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,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.1362
§ MR. MAGUIRE
said that, being un-trammelled by party ties, which too often biassed the judgment and fettered the free action of public men, he would advocate, not that which would promote the interests of one party or the other, but that which, in his conscience, he believed would most conduce to the honour and dignity of the House of Commons. In dealing with this question he wished to put the three following propositions to the House: first, was Parliament really pledged to the question of Reform; secondly, was there any reason of an overpowering nature why that pledge should not be redeemed; and thirdly, was the present the time when the pledge repeatedly and solemnly given should be redeemed? [With regard to the first proposition he would not go further back than the year 1859, nor look for any other than the high authority of the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, who was at that time Chancellor of the Exchequer, leader of the House of Commons, and spokesman of the Cabinet of Lord Derby. The right hon. Gentleman in 1809 introduced a measure of Reform, and declared that the Bill was the result of the decision of that most strange and extraordinary of all political curiosities—an undivided Cabinet; and that the question of Reform should be dealt with in an earnest and sincere spirit. The Bill was brought forward in pursuance of a pledge of the then Government on accepting office, and the right hon. Gentleman took great pains to prove how Parliament was pledged to the question of Reform by declarations in the House of Commons and in Royal speeches. The right hon. Gentleman stated that for fifteen years Reform had been a Parliamentary question, and for ten years a Ministerial question. Since that time other pledges had been given, and Reform was now become a Parliamentary question for twenty-one years, and a Ministerial question for sixteen years. He asserted, then, that the honour of Parliament was pledged on this question. If an individual Member of that House sacrificed the confidence of his constituents by the abandonment of his principles, and if a party lost the confidence of the country by the open abandonment of its principles, was not, also, the House of Commons likely to be endangered in the estimation of the public if, after all its solemn and repeated pledges, it now trifled with a question 1363 frequently declared to be of the greatest gravity and importance? There was said to be great danger in advancing one step on the road to democracy; but he thought the danger would be greater if, through the blindness and folly of statesmen, both sides of the House so trifled with this question as to allow the conviction to sink in the mind of the masses, that no faith was to be placed in Parliament. Such a conviction would have a more dangerous influence on the minds of the masses than any reduction of the franchise to any extent that might ever be conceived. Both sides of the House being pledged on this question of Reform, the next point to consider was, whether there was any overpowering reason why an attempt should not then be made to settle it? Why should not the House accept the Government Bill? In his opinion, it was a fair, a comprehensive, and yet a moderate measure, and would be accepted by the working classes as a fair settlement of the question for many years to come. He would endeavour to prove that no one of the cherished institutions of the country would be weakened or endangered by the passing of the measure, which admitted a large infusion of the democratic element into the electoral system of this country. Within a few years a great change seemed to have taken place in the minds, and undoubtedly in the language, of certain Gentlemen in that House with regard to the working classes. A few years back Gentlemen vied with each other in praising the working classes for their intelligence and virtue, and the exercise of the noblest qualities; but now it seemed that the working classes were to be dreaded as an invading army, dangerous alike to liberty and good government. He would refer to one of the latest instances of the conduct of the working classes, as proving their fitness for the exercise of the electoral franchise. An hon. Gentleman the other night endeavoured to prove that the working classes did not exhibit such very great self-denial during the cotton famine, because the country at large assisted them by subscriptions. He, however, asserted that there never was a severer trial for the working classes in this country than during the Lancashire distress. When by a state of things over which they had no control, and beyond even the control of the Government, 500,000 men were re- 1364 duced at one stroke from a position of decent independence and moderate comfort to one of dependence on public charity or the local rates,—when they could bear with heroism, dignity, and self-denial, a terrible reverse of that kind, they were justly entitled not only to the consideration of Parliament, but to the confidence of their fellow countrymen. But then it was said, this Bill was too democratic in character, and too sweeping in its changes. He would ask those who brought in the Bill of 1859, could they object to a county franchise of £14, after bringing in a county franchise of £10? But the real cause of anger felt by some Gentlemen in that House was the proposed borough franchise of £7. During the fourteen years he had sat in that House several Reform Bills had been brought in. One of these offered a borough franchise of £6, and another offered one so low as £5; and were they now to be told that though no great alarm was expressed at that time, they should now be in a panic of apprehension because the moderate franchise of £7 was proposed to Parliament and the country? He asked Gentlemen to deal with this question in a practical spirit, and to take a common-sense view of the matter. He assumed for a moment that the Government carried this Bill, as he earnestly hoped they would—not that he cared particularly for the Government; but he did care for the honour of that assembly, and the respect the people ought to have for the free institutions and the well-balanced constitution under which we lived, and of which he was an enthusiastic admirer. Suppose the Bill carried, and that an election took place under its provisions. A new House of Commons would be created by the new electors; there would be an infusion of new blood, giving life, health, and strength to the representative system. In any essential characteristic, in any general feature, in, any element they wished to conserve, would there be in reality any difference between the House of Commons so elected and that which now existed? He asserted that there would be no material difference. In every respect it would be almost the same House of Commons. Would the landed interest fail to be represented? Would wealth fail to preserve its legitimate influence? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire gave a conclusive answer upon that point. He said, "The man of princely fortune 1365 has no more votes than the £10 house-holder, but his wealth, his station, and his character give him influence that will adequately represent his property." The aristocracy and the landed interest would have their full representation in the new House of Commons. Not only would the counties return the same class of men, but many a borough would be proud to take for its representative the scion of some noble house, or the possessor of broad acres. The navy, the army, and the bar would not be swamped by the £7 constituency. The élite of those professions would still find their way into that House. Men of letters, scholars, poets, historians, would not be disregarded by the democratic electors. Brighton would not overlook the merits of a scholar and a gentleman; and Westminster would still do itself honour by electing one of the foremost intellects of the day. No doubt there would be in the new House of Commons men whose only recommendation would be their money—nouveau riche—who had realized their wealth by industry and energy, or by luck, which was too often mistaken for both. But what element was more conservative than money, and who were more eager supporters of the institutions of a country than those who possessed it? But there was one class that would not be represented directly in that assembly. The hon. Member for Westminster did not say, though he was charged by the leading journal with saying, that there would be a direct representation of the working classes by members of their own class. That was the only class that would not have their direct representatives in that assembly. The occupations to which they devoted their daily toil for the support of their families entirely precluded such a thing. Hon. Members need not, therefore, be alarmed that they would be jostled in the lobby or the dining room by men whose hands were hard with toil in some humble occupation. There were, indeed, numbers of that class who, from the gravity of their thought, the dignity of their demeanour, and the eloquence of their language, would do credit to any assembly in the world; but that class of men would not be found in that assembly. What then did they apprehend? There were certain Gentlemen in that House who had taken on themselves to lead the opposition to the Government, and range themselves as champions of the old institutions of the 1366 country, as they professed, against the hostile advance and dangerous innovation of the working classes. They seemed to apprehend the utmost danger from the passing of this Bill. But what right had those Gentlemen to speak in the name of their constituents, so called? He referred to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stroud, the right hon. Member for Calne, and the hon. Member for Salisbury. What right had they to speak to the House of Commons in any name but their own? Had they the right to speak even in their individual capacity in the name of their own constituency? Two of those Gentlemen were public men, public property, the property of the nation, and the nation was proud of them, though their own constituents were much discontented with their present course. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne was one of the most remarkable men of the age, and would take a leading position, no doubt, in future Administrations. No one regretted more than he did when a motion was carried in that House, in consequence of which he terminated his connexion with one of the most important branches of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stroud did Ireland the very great advantage of being its Chief Secretary: he really believed he was actuated by the kindest and most generous feelings to that country; and if again, with larger experience and deeper attachment to that nation, he resumed the office, he should be delighted to give him his humble and strenuous support. But the right hon. Gentleman, when Secretary for Ireland, was a decided Reformer, and had not the slightest fear of the £6 franchise of his Government. He did not even shrink with dismay from a £5 franchise. [Mr. HORSMAN: There was no £6 franchise Bill brought forward while I was in office.] Was there not a £5 franchise while the right hon. Gentleman held office? [Mr. HORSMAN: No.] Was he not a member of a Reform Administration when the question of Reform was brought before the House? ["No!"] He, asserted that motions on the question of Reform were brought forward during that time by private Members ["No!"], and he adhered to his former assertion, that the right hon. Gentleman was a; Member of a Reforming or a quasi-Re-forming Administration. He asserted that the language they had heard the other night was never uttered previous 1367 to the year before last. In 1859 the right hon. Gentleman, no doubt, voted for the amendment of Lord John Russell. [Mr. HORSMAN: No, I did not.] He meant to say that the right hon. Gentleman voted against that resolution, for he voted in the same lobby with himself, in favour of the Bill of Lord Derby. What, however, did he then say? He referred to the non-extension of the borough franchise as a great and palpable defect in the Bill. [Mr. HORSMAN: Hear, hear!] He should be delighted to hear what the right hon. Gentleman might say at a future time; but would he explain why in 1859 he was in favour of an extension of the borough franchise, while he was now appalled at the democratic proposal of the Government, who limited their proposal to a modest £7? To show further that the right hon. Gentleman had no right to speak in the name of the constituency of Stroud, he would refer to a resolution which was lately passed at a meeting in that town. [An hon. MEMBER: How many electors were present?] The hon. Gentleman must consult the local records for that fact; but, if he was rightly informed, it was a public meeting, publicly convened, of those who were the supporters of the right hon. Gentleman, and who on former occasions had rendered him support. [Mr. HORSMAN: No; certainly not.] He was asked, however, how many electors were there, and in reply to that he would say—Suppose there was a meeting against the Reform Bill, and that electors were very thinly sprinkled among a great body of non-electors, would it not be said by the anti-Reformers that that was a most enthusiastic demonstration against the Government? The meeting first adopted a resolution in approval of the Government Bill, and the second resolution expressed indignation at the desertion from Liberal principles by the right hon. Gentleman, and declared that he no longer possessed the confidence of the Liberal party in the borough. The meeting, he understood, was a very large one, and the resolution was carried unanimously. He now came to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne; and if ever a Member of that House was called upon to explain the reasons why he had changed the opinions he held at former times—and times, too, not very remote—it was that right hon. Gentleman. In 1852 he made a speech at Kidderminster, 1368 which he (Mr. Maguire) might call a wild shriek in favour of democracy. The right hon. Gentleman then entertained no terror of democratic institutions, and he had since been a Member of Reforming Governments. He was a Member of a Government that proposed a £6 franchise; indeed, he was a Member of the Government which in 1852 brought in a £5 franchise. [Mr. LOWE: I was not then in Parliament.] In 1852 the right hon. Gentleman was preparing himself for taking office under a Liberal Government, and he offered to the people large and extended franchises. He should like hon. Gentlemen who cheered the right hon. Gentleman, and who might cheer him again that night or the next, to hear what he said of the Conservative party and the Conservative leader in 1852. His words were these—'Nothing tends more to destroy confidence in public men than to see them contemptibly abandoning their pledges.' And he charged the Ministry of Lord Derby with having 'deceived their friends, falsified their pledges, and libelled the people of England.'…The 'Conservatives,' he said,' had assumed a mission to exalt their horn against democracy—a great bugbear, which they intended to put down.'The right hon. Gentleman continued in a most remarkable passage, which he could assure the House was well worth hearing—It is all very well to tell you about putting down democracy, but this country is not to be ruled like France or Germany; but, further than this, when they talk of suppressing democracy, they not only miscalculate their own power, but likewise the end and object of Government. It may be that in France when they elect a president they elect a master; but not so in England. Our Ministries are appointed to execute our will; it is from us that the original power is derived. We appoint them to make the laws obeyed, but not to say, 'Thus far shalt thou go, and no further.' We can fix our limits for ourselves, not to be controlled by men who have been notoriously wrong in every principle. I will go even further, and say that not only is it the duty of a Government to refrain from a perverse opposition to public opinion, but that they are unable to read the signs of the times and unfit to be intrusted with the Government of this country if they cannot perceive that there is, by the permission of Divine Providence, an obvious tendency in this country towards democracy. The equalization is growing—railway trains carry alike millionaires and beggars—the telegraph carries alike the Queen's messages and those of her meanest subjects, and thus the distinction of classes is gradually breaking down. It is the duty of a Government to mark whither the people are tending, and to solve the problem, not by striving to show how the yearnings of the human mind may be stifled, but how a change 1369 may be effected with the least loss of that which we would gladly preserve.The Australian colonies were now held up by the right hon. Gentleman and by the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Marsh) as a terror and a warning to the Parliament and people of England. But what did the right hon. Gentleman say on that occasion?—Before I quit the subject of Australia let me just say that I am glad to see that the Emigration Commissioners have made provision for transplanting thirty-five families from this town to that land of wealth and promise. When they arrive there each head of a family will find himself in possession of the elective franchise; and, Gentlemen, they owe that to myself.
§ MR. LOWE
Will the hon. Member allow me to explain? ["Order!"] Universal suffrage was not introduced into Australia for several years after 1852. The franchise of which I spoke was a £10 occupation franchise, introduced at my suggestion into a Bill for the government of Australia, which was carried through this House by the late Sir Benjamin Hawes.
§ MR. MAGUIRE
asked what preparation there was for the attainment of that £10 franchise. None whatever. The moment the head of a family landed he was told by the right hon. Gentleman he was to possess the franchise without any schooling or preparation whatever. Manhood suffrage, however, existed at present in Australia, the votes being given by ballot; and notwithstanding what might be said by the right hon. Gentleman and by the hon. Member for Salisbury, he was not afraid of the example of the Australian colonies, for he believed that, so far from their being a terror and a warning to this country, the people of England had a right to be proud of the splendid group of those colonies, which were the noblest children of the mother country. The right hon. Gentleman, who formerly thought that, under Divine Providence, the public mind of the country was tending towards democracy, was not only afraid of democracy, but was alarmed at a £7 franchise, which he called democratic, but which he (Mr. Maguire) maintained was not so. It was only an infusion of new and healthy blood into our electoral system, and did not give the ascendancy to any class in the country. Now, considerable, doubt existed as to what was the meaning of a celebrated speech made by the right hon. Gentleman a short time ago, and which 1370 created the impression that he was afraid of an inroad of the working classes. In the opinion of the working classes throughout the country the right hon. Gentleman had intended to wound and insult them. ["Hear, hear!" and "No, no!"] He did not say that the right hon. Gentleman had intended to insult them; but undoubtedly he had wounded them by saying that those who would be enfranchised by reducing the franchise to £7 were not fit to possess it. But it was not the first time of late years that the right hon. Gentleman had spoken in the same spirit of the working classes. The right hon. Gentleman in 1865, in speaking upon the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Leeds, said—This Bill will apply to the men who waste their time in these profitless and degrading pursuits, in order that they may be elevated and fished out of the mire in which they delight to grovel, introduced to power, and intrusted with control over the constitution of the country."—[3 Hansard, clxxiii. 1431.]The right hon. Gentleman who, in 1852, had no horror of democracy, and welcomed this "providential institution," said in 1865—I am no proscriber of democracy. In America it answers its purpose very well. In states like those of Greece it may have been desirable; but for England, in its present state of development and civilization, to make a step in the direction of democracy appears to me to be the strangest and wildest proposition that was ever broached by man." [3 Hansard, clxxviii. 1437.]Thus, in 1852, he asked the country to take a stride towards that democracy which he now regarded with such terror. The right hon. Gentleman endeavoured to explain those contradictory opinions in a letter he sent to The Times. He therein said that he considered it very unfair to the working men who had already achieved the honourable distinction of the franchise, to mix them up with those who had not exercised the same prudence and self-denial. In the first place, he wished to ask the House of Commons whether the working men who had obtained the franchise were jealous of those who had not obtained it; and also whether it was wise to recommend the working man to sacrifice a large portion of his income for the mere purpose of obtaining the franchise. The Chancellor of the Exchequer some time since brought in a Bill, the object of which was to promote habits of frugality and saving among the working men; 1371 whereas the policy of the right hon. Member for Calne would inculcate habits of extravagance, waste, and unthrift in compelling the working classes either to renounce the franchise, or to reside in a house the rent of which was above their means. Might not the man who received the lower wages be equally intelligent and as worthy of the franchise as the man who received large wages; and in such a case what wrong would the latter suffer by the admission of the former to a share in the electoral power? The electors of Calne had given their support to the Government Bill, and had declined to coincide in the opinions of the right hon. Gentleman. The hon. Member for Salisbury immediately on his arrival from Australia had delivered himself of a speech directed against the colonial institutions, in which he said that there was a great want of dignity and decorum in the conduct of their legislative proceedings, and warned the House against the £7 franchise as likely to establish a similar state of things in this country. Indeed the hon. Member for Salisbury was understood to have stated in this House that it was the habit in the Australian colonies for their Members to legislate in their shirt-sleeves. This assertion, however, was contradicted by many Gentlemen who were Members of the various Colonial Legislatures, who stated that the proceedings in those institutions were conducted with as much gravity and dignity as were manifested in the proceedings of that House. The example of the Australian colonies had been held out as a warning to this country; but was there anything very dreadful in their position? Let them take, for instance, the colony of Victoria, with a population which had increased since 1836 from 177 to 616,000, with an export and import trade amounting to upwards of £28,400,000, and which had exported to Europe in the last few years upwards of £135,000,000 of gold. In that colony education was sedulously promoted, religious equality was complete, and the laws were well administered and reverently obeyed, without the presence of a single soldier being requisite to enforce them, notwithstanding that the franchise was based upon manhood suffrage, while the elections were conducted with the greatest quiet, in marked contrast to many which had lately taken place in this country. He thought those facts were a complete 1372 answer to the speech of the hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Member for Hertfordshire had also warned them against the danger of a democratic franchise. The right hon. Gentleman prophesied that it would end in the destruction of the naval power of this country, and that the people would always be ready to rush into foreign quarrels upon the slightest pretext. He, however, denied that those who entertained democratic sentiments had the smallest desire to cripple the naval or military power of the State; and even Mr. Hume invariably voted for the Government on questions affecting our armaments, when it was shown that they were necessary to preserve our position and authority. Hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House, too, were much more disposed to meddle in foreign affairs than were the working classes. The cause of Denmark in the Schleswig-Holstein quarrel was espoused by the Members of counties and Conservative boroughs, and not by the working classes; who even in the midst of their sufferings in Lancashire, resulting from the cotton famine, had not asked the Government to interfere in the American struggle, although they knew that the cessation of the war would be of the utmost advantage to their trade and industry. According to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wick, the institutions of this country, if we were not wise in time, would be swept away by the influence of democracy, and the principles of free trade and non-intervention would be abandoned with the passing of the £7 franchise. He felt convinced, however, that the working classes were too much alive to the advantages which had accrued to them from the adoption of free trade, to wish in any degree to change our policy in these respects. The hon. Gentleman also stated his belief, that if the working classes were admitted to a large share of power, an income tax of 2s. 6d. in the pound would be imposed; but he did not believe that this opinion could possibly be held by any other Member of the House. The Government were asked, why they had not included in this Bill, as had been done in 1852 and 1854, the question of the redistribution of seats; but the circumstance of the former Bills having included this question led to their rejection. It was natural enough that that should be the result; and he was only afraid that the Government had compromised the 1373 safety of the present measure in promising to lay upon the table of the House: their scheme for the redistribution of seats before the measure now under consideration had been disposed of. The Amendment was an insidious, and, in his opinion, not an honest one; for its adoption would be death to the Reform Bill, and more than that, death to the honourable character of that assembly. He knew that many hon. Members who were Reformers voted against the Bills of 1852 and 1854, because their passing would insure the destruction of their constituencies, and deprive them of their political influence. With what favour did the House think the Bill would be looked upon by hon. Members who perceived in it their own death-warrant sealed by the sign-manual of Government? and even the Trappists, to whom the right hon. Baronet the Member for Hertfordshire (Sir Bulwer Lytton) had alluded, might, perhaps, not look with the same contentment upon graves dug by the hands of others as they would upon those which their own piety had induced them to dig. But, in reality, the lowering of the franchise and the admission of the masses to a share in our electoral system were the important questions, and the redistribution of seats only was the legitimate field for party contest. He had voted against Lord John Russell's resolution in 1859 because he believed the Government of that day ought to have been allowed to carry their Bill into Committee, where it might have received much improvement; and he hoped that the Opposition would in this instance allow to this Bill what had been refused to their measure of 1859. As compared with this scheme, the Bill of 1832 was a revolutionary measure, for the working classes of the present day were much more prepared for a £7 franchise than were the working classes of 1832 for one of £10. He did not believe any danger to the institutions of the country would arise from the passing of the Bill. There need be no fear in trusting the people; if any danger were to arise, it would be in refusing to trust them. As a working man had said a few days ago, the Government would not have been honest if they had asked the House of Commons to pass a more comprehensive measure than could reasonably have been expected to receive its approval; and he believed that had a scheme for the redistribution of seats 1374 been coupled with the present Bill, there would have been not the slightest chance of its passing this year. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), when leader of the House in 1859, asked:—Is this question of Reform to be suffered to remain as a desperate resource of faction, or only to be taken up at a moment of great popular excitement, and settled, not by the reason, but by the passions of the people? Are we to establish, as it were, a chronic irritation in the public mind upon a subject which, of all others, should not form the staple of our party contests?This was a very strong opinion as to the danger of delay; and, in his opinion, the time had come when a settlement of the question could best be made. It had been urged against the Bill, that there was no excitement in the country in reference to Reform. If there was no excitement, at least great interest in the success of the present Bill had been manifested in all parts of the country, as demonstrated by the large number of petitions which had been presented to the House. There might not always be the same political calm in the country as now happily prevailed; and if any great disasters should happen to the people, and that in the midst of their misery they should also be goaded by a sense of wrong, they would not appeal to the House in the same calm and moderate tone. Advantage, therefore, ought to be taken of the present time for settling the question He held in his hand an extract of a speech recently delivered by a working man of Todmorden, which was exceedingly creditable to him, and which fully showed that the working classes viewed the question of Reform with great solicitude, and that they had formed most enlightened opinions on the subject. Having read the speech, the hon. Member said, that if the House would show its confidence in the working men it would strengthen, and not endanger, the institutions of the country. The subject ought not to be made the staple of party conflict. He himself was not a party man; and, as he held that the Bill before the House would effect a fair settlement of the question, he felt bound to vote for it. Had the Conservative party been in power, and they had proposed a fair Bill, no predilection for one party or the other would have prevented him from giving it his cordial support.
§ LORD DUNKELLIN
said, they were asked to agree to the second reading of 1375 this Bill as the first of a long series of measures which were to be carried through with the intention of materially altering and reforming our institutions. The question was by no means a new one, for it had been before the House for the last fourteen or fifteen years. When the question had been brought forward, during the time which he had had the honour of a seat in the House, he had thought it to be more consistent with his position to abstain from taking any part in the debates, and to content himself with giving a silent, conscientious, and cordial vote with the party with which he generally acted. If, on the present occasion, after much reflection and not without considerable pain, he found that he must dissociate himself from those with whom it had hitherto been his pride to act, he hoped that the House would allow him to state shortly why he must vote against the second reading of the Bill, and must give his support to the Amendment of his noble Friend (Earl Grosvenor). The reasons which induced him to take this course were founded—first, upon the manner in which the question of Reform was now brought before the House, and its various short-comings, which commended to his approval the clear and distinct positions which were laid down in his noble Friend's Amendment. In 1852, in 1854, and on subsequent occasions, when Reform Bills were brought forward, the course pursued had invariably been to lay upon the table of the House a full, distinct, and complete measure; and they were put into the position of considering what, according to the views of the Government of the day, embraced the question in all its bearings. But even under such circumstances, which were much more favourable to the consideration and adoption of the measure than those that now existed, the House had not been able to pass any Bill. The course which had been adopted on previous occasions was to his mind clear, sound, and intelligible; and had such course been adopted upon the present occasion they would, at any rate, have known what they were about! They would have been in a position to take into consideration the various matters that bore upon the question and their relations to one another, and might have hoped to have passed one whole harmonious measure, calculated to promote the end which every Member had in view—a satisfac- 1376 tory and final settlement of the Reform question. When he used the word final he meant only such a finality as could attach to any proceeding of that House, for he was not one of those who thought that a question of this kind could be settled permanently. Everything around us was moving onward, and the British constitution could not alone lag behind; the changes effected by time in our social system, the progress made in wealth and education rendered it necessary that our constitution should undergo the process of occasional improvement: but what they might have hoped to have arrived at was a settlement that would have lasted for at least one generation. But what was the position in which they now stood? Was it not to be feared that the course of the Government in laying one single chapter of their measure before the House, and asking them to accept that and blindly trust them for what was to come after, was more likely to disarrange than to settle the matter? He was not surprised that the Bill under discussion should bear signs of hurry, nor to hear of the haste with which it had been prepared. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had stated that, at the first Cabinet meeting after the funeral of Lord Palmerston, a measure of Reform in the present Session was decided upon as being absolutely necessary, and, that being so, the very proper course of collecting information on the subject was taken. That information it took a long time to collect, but in such a hurry were the Government to introduce their measure that, instead of waiting to ascertain the result of the inquiry which they had ordered to be instituted, the Chancellor of the Exchequer owned, just on the eve of introducing his Bill, that he had not been able to obtain a copy of the Blue-book containing the statistics for his own private use. The Bill must bear signs of haste if it were founded upon these statistics. He did not blame the Government for the time which had been spent in collecting the statistics; nor would he blame them even if the report were true that they had consulted the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) before preparing the Bill; for the matter was of such importance that they were perfectly justified in seeking for information and assistance wherever they could hope to find them. Indeed it would, in his opinion, be the right and honest course for them to adopt, to take 1377 counsel with the hon. Member for Birmingham in the matter if they believed his views to be so much in accordance with their own as to enable them to obtain such support in framing their Bill as he could lend. But he must for his part take leave to say, that having studied the speeches and writings of the hon. Member for Birmingham, he could not help thinking that a Bill framed under his patronage was not one which would be likely either to secure his support or to disarm his suspicions. The hon. Member for Birmingham and those with whom he acted were willing to accept this as the first of the Reform measures, and he did so, not because it was final, but because it was a step leading to another, and perhaps another step, and would probably finish with almost universal suffrage. [Mr. BRIGHT: I never said so.] He did not pretend to quote the exact words of the hon. Member; he was merely giving that which he believed to be the tenour of the views entertained on the subject by him and those by whom he was supported. Whether, therefore, the Government consulted with the hon. Member as to the sort of measure which they should intro-duce, or whether, by a curious coincidence, their views happened to agree with him in pressing forward their proposals after a partial and piecemeal fashion—especially when they were asked to pass one portion of a plan and to trust to the Government as to what the rest might be—the principle on which they acted appeared to him to be one on which it was dangerous to proceed, and which could not be otherwise than very unsafe as a precedent. Let him suppose that the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed a Budget, in which he should announce it to be his intention to take off the income-tax, stating that he would let the House know what further proposals he intended to make on a future occasion for the purpose of raising a sufficient revenue, would hon. Members below the gangway be likely to encounter such a mode of proceeding otherwise than with the most decided opposition? The right hon. Gentleman in his speech at Liverpool argued that the fact that the question of Reform had been brought before Parliament by so many different Governments of late years proved that the present House of Commons was bound to deal with it without delay, but that very fact in his opinion proved that the subject was one on which it was ex- 1378 ceedingly difficult to legislate, and one which could not be disposed of lightly. Again; the right hon. Gentleman ad-I dressing the meeting at Liverpool, made use of a metaphor which, like everything that fell from him, was well suited to his audience. He asked them what would be their opinion of a man who, instead of meeting his engagements, went on constantly renewing them; but he (Lord Dunkellin) would ask, what would be the opinion of a merchant who, when the time came to take up his engagements, proposed to satisfy his creditor with a blank bill? This was really the position in which they stood at present. It was idle to say that the question of the franchise was not intimately connected with that of the redistribution of seats, or that the question of seats was not intimately connected with the question of the enlargement of the boundaries of boroughs. In carrying out the great question of Reform there was also to be a measure as to corrupt practices at elections; and then there were the Bills for Ireland and for Scotland—measures dealing with which were, if he was not mistaken, laid on the table on the very night on which a previous Reform Bill for England was introduced; not that they might clash with it, but with the view of placing the entire scheme before the House. And he, for one, must say that he should like, before they passed the present Bill, to have some information as to what was to be done for Ireland in the shape of Reform? Was anybody employed in collecting statistics on the subject in that country; and why were they being collected? Again; in what position, he should wish to hear, did the promised Bill for the redistribution of seats stand? When he saw the notice on the paper of the question which had that evening been put by the hon. Member for Salisbury on the point, he thought that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have returned something like a categorical answer, but in that he had been disappointed. He saw on the paper of today a notice of a question to be asked by the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Marsh) of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He (Lord Dunkellin) was curious to learn what answer he should receive. At the same time he anticipated that the right hon. Gentleman would not give him a categorical reply. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in answering the question, said that as he had never 1379 looked upon any measure of the kind as final and irrevocable, he had only to say that the Government proposition as to the redistribution of seats was not yet settled. Well, he (Lord Dunkellin) asked whether that was the way the House of Commons ought to be treated upon a question of this vital importance? But let them now consider the Bill itself. The main feature of it appeared to be the reduction of the borough franchise to £7, the abolition of the rate-paying clause, and the power of leaseholders in towns to vote for county Members. Now, he confessed, he failed to discover any possible reason why £7 should be fixed upon as the limit of the borough franchise. He could only suppose that, as some hon. Gentleman had proposed that the franchise should be reduced to £8, and others to £6, and some had advocated a Reform Bill which went down as low as £5, that the right hon. I Gentleman had adopted £7 as a kind of compromise between both parties. Nobody, so far as he knew, had suggested a £7, and so far there was a degree of novelty and originality about the proposition; but no reason whatever had been given why that particular sum should be fixed upon. Whilst opposing the present measure he was by no means averse to the principles of Reform. He viewed with no alarm whatever an infusion of new blood into the existing constituencies. He thought that there had been a great deal of trash or foolish talk in regard to the common people—he meant "the lower" orders. When he saw their boasted friends in that House saying that the lower orders, whilst demanding the franchise as their right, did not mean to despoil the noble Lord, the Mover of the Amendment, of his property—that they were not all violent men, easily corrupted, or drunkards—his (Lord Dun-kellin's) simple answer to all such foolish remarks was, Whoever said that they were? The party with whom he acted never charged the working classes with such faults; and therefore it was the height of absurdity for any of their friends in that House to set about vindicating them from charges which had never been made. He should be the last person conscientiously to say or think that the lower orders of his countrymen, as a body, were characterised by violence, drunkenness, or venality. He respected the working man who earned his bread by the sweat of his brow. He knew that 1380 there were many men amongst the working classes who were possessed of a good intellect; and whose clear perception and general information made them perfectly qualified to express an opinion upon the ordinary political questions of the day. But he also knew—and it was idle to deny the fact—that amongst the lower orders there were some who occasionally got drunk, who were not proof against the temptations of corruption, who committed violence, and who otherwise mis-conducted themselves in such ways as had been recently disclosed before certain Committees upstairs. On the whole, he believed that they were a good average class, and he would be glad to admit to the franchise those who by steadiness and prudence proved themselves entitled to it. But was, he asked, the present franchise totally out of their reach? Was it not possible by thrift and care for a working man to occupy a £10 house? He believed that it was, and he also believed that many of the working class who compounded for their rates and lived in cheaper houses did so in order to get more enjoyment and amusement out of their wages. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, on a former occasion, asked what was the magic of a £10 franchise, or of the weekly earnings of 35s. He (Lord Dunkellin) asked now what was the magic of a £7 franchise? If the right hon. Gentleman objected to 35s. weekly wages as the standard of a man's capacity for the franchise, he (Lord Dunkellin) asked him what was the magic in the weekly earnings of 25s.? He had listened with pleasure to the very able speech of the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. J. Stuart Mill) the other night; but it struck him (Lord Dunkellin) that the hon. Gentleman was somewhat contradictory in his arguments, when he held out the advantages of the working classes being represented in that House by Members of their own body, that those representatives would never be so numerous in that House as to make their influence much felt; and then when he added, that if the working classes were allowed to return Members of their own body to represent them, there would soon be established a school in every parish. The hon. member for Westminster said he would be content to accept this Bill if there were no other in contemplation. But this "if" made all the difference in the argument. Because he knew that 1381 there were many other measures in relation to this subject in contemplation, he (Lord Dunkellin) was of opinion that it was more advisable to wait until the whole scheme of Constitutional Reform was before them before the House committed itself to one particular fragment of it. He could not help comparing in his mind the speech of the hon. Member for Westminster with that of the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett). The latter hon. Gentleman, whilst contending that the opinions of the working classes were not sufficiently represented in that House, remarked that if they had been they would have been found in favour of our interference in behalf of Poland, and of going to war on behalf of Denmark. Now if the hon. Gentleman truly represented the opinions of the working classes, it was evident that they would exert their influence in that House to plunge this country into a war, and to involve us in all sorts of difficulties with Foreign Powers. Such a dangerous state of things could scarcely be imagined, and he thought that the speech of the hon. Member for Brighton was a most unlucky speech for him to have made as the friend and advocate of the working classes The country would certainly think twice before running the risk of delivering the charge of the Foreign Office and of the Treasury to the representatives of classes holding such sentiments. Looking at the proposed £7 franchise as a compromise between the £8 and the £6 propositions, it appeared to him that this system of dealing with a great question of this kind was a most dangerous one; and, if permitted to be acted upon, there was no reason why the franchise should not be I reduced lower and lower until they reached manhood suffrage at last. In deed, it seemed to him that the arguments used by the Chancellor of the Exchequer tended very much to manhood suffrage. The right hon. Gentleman urged the right of the working men to a certain share in the representation by-reason of the large contributions to the revenue of the country paid by them in proportion to their income. That point, however, had been ably commented upon by the hon. Member for Wick (Mr. Laing), when he said that the logical deduction from such an argument was, that in proportion to the quantities of spirits, beer, and tobacco, consumed by the working men, so were their rights to 1382 the possession of the franchise established. The Chancellor of the Exchequer appeared to be driving his coach fast down the hill without a drag. Now the drag which he (Lord Dunkellin) would suggest was the rate-paying clause, which was likely to last a great many years without breaking. It was a sound, clear, and intelligible principle. He did not think it was unreasonable, before voting for a representative who was to have a voice in the enactment of measures relating to the income and expenditure of the country, to require the elector to pay a small share towards the general taxation. He did not object to the £7 franchise if he knew that it was to be established upon any fixed principle. But by taking away the rate-paying clause the Government were removing the only safeguard against the electoral coach running at a dangerous speed down the hill, and landing us in universal suffrage. Another objection he had to the measure was the proposal to give leaseholders in boroughs the right of voting in counties. It appeared to him impossible to calculate the number of voters that would be created under this head. The principle which was here recognized was in his opinion a most objectionable one. Those were the three features of the measure which made it so objectionable to him. It might be said that the objections he had stated were merely technical, and might be considered in Committee. He went in his zeal for Reform so far as this: if the Bill had been met by hon. Gentlemen opposite with a direct negative, so as to prevent one from adopting the principle of Reform, he should have swallowed his objections and voted for the second reading. But when he found an Amendment moved which enabled him at the same time to express adherence to the principle of Reform, and also to state his objections to the particular measure brought forward, and the mode in which it was brought forward, he thought it more straightforward, manly, and honourable to support that Amendment, than to act but the part of a false friend and give it a stab in the dark in Committee. The Amendment of his noble Friend had been very much criticized by small men out of doors and by great men in the House. It had been criticized by the noble. Lord at the head of the Government; it had been pooh-poohed by the Chancellor of 1383 the Exchequer, who said he did not understand it, and probably no one could; and it had been mentioned by the Home Secretary as an Amendment without a principle—a dishonest measure, which would have no effect but to retard the settlement of the question. Now he (Lord Dunkellin) was astonished to hear the right hon. Baronet make that remark, because he was generally sharp and clear in discovering the meaning of much more abstruse sentiments. The right hon. Baronet said that the Amendment of his noble Friend could not bear any comparison with that moved in 1859 by the noble Earl now at the head of the Government, That, he said, was an Amendment which could be understood. It stated a principle, and there could be no mistake about it. But he (Lord Dunkellin) would take the liberty of saying that any one who read the Amendment of his noble Friend must put on it, as he did, this meaning—that it was as clear as the sun at noon day, that this House before it votes for a partial measure of Reform is anxious to see the entire scheme of the Government by which they intend to amend the representation of the people. It therefore appeared to him that the Amendment was distinct, honest, and sound. It was distinct—at all events, those on that side who voted for it were ready to consider the question of Parliamentary Reform with a view to its settlement. Were they now considering the question with a view to its settlement? Now he (Lord Dunkellin) would just put it to the right hon. Gentleman in his calmer moments to say who were really the parties that were unsettling the question. Were they not those who were forcing on a fragmentary and partial measure—a portion of a scheme so dark and uncertain that it even forced those who generally supported the Government to ask them for further explanation? Let the whole scheme be placed before them, and they would at once proceed to consider it. They had before them the Bill for the Representation of the People, which would probably in the course of this week pass through its second reading. ["Oh!"] Well, he would assume that it would pass a second reading. But, before going into Committee they were to be favoured with a Bill for the Redistribution of Seats—a measure intimately connected with the Franchise Bill, and one which he be- 1384 lieved would be brought in chiefly in consequence of the unwieldy mass of voters which the present measure would add to the constituencies. He contended that those two measures ought to be looked upon as one and the same Bill, and to be considered at the same time. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had clearly shown that, with the time that must be taken up in the discussion of this Bill, and other measures which must be passed this year, it was almost impossible to get another Reform Bill discussed this Session. In what position, then, were they placed? Suppose this Bill passed both Houses and received the Royal assent, and that Parliament was summoned next year to consider the Bill which would be laid on the table this Session, for the Redistribution of Seats, did any one suppose that it would not be fought with the utmost pertinacity? He recollected some years ago listening with great pleasure and satisfaction to the glowing eloquence of the right hon. Gentleman whilst delivering a clever speech in defence of the small boroughs. He (Lord Dunkellin) looked forward with much pleasure to an equally eloquent speech of the right hon. Gentleman on the subject of the disfranchisement of small boroughs. Many of those boroughs which the right hon. Gentleman now doomed would die hard, and there would be an eternal squable about the redistribution of seats. The Distribution of Seats and the Franchise Bill were so intimately connected that he should like to put the questions which had been placed on the paper by the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Marsh). What boroughs was the right hon. Gentleman going to disfranchise? To what constituencies was he going to give new members? Were the counties to have an increased representation? The towns in the north would put in an extensive claim to be considered. Was the right hon. Gentleman going to divide the new Members equally between the counties and the northern towns; were any to be given to the southern towns, or was a preponderance to be given to the manufacturing towns? These were questions which affected the constitution of the House of Commons, and it was most desirable that they should be answered. Suppose this Bill went through its different stages and became law, and suppose that, in the course of next Session, the Government 1385 should fall, and that the measure for the distribution of seats was thrown out—where would they be then? They would pass this Bill, increasing the constituency, on the understanding that fresh seats should be formed; but the result might be that they would find large constituencies without boroughs. He did not know whether the Government meant to stand or fall by their Borough Boundaries Bill, as well as by their Bill for the Redistribution of Seats. It was a most inconvenient thing to have this standing or falling of the Government continually hanging over their heads. It was objectionable to have the sword of Damocles always suspended over their heads. If the House was always to have this threat impending over them, and to be told, "For God's sake don't do this or that, for the Government are going to stand or fall by it," their public and private business could not be satisfactorily carried on. He should like to have some idea, before they passed this Bill, of the increase that would take place in the voters, and of the manner in which sects were to be apportioned, To use a homely simile, he should like to know the depth of the stream before he took a header into it. That Bill, they were told, would be laid on the table after the second reading; but the present Bill was brought forward originally as a final measure, though the Government had since yielded to the persuasions of their friends, and had given notice of other measures. Therefore, the question put by the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley), as to what guarantee they had that they would be able to pass a Redistribution Bill was a most pertinent one. During the recess, the Government might listen to other persuasions of other friends, and the Bill might be so altered that next year they would not be able to recognize their friend. They were asked to place implicit faith not only in the honesty but in the wisdom and sagacity of the Government. Now the head of the Government had made several efforts in favour of Reform, but without success; what certainty was there of the noble Lord being more successful with the Hills referred to? The noble Lord was a man of independent mind, and of a strong will; he had attained a great reputation by his Bill of 1832; and, on the strength of it, as a member of many Cabinets, occasionally took steps which did not 1386 meet with the concurrence of his colleagues, for the plain and simple reason that he had not submitted his views to their consideration. Could they place a blind and implicit confidence in the Government of which the noble Lord was the head, with regard to a matter which was not yet before them, and which might be modified before they came to be submitted to the Parliament? No one could tell therefore what might not happen to those other Bills during the recess, and they might find themselves obliged to reject or modify them, in spite of the Government standing or falling by them. The Reform question ought surely to be dealt with by one Bill, so that they could consider the franchise and the redistribution of seats at one and the same time. Hon. Members were urged to vote for the second reading on the ground that they thereby simply affirmed the principle of lowering the borough franchise; but would they not thus also affirm the principle of patchwork and piecemeal legislation They were asked to swallow the powder of the franchise in full confidence of having the jam of redistribution after it. This, however, was not a wise or constitutional method of dealing with the question. The Amendment really expressed his view, which was that it was inexpedient to legislate on Reform, with a view to a settlement, until they had the whole scheme before them. He had heard different motives assigned for voting for the Bill. Some would vote for it because they thought it would be an easy way of getting rid of it; some because they wanted more Reform, and some because they were disappointed in their political aspirations. He had no sympathy with those who wanted to get rid of it in an underhand way; none with those who wished for no reform, and none for those who were disappointed in their political aspirations. He did care, however, and did take an interest in the constitution of the country; a constitution which had lasted for 600 years. [An hon. MEMBER: Only since 1832.] Parliamentary institutions, he was right in saying, had been in existence 600 years. But to take only the last thirty years, had not the House fairly reflected public opinion? Had they not reduced taxation, promoted education, removed religious disabilities, ameliorated the condition of the poor, and produced a feeling of general 1387 comfort and contentment in the country? He wished to see our Constitution improved and fortified by the widening of its portals, but the fabric was not so rotten that they should pull it down without a minute's consideration. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that there had been enough of idle and mocking words, and that deeds were what were wanted; but the Government were only likely to increase the flow of idle and mocking words by proposing legislation in shreds and patches. Let the right hon. Gentleman bring in one whole and perfect scheme, showing his views and ideas of what ought to be a complete measure of Reform. Let them have such a Bill before them, so that they might consider it, not in a party spirit, but in a clear and considerate way, with a view to a final and satisfactory settlement of the question—to a settlement not less constitutional than satisfactory, because it would be founded on sound constitutional principles.
§ Mr. W. E. FORSTER
I regret to stand in the way of the hon. Gentleman who is a new Member (Mr. M'Kenna); but in the present Parliament we are all new Members. I hope the House will give me its attention for a few minutes while I address it on the subject under consideration. But before doing so I wish to make a few remarks on the speech of the noble Lord who has just sat down, and others who have supported the Amendment. I think the House must see great inconsistency between the terms of the Amendment and the speeches of the hon. Gentlemen who support it. With the exception of the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley), all those who have spoken in favour of the Amendment, from the noble Lord the Member for Chester (Earl Grosvenor) to the noble Lord who has just spoken (Lord Dunkellin), have discussed the merits of the Bill, although the Amendment expressly says that it is inexpedient to do so till the whole Bill is before the House. They have shown why the franchise should not be reduced, or why it should not be reduced in the manner proposed by the Bill. What they should have done, therefore, was to propose an Amendment, declaring that it was inexpedient for the House to pass the Bill. But they knew that it would not have answered their purpose to meet the question in this direct way. For five or six nights more the 1388 House will probably continue to discuss this Bill, and all the Members who will in discussing it have shown reasons against it will vote together for the Amendment, which says that it is inexpedient to discuss it at all. Is not this trifling with the question? The noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley) did not take that line, for he took care not to discuss the principle of the measure. He dealt frankly with the House. He did not support the Amendment on the ground of opposition to the principle of the measure, and indeed he gave hopes that before long we would find him as earnest a reformer as any of ourselves. But other Members opposed the £7 franchise, which they looked upon as something terrible. The right hon. and gallant Member for Huntingdon (General Peel) said he was opposed to any reduction of the franchise, and he gave his reasons for that view. Now, what is the issue raised by the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley)? It said,It may be right that the franchise should be reduced, and reduced in the manner proposed. It may be that such reduction would not be impolitic or dangerous; it may merely give to the non-electors a right which they had a right to demand; but we will not give them those rights before a redistribution of seats, for it would make the absurdity and anomaly of the small boroughs more glaring.But that, I contend, is no argument against this Bill, though it may be an argument against small boroughs. But, after all, that is not the real question at issue. The real question is, Whether the borough franchise should be reduced, and reduced in the manner now proposed? I hope the House will allow me to say a few words on this part of the question, with a view of showing why the franchise should be reduced, and reduced precisely in the manner proposed by my right hon. Friend. For myself, I should prefer to see that reduction carried much further; and if three or four years ago I had been told that a Liberal Government would propose such a moderate measure, I should have been surprised; and still more surprised if told that it would be rejected by the Conservative party. But because we are now willing to accept this moderate measure, is that any reason why Conservatives should refuse it? You—the Conservative party—may say that you would not be satisfied if in our place. You may think our confidence in the noble Lord at the head of the Government and 1389 in my right hon. Friend misplaced; but because we have confidence in them, and because, on account of that confidence, we are induced to accept a more moderate Bill than we otherwise should, is that any reason why you should complain of that confidence? I am looking at the question from your point of view. I have always endeavoured to put myself in the point of view of those who are opposed to me; and looking at this question from that point of view, I am surprised that you, the Conservatives, do not accept this Bill. If you knew the working classes as well as I do, you would accept it. I am now speaking of the borough franchise only, not of the county franchise. I have no doubt that on both sides of the House there is a feeling that a larger number of the working classes, that the élite of that class, ought to be admitted to the franchise. The right hon. Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe), indeed, takes his stand upon the £10 franchise; he says that working men have been admitted under that franchise, and that they would be more and more admitted in the course of time. But I think we are entitled to ask the right hon. Gentleman, if such be his opinion, how it was that he continued to be a Member of a Government which proposed to reduce the franchise to £6? The right hon. Gentleman, like other persons, is of course entitled to change his opinions; but I should like to know what were the arguments, and what was the process of the operation which induced him to do so. From St. Augustine to Dr. Newman the most convincing and informing records of conversions have been those in which men have described the process in their own minds by which they were brought about; and if the right hon. Gentleman would only give his confessions and the reasons which brought him from a £6 to a £10 franchise, I for one should receive them with pleasure. But it is generally acknowledged that there ought to be some admission of working men. I think that the Government might have lowered the franchise to £6 without danger. But of the various modes which have been proposed for the admission of working men to the franchise, I believe the proposition of my right hon. Friend is the least fraught with danger. It is really a safer mode of accomplishing the object than the educational franchise proposed by my 1390 hon. Friend the Member for Hull (Mr. Clay), in his able speech. The educational franchise would admit by picking and choosing the young men who had just left school and finished their education; whereas the Bill of my right hon. Friend will admit the hard-working heads of families—that is, those who have the security of having hearthstones of their own. In the town which I represent what will be the effect of this Bill? You reduce the franchise to £7, but in reality a man will have to pay 3s. 6d. a week in rent and rates before he can become possessed of the franchise. If you go through the great manufacturing towns, you will find the occupiers of these 3s. 6d. houses to be composed, in the great majority of cases, of hardworking heads of families, skilled artizans, men who exhibit much self-denial in order to be able to lodge their families in houses somewhat better than those about them. The noble Lord opposite seems to think that the artizan has only to exhibit a little self-denial to obtain a £10 house, but I should myself be very sorry to exhibit the self-denial which would be necessary for such a purpose. Why, Sir, such men are as far removed from the general notion of a mob as it would be possible to conceive. If you ever mixed with a mob you will find that such men were not in it. They are men who are obliged to work hard; they may, it is true, have some profligate individuals amongst them, as there are amongst all classes and you cannot introduce any class so us to effectually exclude such men. You must take a section, a rude slice; and even looking at the question from the most Conservative point of view, you could not get a safer slice than that which we now offer, and which is, in fact, a slice from the top. These working men are as loyal as any other class of Her Majesty's subjects; indeed, it is only insulting them to praise their loyalty, and so far from being too democratic, they have a great respect for authority. My experience of them certainly goes that way, and nothing more surprises me than when I hear them accused of being wanting in respect for authority. In those large towns where a large portion of the population is not in communion with the Established Church, there is often no man more respected than the vicar; indeed, when Dr. Hook left Leeds, there was no more respected 1391 or popular man in the borough. That, it is true, may have been a special case; but wherever the vicar does his duty, he is respected by the working people. Something of the same kind applies to the feelings entertained by working men towards gentlemen. There is something in the position of the genuine working man, the receiver of wages, that renders him more independent than the small shopkeeper; and whilst I have observed that he cares little for mere wealth or rank, there is none who entertains more respect for those qualities which we understand as constituting a gentleman. The hon. and gallant Member for Huntingdon (General Peel) says all this may be true, but that it is not the working man he is afraid of, but his leaders. That was an announcement which would not much please working men, because it is telling them, "We do not take you for rogues, but for fools, and we fear the leaders which you will foolishly follow." No man has watched the working classes more attentively than I have. I have attempted to lead them, and not seldom I have not succeeded; they heard me attentively, but they would not follow. I can give a striking instance, an open-air meeting at Leeds, similar to that lately held, where 10,000 men stood out through a cold damp day for a political object. I believe that after the repeal of the Corn Laws there was no more popular man than the late Mr. Cobden. He was elected for the West Riding in his absence, but when he came down to Leeds to address a large meeting of working men on the subject of the Russian war, against the policy of which he entertained very strong opinions, the working classes received him most cordially, they cheered him frequently, and when the question was put to the vote they voted against him ten to one. This shows, I think, that the working men can follow their own opinions. In the article in a great Tory review which was alluded to by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, allusion is made to the conduct of certain working men in Sheffield, as a reason why we should not pass this Bill. But are we, because certain individuals in a restricted trade have acted badly, to refuse electoral privileges to the whole body of working men? Is that sound reasoning? Then the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) is taunted with the want of education exhibited by the 1392 children in Manchester; but hon. Gentlemen opposite are aware, that whilst this Bill admits 200,000 of the working men to the franchise it excludes one million, amongst whom will be 20,000 in Manchester alone, most probably the fathers of these uneducated children. But now we come to an argument which strikes me as being the most extraordinary of all. It is said that the working men may as individuals be loyal, men of sound practical knowledge and good intentions, out that they are to be feared because they are members of large and extensive classes, who may, not now, but at some future time, become so numerous and I influential as politically to swamp all the other classes of the community. They are fit as individuals, and not as classes. Why? At some future time they may overwhelm the rest of the community. This Bill, it is said, will form a precedent. You admit men now because they are fit, but hereafter so many will be admitted as to be unsafe for the balance of the Constitution. That, in fact, is as I much as to say—do not admit men now, however fully they may be entitled to admission, lest at some future time too I many should obtain admission. Now, I what does this dangerous class consist of? The noble Lord the Member for Stamford (Viscount Cranbourne) told us that the Bill would be a transfer of the taxing power, and that the working classes would have the power of taxing all the rest. What, I ask, is to be the mysterious bond of union amongst these men, who have never acted in union before, and who in the nine boroughs in which they are known to have the majority have returned so many Members to sit on the opposite benches? I can understand but one bond of union. It has been urged outside of this House, that the men who now strike for wages will soon begin to strike for political power. We who are employers know how difficult it is to maintain those trade organizations, and we are not afraid of them, and we think it a delusion to imagine that there can be any political union got up between the miners of Cornwall, the masons of London, and the mill hands of the North. But I would not say so much if you persist in withholding the franchise. If you keep the receivers of wages from the franchise because they are wage receivers, you then give them a real bond of union. They are in fact 1393 excluded at this moment. I know the returns give a total of 120,000 working men as exercising the franchise, but if you take from that number the men who keep shops, or who work at home and keep apprentices, you will find the actual number of wage receivers to be much smaller, so small as to make the class of wage receivers to be more excluded from the franchise than any other class in the community. If you continue to keep them excluded you will give them a real bond of union, and if you keep them excluded too long you may at last induce them to make the trades union a political engine. As a buyer of labour myself, I say that you could not take a more effectual mode to embitter the question. Well, I have given you my reasons why these men are tit for the franchise, and why there should be no cause for their exclusion; and these are my reasons for thinking this Bill a conservative measure, It is not a final settlement of the franchise. It is not intended to be a final settlement; but this I honestly believe, that it will be a settlement of the question for a period longer than our political lives. It is not so easy, I must remind the House, to get up frequent agitations on questions of this kind. Gentlemen may laugh, but if they were working men themselves, they would find it not so easy to leave work and lose wages for the purpose of attending political meetings. This will be such a settlement that there will not for a long time be any effort to get any other settlement. It will get the more active amongst the working men into the franchise, and they will be satisfied. I believe, further, that if the country goes on in prosperity, it will be a self-adjusting franchise, and that is another reason for my accepting it as a settlement. I shall give but one or two reasons more why I think the House ought to pass this Bill. I do not think it need be frightened: I do not fear a violent agitation like that of 1832. There will be no men from Birmingham marching to Palace Yard; no burnings in Bristol. I do not believe that there will be even any alarming accident: but this I do believe, that if you decline to legislate, you will even have a different state of things to deal with. You will have to deal, not with the friends of the non-electors, but with the non-electors themselves, better taught, with more concentrated power, and with cheaper political information to guide them towards 1394 organization. They are increasing in power and in intelligence every day, and if you refuse them the moderate boon they ask now they will lose all faith in Parliament, and take the settlement of their political rights into their own hands. We have been told, and properly told, that the onus probandi lies with those who would exclude the working man, and you will find that onus probandi a very difficult argument to deal with when you are proving to the working man that it is not safe or proper to give him a vote. The question will be changed from to whom should a vote be given, to from whom shall you keep their rights? If I were looking merely to the interests of Radical Reform, I should be very easy about the result of this debate. The cause of Radical Reform will not suffer from the rejection of this Bill; but we have other things to do besides extending the franchise. We want to make Ireland loyal and contented; we want to get rid of pauperism in the country; we want to fight against a class much more to be dreaded than the holders of a £7 franchise—I mean the dangerous classes in our large towns. If we can get into Parliament those who are more immediately above them, we shall be able to legislate more efficiently for them. We want to see whether we cannot make for the agricultural labourer some better hope than the workhouse for his old age. We want to have Old England as well taught as New England. Why not come forward with this first step, and have no fears for the result? I want to ask the vast majority on both sides who take a patriotic and not a party view of this question, whether you are taking a safe course in opposing the growth of the people and the progress of civilization? I believe you could not if you would, and I trust you would not if you could. I am myself called an advocate of democracy, and it is little matter what so humble an individual as I am should think; but I am not one of those who wish that the great conservative force of this country should lose its power. I believe it is necessary for the welfare of the nation; and I ask all Conservatives, whether those opposite or those behind me, why not look at the question as true conservatives, and not let the fabric of the state fall to ruin for the want of a little necessary repair? I ask whether you would not be acting the part of true 1395 Conservatives by assisting us in settling this question, and thus make available for the future the memory and experience of the past.
§ MR. M'KENNA
said, that in rising to address the House for the first time, he was afraid he might go over ground already trodden: he would, however, endeavour to confine his remarks to the precise issue before the House, travelling out of that line as little as possible consistently with clearness. It might be well to state thus early, as it would tend to throw light on his future observations, that he intended to vote for the Amendment. He did so because he wished to show that he did not place a blind confidence in the Government. In adopting this course he denied that he opposed Reform: he believed that several measures of Reform were needed, one for each of the three countries constituting the United Kingdom; but in making this admission he claimed that the confidence of the House should not be abused, and that they should know what the bill of fare was. Now, the Ministry had brought forward their measure, not merely in a piecemeal manner, but they had failed to indicate what their bill of fare was. The noble Lord who last spoke upon the subject had said, that the Ministers were serving out the powder now, and promised that they should get the jam hereafter; but he would, perhaps, be pardoned if he were to say that they were being coaxed into taking the jam now, and that they would be forced to take the powder afterwards. The proposition of the Ministry was pretty nearly this: they said, "Take this dish which we now offer you, which certainly ought to be palatable. Take it, and when you have taken it, what we offer you next we promise you, whether palatable or not, shall at least be wholesome." He thought the House was entitled to have the full confidence of the Ministers extended to it before it placed them on the vantage ground which would give them a powerful constituency at their back to force their wishes on the House, or to carry other measures in a future Parliament to which this House would not now consent. Many reasons had been urged on the Ministerial side of the House in favour of the Bill, to many of which he gave his full assent; and he granted that the arguments of the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. S. Mill) 1396 had great power in them. The arguments of the hon. Member for Westminster in support of the Bill were characterised by great force. He contended that although the Bill might be only a fragment of Reform, yet it was a good Bill in itself, and ought to receive the assent of the House on its own merits. That was a reason for voting for the Bill, which, however unanswerable it might be when addressed by one Member to another, was untenable as proceeding from the Treasury Bench. For on the part of the Government there was no allegation that they did not know what they proposed to do next, and next, and last. In dealing with the question, they must be guided by some definite policy on the question of Parliamentary Reform; and why did they, he would ask, refuse to confide that policy to the House of Commons, and make themselves at the very outset accountable for their complete scheme? Some hon. Members on their own side admitted with great candour that they did not do so, because, if the House was aware of what was to come they would not have the Bill at all. They had not then before them any proposal for the redistribution of seats or for the amendment of the representation of either Scotland or Ireland: therefore the question at issue was not simply whether the Members for England and Wales would be satisfied with the Bill for the redistribution of seats which was to be introduced, there was the further question whether the Scotch and Irish Members were contented that the Reform Bills for those countries should be kept from their knowledge while they were asked to vote in favour of the measure under discussion. He would appeal especially to the independent Members from Ireland who had pledged themselves to their constituents to oppose every Ministry which should refuse to bring forward a proper scheme of Reform for that country, and which was not ready to introduce remedial measures of a still more urgent nature, whether they thought they were redeeming their pledges by lending their support to the Government while the Habeas Corpeas Act was suspended, and the gaols in Ireland were crowded with political prisoners? The Chancellor of the Exchequer, it should be borne in mind, had adduced no argument to show that the Bill under discussion was a measure of a pressing nature; but there were a great 1397 many grievances of which Ireland had to complain, which called for remedy very urgently indeed. If then, by the aid of the Irish independent Members, the Government were able to carry their Bill, they would be making them masters of the situation, and leaving them totally unpledged to introduce those measures which these very Members had been sent to Parliament to advocate. That, in his opinion, was not a wise course for the Irish Members to pursue; and he denied that the arguments in support of the Bill which had that evening been urged by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Maguire) were proper arguments, coming from a Liberal Irish representative; because there was such a thing in the political arena as the maintenance of the balance of power, and the expediency of providing as far as possible that no particular class should secure such an influence all at once as to leave another class or country at its mercy, or at the mercy of a probable combination. At the commencement of the Session it was very generally said that the views of Ministers on the subject of education in Ireland were very sound, taken in an Irish and Roman Catholic sense. A Notice, however, had been placed upon the paper, that a Question was to be asked on the subject of the intended reforms; and the education question disappeared, in consequence, it was supposed, of some mysterious communication directly or indirectly made to the Government by some forty or fifty Members sitting on their own side of the House, who stated that if the Government did not accede to their views with regard to national education in Ireland, they must not expect their support. There was in fact nothing which ought to induce the Irish Members to vote for the Bill. Of course it might be that the intentions of the Government on that and other questions affecting Ireland were good; but, then, they had given no such evidence of their desire to act in the spirit of these intentions, if they entertained them, as would justify him in voting for them on such an occasion as the present. Their proposal with respect to Reform had been characterized as one inviting Members to take a leap in the dark; but he (Mr. M'Kenna) looked upon it rather as an invitation to leap into the dark, to leap out of the light upon ground, it might be firm, but still ground enveloped in darkness. A very accomplished and 1398 skilful, but yet a wayward, guide urged him and others to take that leap; but he trusted he would be forgiven if he, for one, preferred retaining such footing as he had on the Constitution; and unless his guide showed him a map of the road he should, to use a phrase which had been used in another! sense a few evenings before, decline to follow him up the mountain. Adverting to another topic he would observe, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was, as the House was aware, such a master of statistics, such a wizard of finance, that the inference from what he said, in dealing with figures, seemed to be greater than was apparent on the surface. In moving the second reading of his Bill on Thursday last lie had, with the purpose of refuting certain false theories which he said prevailed on the subject to which he was addressing himself, put his argument on the question in the; following shape:—He estimated the income of the working classes as being five-twelfths of the aggregate income of the United Kingdom, while those who held that amount of income, which paid so large a portion of the national taxes, possessed only one-seventh of the electoral power of the country; and the right hon. Gentleman seemed to infer that, if we retain that proportion of the representation, we ought to change our whole system of taxation. The right hon. Gentleman left out of consideration the fact that the working classes—at least those whom the Bill before the House would enfranchise—escaped to a great extent the pressure of taxation, for a man earning 35s. a week who might have a vote would not, for instance, be liable to the income-tax. He (Mr. M'Kenna) believed that the income of the working classes amenable to taxation was not one-seventh, nor so much as one-twelfth, of the income of the country. It had been intimated that the Government regarded the Amendment of the noble Lord, the Member for Chester, as a vote of want of confidence; but the question did not concern a want of confidence; but the point was whether that House would vote a blind confidence in the Ministers, who, knowing perfectly what they intended to do should the present Bill be carried, would not favour the House with the smallest portion of their confidence. He certainly was not prepared to extend to them his confidence in the circumstances under which they had brought 1399 the subject under the notice of the House.
§ SIR JOHN SIMEON
said that the Bill had been received, as might be expected, with aversion on one side of the House, and with no great amount of enthusiasm on the other; but he thought that, as the discussion proceeded, Members upon the Ministerial side of the House were beginning to view the Bill in a truer and fairer light than that in which they were at first inclined to regard it; and as it was discovered that the motives of the Government were honest, their measure was receiving more general acceptance. He did not himself entirely approve of it, and should have liked to see a more complete, a more comprehensive, and, in some respects, a more philosophical measure; but he did not for a moment doubt the propriety of supporting the Bill as it had been introduced: he was not going to allow himself to be drawn aside by the red herring which the noble Lord the Member for Chester had trailed across the scent. It was not for him to attempt to fathom the motives of the noble Lord: he might, for aught he knew, be an earnest Liberal and a true friend of Reform; but he (Sir J. Simeon) could not follow him in what he could not but consider a deplorable act of political suicide, the attempting the destruction of a Liberal Government by the help of Liberal votes. They had been told that this Motion ought not to be regarded as a vote of want of confidence. Now, in his opinion, it was emphatically a vote of want of confidence -, and after the assurance that the Bill for the Redistribution of Seats would be laid on the table immediately after the passing of this measure, and that the Government rested their position in the House and the country as much upon the Bill for the Redistribution of Seats as upon that for the improvement of the franchise, it was a want of confidence not only in the administrative power of the Government, but in their honour and plighted faith. The right hon. baronet the Member for Hertfordshire (Sir E. Bulwer-Lytton), in his able speech on Friday last, flung across the table a sarcasm on a large portion of the Liberal party, and affected to believe that they were ready to vote upon that occasion in direct antagonism to all their political convictions. But he (Sir J. Simeon) entirely repudiated that charge for himself, and he believed he might add for hon. Gentlemen around him. He felt that he at least stood un- 1400 affected by those sarcasms, and that he could stand erect, and look, the right hon. Gentleman boldly in the face, even were he to hurl his heaviest volume across the table of the House at the devoted heads of Liberal Members. He was not going to weary the House with statistics, of which they have had enough and to spare, and were likely to have more. He desired only to state the common sense view of the question which he entertained, and which, he believed, was held by a large majority of reasonable men throughout the country. No one could doubt that a Reform Bill must one day be passed; and it was equally impossible not to see that they would not, by delaying the settlement of the question, obtain a more moderate measure than that which was at present proposed by Her Majesty's Government. There had been pledges given upon the subject by successive Administrations; and now Members upon the Opposition side were careful to say that this Resolution did not imply that hon. Gentlemen were indisposed to consider the question of Reform. He was afraid if it were left there, a great deal of valuable time might be lost in putting on the considering cap merely to take it off again. Would any one believe that a less measure of Reform than this would satisfy the country when larger measures had been offered? Was it wise to allow the anticipations of the country to be constantly raised and always disappointed when they had the opportunity of purchasing the affection and gratitude of the unrepresented classes at the price of a very small sacrifice of power? And did they not incur the risk of having, at a later time, to purchase a much smaller amount of gratitude and affection at the price of a more serious surrender of power, and possibly more dangerous to the welfare and happiness of the country? Was it wise to allow this question of Reform to be continually blocking up the road, and standing in the way of those measures of improvement to which the attention of Parliament ought to be directed? While the House is occupied in wasting its time, which is the time of the country, and its energies, which are the energies of the country, in discussing what is after all only a means to an end, it was neglecting measures having for their object that war against pauperism and ignorance so touchingly alluded to by the Member for Westminster in the speech which sank deep 1401 into the hearts of the House, and would, if he mistook not, form an epoch in its annals. They were told that there was at the moment no cry for Reform; and no doubt there was no loud cry for it among the classes which were already represented. But every one who had any acquaintance with the working classes, or who had even merely noticed the number of petitions recently presented to that House, must be aware that those classes were animated by an earnest desire to obtain political enfranchisement. Parliament, ought to be as the pulse beating in sympathy with the whole heart of the nation, and not with that merely of the represented classes. Is not this argument that there is no demand for Reform the best evidence that can be given for the necessity of an extension of the suffrage. To refuse Reform now would be a continued premium to agitation; while by granting it they would convince the people that agitation was unnecessary. Increased rights would induce a sense of increased responsibility, and the people would educate themselves up to the point of their political privileges. This was the case with the great middle class whose claims were admitted in 1832. The apprehensions with respect to the Reform Bill of 1832 had been falsified; but who shall say that had our fathers been wise in time, and carried that Bill before it was forced upon them by the voice of an indignant people, the Constitution might not have assumed a form of more theoretical perfection, and that security might not have been taken for such a representation of property and intelligence as no one now dreams of being able to carry. He thought that by admitting a large body of the working classes to the franchise they would, instead of damaging the bulwarks of the Constitution, be strengthening them, by manning a new line of defence. He was satisfied that the men whom it was proposed to enfranchise would bring within the pale of the representation sound intelligence, good English hearts, and, when once admitted, a pride in maintaining the institutions of the country to which they are now alien, but which they will then look upon with that personal interest which always arises from a sense of gratified possession. He should give his cordial vote for the Bill, believing that the passing of the measure would give general satisfaction to the working classes of the country.
said it appeared to be 1402 universally acknowledged by both sides of the House, and also generally throughout the country, that before this question of Parliamentary Reform could be considered as finally settled, or perhaps, as hon. Gentlemen opposite would say, settled for a time, three distinct and all-important questions must be dealt with,—namely, the question of the reduction of the franchise, the redistribution of seats, and the readjustment of boundaries. Now, while this measure only proposed to deal with one branch of the series, he asked the House whether it afforded any guarantee that it would effect the settlement even of that limited portion of the Reform question which it affected to settle. He had listened in vain to the speeches of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other hon. Members who supported the Bill, and to the speech of the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), for any indication that information would be afforded to the House by the Government, that this Bill would really form a settlement of the question. In addition to the Debates in that House, the subject of this Franchise Bill had been discussed elsewhere with more freedom and with greater frankness. Allusions had been made to the various public meetings which had taken place in different parts of the country in support of the Bill. Now the fact was, that a great majority, or a very large number, of these meetings had been signal and notorious failures. But two or three of these meetings, nevertheless, were worthy of consideration, because they showed what were the real objects and intentions of the principal and only hearty supporters of this Bill. Within the last few days—since the termination of the Easter Recess—one of those meetings was held in St. Martin's Hall, organised by the National Reform League. The views of that body were well known. It was in favour of manhood suffrage—universal suffrage in its widest acceptation, with vote by ballot. I le was not a little astonished to find that an association founded with these objects could support a Bill which proposed to effect a final settlement of the franchise in a spirit which fell so short of their expectations. But in order to prevent misconception, Mr. Beales, the chairman of the meeting, stated his reason for taking the chair and supporting the Bill. And what did lie say?—But while we give this recommendation, we protest emphatically, for the reasons already as- 1403 signed, against this Bill, should it become law, being regarded as a settlement of the Reform question. Whether it be passed or rejected, we urge you and our friends in every direction to aid us in maintaining with unabated zeal a peaceful and moral agitation for 'the extension of the franchise to every resident and registered adult male person of sound mind and unconvicted of crime, and the obtaining for the voter the protection of the ballot.' We cannot consider anything less as final. Until these are gained, our work is not fully accomplished.That statement had the merit, at any rate, of being straightforward and frank. And in the course of the evening Professor Beazley, a man apparently of some little influence among the knot of agitators forming the National Reform League, uttered his sentiments:—I attribute, said he, the revival of the Reform agitation to the result of the American war. Republicanism is now looking up in the world; and the question, before long, will be, not whether we shall reform our institutions, but whether we shall recast them.That remark was followed by loud and continuous cheering. In justice, however, to the hon. Member for Lambeth, it must be added that he lost no time in repudiating, as every hon. Member of that House would do, such sentiments of downright treason. Another meeting was held at Camberwell, and The Daily Telegraph, an authority which would no doubt be recognized by hon. Gentlemen opposite, in writing about it said:—In the earlier part of the evening a brass band had been employed to draw people together by a constant repetition of the favourite and appropriate air of 'Wait for the Waggon.'He (Mr. Lowther) presumed the waggon they were waiting for was the Bill for the Redistribution of Seats.
Men bearing, sandwich fashion, huge placards pasted on boards, made their way through the throng, stopping ever and anon to afford time for the perusal of announcements of 'Gladstone this evening—working man's friend,' and others of a similar character; some reflecting upon Messrs. Horsman, Marsh, and Lowe, and Lords Elcho and Robert Montagu, declaring that 'while open enemies were to be respected, false Liberals were to be execrated,' and calling upon 'illustrious industry to the rescue.'Mr. Lucraft, who was stated to be a cabinetmaker, though, in this instance, he was doing his best to unmake a Cabinet, said:—Although he had been for twenty years trying to advocate manhood suffrage as a right, he was persuaded that they ought to accept this instalment as a help to the rest.In conclusion, the chairman of the meet- 1404 ing, casting a longing eye to "the space between Charing Cross and the venerable Abbey," of which mention had been made in a memorable letter, proposed a motion which was agreed to, that as many of the meeting as could attend should go down to Westminster on Thursday afternoon to cheer their friends. What mode of salutation they were to employ if they happened to see any of the noble Lords or hon. Gentlemen to whom allusion was made upon the placards the terms of the motion did not state, but he presumed they were to express their feelings in a becoming manner. Such were the views of those supporting the Government Bill. And who were they? The advocates of universal suffrage and the enemies of the Throne. In the different meetings held throughout the country, there was one favourite assertion which had done duty for argument, and which had originated in a Member of that House: this was, that hon. Members on the. Opposition side of the House were the enemies of the working classes. As the representative of a constituency possessing upon the register a larger number comparatively of working men than was perhaps included in the constituency of any other hon. Member, he should not enter into any personal repudiation of the charge. But of the charge generally, which was one that ought not to be lightly made, he would say that it was utterly opposed to the fact. In the advocacy of any measure which they honestly believed to be for the social and material well-being of the working class, the Conservative party had always been foremost. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not condescended to adduce any reasons in favour of this measure—unless, indeed, they were to accept the anatomical and somewhat sanguinary argument to which reference had since been so frequently made; and the hon. Member for Birmingham, casting aside all reason, invoked the aid of physical force. The House, he trusted, would mark their sense of this dangerous and unsound measure by supporting the Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Chester. It was a measure prepared without thought, introduced without argument, supported by menace, and now sought to be forced on a reluctant Parliament and an unwilling nation.
§ SIR FRANCIS CROSSLEY
said, he should not have risen on the present occasion had it not been that the large con- 1405 stituency which he had the honour to represent took a deep interest in this question, had held very many and numerous meetings, and had presented a great number of petitions to the House in favour of the Bill now under consideration. The hon. Member for York, who had just sat down, had told the House that many of those meetings had been failures. He (Sir Francis Crossley) was not aware that a single one of them had been a failure. The hon. Member bad also told them that the parties who had addressed those meetings were in favour of manhood and universal suffrage. If that were so, it was highly to their honour that they were willing to take such a moderate measure as that now proposed, and which he thought would confer the franchise on the cream of the working classes. The arguments of hon. Gentlemen opposite and of the few Members who sat on that (the Liberal) side of the House might be summed up in these words—that they were against lowering the franchise. They alleged that they were for extending the franchise; but they would only extend it to the same class as possessed it at present. That was the very reason why they failed in 1859 to settle the question of Reform when the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli) introduced his Bill. When this Bill was introduced a month ago he (Sir Francis Crossley) stated that he considered it to be an honest measure, and that be should therefore support it. But the hon. Member for Wick had ridiculed the idea of its being thought an honest measure. The hon. Gentleman said, that if it were an honest measure its honesty consisted in lowering the franchise. That was the very reason why he (Sir Francis Crossley) considered it was an honest measure. The Bill of 1859 was in name a Reform Bill—it promised to the ear, but broke to the heart. It found them with a £10 borough franchise, and left them just where it found them; but they all knew that the working man could not pay £10 rent and do justice to his family unless he was an over looker or something more than an ordinary man. The working man was told that it was not intended to bring him in, and that he must rise to the franchise by becoming something more than a working man. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had been much twitted with having stated on a former occasion, that he did not believe above 10 per cent of the 1406 working men possessed the franchise, whereas the statistics that had been laid on the table proved that they possessed it in the proportion of 26 per cent. But how had that 26 per cent been obtained? Those who obtained these particulars were told, that if any man who was working with his hands and saved money enough to sot up a shop, which his wife or some member of his family attended to while he attended to his own business, he was to be put down as a working man. If he only worked with his hands, whatever other means he had, he was described as a working man; but what the House wanted to ascertain was, how many of these who laboured with their hands, and had nothing else to depend upon, possessed the franchise. If they had adopted that test, he believed the percentage of working men who possessed the franchise would be very near the estimate of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If they took the speeches made by hon. Gentlemen on the hustings, he had no hesitation in declaring that those speeches would warrant them in coming to a conclusion, that there would be a large majority for the moderate measure of Reform that was before the House. But they now turned round and said, "We want two things at a time and you have only brought one before us." They hesitated to vote for this measure because it did not do everything at once. He did not, however, see upon what ground they should insist upon Members who were anxious to vote upon the franchise question voting at the same time on the question of the re-distribution of seats. There were many Members for small boroughs who, though in favour of an extension of the suffrage, would hesitate to vote for such a measure if they knew their boroughs were to be interfered with. He thought, the Government had done wisely in separating the two questions. With the exception of the noble Lord the Member for Galway (Lord Dunkellin) he did not remember any one during the whole debate who objected to the abolition of the ratepaying clause. He thought the Government had acted wisely in proposing the abolition of that clause. The collectors of these rates were generally partisans, and they did not call upon the ratepayers who were opposed to them in politics until it was a day too late to place their names on the register. But there was a still greater evil, which amounted to bribery and cor- 1407 ruption, but of which the House did not take cognizance. It was this—that in a considerable number of boroughs, where parties were nearly balanced, a number of electors often had rates paid for them, and that fact alone was sufficient to justify the Government in proposing the abolition of the ratepaying clause. They were told that if they passed this bill they would find that there would be such combinations of the working men to raise wages that they would be past dealing with, and that the men would become the masters. He did not believe that. The company with which he was connected employed 4,500 people. He had been connected with them all his life, and had been finding employment for them not only in brisk times, but also in times when employment was very difficult to find at all. And when one had been a great many years working with a certain class of people, in all sorts of circumstances, one was likely to find out what they were made of. He spoke not only for himself but for many other employers of labour who sat in that House. He would venture to say that he could find ten Members of that House who with their partners employed 50,000 people who would vote for this measure, whereas he would defy the Conservatives to find 100 Members voting against it employing an equal number. Why should the holders of broad acres be afraid of that property running away from them, when no apprehension was entertained by those who, if this measure was so disastrous, would be the first sufferers? After all that had been said about strikes and combinations, wages could not be raised by such means any more than the quantity of water in a valley could be increased by damming up the streams. The class of domestic servants had increased their wages more than any other class, and yet they had had no strikes or combinations. He was not aware of any combinations or strikes of domestic servants. They knew that what raised wages—and they ought all to rejoice at the rise of wages—was the freedom of commerce, as every district and every neighbourhood could now buy goods as cheap as they could be got in any foreign country (with allowance for carriage)—and the result was that two masters were competing for one labourer, instead of two labourers offering themselves to one master. As long as that was the case wages must rise. By passing so moderate a Bill as this they did but keep 1408 pace with the times, if they did that—and by taking men into the citizenship their attention would be diverted from strikes and combinations to that of interesting themselves in the welfare of the country. Many had been surprised that so moderate a measure had been so well received, and some could not account for it. He thought he could account for it in three ways. First, the people were well off, and men were easier to please when they had had a good dinner than when they had not had a dinner and did not know were to get one; secondly, if they did not take a great interest in the Bill when at first introduced, notwithstanding the eloquence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, yet when great Liberals such as the right hon. Gentlemen the Members for Stroud and Calne, and some others who sat below the gangway, rose against it, and when it was found that they could say so much against it, working men began to perceive that it was an honest measure, and that the Government were honest when they staked their existence on it. And the third reason was that very last fact, that Government did declare that they would stand or fall by it. The hon. Member for Huntingdon seemed to ridicule the idea that if this measure were rejected the Government would go to the country. But the working men of this country did not expect that Government having pledged themselves to the measure, were going to run away and shrink from it. If this measure were rejected, the working men would call on the Government to dissolve Parliament. They had been told that the country was Conservative, and not disposed to reduce the franchise. But he had perfect confidence as to what would he the result of an appeal to the country on that question; and he should be extremely disappointed if, in the event of the Bill being rejected, the Government did not at once make that appeal.
§ MR. ADDERLEY
Sir, one thing has struck me in the course of this debate, and that is the way in which nil the supporters of the Government either affect to misunderstand, or else wholly ignore the Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Chester, which is the real topic of the discussion now before the House. They assert, though none have ever attempted to show, that those who support the Amendment are indirectly shirking the question of Reform. Can anybody deny, at any rate of many of those who have supported the Amend- 1409 ment, headed by the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn, that they are as much in earnest in the cause of Reform as any hon. Gentleman on the other side of the House? Amongst them I profess myself to be one, I can conceive no question more important or more urgent at this moment than that of Parliamentary Reform. I believe that large numbers; of the Members of the House of Commons are returned by means which are a scandal to the country, and demoralising to the nation; the more so that, whilst the subject is denounced, it is at the same time made a joke of and treated with measures of repression costly but wholly ineffectual, f believe also that there are many places in this country, as well as men, who ought to have a voice in returning Members to this House, and who have not; and many who have a voice and who ought not to have it. Hut the question before the House at this moment is not Parliamentary Reform. The question before the House is Parliamentary freedom—freedom of debate—whether we are to give such blind confidence to any Ministry as to consent to vote upon or even discuss a measure not before us—to discuss the second part of a great constitutional scheme while the first part which explains it is withheld from us; and that without any reasons being assigned for withholding those further measures which are the key to the meaning of the whole, The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said—and that is his only allegation of excuse—that all the measures could not be passed in one session. But can he give a reason why they cannot be produced in one session? Can he assign any reason why this House should be denied even a sight of those measures which can alone give any definite meaning to the one before the House, but of which he has told us nothing? I hope there never was a Minister in the country, and I hope there never will be one strong enough to be able so far to insult and degrade the House of Commons as to ask them to discuss a fragment of a measure and to withhold from them the context, from which alone they can read its definite meaning and bearing. Why, the humblest imitation of this representative assembly in the world would not concede so much to the executive. The Senate and Deputies of France would not concede so much to the Emperor. They at least require a programme of any law before 1410 they debate it, even though their debates may bear but a faint resemblance in independence and effect to those held in this House, If we were to allow such a course, what a precedent it would give !Why should not Government call upon us to vote supply without items and without appropriation? Is it too much to say that the Government have the audacity to ask us to discuss what has no meaning at all, or any meaning in the world, according to other measures they profess to intend and wilfully keep in the dark? If any body denies that, let him try any portion of the Bill. Let him consider the fourth clause, which proposes a £14 rental for county qualification. Does that mean anything except according to the other Bills? If that £14 rental is to accumulate votes for counties in the suburbs of large towns represented and in the whole of towns unrepresented, it is a county qualification a great deal too low; but if they are going to introduce measures like those of the Bill of 1859, in which unrepresented towns would have representatives of their own, and suburbs of represented towns be included in their representation, then the £14 is needlessly high. In some of the speeches made during the recess, those who sit on this side of the House have been accused of inconsistency in opposing the £14 county franchise when we had, in 1859, proposed one of £10 But our proposal was, that, both town and county franchises might be £10, with the localities of representation so corrected. Take, for another instance of the Bill's ambiguity, the reduced town qualification in clause 7. It will have no effect in some towns; in others it will simply aggravate existing evils: it may have a Conservative tendency in some boroughs, and believe there are Liberals on the other side of the House who trust that it will have the Conservative tendency of introducing a class of workmen over whom they as masters will have more control. But this is clear, that the effect may be anything according to the other measures which we are told are to be introduced. To call upon us to vote for a measure which depends for its meaning on another measure is to ask the House of Commons to resign its functions as a deliberative assembly, and to place a blind confidence, in Ministers. It is to ask us to jump at once to the ultimatum to which universal suffrage, would finally lead this assembly; namely, the separate and independent dictation of 1411 the Executive. It has been said that Lord John Russell did not directly oppose the second reading of our Reform Bill. But mark the difference. There was not a point in debate on the Bill of 1859 that could not have been settled in its own Committee. But, on this occasion, we are asked to vote a second reading, not because points can be settled in Committee, but may be left for discussion on some other Bill or Bills as to which we are entirely in the dark. This House will not, I am confident, irrespective of the merits of the Bill, abdicate its functions as a deliberative assembly. I will go further. I see that there are some, and a very considerable portion of those who are going to support the Government—I may say one-half the phalanx on whom they depend—who appear to dread more the possible immediate effects of an adverse vote on themselves than the ultimate consequences of the Bill on the Constitution. At first they uttered a very natural cry of alarm at being asked to swallow a fragment of a measure devoid of all definite meaning; but they have since been reconciled to the process by a most remarkable theory. They have been assured by the remark of the hon. Member for Bridgewater (Mr. Kinglake), that on the second reading of the Kill they are only dealing with an abstract principle, and may safely leave the details and the application to the future. Let me ask what the abstract principle in this case is? Is it the extension of the right of voting in the abstract? Does not the question immediately arise—How, where, or on what principle? Does not the application become immediately involved? Is it extension to greater numbers, no matter how or where? There are men who idolize numbers—the quacks of Reform—the Sangrados of constitutional doctors—who, whatever the disease or no disease of the constitution, prescribe simply letting out more blood. But the numbers even introduced by the Franchise Bill depend wholly upon the additional measures which have not been introduced. The franchise we are now called upon to consider may add 400,000 voters to the existing constituency, or 1,000,000, according to the localities and arrangements intended. Is the abstract principle simple representation? I heard some hon. Gentlemen say, that anybody who votes against the Bill votes altogether against the principle of representation. But is there any abstract principle of representation possible to be conceived? Every one takes 1412 the word in his own meaning, and waits for the concealed measures to give it force. As far as the general principle can be defined, we should all agree that every man should have a voice in the choice of representatives who has a qualification for a share in the government himself—that he possess a stake in the country—that he should possess intelligence—that he should have sufficient independence to have an individual interest in the matters to be legislated about. So far we shall all agree. We might agree still further that, if the qualifications of wealth and intelligence became more distributed through the nation, the voice in representation should extend itself pari passu. But if you take that definition, you must also take its corollary, that as these conditions of wealth and intelligence are never equally distributed, so neither should the power made to depend upon them be equally distributed—still less should we go out of our way to distribute that power in the inverse ratio of the defined qualification. Is then the principle of the Bill simply to carry out the principle of the Act of 1832. Then what was the principle of that measure? It was, in the words of its preamble, the amendment of the representation, and this it attempted mainly by putting an end to a preponderance of one class in the representation which then existed. Now if it is obvious that this Bill will produce a new preponderance of another class, so far from carrying out the principle of the Act of 1832, it will absolutely reverse it. There were many supporters of this Bill on various vague and arbitrary principles who really supported it with a view to some ulterior objects—some foregone conclusions, wholly independent of any premisses. They did not want, premisses, but had their conclusions ready. The Birmingham petitioners stated their principle of representation to be, that the population of their town having doubled since it was enfranchised, therefore they claim a double number of representatives. [Mr. BRIGHT dissented.] I think that was what the petition stated.
What the petition stated was, that there were boroughs that had eighty times the amount of representation in proportion to numbers that Birmingham had; but it did not say anything about Birmingham having double the number of representatives, though I presume that they expected that large boroughs would have more Members.
§ Mr. ADDERLEY
I think that if the hon. Gentleman will refer to the petition, he will find that, they claim an increase of representation in proportion to that of the population. Now, I maintain that this principle is novel, and never was applied to the representation of this country. The principle of the Constitution is, that every locality shall have a voice in this House; and that when two Members were given to every place, it was uniformly two to each, and only two instead of one, that one might attend in the event of the other being ill, or unable to attend; but it is new to the Constitution that a town should have Members accumulated in proportion to the number of the population. This would be treating Members not as a consultative body, but as counters for a division only. It was, indeed, discussed a few years ago, when that novel principle, followed out to its result, was shown to lead to this—that the metropolis should have twenty more Members, that it should have as many as the whole of Scotland, and that thirty should be added to Ireland; and these results were thought sufficient to dispose of the matter, and it has never been mooted in the House since. I only mention this to show how loosely hon. Members have been talking of the abstract principle involved in this second reading, when the truth is that: every Member has, in his own mind, some particular application that be expects this Bill to carry to a conclusion. The hon. Member for Birmingham, in his recent speeches during the recess, suggested many objects he had in view; he even hinted that the House of Lords might be merged in this House, and many other things might be done which certainly were not all in accordance with the fundamental principles of the Constitution, though, in his opinion, they might be great improvements upon it. The mode, therefore, in which the hon. Member for Bridgewater (Mr. Kinglake) sought to cover his own retreat, and to induce hon. Members to vote for the Bill, was a simple, sophism, just enough to spread a filmy veil which might conceal the craven fears of some and the ulterior projects of others. But there is another ground on which we are called upon to discuss this fragmentary Bill—the ground taken by the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. J. Stuart Mill). He said that, whatever the ulterior measures might be, that supposing there was no such sequel what- 1414 ever, and that the promise should come to nothing, he said that he was content to take the present Bill upon its own merits—that it was such as by itself would produce very good fruits, and that it ought therefore to be passed. Now, this is a legitimate ground to take; and if the Government will take it, I am perfectly ready to take issue with them in that point, of view. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer is bound, indeed, to take this ground, and to treat the Bill as capable of being defended on its own merits; for he said it was the fulfilment of a pledge to the people, and he took credit to himself as being the only man ready to fulfil that pledge, while he condemned hon. Members on that (the Opposition) side of the House, as having given the pledge, and not being ready to fulfil it. But the fulfilment of a pledge consisted in a bonâ fide satisfaction and not in a half measure. Let us, then, take the Bill as an entirety. It will, in that view, have two principal effects. The first is the suppression of the agricultural interest generally in the elections, as I will presently show; and the second effect, will be, to hand over the election of a very great proportion of the borough Members of this House mainly, and in many places wholly, to manual labourers. The first effect, the suppression of the agricultural interest, will be caused by this Bill in two ways. In the first place, by inundating the county constituencies with urban and trading votes of £14 renters, not within the limits of the represented boroughs, and from the numerous towns which are unrepresented. In the second place, by adding to the anomaly that already exists, that of giving town freeholders the right to vote for county Members—giving A. the right to name a representative for B.—the copyholders and leaseholders besides. In these two ways the Bill will in many cases wholly, and generally to a great extent, suppress the agricultural interest in county elections. I wish, however, to say a word on each of these points. It is rather difficult to arrive at county statistics, because in fact the Government has given us none. There is evidence enough from this circumstance alone, that they have confined their attention to the interests of the towns, and have wholly forgotten, in framing their Bill, the interests of the country, if indeed their string-pullers have not, carefully studied their suppression. The 1415 House was told by the Chancellor of the having been used by any one on this Exchequer, that he could not get them this information, and he left the representatives of the counties to get statistics for themselves. I have endeavoured to do so with regard to the two counties with which I am best acquainted, viz. Staffordshire and Warwickshire; and it has taken me only a week to obtain, what the Government found unattainable. I certainly find that the Government has been very much in ignorance as to county statistics, for this is apparent throughout their Bill; but then they seem to have been equally unconcerned about the statistics which they did obtain from the boroughs, for they admitted that when they got their returns they were surprised at the result, though they did not allow that surprise in the slightest degree to affect the Bill, which was draughted independently of that information. The Chancellor of the Exchequer let out the extent of his ignorance about the county constituencies a few days ago, when he told the House that there were hardly any working men in them; and when that statement met with a general denial on this side of the House, he changed his ground and said that there was no preponderance of such class in the county constituencies. In the first instance he had said that there was scarcely any of what was called "the contamination of the working classes," which he afterwards spoke of as "the fly in the pot of ointment." This was one of the cases in which the right hon. Gentleman has originated offensive phrases, and having been the only man that had ever used them, has imputed them to the Opposition. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER dissented.] I mean that he originated the phrases "the fly in the pot of ointment" and "contamination of the working classes." He may not have imputed those phrases to us; but he originated and also imputed to us the comparison of the enfranchisement of the working classes to the letting loose of an invading army. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER again dissented.] If he did not impute it to us, then the country misunderstood the report of his speech; but I distinctly say that no such expression was ever accepted on our side of the House. Neither "contamination," nor "invasion," nor the pot of ointment have ever been imagined by any hon. Member on this side of the House. Nay, I will go further and say, that so far from such expressions 1416 having been used by any one on this side, I firmly believe that the feeling which they represent is absolutely alien to the minds of these hon. Members. As to my own county (Staffordshire), I have several statements sent to me which show that the working classes constitute one-fifth of the county constituency; they belong to the best portion of the working men; and indeed, to my mind, are the very best part of the constituency. They are men who have worked for weekly wages, and by means of thrift and providence have laid by a portion of their earnings, and possessed themselves of small freeholds. So far from being a "contamination," I look upon these men as the pride of the constituency; and much as I prize the honour of representing that county, I prize the honour of representing them most of all. What, then, is the meaning of its being thrown in our teeth, that we regard them as a "contamination," and as "the fly in the pot of ointment;" and what is the amount of knowledge of county constituencies on the part of the Government who can suppose that this class is almost excluded? I will now show the House how the Bill taken by itself will swamp the agricultural interest. The way in which it will do it is, first, by the £14 renters. The £14 renters in North Staffordshire would be chiefly those who rent houses in the suburbs of boroughs that have representatives already, such as Stoke-upon-Trent; and in manufacturing towns, like Leek, Burton-on-Trent, and others throughout the county; and would amount to 3428, the existing constituency of the division being about 11,000. In North Warwickshire the number added will be even greater in proportion to the existing constituency. The £14 renters, at least three-fourths of them, of urban and trading interest, will be 3,000, added to an existing constituency of 7,000; and the constituency now being pretty equally divided between the two interests, the augmentation will leave the trading interest in the division as seven to three compared with the agricultural interest. This will be the effect of the £14 clause alone, to say nothing of the other portions of the Bill, which will have the same tendency to a larger degree. I will not weary the House by further statistics, but will go on to notice the second mode in which the Bill will swamp the agricultural interest—namely, by the addition to the town freeholders having county votes a host of copyholders and lease- 1417 holders besides; and I will remark by the way, that this provision is introduced into the Bill in the most surreptitious and secret way. It does not appear upon the face of the Bill, and even persons conversant with Acts of Parliament and skilful in interpreting them, have asked me whether it had not been omitted from the Bill, for they could not find the provision anywhere. It is not done by special enactment, but by repealing two clauses—the 24th and 25th clauses—of the Reform Act of 1832, a mode of legislation always most unjustifiable, and, in the case of Constitutional Reform like this, wholly intolerable. Now, what will be the result of this addition? I really think that. much as the right hon. Gentleman was by his own admission surprised by his own borough statistics, he will be still more surprised by the statistics which I am about to give him, when I tell him that, in North Warwickshire, the addition of copyholders and leaseholders in the Birmingham polling district alone would add 5,000 voters to the present county constituency of between 6,000 and 7,000. This little item, surreptitiously introduced, will very nearly double the constituency, and add 90 per cent of urban interest to the present equally divided urban and agricultural body. Birmingham freeholders already constitute one-third of the county constituency, and this reinforcement of leaseholders will give them half. I believe the right hon. Gentleman is astonished at this statement; but it rests on the highest authority, and I shall be happy to give him tin: returns which I have received. I will next say a word upon the principle of this admission of town freeholders, copyholders, and leaseholders into the county constituencies. When the Derby Government proposed in their Bill of 1859 that each place should represent itself, and that the qualification arising in each place should give a vote for that place and no other, they were met by Earl Russell, who said there was an essential distinction in the way of their proposal. There was in the noble Lord's mind something in a freehold which had an essential affinity to a county qualification, and something in an occupation that had an essential affinity to a borough qualification. What the essence of the affinity was I have never been able to make out; and it appeared to me that the Apostle of Reform, instead of being a master of principles, had become, a slave to terms and words. The noble Lord was 1418 quite ready to make the town freeholders vote for the counties, but was he equally ready that the county occupiers should vote for the towns, or that the agricultural interest should in any way participate in the choice of the representatives for towns? Did it not directly militate against the noble Lord's distinction that large numbers of occupiers in towns should swamp the counties? He had no objection to that. He did not object that the occupation votes of Birmingham, outside the borough, should swamp the county constituency. But that a Birmingham freeholder should vote for the town was intolerable disfranchisement. When I found that the Bill so completely annihilates the agricultural interest in almost every part of the United Kingdom—I speak more especially of the Midland counties with which I am best acquainted—I began to think it was not intentional, that it must be the result of carelessness; but during the recess I studied the explanatory speeches and comments made on the Bill by those who were the warmest advocates and probably originators of it, and I found distinct indications that this was no accident or carelessness, but the distinct intention of the Bill. I chiefly allude to the hon. Member for Birmingham, and I judge from the short letter of his addressed to a meeting at Birmingham—which meeting, by the way, when it was known that the right hon. Gentleman would not be there, was a very considerable failure—that the reason lie believed this to be an honest Bill was because it would make the representation less that of the landlords. That is the animus of the Bill, as it is the animus of the hon. Gentleman. His ceaseless diatribes against the landlords amount almost to a childish monomania. One would think that he had been taught from his infancy that Tory landlords were the wicked people; that all the vices common to humanity were theirs; that they resisted all that was good, and encouraged all that was evil; whilst he himself contemplated them from the retreat of public wisdom and virtue. Everything mean and selfish was their special province, and the resistance of his wiser counsels. The same measures which, when introduced in the interests of landlords were bad, if introduced in the interest of manufacturers were good. Protection, when it was first advocated by manufacturers, had no harm in it; in tact, recently the hon. Member himself 1419 advocated Protection with a view to converting India into a cotton field. [Mr. I Bright: I never did.] When it is in the interest of landlords it is mean, narrow, and selfish. It is as easy for the hon. Member to form a judgment upon political as upon judicial questions, and we know he can condemn a man of murder before he is tried. In political questions the hon. Gentleman has a similar Ready Reckoner: anything proposed in the interest of the landlords is evil; against them, must be good. The unembarrassed flow of one idea assists his natural eloquence, and the clearness of a single eye to one side only of every question, seeing through the glowing medium of a hearty prejudice. Has the question ever occurred to him whether, if Providence were ever to send him any large possession of land he would himself become as narrow-minded, selfish, and wicked as the rest of landlords; or whether a long contact with trade has so expanded his mind as to make him proof against corruption. But if so, how does he reconcile the fact, that one-half the landlords themselves sprang from trade, and that all the long-sighted tradesmen are doing their utmost to become these shortsighted landlords? Let me tell him that if he were able to eliminate the landlords from the constitution of this House, he would not eliminate all that is narrow-minded. He might find a good deal of human nature's weaknesses remaining. Nothing, perhaps, is more narrow-minded than a capacity to consign a whole class of your fellow-countryman to one category of vilification, and to assert to oneself the monopoly of political virtue and wisdom. To return to the features of the Bill taken as a whole by itself. I said its second great effect would be to entrust to the working class specially the choice of a large portion of this House. The present borough franchise of £10 is calculated by the Returns to give the working classes one-fourth to one-fifth of the elective voice of the country, and in some towns two-thirds; but whether it be on the average one-fifth or one-fourth, I am prepared to prove that all that class of artizans which the hon. Members for Birmingham and Leeds have stated to be excluded are included in the existing franchise. When the hon. Member for Birmingham has described the excluded class, he has said, why should such intelligent men as foremen, men who are entrusted with the control of others, and of much property, be excluded? They can govern 1420 their men in the factories, why should they not have votes for the government of the country? That class of men are every one of them in the constituencies already. This Bill proposes to reduce the borough franchise from £10 to £7. It is also conceded that the abolition of the rate-paying clauses practically reduces the £7 franchise to £6 10s., that is to 2s. 6d. a week; now if you refer to the evidence taken before the Select Committee of the House of Lords you will find, that, in a considerable part of England, such a franchise will be equivalent to household suffrage. In most of our midland towns there is no rent below 2s. 6d. a week. The advocates of the measure, moreover, tell us that this is only an instalment. The Opposition are told they are fools to look forward; and "H.," a very clever writer in The Times, declares the "thin-edge" argument to be part of noodle's oration. The borough franchise is avowedly to be put on a sliding scale to universal suffrage, but we must not look on to the end. But take this first instalment; a proposal to give up half of our election to working men. On what ground, I ask, is this to be done? Is it on the ground of the abstract rights of man? Is it on the ground that it will improve our legislature? or is it on the ground that it will politically educate the people, and give them more interest in public affairs? or is it, fourthly, on the general ground assigned by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that we are to put trust in the people and shut our eyes to consequences? The abstract right argument seems to have dropped out of this House, ever since the remarkable speech of the hon. Member for Calne last year. The Rights of Man have been relegated to the limbo of the historical reminiscences of the French Revolution. It is true the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer started it again in a flight of rhetoric the other day but he soon withdrew it in a more deliberate revised edition of his speech. He has again started the doctrine in the phrase of trusting "our own flesh and blood." He has not, however, yet defined the scope he gave to the term "flesh and blood;" whether, for instance, female as well as male. We may hope the idea is still in embryo, and that it has not yet developed into universal suffrage. Equal right to property is part of the same idea. At St. Martin's Hall meeting yesterday it was said, Parliament needed reform for tolerating the monopoly of land by large 1421 proprietors. A Birmingham man complained to me of my denying that any one had an abstract right to a vote, and said that he had as much an abstract right to a vote, as I had to my property. My reply was that I fully agreed; as neither the one nor the other had an abstract right to either the vote or the property, as the rights to both were actions of law. So much for right. Is the object, then, to amend the Legislature? The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has sung a pæan on it, on account of all it has done, and especially in the interest of the working classes; and I think the hon. Member for Birmingham is the only man in the country who has abused the Reform Parliament. Lord Russell, in the last edition to his work, said upon this subject, "the best, constituency is that which produces the best Parliament;" and therefore, according to the prevalent opinion, we have the beat possible constituency now. But I will not hold men to such admissions. I allow there may be an object worth even the risk of deteriorating tic Legislature. I will then proceed to the third ground, and ask the House, Whether it is prepared to give the main task of our election to this House to the working classes on the ground of politically educating them? On this point, I will only quote the hon. Member for West-minster. The hon. Member says in hi Representative Government;—Among the foremost benefits of free government is the education of the intelligence and of the sentiments, which is carried down to the von lowest ranks of the people. Every American is in some Sense both a patriot and a person of cultivated intelligence. Political life in America is a valuable school, but it is a school from which tin ablest teachers are themselves excluded, the first minds in the country being as effectually shut 0111 from (he national representation and from public functions generally as if they were under a formal disqualification. The Demos being the one source of power, all the selfish ambition of the country gravitates towards it, as it does in despotic countries towards the monarch. The people is pursued with adulation and sycophancy, and the corrupting effects of power fully keep pace with its improving and ennobling influences.This is not encouraging. It appears that the advocates of this mode of political training, ask us to educate the lowest classes at the sacrifice of tin education of the highest class. They ask us to extend an interest in public affairs among the lowest at the cost of excluding from the administration of the affairs of the country, men of the highest capa- 1422 city, and who have means and leisure to be trained for its service. Lastly are we asked to act upon the principle put forward by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, "to place trust in the people, only tempered with prudence." Upon what ground is he to ask us to trust the people? Is there not an assumption in the phrase itself? Is not the right hon. Gentleman himself one of the people? Is he to stand outside the people and say he will condescend to trust them? But after all he qualities the maxim by the words, "tempered with prudence." What does he mean by that? Is not that the whole question between us? The noble Earl at the head of the Government lays down very strict injunctions as to the prudent limitation of this trust. He says:It seemed re me sufficient to lay down some such conditions as the following, as necessary qualifications for the body of electors:—1. That they should be of average intelligence. 2. That they should, on the whole, form a security for stability of property. 3. That although bribery cannot altogether be excluded, the body of electors, as a mass, should not be tainted by corruption. 4. That the electoral body should be identified with the general sense of the community.Adding:—Such being my object, there were two modes of arriving at it:—1. Qualification of franchise. 2 Distribution of seats. The first not sufficient alone, lest in large cities population might out weigh property, or, in large counties, property might outweigh population.Now, it appears that the Government will not trust the people without very considerable qualifications; so that, after all, it turns out to be only a question of degree; and only the hon. Member for Birmingham would go to the utmost limit of trust. He laughs at till I he caution which others insist upon as requisite in this Reform: he is opposed to the proposed corrective of plurality of votes and tin representation of minorities as suggested by the hon. Member for Westminster The hon. Member for Birmingham, however, need not envenom his cause by exasperating the working classes against us; nor need he put himself into such anger upon this subject. There is a fair issue between us, capable of calm and dispassionate arguments. He need not misquote us as saying, that the working class is not fit to vote, because we say they are not fit to have almost all the votes to themselves. There is no more necessity for us to vilify the people, as the hon. Member for Birmingham has wrongly 1423 accused us of doing, than there is for him more offensively to flatter the people in order to make out his side of the argument. It is from an utter absence of argument that the hon. Member resorts to declarations of this sort. It is from an utter want of argument, that he resorts to threats of violence. The artizans of Birmingham, whom I know much more intimately than he does, will not indorse his views when he vilifies the landed interest. They feel that with no class of the community are they more constantly and kindly united than with the landed gentry around them, not in the way of patrons, but as co-operating with them for mutual good. I take then-view of the question, and not his, when I refuse to consent, even in the interest of Reform—for which I pretend to be more bonâ fide in earnest than he is—to give a draft in blank to be filled up by men who take his view on the subject; and in sitting down I protest against any Government asking the House of Commons to discuss a measure not fully before them, and which has no meaning whatever, without other measures which are promised but not produced.
§ MR. LAYARD
Sir, I should have desired not to have taken any part in this Debate, but I owe a debt of gratitude to those who sent me to this House, which forbids me to be silent on an occasion when a subject of such vast importance to the working classes, and in which they take so deep an interest, is under discussion. I may have a special claim to be heard on their behalf, and as one of their representatives. With only two exceptions, I think, there is no Member of Parliament who has so large a number of working men amongst the registered voters of his constituency as I have. Of the 11,631 electors of the borough of Southwark no less than 5,515 or nearly one-half, are absolutely working men—artizans and mechanics. I have been sent to this House by those men, and by those men, I may say, alone. By their generous, loyal, and disinterested support I have been able to fight more than one hard battle. I shall never forget that at York, where I took part in a contest against influences of no ordinary nature, and on that occasion exerted to the utmost, I was nearly achieving success through the support mainly received from a committee composed of working men, all non-electors, who carried on the battle with a moderation and disinterested devotion 1424 beyond all praise. Any position, however humble, that I may hold in this House or in the country I owe, therefore, to them, the working men. Had this discussion been limited to the Amendment moved by the noble Earl, and to the arguments so ably put forward by his seconder, the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley), I should have deferred my remarks to an occasion when the principles or details of the Bill were in debate. But whatever may be said to the contrary, and however much hon. Members opposite may disclaim this intention, the country at large feels that the real issue at stake is, not whether the Bill proposed by the Government, or any other Bill, shall pass; but whether the question of Reform shall be entertained at all. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hertfordshire (Sir E. Bulwer-Lytton) concluded his brilliant oration, in which the arguments that have been heard over and over again against Reforms of all descriptions from men of genius were perhaps never more ably and eloquently expressed, he asked the House of Commons, in a highly wrought peroration—to do what? To vote for the Amendment? No; but to vote against the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wick, (Mr. Laws), after declaring that if the Bill had contained clauses for the redistribution of seats he should have voted for it, proceeded to condemn the reduction of the franchise, and said that he would not vote for a measure which had not checks and compensations and safeguards to render the enfranchisement of the working classes safe; that is, I presume, unless the Bill was something altogether different from what it is, namely, a Bill founded upon the broad principle of a reduction of the franchise. Even the noble Earl who moved the Amendment soon forgot the object of his own Motion, and favoured us with his notions as to how the question of Reform was to be dealt with. He would refer it to a Committee of the Privy Council like the cattle plague or any other plague. There are some Gentlemen who openly avow that they only vote for the Amendment because they wish to shelve Reform altogether. I was surprised to see in the newspapers this morning a letter from the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Marsh), who, it appears, has also been called to account by some of his constituents for the part he is taking in this question. The hon. 1425 Gentleman declares boldly, and I admire his frankness, that he votes for the Amendment, not because he is in favour of any settlement of the Reform question, but because it is sometimes necessary to vote against one's conscience as a matter of Parliamentary tactics. His words are, in a letter to Mr. Lush:—There is, as every one knows, sometimes a necessity in Parliamentary tactics, and this to a certain extent is the case at the present moment, as I should myself prefer meeting the Reform Bill with a direct negative to voting for Lord Grosvenor's motion.I cannot understand how my right hon. Friends the Members for Calne and Stroud, and the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire, can vote for the Amendment, as they have declared against all Reform. [Lord ELCHO: No!] The noble Lord denies that he has done so. But he has declared himself against all Reform of the nature which we propose, that is to say, founded essentially on the reduction of the franchise. The only Member on the other side who has dealt fairly with the question of the Amendment is the noble Lord the, Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley). In a speech of much ability he brought forward all the objections that could be urged against the mode of proceeding adopted by the Government, and stated them as well as they could possibly be stated. The right hon. Member who has just sat down (Mr. Adderley), although he pretended to deal with it in his somewhat excited speech, only talked about the Government having "insulted and degraded" the House, and of their "audacity" in having dared to propose this measure. To such vague and general accusations it would not be becoming in me, nor respectful to the House, to reply. The noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn has, no doubt, shown that there are very weighty arguments against bringing in a Bill which only deals with the extension of the franchise, and does not include the redistribution of seats. There are unquestionably most grave reasons against proceeding with a single measure, or, to use a phrase now in common use, to proceed with "piece-meal legislation." But equally good reasons might be adduced on the other side of the question, as in all questions in which the "for" and "against" are pretty equally balanced. Such being the case, the Government had to determine which course would be most convenient, and most likely to lead to a 1426 practical result; to bring in a Bill dealing with one subject, or a Bill dealing with several; in a word, a Bill which had a chance of passing through Parliament in this session, or one that had none. They believed that the first course was the best; that it was the one most likely to effect the object they had in view—namely, to carry through this House a moderate and useful measure of Reform. I think I can show that their view was an honest one and a right one.
The objections put forward by the noble Lord opposite to the course pursued by the Government have not, perhaps, hitherto been fully dealt with by hon. Members on this side of the House, for the simple reason that those who have spoken against the Government have placed the debate upon a totally different issue, and have argued not for the Amendment but against the Bill itself. If the House will permit me I will now allude to those objections in the order in which they were brought forward. The noble Lord's first objection was that the Government, by bringing forward only a part of their measure and withholding the remainder, asked the House to put trust in them whilst they refused to put trust in the House. It appears to me that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has met and answered that argument by saying that the Government were prepared to deal with this question as one of confidence in the Ministry. He did not appeal to the other side of the House, but to the Liberal party. He declared that for various reasons it might be dangerous to the success of a measure in which the country took deep interest to bring forward the Bill for the redistribution of seats before the principle involved in the Bill before them was accepted, and he asked the Liberal party to place confidence in the intention of the Government to proceed with the other part of the question as soon as this part was settled. In this sense the Liberal party have accepted the declaration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that is one of the issues now under discussion. The next objection was, that it was altogether unusual and unconstitutional to legislate by "piecemeal." But is it not frequently the case that Bills which have a natural connection one with the other, and that form part and parcel of one general measure, are brought in in different Sessions, and that one Bill is passed one year on the understanding that Government shall 1427 introduce another Bill which may be considered as a sequel to the first in the following year? We constantly proceed on the same principle in financial matters, when a Committee of the House is asked to accept a part of a general scheme on the understanding that the remainder of the scheme is to be carried out at a future period. [Loud Cries of "Name! Name!" and "Order!"] I regret that I am not allowed to pursue my argument, but that without cause or reason, as far as I can ascertain, I am exposed to these interruptions. I must be permitted to say that the conduct of this side of the House furnishes a striking contrast to that of the other side. We have listened with patience and attention to every speech made by those who have opposed the Government. Hon. Gentlemen are little inclined to show a similar spirit of fair play, and I fear that I appeal in vain to their sense of courtesy and justice.
The next argument advanced by the noble Lord against the mode of proceeding adopted by the Government was, that it gave rise to a suspicion—he would not say whether well-founded or not—that something was lurking behind—that they had some object which they dared not avow. By taking this course some kind of compulsion might be used against a certain number of Members. Schedules, he said, were elastic things. It might be hinted to Gentlemen that if they voted against Government they might find the borough which they represented transferred to Schedule (A) or (B), or that if they voted for, their constituencies might be spared. The noble Lord went on to say that he had heard that such things had happened when the Reform Bill of 1831 was under discussion. But it appears to me that this illustration of the noble Lord's argument at once destroys the value of the argument itself; because in the case of the Reform Bill of 1831 the redistribution of seats formed a part of the measure, and the Government's intentions on the subject were known when the question of the franchise was under discussion; consequently the argument of the noble Lord applies equally to the course taken by the Government and to the one which, according to him, they ought to take. The noble Lord then went on to argue, that the Government could not pledge itself to bring in a particular measure next year, when, after all, there was no certainty whatever whether the same Minis- 1428 try would be in office at that period. In answer to this objection, I can only say that it lies in the power of the noble Lord himself and his friends to prevent so great a calamity befalling the country, by giving a fair and generous support to Her Majesty's Government. After putting forward these and other objections, the noble Lord declared that if the Government had found it absolutely necessary to proceed with only one part of the subject, it would have been preferable to have dealt with the Redistribution of Seats first, and to have brought in a Franchise Bill afterwards. He pointed out that by taking the course that Government had taken, we were exposing the country to the great inconvenience, if not danger, of having either to appeal, in case of a dissolution between the passing of this Bill and a Redistribution of Seats Bill, to a constituency already condemned, or to a new constituency of which we had no experience, and which was new to the exercise of political rights. He described our state in this case as that of acting under a "provisional constitution." I confess that I could not altogether follow the noble Lord's argument. It seems to me that the same constituency which elected a House prepared, according to the noble Lord himself and others who have spoken, to deal with the whole question of Reform for its final settlement, could be entrusted to elect another House fit to deal with only a part of it. As regards the second part of the noble Lord's objection, it has been completely answered in the logical and conclusive speech of the Member for Westminster (Mr. Mill), who showed that if a new constituency is to be chosen which is to deal with the greatest and most important questions that can be submitted to a Legislature, it is well able to deal with such a question as that of the Redistribution of Scats. Indeed, it appears to me that the plan suggested by the noble Lord would be by far the most dangerous and inconvenient mode of proceeding; because, if you were to pass a Bill for the Redistribution of Seats it would be absolutely necessary to dissolve at once, or otherwise you would have Gentlemen in this House voting for constituencies which they did not represent, or which no longer existed, whilst other constituencies which we had called into existence were not represented at all. I think this proposal of the noble Lord shows how easy it is to 1429 criticize the course adopted by the Government, but how difficult to suggest one which would be better. But the real fact is, that similar objections would have been urged against any course which the Government might have pursued. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are opposed to any measure of real Reform—such as we understand Reform to be, and their object is to delay the passing of any Bill whatever. As the hon. Member for Westminster most justly pointed out, if any measure is to be passed through the House of Commons, it must, in order to please hon. Gentlemen opposite, be of such a nature that they could, by manipulating the seats in redistributing them, destroy or nullify all that may have been gained by the lowering of the franchise. In fact, as he said, the Conservative party are afraid of the new constituency which would be called into existence by the lowering of the franchise, and the only way they see of destroying any influence which that new constituency might have is by a re-arrangement of the seats. I will not dwell upon the necessity for introducing any Reform Bill—a necessity denied by hon. Gentlemen opposite—nor upon the pledges under which not only the Government but this House are under to deal with the question. The noble Lord, with his usual candour and straightforwardness, admitted that the Government were under a solemn obligation to introduce a Reform Hill. He did not argue against the Bill, or condemn the Government for introducing it. He limited himself to criticizing and condemning the time and manner of its introduction, But I wish to say a few words upon an argument used by the right hon. Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe)—that a Member who has pledged himself on the hustings to his constituents to support any particular measure is not bound by that pledge, and should not abide by it if, in his opinion, it would be prejudicial to the public good to do so. This, I confess, appears to me to be a very mischievous and a very demoralising doctrine. [Mr. Lowe: It is his duty to resign.] I willingly accept the correction of the right hon. Gentleman; and I would say that it is the duty of many Members of this House, before they vote against this Bill, to resign, and to go again to their constituents to whom they have pledged themselves on the question of Reform. Remember that pledges given on a question so vitally affecting 1430 the interests of the people of this country are not like promises lightly given concerning trifling local matters or insignificant public questions. We are now discussing a question involving a principle of the greatest—of the most vital importance. If a Member is returned to support that principle, and to act with the party to which that portion of the country which believes in the soundness and justice of the principle has confided its application, then, I say, to vote against its adoption because, in his individual opinion, it is not for the public good, is a grave dereliction of duty, which cannot fail to have a most mischievous and demoralizing effect by shaking the confidence of the people in their representatives and in the House of Commons.
In reply to the argument advanced by some hon. Gentlemen who are generally supporters of the Government, I would remind them that Lord Russell was under an obligation not only to the country, but to several members of his own Government, to bring in a Reform Bill. It is unnecessary for me to enter into the reasons which induced me, and other Members of Lord Palmerston's Government, in whose name I may venture to speak, to remain in that Government whilst the pledge which had been given to the country over and over again to pass a Reform Bill had not been kept. [Ironical Cheers.] I do not owe any explanation to hon. Gentlemen opposite. My reasons were fully stated to my constituents, and were by them approved, and that is sufficient for me. Nor is it necessary for me to touch upon the circumstances which rendered it undesirable during the lifetime of Lord Palmerston to attempt to carry a measure of Reform Those circumstances are well known to the I louse and the country. When Lord Russell succeeded to Lord Palmerston as the head of the Government, the state of things was altered. He was unanimously accepted by the Liberal party as their leader, because they considered him as the true representative of the Reform question, and looked to him for the introduction of a Bill upon the subject. Consequently Lord Russell could not do otherwise than introduce a measure of Reform. Had he not done so he would have been untrue to his principles and to the party which placed such implicit confidence in him. Lord Russell was not the man to shirk the duty which had been thus imposed upon him. Nor 1431 was he the man to deceive the House and the country by introducing a measure which he knew could not be passed, and which would consequently have been nothing else but a sham. He might easily have proposed what is called a large and general measure, including all those subjects which hon. Members opposite now seem so anxious to deal with; but if he had done so would there have been any prospect of passing such a measure? Might he not have availed himself of the excuse of the rejection of his Bill to say to the country that he had done his best in the cause of Reform, that the House was opposed to it, and that having redeemed his pledge he would drop the subject altogether? That mode of dealing with this great question might have satisfied hon. Gentlemen opposite, and, I am afraid, some hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House; but it would not have satisfied the country and those Members who honestly wish for Reform. It was Lord Russell's duty to deal with the question in a manner that would prove to the country and his supporters that the Government were honest in their intentions, and that they earnestly desired to bring in a measure which would pass into law. It was on this account that he had brought in a Bill which only dealt with the franchise, and did not include other questions of equal importance, which would require prolonged debate, and would consequently render the passing of any measure impossible. For this it was—and not, as the hon. Member for Wick (Mr. Laing) had asserted, because the Bill was all in one direction—that the country had accepted the measure as a fair and honest measure, and that the Bill had been called an "honest Bill."
Can any one believe that a Bill including the franchise question and the redistribution of seats, besides other matters, could have passed through Parliament during this Session? The noble Lord who spoke in the early part of the evening (Lord Dunkellin) has described the consternation which the redistribution of seats would produce; how each Member who was about to lose his constituency would light over his dying borough; and how every place which was to lose a Member, and every one which was to gain one, would make a battle-field of this House. Let any one refer to what took place during the year 1831, when the Reform Bill was under debate, and they will find that the discussions which occupied the 1432 House of Commons from the beginning of February to October, were mainly connected with the redistribution of seats, nearly all other public business being sus—pended. Is it, then, to be believed for one moment that a Bill which contained these two great subjects—subjects which, I contend, involve distinct principles, although, of course, more or less connected with each other—and, moreover, which, we are told, ought to have dealt with even other matters, such as the new definition of borough boundaries, to say nothing of the Reform of the constituencies of Scotland and Ireland—in fact, what is called "a perfect measure"—could have passed into law in one short session of Parliament? I contend that to have at-I tempted it would have been to trifle with a great question, and to have deceived the country. Admitting all the objections that have been advanced against dealing with the question of Reform "piecemeal," I do not hesitate to assert that, under the peculiar circumstances of the case, in the peculiar temper of the country, the most straightforward, the safest, the most honest way of dealing with the question is the one chosen by the Government; and I believe that the country will be well satisfied if the Government succeed in passing this measure, which, imperfect as it may be admitted to be, is, after all, a step in the right direction, and will be a great gain to the cause of Reform.
Now let me turn to the Bill itself, and to the question of the reduction of the franchise, which is the real issue before; the House and the country. As far as I can understand, the principal arguments used against the Bill, and against any lowering of the franchise, are the following:—It is urged, in the first place, that the working classes are already sufficiently I represented in Parliament; that if this Bill should pass, such a number of the working classes would either be immediately admitted to the franchise, or would shortly obtain it, as would lead to the I swamping of other classes, and that this: would be opposed to the spirit of the Constitution, which does not admit representation by numbers, but representation by classes. Secondly, it is contended that the working classes are not yet fitted to be admitted, to the extent proposed by this Bill, into the pale of the Constitution, and that in admitting them we should be extending electoral privileges to those who, from their education, or rather want of education, their modes of thought, their 1433 habits, and their moral character, are unfit to enjoy it, and who would be open to Corrupt and dangerous influences. The third argument I shall mention is, that this Bill would confer the franchise upon those who do not pay direct taxes, nor are taxed to the same extent as other classes of the community, and who, therefore, have not the same stake and interest in the country, and who consequently are not so much concerned in its peace and welfare as those who do contribute directly to the taxation of the State, and who are the owners of property. Fourthly, it is declared that if this Bill pass, and the franchise be lowered to £7, the constituencies would either become so corrupt as to be purchased by wealthy men, or would be completely under the influence of demagogues, who would be returned to Parliament by flattering their worst prejudices and exciting their most dangerous passions. A fifth argument is this, that as no proof has been advanced to show that the present representative system works ill, or that the present House of Commons is unfit for the discharge of its duties, there is no reason why any alteration in them should be made, and that, therefore, the measure proposed by the Government is unnecessary.
I have, I think, thus pointed out the principal arguments which have been brought forward against the Bill. There was, indeed, another argument advanced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe), and, as far as I can remember, by him alone, namely, that as the end of all government is the well-being and good administration of the State, if that end is accomplished we have nothing to do with the means by which it is attained. This is an argument which may suit other countries, but which will never be admitted in this land of ours. Whether the English people-are theoretically right or wrong, they have made up their minds to one thing before all others—that whether they be ill or well-governed they will govern themselves; and that they prefer self-government, even should that government be proved to be in many cases faulty and defective, to being governed by those who do not represent them. The argument of the right hon. Gentleman may suit very well those countries in which despotism doles out liberty with a sparing and grudging hand; but he will quote Aristotle and Montesquieu in vain to the 1434 people of England, however excellent may be the principles or maxims with which their works may furnish him, if he thinks that he can persuade Englishmen to renounce that which they esteem above all other rights—the right of self-government.
I will now endeavour to meet the principal arguments and objections which, as I understand, have been urged against the Bill of the Government. I will endeavour to do so as shortly as possible, so as not to avail myself too much of the kind indulgence of the House, to whose courtesy I can only appeal for a patient hearing.
Now, as regards the first objection, that the working classes are already sufficiently represented, and that by admitting a larger number of them to the franchise we should be running the risk of swamping and overpowering other classes, which have an equal right to representation. It appears to me that the fallacy of this argument has been so fully pointed out in the masterly speech of the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Mill) that it is scarcely necessary for me to enter at any length into the subject. The hon. Member took, for the sake of argument, the Conservative view of the case, and admitting that representation should be founded on class, and not on numbers or fitness, he proved that, even in this view of the question, the working classes were not represented in this House. He demonstrated conclusively that, even admitting that 25 per cent of the constituencies were composed of working men—a statement which many of us do not admit, and are prepared to disprove—even then they had no palpable and direct share in the representation; and that, until you could show that they had actually formed majorities in any election, and had returned men of their own order, or fully representing their views and opinions to the House of Commons, you could not say that they were represented here. No one has attempted to meet the hon. Member on this ground; to show that what lie has stated is not the fact; or to contend, admitting it to be the fact, that his inference is wrong. He did not contend that there were no working men on the registry; far from it, he admitted the fact: and I cannot account for the surprise shown by many hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House, that there should be so many working men amongst our voters. As far as I am concerned, 1435 I am surprised that there should be so few. I was never one of those who believed or said that there were no working men who enjoyed the franchise. Representing, as I do, a constituency which contains so many working men, I could not have been ignorant of the fact. I have contended, not that there were none, but that there were not enough. And I confess it does cause me great surprise to find it now proved by these returns to Parliament, that in the great centres of our commercial and manufacturing industry—in Birmingham, Manchester, Bradford, Leeds, and Liverpool—where the population of artizans and mechanics is so large, in Avhich these men have such extensive interests, there should be so few of them on the register. It is, indeed, chiefly in towns and boroughs in which the population of real working men is small, and in which they have not the greatest interests at stake, that they are found in greatest numbers amongst the voters. I most cordially agree with the hon. Member (Mr. Mill) that it would not only be just to the working classes but that it would be equally advantageous to to them and to this House, if a few men of their own order could be returned to Parliament. It may be very well to say that there are Gentlemen sent to this House by majorities which are partly made up by the votes of working men, or who represent constituencies in which the working classes have considerable influence, and that therefore they may be accepted as their representatives. But I contend that there is no man in this House who can say that he fully represents the feelings, opinions, wishes, the prejudices, if you like to call them so, of the working classes. I am one of the very few Members of this House who are actually returned by working men, whose seat here depends exclusively upon their votes. I may say that I feel the deepest interest in all that concerns them, that I have endeavoured to learn what their views and desires are, that I am as anxious as any man can possibly be, both because I feel that I ought to represent them, and because I am earnestly anxious to contribute to their welfare, to promote their interests in this House; but I cannot expect, after all, that they will place confidence in my ability to re-present them fairly and fully, and that they will feel that I am in a position and have sufficient knowledge of their opinions and of their condition to speak with 1436 authority in their name. Until we have men in this House who are of the working classes themselves, who are in constant association with them, who have that intimate knowledge of their habits of thought, their necessities, their real or imagined grievances, and their views, and who can consequently state them to the House of Commons in a manner which will be satisfactory to the artizans themselves, I contend that the working classes are not properly represented in Parliament. No two men, probably, in this House have more right to be accepted as representatives of the working classes than the Members for Birmingham and Bradford (Mr. Bright and Mr. Forster); but they are or have been both employers of labour, and there may be questions discussed in Parliament in which the rights of capital and labour may be supposed to be antagonistic, and in which the working classes may believe that they cannot be fairly represented by either of those Gentlemen, whose interests, they may suspect, would be opposed to those of the employed.
The rest of my noble Friend the Member for Haddingtonshire seems to be disturbed by nightmares of Mr. Odger, and he is haunted by visions of Mr. Potter and the Trades Unions. But I confess that I should feel no alarm at seeing those Gentlemen amongst us. On the contrary I think their presence here would be of great advantage to us and to those whom they represent. If the grievances of which they complain on behalf of the working classes are just grievances, they would be listened to; and if redress were possible, I cannot doubt but that the justice of the House of Commons would seek to give that redress. If those grievances were ill founded, or were attributable to causes over which legislation had no control, the truth would appear after impartial and open discussion, and I have sufficient confidence in the good sense and fairness of the working classes to feel convinced that they would yield to argument and admit themselves wrong. We have nothing to fear from fair public debate of these delicate and important social questions which affect and agitate the working classes; but we have everything to fear from the effect which a sense of injustice produces upon those classes when they think that they have not a fair hearing, and when they believe that the House of Commons refuses to listen to and to remedy what they consider, whether erro- 1437 neously or not is beside the question, their just grievances.
But allowing that the reduction of the franchise as proposed by the Government would admit a far larger number than 25 per cent of the working classes to the register, there is no chance whatever that such men as I have mentioned would be elected to Parliament in any sufficient numbers to affect the balance of classes in this House in the slightest imaginable degree. I will go further and say, that if we were to adopt the most extreme democratic views, and have universal suffrage, there are no statistics to show that the working classes, as opposed to the agricultural and other classes, would obtain such a majority in the constituencies of the country as seriously to affect the character and composition of the House of Commons, and through it the institutions of the country. The alarm felt lest the working men should obtain such an ascendancy in the constituencies as to be able to return a House composed of a majority of their own body, is surely a, mere delusion. It is founded upon an assumption which is quite baseless, viz, that but one set of opinions upon political and social questions exists amongst the working classes, and that they are at all times prepared to act and vote together. Now my experience of the working classes proves to me the contrary. I believe that the political opinions of those who compose them differ as much as the political opinions of any other classes in this country. For instance, it is well known that a large portion of the artizans who would form part of the constituency of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) are engaged in the manufacture of small arms. Then opinions upon a question of peace or war would probably differ very much from those of artizans residing in a manufacturing district, the interests of which might be seriously affected by any inter ruption of trade caused by war. The same would occur on every other great political question.
But now, admitting for the sake of argument, that if this Bill should pass, and the franchise be lowered to £7. the working men would obtain an absolute majority in some boroughs, and would return Members of their own order, or persons fully representing them, to Parliament, is there, I ask. any probability of the working classes obtaining such an ascendancy in this House as to swamp the representa- 1438 tives of all other classes put together? Referring to an article in the Quarterly Review which has already been quoted, I find that with a desire to make the most of the number of boroughs which are to have a majority of voters of the working classes in the event of this bill passing, the writer can only show a list of seventy-seven boroughs, returning 133 Members, as coming within this category. In ten of these, however, according to his own admission, the number of artizan voters would be 50 per cent of the constituency, leaving 50 per cent for the other classes. We may consequently leave out these ten boroughs, and the number would then be reduced to sixty-seven. But is this a sufficient number, supposing even that each borough returned a working man, or a representative of the working men, pledged to support all their views and claims, to swamp the House of Commons, to sacrifice every other opinion and every other policy than those which promoted the peculiar class interests of the working classes? It is surely absurd to maintain anything of the kind.
But then we are told that the working classes might fake advantage of the disunion amongst other classes or amongst political parties, and give their support to one side or the other, first exacting promises and conditions favourable to their designs, and that by thus commanding the majority they could secure the objects they had in view. It appears to me that this argument also has been fully answered by the Member for Westminster (Mr. Mill) when he pointed out that in the face of great public interests a minority never could he a majority, and that it was the most improbable of all things that if the working classes, in an absolute minority, were to put forward views and claims which were dangerous to the real interests of the other classes, they would be able to carry them in Parliament. The truth of this has been proved over and over again.
But I maintain that statistics as to the numbers and probable predominance of the working men in this or that borough are really of little value, and do not tend to prove anything unless you are ready to furnish at the same time statistics as to the influences which exist in those boroughs. You assume that the whole number of working men in those boroughs will vote with entire independence, according to their individual opinions, and without interference or control. This 1439 might be the case if the ballot formed part of this Bill, but it is notoriously not the case now, and would not be the case if this Bill were passed.
I object altogether to the use of the word "class," as applied to the working men of this country. Indeed, we generally use the word in the plural, "classes," when we speak of them. That is an admission that there are as many divisions and subdivisions amongst them as there are amongst any other part of the community. If we are to have what is called "class representation" in this House, as applied to the working classes, we must then go further, and see that every class of artizan, according to their different interests, occupations, and employments, should be duly represented. If this principle be acted upon, we must, indeed, go still further, and ascertain whether every other class,—whether the various professions, such as the lawyers, the doctors, the army and navy, whether landholders or capitalists, are all equally represented. Such an inquiry might, indeed, find occupation for a Committee of the Privy Council! But I am surprised that hon. Gentlemen opposite should suddenly entertain and express so great a fear of class legislation. After all, class legislation has been for generations one of the distinctive characteristics of the party to which they belong. If they now condemn it altogether in principle, they must be strangely forgetful of what has taken place in this House within, I might almost say, a few days, when our time was exclusively taken up in discussing and resisting the demands for a measure which was intended for the exclusive benefit of a class.
Let me now turn to the second objection—that the working classes are from various causes not fitted for the exercise of the franchise. I have no desire to recur again to the words of the right hon. Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe), which have been the subject of such frequent comment in this House and elsewhere, and have made so deep an impression on the working classes throughout the country. The right hon. Gentleman has endeavoured to explain away the meaning of those words; I leave it to the country to decide with what success. But I wish to show that, supposing those words bore the interpretation placed upon them by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and by the working 1440 classes, they would only express an opinion upon the condition of those classes, and upon their unfitness to be admitted to political rights, which has more than once been expressed by the right hon. Gentleman. If, in speaking of the drunkenness, violence, impulsiveness, and venality of certain persons, he had meant to designate the vices of the working classes in general, it appears to me that he would only have been repeating and enlarging upon a view of their character expressed in a speech delivered in this House last year. If we accept the explanation which the right hon. Gentleman gave a few days ago of the words he uttered this year, that explanation will not apply to those which he uttered last year. And there can be no doubt as to the correctness of the report of what he said on that occasion, because the whole speech has been reprinted, I understand, with the right hon. Gentleman's sanction, from the columns of The Times in the form of a pamphlet, and was, moreover, inserted at full length, previous to the general election last autumn, in the columns of one of the organs of the Opposition—The Standard—as a statement of the views and opinions on Reform,—as a kind of manifesto, indeed,—of the Conservative party. In the course of that speech the right hon. Gentleman read an extract from a report made by Mr. Baker, one of the Poor Law Inspectors (I think), who, after describing how a certain number of working men in a particular district had, by savings, acquired through industry, obtained possession of small freeholds, which gave them a vote, went on to say that,In the same locality, employed at the same work and at the same wages, and without any-extraordinary drawback, a vast number of those who possess no such properties live on from day to day, regardless of every enjoyment which is not sensual, exhibiting no desire for an elevation of their character among their fellow-men.After quoting these words from Mr. Baker's report, the right hon. Gentleman went on to say:—I ask the House upon which of the classes here described will the Bill of the hon. Member for Leeds operate? Not upon the provident, but mainly upon the improvident, class. For the provident are not only in possession of the franchise; they have soared far above it, and have got into the region of freeholders. It will therefore apply to the men who waste their time in these profitless and degrading pursuits in order that they may be elevated and fished out of the mire in which they delight to grovel, introduced 1441 to power, and entrusted with control over the constitution of the country."—[3 Hansard, clxxviii. 1431.]This statement, according to the republished report of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, was received with cheer. I may presume that those cheers did not come from this side of the House, but from the other; and that, accordingly, hon. Gentlemen opposite accepted and approved of the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, that those whom the Bill of tin' hon. Member for Leeds was intended to enfranchise were "to be fished out of fie-mire in which they delighted to grovel." The right hon. Gentleman went on t point out, that if working men would only-drink less beer, they might save enough to purchase the franchise; and he then said:The question for you now to determine is, whether yon ought to bring down the franchise to the level of those persons who have no such sense of decency or morality, and of what is due to the health of themselves and their children; whether you will degrade the franchise into the dirt, and imperil your institution; or whether you will make this franchise a vast instrument of good, a lever by which you may hope to elevate the working classes, not in the manner which a mawkish sentimentality contemplates, but by fixing the franchise at a reasonable level, requiring a little, and only a little effort and self-denial on their part, a little security that they are able to conduct their own affairs before we entrust them with ours." ["Hear!"]Hon, Gentlemen cheered these sentiments; but I would desire to point out to them that, plausible as the statement of the right hon. Gentleman might appear, judging from the inference he drew from it, he either attempted (as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already argued with regard to the speech of this year) to prove too much or too little. If he spoke only of exceptions to a class, why condemn the whole class, because, as in all other classes, there were bad and unworthy characters in it, and exclude them from a share in the constitution? If he did not speak of exceptions, but of a whole class, then it appears to me that the words spoken by the right hon. Gentleman this year, as well as those spoken last, year, can bear but one interpretation, and that interpretation the one placed upon them by a large majority of the country, namely, that in his opinion the working classes we propose to enfranchise are unfitted on account of their vices and habits to be admitted to the franchise. It appears to me that it is impossible for the right hon. Gentle- 1442 man to escape from this dilemma. But if the right hon. Gentleman should say that those observations were only applied to a certain class of persons, viz. those who are to be admitted to the franchise by this Bill, or were to be admitted by the Bill of the hon. Member for Leeds, and that for the good qualities of the remainder of the working classes he has the highest respect, and that they are in no way to be included amongst those whom he has denounced, then I would ask him who are his "Hyperboreans?" Are they those of the working classes who are not included amongst the voters to be admitted to the franchise by this Bill, or those who are beneath the £7 householders? If so, I may call upon my right hon. friend to support household suffrage, or manhood suffrage, or even universal suffrage. But it is evident that the right hon. Gentleman used the ex uno disce omnes argument, and no one who considers fairly and impartially what he said can maintain the contrary.
There is an argument which has been advanced more than once in this debate against- the working classes, grounded upon the charge against them of "impulsiveness," which ought not, I think, to be left unnoticed or unanswered. I mean the argument, or rather the assertion, that if they had any preponderating influence in this House, and in the government of the country, they would soon plunge this country into war. This assertion has been supposed to receive support from a statement made by the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) which has been misunderstood. Let us test the validity of this argument by facts. Let us look at the annals of the last Parliament, and see whether motions in this House and opinions outside, of this House in favour of war have been supported by the working classes or by hon. Gentlemen opposite and those whom they represent. ["Oh, oh!" and "No, no!"] Hon. Gentlemen opposite interrupt me, and seek to deny what I say before I have said it. I am merely desirous of stating facts in opposition to assertions, and in answer to arguments urged by hon. Gentlemen in this House, f would appeal, not to these who were not Members of this Mouse during the last Parliament, but to those who were. I will address myself to the noble Lord the Member for Stamford (Lord Cranbourne), who is a truthful and straightforward 1443 man, and will not, I am sure, deny what I say if I say that which is true. Did he not, let me ask him, during the Danish difficulties, constantly urge the Government to take a course which must have led to an European war, and condemn the Government most strongly for not taking that course, and supporting Denmark, even by going to war for her? Whilst the civil war was raging in America, what classes in this country called upon the Government to take steps which would have inevitably involved us in war with the United States? Was it the working classes? [Interruption, and Cries of "Question!"] I desire to confine myself to the question before the House; and I beg hon. Members to remember that I am not making any assertions gratuitously, but am answering statements made in this House which I have a right to answer, and which should not, I think, be allowed to remain uncontradicted, namely, the assertion that if this Bill were to pass we should be under the influence of the working classes, whose impulsiveness would lead us into constant wars. It has been stated what democracies would do; I merely wish to point out what aristocracies have done. The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Sir Hugh Cairns) denies my statements; but I cannot forget that in the debate when the conduct of the Government for detaining the Confederate rams was most strongly condemned by the party opposite, the ablest arguments advanced against the Government were those urged in the speech of the learned Gentleman. And, let me ask the House, if the Government had acted upon the advice given by that learned Gentleman, would they not have plunged this country into war with the United States? It is-a fact not to be forgotten—and it is one, I think, which furnishes a complete answer to the charge made against the working classes of their readiness to drive the Government into war—that during all the suffering entailed upon a great body of the working men of this country by the suspension of their labour in consequence of the cotton famine, not a single petition was presented to this House by them asking for any interference in the affairs of the United States; and that, with the sole exception of Liverpool, every constituency in this kingdom in which the working classes have any influence, most warmly and cordially 1444 supported the Government in their determination to maintain strict neutrality during the civil war in America.
Having now disposed, so far as I am able, of objections to the lowering of the franchise founded upon the impulsiveness of the working classes, let me say a few words on the charge of venality brought against them. This accusation has been urged by several Members of the House during the debate, but by none with greater force and eloquence than my right hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire (Sir E. Bulwer-Lytton) in his great speech of the other evening. He described, in his telling manner, the contest for the vote of the working man between Smith with the £5 note and Brown with the rights of man, in which Smith, of course, prevailed. Whilst he was speaking, I could not help remembering a very remarkable speech delivered by my right hon. Friend some years ago, in which he produced a somewhat different version of the same novel. I dare say some hon. Gentlemen who heard the speech to which I allude, will not have forgotten the touching description which he gave of the trials and fall of poor Smith the plasterer, who, living in-want, was tempted by the different agents of Thomson the rising statesman, and a candidate for Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman described, with his usual power, how poor Smith was first too openly and too grossly tempted by the bare offer of £3 to repair his house; and how a more adroit agent in the shape of the attorney then appeared upon the scene, and placed the bait before him in a more alluring form; how poor Smith went home and saw his pale and suffering wife, and heard the hunger cry of his supperless children; how his honest virtue gave way before the scene of hopeless misery; and how, after a long struggle, he ended by persuading himself that, after all, there was no harm in taking £3 in the way the attorney had "put it" and voting for Thomson. The indignant and lofty virtue of the House held up poor Smith the plasterer to execration. His fall was hailed with enthusiastic cheers by hon. Gentlemen opposite. But, let me ask the House, was there no one more to blame, more worthy of our indignation than poor Smith the plasterer? Do we not daily pray that we may not be led into temptation? Are we so sure that we should ourselves re- 1445 sist it if we were placed in the same position as poor Smith the plasterer? If we fall, we attribute our fall to the direct agency of the arch-tempter, who must himself appear to assail our superior virtue, whilst poor Smith the plasterer is handed over to the arch-tempter's most ordinary agent, the attorney.
Sir, I say that until this House is prepared, until society itself is prepared, to condemn and punish him who corrupts, it has no right to condemn and punish him who is corrupted. Nor have we any right to exclude from the franchise a large portion of our fellow-countrymen, whose honesty as a class I will venture to declare will bear comparison with that of any other class, because we can show that some of them have been corrupted.
I now come to the next objection, viz. that the working classes do not pay direct taxes, and have not sufficient stake in the country to entitle them to a larger share in its government. The best answer has already been given to that objection by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he showed that the aggregate incomes of the working classes amount to almost as much as the aggregate incomes of all other classes of the community; that is to say, that it is nearly half the actual income of the country. Not to go over that ground again, I will confine myself to pointing out the remarkable evidence of the increased wealth of the working classes afforded by annual returns laid before this House, and I would particularly direct, honourable Gentlemen's attention to those made by Mr. Tidd Pratt, the official registrar of Friendly and other Societies. They will find that the Co-operative Societies declared last year profits to the amount of above £200,000, and that the aggregate funds deposited by Friendly Societies with the Commissioners of the National Debt and savings banks amount to within a small sum of £4,000,000. The great Mutual Benefit Society of the Manchester Unity of Odd Fellows, with ramifications all over the kingdom, possesses no less than £2,000,000 of accumulated funds, subscribed by 370,000 members, whilst the London Unity of Odd Fellows has, I understand, more than £200,000 capital, with 40,000 members, and the United Foresters nearly £1,000,000 capital. To all this must be added the large amount of money invested by the working classes individually in the savings 1446 banks and in the Post Office savings bank, amounting to many millions. Do not these facts say something for the increase of the wealth and well-being of the working classes? Do they not say something in proof of their increased thrift and providence? Do they not furnish some arguments against the charge advanced against them of having no stake in the country? Remember that these great Friendly Societies, with their accumulated funds, are managed exclusively by working men, and are completely and entirely under their control. And do not these facts furnish convincing proofs not only of the enormous increase in the aggregate wealth of the working classes, but of the spread amongst them of sound opinions on the most important questions of political economy; false notions upon which might, if widely entertained by the working classes, have been dangerous to the rest of the community? A very short time ago, as we well know, the working classes resented the action of the Government in regard to Friendly Societies as an unwarrantable interference in their affairs. They refused to register them under the Act. They persisted in carrying them on upon principles which were unsound, and could only end in bringing Benefit Societies to bankruptcy. But the working classes soon learnt the truth, and are now willing to conform to regulations and laws upon which alone these societies can be carried on with advantage to their members and with perfect success. Does this not prove that the working classes are open to conviction when they are wrong? They may entertain erroneous opinions on questions of political economy, like others have done with regard to protection and free trade. But it is no small thing in their favour that they have yielded willingly and of their own accord to argument and the force of truth.
I may further point; out this remarkable fact—one most deserving of attention, and in my opinion reflecting the highest credit upon the working men—that theirs is the only class which, as a class, provides for the poor, the needy, the sick, and the suffering, by an organised and regular saving from individual incomes—by the daily putting by of something which leads to an actual privation and sacrifice. And remember how hardly their wages are earned, and what the sacrifice is when the laying by so much a week means an 1447 actual taking away from the necessaries of life, from that which is almost essential to the support of their wives and children. We impose no such self-denial upon ourselves. I say, Sir, that with all that other classes may give in charity—and no one will deny the charity of our middle and upper classes—none make so great a daily uninterrupted sacrifice. And let us for one moment think of what these working classes are doing for us and for other classes by thus providing for their own poor and for those who are unable to work, who would be thrown upon the poor rates, and whom we should have to maintain. I think that this consideration alone entitles them to no little gratitude and respect.
Have the working classes then no stake in the country, as it has been asserted? Would their property, large as I have shown it to be, be less affected, less liable to loss, than that enjoyed by any other portion of the community, in the event of foreign war or domestic commotion? They know as well as we do how sensitive credit is, how the funds rise and fall, how misgovernment, how any interruption to the public peace can lower the value of all property. I will go further, and maintain that they have even a greater stake in the country than other classes have, and would feel more acutely than any other class any derangement in the public credit or any event which might check the prosperity of the nation. To us a decrease in the value of our property or of our incomes means a luxury the less; with them it means a necessity the less: with us reduced rent means food and clothing less luxurious, less costly; with them reduced wages or no wages at all means too often no food and no clothing at all. And will any one say in the face of these facts, that the working classes have no interest in the well-being, prosperity, and peace of the country?
I will now come to another argument against the Bill to which I have alluded, viz. that by lowering the franchise and increasing the size of and lowering constituencies, you render it impossible for any but rich men and demagogues to enter the House of Commons. There is no doubt that the first part of this objection is, in the present state of things, not unfounded. But the same argument was constantly used during the debates on the Reform Bill of 1448 1831. It was then gravely asserted that if that Bill passed into law only rich nabobs returned from India would be able to get seats in the House of Commons. We know how far that prophecy has been fulfilled. The expenses of an election in a large constituency, and in many a small one too, are very serious. Unfortunately the House of Commons has never been sincere in its desire and in its attempt to lower this extravagant expenditure. I believe that no reform will be really effective and useful until this is done. I believe it could be done if we were to set about it with sincerity, with a determination that this scandal should no longer attach to our representative system. The may be one of the results of a reformed Parliament. I say it can be done, because I have seen elections carried on without such expenses, and without bribery. I was in Italy last autumn during the elections—and allow me to say that of all countries in Europe I believe that Italy will show herself most fitted for free and constitutional government. I was in the company of a friend who was a candidate for one of the largest, the most populous, the most rising, and I may add the most radical of the cities of the north of Italy. The time was one of considerable excitement owing to the struggle between the Conservative, Mazzinian, and Clerical parties. The election was hotly contested, and the candidate who headed the poll had not the requisite majority of votes required to return a member, and a second election became in consequence necessary. Yet with all this the members were put to no expense whatever, everything was done with the utmost order and regularity, and there was no bribery or intimidation of any kind. If such things can be done in Italy where Parliamentary government has only just been introduced, why can it not be done in England, with all our experience and the boasted superiority of our institutions?
For my part, Sir, I believe the time will come when all the legitimate expenses of elections will be met by a county and borough rate, and when all expenses not absolutely necessary and legitimate will be prohibited by laws which we shall be prepared to enforce, and when those who incur illegal expenses will be duly punished. Until the corruption of voters is not only a punish- 1449 able offence, but is considered to be disgraceful by this House and by society, and until this House and society unmistakeably mark their sense of the conduct of those who have engaged in such practices, corruption and bribery will never be put an end to. You have no right to throw it in the teeth of the working men that they are unfit to exercise the franchise because they are corrupt, whilst you are their corrupters. [Great confusion and interruption from the Opposition.]
Sir, I can assure honourable Gentlemen opposite that I have no intention whatever of casting any imputation upon any honourable Member, or upon any one party more than upon another. I am simply speaking of a state of things which most unfortunately is known and admitted to exist. I am addressing the whole House of Commons and the country. I maintain that hitherto we have not looked upon corruption (I may be as much to blame as any one else) in its true and proper light, when used as an agency to gain admittance to this House; and that until we do condemn it as if ought to be condemned, and visit those, who use it as they ought to be visited. we have no right to use the language which is sometimes applied to the working classes.
But now let me turn to the second part of the objection, that besides wealthy men only demagogues, who would pander to the passions and prejudices of the mob, would be returned to this House. This again is an assertion which can be tested by facts, and I venture to say that facts are entirely opposed to it. In the first place no constituency in which the working classes at this time have a decided influence at elections return a "demagogue," or any Member who can be considered as bearing any resemblance to that character; nor, as far as I am aware, has any "demagogue" offered himself for election to any such constituency. That was not so thirty or forty years ago, when men who would certainly be now thought demagogues of the most violent character were returned to this House. In truth, as you trust the working classes, as you extend to them their just rights, men of this kind have less influence over them, and are less likely to become sufficiently important to command the support of any number of working men. The old demagogue is, in fact, out of work now. We want you to put an end to him alto- 1450 gether. And there is no way better calculated to do this than such legislation as we invite you to support. Whilst in other countries of Europe the people are daily becoming more democratic in their political opinions and the Governments more Conservative (or I might use a much stronger term), in this country the reverse is the case. Let honourable Gentlemen remember the kind of measures that used to be submitted to this House but, a very few' years ago: such as the resolutions constantly brought forward by my honourable friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Locke King) and others, for the abolition of the laws of primogeniture, proposals for doing away with the Bench of Bishops in the House of Lords, and resolutions in favour of triennial Parliaments, for which we find even Lord Grey and other eminent English statesmen voting as a necessary measure of reform. Even tin; ballot, I am afraid, now receives fewer supporters than it used to do But let us look out of doors and see the great change that has taken place in this respect in the opinions and desires of the working classes. Above all, where is now the Charter with its six points of which we used to hear so much? We hear no more of it now. I have the honour of representing one of the most democratic constituencies in the kingdom, and yet, I will venture to say that there are no avowed Chartists in it. Where are the newspapers, such as the Northern, Star, which some twenty-five years ago used to be the open advocate of sedition and discontent, and which exercised so great an influence over the working classes? Where are the, prosecutions for treason and sedition, which used formerly to teem in our criminal courts? All these things have passed away. May not these great and beneficial changes be attributed to the passing of the Reform Bill, to that which this House has done for the admission of a larger portion of the people of this country to the franchise? You say that the working men have been silently obtaining the franchise, and that we now find that which seems to surprise many persons, that, after all, 25 per cent, of working men are on the register. If so, are we not justified in assuming, that there is a connection between cause and effect, and in attributing to this very fact, to this very increase of influence, some of the changes and improvements that I 1451 have described? The result, therefore, of the working classes having to some extent gained admittance to the franchise is, not that we are more democratic, but that we are more conservative than we used to be. We only ask you to act upon the experience we have gained, to continue in the same direction, to admit a still greater number of the working classes into the pale of the Constitution, convinced as we are that by so doing you will increase, and not endanger, the well-being and the contentment of the country at large.
When the Reform Bill of 1831 was introduced, many Liberal statesmen and public men who were disposed to concede as much as possible to the people thought that the borough franchise had been fixed too high at £10. But it is scarcely to be wondered at that even they, with the events of the French Revolution fresh in their memories, and under the influence of that which was passing around them in this country, should have hesitated in giving too much power to the working classes. They were therefore content to compromise the matter, and to accept the £10 test. But they had no intention that we should remain for ever at that point, and that if the working classes showed themselves fitted for a further reduction of the franchise, Parliament should not give it to them. After all, the reduction of the franchise is a matter of experience and of expediency. Is it right and safe and expedient that it should be reduced? Has the admission of the working classes, limited as it has been, proved beneficial or not to the country? If those questions are answered in the affirmative, I contend that we are not only justified in lowering the franchise, but that we are bound to do it. I was glad to hear some hon. Gentlemen on the other side admit that the reduction of the franchise was a question of fitness, although others had contended that fitness had nothing whatever to do with it, and that we must take into consideration the principle of representation by classes as the only one known to the Constitution. I will address myself to those who take my view of the question, and I will ask them whether any one will venture to say that property is less secure, rank less respected, the influence of religion less felt, at this time than it was before the passing of the Reform Bill of 1832? No one will, I am sure, say that they are. If this, then, is admitted, have 1452 we not proved our case for the reduction of the franchise?
I can entirely corroborate what my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) stated this evening in his calm, able, and convincing speech, that the working men of this country in their difficulties and troubles look up to men of rank and position, and are always ready to consult them, and to be guided by them; that even in their strikes they would rather go to a "gentleman" than to one of themselves for settling matters. A remarkable example of this occurred last year during the prolonged strike in some of the manufacturing districts of the midland counties. To whom did the artizans on strike apply? Was it to any demagogue? No; it was to Lord Lich-field, a nobleman well known for his sympathy with the working classes, for his desire to promote their true interests, and for his high honour and impartiality. They applied to him to settle the differences between them and their employers. He readily undertook the task, and although for various reasons he did not quite succeed in reconciling them, the working men expressed in a feeling manner their gratitude to the noble Lord for what he had done for them, admitted his impartiality, and thanked him for the efforts he had made in their behalf.
Sir, I confess that it appears to me somewhat strange that those who remember the prophecies, and warnings, and fears that were repeated over and over again in this House and throughout the country before the passing of the Reform Bill of 1832, should be now alarmed at this mere bugbear of democracy. They know how completely those prophecies failed, and how utterly unfounded those fears have proved to be. Democracy may be a very good and safe subject for young politicians to try their maiden speeches upon. Amongst the tribes in which I spent a considerable part of my early youth it was the custom for the chiefs to keep a stuffed hon. upon which the young warriors and huntsmen were made to practise the use of their swords and spears, in order that they might prepare themselves for encounters with the real animal. Much in the same way the more aged and experienced of the hon. Gentlemen opposite use my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham. He is made to represent this formidable monster—democracy; and upon him younger Mem- 1453 bers of the Conservative party are invited to try their courage and their strength. The mode in which they treat my hon. Friend reminds me of a game which was said to have been much played in fashionable circles some years ago, and which has become classical. They set up my hon. Friend, they blacken his face (after the Eastern fashion), they paint him as hideously as they are able, and then placing in his mouth a Bill—not the Government Bill, but a Bill which in the lively imagination of these hon. Gentlemen passes for the Government Bill—they set to work to smash this Bill with their speeches, and they so hatter and disfigure my hon. Friend himself, that in a very short time his most intimate friend would not recognize him. But I must admit. Sir, that my hon. Friend is very much to blame for the manner in which he is treated; if he will persist in frightening, as he does, hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House. He is, I know, a great reader of Shakspeare, and he should remember that Shakspeare says, "that to bring in a hon. among ladies is a most dreadful thing; for there is not a more fearful wildfowl than your hon. living." If my hon. Friend must occasionally roar so as to terrify the nervous and the timid politicians opposite, he should at least "allow half his face to be seen through the lion's neck;" and he should really allay their fears by telling them, "If you think I am come hither as a lion, it were a pity of my life. No, I am no such thing; I am a man, as other men are," And if this were not sufficient to reassure them, it might be necessary for you, Sir—as it would, I believe, be unparliamentary for my hon. Friend to do so himself—"to name his name, and tell them plainly he is Snug the joiner."
I cannot, Sir, understand how it is that the right hon. Gentlemen the Members for Oxfordshire and the University of Cambridge (Mr. Henley and Mr. Walpole) should join in this cry of fear, and in these paroxysms of terror at the threatened invasion of democracy, at the fearful results which are to arise from the lowering of the franchise to £7, which according to the right hon. Baronet the Member for Hertfordshire (Sir E. Bul-wer-Lytton) is not "Reform," but "revolution." Those right hon. Gentlemen are known to have left Lord Derby's Ministry because that Ministry would not consent to lower the franchise to £8. Is there 1454 then, in their opinion, but £1 between the British Constitution and revolution? Are we to be saved by this small sum from all the evils, all the horrors, which have been pictured in such terrible colours by the right hon. Gentleman's friends and colleagues? We have heard when a man was bold enough to trust himself in a ship, there was only one plank between himself and eternity. But even that is not a more awful position than that in which this country would have been in if the right hon. Gentleman's £8 franchise had been adopted, and we should only have bad £1 between us and the otter destruction of all our institutions.
And all this dread of democracy—all these predictions of terrible results to the Constitution—are founded upon the supposition that a certain number of the working classes must be admitted by the Government Bill to the franchise. Have you, then, so much fear of the working classes—do you think that their admission to a share in the Government of the country would be productive of such vast evils? You now declare that you do not doubt their individual fitness, if character and conduct are to be the tests of fitness, to exercise the franchise. You now repudiate the description of their habits and their vices which you cheered not long ago. You go further; you now praise them, and declare that you have unbounded faith in them. I do not doubt the generous sympathy felt by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Hertfordshire (Sir E, Bulwer Lytton) for the working man; and few who heard his speech will forget the noble words in which he described the aspirations of the working man as "the eternal link between the aims of educated labour and the dreams of philosophy and genius." But it is of little use to talk of sympathy for the working classes, and to admit their fitness for the enjoyment of the franchise, whilst at the same time you refuse to put any trust in them, and to give the franchise to them. Your opinion of our duty to the working man somewhat resembles the view which the Scotch pedagogue took of our duty towards our neighbour, which his pupil had described to be, "to fear him, to love him, and to trust him." "You may fear him and love him as much as you like," said he, "but you must not trust him." As long as the working man is just what you wish him to be, you will say a good word 1455 in his favour; but he must be the model working man after your own notion. He must have all the virtues of his own class and of all other classes put together. If he pays his rent punctually for twenty years, brings up respectably a large family of children, has never been seen at the beerhouse, and is unknown to the relieving officer, he shall receive a prize of 10s., presented to him by a great peer, or by an illustrious man of letters. He will be allowed to read newspapers, to study history, and to attend lectures at the institute. All this he may do, and a great deal more; but if he attempts to apply the principles that he has learned—if he attempts to put into practice the lessons of political economy which he has been taught—if he begins to think that he is entitled to make the most of the sweat of his brow and the labour of his hand—if it dawns upon him that he has as much right to combine with his fellow-men to obtain a fair price for his work as the owners of capital have a right to combine against him for the regulation of his wages—then, indeed, the benevolent admirers of the working classes, and the dispensers of so many good things to him, lift up their hands in amazement, stand aghast at his audacity and his ingratitude, and behold the flood of democracy about to sweep over the land, and to wash away, even to the very last vestiges, the glorious institutions of this country.
Now the working man is not ungrateful for what you may do for him, nor is he insensible to your good opinion; but he is at the same time independent, and he will not accept what you offer him upon the terms by which it is accompanied. He will meet you as his political equal, and not upon any other footing. Otherwise he feels that there are rights to which you are admitted, but from which he is excluded, and this begets a sense of shame and injustice. [Interruption from the Opposition.] Sir, I do not wish to occupy the attention even of hon. Gentlemen opposite if they are determined not to hear me, but I think it is only fair that, as all other classes are freely heard in this House, the opinions and sentiments of the working men, whether those opinions are right or wrong, whether distasteful or otherwise to any party in this House, should be freely stated here. I cannot but believe that hon. Gentlemen opposite are only damaging their own cause when they are seeking by these 1456 constant interruptions to prevent me expressing what I believe to be the views entertained by a vast number of men in this country. Remember that those who read our debates out of doors will not attribute these interruptions and the conduct towards me of hon. Gentlemen opposite to their disinclination to hear an inefficient speaker, or one who cannot speak with authority upon the views and sentiments of those whose cause he is pleading, but to their determination not to allow those views and sentiments to be heard in this House.
You do not know the effect of what passes in this House upon the working classes. You forget that all we say and do concerning them is thought over, and weighed and considered, and is the subject of their constant thought and conversation. You do not understand how sensitive the nature of these men may be. The few words spoken some nights ago by the Chancellor of the Exchequer—not the cold and well-balanced words of a treatise on political economy, but burning and generous words, coming straight from the heart—have touched a chord amongst the working men which has vibrated through the length and breadth of the land. Not because the working men have been altogether unaccustomed to hear words of kindness and sympathy regarding them spoken in Parliament, but because it is something new—something unexpected—something undreamt of, to hear such words coming from the great and recognized Leader of this House, which they had been brought to believe had no feeling of kindness or sympathy for them, and no desire or intention to do them justice. If I know anything of the working men of this country I may venture to assure the right hon. Gentleman, that what he has said of them, and what he has done for them, will never be forgotten by them, but that they will be ever grateful to him. [Loud and ironical Cheers from the Opposition.] I entreat hon. Gentlemen opposite not to think lightly of these things, or to believe that the feeling which has been aroused amongst the working men is but a temporary feeling—that it has been brought about by artificial means, and can only be nourished by such means—that these are mere illusions. The working man, as he returns to his ever-recurring toil at the loom, ponders over these things; he dwells upon his wrongs and his grievances. I will not 1457 say that they are real wrongs and real grievances, but he believes them to be such, and you foment and strengthen that belief by refusing to give him an opportunity of stating them, and of being heard through those who can faithfully and honestly represent him in this Commons House of Parliament Depend upon it, that the more this House refuses to listen to the statement of their grievances, whether they be well-grounded or not, the more will the working classes be convinced that they are real.
The Government have felt, this, and they desire that some means shall be found by which the impression which undoubtedly exists amongst the working classes, that they are not represented or heard in this House, shall be removed. They have, therefore, proposed a measure which is moderate, and, whilst moderate and not causing any violent change, is one which the working classes themselves are ready to accept. Let us be wise in time. You say that Reform is unnecessary, because there is now no demand for it, no general excitement, no agitation in the country, no pressure on the Government. Even admitting this to be true, although I do not admit it, is it, let me ask you, statesmanlike, prudent, or wise, to refuse to do right until a wrong is committed? Are we to wait, as our forefathers did, until the people are driven by a sense of wrong and injustice to commit acts which are illegal and to be condemned, before we concede to them that which we admit they are entitled to?
I will venture to say that there can be nothing more worthy of notice than the attitude of the working classes with regard to this Bill. The hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter) has told us that, at a meeting of his constituents, only fifteen persons held up their hands in favour of a resolution for manhood suffrage. I can go further, and state that at a very large and crowded meeting of the working classes of Southwark—a meeting composed exclusively of artizans and mechanics—only one person advocated manhood suffrage. The meeting would not hear him, and at once rejected Ids resolution. It is all very well for hon. Gentlemen opposite to quote the words of Professor Beazley, spoken at some meeting, and to seek to prove from them that the views and wishes of the working men are not such as we say they are; that although they may for the present, and 1458 for a special purpose, pretend to be moderate, they tire really under the influence of violent and unscrupulous demagogues. But if I am rightly informed, Mr. Beazley is an Oxford Professor, and a Gentleman who has received his education in that seat of learning. Therefore, for any opinions that he may have advanced or may profess—and I really do not know whether they are such as they are said to be—Oxford, and not the working men, must be held responsible.
But I contend that the working men are honestly and sincerely willing to accept this Bill. I will not say that they are entirely satisfied with all its provisions, that it meets all their expectations. They had, no doubt, hoped for more. They knew that a very large number of Members of this House, and of the Government itself, had pledged themselves to a £6 franchise, and we must not be surprised, therefore, if they think £7 too high. They are also of opinion that a lower lodger franchise would not only have been safe and fair, but that it would have had a good moral and social effect by encouraging working men to live in a better class of buildings than small and mean tenements at low rents. But they are willing to give up these views and opinions to meet the House of Commons half-way. And is this not a proof that they are moderate in their desires and expectations, and that they are really well-fitted to be entrusted with the franchise? Much has been said, and most justly said, in praise of the conduct of the men of Lancashire, during the terrible trial- and sufferings entailed upon them by the cotton famine; hut I think that the attitude of the working classes in the matter of this Reform Bill is scarcely less deserving of commendation, and affords scarcely a less striking and conclusive proof of their claim to the confidence of their fellow-countrymen.
But still you refuse to meet them, although they have come forward with so much good feeling and moderation to meet you. And yet there never was a time more opportune for the settlement of a great question of this nature than the present. The atmosphere is clear and calm. The condition of the working classes at this present moment, and their temper, are such that they are willing, for the settlement of those questions which affect them so deeply, to accept 1459 what the Government has offered to them. The time may come, if we do not avail ourselves of this opportunity, when they may not be satisfied with the measure of justice which they are now willing to receive, and when they may insist upon much larger concessions. It is our duty to forestall that time. Do not show distrust in this large body of your fellow-countrymen. I do not ask you to give with a liberal, with a generous, or with an ungrudging hand, but with a just hand. I appeal to the justice, not to the liberality, of the House of Commons. If you will only do justice to the working classes, if you will only place confidence in them, depend upon it that they will not show themselves unworthy of that confidence, but that they will give you even greater proofs than they have hitherto given of the love they bear to the Throne, the institutions, and the greatness of their country.
§ SIR HUGH CAIRNS
The course of this debate has shown, and I think shown in a very marked manner, the advantage of the discussion of public questions in the House of Commons. During the recess we have heard of meetings held in various parts of the country, addressed by speakers of great ability and great eloquence; but, Sir, I am afraid that there is a tendency in the human mind which, when a speaker addresses an auditory brought together in support of some particular or preconceived views, where no controversy is intended, and where no controversy is allowed, leads him to resort rather to vague and empty declamation, and to exalt emphasis and energy of language above accuracy and above argument. In this House, on the other hand, we expect a fair and candid statement of the question which is to be discussed, and we expect arguments fairly and boldly addressed to that question; and when we find an absence of those arguments we not unnaturally suspect a weakness of the position which argument cannot defend. Now, I fear that this is a test which may fairly be applied to the somewhat remarkable speech of the Under-Secretary who has just resumed his place. We have heard from him that the constituency of Southwark contains a greater proportion of working men than any other constituency in the kingdom; but the hon. Gentleman says that the working men have no confidence in him, and that he does not represent them, and cannot speak for them. Far be it from me to 1460 dispute that proposition. He has told us what a number of people have said at different times about Reform. I think if all that has been said at various times by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen sitting beside him were to be collected and compared, we should have a very extraordinary publication. He has told us that the issue which is to be discussed here is not at all the issue raised by the Amendment which you, Sir, have put from the chair, but some imaginary issue of which, I confess, I could not understand the hon. Member's definition, he says that last year the party who sit at this side of the House were extremely anxious to precipitate the country into the Danish war; but one of the greatest ornaments this House ever had, who is now removed from us—the late Mr. Cobden—expressed his opinion that it was Her Majesty's Government who, by their despatches, were on the point of plunging us into war on that question. He has told us—descending to a very small individual indeed—that I, forsooth, keenly urged the release of steam rams in order that they might be used in the war by the Southern against the Northern States of America. If that subject is worth referring to, I beg most emphatically to deny every word of the hon. Gentleman's assertion on that point. I remember offering, as strongly as I could do so, my comment on the conduct of Her Majesty's Government, who, contrary to law, detained vessels which, either because they felt they had no grounds, or because they had not sufficient courage, they did not venture to arrest; but whatever opinions I entertained on the subject of the American civil war, the hon. Gentleman knows nothing about them; for it so happens that neither in the House nor out of it, directly or indirectly, did I ever express that opinion. Well, the hon. Gentleman further told us that, whatever the private opinions of Members of the House of Commons might be, they ought to sacrifice everything to exigencies of party. [Mr. LAYARD expressed dissent.] I beg pardon and withdraw the statement, but I so understood the hon. Gentleman. If the hon. Gentleman now withdraws that opinion, I will only hope that he will induce the other members of the Government to take the same views. But there was one thing which the hon. Gentleman promised to do, and which he has not done, which was to meet the Amendment which has been moved by the 1461 noble Earl opposite (Earl Grosvenor), and the arguments of my noble Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley) in support of it. The House desire, no doubt, that this debate should come to a close within some reasonable period, and as therefore it may be more convenient that I should detain them for some little time to-night, perhaps they will allow me to call attention to what I think the hon. Gentleman did not call their attention very clearly to—namely, the point at issue. The question resolves itself into two matters, in one sense distinct, and in another very closely connected together—one the manner in which this Bill deals with the subject of the franchise; the other the manner in which Her Majesty's Government propose to deal with the whole question of Parliamentary Reform. As I have remarked, these points are in one sense distinct; but, at the same time, it is impossible to properly proceed and deal with the second unless we go into the character of the Bill now before the House. I heard a member of Her Majesty's Government—I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer—say the other night, that the Government did not propose to overthrow the Constitution of the country. ["Hear!"] I was very glad to receive that assurance, and I hope hon. Members are not prepared to contradict the statement. But that being so, it has always seemed to me of the first importance in dealing with such a matter as the representation of the people, that we should ascertain if we can what is the principle of the Constitution; because, it we can come to some agreement on that point, the differences between us will be very much simplified. I lay the more stress on this, because I have heard in the discussion of this Bill a view which was novel from the hon. Member for Birmingham—whose name, though I am compelled to mention it, I shall treat more respectfully than was done by the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs. I have a great respect for the hon. Member for Birmingham. I differ widely from his views, but I admire, beyond the possibility of expression, the eloquence which he always exhibits in debate; and I was perfectly amazed to hear a Member of Her Majesty's Government insinuate that, after all, the hon. Member for Birmingham was only "Snug the joiner!" almost suggesting that you, Sir, should address him by that 1462 name from the chair. But I will speak of the hon. Member more respectfully. What is the principle of the representation of the people of this country? Is it personal fitness? Is it been and concession? Is it a question of universal right? Or is it something different from all three? The hon. Member for Birmingham told us he had a theory on the subject derived from Lord Somers. He said that Lord Somers, a great Wills; authority, not accidentally and conversationally, not in the course of some hasty speech, but in a solemn conference and deliberation between tin; Houses of Lords and Commons, pronounced tin opinion that every man in England had by birth a right to suffrage. Don't let me misrepresent the hon. Gentleman's words.Do you mean," said he "to tell me that herd Somers, who lived in an after time, was not himself a great authority, and to a large extent one of the builders of oar existing Constitution, and yet Lord Somers, being on a joint committee in the House of Lords, told a committee in the House of Commons, in conference, that although the Lords were of opinion that no man by birth had any right to an office, yet that in birth he had a light to a vote, and that the possession of the vote was the only true security which an Englishman had for the possession of his life and property.Now, observe, this is represented as the opinion of Lord Somers, that every Englishman has by birth the right to a vote. That is a very startling proposition, and one calculated to alter our opinion of Lord Somers, for I never heard of his taking any step to give effect to such a doctrine. The reference is to a very well-known passage in Parliamentary history. But I think the hon. Member for Birmingham is in error in saying that Lord Somers ever made that statement himself. The language to which the hon. Member alluded was no doubt used at a conference between the two Houses; and on the part of the Lords this was conducted by managers of whom Lord Somers was one, and Lord Somers of course was responsible for what was said; but, if I recollect rightly, Bishop Burnet says that it was he himself who principally conducted the conference. But what was the question then at issue? At the beginning of the 18th century the High Church party in the House of Commons proposed to apply a sacramental test, so that no member of a corporation, be he one of the corporation, or one of the freemen, should vote for a Member of Parliament until he had taken the test. That measure was passed by large majori- 1463 ties through the House of Commons. The House of Lords, greatly to their honour, withstood the Bill, and introduced Amendments which led to a Conference. The argument, whether by Lord Somers or others, which was then put forward, was as follows:—That though the Lords allow that no man hath a place by birthright, or but few such examples in our Government, yet that giving a vote for a representative in Parliament is the essential privilege whereby every Englishman preserves his property, and that whatsoever deprives him of such vote deprives him of his birthright.But how is he deprived? The meaning is obvious. When he has got his vote—when the State has given him his vote beforehand as a right which he may exercise, then, if you impose a sacramental test on the exercise of that vote, you deprive him of the birthright which he has, not by nature, but by the operation of the law. I think, therefore, putting aside the birthright view attributed to Lord Somers, we may revert to the principle of our Constitution. That principle, as I understand it, is, that Parliament shall be a mirror—a representation of every class—not according to heads, not according to numbers; but according to everything which gives weight and importance in the world without, so that the various classes of this country may be heard, and their views expressed fairly in the House of Commons, without the possibility of any one class outnumbering and reducing to silence all the other classes in the kingdom. Let me ask attention to a few lines from an authority that every one will admit on constitutional questions—Lord Russell himself. He says:—The representative body should be the image of the represented; not that it should represent property only, or multitude only, or farmers, or merchants, or manufacturers only; not that it should govern with the pride of an insulated aristocracy, or be carried to and fro with the breath of transient popularity; but that it should unite somewhat of all these things, and blend these various colours into one agreeable picture.Well, then, this is the advantage of determining beforehand the principle upon which the Constitution proceeds. Plow has the Constitution worked out that principle? There were two methods which might have been adopted. The first was to have an unequal suffrage by which a value might be given to a vote in proportion to the property and intelligence of the man exercising it. That principle has never been adopted except by theoretical 1464 writers. The other course which remained open to adoption was to distribute the suffrage in such a way that mere numbers would not, by the possession of an equal and even suffrage, outweigh the other classes who were not so numerous. Our Constitution adopted this second course. It said, with regard to the suffrage, there should be a certain point—it may be a question what that point is—below which the suffrage should not descend, in order to avoid an overwhelming influx; and, on the other hand, that there should be a certain point in the opposite direction beyond which, however great the property, no increased weight should be given to property. And, therefore, you have reposed the whole motive power of the Constitution between those two extremes in the middle class—using the term "middle class" to describe the whole of the country except those outside these limits. That being so, I think we gain one great step in the argument. It seems to me to disembarrass the present case of the somewhat invidious consideration of fitness for the exercise of the suffrage. I agree that unfitness ought to prevent the exercise of the suffrage; but it by no means follows, that because there is fitness there should also be the right to exercise the suffrage. I would, even for argument's sake, suppose that every person in the country were possessed of an abstract fitness to exercise the right of voting, and yet I would maintain you would at once overthrow the whole balance of the Constitution if you admitted all to a privilege equal with the existing voters of the kingdom, and therefore the mere question of fitness is not conclusive of the argument. It is most fortunate that we are not driven into the consideration of this invidious question of fitness, because, if fitness alone be the test, I want to ask hon. Members, and especially those sitting below the gangway, on what principle it could be contended that the possession of a £10 house would be sufficient to indicate fitness, while the possession of a £9 house would indicate unfitness; or why, in like manner, the possession of a £7 house should indicate fitness, and that of a £6 house indicate unfitness? In truth, Sir, the more the question is examined, the more it will be found that the spirit of our Constitution has not assumed that mere fitness is a sufficient title to the suffrage, but has rather aimed as its object at preserving a balance in the representation of all parties and all classes in the 1465 country. The question of fitness is indeed a consideration, but only a secondary consideration. The same reason led to the maintenance of county and town constituencies. It was in order that, by different constituencies, you might have a representation of every constituent portion in the kingdom, and at the same time preserve a proper balance in that representation. If that be so, I think I may assume that, to a considerable extent, we shall find an agreement, not perhaps among all the Members of this House, but among a considerable number of them. In the first place, I think we agree, that if all the working classes were admitted to the suffrage, the balance of power in this country would be overthrown I do not expect that advocates of universal suffrage will agree to that, but I firmly believe that the great majority of the House will. We also agree, I think, that there should be a fair representation of the working classes in the constituency; and although the hon. Member who last spoke ridiculed the statistics which the Government themselves have presented lo the House, I think she House will agree that there is at the present time—observe, I do not say a sufficient but—a substantial representation of the working classes in the boroughs. Then the only question remaining is—and it narrows the argument very much—is that a sufficient representation of the working classes, or ought it to be increased to any and what extent? If that be so, it is a question of degree, and we must decide upon the question of degree in the light of the facts of the case; and it is important that our facts should be accurately stated.
Now, let me ask the House to consider how important it is that the facts should be accurately known. If I refer for a moment to what took place in 1860 and 1864, I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer will not suppose that I do so in order to taunt him with having made at that time what appears now to be a mistake. We were all in ignorance as to the facts then, and I desire to remind the House, that if we had legislated in 1860 or 1864 upon this subject, we should have done so under the pressure of an error of a most serious and palpable kind. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in 1864, expressed his opinion upon the state of constituencies as he considered it at that time. Will the House permit me to read a very few 1466 sentences? In his revised speeches I read as follows:—There ought to be not a wholesale nor an excessive, but a sensible and considerable addition to that portion of the working classes, at present almost infinitesimal, which is in possession of the franchise. Now, Sir, if I am asked what I mean by a sensible and considerable addition,' I reply that I mean such an addition as I think, and at the time contended in argument (3 Hansard, clviii. p. 461), would have been made by the Bill which the present Government submitted to the House in 1860,…At present we have, speaking generally, a constituency of which between one-tenth and one-twentieth, eertainly less than one-tenth, consists of working men,It will be observed that when the hon. Gentleman was asked to define what he meant by a sensible and considerable addition of the corking classes he referred back to what he had said in 1860, and repeated the opinion he had then expressed. What, then, did he say in 1860? He said:—You will have a total borough constituency, mi what I think the most liberal, the most extravagant estimate, in virtue of the present Bill, of 650,000. It is estimated that of 450,000, which now constitutes the entire borough constituency, about one-ninth belongs to the labouring classes, either as freemen, or scot and lot voters, or here and there £10 occupiers. Perhaps they are about: 50,000, and perhaps they would be three-fourths of the 200,000 which, on an extravagant supposition, may be added to the constituency. The labouring classes might be 200,000 in a borough constituency of 650,000—that is, they would be less than one-third of the whole borough constituency,"—[3 Hansard, clviii. 642.]What do we find now? Why, that these figures and facts which the Chancellor of the Exchequer assumed were a mere delusion. But we have got this further most important fact, that, according to the view of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1860 and 1864, an infusion of the working classes into the borough constituency, to the extent of somewhat less than one-third of the whole, would have been a sensible and sufficient infusion, with which he would be satisfied. That being so, I would ask the attention of the House to the way in which the Government has dealt with the statistics of the present Bill. In Her Majesty's gracious Speech from the Throne we were told that statistics were in course of collection, and that a Bill founded upon them, and therefore to be justified by them, would be offered for the consideration of Parliament. What happened? After six weeks' delay—I do not say it was too long—the Blue-book was laid upon the table of the House, and on the 12th of last month the Bill was introduced by the Chancellor of the Ex- 1467 chequer, who then made known to us the resolution the Government had come to with regard to the statistics. Having spoken of the error of 1860 and 1864, he said, "We felt that if we were really to come to issue upon the facts of the case, we must endeavour to make ourselves, and to make Parliament as well as ourselves, masters of the facts appertaining to it." That was the view of the Government on introducing the Bill; and I now come to the argument used by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in support of a £7 borough franchise rather than a £6. The argument was this, the right hon. Gentleman said we have taken statistics, and we have endeavoured to find out from those statistics what addition a £6 franchise would make to the working classes in a constituency, and we find that the addition would, in our opinion, be too much. I may remark here that I was surprised the other night to hear the Chancellor of the Exchequer say that the Government had carefully avoided introducing the expression "classes" into this discussion, and that that expression had come from the other side of the House. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER dissented.] I do not see how the right hon. Gentleman, who teems with addresses upon this subject, could well have avoided it; and I think he will find that I am quite accurate in what I have stated. The statistics were founded upon the question of classes, and the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer followed in the course laid down by those statistics, and founded itself on what those statistics proved. But a few days after they were presented, however, hon. Members desired more information on the subject, and said the statistics were not satisfactory—were not full; and they put questions to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. What did he say then? We were told that it was not a question of statistics at all, and—that we were treating the matter as if there was an invading army coming upon us—that we were excluding our own flesh and blood, and debarring our fellow-Christians from coming among us. It was with some astonishment, too, that I heard the right hon. Gentleman make some remarks the other night respecting the number of "idle, empty, mocking words" which had been spoken in the course of our discussion upon this subject. But, Sir, if in one year a Minister of the Crown rises in his place and tells the country and the working classes that every man has a right to 1468 a vote in this country until the contrary is shown, and in another year the same Minister rises in his place, and, advocating the admission only of those who live in houses of £7, speaks at the same time of those who desire some information as to the number to be admitted as if they were objecting to the admission of any, to the admission of an invading army, to the admission of their own flesh and blood, and to their fellow-Christians; and if he raises in the country, as he must, the idea that his view is that, no matter what the qualification may be, every person in the country is to be treated in reference to the franchise as if he had a right to it,—I want to know where are the idle and where the mocking words? I will now take the Chancellor of the Exchequer's view of these statistics, founded upon his own figures, and in doing so I will present to the House only what I conceive to be the necessary consequence of his own argument. Now, why was it the Government did not fix upon a £6 franchise? Here is what the Chancellor of the Exchequer says upon the subject:—If a £6 rental were added, I find that this would be the result. A £6 rental, calculated upon the most careful investigation, and making every allowance and deduction that ought to be made, would give 242,000 voters, whom I should take as all belonging to the working class, making a gross total of 428,000 persons, which would, in fact, place the working classes in a clear majority upon the constituency. Well, that has never been the intention of any Bill proposed in this House. I do not think it is a proposal that Parliament would adopt. I cannot say I think it would be attended with great danger, but I am sure it is not according to the view or expectation of Parliament. And although for my own part I do not think that much apprehension need be entertained with respect to the working classes, yet this I fully admit, that upon general grounds of political prudence it is not well to make sudden and extensive changes in the depository of political power. I do not think that we are called upon, under the circumstances, to give over the majority of town constituencies into the hands of the working class. We propose, therefore, to take the figure next above that—namely, £7 clear annual value.What then is the argument of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? The right hon. Gentleman says, taking a £6 franchise, you would have, in addition to the present constituency, a constituency amounting in all to 791,000 voters; and of these 428,000 would belong to the working classes, and therefore the working classes would have more than one-half of the whole by 32,500 votes. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said, in words about which there can be 1469 no mistake—I do not give my own opinion—that the Government are of opinion that to give the working classes a majority in the borough constituencies was never proposed before, and has never been intended by Parliament, and never would be received by Parliament; and that, moreover, it is not the proposal which the Government are prepared to make. Now, let us start with that. There can be no mistake about it, or about the principle of it. It is nothing to the point to say, that the working class will or will not vote together; that question I leave till afterwards. Let me, for the present, turn to the £7 franchise. What was the calculation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer with regard to the £7 constituency? The result of his calculations was this—taking the £7 franchise, you will have a total of 692,000 voters, and of these 330,000 would belong to the working classes. Therefore more would turn the scale, and would bring the case, with regard to the £7 franchise, up to the point at which the Chancellor of the Exchequer found the £6 franchise would give to the working classes a majority—which he did not desire they should have. But observe, first, an error which has crept into the figures of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and a very important error it is. The House will remember that the Chancellor of the Exchequer propounded a rule of three sum. You were to take the number of occupiers above £W as one term; as the second, the registered number of £10 electors; then the number of occupiers between £7 and £10; and the fourth term of your proportion would give you the number to be enfranchised by a £7 franchise. In adopting as his second term the number of electors at and above £10, the Chancellor of the Exchequer forgot to reckon ail the electors that will be added by the repeal of the ratepaying clauses, and by the admission of the compound householders. The Chancellor of the Exchequer gave us 60,000 as the number which would be enfranchised by repealing the ratepaying clauses, and by admitting compound householders. Add, therefore, 60,000 to the second term of the rule of three sum, and it will stand thus:639,000; 511,000:: 206,000: 164,000.You have, therefore 164,000 voters enfranchised, all of whom the Chancellor of the Exchequer takes to be of the working classes. But you have already in the constituency 126,000 of the working classes, 1470 and you will have the 60,000 additional which I have already mentioned. You will thus, at a £7 franchise, have a total of 350,000 of the working classes. So, then, accepting the figures of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, you have 350,000 out of 692,000; and therefore, speaking in round numbers, you have the working classes in a majority. But it does not stop here. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said he expected the repeal of the rate-paying clauses would add 25,000; but we have no facts on this point in the statistical returns. We have, however, something to guide us. The hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Baines) was considering the other day this question of the repeal of the ratepaying clauses, and he said that he thought that was one of the most important parts of the Bill in his view, because it made the £7 franchise as good as a £6 10s. franchise. If that is so, and the repeal of these clauses entitles as many persons as a £6 10s. franchise, that would give you 50,000 voters in place of 25,000. If I go further, and look at the statements I see in the press supporting this Bill, I find that the calculations made put the number very much higher than even 50,000. I will, however, take those figures, and supposing that you put that 50,000 in place of 25,000 added by the repeal of the ratepaying clauses, the consequence would be that you will have upon a £7 franchise the working classes in a majority very nearly the same as the Chancellor of the Exchequer supposed there would be if a £6 franchise were adopted. Observe, this is not a theory of mine. I am not propounding a theory whether it is dangerous or nut dangerous to have the working classes in a majority in the borough constituencies, but I am taking the words of the Government. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has stated to the House, that the Government do not desire that the working classes shall have a majority, that they are not prepared to recommend they should, and that they do not believe Parliament would consent to it; but the moment the estimates of the Chancellor of the Exchequer are corrected by the Returns, you will find that the working classes at once come into a majority, and the very result which the Chancellor of the Exchequer deprecated ensues. This, of course, has reference' only to the borough constituencies. The Chancellor of the Exchequer must have been reconsidering the question, for I observe that at Liver- 1471 pool he is reported to have said he would not look at the borough constituencies, but that he would take the proportion of the working classes upon the register, forming the whole borough and county constituency, and then, lumping the constituencies, the working classes formed—as of course they might well be supposed to do—a much smaller proportion. After what we have heard to-night from my right hon. Friend, the House will be of opinion, that we have no correct information as to the proportion of the working classes in the county constituencies. But I object to go into the question. I have shown that the view which was presented to the House in the first instance was correct. There are obvious reasons for keeping separate the constituencies in the boroughs and the counties; and what we have stated to us upon the authority of the Government is, that in the borough constituencies alone the Government consider it an unsafe measure which would give the working classes a majority of the constituencies. But then the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill) says, "You must not take the question of the number of voters, for you may have great constituencies containing large minorities. What you must look at is the seats, not the number of voters." Let us refer to the number of seats and see how the matter stands. I do not argue the point as to the exact number being 133 in which the working classes would have a majority if this Bill were to pass; but I believe, so far as I have examined the Returns, that that number is very nearly right. I will take 130 for the sake of round numbers, and out of 334 that is no doubt a minority. But suppose that by the Bill for the Redistribution of Seats twenty-five more seats are taken from one side and put on the other by the disfranchisement of boroughs in which the working classes have not a majority and their transference to boroughs where the working classes would have a majority, the 130 is at once increased to 180, and the working classes would at once have a large majority in the English boroughs. Of course we must suppose it would be the same in Ireland and Scotland; and, upon the whole, the working classes would have a majority of seats as well as of constituencies. But I must demur altogether to the view of the hon. Member for Westminster. He said that my right hon. Friend the Member for Hertford- 1472 shire (Sir E. Bulwer-Lytton) was entirely in error when he stated that even a large minority of a constituency might in the long run insure the return of a Member favourable to their own views. The hon. Member for Westminster is, of course, perfectly right in point of arithmetic; there is no way in which a minority of one-third can outvote a majority of two-thirds. That is perfectly true in arithmetic; but in real life it is perfectly untrue. Everyone who knows anything about working-class constituencies knows it is not true. Let me illustrate it by this I very simple observation. Take this House as divided into three parts, occupied by Tories and Whigs, and a third party—one third of the Members—holding certain views of their own, either connected with the working classes or not, or having certain objects they have very much at heart, or certain measures they desire to carry. What would be the consequence? Do you think that one-third would go into the division against the other two-thirds to accomplish their desires? They would do something very different. They would see that they held the balance between the two other parties, and they would adjust themselves to the one side or the other—they would make a condition of giving their support that they should receive some assurance from the one or the other side that their views would be adopted and their measures promoted; and the result would be, that, by degrees, one party or the other would accept their measures to a greater or less extent, the opinions of the minority would be represented and expressed, and in the long run these opinions would be certain to prevail. So in the case of constituencies. They do not do it by arithmetic, but they avail themselves of the necessity of one party or the other to accept their support in consideration of their opinions being adopted. As it has been observed, when once the opinions of a class are adopted, that class is fairly and fully represented. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us, and he has challenged contradiction, that at the time of the passing of the Reform Bill the working classes formed a greater part of the constituencies of the boroughs than I they do now. He says that the class which ought to have been increasing as a proportion of the constituencies has been really diminishing. How does the Chancellor of the Exchequer maintain this assertion? He says of the freemen at the 1473 time of the Reform Bill, 54 per cent—that is 34,000 were working men; of the scot and lot voters, 60 per cent—25,000 were working men; and of the £10 householders, 15 per cent were working men, the whole making 87,000 or 31 per cent. The working men of the constituencies now only number 26 and some fraction. Now I can, I think, give a satisfactory answer to that statement. I say, in the first place, that these proportions of freemen and scot and lot voters and £10 householders are entirely imaginary; that they stand on no foundation whatsoever, and that there are no Returns which would justify us in accepting these figures. The Chancellor of the Exchequer did not indicate how they were to be arrived at, and it would be impossible for him to ascertain that 15 per cent of the £10 householders on the first registration under the Reform Act were working men. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, moreover, how it is that he has come to this conclusion, seeing that he thought in 1860 the working men did not constitute one-tenth of the £10 householders. But suppose these statements to have some foundation, do we not know perfectly well that freemen and scot and lot voters were condemned by the Reform Bill? Were they not proved to be so corrupt that you desired to exterminate them, except in the eases of freemen by birth or service; and do we not know that, since 1832, fully 180,000 of them have been extinguished, and have been replaced by £10 householders, who belong to the working classes? But it is said that the working classes will never unite to vote together, and that we need not, therefore, trouble ourselves about, the question of their being in a majority or a minority. Well, if that be your opinion, why, I should like to know, did you not adopt a £6 franchise, the reason for not adopting which you stated to be that it would have the effect of placing the working classes in a majority? With what consistency can the Government, having come down to the House and shown that no £6 franchise should be adopted, because it would give a majority to the working men, turn round on us and say, "You must not consider whether the working men are a majority or not, because they will never vote together." I entirely agree with those who think that working men would act very much in this respect like other classes. I am 1474 happy to say that, in the part of the country with which I am best acquainted, a very large majority of the working men are very staunch Conservatives; and I have no doubt that in other districts they are divided in political opinion. What I maintain is that, when you take a class as a class, when they come to deal with questions in which they are specially concerned, they will act much as members of my own or any other profession would do—that is, in accordance with the overwhelming sense of their own interest. Let me take, for example, questions of taxation, or let me suppose that the hon. Member for Birmingham and those who concur in his views should urge them to seek for the abolition of the law of primogeniture, and for the greater subdivision of land, do yon think the working classes might not be induced to unite in furtherance of those objects? Again, there are the relations subsisting between employer and the employed, with respect to which even a man of education like Mr. Odger seemed to entertain the opinion that if this Bill, which he characterized as an excellent Bill, passed, the agricultural labourers would get more than 8s. a week, while work, moreover, would be provided for every person who was willing to work. Is it not likely that, if such a question were before the House of Commons, the working men would vote together upon it as a class?
I will, however, mention another subject upon which they might vote together, and upon which their union might be much more dangerous,—and that is, the further derangement of the balance of the Constitution by means of a still further increase of political power placed in their own bands. It is thus that the lever spoken of by the hon. Member for Birmingham might be effectually brought into play. The working classes would naturally take views of the question leading to their own aggrandizement, while they would have the support of those Members who are in favour of the principle of more extended suffrage than this Bill professes to give. Upon this point scarcely any doubt can, in my opinion, be entertained. I believe, so far as I am able to judge from the meetings to consider the measure which have been held throughout the country, that those who support it do so, not because they look upon it as a settlement of the question, 1475 but because they regard it as a step towards the further extension of the franchise—as a simple mode, in short, of arriving eventually at universal suffrage. The hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter) told us the other evening that, at a meeting held recently in Dundee, a very temperate resolution was passed approving this Bill, and not seeking to go beyond its provisions. Now, I happen to have read an account of that meeting and the speech of the hon. Member himself, and I find by it that a year before a meeting of the same persons was held at the very same place; that they passed unanimously a resolution in favour of universal suffrage, and that they were very anxious to do the same thing again this year; and they probably would have done so but that they were informed by the hon. Gentleman that they would, if they took that course, be doing a very foolish thing; that it was better for them to wait their time and approve the present measure. They took the hint, and they accordingly approved the Bill and passed the resolution in its favour to which he called our attention. But the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs told us that he attended a meeting of his constituents in favour of the Bill, and that nothing whatever was said at that meeting in support of universal suffrage except by one man, and that he was put out of the room. I find, however, that the meeting was attended, not only by the hon. Gentleman and his colleague, but by Dr. Jones, who moved a resolution to the effect, that a petition be prepared and signed by the chairman, to be presented to the House of Commons in favour of the Bill, adding that in so doing he regarded it merely as a crumb, but that as it was endorsed with the name of John Bright there was a guarantee that it was entitled to their support. These remarks seem to have been received with enthusiastic cheers, in which, I suppose, the hon. Gentleman himself joined. The meeting would also appear to have broken up very pleasantly, those present contenting themselves with this crumb of comfort, but evidently expecting to receive a loaf at some future time. But let us look for one moment to what is said of this Bill by persons who have no immediate interest in the matter, and who are competent to form with respect to it an unprejudiced opinion. I find one of the most intelligent of the journals published in New York, after 1476 first discussing the question of the proposed qualification, dealing with it in this way:—Such a qualification in New York would include almost every male member of the community, except vagabonds, servants, and strangers. If the features of the Reform are correctly reported, it will strike the American mind as a most generous and comprehensive measure, certainly widening the suffrage quite as far as wisdom would justify. If it pass, it will gradually change the whole character of Parliament and of English political life. Henceforth, unless the distribution of boroughs be very unjust, the Liberal, Democratic, progressive party, headed by Mr. Bright and his friends, will have a prodigious increase of power. Four hundred thousand fresh voters, well distributed, would hold almost the balance of power in f tare elections. How they are to be distributed we do not know. This is the beginning of an Americanizing process in England.Such are the views taken of the Bill by the meeting to which I have referred, and by a disinterested American journal. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, I may add, has told us that the statistics showed that the working classes were very unequally divided between the different boroughs; that in some they are 5, in some 6, in some 10, 12, and 15 per cent of the constituency. Now, one would suppose from his speaking in that way that he was about to propose some plan to remedy these inequalities. This Bill, however, leaves them untouched; for if you add a certain number of voters to the 10 and the 15 per cent you leave the proportions precisely the same as they were before. Taking the constituencies as they stand, the working classes would have under the, Bill a majority in boroughs in England and Wales, and in Scotland and Ireland, too—the very result which the Chancellor of the Exchequer says the Government did not wish the House to accept.
I will now say a few words with respect to what has fallen from the hon. Member who last addressed the House,—namely, as to the manner in which the Government propose to deal with the whole question of Reform. It is saying nothing but what the majority of the House think when I state that, on this point, the speech of the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn was both unanswerable and has been unanswered. When I say "unanswered," I will make one exception. The hon. Member for Westminster did give an answer, and to anybody looking at the question from the same point of view I have no doubt the 1477 answer was perfectly satisfactory. The hon. Member said, "Here is a Bill which will enfranchise 200,000 borough voters. You are apprehensive that possibly 200,000 or 300,000 more may possibly be enfranchised, when the effect of the redistribution of seats is felt, but I am of opinion that the more enfranchised the better."
§ SIR HUGH CAIRNS
I should be sorry to misrepresent anything that fell from the hon. Member, but I understood him to say that every considerable enfranchisement in itself was good.
§ MR. J. STUART MILL
I said that the enfranchisement which this Bill gives is an absolute good; and that if it produced an improved Legislature, that Legislature might be entrusted to make the redistribution of seats.
§ SIR HUGH CAIRNS
But what I want to know is—How are you to know the number to be enfranchised under the Bill? If the Government had said that they were not going to destroy the seats at all, then I agree with the hon. Member that he might have told how many voters we were going to have; but you might as well try to tell the quantity of water in a given place, by means of a vessel without a bottom, as strive to fell the number of voters which will be created under this Bill, unless you have some data as to the number of seats to be distributed. The hon. Member says he is satisfied that the redistribution of seats should be left to another-Parliament, elected after the enfranchisement under this Bill but I believe that the great majority of this House are determined that the Parliament which alters the franchise should also decide the redistribution of seats. But how do the Government answer the speech of the noble Lord, the Member for King's Lynn? The Secretary for War said the other night that no person could understand the Amendment, and that was his only answer. I do not think that the noble Marquis did justice to his own ability; for I think that if he had applied his judgment he would have been able to understand it; and I never saw the sagacity of the noble Marquis more exhibited than in the account he gave as to what, it was that led to the introduction of this Reform Bill. I thought it a remarkable fact that one who had so recently joined the Cabinet should have so exactly under- 1478 stood what it was that led the Government to introduce the Bill at all. He told us that the prime object of the introduction of this Reform Bill was to prevent the Government feeling uncomfortable. I am afraid, however, that the result has not been entirely as the noble Marquis anticipated; because he added that the Government never reckoned on the degree of opposition which had been manifested with respect to the division of the question into different Bills. But we have another account from the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Layard) as to what led to the introduction of the Bill; and I wish to know which is to be, adopted. He said that Lord Russell was bound to people like himself to bring in a Reform Bill. Well, then, there is the real author of the Reform Bill! The Under-Secretary also took a little liberty with Lord Russell, for he said that it was quite obvious that during Lord Palmerston's life a Reform Bill never could be brought in, but that Lord, Russell was not a man to desert his principles. That, I suppose, means that Lord Russell, when serving under Lord Pal-merston, was quite willing to desert his principles; but he would not desert his principles as soon as he was placed at the head of the Administration himself. In answer to the Secretary for War I will venture to state what the Amendment means. It embraces two very simple propositions. It affirms, in the first place, that the House is ready to consider the question of Reform with a view to its settlement; and, in the next place, it affirms that, inasmuch as the Government have told us that they contemplate other measures of Reform besides the present Bill, the House should not be called on to discuss this isolated portion until it has the whole scheme before it. Then the Secretary of State for the Home Department asks whether we are for a redistribution of seats or not? I answer that question by asking another—what is your redistribution of seats? As the Government do not tell us what is their redistribution of seats, the question put by the Home Secretary was an idle one. But there is no reason why this side of the House should have any apprehension with regard to redistribution of seats conducted on fair and careful principles. We are sincere in saying that in a final settlement of the Reform question a redistribution of seats must form an element, and we desire to 1479 know in what shape the Government introduce that redistribution as an element. Here is a Bill which, we are told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, is based on a principle which can be tested only by numbers. The Government, he told us, want to extend the franchise to the working classes, but not to give them the majority of the constituencies. But how is all this to be ascertained? The statistics are based on the existing constituencies; but you cannot advance a step unless you have the whole scheme before you—until you know not only what will be the numbers of the country constituencies and what of the borough constituencies, but also what will be the effect in every separate case of the Bill for the redistribution of seats. The Government intimate that the whole system of Parliamentary representation should be reformed, and that the seats for boroughs and counties should be altered; but before explaining what the nature of the redistribution should be, they call on the House to consider the question of the borough and county franchise as an abstract question, and to affirm that there is something in the eternal fitness of things which makes it proper that the borough franchise should be fixed at £7 and the county franchise at £14, and they require the House to consider that question without reference to future seats or constituencies. Suppose that in 1832 the Government had come down to Parliament and said that there were a great number of rotten boroughs which ought all to be disfranchised, and the seats handed over to large towns, and that alterations should be made both in counties and boroughs; but that they would not tell Parliament what they meant to do until Parliament said that £10 was the proper borough qualification—what would have been thought of such a course of proceeding? I cannot tell how many seats a Bill for redistribution may affect: Bills have been brought forward affecting various Members: a Bill was introduced in 1859 which affected twenty-five seats; then another Bill was introduced by Lord Russell in 1854 which affected fifty; and the hon. Member for Birmingham proposed what he said was a moderate measure affecting upwards of ninety. I am entitled to suppose—for aught I know to the contrary—that your Bill may affect as many as ninety seats, or one-fifth of the whole borough seats in England and Wales; and I ask 1480 is there any difference in principle—there may be a difference of degree—between that and coming down to the House and saying, "We mean to redistribute all the seats in the House—we wont tell you how—and we ask you to affirm an abstract franchise first?" Let us take the counties by way of illustration. I want to know, Is the franchise which you propose for them to return 162 Members as at present, or 200? It makes all the difference whether your county franchise is to be one under which 162 or 200 Members are to be returned. But I go further. At present in the counties of England there are some thirty or forty populous towns which are unrepresented, and there are also on the outskirts of represented towns large inhabited places which are towns in themselves. Both of these districts are now included in the counties, and have a constituency voting for the county Members. It makes all the difference in the world whether you leave all these places in the counties as at present, or whether you—if I may use the term—eviscerate them from the counties, and thereby reduce the number of the county voters. The towns of which I have spoken and the places on their outskirts contain, I venture to say, as many as one or two millions of inhabitants, and could produce for the counties 100,000 or 200,000 electors. You might by a skilful manipulation of these districts actually reduce the country franchise as you propose to do, and yet at the same time diminish the whole number of county voters. Well, is it not worth while telling us—are we not entitled to be told—about this? What is the use of telling us that you propose to lower the qualification to £14 when you will not tell us the area which is to yield these county voters? And observe, that if the area of these new towns and outskirts of old towns remain part of the counties, they will yield £14 voters, but if they are made parts of boroughs then they will yield £7 voters; so that in the one case you would have something like double the number of voters that you would have in the other. I may sum up the matter in this way—with regard to the occupation franchise, whether in the boroughs or in the counties, the question is, to which does the occupied area belong? Is it to be an occupied area that belongs to a borough or to a county? Because upon the answer to that depends 1481 the whole question of the number of the constituencies and the manner in which this Bill will affect the urban and the rural constituencies of the country. I want to know where is the key which answers all these questions? The key is the Redistribution Bill; but where is that Bill? We are told it is in the box of the Government. Therefore what the Government do is this, they say "Here is a Bill which requires a key—which you can't read and can't understand without the key; we have got that key in our box; we wont let you have it until you have passed the second reading; when you have passed that we will produce the interpretation, and then, and then only, you shall see what you have done." Confidence indeed! Surely confidence is a quality with respect to which there ought to be some reciprocity. You ask us to put confidence in you, and you will not extend that confidence to the House of Commons, nor, indeed, show it that common courtesy with which you should treat it when you present a measure to it—namely, to be kind enough to explain to it and allow it to understand what your measure is. Well, we have had two pieces of advice given to us by Members of the Government in the course of these discussions. One of them proceeded from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board (Mr. Villiers). He said the Government had taken the proper course—that the right way was first to determine the number of voters and then distribute the Members among them. That is the view of the matter which is taken in the Cabinet. Now, I will answer that by a very short proposition to the right hon. Gentleman, He will most probably speak in this debate, and I will promise to succumb to his advice if he will undertake to tell me, by some magical process which I am unable to understand—how you can ascertain the number of voters without knowing what the constituencies are to be? That is a very simple challenge. Another piece of advice was offered us by one of the Under-Secretaries of State (Mr. Layard), viz. "Vote now for the second reading, and then you may vote against the third reading, if you like. You will get the explanation between those two stages. You may vote for the second reading now, and if you don't like the explanation when you have got it, you can turn 1482 round and vote against the third reading." Now, I have heard various proposals made on the one side and the other for the more convenient discussion of Bills in this House; but this is the first time I ever heard a Government proposing, in regard to a grave and important measure of this character, that the House should be called upon, without explanation and without the possibility of understanding it, to vote for the second reading, and should be assured at the same time, on behalf of the Government, that they will regard it as a perfectly consistent thing for the House to turn round on the third reading of the same Bill and vote against it.
But suppose the Bill to pass. We are told that the Government hold that this Parliament can deal afterwards with the question of the redistribution of the seats. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said the numbers to be enfranchised by this Bill would be greater than those which were enfranchised by the Reform Act of 1832. He stated that the highest estimate ever made of the numbers enfranchised under the Reform Act was 300,000. but that this Bill would enfranchise more. Now, there are new views of the Constitution presented to us every day, but I own it is quite a new view of the constitutional government of this country to hear that, after the electoral body throughout the kingdom has been altered, and altered to an extent to which it was not altered at the time of the Reform Act—after 400.000 have been added to that body—still the Parliament elected by the old, the extinct, the out-rooted constituency can go on and transact all the ordinary business of the nation. I do not speak now of the redistribution of the seats alone, but of taxation and every act of Government which has to be conducted through the medium of Parliament. I want to know. Is it consistent with sound constitutional principle that a Parliament elected by one constituent body—and which constituent body has lost its power, which is so wholly altered that it may be absolutely undistinguishable—that such a Parliament, its moral power and influence being ended, should go on and deal with the taxation and government of this country? Do you think the country at large would be satisfied with a Parliament which had already proclaimed that it had not been elected by the constituency which ought 1483 to elect Members of Parliament? Do you think that in any time of pressure or of difficulty it would be tolerated that questions of legislation or taxation should be dealt with by a Parliament of that kind? I apprehend it would not. But suppose that this Parliament next year proceeded to redistribute the seats. There might be a great difference of feeling in the country as to whether that redistribution was a good one or not. Do you think that redistribution under such circumstances could ever be accepted as a final one? Don't you think that the first moment you had a dissolution and a new Parliament what we should hear from hon. Members opposite would be this: "You have made a redistribution of seats, forsooth; but don't you remember how that was done? It was done by the old Parliament before the new constituency was brought into operation: we wont accept it as permanent." And I have an authority in support of that view, because the hon. Member for Birmingham has himself said the same thing. In an address to the people of that town in January last year he said:—I think it would be a very good plan to have a reduction of the franchise in one Bill, and then to have a new Parliament, and that that new Parliament should proceed to redistribute the seats, because if the old Parliament should do that, the redistribution could not last even for the smallest possible space of time.Let me go farther. Suppose this Bill becomes law, and in 1867 the Government brings in a Bill for redistribution of seats. Suppose Parliament and the Government differ—who is to decide that question? It must be one of two bodies. It must either be the new constituency, or it must be the present constituency. The hon. Member for Westminster says he hopes it may be the new constituency, and a Parliament elected by it: at all events he said, that inasmuch as you are I satisfied that the new Parliament would be competent to tax and govern the country, it would be competent to redistribute the seats also. Now, if I might with great respect offer an observation on such a remark coming from one who is so great a master of argument, I would say, that simply begs the whole question in dispute. We are not satisfied that a new Parliament chosen in the way supposed should tax and govern, and for this reason—because this new Parliament would 1484 be elected by a constituency the franchise for which is to be reduced by this Bill; whereas, our argument is that you ought not to reduce the franchise except in con-nexion with the redistribution of seats, and that one and the same Parliament should do the whole. Well, then, I say it must either be the new constituency—a course adverse, as I believe, to the feeling of a large majority of this House—or the old constituency; and then you get into the difficulty pointed out by my noble Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley), which no one has yet answered,—you appeal to the constituency to elect a provisional Parliament to redistribute seats, and then come to an end. But then you say, it must be the old constituency, and for this inexorable reason, that the registration requires it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said:—"You cannot have a registration till this year, even if this Bill passes;"—there can be no registration till 1867, and therefore you could not have an election till after that registration. But if you have no registration till 1867, in the name of goodness, why pass this Bill this year? What is the reason that you cannot introduce your whole measure together, and why do you press a Bill of which the highest condemnation it has yet received is that, if passed, it will be a dead letter till next year, when alone it can be acted upon? It seems to me that in this respect the position of the Government is now very much worse than when the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced the Bill, on the 12th March. I want to refer as shortly as I can to the position of the Government, and the mode in which they have dealt with the Bill for the redistribution of seats. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was understood to say the other day, that some Members of this House talked of the communications between the hon. Member for Birmingham and the Government as if they were subterranean communications—something very awful and secret. Now, I am not aware that any Member of this House has ever spoken of these communications as secret or subterranean communications. On the contrary, we who see what goes on before our eyes in this House, have rather been in the habit of thinking of the Chancellor of the Exchequer as sitting at the feet of Gamaliel, imbibing from the hon. Member for Birmingham those lessons of wisdom, moderation, and fair- 1485 ness which he is so well qualified to teach. The Chancellor of the Exchequer would have us to believe that these communications are always open and manifest and, I may add, they are most effective. The only tiling surprising to me is that these communications—so very frequent and valuable—should not have been made by the hen. Member for Birmingham inside the Cabinet rather than from the outside. But to that we have nothing to say. But how stands the question about the decision of Government as to Parliamentary Reform? The noble Lord at the head of the Government admitted that the hon. Member for Birmingham recommended them to divide the measure into two. The Chancellor of the Exchequer shakes his head; but what said the Secretary at War the other night? He said the hon. Member recommended us four things, and we adopted one of them. But when one man adopts the advice of another, and when he who gave that advice bases it on a particular view. and for the attainment of a particular object, the natural inference is that its adoption is with the same view and directed to the same object. Well, then, the hon. Member for Birmingham says his reason was, that there would be a much better redistribution of seats by the new Parliament elected under this Franchise Bill than by the existing Parliament. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, when introducing the Bill, gave us a reason for introducing it in this form. If says the Government had no time to do more, having regard to the number of days available for Government business; there would be time to pass only one measure, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer was careful to say that he thought pledges for future services very objectionable. He said:—Now, I have ever been averse—and I think that aversion is justified by general observation and experience—to dealing in pledges for future Sessions. Such are the number and variety of the circumstances which must affect the position and duties of the Government of an empire like ours, that we must, in my opinion, look to the future itself to determine the proper opportunities for dealing with this important question. This, however, I am free to say, that while I am convinced the group of questions bound up with the complex subject of Parliamentary Reform are beyond handling in one Session, and especially in what remains to us of the present Session yet I cannot have the slightest doubt that if the Government find it to be their duty to follow up by a direct, sequel the proposition which they now 1486 make, the present Parliament will be perfectly competent to discuss and decide whatever measures we may bring forward in that direction.Therefore, there can be no doubt us to the meaning of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was that we have no measure ready but this; we agree in theory that all these matters form part of one general measure; we give no pledge; but next Session if we think well, you can deal with the question as well as any other Parliament. One can understand that view. But what I cannot understand is this—the new ground which the Chancellor of the Exchequer takes up at Liverpool. At the meeting in Liverpool the right hon. Gentleman throws over the idea of want of time, or of not having any other measure connected with Reform ready, or of refusing to give any pledges for a future Session; but what he says is, "Knowing those with whom we have to deal, we have said, before we produce this portion of our plans, before we put into the hands of opponents fresh means of destruction by using one portion of the plan to make obstacles against the other, before we do this, we say give us a pledge of your general intentions by uttering your voices in favour of the second reading of the Bill." Now this is a wholly different view of the case which the Government presented to us in this House respecting the question of Reform, It is in effect saying to us. "We have got the other measure ready; we have it prepared, we know what it is; but we wont tell you what it is, because we know the untrustworthy and base sort, of persons we have to deal with, who art sure to make an improper use of the information, and therefore we will keep it a profound secret till you have, voted the second reading of this Bill"
That may be a very good Parliamentary manœuvre—I don't think it is; that may he a very justifiable stratagem—I don't think it is; but there is one thing in which we must till agree,—that a Bill which is conducted in this way is not a Bill as to which the best epithet in the world is that given by the hon. Member for Birmingham, which has been so often repeated—namely, that it is "an honest Bill." A Bill which require, for its success a Parliamentary manœuvre and stratagem may be a good or a bad Bill, but it cannot be a very honest Bill. Well, then, I say, tell us one thing or the other. Are you going to have a redistribution of seats 1487 or no? If not, we understand now the basis of the arrangement. If you are, let us know what it is to be before assenting to the second reading of the Bill; and let us have the assurance that both Bills shall go on side by side, in order that the whole question may be disposed of, if not for ever, at least for our lifetime. But it is said, if this Bill stands over to another year, agitation will arise. Now, in the first place, agitation is just as likely to come from your leaving over the question of the redistribution of seats, as from leaving over the question as a whole. I can quite understand the Government shrinking from a continued agitation after what has taken place in the last recess—that is to say, four Cabinet Ministers, and four Members of the Government not Cabinet Ministers, going down and holding meetings of their own supporters, addressing those public meetings with great eloquence, and promising solemnly to support their own measure; using, too, very uncomplimentary language about every one who does not agree with them. That being the notion of the Government of the way in which a recess ought to be spent, I can quite understand their shrinking from the notion of spending the autumn in the same way. They probably do not like an agitation of that kind. But, Sir, I do not think agitation, which means public discussion, is so bad a thing, or a thing to be deprecated. I believe that in this country public measures are improved by being discussed and canvassed, and I am not afraid of agitation of that kind. We have had a wonderful example of how little an agitation of an awkward kind is possible in this country at the present time. During the recess I read in the newspapers a letter addressed to the people of Birmingham, and purporting to be written by an hon. Member of this House; but when one read the letter, one felt that it could not possibly be written by any Member of this House. It was an able letter, and evidently the production of an educated man who possessed great command of nervous language. It was altogether a most wonderful performance; because, though not very long, it managed in a short compass to commit three flagrant offences: it offered a gross calumny on the whole House of Commons; it insulted, in the most offensive manner, some individual Members of the House; and, in addition to that, it invited all the people of 1488 Birmingham to commit a breach of the law. It calumniated Parliament because it said:—Parliament is never hearty for Reform or for any good measure. It hated the Reform Bill of 1831 and 1832. It hated the Bill which repealed the Corn Law in 1846. It does not like the Franchise Bill now upon the table.It would be very odd if it did.It is to a large extent the offspring of landlord power in the counties, and of tumult and corruption in the boroughs.It is very well for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne that he did not say that.
It would be strange if such a Parliament were in favour of freedom and of an honest representation of the people.Any one who has sat for any length of time in this House must know that to be a gross calumny. Then it talked about a "dirty conspiracy" on the part of some hon. Members; and, finally, this was the breach of law which it asked the people to commit:—What should be done, and what must be done under these circumstances? You know what your fathers did thirty-four years ago, and you know the result. The men who in every speech they utter insult the working men, describing them as a multitude given up to ignorance and vice, will be the first to yield when the popular will is loudly and resolutely expressed. If Parliament Street, from Charing Cross to the venerable Abbey, were filled with men seeking a Reform Bill, as it was two years ago with men come to do honour to an illustrious Italian, these slanderers of their countrymen would learn to be civil, if they did not learn to love freedom.…If the population of the Birmingham district would set apart a day, not for 'humiliation,' but for a firm assertion of their rights, in great meetings or in one vast gathering, they might sustain this Franchise Bill and beat down as by one blow the power that threatens to bolt the door of Parliament against the people.I need not waste words by explaining that this was simply inviting people violently to break the law. [An hon. MEMBER: "No!"] The hon. Member says "No," but perhaps he is not aware what the law is. There is no lawyer in this House who would not say, if what was here suggested had been done, that it was a clear breach of the statute law of this country. But my reason for referring to the letter was this. Here is a letter written in good English, addressed to the people of Birmingham, doing everything to inflame their passions and provoke them to commit a breach of the peace. But what was the effect of it? 1489 Why, it had not the slightest effect: and I want the House to observe how utterly this country is above and beyond—and I rejoice to think that the working classes are beyond—things of this kind. I think the greatest insult that can be offered to the working classes is offered by those who write and speak to them as if they were classes and people, who ignore argument and do not appreciate moderation; as if they were persons to be driven and incited by words of the kind that I have read. But we know what would have happened some thirty or forty years ago. The man who wrote that letter would have been found out, he would have been brought to the bar of this House, and would have been committed, I dare say, to the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms; while an operation would have been performed upon his letter which would have been of a kind not very complimentary. Bur now nobody in this House takes the slightest notice of it; it falls perfectly without effect upon the people to whom it is addressed; and it is treated by the rest of the world with the contempt it deserves. Well, everything, I maintain, is much better in consequence of the full and fair discussion of public measures.
But we are told that the noble Lord at the head of the Government says, "This is a vote of want of confidence," and, according to a report which I have seen, he said it would be well for those who were inclined to support the Amendment to remember what they might lose if there was a change of Government; and he added some very flattering observations about the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and some still more flattering observations about himself. Now, I quite admit that it is in the power, I do not say the right, of every Government to treat any motion that may be made in this House, even a motion for the adjournment of the House, as a vote of want of confidence; but at the same time, when a motion is proposed which does not profess to be a vote of want of confidence, when the Member who offers it does not offer it as a vote of want of confidence: above all, when such a Motion comes from a Member of this House not less distinguished for his long and faithful adhesion, by himself and his family, to the great Liberal party, than for his high and exalted patriotism—when a 1490 Motion of that kind, so proposed and so offered to the House, is treated by the Government as a, Motion of want of confidence, one cannot help suspecting that this mode of treating it arises from an indisposition on the part of the Government to meet the Motion upon its own intrinsic meaning and merit. But, Sir, I ask what is the subject upon which we are required to vote, and what is the responsibility in which we are invited to share? I will not adopt the expression which fell the other day from a speaker at a meeting in favour of the Bill, who said that the time had come when the House of Commons must recast the Constitution of the country; but it is beyond a doubt that we are asked to effect a change in the Constitution of this country greater than any which has been made during the past generation, and the influence of which, for good or for evil, for weal or for woe, may last for generations yet to come. And I will ask. Is not this the most responsible, the most important—nay, the1 most momentous duty which the House of Commons can be called to discharge? If it be not, I want to know what mean those warnings, as solemn as they were eloquent. of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who spoke of the manner in which this hill would become a crisis, a landmark, a turning-point, in the history of the country; but ii it is, then I ask how can the convenience—I will not say the caprice—of a Minister he put for a moment into the balance against the discharge by every Member of this House of his duty upon this matter according to the dictates, not of the Government, but of his own opinion and his own conscience? I cannot help using words which I remember hearing from a late and very distinguished Member of this House upon a very similar occasion—I mean the late Lord Herbert:—In twenty years hence no person will ask who was the Minister of this country twenty years ago, but everyone will ask what is the Constitution under which we live? Has it handed down to us the liberties which our fathers enjoyed? Does it enable us to transmit to our children the blessings which we ourselves have received?That is the question which will be asked; and it is because I believe that Her Majesty's Government, in the way they are treating this question, are dealing with the question of Parliamentary Reform in a manner that is precipitate, that is blind, and therefore that is reckless, 1491 that I give my vote in favour of tins Amendment.
§ On Motion of Mr. GRAHAM, Debate further adjourned till Thursday.
§ Mr. Speaker having retired, the Clerk, at the Table, informed the House that Mr. Speaker, in the present state of his health, was unable to return and resume the Chair at this late hour:—Whereupon Mr. Dodson, the Chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means, took the Chair as Deputy Speaker, pursuant to the Standing Order of the 20th day of July 1855.