reward of 1253 those who, on a question so grave, and of which the results are so irrevocable, prefer the welfare and safety of their native country to a blind submission to a Government that has not even the courage of its own opinions; for it does not dare to invite to its Cabinet the powerful orator who tells it the way to go; and thus, at least, make him responsible to his Sovereign for the counsels he dictates to Her Ministers. For ray part I can honestly say that, looking to the nature of this Bill, the mode in which it is introduced, and the arguments by which it is defended, my vote against it will be given, not as Conservative against Liberal, not as employer against workman, not as Englishman against Englishman, but as Englishman for the sake of our common England,
§ MR. J. STUART MILL
Although the question which will be put from the Choir relates ostensibly to the mere order of proceeding, it will hardly be denied, and least of all after the speech of the right hon. Baronet, that the question we are really discussing is, whether the Bill ought to pass. Indeed, the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn is the only speaker on the Opposition side who has argued the nominal issue as if he thought that it was the real one, or has even laid any great stress upon it. That noble Lord, in a speech marked by all the fairness and candour which were known to be his characteristics, and by even more than the ability—at least, by more varied and sustained ability—has said, I think, the very most and the very best that can be said in favour of the Amendment, considered as a substantive Motion. He has brought forward considerations well calculated to make an impression, but only on one part of his audience—on those who, though they may be willing to consent to some Reform, look with extreme jealousy on the most important part of it, the enfranchisement of a portion of the working classes—who regard this less as a good to be desired, than as a doubtful, perhaps a dangerous, experiment, and, tremble lest they should eventually find themselves committed to giving those classes a trifle more representation than they were duly warned of beforehand. What is the very worst extremity of evil with which the noble Lord threatens the House in case it should be so unguarded as to pass this Bill without the other measures of Parliamentary Reform by which it is to be succeeded? Why, it is this—that if 1254 something happens which it requires the most improbable concurrence of chances to bring about, something against which neither the personal honour of the Government, nor the inexorable dates fixed by the Registration Acts, nor even the expressed will of Parliament, if Parliament should think fit to express its will, can guarantee us; in this all but impossible case there may happen—what? That the redistribution of seats may, in spite of all that can b; done, possibly devolve upon a House of Commons elected under the enlarged franchise. Now, I put it to the noble Lord's clear intellect—and impartial because clear—is this an argument which can have any weight with anybody who thinks the enlarged franchise an improvement—who thinks it calculated to give us a better Legislature? If the Legislature it gives us is a better one for all other purposes, will it not be a better one for this purpose? If it can be trusted to govern us, if it can be trusted to tax us, if it can be trusted to legislate for us, can it not be trusted to revise its own Constitution? Does experience teach us to expect that this of all things is a work in which legislative bodies in general, and British Parliaments in particular, are likely to be rash, headstrong, precipitate, subversive, revolutionary? I think, Sir, that a Parliament which was cautious in nothing else might be depended on for caution in meddling with the conditions of its own power. Sir, this formidable one chance in a thousand with which the noble Lord threatens us, is only terrific to those in whose eyes the Bill is a rash and portentous transfer of power to the working classes. To those who think that the enfranchising provisions are good in themselves, even if there were no redistribution of seats, and still better if there is this phantom of evil has no terrors. And that I believe to be the opinion of the great body of Reformers, both in and out of the House. We are, I dare say, as sincerely desirous as the noble Mover of the Amendment, that family and pocket boroughs should be extinguished, and the inordinate political influence of a few noble and opulent families abridged. We are, I believe, as anxious to curtail the power which wealth possesses, of buying its way into the House of Commons, and shutting the door upon other people, as the wealthiest gentleman present. But though we are quite orthodox on these great points of Conservative Parliamentary Reform—and look forward with delight to our expected co-operation 1255 with gentlemen on the opposite benches in the congenial occupation of converting them from theories into facts—we yet think that a measure of enfranchisement like this Bill—moderate, indeed, far more moderate than is desired by the majority of Reformers, but which does make the working classes a substantial power in this House—is not only a valuable part of a scheme of Parliamentary Reform, but highly valuable even if nothing else were to follow. And as this is the only question among those raised on the present occasion which seems to me in the smallest degree worth discussing, I shall make no further apology for confining myself to it.—Sir, measures may be recommended either by their principle, or by their practical consequences; and if they have either of these recommendations, they usually have both. As far as regards the principle of this measure, there is but little to disagree about; for a measure which goes no farther than this, does not raise any of the questions of principle on which the House is divided; and I cannot but think that the right hon. Baronet, in introducing those questions, has caused -the debate to deviate somewhat from its proper course. If it were necessary to take into consideration even all the reasonable things which can be said pro and con about democracy, the House would have a very different task before it. But this is not a democratic measure. It neither deserves that praise, nor, if hon. Members will have it so, that reproach. It is not a corollary from what may be called the numerical theory of representation. It is required by the class theory, which we all know is the Conservative view of the Constitution—the favourite doctrine, not only of what are called Conservative Reformers, but of Conservative non-Reformers as well. The opponents of Reform are accustomed to say that the Constitution knows nothing of individuals, but only of classes. Individuals, they tell us, cannot complain of not being represented, so long as the class they belong to is represented. But if any class is unrepresented, or has not its proper share of representation relatively to others, that is a grievance. Now, all that need be asked at present is that this theory be applied to practice. There is a class which has not yet had the benefit of the theory. While so many classes, comparatively insignificant in numbers, and not supposed to be freer from class partialities or interests than their neighbours, are represented, some of them, I venture to say, greatly 1256 over-represented in this House, there is a class, more numerous than all the others, and therefore, as a mere matter of human feeling, entitled to more consideration—weak as yet, and therefore needing representation the more, but daily becoming stronger, and more capable of making its claims good—and this class is not represented. We claim, then, a large and liberal representation of the working classes, on the Conservative theory of the Constitution. We demand that they be represented as a class, if represented they cannot be as human beings; and we call on hon. Gentlemen to prove the sincerity of their convictions by extending the benefit of them to the great majority of their countrymen. But hon. Gentlemen say, the working classes are already represented. It has just come to light, to the astonishment of everybody, that these classes actually form 26 per cent of the borough constituencies. They kept the secret so well—it required so much research to detect their presence on the register—then-votes were so devoid of any traceable consequences—they had all this power of shaking the foundations of our institutions, and so obstinately persisted in not doing it—that hon. Gentlemen are quite alarmed, and recoil in terror from the abyss into which they have not fallen. Well, Sir, it certainly seems that this amount of enfranchisement of the working classes has done no harm. But if it has not done harm, perhaps it has not done much good either; at least, not the kind of good which we are talking about. A class may have a great number of votes in every constituency in the kingdom, and not obtain a single representative in this House. Their right of voting may be only the right of being everywhere outvoted. If, indeed, the mechanism of our electoral system admitted representation of minorities; if those who are outvoted in one place could join their votes with those who are outvoted in another; then, indeed, a fourth part, even if only of the borough electors, would be a substantial power, for it would mean a fourth of the borough representatives. 26 per cent concentrated would be a considerable representation; but 26 per cent diffused may be almost the same as none at all. The right hon. Baronet has said that a class, though but a minority, may, by cleverly managing its votes, be master of the situation, and that the tenant-farmers in Hertfordshire can carry an election. They may be able to 1257 decide whether a Tory or a Whig shall be elected; they may be masters of so small a situation as that. But what you are afraid of is, lest they should carry points on which their interest as a class is opposed to that of all other classes—on which if they were only a third of the constituency, the other two-thirds would be against them. Do you think they would be masters of such a situation as that? Sir, there is no known contrivance by which in the long run a minority can outnumber a majority—by which one-third of the electors can out-vote the other two-thirds. The real share of the working classes in the representation is measured by the number of Members they can return—in other words, the number of constituencies in which they are the majority: and even that only marks the extreme limit of the influence which they can exercise, but by no means that which they will. Why, Sir, among the recent discoveries, one is, that there are some half-dozen constituencies in which working men are even now a majority; and I put it to hon. Gentlemen, would anybody over have suspected it? At the head of these constituencies is Coventry. Are the Members for Coventry generally great sticklers for working-class notions? It has, I believe, been observed that these Gentlemen usually vote quite correctly on the subject of French ribbons; and as that kind of virtue comes most natural to Conservatives—the Members for Coventry often are Conservative. But probably that would happen much the same if the master manufacturers had all the votes. If, indeed, a tax on power-looms were proposed, and the Members for Coventry voted for it, that might be some indication of working class influences; though I believe that the working men, even at Coventry, have far outgrown that kind of absurdities. Even if the franchise were so much enlarged that the working men, by polling their whole strength, could return by small majorities 200 of the 658 Members of this House, there would not be fifty of that number who would represent the distinctive feelings and opinions of working men, or would be, in any class sense, their representatives. And what if they had the whole 200? Even then, on any subject in which they were concerned as a class, there would be more than two to one against them when they were in the wrong. They could not succeed in anything, even when unanimous, unless they carried with them nearly a third of the representatives of t1 e other 1258 classes; and if they did that, there would he, I think, a very strong presumption of their being in the right. As a matter of principle, then, and not only on liberal principles, but on those of the Conservative party, the case in favour of the Bill seems irresistible. But it is asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Calne, what practical good do we expect? What particular measures do we hope to see carried in a reformed House which cannot be carried in the present? If I understand my right hon. Friend correctly, lie thinks we ought to come to the House with a Bill of indictment against itself—an inventory of wrong things which the House does, and right things which it cannot be induced to do—and when, convinced by our arguments, the House pleads guilty, and cries "Peccavi," we have his permission to bring in a Reform Bill. Sir, my right hon. Friend says we should not proceed on a priori reasoning, but should be practical. I want to know whether this is his idea of being practical. For my part, I am only sorry it is not possible that in the discussion of this question special applications should be kept entirely out of view: for if we descend to particulars, and point out this and that in the conduct of the House which we should like to see altered, but which the House, by the very fact that it does not alter them, does not think require alteration, how can we expect the House to take this as a proof that its Constitution needs Reform? We should not at all advance our cause, while we should stir up all the most irritating topics in the domain of politics. Suppose, now—and I purposely choose a small instance to give the less offence—suppose we were to say that if the working classes had been represented it would not have been found so easy for hon. Gentlemen whose cattle were slaughtered by Act of Parliament, to get compensated twice over—once by a rate, and again by a rise of price. I use the case only for illustration; I lay no stress on it; but I ask, ought the debate on a Reform Bill to consist of a series of discussions on points similar to this, and a hundred times more irritating than this? Is it desirable to drag into this discussion all the points in which any one may think that the rights or interests of labour are not sufficiently regarded by the House? I will ask another question. If the authors of the Reform Bill of 1832 had foretold (which they scarcely could have done, since they did not 1259 themselves know it), if they had predicted that through it we should abolish the Corn Laws—that we should abolish the Navigation Laws—that we should grant free trade to all foreigners without reciprocity—that we should reduce inland postage to a penny—that we should renounce the exercise of any authority over our colonies—all which things have really happened—does the House think that these announcements would have greatly inclined the Parliament of that day towards passing the Bill? Whether the practical improvements that will follow a further Parliamentary Reform will be equal to these, the future must disclose; but whatever they may be, it is already certain that they are not at the present time regarded as improvements by the House, for if the House thought so, their is nothing to hinder it from adopting them. Sir, there is a better way of persuading possessors of power to give up apart of it; not by telling them that they make a bad use of their power—which, if it were true, they could not be expected to be aware of—but by reminding them of what they are aware of—their own fallibility. Sir, we all of us know that we hold many erroneous opinions, but we do not know which of our opinions these are, for if we did they would not be our opinions. Therefore, reflecting men take precautions beforehand against their own errors, without waiting till they and all other people are agreed about the particular instances; and if there are things which, from their mental habits or their position in life, are in danger of escaping their notice, they are glad to associate themselves with others of different habits and positions, which very fact peculiarly qualifies them to see the precise things which they themselves do not see. Believing the House to be composed of reasonable men, this is what we ask them to do. Every class knows some things not so well known to other people, and every class, has interests which are more or less special to itself, and for which no protection is so effectual as its own. These may be à priori doctrines—but so is the doctrine that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points; they are as much truths of common sense and common observation as that is, and persons of common sense act upon them with the same perfect confidence. I claim the benefit of these principles for the working classes. They require it more than any other class. The class of lawyers, or the class of merchants, is amply represented, though there are no constituencies 1260 in which lawyers or merchants form the majority. But a successful lawyer or merchant easily gets into Parliament by his wealth or social position, and once there, is as good a representative of lawyers or merchants as if he had been elected on purpose; but no constituency elects a working man, or a man who looks at questions with working men's eyes. Is there, I wonder, a single Member of this House who thoroughly knows the working men's view of trades unions, or of strikes, and could bring it before the House in a manner satisfactory to working men? My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, if any one; perhaps not even he. Are there many of us who so perfectly understand the subject of apprenticeships, let us say, or of the hours of labour, as to have nothing to learn on the subject from intelligent operatives? I grant that, along with many just ideas and much valuable knowledge, you would sometimes find pressed upon you erroneous opinions—mistaken views of what is for the interest of labour; and I am not prepared to say that if the labouring classes were predominant in the House, attempts might not be made to carry some of these wrong notions into practice. But there is no question at present about making the working classes predominant. What is asked is a sufficient representation to ensure that their opinions are fairly placed before the House, and are met by real arguments, addressed to their own reason, by people who can enter into their way of looking at the subjects in which they are concerned. In general, those who attempt to correct the errors of the working classes do it a3 if they were talking to babies. They think any trivialities sufficient; if they condescend to argue, it is from premises which hardly any working man would admit; they expect that the things which appear self-evident to them will appear self-evident to the working classes: their arguments never reach the mark, never come near what a working man has in his mind, because they do not know what is in his mind. Consequently, when the questions which are near the hearts of the working men are talked about in this House—there is no want of good will to them, that I cheerfully admit; but everything which is most necessary to prove to them is taken for granted. Do not suppose that working men would always be unconvincible by such arguments as ought to satisfy them. It is not one of the faults of democracy to be obstinate in error. An English- 1261 man who had lived some years in the United States lately summed up his opinion of the Americans by saying, "they are the most teachable people on the face of the earth," Old countries are not as teachable as young countries, but I believe it will be found that the educated artizans, those especially who take interest in politics, are the most teachable of all our classes. They have much to make them so; they are, as a rule, more in earnest than any other class; their opinions are more genuine, less influenced by what so greatly influences some of the other classes ߞ the desire of getting on, and their social position is not such as to breed self conceit. Above all, there is one thing to which, I believe, almost every one will testify who has had much to do with them, and of which even my own limited experience supplies striking examples, there is no class which so well bears to be told of its faultsߞto be told of them even in harsh terms, if they believe that the per son so speaking to them says what bethinks, and has no ends of his own to serve by saying it. I can hardly conceive a nobler course of national education than the debates of this House would become, if the notions, right and wrong, which are fermenting in the minds of the working classes, many of which go down very deep into the foundations of society and government, were fairly stated and genuinely discussed within these walls. It has often been noticed how readily in a free country people resign themselves even to the refusal of what they ask, when everything which they could have said for themselves has been said by somebody in the course of the discussion. The working classes have never yet had this tranquillising assurance. They have always felt that not they themselves, perhaps, but their opinions, were prejudgedߞwere condemned without being listened to. But let them have the same equal opportunities which others have of pleading their own causeߞlet them feel that the contest is one of reason and not of powerߞand if they do not obtain what they desire, they will as readily acquiesce in defeat, or trust to the mere progress of reason for reversing the verdict, as any other portion of the community. And they will, much often than at present, obtain what they desire. Let me refer hon. Gentlemen to Tocqueville, who is so continually quoted when he says anything uncomplimentary to democracy, that those who have not read him might mistake him for an enemy of it, instead of its discriminating but sincere friend Toe 1262 queville says that, though the various American Legislatures are perpetually making mistakes, they are perpetually correcting them too; and that the evil, such as it; is, is far outweighed by the salutary effects of the general tendency of their legislation, which is maintained, in a degree unknown elsewhere, in the direction of the interest of the people. Not that vague abstraction, the good of the country, but the actual, positive well-being of the living human creatures who compose the population. But we are told that our own legislation has made great progress in this direction ߞ that the House has repealed the Corn Laws, removed religious disabilities, and got rid of I know not how many more abominations. Sir, it has; and I am far from disparaging these great reforms, which have probably saved the country from a violent convulsion. As little would I undervalue the good sense and good feeling which have made the governing classes of this country capable of thus far advancing with the times. But they have their recompenseߞhabes pretium, cruet noa figeris. Their reward is that they are not hated, as other privileged classes have been. And that is the fitting reward for ceasing to do harm ߞfor merely repealing bad laws which Parliament itself had made. But is this all that the Legislature of a country like ours can offer to its people? Is there nothing for us to do, but only to undo the mischief that we or our predecessors have done? Are there not all the miseries of an old and crowded society waiting to be dealt with ߞ the curse of ignorance, the curse of pauperism, the curse of disease, the curse of a whole population born and nurtured in crime? All these things we are just beginning to look atߞjust touching with the tips of our fingers: and by the time two or three more generations are dead and gone, we may perhaps have discovered how to keep them alive, and how to make their lives worth having. I must needs think that we should get on much faster with all this, the most important part of the business of Government in our days, if those who are the chief sufferers by the great chronic evils of our civilization had representatives among us to stimulate our zeal, as well as to inform us by their experience. Of all great public objects, the one which would be most forwarded by the presence of working people's representatives in this House is the one in which we flatter ourselves we have done mostߞpopular education. And let me here offer to 1263 my right hon. Friend the Member for Calne, who demands practical arguments, a practical argument which I think ought to come home to him. If those whose children we rote money to instruct had been properly represented in this House, he would not have lost office on the Revised Code. The working classes would have seen in him an administrator of n public fund, honestly determined that the work for which the public paid should be good, honest work. They are not the people to prefer a greater quantity of sham teaching to a smaller quantity of real teaching at a less expense. Real education is the thing they want, and as it is what he wanted, they would have understood him and upheld him. I have myself seen these services remembered to his honour, even at this moment of exasperation, by one of the leaders of the working classes. And, unless I am mistaken—it is not my opinion alone—very few years of a real working class representation would have passed over our heads before there would be in every parish a school rate, and the school doors freely open to all the world; and in one generation from that time England would he an educated nation. Will it ever become so by your present plan, which gives to him that hath, and only to him that hath? Never. If there were no reason for extending the franchise to the working classes except the stimulus it would give to this one alone of the Imperial works which the present state of society urgently demands from Parliament, the reason would be more than sufficient. These, Sir, are a few of the benefits which I expect from a further Parliamentary Reform; and as they depend altogether upon one feature of it, the effective representation of the working classes, their whole weight is in favour of passing the present Bill, without regard to any Bills that may follow. I look upon a liberal enfranchisement of the working classes as incomparably the greatest improvement in our representative institutions which we at present have it in our power to make; and as I should be glad to receive this greatest improvement along with others, so I am perfectly willing to accept it by itself. Such others as we need, we shall, no doubt, end by obtaining, and a person must ho very simple who imagines that we should have obtained them a day sooner if Ministers had incumbered the subject by binding up any of them with the present Bill.
§ MR. LIDDELL
said it might appear 1264 something like presumption in him to attempt any reply to the subtle speech of the able logician who had just sat down; but he desired with all respect to ask him this question, viz. Whether he had not laid it down as an axiom, that whenever Parliament should proceed to consider the question of Reform, it should do so upon principles which it would be safe to follow on all future occasions? He desired further to ask, whether a bare rule of thumb reduction of the franchise was a principle it would be safe to follow on all future occasions, when further improvements in the representation of the people might become necessary? for if the hon. Member asserted that he spoke in direct variance to all his well-known written opinions—those opinions showed that his premises were unsound; and if so, what became of the elaborate argument he had built upon them? He would only say for himself that he was one of those who anxiously wished to see a settlement of the question of Reform arrived at, provided that settlement was based upon sound and safe principles. There would, of course, be some difference of opinion as to what were safe and sound principles of settlement; and it was because he could not find any principle of settlement in the Bill brought forward by Her Majesty's Government, and did see something like a principle of settlement in the Amendment of the noble Lord (Earl Grosvenor), that he preferred the Amendment to the Bill. He thought that the question stood in a position which could not be shirked or evaded, and which would force itself upon the attention of Parliament unless it was approached with a view to a final settlement. The question of Reform had been too long treated as a mere pass-word to office, and a bait to constituencies of which three-fourths were heartily sick, and refused any longer to be the dupes; though he readily admitted that there were some large constituencies in the country that really desired Reform. But what was the history of that? They were stimulated and guided by a number of enthusiastic Politicians, whose notions were derived rather from the platforms of the New world than the sober counsels of the Old world. These Gentlemen were continually saying that "something must be done;" they did not care how much or little was done, or whether it was done well or ill; but they were determined that something should be done, and the result was that a great 1265 number were willing to accept this Reform Bill. Now he had great respect for those large places which these hon. Gentlemen were in the habit of visiting and exciting, because they were great centres of industry, occupied by an intelligent, active, and independent class of men. They were for the most part situated in the North of England, and he was proud to stand there as the representative of some of them. But he respected those places for other reasons. He respected them because they had a grievance in the fact, that many of them were not represented in that House; and those that were in that position had the further grievance of hearing of discreditable transactions which were periodically performed in other places which had privileges that were denied to them, till the sense of local discontent became merged in the larger feeling of national dishonour. It was thought that those sources of national discontent were about to be legally removed by the Government Bill. Now, he wished to know in what respect the Bill would remedy any of these wants and requirements of the people. This was purely a franchise Bill, and did not in any way attempt to deal with the other matters which in the aggregate constituted a complete scheme of Reform. He did not wish to use exaggerated expressions in reference to this measure; he would not call it a revolutionary measure because he must admit that, as Reform Bills went, it was a moderate measure; but of all the epithets which had been applied to the Bill, the most inappropriate was that which had fallen from its own friends. They had called it "an honest Bill;" whereas he considered it an insidious Bill; and he had great difficulty in reconciling those terms. His reason for coming to that conclusion was, because while it professed to do one thing it asked the House to form a machinery to do another, lie considered it an insidious Bill also because of its unfair action upon the county constituencies. He was now about to speak of the landed interest. There was a great deal—he would not say of misconception, but of misrepresentation on that point. They had heard a great deal about "selfish landlords" and the "domination of broad-acred squires;" but happily not in that House, where such calumnies could be so easily confuted. He thought that the character of those men and their usefulness to society was too well appreciated by 1266 their fellow-countrymen, that he should defend them against any such charge. When he spoke of the "landed interest," he did not refer to the great landowners, but to that great aggregate of individuals whose capital and industry were embarked in the cultivation of the soil. Surely the man who held a lease of twenty-one years was during the period of that, lease essentially the owner of the soil. The land was a commercial interest, and on the whole the most important interest in the country; and it astonished him to hear hon. Gentlemen opposite, who represented another class of commercial interests, using every effort to sap and undermine the legitimate influence of the landed interest. He now wished to show that the effect of this Bill would be to diminish this legitimate influence. The Bill proposed to add considerably to the county constituencies, but in the greater number of counties that addition would be obtained from the towns, which would entirely swamp the votes of the real county voters. He remembered in the Reform Bill of Lord Derby, that an attempt was made to modify that apparent anomaly, but that was a portion of that measure of which he had not approved. He thought it was unjust to deprive men of a privilege which they had exercised honourably, and in their opinion advantageously, for the country; and therefore he had disapproved of that portion of the Bill; but that was no reason why he should now favour a proposal to increase that anomaly. He therefore thought that this was an insidious attempt to diminish what he called the legitimate influence of the land. He had spoken of leases and of the capital invested in them, and he would venture to remind the great commercial class that these arrangements had been entered into and these contracts made upon the distinct understanding of what was the amount of local and imperial burdens which the land had at that time to bear. It was a question which affected the whole farming interest of the country, and he warned the highest class of farmers—those of Scotland—how they allowed the legitimate influence of the land to be lessened. It was sometimes said that the landed interest was dominant in the House; but lie wanted to know what was the test they intended to apply to the representation? Was it the number of the population or the number of the electors, or was it the growth of wealth? Because, whichever test was applied, he could 1267 show that the claim of the counties for increased representation largely prevailed over that of the boroughs. It was a remarkable circumstance, owing no doubt to the Government having the interest of the boroughs more at heart than they had that of the counties, that they had to attribute the accidental omission of any return of the population of the counties later than 1861. In that year the population of the counties was 11,500,000 and the number of electors 542,633. The gross estimated rental of the counties in 1861 was £54,758,000. The population of the counties in 1831 was 8,689,000. The population of the boroughs in 1831 was 5,207,000 and it was now computed at 9,326,000: this showed an increase in the counties of 2,736,000, and in the boroughs of 4,119,000. It would be a fair estimate to take the increase in the counties at the present time at 3,000,000; so that at the present time there was undoubtedly a clear increase in the boroughs of over 1,000,000 of population. There were 542,633 electors in the counties, and 488,920 electors in the boroughs. But what was to be said with reference to the growth of wealth if that was a fair claim for additional representation? The gross estimated rental of the boroughs at Lady-day, 1856, was £31,315,000, and at the present time it was £41,680,000; being an increase in ten years, in round numbers, of £9,500,000. The gross estimated rental of the counties in 1860 was £54,758,000, and in 1865 it was £69,000,000, being an increase in five years of £14,250,000; and if they took the same ratio of increase for the next ten years the increase in the wealth of the counties would be £28,000,000, or three times that of the boroughs. He considered he was justified in using those figures in answer to any statement with reference to the dominant power of the counties in this House. Now that being the relative proportion in respect of population and wealth of the boroughs and counties, how stood the representation? There were 162 county Members in the House, and 334 borough Members; that was to say, the former had considerably more than double the representation of the latter. But this Bill did not propose to do anything to regulate this anomaly, neither had the Government held out a single hope that this anomaly would be attacked. He would now refer to the position of the future £14 county voter in little more detail 1268 than it had been done by the Government; and in doing so his desire was to speak of them with the greatest possible respect: he had no doubt they were pure, independent men, and worthy of possessing the franchise; but he must remind the House that they were small ratepayers, and, from their numbers, they would greatly outweigh the influence of the larger ratepayers; and in that respect again he thought he had a right to characterise the measure as an insidious Bill. He next came to the proposal with respect to the borough franchise, the object of which was to give additional power to the working classes. Now in speaking to this point he must again remind the House that he wished to speak of them as a body with admiration, and with that respect to which they were entitled; and it grieved him when he heard and read words used with reference to them which could be construed into a reproach to them or an insult to their feelings. He did not consider that they deserved it, and therefore he should scrupulously avoid any insinuations of the kind. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in referring to the statistics that had been laid on the table with reference to the borough franchise, had expressed his surprise that the number of electors belonging to the working class should be so numerous; but he (Mr. Liddell) was by no means surprised at it, because he had ventured on former occasions to assure the House that there was a larger number of working men on the register than they were aware of. He made that statement on the authority of witnesses before Earl Grey's Committee in 1860. The evidence given before that Committee was fully substantiated by the statistics which had been laid on the table by the Government. By those statistics it would appear that the working classes possessed already 26 per cent of the representation, and he had no doubt that their infusion into it was an improvement. He did not grudge them an iota of the power which they were thus enabled to exercise. He should, however, like to have an answer to the question—What was a fair share of the representation; was it one-fourth or one-half? Under the Bill as it stood the working classes would have a majority of the representation in a vast number of boroughs. Such, for instance, would be the case in Newcastle, Gateshead, South Shields, Sunderland—all boroughs in 1269 his own neighbourhood? Was that a fair share? Believing the working classes to be valuable accessories to the representative system, he would ask, whether the House was yet prepared to do them something more than justice? and, in so doing, to act unjustly by other classes above them. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Hertfordshire (Sir Bulwer Lytton) had truly said that this question ought not to be argued on the existing state of things, but on a state of things that might arise in a very few years, because under this Bill the working classes would in the end obtain the majority of the representation. The Chancellor of the Exchequer last night furnished an unhappy illustration when he referred to the Municipal Act, and went back as far as 1835. Now he need not have gone further back than 1850, because in that year was passed the Small Tenements Act for the better facilitating the collection of the rates. Under this Act the smaller class of occupiers obtained votes in municipal elections. The right hon. Gentleman appealed triumphantly to the House, whether in reference to municipal voting there had been any explosion or revolution, or any attacks on property. He (Mr. Liddell) was not aware that there had been; but there bad been a great amount of disorder and of improper practices. The other House of Parliament accordingly appointed a Committee to inquire into the working of the municipal franchise. A Committee of the House of Lords was a judicial tribunal, and it was presided over by one of the ablest statesmen in the country—Earl Grey. What was their report? They stated that the result had been in ton many instances to transfer the power of electing those who were to administer the borough funds from those who paid the rates to those who paid little or nothing, In some cases the effect of the Act of 1850 had been to cause the prevalence of drinking and treating among the class of small tenement holders. Another evil was stated by the Committee to be the employment of hired canvassers, who, serving as a cloak for bribery, tended to throw the control of affairs in these boroughs into the hands of interested intriguers and agitators. Now he had no wish to insinuate such a reproach on the class of electors this Bill was intended to include, as to suppose that they would be influenced by treating and other such in- 1270 significant matters which were practised as modes of corruption. He had no fear of the working classes, but he had great fears of their leaders; and he did foresee that the creation of these gigantic constituencies would lead to an enormous use of hired canvassers, and throw the conduct of large borough elections into the hands of interested intriguers and agitators. As for certain boroughs in his own neighbourhood, they were suffering materially from this change in the municipal law of franchise. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill) had argued as if they were going to admit into the House for the first time the consideration of the class of questions affecting working men. He would admit that it was desirable working men should be represented in that House; and, if necessary, he would support the creation of pure working class constituencies in certain towns; but he maintained that they were represented now. Foremost in the rank of those representatives was the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton); and this was the more creditable to him, because the working men only constituted one-fourth of the number of his constituency. There were other hon. Members also who paid especial attention to the interests of the working class. He (Mr. Liddell) was now sitting upon a Committee appointed, on the motion of the hon. and learned Member, to inquire purely and simply into the grievances of the working men; and there was every prospect that, whenever any serious grievance was shown to exist, it would receive a fair and generous consideration from the committee. He therefore de-denied that the interests of the working men ever had been, or were likely to be, neglected by that House. This belief was, however, quite consistent with the opinion that to introduce a very large body of the working men, and to give them absolute control in an unknown number of constituencies, was a step neither wise nor necessary. It was said that the statistics which had been supplied to the House were exaggerated from their including numbers who were not strictly artizans. Now, he thought there was a fallacy at the bottom of it which underlaid the argument about the working classes. He maintained that there was an affinity between the upper stratum of one class and the lower stra- 1271 turn of the other which connected the two, by which their feelings and interests were bound together. He was afraid that the only part of the Government Bill which he could approve was that which was scouted by hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House—namely, the savings-bank clause. The tendency of that clause was to raise the working classes to the level of the franchise, instead of depressing the franchise to their level. And that was the principle on which he wished to see enfranchisement carried out, because the process of elevation gave you the cream, the other as certainly would land you in the sediment. He remembered the Chancellor of the Exchequer's witty description of the two systems of direct and indirect taxation, wherein he described them as two coy damsels and himself an anxious suitor, wooing both; but he did not remember him to have said,How happy could I be with either,Were t'other dear charmer away.He was very much amused with the simile at the time; but he could not help fearing, from something that fell last night from the right hon. Gentleman, that he had been of late rather more than usual in the company of the indirect damsel, and that she had obtained a rather larger share of his affection. He wished, therefore, to ask the right hon. Gentleman—though he was sorry to say he was not then in the House—how long he thought he would maintain that equilibrium upon which he prided himself if he threw the majority of the voting power of the country into the hands of the working classes. He did not apprehend any revolution as one of the results, but he feared serious attacks upon our present system of raising the revenue of the country. Moreover, they might depend upon it that as soon as the working classes were enfranchised, they would find out their power, and Parliament must be prepared for questions being brought into that House which hitherto had been kept beyond its pale. They would have the wages question brought into Parliament, and he should be perfectly prepared to listen to any arguments on that question. It would be ah advantage to have that question transferred from the heated atmosphere of the workmen's meetings to the cooler atmosphere of that House. The object of all the combinations of which they 1272 had heard was to raise the rate of wages, or, in other words, to give less work for more money. Was it supposed that that cry would be confined to the working classes, and that it would not extend to the army—the navy—and to every branch of the civil service? They might chance to find that a popular Government was not so economical as some of its advocates wished the country to believe. They might find that Retrenchment would be rudely separated from its old associate, Reform. He repeated that he wished to see a settlement of this question, and he wished to see it done on the safe principles once laid down by the hon. Member for Westminster. He wished to see the abuses of our representative system reformed, and the anomalies in the unequal representation of counties, as compared with boroughs, redressed. The Government had had every opportunity of dealing with the question, and the responsibility of missing it must rest on their shoulders. He should vote for the Amendment, because he saw the principle of a settlement more clearly shadowed forth in it than in the Bill. He should vote for it, because he would be no party to giving to constituencies with one hand that which they would probably have to take away from them with the other; he would be no party to a measure which said one thing and meant another thing; and because he would be no party to dealing with a great question of this kind on a principle which had been condemned by the highest authorities, namely, the principle of the degradation of the franchise. He should support the Amendment in the hope that the good sense of the people of England would support their representatives in Parliament in that view. He could not conclude without asking whether they ought to be held up as fools and blind, because they saw through the designs of those who advocated this measure, and because they were patriotic enough to oppose them.
§ MR. HANBURY
said he thought the Government had acted wisely, honestly, and justly in bringing forward this Bill, and he should support it, because he believed it to be a liberal and honest measure. It met the wants and requirements of the country at large, and afforded substantial justice to the county he had the honour to represent (Middlesex). He did not complain of the opposition to the Bill, for it was not to be expected that 1273 the noble Lord, the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley), would support the measure; nor was it surprising that the noble Lord the Member for Chester (Earl Grosvenor) should not be in its favour, because the noble Lord, in a manifesto to his constituents, declared himself in very emphatic terms opposed to all lowering of the franchise. Under these circumstances it would, perhaps, have been better for the noble Lord to have recorded a simple "No" against the Bill than to have moved an Amendment declaring that the House was ready to consider, with a view to its settlement, the question of Reform; for without a lowering and extension of the franchise, how could there be a settlement of the matte.? The great offence the Government had committed seemed to be that they had not included in the Bill their proposal for the redistribution of seats. They naturally waited to see who were to be the electors before they fixed on the places. It was said that determining the franchise before redistributing the seats was like putting the cart before the horse; but it was necessary to know the size of the cart and the weight to be carried before the proper number of horses to draw it could be determined on. It would be a great mistake to suppose that the people were at all apathetic on the subject of Reform. It had been so often mentioned in the Queen's Speech, that they felt perfectly certain a Bill would be brought forward this year by the Liberal Government. But a challenge had been thrown out, and the events of the last fortnight. He thought, must convince every one that the people were in favour of the Bill. Many meetings on the subject had been held in various parts of the country. He knew of none in opposition to the Bill; but unanimous resolutions were passed in its favour. It was said the measure was incomplete, and the Cabinet had been indifferent. But the Government were now pledged heartily and firmly to the Bill—they would stand or fall by it; and that was the only proper and honest course they could take in this matter. The country, he repeated, was not indifferent, and he hoped the Liberal party would not be so. The Bill professed to deal with the simple object of lowering and extending the franchise. It was calculated to add 400,000 to the electoral roll—200,000 in boroughs and 200,000 in counties. There would be a large and 1274 important accession of electors in Middlesex, and these, he believed, would be as competent duly to exercise the franchise as those who now possessed it. He appealed to the House, whether the conduct of the working men under trying circumstances had not shown that they were fit to exercise the franchise? When Europe was convulsed, when constitutions were overthrown and thrones were tottering, and more recently during the cotton famine, the admirable bearing of the working classes showed them to be worthy of some increase of political power, They had fairly earned the right to share in the representation. If this Bill were rejected, a peaceful and satisfactory settlement of the question would be more difficult than ever, and the majority of that House would probably come back pledged to a more nauseous measure. If they only passed this Bill now, they would be enabled to see the number of electors in each borough and county, and the question of redistribution would become much less difficult. He would not now enter into details; these would be discussed in Committee. He would only say, in conclusion, that he considered the Bill thoroughly in accordance with the spirit of the times, and he should give it his hearty and strenuous support.
§ MR. SELWIN
said, he thought that if they looked back to the Bill of 1832, and to the history of the question of Reform, they would find little encouragement to support such an ill-considered and fragmentary measure as the present. No decided blot had been proved to exist in our present system of representation; no great grievance had been discovered: but to justify such a Bill both these ought to be patent to every class of the community; and then the remedy would not be a Bill framed to meet the grievance of one class or one. section of the body politic only, sacrificing all others to it, but one which from its justice and fairness would appeal at once to the support of all impartial men. He believed there were few persons who did not think that our present constitutional form of Government was the happiest that could be devised for this country, and that by altering its form they would imperil its existence; but he ventured to say that should this Bill become law, it would be the first step to revolutionize our constitutional form of Government. In dealing with a question like the present, they should seek to 1275 establish some basis on which men, irrespective of party, should, as far as possible, be able to act together. That basis could only be founded on the idea that Members should represent different sections of the body politic, and that the different sections should have as nearly as possible equal electoral powers, so that the one should not overwhelm the other. If they took that view the question arose, were those classes properly represented now; and if they were not, where did the blot lie? Before the Reform Bill of 1832 the landed interest had so completely the command of the representation that commerce and labour were without their share in it. Since that time commerce had exercised its proper share in the representation; and the only question now was, Whether the labour of the country was properly represented? The statistics laid on the table showed most conclusively that labour had at least a fourth of the representation. There was no evidence to show that the class of intelligent artizans considered their case as one of injustice, or that they required such an alteration of the franchise as that proposed; and till now there had been no objection and no petitions in favour of it. Occasionally spasmodic efforts were made to introduce Reform, but they fell to the ground from their inherent weakness; and they were revived only through a sort of dread that some political Statute of Limitations might be pleaded against them, or they might run the risk of the question passing into the hands of a rival. Throughout these years there has been no cry for Reform, and the letters which appeared in the public press from working men showed that they wanted not State Reform but individual Reform, and that they had no desire for the untried nostrums of political experimentalists. But they were told that advantage ought to be taken of the absence of agitation to pass a Reform Bill; and yet this was the very reason for dealing with the question in its entirety, and having a Bill laid upon the table after long and careful investigation, and not one placed as this Bill had been placed on the table of the House, almost in the same moment as the statistics upon which it professed to be founded; not one dealing with a mere fragment, and leaving the rest to follow in some far distant day, in ignorance when they did so follow, 1276 whether they would harmonize at all. But did the present Bill, this fragment, this abortion, this child of the great Reformer's old age, hardly to be called a child of promise, carry out the opinions of the great champion of Reform? Did not the Bill show traces that Earl Russell had yielded to the great democrat of Birmingham? In the discussions of 1832 Lord Russell laid it down as a rule, that representation and property should go hand in hand; and he justified the admission of half a million of town electors by assuring the House that they claimed the franchise not as their birthright, but because they had a great stake in the country, and were deeply interested in its institutions. He further argued that it was not intended that the towns should interfere with the county representation, but that if a large addition was made to the manufacturing interests in towns, a counterpoise must be found to preserve the balance on the side of agriculture. But if this Bill were to pass, where would such a balance be found, or who would guarantee that the agricultural interest would continue to exist as part of our representation at all. What would be the effect in' the county with which he was most intimately acquainted? In one division there would be an addition of 1,273 votes to a constituency of 4,904, and in his own division (South Essex), an addition of 4,838 to a constituency of 7,338. In both cases more than two-thirds of these additions were voters in towns unconnected with the landed interest. The result as far as his own division was concerned would be, to hand over at once and for ever the county representation to the large mass of town voters in the north-east district of London. Nor could he derive any argument in support of the Bill from the way in which the three boroughs in his county would be affected. In Colchester there were 560 artizans out of 1,424 electors; 563 voters would be added by the Bill, the greater part working men, and for the future tLere would be 51 per cent of this class of voters in the borough. In Maldon there were 479 of one class out of 859 electors; 222 new voters would be added, which would give 57 per cent of working men to the constituency. In Harwich the result would be a proportion of working-class voters amounting to 40 per cent. These figures showed that in Essex, at least, the franchise would be handed over to those 1277 who were lowest in the scale, and who he could not believe were proper recipients of the entire electoral power. If such was the case in one county, it might be reasonable to infer that the boroughs in many other counties would be similarly affected; and power being thus transferred from the wealth of the country to those who had the least interest in its institutions, he should like to know how many steps there were thence to universal suffrage and democracy. In the course of their discussions on this question reference had been made at various times to the cave to which fled the man who was to be the future rider of the destinies of his country. To that place came those who were discontented with the misgovernment of the land, and he fancied in the last words of the verse he saw a happy augury for the success of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stroud; for they ran thus—"and there were with him about 400 men." He begged to thank the House for having listened to him so kindly. Representing as he did a constituency which would be most seriously affected by the Bill, he could not give even a partial consent to a measure which he believed would be so detrimental to the interests of his constituents, and so disastrous to the well-being of the country.
§ SIR FRANCIS GOLDSMID
said, that the question appeared to divide itself into two parts: Is the Bill before the House a good bill as far as it goes; and if it be, ought it to be rejected on account of what it does not contain? As to the Bill being a good Bill in its main feature—the reduction of the borough franchise—the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his opening statement and in his speech of last night, fully made out his case for the admission, into the constituent body, of those who would be reached by the proposed reduction; and in the course of the debate there had been hardly anything like serious argument against the political capacity of the working men who would be admitted by the Bill. The hon. Member who last spoke (Mr. Selwin) had indeed treated the preponderance of the working class, though only in a single borough, as an evil; but it was generally admitted that that class should have representatives; and, even on the somewhat wide calculation of the noble Lord the Member for Stamford (Viscount Cranbourne), this Bill would give them the majority 1278 of voters as to no more than 133 seats. Why, upon the whole number of seats in England and Wales, this would allot to the labouring class a proportion scarcely exceeding one out of four. Surely that was no very alarming prospect even to those who were most afraid of the property and intelligence of the constituencies being swamped by the humbler voters to be now admitted. But that fear was not only not borne out by experience, it was refuted by all experience; and men who called themselves practical men ought to be the last to entertain it. Where would the landowners and the great employers of labour now be, if their influence in elections were merely proportionate to their numbers in the constituencies? But it was not so. Their legitimate influence depended upon causes entirely different: upon the efforts which they made for the welfare of, upon the confidence which they were able to inspire in, those beneath them; and he could not see why the same principles were not to operate after the passing of this Bill. He then came to the objections made to the fragmentary nature of the measure; and here he must advert to the arguments used by the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley), whose fairness and candour and love of truth induced him to make concessions that were all important in the discussion. The noble Lord admitted that the Ministers were not to blame for not having introduced their Bill sooner, that there was not time in the present Session to discuss a complete measure, and that the effect of the Amendment which he supported would be to throw the whole question over to another Session; and he argued that this postponement to the next Session was the right course for them to pursue. But if the Government had not time this Session to get a complete measure discussed, what other course was really open to them than that which they had followed? To have done nothing during the present Session would have been, as the noble Lord the Secretary of State for War had shown, to damage their credit, not in the eyes of their supporters only, but in the face of the whole country He observed that, when the Secretary for War used that argument last night, there was great mirth on the other side; but he also ob served, that when the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Huntingdon (General Peel) followed, he never, in the 1279 whole course of his amusing speech, attempted to grapple with that part of the Secretary of State's argument. The noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn saw nothing unreasonable in putting the measure off, and he referred to its having already been put off from 1860 as a reason for putting it off still longer. He (Sir F. Goldsmid) drew an opposite inference: he saw in this an instance how delay was used to excuse delay; and he would therefore say, the time we have already lost is the strongest possible reason why we should lose no more. Then it was alleged that this division of the Bill into two parts was a stratagem to catch votes, because it was thought that some would vote for a lowering of the franchise who would be alienated by a redistribution of seats; and the Government was warned that this was only a putting off of the evil day, because, when the redistribution came, the opposition to the Ministerial plans would be brought out. Well, if this were so, why did not the supporters of the Amendment wait for that additional support which they would be sure to obtain hereafter from those who were opposed to a redistribution of seats? The noble Lord had also argued that there might be a suspicion of hon. Members being rewarded for supporting this Bill by being favourably dealt with by Ministers in the scheme of redistribution. But, in the first place, while the noble Lord properly claimed for himself and those who were acting with him the most favourable construction of their motives, it was most unfair that he should, at the same time, cast such injurious imputations upon the Government. And, secondly, it was singular that so acute a mind as that of the noble Lord did not perceive that, if there was a determination to suspect, the same suspicion might arise in the case of a complete measure; and that it would be just as easy, should the Franchise and Redistribution Bills be united, as it was whilst they remained separate, to suppose (if you were inclined to suppose anything wrong of your opponents) that Members would be rewarded for supporting the Government by having their boroughs tenderly dealt with in the arrangements for redistribution. Again; an objection was made, that if a dissolution took place between the lowering of the franchise and the redistribution of seats, the appeal would be made to a kind of provisional constituencies; but no harm would come of this, and it was not an inconvenience 1280 entitled to any weight, since in all probability the provisional constituencies, though somewhat more extended than the present, would be somewhat less so than those which would exist when both measures should have passed. It was likewise contended, that if the reduction of the franchise and redistribution were to be taken separately, yet Ministers had begun at the wrong end. What were the reasons given for that opinion? It was said that the distribution of seats was fixed and rigid, while the franchise had a tendency to adjust itself, through the rise in rentals and the increased value of labour; so that thirty years hence a £10 qualification would be considerably lower than at present. That might be true to a certain extent; but after making all due allowance for the change in the value of money and the rise of wages in consequence of emigration, he believed that the self-adjusting-tendency of the franchise was extremely slow; and surely the supporters of the Amendment (which spoke of their being prepared to consider the question) could not mean that we were to wait thirty years for this self-adjustment. The other reason urged for attributing unfairness to the course taken by the Government was that the new voters in the old constituencies would be grateful to the authors of their political existence; and that therefore, if a difference were to arise between the Ministers and the House of Commons, and an appeal were made to the country, these new voters would give the Government a majority. Now, it was an odd circumstance that this objection would apply with equal force in the case of a redistribution of seats; for the new constituencies created by the measure would be just as grateful to the authors of their existence as the new voters in the old constituencies. It was clear, therefore, that the attempt to show that Ministers had begun at the wrong end was a complete failure. Another argument had been brought forward, under the guise of an illustration. It had been said, that it would be absurd to begin constructing a building, room by room, without an estimate and a general plan, and on the simple assurance of the architect that he understood his business. No doubt, if this were a correct simile, it would have great force; but he (Sir Francis Goldsmid) denied that it was by any means an accurate illustration, because it was not until the Committee on the Bill 1281 that any of its details would have to be considered; and then the required modifications might be made without undoing what had already been done. He thought he could suggest a more appropriate simile. Suppose they had a building to finish, and the architect were to warn them, "Let us begin at once, and proceed as far as we can; else the winter will be here, and the rains will be upon us before the roof is on, the workmen will be dispersed, and the work will be spoiled;" and suppose that a man were to resist this reasoning and say, "No; let us begin in all places at once, or not at all,"—surely they would not think that person was very anxious for the completion of the building. And especially would the architect's advice, and the confidence asked by him, appear reasonable if it happened that he was one who, thirty years ago, had ensured his fame by erecting a similar building, of which his opponents had then predicted that it was sure to tumble in and to crush all who might seek shelter within it, but which had, on the contrary, proved so commodious and healthful that its very commodiousness and salubrity were now used as arguments against its further extension. The noble Lord Stanley had warned certain hon. Members not to fly into the snare set for them. He (Sir Francis Goldsmid) believed the noble Lord referred to those who were afraid of their seats being affected by re-distribution. He (Sir Francis) would venture to adopt that warning, but he would apply it to a different class of Members, He would ask hon. Gentlemen who desired Reform, and who were exhorted to vote for the Amendment, to consider who were its supporters. Were they the persons who wished to have an extension of the suffrage only on condition of its being associated with a redistribution of seats? No; the bulk of those who supported the Amendment formed the party opposite, who in 1859 declined to extend the borough suffrage; and who, though they subsequently in some degree retracted their resolution, yet eventually retracted their retractation. The remaining Gentlemen who had declared an intention to vote with the noble Member for Chester were men who, like the right hon. Members for Calne and Stroud (Mr. Lowe and Mr, Horsman), avowed their dislike of a lower franchise, or who, like the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Marsh), believed that to increase voters was to increase bribery.
1282 Surely it could not be supposed that persons such as these would vote for an extension of the suffrage, even if it were associated with redistribution. It was hon. Members really desiring an extension of the franchise, therefore, who would deserve the appellation of "innocent birds," if, by following the noble Lord the Member for Chester, they flew into the snare which was set before their very eyes by the fowler. For his part he should decline to accompany those winged creatures in their flight, and should support the Bill, and vote against the Amendment.
§ LORD ROBERT MONTAGU
said he had no fear for the result; he felt sure that this Reform Bill would not become law, and lie was still more certain that the Government had no intention that it should. If the Liberal Ministry had been sincere Reformers, there would have been a Reform Bill passed, not now, but seven years ago. They had, however, so often broken their pledges, that the country now felt certain that they would by some means or other again wriggle out of the difficulty. The ÆÆthiopian had not changed his skin:—Men faithless once are ever faithless men;Give them but scope, they soon will turn again."All the Talents.In the year 1859 the Ministry had had a chance of settling this great question. A real genuine Reform Bill was put before them, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer warned his present colleagues, that if they did not permit that Bill to go into Committee they might never have a like chance again. He said, that if they allowed it to go into Committee, Lord John Russell would be master of the situation, and could introduce such amendments as would make the Reform Bill meet his views. But the present Government defeat the Bill and the Ministry which proposed it, and came in themselves on the Reform cry. Then they broke faith with a deceived people, while the cant of "gradual progress" covered their desertion of principle. Nevertheless, they found that Reform was a good cry. It drew a good house, and was a dramatic performance which paid; therefore they thought it prudent to shelve it, and keep it carefully for future use. They had not yet arrived at "positively the last night." The Government would still advertise the unprecedented run of the Reform burlesque, and the claquers and touters of the Liver- 1283 pool Amphitheatre would continue to cry up this dull and immoral farce. The Government having before abandoned their character in order to gain their power, would not now part with their power in order to regain their character. A great change was never lightly undertaken, because at the best it created a baneful disturbance of existing things; but in this case the greatest change had been rashly undertaken, and agitation had been purposely increased. Other changes, if experience showed them to be unsuccessful, might at any time be modified; but from a reduction of the franchise it would be impossible to retrace our steps. He felt certain, therefore, that the House would not accept the scheme until it was submitted to them in its entirety and the good object which would be attained was very clearly defined. Indeed, why should they do so? Was it because the House had for thirty-four years been so unwise and so careless of the interests of the people that it was to be summarily dismissed to the realms of chaos and dark night? Was it because the existing constituencies had shown themselves so lax, and had so abused their power, that they were to be rudely thrust from their power and position? The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in asking leave to introduce the Bill, had failed to make out a case for Reform. He did not advance a single argument, nor lay his finger on one solitary abuse. And why was that? The reason was that the scheme had not been framed after a due investigation of the facts, but had been elaborated from the exuberant, if, perchance, disordered imagination of the right hon. Gentleman. It had been drawn like German philosophy, or like the right hon. Gentleman's book on Church and State, from the depths of his own consciousness. Hence, when the statistics appeared they destroyed the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman, and cut away from under his feet the ground upon which he relied. And what was the standing-ground upon which he had relied? It was this: an empty, rhetorical declamation, uttered without consideration, and stated without exactitude, concerning the injustice of excluding the working man from electoral power. He had, forsooth, but a fraction, between a tenth and a twentieth, of the franchise. It had been said that this was the notion of the Government six years ago; but had it not been their opinion since that time? It was scarcely 1284 eighteen months ago that they were discussing the Borough Franchise Bill. On the 11th of May, 1864, the right hon. Gentleman, speaking on that Bill, said:—At present we have, speaking generally, a constituency of which between one-tenth and one-twentieth—certainly less than one-tenth—consists of working men. … As a general rule, the lower stratum of the middle class is admitted to the exercise of the franchise, while the upper stratum of the working class is excluded."—[3 Hansard, clxxv. 315.]That was the poetical notion of the right hon. Gentleman eighteen months ago; but now statistics prove, in most prosaic numbers, that the working classes possess more than one-fourth, or, to be exact, 26 per cent of the representation; and that in some boroughs they excluded the wealthy and educated classes from electoral power. What, then, did the right hon. Gentleman do in introducing the present Bill? He spent his oratory in describing the great scope and range of Parliamentary Reform, and left the country under the impression that he was initiating a vast scheme of revolution; he let out that he was commencing a democracy in detail, and that the change which he proposed would be not only great but reiterated; and that the agitation, always injurious, would be indefinitely prolonged. His first step, therefore, was to give to the working men 47 per cent, or nearly one-half, of the franchise; so that, at the present rate of augmentation, before his series of proposed changes had come to an end, and the concomitant agitation had reached its climax, the working men would have a clear majority in the representation over all the other classes together. Was that a statesmanlike plan to propose to any House of Commons? Would not the effect of such a scheme be this: any demagogue, by seducing the working men with his oratory, and putting himself at their head, could rule the House with irresistible power, and carry his democracy to any issue he might desire. When charming the multitude—or the few, he knew not which—as he stood upon the boards and trod the scenes at the Liverpool Amphitheatre, the right hon. Gentleman instanced the United States as an example worthy of imitation; and what did he say on that point? His words were:—The point I ask you to look at is this—not the comparative merits of American institutions, but the one single and important point of the effect that has been produced in America by a largely-extended population franchise, by a 1285 widely-spread participation on the part of the people in the choice of their governors the wonderful, the unexampled, the almost incredible effect that has been produced by that system of giving force of expression to the national will, and enabling the Government to develope the energies and give effect to the will, such as probably have never been developed in an equal time and among an equal number of men since the race of mankind sprang into existence.Yes; the extension of tin; franchise had given an overwhelming power to the Government. And how had that power been used? In suspending the Habeas Corpus Act, in violating the liberty of the subject, and in enabling the Government to set at nought both the law and the Legislative Assembly. Congress offered an idle opposition to the will of the President. How was it that President Lincoln was able to give up the Trent prisoners against the express direction of the House of Representatives? How was it that Mr. Seward was able to disavow the resolution of the House of Representatives concerning French intervention in Mexico? Was it not the power acquired by the population franchise that enabled the Government to develope the energies and give effect to the will, not of the people, but of an irresponsible Government? And how did the right hon. Gentleman continue? He said,—Well, Gentlemen, what I would say is, let us learn lessons where we can, and, among others, let us learn them where we can learn them from our brethren -the children of our loins in America.There was the "flesh and blood" again The right hon. Gentleman must have an enormous progeny scattered over the face of the globe. He continued:—Recent events which have taken place on the other side of the Atlantic have demonstrated to us how, by enlarging the franchise, augmented power can be marshalled on behalf of the Government.That was the very point—it was the lust of power which lay at the bottom of this Reform mania. If the House would permit him to make use of a far-fetched metaphor, he might say that the right hon. Gentleman was seeking to prevent the stream of Niagara from flowing in its wonted course in order to utilize that body of waters in turning his own mill. Let them pass to the second reading. The right hon. Gentleman's speech, in moving the second reading of the Bill, was not an attempt to convince them of the necessity for Reform, but to compel his followers to support the Government on a mere question of confidence in the Cabinet; nay, 1286 not so much in the Cabinet, as in the leader of the House. One among the very few arguments which might be discovered amid the desert of words was, that as the working classes had saved so much money, and had put it into the Post Office savings-banks, therefore they were entitled to a larger share in the franchise. He said:—We called upon them to be provident; we instituted for them Post-office savings-banks, which may now be said to have been in full operation for four years, and what has been the result? During these four years there have been 650,000 depositors in those savings-banks.But what proof had they that those depositors belonged to the working classes? Upon that question he knew of no better authority than the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself. In 1864 the right hon. Gentleman said at Buckley in Flintshire:—That £40,000,000 or £50,000,000 of accumulated money belonged to different classes of persons (including the labouring classes, the charitable institutions, to minors, and in some instances lo persons not poor at all); a great deal of it belonged to domestic servants; and, in fact, there was a very miscellaneous denomination of persons to take up that large amount of property; but if they took the artizans, mechanics, operatives, and peasants of this country—he meant the fathers of families of the labouring classes—he very much doubted whether one in ten of those families throughout the country had any deposits in a savings-bank. He might say, perhaps not one in twenty, and he was not sure whether the figures might not be placed lower.Then what became of the argument when it turned out, that of the immense amount in the savings-banks for which the working classes were credited, nearly all belonged to domestic servants, and not to the working classes at all? Were hon. Gentlemen inclined to put confidence in the Chancellor of 1864 or in the Chancellor of the Exchequer of 1866, for as they contradicted each other so directly, it was impossible to put confidence in both? His next argument had been in answer to an objection which he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) supposed might be urged on that (the Opposition) side of the House. He had fear of the mischief that might be done by trades unions, and of the great power which they gave to the working classes, because they not only had the weight of numbers, but the advantage of organization; and he anticipated the objection that the working men might unite their forces to exercise the electoral power which would be given them under the Bill? He said:— 1287Again it is said—at least I believe it has been so said—that where the working classes have a majority they vote together as a class. Now, is there any shade or shadow or rag of proof that such is the fact.He (Lord R. Montagu) would have thought that the existence of trades unions was a sufficient proof of the fact; but if additional evidence were required, the right hon. Gentleman himself would furnish it. In a speech to the working classes which the right hon. Gentleman made in November, I860—not so very long ago—he said:—If there be an apprehension that you cherish separate interests, disarm that jealousy by your conduct. Undoubtedly, some portions of the proceedings of the working classes are still open to criticism—namely, the attempts on the part of majorities to interfere with minorities.What was this but an attempt to force minorities to coincide in the opinion of the majority? It was an attempt to force all to vote as a class. The right hon. Gentleman, when addressing the working men themselves—when he made a most admirable speech to them, and gave them much good advice—did not forget to give them this important counsel, that they were no longer to join together as a class. Within six months of that time, however, he appeared before the British House of Commons and said, there was not a rag nor a shade nor a shadow of truth in that which he himself had stated six months before. The right hon. Gentleman then alluded to a matter for which he had no statistics, and instituted a comparison between the number of the working classes on the register in 1832, and the number on the register in 1866. There were no statistics to prove his assertion; yet the right hon. Gentleman said, on the second reading of the Bill:—It is said, however, that there is a rapid growth of the working classes among the £10 householders. But where is the proof of this assertion? I believe it to be undeniable, that the rate of progress in the aggregate number of £10 householders has been very much less of late years than in the first few years after the passing of the Reform Bill. From 1832 to 1851, while the population increased at the rate of 43 per cent, the £10 householders grew more than twice as fast; but from 1851 to 1866 the constituency grew only 50 per cent faster than the aggregate population, thus showing a great slackening as compared with the earlier period.Now, in 1832, some of the freemen and potwallopers were and some were not £10 householders; if all were, then the increase in £10 householders would only be 102 per cent; but if none were, then 1288 the increase would be 170 per cent, and the percentage of increase must be sought between those numbers. The right hon. Gentleman evidently had a hankering after the municipal franchise as a basis for the Parliamentary franchise, although he described the former as amounting almost to universal suffrage; and what had been the condition of municipal elections? The right hon. Gentleman stated that the municipal franchises were almost exclusively working men's franchises, and, after showing that the number of working men in the municipal constituency was 240,000 as against 122,000 non-working men, he exclaimed:—What a dreadful state of things! Yet there has been no explosion, no revolution; no question has been raised about property, nor, indeed, has any attempt been made to give a political character to municipal institutions.If the right hon. Gentleman, however, had gone to the fountain head for his information, and had consulted, the Report of the Committee which sat in 1859 upon the Municipal Franchise Act, he would have discovered the true character of the system which he so lauded. The Committee said:—Where the Act of 1850 has been carried into effect in such manner as to admit large numbers of small tenement holders to the franchise, it has caused a great increase of corrupt practices at municipal elections, which prevail much more widely and take much deeper root than was formerly the case. … Wherever the Act of 1850 has been carried into full operation, the lowest class of the population have acquired a predominant influence over municipal elections; treating, bribery, and hired canvassing have greatly increased; the character and dignity of the corporation is said to be lowered by the intrusion of unworthy members.After the declared desire on the part of the right hon. Gentleman to assimilate the two systems, it could not be expected that hon. Members should place any confidence in him. The Report of this Committee also corroborated the charges of venality, violence, drunkenness, and ignorance brought against the lower class of electors by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe), which the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had criticized so severely. The Report said:—Those wards in which the small tenement voters are the most numerous are the most noted for the prevalence of malpractices. … You will not get a vote unless you give drink. … Publichouses are kept open for ten days or a fortnight before the election takes place.1289 Again, they allude to:—Disorder and demoralization, fraud and impersonation, and the frequency of disgraceful drunkenness, and gross ignorance and venality of a large class of electors.The right hon. Gentleman said, Hear, hear!" appearing, indeed, to take pleasure in continually varying his character, contradicting one day that which he had stated a few days before. How then could they place confidence in the right hon. Gentleman? One clause of the Bill proposed to enfranchise occupiers who had compounded for their rates. With reference to this class the Committee said:—The evils produced by the operation of the clause which enfranchises occupiers whose rates arc paid by the landlord are so serious, that the Committee recommend that it be repealed. … The Committee are of opinion that as a test of fitness to take part in municipal affairs, as well as a security against corrupt and fraudulent practices, actual, direct, and continuous payment of rates should be the indispensable condition of the municipal suffrage.And yet the right hon. Gentleman proposed to insert into the Bill a clause similar to that, the repeal of which had been so strongly recommended by the Committee. In another part of his speech the right hon. Gentleman read a quotation from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire, and a saving clause which occurred in that speech was received with cheers by the Members on the Opposition side of the House, because it was felt that that passage governed the whole sense of the quotation, and gave to it an entirely different purport from that which was intended by the right hon. Gentleman. The Chancellor of the Exchequer immediately retorted:—You hail with satisfaction the saving clause of 'maintaining the institutions of the country.' But we do not ask you to sacrifice the institutions of the country.But what said the hon. Member for Birmingham, who had been called in as the adviser to the advisers of the Crown? In a speech delivered some seven years since the hon. Member said:—I have no object in making these observations but to show to the people that they have been deluded by the idea that they have a glorious—that is, an excellent—Constitution. The Constitution of this country, said to be of a King or Crown, Lords, and Commons, is, in fact, an imposture,—an imposture which I take it to be a part of my duty to expose. John Foster, speaking of the British Constitution, speaks of it as that canted and extolled humbug.'Ministers did not wish to sacrifice the in 1290 stitutions of the country, and yet they took for their friend and counsellor a man who called the Constitution of his country a "canted and extolled humbug." Now it might be well to refer to what the right: hon. Gentleman said on the subject of pledges. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in the course of his speech made use of the following words:—But let not the right hon. Gentleman suppose, and let not any member of his party suppose, that the retractation of pledges once given by a Minister of the Crown causes those pledges to be as though they had never been made. … A constitutional Government cannot go before the representatives of a free people to-day and say, 'I promise you this, that, and the other,' and tomorrow say to them, 'I have changed my mind and retract my promise.'He (Lord R. Montagu) had, until lately, been possessed with an unfortunate admiration for the right hon. Gentleman, which had led him to collect the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman, and study them in his leisure moments for instruction. The result of that admiration was unfortunate, for it led him to discover the constant contradictions into which the right hon. Gentleman had fallen. And he had seen that what the right hon. Gentleman said one year, he would utterly, totally, and entirely contradict the next. When he heard the sentence he had last quoted, his moribund admiration began to revive, and he had no doubt that it would have been altogether reanimated, had he not remembered that the right hon. Gentleman had pledged himself some years to extinguish the income tax in 1860; but when the year 1860 came he simply trebled it. In 1858 the right hon. Gentleman expelled his colleagues for truck ling to France; and in 1860 he concluded the French Treaty. He (Lord R. Montagu) was not going to argue against the French Treaty, but he was simply showing that an implicit confidence was not to be placed in the right hon. Gentleman. In 1857 he denounced the China war, and called it a "crime against heaven;" in 1860 he reviewed the war, and called it a "righteous retribution." ["Question."] That was the question which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had definitely put before them—whether any confidence was to be placed in the right hon. Gentleman? He would make one other quotation from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. The Chancellor of the Exchequer on the previous evening said:— 1291I sought for a description of it, and could find no other so applicable—with the exception of one monosyllable which I wish entirely to omit—as the retort of Prince Henry to Falstaff:—'These lies are, like the father that begot them, Gross as a mountain, open, and palpable.'[THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER: "There is no and.'"] No "and!" If the right hon. Gentleman could interrupt him, and exhibit so much accuracy when a conjunction only was in question, it was much to be regretted that the right hon. Gentleman had not been more careful when he misled the House upon savings-banks, the municipal franchise, and other important matters. There might possibly be below the gangway, on the Ministerial side of the House, some hon. Members who, while professing to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, still retained some small confidence in the right hon. Gentleman; but would they continue to do so? In his speech on the previous evening the Chancellor of the Exchequer said:—I find that, in the present town constituencies, there are eight boroughs where the working classes are in a majority on the registers. … I find that these eight towns return five Liberals and nine Conservatives. This then is the result of the working classes being in the majority.He moreover added the words (although they do not appear in the report), "Where the working class is the narrowest majority, there it is their (the Conservatives') seat. "He would ask what confidence the hon. Member for Birmingham could place in a Gentleman who proposed a Bill which would avowedly hand over political power to the Conservative party. It might be well, perhaps, to refer to the opinions of the hon. Member for Birmingham upon this point. On the 4th of January in the present year, speaking at Rochdale, the hon. Gentleman said:—I believe I have been told, but I do not attach much value to it, that there are persons who advise Earl Russell to have a £12 or a £15 franchise for the counties. … I believe that there are persons who think that there is something dreadful in a £6 franchise, and that a £7 or £8 would be enough. … I venture to think that if the Government yield to these propositions, they will be guilty not only of weakness, but they will show that they do not comprehend the position which this question occupies in the minds of their countrymen, and will prove that they are pedlars in politics, and not statesmen.If that were a correct quotation from the hon. Gentleman's observations, must he not be of opinion, that the right hon. 1292 Gentleman who introduced this Bill should be classed with those who are not statesmen but pedlars? Then at Birmingham, on December 14, 1865, the hon. Member said:—If of the five millions who are now shut out one million were admitted—you will mark the extreme, or, as some will say, the blameable moderation of that suggestion—but if only one million were admitted, would not the cry of the toil-laden and the suffering, which even now ascends to heaven, reach further and be heard even on the floor of Parliament.But to how many of these millions would the Bill of the Government extend the franchise? Why, not to 500,000 out of the whole number; and under those circumstances could the hon. Gentleman place confidence in her Majesty's Ministers? Upon the subject of the redistribution of seats the hon. Member stated at Bradford, in the year 1859:—Repudiate without mercy any Bill of any Government, whatever its franchise, whatever its seeming concession may be, if it does not distribute the seats which are obtained from the extinction of small boroughs mainly among the great city and town populations of the kingdom. The question of distribution is the very soul of the question of Reform, and unless you watch that you will be deceived.Reform is not a mere lowering of the franchise. The constitution of a kingdom is not a problem in arithmetic. He trusted they would hear no more of the votes of 50,000 being thought more valuable than the votes of 5,000, or of the representative of the smallest borough, or the largest city, being anything but a member of Parliament for the kingdom. It had been asserted that the proposed Bill would remove anomalies in the representation. If so, what greater anomalies could be found than those exhibited by a comparison between the borough and county constituencies? The population of the counties was 11,427,655, and the population of the boroughs only 8,500,000; the counties had 2,290,000 inhabited houses, and the boroughs 1,450,000. Then the rateable value of the property in the counties was nearly £56,500,000, and in the boroughs nearly £33,000,000. Yet 501,979 county electors returned 162 Members, and 499,668 borough electors returned as many as 338. Was not that an anomaly? he asked; and did the Bill propose to deal with that? Nay, the anomaly appeared still greater, when it was remembered that 25,000 of the borough electors voted for the county Members; and that some boroughs, such as Man- 1293 Chester and Brighton, turned the scale in the county election. But the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the franchise was a right and not a trust. If that were the case, it was clear that the suffrage should be extended not only to all householders, but to criminals, and paupers, and women, and children. Tin right hon. Gentleman had threatened them with the unhappy consequences which would follow, in the shape of popular distrust and discontent, if they were to reject the present measure; but the right hon. Gentleman had made similar predictions in the years 1861 and 1864, and as they had not been in any way realized, he (Lord E. Montagu) could no longer be terrified by the forebodings of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
Sir, I think the course of this debate has thrown great light, upon the character of the Amendment which has been moved by my noble Friend the Member for Chester. The Government has been censured in some quarters for attaching importance to that Amendment, for treating it in fact as raising a vital question, instead of accepting it merely as a friendly hint as to the course which they should take—a course recommended by hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House with a sincere desire to facilitate the settlement of this question of the representation of the people. But I appeal to hon. Gentlemen who have listened to the debate as far as it is gone, whether we did not take a proper view of that Amendment when we read it as designed to effect the rejection of the Bill?—and to ensure its rejection, not by direct means—not by the assertion of a principle opposed to that contained in the Bill-but by a Resolution couched in such terms as to admit of its being supported, as it has been and will be supported, by many hon. Gentlemen who, like him who has just sat down, are opposed to Reform altogether, by hon. Gentlemen also who are opposed to any redistribution of seats, and which might be sup ported at the same time by those who advocate universal suffrage and electoral districts. This, I say, is not a fail-way of meeting the Bill. There are indeed, in this Resolution, a few words which intimate a willingness on the part of the House to entertain the question of Reform; but these words to me look 1294 very much as if they had been interpolated after the Amendment was drafted. I refer to the words, "the House, while ready to consider the question of Parliamentary Reform." My noble Friend (Earl Grosvenor) says that the House has already shown itself ready to consider this question by the time and attention which it has devoted to the several Bills which have been proposed during the last thirteen or fourteen years. Does he introduce those words, then, for the purpose of pledging the House to consider this question of Reform in the same manner only in which it has before done so? And is this House in the future to be turned into a debating society, to discuss matters connected with the representation of the people, with the determination that no practical result shall follow, and that no final opinion shall be expressed on the principle of any Bill? The noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley) stated last night very truly, that a marked distinction existed between the Amendment now proposed and that which was proposed by my noble Friend, now at the head of the Government, to the motion of the right hon. Gentleman opposite I Mr. Disraeli), for the second reading of the Reform Bill of 1859. I thank the noble Lord for calling the attention of the House to the material difference between the two Amendments. The Amendment proposed by Lord Russell asserted a principle, and it asked the House to express its opinion as between the principle of the Bill introduced by the right hon. Gentleman opposite and that contained in his own proposition. The Bill did not contain any provision for the extension of the borough franchise by the reduction of the qualification necessary to give the right of voting in boroughs. The Government having said they had determined not to propose any such reduction, the Amendment proposed by the noble Lord was addressed directly to that point, and asked the House to decide between the principle which it asserted and that of the Bill of the Government. That was a fair and open proceeding; it raised an issue upon which the House could decide, and the House, did decide upon it. But what is the case now? The Amendment tendered for our acceptance leaves us entirely in the dark as to any principle advocated by those who support it. They might have asserted their adop 1295 tion of the principle of a reduction of the borough franchise, and they might have announced that they were prepared to agree to a redistribution of seats. But, as we stand at present, this Amendment may be agreed to, and the House would still be at liberty to reject the second reading of our Bill, even if it were offered to hon. Gentlemen in connection with clauses amply providing for the redistribution of seats. Indeed, the only effect of this Amendment if passed would be to add one more to the obstructions in the way of any Government proposing to settle this question of the representation of the people—a state of things which, I understood, every one who had regard to the true interest of the country deprecated.
Sir, on the Motion for leave to introduce this Bill a debate took place which was marked by the total silence of right hon. Gentlemen sitting on the front benches of the Opposition. In the course of that debate, which lasted two nights, they abstained from expressing any opinion upon the principle of the Bill, and abstained from giving the least intimation of the course which they felt disposed to take. The same course, however, was not pursued by other Members: speeches of great force and ability were made, directly impugning the principle of the Bill; and we thought, therefore, that on the second reading at least we should be met with some direct issue; and that, instead of the scene which was enacted in 1860, we should be met fairly, openly, and unambiguously, with some proposal that would enable us to take the opinion of the House. That course has not been adopted; those who have made speeches against the principle of the Bill shrink from asking the House to agree with their opinions, and, endeavouring to avoid any assertion of principle, strive indirectly to get rid of the Bill and to stop its further progress. We have now arrived at a point of this debate when the Amendment seems almost to have been forgotten. The noble Lord who spoke last (Lord R. Montagu) scarcely alluded to it; and in two remarkable speeches made this evening, to which the House must have listened with interest, one by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hertfordshire (Sir Bulwer Lytton), and the other by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill), the Amendment was 1296 passed over in a very few words, as if not worthy of real and serious debate. Both those speeches were directed to the main principle of the Bill, one being in direct opposition to the measure, and the other a most able, interesting, and admirable argument in favour of its principle. To the speech of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Hertfordshire the House, I am sure, must have listened with admiration, from the great ability which it displayed; an ability which must make us regret that he so seldom favours us with an opportunity of listening to his eloquence. But I deeply regret that the kind and generous sentiments expressed in part of that speech were marred by a thorough distrust of the working classes—["No, no!" and Cheers]—political distrust of them ["No!" and Cheers]; and that while speaking of them individually with respect, kindness, and generosity, his whole speech was marked by distrust of them as a body. ["No, no!" and Cheering.] That speech, I assert, showed an honest determination, according to the views entertained by the right hon. Gentleman, to exclude those classes, as far as he had any influence [" No, no!"], from any additional admission to the franchise. ["No, no!"] Well, I am glad to hear those denials from hon. Gentlemen. I presume they are expressing their own opinions, and that they are willing to admit the working classes of this country to an increased share in the representation. Let us hope that, before this debate closes, we shall hear from those who oppose this Bill how far and in what manner they are prepared to carry out that policy. My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill) took altogether a different tone. He did not flatter the working classes by ascribing to them virtues which, perhaps, are not to be found in any class of society, high or low. He told the truth with regard to them; and he demonstrated, I think, that the advantages to be derived from an extension of the franchise will not be' confined to the working classes alone; that we shall not—according to the light in which it is sometimes falsely put—be conferring a boon upon them alone, but that we shall be conferring a benefit on all classes of society by bringing into more direct intercourse the representatives of different classes. It is by treating the working classes 1297 with distrust and as a separate class, that you drive them into the combinations which we deplore and regret. However some of us may differ from the perhaps too sanguine estimate formed by the hon. Member for Westminster as to the probable results of the Bill, its principle I believe to be sound, and its proposals such not only as enlightened policy would recommend, but calculated to prove beneficial to every class of society. Now, how do we stand? I do not want to go over again the ground which has been so well occupied before by others, but having alluded to the Resolution of 1859, which stands recorded upon our Journals, by which the House at that time declared that no settlement of the Reform question could be satisfactory which did not include a reduction of the borough franchise, let us see what took place afterwards. The right hon. Gentleman has been often reminded of the declaration which he made on the occasion when the vote of want of confidence was moved after the general election. In asking for a continuance of the confidence of the House and the country towards the Government of which he was the leader, he declared in clear and unambiguous terms, that he was prepared to give effect to what was admitted to be the verdict of the country, and to bring in a Bill conferring with no sparing hand, and in no illusory manner, the franchise upon the working classes. The Government was changed; and the Government of Lord Palmerston which succeeded, in fulfilment of the pledge given, did lay before the House a measure calculated to give effect to the principle which the House had approved, and to which the right hon. Gentleman had signified his adhesion. That Bill was read a second time unanimously,—not a single Member ventured to invite the House to dissent from its principle. There were, however, most protracted debates on the subject. [Much Laughter. and Cheering from the Opposition Benches.] Hon. Gentlemen may laugh, but none of them ventured to raise a direct issue on the Bill. [Renewed Laughter.] That sneer, I suppose, insinuates that the House objected to the principle of the Bill. Will any Gentleman, then a Member of the House, say that he opposed the principle of the measure? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the 1298 University of Dublin (Mr. Whiteside), whom I see opposite and who cheers, who takes a prominent share in our discussions, was present—why did he not, as is his course on most occasions, fairly and openly ask the House for their opinion on the second reading, whether the principle of the Bill should be affirmed or not? I presume we shall hear his opinions by and by, declared openly and manfully according to his habit. On that occasion he affirmed by his silence the principle of the Bill. I should like to ask him now to what extent he is prepared to admit the principle, that the working classes ought to be admitted to the exercise of the franchise? That Bill was read a second time so late in the year, and so many Amendments were proposed on going into Committee—[Laughter and Cheers.] Hon. Members may triumph, if they please, in the success of their tactics. [Loud Cheers.] They were not open or manly tactics [Cheers, and Cries of "Oh, oh!"],—that the Government found that although the House had conceded the principle of the Bill, they were not disposed to allow it to become law. The noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn wants to know why we are in such haste to bring in a Bill now? I will tell him why, though I do not admit that we are in any haste. Looking back on the proceedings of the House in the year 1860, the Government, after full deliberation, came to the conclusion that it would be useless in the same House of Commons again to propose a Bill founded on the same principle as the Bill of 1860, and accordingly they did not think it their duty to introduce a measure which might have been met in a similar manner, and the discussion of which could only tend to obstruct other business, without leading to any practical result. The subject, however, was brought under the notice of Parliament in various forms by independent Members, and it became my duty at the close of the Session, in the absence of Lord Palmerston and at the request of my colleagues, to state the views of the Government with regard to Reform. I then stated, in the name and on the part of the Government, and by desire of Lord Palmerston, that the Government adhered to the principle that any Bill for the Amendment of the representation of the people must be founded on the reduction of the borough, franchise. I 1299 therefore voted in favour of the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, stating at the same time, that we were not bound by any vote we might give as to the particular amount to which the qualification ought to be reduced. And I stated also that in our future conduct we should be governed by considerations which must guide every Government in dealing with this question—namely, by the prospect of a satisfactory settlement of this question. Then came the Elections. We have been told by the right hon. the gallant Gentleman opposite (General Peel), that the cry was "Lord Palmerston and no Reform!" I do not know whether I read the address of the hon. and gallant General to his constituents at Huntingdon; but this I know, that I did read many addresses of hon. Gentlemen—and not on this side of the House merely—and I must say that the majority of those returned to Parliament pledged themselves in their addresses to consider the question of Reform with a view to its final and satisfactory settlement. Well, then, we are asked why we are in such haste to bring in a Reform Bill? I may say, for myself, that before we suffered the irreparable loss of Lord Palmerston, I entertained and expressed the opinion in the month of August last that, taking into view the addresses of Members to their constituents, and looking to the tone and temper of the country, which, though opposed to any extreme measure, was favourable to a moderate scheme for the settlement of this question, it would be the duty of the Government in the present Session no longer to allow this question to be trifled with, to be kept dangling before the eyes of the country, and to be bandied from one side of the House to the other; but that it would be our duty to attempt a settlement of the question. We did, during the recess, consider the principle on which we ought to propose a settlement of it, and bearing in mind what had taken place before—the repeated and what may be considered the unanimous declarations of this House on the subject—we had no hesitation in framing our Bill on the principle of a reduction of the qualifications for the exercise of the franchise in counties and boroughs. The extent to which that reduction should go of course engaged the attention of the Government. We took pains to acquire information on all particulars bearing on this question 1300 before we came to a final decision, and having given the subject the most mature consideration, we determined to bring forward the Bill, which is now submitted to the House. Our object in framing the Bill was to comprise in the number of those admitted to the exercise of the franchise as many as possible of those who are now excluded, regard being had to the general interests of the country, and to the necessity of guarding against any one class acquiring an overwhelming power in returning Members to that House. I believe the admission to the franchise of those who will obtain votes under this Bill will tend to strengthen the Constitution and to give increased stability to our institutions. We cannot overlook the general improvement which has taken place during the last thirty years in the character, the knowledge, the information, of the working classes, and all that has been done by Parliament to promote their education; and when I speak of education, I refer not only to that education which is acquired by children in schools, but to that self-education, that self-improvement in after life, through those means which have been placed within the reach of the working classes, and of which they have so largely availed themselves. Neither can we fail to take into account the conduct of the working classes, presenting such a gratifying contrast to what their conduct was thirty years ago. Every one knows what their behaviour was in Lancashire during the severe trial inflicted on them when, at the time of the war in America, they were subjected to the most severe deprivations. Their conduct on that occasion has been spoken of by both sides of the House with respect and admiration. But is this to be confined to words only, and is the advance in the character and intelligence of the working classes during the last thirty years to have no practical effect in leading us to enlarge the basis of the franchise? No doubt we had to consider, and did consider, whether we ought to introduce, in one and the same Bill, the extension of the franchise and the redistribution of seats, or whether we ought to deal with these subjects separately. We came to the deliberate decision that, in adopting the course we have adopted, we should best secure the accomplishment of the object we had in view—namely, the satisfactory settlement of the question. We believe that we have 1301 taken a course best calculated to lead to a settlement which, in our opinion, is essential to the best interests of the country. [Laughter from the Opposition.] It is very well to laugh at the idea of a settlement of this question; but I submit, Sir, that this is a matter which deserves our serious attention. A good deal has been said about physical force; but there has not been the slightest evidence of a disposition on the part of the working classes to resort to physical force in reference to this question. And the reason is this—they know what this House has done for them; they have confidence in this House; they trust to our justice; and, therefore, they feel they would only be disgracing themselves and injuring their cause by resorting to anything like physical force. But are you, therefore, to reject their claims because they are not enforced in a way which every one would condemn and regret? Ought you not rather by conceding those claims to encourage the working classes to continue their confidence in Parliament? Well, I have said that we thought the course we took in separating the subjects of an extension of the franchise and a redistribution of seats would best conduce to the settlement of the question. ["No!"] The hon. Gentleman may say "No." That may be his opinion; but I am stating in answer to the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn, the reasons we had for the course which we adopted. The noble Lord said that the obvious course would be to take the redistribution of seats first and to take the extension of the franchise afterwards. But I think if we had done so we should only have exposed ourselves to ridicule. We should have been told, and told justly, that we were trifling with the question. The noble Lord says, that the proposed extension of the franchise will most affect the largest constituencies; and he rather indicated that a division of the constituency in some of the large towns would become necessary. I say, that if such be the ease, it is necessary for us to determine what our constituencies are to be before we determine the allotment and number f representatives. Though there is no necessary connexion between the two branches of the question, I admit that a complete measure for the representation of the pen pie requires that a redistribution of the seats should be dealt with to a certain ex tent, as well as the franchise. At the same time I agree with the hon. Member 1302 for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill), that an extension of the franchise would be a great benefit to the country, and would improve the constitution of the House, even though there were to lie no redistribution of seats. But I also agree that the complete question of Reform cannot be satisfactorily settled unless the whole subject is dealt with as well as the franchise.
Coming to the course taken by the Government since the Bill was laid on the table, when it appeared that it was the desire of many Members who were anxious to see a measure of Reform carried, that the opinion of the Government with respect to the redistribution of seats should be known to the House, we felt bound to defer to that desire: we have promised that before we go into committee on this Bill, the Bill for the Redistribution of Seats shall be laid on the table; but we say we have a right to ask for the opinion of the House on the principle of the Bill now before them for the reduction of the franchise. I think every Member of the House who has spoken in favour of the Amendment, with the exception of the noble lord, the Member for King's Lynn, has expressed in unmistakable language his opposition to the principle of this Bill. [Cries of "No!" from the Opposition.] I am glad to hear that "No;" and I hope that, in the course of the debate, we shall learn that the opinion of those who utter it is not in accordance with that of the hon. Members who have supported the Amendment up to the present time. The noble Lord (Lord Stanley) in his able speech referred to a speech which he delivered at King's Lynn in the course of last summer, for the purpose of showing that his opinion about the redistribution of seats had not been taken up for party purposes. No one would suspect the noble Lord of taking the question up for party purposes; but lie will correct me if 1 am wrong in stating, that in his speech at King's Lynn lie did express himself as being opposed to any reduction of the borough franchise. If that be true, I fear, notwithstanding the reticence of the noble Lord in this House, he too is opposed to the principle of the Bill, though he now shrinks from the express avowal that he is so. I perceive that the noble Lord doc-not dissent from what I have said as to the opinion he expressed at King's Lynn. I only hope, from tin speech of the noble Lord on this occasion, that he is reconsidering the 1303 opinion he formerly expressed; in which case we may hereafter number him among those supporting the principle of the Bill. I think, then, we have a right to ask the House to express a clear opinion on this Bill. The Bill is regarded by numbers throughout the country as one which affords evidence of a sincere and honest desire on the part of the Government to settle this question. And it is a dangerous thing—I am far from using the words by way of threat, but I think it must stand to reason that it is dangerous—to trifle with such a question, and that it would be very undesirable to postpone, for an indefinite time, the settlement of it; and I submit that the adoption of my noble Friend's (Earl Grosvenor's) Amendment could have no other effect than such an indefinite postponement. He himself declared his opposition to a reduction of the franchise; but he used these remarkable words, "that there was no possibility of a Reform Bill being passed till the question was taken out of the domain of party." He said also, that it would be impossible to pass a Reform Bill till the Government fully met the feelings and opinions of the Gentlemen sitting behind them, and also the feelings and opinions of the Gentlemen who sit on the opposite side of the House. Now, Sir, I think this debate shows there is an irreconcilable difference between one side and the other on this subject; and that if we wait till we can all agree on a measure, we shall have to remain for an indefinite time without a Reform Bill. I therefore think I am justified in saying, that the Resolution of the noble Lord leads to an indefinite postponement of the settlement of the question.
The noble Lord referred to a mode of dealing with this question which has been suggested by one for whose talents and devotion to the interests of his countrymen I have the highest respect and admiration (Earl Grey); but I must say it appears to me that his proposal is utterly inconsistent with the practice of our Constitution, and that it would be impossible for any Government to adopt it which had any regard to the position which it occupies. According to that plan, the authorship of which we all know, we are asked to invite right hon. Gentlemen opposite, the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire for instance, and the right hon. and gallant Member for Huntingdon, to sit with us as Privy Councillors in a private room, to 1304 consider together what should be the basis and provisions of a Reform Bill. All the rest of the world is to be shut out. The Government are not to act on their own responsibility, but the responsibility is to be divided with the leading members of the Opposition, who are to consult with them as to the principles of some measure, which it is supposed may then be passed with the general concurrence of all parties. Sir, I have always thought that it was the office of the Opposition to criticize publicly the acts of the Government; and I do not think that, with any regard to our own character and position, we could invite right hon. Gentlemen opposite to meet and discuss in that manner, the principles upon which any such Bill should be framed. And with whom are we to do this? I mentioned the right hon. and gallant Member for Huntingdon (General Peel) just now; and I ask, what prospect is there that, with his avowed views on this question, if he were to discuss the matter in a private room with Lord Russell and Gentlemen on this side, they would be able to come to an agreement as to the principles on which a measure of Reform should be founded? That right hon. and gallant Gentleman made a very remarkable speech last night; and here I must observe that there does not appear to be much unanimity among hon. Gentlemen opposite. The noble Lord shakes his head, and I do not know whether he means to contradict me; but the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn said yesterday—and I heard it with pleasure, though not with surprise—that he regarded the Reform Act of 1832 as a great and wise measure. But when it came to the turn of his right hon. and gallant colleague who sits beside him to speak, he said he was against the Bill altogether; that he did not want any Reform; and he asked, "Why, what did the Reform Act of 1832 do for the country?" The Act of 1832, he told us, had added twenty millions to our taxation and expenditure. He appeared to wish us to retrace our steps; and how, therefore, could we expect him to join with us in taking a single step in what he regards as entirely a wrong direction? Sir, I deny altogether that that increase of twenty millions to the national expenditure was the result of the Reform Act of 1832; and, when the right hon. and gallant Gentleman implies that it was, I should like to ask him whether he has ever given his vote in this 1305 House in any case for a reduction of our establishments, and whether he and his colleagues have ever hesitated to support when out of office, or to propose when in office, even at an increased cost to the public, armaments which they must have deemed essential to the interests, the honour, and the safety of the country? Well, then, was it not unjust and ungenerous in him to insinuate that that increase in the Estimates to which he and his friends have been willing, and I am bound to believe, from a sense of duty, willing parties, was the result of the Reform Act of 1832? Although that Act widened very greatly the basis of the representation, and placed much power in the hands of the middle classes, that power has been exercised in a manner which cannot be regarded as having in any degree impaired the welfare, the honour, or the safety of the country. Without entering into the particular items of that increased expenditure, but looking at it generally, and assuming, as I have a right to assume, that it has been essential to the interests and the security of the country, I say it would be more reasonable and consistent in us, from the experience of the past, to go a step further in widening the basis of the representation, when what was done in 1832 has so much promoted the prosperity and well-being of the nation. But the right hon. and gallant Gentleman forgot to mention the great reductions of taxation which have taken place since the Act of 1832 was passed. He forgot all that financial and commercial policy the benefits of which the people are reaping every day of their lives, and which they are more and more appreciating, owing to the wise system of legislation adopted by successive Reformed Parliaments. Well; but the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is one of those counsellors whom we are to invite to join us round a table to discuss and agree upon the principles of another Reform Bill. Sir, I can hardly think that anybody believes such a scheme as that to be practical; and with every respect to its author, I must repeat what my noble Friend referred to as having been said by me on a former occasion, that it is not only an Utopian scheme, but one which, if attempted to be adopted, would lead to the indefinite postponement of a great and grave question, the settlement of which is necessary to the best interests of the country. I do not 1306 mean to say that no compromise on mere minor details could be arrived at by free and fair discussion with those who may differ from us; but all such compromises, if they take place, whether upon principles or upon details, should take place in the face of day, and should be the legitimate result of full and open discussion, in which case only could they offer a reasonable prospect of such a settlement as would be satisfactory to the country. You may condemn our course if you like; but if I you choose to do so, do it openly. Do not, without even saying that you wish for a redistribution of seats, propose a Motion which only shows that you wish to embarrass the Government and to frustrate the settlement of this great question. By such a Motion you can only add to the difficulty of carrying the Bill, while you cautiously abstain from pledging yourselves to or indicating any definite opinions as to the principles on which this question should be dealt with. I say, Clearly avow the principles on which you wish to proceed: and let the House choose between those principles and ours." I have no complaint against a Resolution if it distinctly expresses the opinions and intentions of those who propose and those who support it. Let such a resolution be proposed, and then let the House fairly pronounce between the principles of such a Resolution and the principles embodied in the Bill of the Government. We are quite ready to bow to its decision; and if that decision should be against us, let those who may adopt that Resolution take such means as may seem to them most conducive to the proper settlement of this question in accordance with their avowed principles.
§ MR. LAING
said, that the speakers from the Treasury Bench appeared to him to find it much easier to assume that the Resolution of the noble Lord (Earl Grosvenor) meant something different from what it said, than to meet it according to the plain, ordinary English of its words, and confute by fair reasoning the proposition which it laid down. Surely the proposition that the great Reform Settlement of 1832 should be reopened only by a measure as complete and as comprehensive, and which should afford an equal chance of a permanent and lasting adjustment, was not so entirely unreasonable as that those who advocated it should be subjected to the insinuation that they were putting forward 1307 something which they did not care to avow openly, and something different from their real meaning. Those who had listened to the able and argumentative speech of the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley) must feel that it was easier to attempt to turn the flank of such a Resolution by imputing improper motives to its supporters, than to combat the powerful reasons by which it could be defended with fair and open argument. As to the assertion that those who on that (the Ministerial) side conscientiously advocated the view that for a settlement of the question the measure ought to be complete and comprehensive, were acting with other Gentlemen who entertained opinions and sentiments not entirely in accordance with their own—surely that was an argument which applied equally to those who were supporting the second reading of that Bill. In what respect did the former differ more from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State on the merits of the Reform Act of 1832, than the right hon. Gentleman himself differed from the hon. Member for Birmingham, who said that the Reformed Parliament was "never hearty in any good work." However, as the meaning of the Amendment had been disputed, he must begin by endeavouring to make it as clear as it was possible to do. What it meant was, not that there should be no Reform Bill at all, but it did mean that the question of Reform should be treated in a complete and comprehensive manner. He (Mr. Laing) said it did not mean that there should be no Reform Bill at all, because he was sure there was no Member on either side of the House, having the slightest acquaintance with the political situation, who could feel the remotest doubt that the question of Reform having been raised in the way it had been, must now be dealt with and settled. The meaning of the Amendment had been disputed, but he understood the questions before the House to be,—Could Reform be taken up piecemeal? Should it be dealt with by a partial, measure to be passed during the present Session in the prospect of a continued agitation throughout the recess with respect to a more important portion of it standing over till another year? Or, should it be dealt with once for all in a complete and comprehensive measure, which would afford a fair ground for 1308 hope that a final settlement of the matter would be effected by it? The question was not, should there be Reform or no Reform; but, that question being raised, should it be settled in a democratic or a constitutional sense? If the Government would embody clauses in the present Bill containing their scheme for the redistribution of seats—which they had pledged themselves to bring forward within a very few days—and give a pledge that the two should proceed pari passu, he could venture with some confidence to assert for every hon. Member on that side of the House, that they would be ready to vote for the second reading. But why did he say that a settlement of the question of Reform had now become inevitable? He did not say so on account of the pledges which had been referred to, of which in his opinion a great deal too much had been made. The right hon. Baronet himself (Sir G. Grey), in his statement at the close of the last Session, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, said distinctly, "We are not pledged, and we do not intend to ask the support of the country as the advocates of a great measure of Parliamentary Reform." There could be no question that, where pledges had been given with a definite object, such as the possession of power, and circumstances remained unchanged, it would have been dishonourable to have taken that power and avoided the pledges. But where pledges were the expression of an opinion upon a great public question given some years ago, under circumstances which had since materially changed, and where the country itself had been indifferent to the fulfilment of them, then he thought it was evident that the public good, and not apparent consistency, was the rule which ought to guide the statesmen who controlled the destinies of the country. What higher authority on this point could there be than the noble Lord who was now at the head of Her Majesty's Government? Earl Russell, in 1861, after the Reform Bill of the Government had been brought forward, said:—I confess that, as the movement has gone on, as the matter has "been discussed, there has been less and less a favour shown to any further amendment of the Constitution. I am bound to say, also, that the opposition has not been such as that which was offered to the Bill of 1832. The opposition which we had to contend with was the opposition of a particular class of persons interested in the class monopoly which then 1309 existed; whereas the opposition which manifested itself so sensibly last year was an opposition which came more particularly from the middle-class of society."—[3 Hansard, clxi. 1922.]That was a declaration made live years ago by the noble Lord at the head of the Government, of the failure of the last attempt to effect a measure of Reform. That was a declaration too, it should be observed, made in ignorance of the fact, disclosed by the very remarkable Returns which had been laid on the table during the Session, that the proportion of the working classes possessing the franchise was larger than anybody had over contemplated. He only referred to this subject for the purpose of showing that in his judgment the pledges which had been spoken of had been vastly overrated. His own opinion was, looking at the condition of the country, and the great growth of intelligence among the working classes, that, with or without the pledges, the question was one which was sure to arise; and the question having been raised, the true wisdom was to grapple with it and settle it in a satisfactory manner. He did not by any means contend that there should be no settlement of Reform in the sense of a considerable extension of the franchise to the working classes; but he contended that that settlement should be made in a conservative and constitutional sense, and that it should not be made in a manner which involved the inevitable preponderance of numbers over property and intelligence, and paved the way to a system of democracy. In this respect it was impossible to overrate the importance of the crisis at which we had arrived. He most entirely concurred with the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he told his hearers at Liverpool, that this would be the great turning-point in the destinies of the country for many years after we shall have been laid in our graves. The great problem we had to grapple with was that of extending the suffrage among the working classes without establishing a preponderance of numbers over property and intelligence. The difficulty did not arise from any moral defect in the working classes, nor from any want of intelligence on their part; he would be the last person to assert that. All his life he had felt a warm sympathy with the working classes, and it would not be egotistical in him to state that he had perhaps done as much for them as some of those who talked so much about them 1310 He had a very firm faith in the intelligence, morality, and good sense of the great mass of the British workmen. That, however, did not alter the fact, that there was this difficulty to be dealt with—that they numerically preponderated over all other classes. If there were two classes in the country, one of which consisted of 5,000,000 and the other of 500,000 persons, it was no imputation on the liberality the intelligence, or the comparative loyalty of those two classes to say, that if the Legislature were to proceed en a system of uniform and equal reduction of the franchise, and give to every individual man a vote, that the 500,000 class would be swamped by the 5,000,000 class. It was not a question of sentiment or morality, but of arithmetic. When he spoke of the dangers of a democracy he wished the House clearly to understand what he meant. That was a point upon which some high authorities, even so high as the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, seemed to have most extraordinary and hazy notions. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in his speech at Liverpool observed:—It is sometimes said that the measure we propose is a democratic measure. The word democracy' has very different senses. If by democracy be meant liberty if by democracy be meant the extension to each man in his own sphere of every privilege and of every franchise that he can exercise with advantage to himself and with safety to the State,—then I must confess I don't see much to alarm us in the word democracy. But if by democracy be meant the enthroning of ignorance against knowledge, the setting up of vice in opposition to virtue, the disregard of rank, the forgetfulness of what our fathers have done for us, indifference or coldness with regard to the inheritance we enjoy, then, Gentlemen, I for one—and I believe for all I have the honour to address—am it that sense the enemy of democracy.Surely the classical recollections of the Chancellor of the Exchequer must tell him that democracy was neither liberty on the one hand, nor was it vice or ignorance on the other; it was a very simple, definite thing—the supremacy of numbers, it was that political constitution under which all possessed votes of equal importance. He (Mr. Laing) asked whether this country was not in danger of a system of that sort from the proposed mode of dealing with the question of Reform. It the first place he held that it offered a democratic solution of it, for the reason that it unsettled the settlement of 1832, without proposing in its 1311 place anything which even professed to be a complete and final settlement upon which the House might take its stand. He contended that this was a point of the greatest and most vital importance. The British Constitution was a thing of that importance which ought not to be lightly meddled with, and brought into the arena of discussion. If from year to year we were to have annual Reform Bills as we had annual Budgets, it was quite clear that in the course of a very few years we should have advanced very much further than anybody would now care to go. That this was the opinion of all those who advocated the proposed system of Reform was perfectly apparent from the tone in which they had spoken. The hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) told them fairly at Rochdale, that it would give them what mechanics called additional lever power. Lever power for what? To go further in the same direction. Without troubling the House with many quotations he would refer to a speech made at Manchester by Mr. Alderman Heywood, who said he trusted that all Radical Reformers would, as a matter of policy, forego the fulfilment to the full extent of their views, and that when the £10 barrier was once broken through, it would be all the more easy to obtain a further reduction of the qualification for the franchise. This policy was so transparent that it was useless to argue upon it. Were he the Member for Birmingham and held his opinions, he would accept the present Bill by all manner of means; for although it did not go so far as he might have desired, it re-opened the whole question, broke down the £10 barrier of 1832, and gave additional leverage to a further advance in the same direction. Now, in order fully to realize the importance of that position, the House must bear in mind the wide gulf of distinction which not only in theory, but in practice, separated the moderate Liberals who had been accustomed to follow the banner of Lord Palmerston from the school represented by the hon. Member for Birmingham. In referring to that hon. Gentleman, he could assure him that he did not do so for the purpose of rounding a period or of eliciting a cheer, but simply because he was the most able and conspicuous representative of a class of opinions held by many persons in England, and from which he sincerely apprehended the greatest danger to the country. The school of democratic I 1312 politicians to which he referred said very fairly that they wanted an extensive Reform of Parliament; that they were in favour of household suffrage, with vote by ballot, and equal or nearly equal electoral districts, partly as an end in themselves but still more, as a means towards other ends. And what were those ends? They were best disclosed in a sentence which he had already quoted, in which it was stated that the Reformed Parliament of 1832 had shown itself to be incapable of any good work. His own conviction, however, was, that that Parliament had shown itself more fruitful in good works, and had carried out a greater amount of beneficial measures for all classes of the community, and especially for the working classes, than any other body by which political power had been enjoyed for the same period of time. The Reformed Parliament had been in existence for more than thirty years, and in the first half of that period it had carried out to the fullest extent measures of civil and religious liberty. It had given us Municipal Reform, perfect freedom of local government; it had dealt with the question of tithes and other matters, and had finally disposed of the question of negro emancipation; while in the second half it had firmly established the principles of free trade and of non-intervention. The Parliament which had done that work, and which represented so admirably the interests of the community, was one which, in his opinion, we ought rather to wish to see perpetuated than destroyed. The first condition in any settlement of the Reform question appeared to him to be, that we should not swamp and overwhelm the constitution of the House of Commons as it had existed since 1832, but that we should preserve the same spirit, and simply reinforce and reinvigorate it by some infusion of the working classes. Such were not, however, the views entertained by the advanced school of political economists. Their political economy was different from his and those who concurred in his opinions. They believed that much of the crime and poverty which unfortunately prevailed, and which he attributed to the operation of inevitable laws, was owing to bad legislation, and that a remedy might be provided for that state of things by a more advanced and democratic Parliament. The men of that school also advocated, in matters of finance, measures 1313 to which he and those who thought with him were opposed. Putting their views in a tangible form, in dealing with a Budget they would substitute for the present system of taxation an income tax of half-a-crown in the pound on the income derived from the property of the country. Now, that was a system of financial operation which would, he conscientiously maintained, be most prejudicial to the interests of the people at large, including the working classes themselves. There was no country in which more had during the last fifteen years been done for those classes. Industry had been made as free as the wind. Ail the trammels upon it had been removed: the food, clothing, and shelter of the people were all untaxed. There was no part of the world in which the pressure of taxation on the working classes was so light. It was, therefore, a serious matter to call upon the House to alter the present state of things with the avowed object of bringing about a change in a system which had proved so beneficial, and inaugurating, perhaps, in its stead, something like that which had followed some of the revolutions of the past century with such lamentable and prejudicial results. With respect to the postponement, of the Bill for the redistribution of seats they had a precedent for tin' manner in which they ought to proceed; and he would simply ask, if the redistribution was not to be regarded as a necessary part of a complete settlement of the Reform question, how was it that in 1852, in 1854, and 1859 the redistribution of seats was always included as an essential part of the Reform schemes then brought forward? Indeed, it, stood to reason that the course adopted on these occasions was the proper one to pursue. How were hon. Members to know that a Bill for the reduction of the franchise was proposed in a moderate or in a democratic sense, unless they were made acquainted with that which was an important portion of any scheme of Reform—the mode of dealing with the redistribution of seats? The Chancellor of tin-Exchequer had the previous evening attempted to reduce the question before the House to a practical test by estimating how many Conservatives or Liberals might be returned on a given alteration of the borough franchise. That, no doubt, was a practical test, because it would be a great misfortune to this country that a measure should be passed which should 1314 unduly diminish the influence of either of the great parties in the State, thus leaving one powerless to succeed the other in the case of any great national emergency. But how, he would ask, were hon. Members to know what effect the present Bill would have; how it would affect the one political party or the other, unless they were in a position to deal with the important question of the redistribution of seats? It was quite possible, for instance, to put forward a scheme of redistribution under which forty or fifty seats would be almost certainly gained by one side or the other, according to the principle adopted. If, for instance, the House were to proceed upon the plan which had been formerly advocated by the hon. Member for Birmingham, and to take away a large number of Members from small boroughs and give them almost exclusively to very large and populous cities, the effect would clearly be to unduly strengthen the democratic and weaken the Conservative interest. If, upon the other hand, the great proportion of Members taken away from the boroughs were given to certain counties, the effect might be just the reverse. Then, again, how was the House to know unless they had the scheme for the redistribution of seats before them, whether they would be called upon to assent to a measure which was Conservative in the sense indicated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer a few years ago, of preserving small boroughs, or to a swamping measure such as that which was proposed in 1854? Those were surely most material elements for consideration in dealing with the amount at which the borough franchise should be fixed. There was, he might add, a certain catch-word used in reference to the Bill under discussion—it was said that it was an "honest" measure; but when the meaning of that word "honest" came to be analyzed, it was perfectly evident that it simply implied that the Bill was all in one direction—that it met to a great extent the views of those who wished to see a great change in a democratic sense. Whatever the Bill proposed to effect, indeed, went in that direction, without anything in the nature of those balances or compensations which were essential to every good measure. There was an extension downwards of the borough franchise in all boroughs indiscriminately; there was a reduction in the county fran- 1315 chise, and there was the giving of a vote for counties to copyholders and leaseholders in boroughs. All those proposals tended in the same direction, and therefore the Bill was characterized as an honest one by some because it did not take away with one hand that which it gave with the other. Let him, upon the other hand take the view held by those constitutional Reformers who wished to admit the largest number of the working classes to the franchise without giving them an overwhelming power over other classes in the State, and then it would be seen that the question assumed an entirely different aspect. What they wanted was some check and compensation, some safeguard and balance, which would enable the House to proceed with safety in the direction of enfranchising the working classes. One great complaint he had to make against the Government was that they had brought forward their measure in such a hasty manner as to have left altogether out of view the consideration of these matters. There was a great variety of points in connection with the subject discussed by thinking men throughout the country and in the press which were deserving of very careful consideration. There was, for instance, the question as to whether the reduction of the borough franchise should be uniform over all boroughs, or whether certain boroughs might not be selected in which the franchise might be safely lowered without reducing it in all. Hon. Members must, he thought, feel that the great danger of the Bill of 1832 was that it was too uniform, and that it went too far in the way of abolishing those local distinctions which prevailed under the suffrage which previously existed. What, he would ask, was the object of dealing with the question of Reform at all in quiet times like the present? If any of those accidents which had been referred to happened, and if a great pressure were put upon the House of Commons to lower the franchise, they could but introduce a Bill such as that under discussion and the difficulty would be met. But surely the great object of dealing with the question in quiet times was, that it should receive mature consideration, and that any scheme of Reform which might be passed should be surrounded with proper safe-guards; so that they might, in the absence of agitation, introduce some of those counterbalances of which 1316 he had spoken, looking forward as he did to a great extension of the franchise to the working classes in the future. If they lowered it uniformly, it must be apparent to every one who knew what was going on, that they would be simply deteriorating the existing constituency. He would give one practical instance. He had lately sat upon a Committee to inquire into the election for Great Yarmouth, and it was proved that bribery and corruption had been extensively practised for a series of years. The consequence was that, a few years ago, a measure was passed disfranchising the whole of the freemen, and confining the representation to the £10 householders. That measure had unfortunately only partially succeeded in eradicating corruption from the borough; but what would a £7 franchise do for Yarmouth? It would simply undo all that the Legislature had done by the disfranchisement of the freemen a few years ago. Let them apply the same rule to other boroughs. They must recollect that the working classes formed a very large and complex class. They were not a uniform body. The working man in a small agricultural borough was very different from the skilled artizan of large towns; and it was the latter whom the House wished to enfranchise. It would be easy to take boroughs of a certain scale of population which had got a large number of voters already, and to admit a large number of the intelligent artizans without altering the character of the representation; and for this it was not necessary to apply a uniform reduction of the franchise in all boroughs. Then there were certain classes of constituencies, such as certain Scotch boroughs, where intelligence was very high and the rents were very low, and where a £6 or £7 franchise would practically be no higher than a £10 franchise in England. There were other safe guards that might be employed; but he would only trouble the House with one, for which he had a high authority—no less an authority than the noble Earl now at the head of the Government. When, in 1854, the noble Earl brought in his Reform Bill he introduced a most important principle in the representation of minorities; of the seats then proposed to be distributed, some were to go to large towns or counties returning three Members, with a provision that where there was a large minority it would return one Member out of the three. That 1317 was a most valuable provision, and it might be worthy of consideration, whether the working classes should not be enabled to return one Member of their own for large cities, or whether a large minority might not be represented by one. Member. It seemed to him that the Government had never attempted to solve one of the real difficulties of the problem now before them, namely, how to introduce checks and counterpoises to secure the country against the effect of the large extension of the franchise which they proposed to give. In introducing the Bill the Chancellor of the Exchequer had set these questions aside by what ho (Mr. Laing) might call the twelve-day argument. The right hon. Gentleman said, there were only twelve nights available for the discussion of the Bill, and there was no time to deal with these questions. But, in a matter of such extreme importance as a fresh settlement of the British Constitution that was to last for many years, it seemed to him that this argument about the twelve days was not worthy of consideration at all. After laying upon the table the full and valuable Returns which threw a great deal of light upon the question, the course which the Government ought to have taken was, if the period of the Session did not allow them to bring in a full and complete measure, including the redistribution of the seats, to have postponed the Question until next Session, pledging themselves, as a Ministry, to deal with it on the first day of the next Session. If that had been done, the credit of the Government was sufficiently high to have satisfied the country that they were not trifling with the measure; the Government would have kept their party together, and many Liberal Members would not have had the painful alternative placed before them of choosing between their party allegiance and their conscientious convictions. For himself, he might say, that he never had greater difficulty in deciding what course it was proper to take. When, however, he looked at the important issues involved, he must say that the path of duty was perfectly clear before him. By voting for this Resolution, t he believed he should forward the practical object of requiring that a complete and practical measure should be laid upon the table, and dealt with as one great whole. If, on the other hand, they dealt with it piecemeal in the manner now proposed. 1318 it would sweep all before it, and land them in a measure of extreme democracy. He had been more allied to the doctrines of free-trade and non-intervention than the questions of pure polities; and he confessed he could not feel at ease as to the maintenance of those principles in a Parliament elected by a numerical majority of working men. As they approached universal suffrage and manhood suffrage, the working classes were found to become Protectionists in feeling and practice. That was the case in the United States of America and in our Australian colonies. The origin of the dispute between the Colonial Legislature and the Governor of Victoria was the Protectionist tendency of the Parliament elected by a low and wide suffrage. This was natural enough, for it required foresight, knowledge, and education to induce a community to sacrifice Protection to higher and wider interests. Next with regard to intervention. Under the Reformed Parliament how many great wars were witnessed by this country, and in how few of them had she been involved? If they had a Parliament elected by a numerical majority of the working class, it was probable that their generous sympathies would have led them to take part in a war for Hungary, for Italy, for Poland, and for Denmark. The hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Faweett) had told the House that the working men would have gone to war for Poland.
§ MR. FAWCETT
wished lo be allowed to explain that he had never said anything of the kind. What he had said was, not that the working men throughout the country were in favour of going to war for Poland, but that a great number of working men were not in favour of the policy of non-intervention, and that a considerable minority were in favour of a war on behalf of Poland.
§ MR. LAING
said, that the hon. Gentleman's explanation left his position exactly the same. It was admitted that a majority of the working men were opposed to the policy of non-intervention. That was a question not of opinion, but of fact, and one which everyone might judge for himself. Could the hon. Member—could anyone—-feel confident that if we had had a Parliament elected by a numerical majority of working men we should have traversed the great crisis of the wars of Hungary, Italy, Poland, and Denmark without becoming 1319 involved in a great European struggle? The United States of America had been referred to, and there could be no doubt that democratic institutions gave great energy to the action of the people in any cause in which their sympathies were heartily engaged. That, however, was not the question at issue. There was no lack of energy under our own unreformed institutions in the war against Napoleon. But this was a question of avoiding war by prudence, forbearance, and self-restraint. If this country stood alone, like the United States, with no nearer or more powerful neighbour than a state like Mexico, they might without much danger allow democratic institutions to have their full swing, and the sound sense of the country might bear it through the ordeal unharmed. But let the House consider how complicated were our relations with the great Foreign Powers, and how great the necessity for manifesting the qualities of self-restraint, prudence, and forbearance! In this country, the centre of a vast colonial empire, and depending on a vast system of commerce ramifying over the whole world, the necessity must be taken into consideration of a prudent and consistent policy, not swayed by the enthusiastic and impassioned influence of democracy. With regard to the working classes, it was not their moral qualities that he was afraid of, for he believed them to be sound in heart and generous in their impulses; but what he was afraid of was, that if great political power were thrown into their hands, their impulsiveness might lead them to act without due reflection, as had been the case in other countries. It seemed to him that the Government had overlooked the most important and difficult conditions of this problem; and they would have done better if, instead of introducing a measure, called "honest," which meant one-sided, they had brought forward another measure providing safeguards; and while enlarging the franchise to the working classes, leaving the main preponderance in the hands of the intelligence and property of the country. The most cursory investigation of the figures showed that the Government Bill did not effect that result. The only argument he had heard from the Treasury Bench to the effect that the Bill was consistent with the preservation of the influence of the property and intelligence of the country was the statement of the 1320 Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the income of the working classes was five-twelfths, their taxation three-sevenths, while their representation was only one-seventh. In the first place, he must observe that the amount of their taxation was not three-sevenths, but materially less, if, as ought to be done, the local taxation of the country, which formed a necessary element in the taxation of the country, was taken into account. But that was of minor importance, in reference to the question of representation, compared with the proportions paid in direct and in indirect taxation. Every one must acknowledge that direct taxation was an excellent test as a measure of representation. It showed the possession of a certain stake in the country, of a certain amount of self-respect which enabled persons to submit to the unpopular burden of direct taxation. But with respect to indirect taxation the case was different. Even admitting the taxation of the working classes to be three-sevenths, by far the greater portion of that was paid on the articles of spirits, beer, and tobacco. Certainly it was most extraordinary, in estimating the fitness of persons for the franchise, to maintain that a class is entitled to a larger share in the representation in exact proportion to the larger quantity of beer and spirits which they consume. Instead of instituting the competitive examination in literature, which the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Clay) had proposed as a test for the possession of the franchise, this would be instituting a competition with regard to the comparative power of people to make deep potations. Then, with regard to the income of the working classes as compared with that of the other classes, could any serious argument be founded on a comparison of the two incomes? Was not a wide line of distinction drawn between them by the income tax? On the income of the upper and middle classes the income tax was placed, but there was no income tax on the income of the working classes. But coming down from these vague arguments to the actual provisions of the present Bill, he begged the House to observe that the measure departed from the principle of founding the representation on property and established it on numbers. If they took the result of the £7 franchise in the boroughs, to which it was proposed to extend it, they would find that the 1321 proportion of estimated rental paid by the classes to be introduced was not one-fifteenth of the whole, while the total number of voters to be introduced was two-fifths. His great object in rising was to protest, as strongly as possible, against the assertion, that the Amendment proposed by the noble Lord the Member for Chester meant anything beyond that which it professed to say. Let the Government show the House a complete and comprehensive measure, and it would soon be seen whether or not its principle would be affirmed by those who had brought forward the Amendment. For his own part, he should never regret taking the part he intended to take on the present occasion. It had often been noticed in the history of different nations, that the moderate majority had been led away by an advanced minority to acts ruinous to their country. In France the constitutional party succumbed to the party of the Gironde, and the Gironde, in their turn, succumbed to the Mountain. Let it not be said, then, that the Members of that House, supported by a large majority of the intelligence of the country at a crisis like the present, from want of moral courage to act up to their convictions, deserted their duty, and that the consequence was that the time-honoured institutions of the British Constitution were swept away by the tide of democratic violence.
§ On the Motion of Mr. MAGUIRE, Debate further adjourned till Monday next.
§ House adjourned at half after Twelve o'clock, till Monday next.