Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [12th April], "That the Bill be now read a second time;" and which Amendment was—
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House, while ready to consider, with a view to its settlement, the question of Parliamentary Reform, is of opinion that it is inexpedient to discuss a Bill for the reduction of the Franchise in England and Wales, until the House has before it the entire scheme contemplated by the Government, for the amendment of the Representation of the People,"—(Earl Grosvenor,)
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.
HON. F. LEVESON GOWER
said, he did not often trouble the House, and would not detain them long on the present occasion, but having, ever since he had enjoyed the honour of a seat in that House, always professed himself out of doors in favour of an extension of the franchise, brought about by the reduction of the electoral qualification, and having never spoken upon the subject in that House, he was unwilling to let this discussion close without taking some part in it. Nothing had so impressed him throughout it as the inadequate manner in which the Amendment of his noble Friend (Earl Grosvenor) represented the views of those who supported it; and in fact the measure of the Government had formed the chief subject of the discussion, Hon. Members in succession had denounced the measure in the strongest terms, it had been pointed out as the first step in the down- 1779 ward career towards democracy, and the right hon. Member for North Staffordshire (Mr. Adderley) had described it as a measure for the suppression of the agricultural element in county elections. It appeared to him, however, rather remarkable, that those who ascribed to the measure such a pernicious character should not have met it with a direct proposal of rejection, and should be satisfied with merely voting for an Amendment, which, in the words of his noble Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley),Does not even express disapproval of the provisions of this Bill, if the opportunity had been given of dealing with the question as a whole.The Amendment plainly implied that the Government proposal was part of a larger scheme which might meet with approval; and therefore he was unable to conceive how those who were opposed to the whole principle of extension by a reduction of the franchise could vote for it. The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Marsh), in a statement made to his constituents, had expressed regret that the Government proposition had not been met by a direct refusal; and at the same time explained his reasons for voting with Lord Russell at the time of Earl Derby's Reform Bill. The hon. Gentleman said that he voted for it not because he was in favour of an extension of the suffrage, but as a piece of Parliamentary tactics designed to get rid of Earl Derby's Reform Bill. He (Mr. L. Gower) would not stop to ask whether such a course was morally justifiable, but he thought that those who adopted it should fully explain their reasons for so doing, or the decisions of the House might be exposed to public censure, and Members might lay themselves open to a charge of insincerity. With respect to the topics raised by the Amendments of his noble Friend (Earl Grosvenor), they had had little discussion. That might be owing to the very able speech of his noble Friend the Member for King's Lynn, and certainly it was a tribute to that speech to say, that no argument of the slightest force had since been stated which was not to be found in that speech. He had not since heard one single argument that had not been put forward by his noble Friend. What was the course taken by his noble Friend the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho)? He had adopted the unusual course of repeating seriatim the objections of the 1780 noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn. This course appeared to him (Mr. L. Gower) to be an inconvenient one, because it tended to prolong their debates to an unnecessary length, and in this case especially not required, because any arguments urged by the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn were sure to be heard by the House with attention, and did not require to be repeated by other hon. Members. The noble Lord (Lord Stanley) towards the end of his speech compared the course pursued by the Government to that of an architect "who in building a palace began building it room by room without an estimate or general plan." He (Mr. L. Gower) would illustrate his view by a somewhat similar comparison. He thought that the conduct of the Government resembled that of a builder, who had been entrusted with the repair and enlargement of a farm, but who said that he had not men or time to complete the job at once, but that in the first year he would renew the farmhouse, and that in the second year he would repair the farm-buildings. He regarded that as an apt illustration of the course taken by the Government. But the tenant-farmer, who was a cautious and prudent man, might be represented by the hon. Member for Bridge-water (Mr. Kinglake), and he would say, "I will assent to the rebuilding of the house, but I should like to have a plan of it and of the farm-buildings." Well, he (Mr. L. Gower) would suppose the builder ready to give plans, though he maintained that the two undertakings were quite disconnected, and that it would be more convenient to proceed with them separately. He put that forth as an illustration of his view of the case. The two plans of the Government were not to be regarded as similar to the items of a Budget, where they could not vote one without affecting the other: in this case no such alternative existed. He thought the question depended on the grounds on which the extension of the franchise was advocated. If the question were as to the fitness of those to whom it was proposed to extend the franchise, the redistribution of seats had nothing to do with it—it was an entirely different matter. He was ready to support the Government measure for the extension of the franchise, because he believed that those to whom they proposed to give it were equal in intelligence, and con- 1781 duct, and political knowledge, to those who were £10 householders at the time of the Reform Bill. In what way can the fitness for the franchise of an householder in Leeds depend upon whether Honiton or Middlesborough returned a Member to Parliament? The subjects of the extension of the franchise and of the redistribution of seats were entirely distinct. He must say he thought the class argument a dangerous one, and regretted that it had been introduced into the discussion. Many of the objections against the Bill started with the assumption that there was a political antagonism of classes. Now he (Mr. L. Gower) did not believe that there was any such antagonism in this country. In countries where some classes enjoyed, or rather were cursed: with, privileges at the expense of other classes, class antagonism might exist; and even in England in former times there might have been some such antagonism, but it had ceased to exist in consequence of the cessation of class legislation; and indeed it was a very remarkable circumstance that, since the abolition of Protection, there had been no such antagonism manifested. The House had been frequently reminded of the existence of trades unions, and the attitude of working men as to strikes. Upon that subject he would beg to refer to a speech made by Mr. Roden, a manager of some large works in the Potteries, who had under his control several thousands of working men, and who had also bad some experience of strikes. Mr. Roden used these words at a public meeting,—Nobody "would accuse him of any particular partiality to trades unions; but still he must say, that it appeared to him that working men had a right to combine for their own protection as much as the employers had; and the real question was, whether they should endeavour to deprive working men of their political rights?" It had been said that if the working men could make their organizations for trade purposes, they might do so to obtain political objects; but then the truth was, that they differed among themselves as much as the members of any other class, with regard to political questions, and would take different sides. The question as to wages was different, because all working men, whether Churchmen, Dissenters, teetotallers, or what not, had a common interest in obtaining a rise in wages; but their feelings on political 1782 matters differed, and they would no more combine than any other class. This would be met, however, by the assertion that they would do so, not for general purposes, but in order to pass some communistic law. In opposition to this it should be remembered, that the duties of Government were various. If they were confined to taxation, it might be fairly urged that the working classes would probably combine for the relief of their class; but the endless subjects with which Parliament, and Government had to deal would insure diversity of judgment among the workmen as they exercised the franchise. If the probability were admitted, however, of their combining with a view to obtain some general object, such as the subdivision of land, founded as their schemes would be on unsound views, and opposed as they would be to the whole of the intelligence and wealth of the country, it could not but be admitted that even their smallest possible chance of success would be as remote as the scheme itself would be extravagant. The next question to which he would advert was, as to the supposed danger of treating the question of the franchise first, and that of the redistribution of seats subsequently. It was said that, if the first measure passed, a more democratic Parliament would be left to deal with the other. It must, however, be borne in mind, that they could not in any event control future legislation; and for himself he believed that future Parliaments would take much the same views as those that had preceded them in reference to great and important questions. It would then as now be formed by the force of public opinion. He heard the other day the lion. Member for Dublin (Mr. Pim) bring forward this view as a reason against any change. He (Mr. L. Gower) adduced it as a reason why the change should not be feared. There were also many details of legislation in reference to which a closer communication with a great number of their countrymen would, he believed, effectually improve legislation. In a popular constituency he formerly represented there were many non-electors addicted to politics; and when he expressed a hope that they would communicate with him more freely, the answer was that they did not like to do so, because they were not electors; and he must say that he thought that it would be a very great gain, by enlarging the 1783 constituency, to enlarge the information at the service of Members. There was this advantage also, that the franchise would give this class a greater cause to take an interest in political questions. He did not for a moment pretend-that hon. Members opposite were not as sincerely anxious to promote the welfare of the working classes as were Members on his own side; for his opinion was, that every Gentleman in the House had at heart the wish to raise and elevate the working classes, but they distrusted them politically. Many hon. Members had, during the discussion, paid their tribute of praise to them; but he could not help saying, that however satisfactory their compliments might be to the working men, the value of that tribute would have been enhanced if a little more confidence had been shown in them. He confessed that they might well feel as he should, if a person were to show him great civility in the street but never asked him to his house. He thought that he had said enough to show that he was sincere upon this question. His noble Friend the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) had brought an accusation of insincerity against Members sitting behind the Treasury Benches by saying, that they thought one way and would vote another, and that some of them would square with their constituency by voting for the second reading, intending to get rid of it hereafter. He, for himself, could only say that he knew nothing of that feeling, and he did not think that such accusations ought to be made, especially as, however undeserved they were, they were incapable of refutation. There was no doubt that when a great measure like this was brought forward there must be a difference of opinion, and that some hon. Members who voted for it might have misgivings as to its consequences; but this was not sufficient to found a charge against them of dishonesty. Notwithstanding such misgivings, they might feel the importance of settling this question, for they might know that, so long as it remained unsettled, agitation would continue, and that it was utterly impossible that the question could be settled by hon. Members opposite. The delusion that had existed as to the country being indifferent to the matter was now entirely dissolved. No one could now doubt that the feeling of the country had been shown on this occasion more than on the previous ones. If hon. Members 1784 opposite tried to settle the question, they would certainly fail; and then a Liberal Government would have to bring in a more extensive measure. He would conclude by pointing out to those Liberal Members who were still undecided as to the manner in which they should vote, that they would incur a serious responsibility by throwing out this measure. Many Gentlemen who voted for the first Reform Bill had certain misgivings as to the course they pursued, but he did not believe that one of them afterwards regretted his vote. So, on the present occasion, he felt confident that those who voted for the Bill now under the consideration of the House would eventually, whatever their misgivings now might be, feel that they had advocated a measure that, in the fullest and best sense of the word, was a conservative measure, the tendency of which was to strengthen the institutions of the country, and promote its happiness and prosperity.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, that in spite of the resolute and dashing speech of his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade delivered last night, and in spite of the extremely sensible and thoughtful speech to which hon. Members had just listened, he was very much afraid the verdict of the country would be that the battle was going sorely against the Government. Many admirable and brilliant speeches had been made during the debate; but to the two speeches delivered on the other side of the House, one by the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley), and the other by the hon. Member for Belfast (Sir Hugh Cairns) he contended that no answer had yet been given. The reason probably was that no answer could be given to them. Their heavy fire had so completely silenced the fire of their antagonists, that the House had heard nothing since but wild, erratic discharges against everybody and everything except the Amendment that was before them. Therefore he might, perhaps, be allowed to ask hon. Gentlemen opposite, whether it was altogether judicious in them to prevent hon. Gentlemen on the Ministerial side of the House from discharging their firearms—if he might be permitted to say so without offence—by such a constant volley of after-dinner grape shot as that with which they had saluted his hon. Friend the Member for Southwark (Mr. Layard). That hon. Gentleman said that 1785 he had great cause of complaint, for he announced at the commencement of his speech, that he was going to demolish the arguments of the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn, but on being twitted upon the subject on the previous evening by his noble Friend (Lord Elcho), he remarked to hon. Gentlemen opposite that they would not allow him to do so. Now, though it appeared that the interruptions which his hon. Friend had said he had sustained had prevented him from being argumentative, at all events they did not prevent him from being witty. He cracked jokes at the expense of the hon. Member for Birmingham, to whom he applied terms extremely irreverent. He compared him to a stuffed lion, and Snug the joiner. His hon. Friend went on after that, in spite of the interruptions he received, communicating to the House several truisms about bribers being worse than the bribed. That was an observation at which he thought hon. Members should not take offence. They all agreed about that. He was speaking as hon. Members always did upon such subjects in the House of Commons,—he was speaking abstractedly. But the whole burden of his hon. Friend's speech from beginning to end, as far as he could see, was this—his immense admiration for the working men of Southwark, and the immense admiration entertained in return by the working men of Southwark for him. He certainly thought it would have been better if hon. Members opposite had not interrupted his hon. Friend; for of course it would now appear in all the papers that took his side of the question, that he would have demolished the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn had he been allowed to do so, and that all his arguments were so cogent and so irrefutable, that they could be met in no other manner than by a I course of interruptions. He (Mr. Gregory) might now perhaps be permitted to allude to one or two speeches delivered on the Ministerial side of the House in favour of the Government proposal. One of the speeches that struck him very much, not from any rhetorical merit or logical force, but on account of a remark that was in it, was the speech delivered by the hon. Baronet the Member for the West Riding (Sir Francis Crossley). That hon. Baronet had assumed to himself the function of being a kind of lecturer to the House of Commons upon all matters 1786 in which he thought that they did not behave as he would have them do. On the occasion now particularly referred to he apparently thought that Her Majesty's Government had not advisers enough, and so he proffered them a piece of his advice, and that was, that if there should be any difficulty whatever in passing this Bill, they should at once resort to a dissolution (if Parliament. Now he (Mr. Gregory) must say that he thought that worse advice than that could not have been given. If there were estrangements at the present moment, if there were differences of opinion among Gentlemen who usually supported the Government, the mere hint, or the mere notion, of such a thing coming from any organ of the Government would magnify the difficulty, and he would venture to say would lead to the complete dislocation of the party. And how would such a crisis be met? He believed that it would be met by an Address to Her Majesty stating that Parliament was perfectly prepared and perfectly willing to consider the question of Reform. That the present Parliament was a Parliament that had been elected under the auspices and under the influence of Her Majesty's Government, who had a working majority of sixty-five when the House assembled; and that if the Government were now waterlogged, or in a state of congestion with regard to the question of Reform, it was not the fault of Parliament but of the manner in which their measure had been brought forward and managed since its introduction. He trusted that the House would have no more suggestions such as that of the hon. Baronet; for he believed that an assemblage of independent Gentlemen, such as the House of Commons, was not to be intimidated by threats of dissolution, or influenced by cajolings of the duration of Parliament. He would now turn to another speech, that of his hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster). He had listened to that speech, as he always listened to his hon. Friend, with very great pleasure. It was a well-considered, judicious, and temperate speech. He pointed out that the present Bill was a compromise which it astounded him that Conservatives did not receive with open arms. He said that a few years ago nothing would have astonished him so much as that advanced Liberals would have been satisfied with such terms. His hon. Friend added also, and he (Mr. 1787 Gregory) was much struck with the remark, that he considered a Reform Bill upon the basis adopted by the Government would be a settlement of the question for a political generation. Now all this was excellent, and it was delivered in those accents of sincerity, and with that freedom from all mental reservation and equivocation which made the speeches of his hon. Friend listened to with so much respect and attention. He (Mr. Gregory) would say to his hon. Friend, "We are prepared to meet you half way, and to accept that lovely form which you offer to our arms;" but when he came to grasp it, it turned out to be something perfectly impalpable—a spectre, a phantom, like one of Professor Pepper's ghosts—a thing that men clutched at, but never clasped. This fair form, with her advantageous settlements, whom his hon. Friend offered as the future partner of their lives, was only an outline, and the manner in which the lineaments of that outline were filled up would determine as to whether it should be an angel or a monster. His hon. Friend had said, "Take it; never mind; you will be all the better for it;" just as his hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. L. Gower) had said, "If you do not take her you will have to take something worse"—He (Mr. Gregory) was afraid that their old friend the Sybil was about once more to offer her books for sale, for his hon. Friend said, with great emphasis, "Beware! If you allow this opportunity to pass and do not accept the Bill, nothing but regrets will remain for you hereafter. Now, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was well versed in Italian literature, and he probably remembered a famous sonnet of Machiavelli, "On Opportunity." In that sonnet Opportunity was represented as a fair girl gliding forth, with one foot on a wheel, and "with light wings bound on her to make her so swift in flight that none could overtake her." But then behind her lurked a dark form, vainly weeping, vainly endeavouring to arrest her flight, whose name was "Repentance." His hon. Friend the Member for Bradford also, he had no doubt, remembered that sonnet. [Mr. W. E. FORSTER expressed dissent] His moral evidently was, that unless we took the Bill, Opportunity would have fled, but Repentance, vain Repentance, would remain. This had been the argument ever since a new Reform Bill had been introduced. In 1852 it was proposed to 1788 lower the borough franchise to £5, and what was the result of that proposal? Opportunity fled and Repentance remained in the shape of a £6 franchise. The second Bill lowered it to £6, and again Opportunity fled and Repentance remained behind; but it assumed the form of a £7 franchise; and if the opportunity of £7 now flies for another year, the only repentance that will remain will be of a Reform Bill complete and thorough in its parts, which would be accepted cordially by the Liberal side of the House, and which, after so many Conservative admissions, could not with decency be rejected by them. But had nothing, he would ask, been gained by the delay which had taken place on the question even in the case of the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) himself? Why, he recollected having asked the hon. Gentleman—who now urged the House to accept the Bill before them because they might get worse if they did not—on the occasion of the debate on the Bill of the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Baines), how it was possible to accept a measure like this when, even on his own showing, it was the mere prelude to fresh agitation, a stepping-stone to household suffrage? "Tell us, if we pass this Bill, for how long a time it will affect a settlement of the question?" The reply of his hon. Friend was, "For perhaps five or six years." Now, however, the hon. Gentleman was ready to admit that the measure under discussion would be a settlement for "a political generation." What was the precise signification which his hon. Friend attached to that expression he could not say, but he had no doubt he meant by it a considerable interval of time; and he, therefore, was perfectly ready to accept his definition. So much for the "Be wise in time argument." For his own part, he might add he should not be frightened, if he thought the present Bill a good one, by the idea that it would not effect a settlement of the question beyond a period of twenty or thirty years. There was nothing final in politics; and at the expiration of the period he had just mentioned he was convinced, if peace continued, and education progressed as it was doing, there would be a large body of his fellow countrymen who would be as well fitted for the exercise of the suffrage as the élite of the working classes of to-day were when compared with those who in 1844 supported that great Chartist petition 1789 to which his right hon. Friend the Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe) had referred last Session, and of which the prayer included the suppression of machinery and the abolition of the monopoly of the Press, of any State religion, and of the National Debt. On the latter of which subjects he might observe, in passing, that his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Neate) made a remark the other evening of which he should like to have some explanation, when he said that "with a larger infusion of the democratic element in the House of Commons an objection to the payment of the National Debt would naturally arise." The House, he might add, had heard a great deal on various occasions about the necessity of being wise in time, and the accidents which might happen, and the "ugly rush" which might take place in the event of employment becoming scarce and the rate of wages low; but had we not, he would ask, had examples lately of the scarcity of employment and of a diminished rate of wages without the occurrence of any of those consequences which were now predicted? Yet, where had been the ugly rushes? Was not the great manufacturing heart of England paralysed but a few years ago, and was not the conduct of the operatives in Lancashire characterized on that occasion by a prudence, a moderation, and an admirable bearing that must constitute with many others, as it did with him, the best argument that could possibly be employed for the enfranchisement of the working classes, and must weigh more than all the denunciations pronounced by those persons whose wish of disaster was probably father to the thought? He had, on several previous occasions, expressed the opinion which he entertained with respect to the lowering of the borough franchise, and he had grounded his objections to the proposal, not on any indisposition to admit the working classes to the franchise, but on the manner in which it was sought to carry it into effect. In the observations which he had at various times made on the subject, many of those who were the organs of those very classes, he believed, sympathized. He had recently had several papers, as well as letters, most admirably expressed, sent to him by working men, and he found that they objected to a £7 franchise by itself as being a mere brick 1790 and mortar franchise, as being a blind and indiscriminate test, as arbitrary, and as unreasoning, as not including the very men of all others whom it should include. They alleged, moreover, that it was offensive to their feelings, inasmuch as it based their qualification for the exercise of the suffrage rather on the structure in which they happened to live than upon their own personal fitness. They, moreover, expressed a jealousy that persons under the operation of the Bill might be admitted to the franchise who would be a disgrace to their class, and they differed from the hon. and learned Member for Belfast (Sir Hugh Cairns), who contended that the principle of admission to the suffrage ought rather to be one of classes than of individuals. The right of admission they, on the contrary, contended should be tested by individual fitness: in that view he (Mr. Gregory) concurred, and it was because he did so that he had advocated and placed his name on the Bill which was brought forward by the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Clay). That measure was one in his opinion that was well calculated to meet the requirements of the day, because it would include within the franchise all those who ought to be included, while it would exclude all whose exclusion was desirable. Under its operation fresh recruits would be enrolled, an incentive would be held out to education, and a reproof to ignorance, and all irritating remarks as to the unworthiness of those excluded and the excellences of those admitted would be avoided. If in the end, in time far beyond our time, and even our children's time, it became a suffrage enfranchising the whole nation, he for one would be perfectly ready to accept the conclusion, for a gradual political training would have been obtained, and the danger flowing from ignorance and its vices would be replaced by the decisions of educated and thoughtful men. Such being his views on the subject, he could not accept the argument of the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. J. Stuart Mill), who urged the House to pass the Bill, because the admission to the suffrage of the number of working men who would be enfranchised under its operation was a good thing in itself. Mere multitude, unless a well composed multitude, would do no good. He (Mr. J. Stuart Mill) suggested that even if 200 working men came in they could not predominate, for that the 1791 Liberals and Conservatives, who would be in a ratio of two to one as regards these working men, could always unite to overthrow them. That was a very fallacious argument. Any Secretary of the Treasury would inform him of the power of twenty united men on a great division. Such a body, elected as a class, would be compact and united together, so as to enable them, on important occasions, when the two great parties were evenly matched, to throw the weight of their influence upon the one side, to the overthrow of any Government, unless their political claims were satisfied. They would virtually dictate the policy of the country. He, however, did not believe that the working men would elect persons of their own class to represent them, but, on the contrary, that their choice would fall on persons of greater mark, and on a greater variety of reputations than the householders would select—that a great soldier or sailor, a great engineer, a man of tried benevolence, or a politician of known worth, if he presented himself to a constituency composed of the élite of the working men, would have a better chance of being elected than if he presented himself without a considerable balance at his banker's to a constituency of small shopkeepers. This would be the case in many constituencies where the preponderating power would be in the hands of the most enlightened portion of the working classes. It would be the case, perhaps generally, in a time of great excitement. Corruption would then lose its power; but would it be the case in those small boroughs, the voting powers of which it was proposed to increase? His hon. Friend the Member for Bradford gave instances of the good sense, sturdy independence, and freedom from corruption of the upper stratum of the working men of his acquaintance in the North of England. He spoke according to his experience of the towns in the North, and looking at one side of the shield saw that it was gold; but were he to turn to the boroughs in the South and East, he would see that the other side of the shield was composed of very different metal. He (Mr. Gregory) said, take care lest a more vertical lowering of the suffrage may not be bearing the franchise into that portion of the constituencies which have hitherto been corrupt, and whether the main effect of the Bill may not be the widening of the area of corruption. His hon. Friend the Member 1792 for Montrose (Mr. W. E. Baxter), who always spoke well and to the point, said, "You can cure all the evils of corruption if you only adopt the American system of having large constituencies, in which anything in the shape of bribery is impossible." He had never been more astonished than when he heard this observation from the hon. Gentleman, for if there were one thing more notorious than another it was the prevalence of corruption at the American elections. In England the corruption was only retail—in America it was wholesale as well as retail; and the worst of the corruption there was, that it extended from the constituency to the representative. This tendency had been remarked by a writer whose authority would be admitted by the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. J. Stuart Mill). M. de Tocqueville said:—In democracies statesmen are poor and have their fortunes to make. The consequence is, that in aristocratic states the rulers are rarely accessible to corruption, and have very little craving for money, while the reverse is the case with democratic nations.In America, as everybody must be aware, the purchases of votes were made, not by one or two at a time, but by 300, 400, and 500, and these persons marched to the poll—to the secret vote, as it was called—with a white or striped ticket, as the case might be, to show their employers that they had fulfilled their duty to their country. His hon. Friend alleged that there were no individual cases of bribery. But in the New York Times, one of the most moderate and best written papers in America, he found the following description of an election which took place at Providence, Rhode Island, in 1860:—The open purchase of votes has been a remarkable feature of the day. The voters, when led up to the ballot-box, would with one hand drop the ticket, and with the other receive the bribe. The negro vote rated high, some coloured brethren receiving $50 each. Individuals of comparative wealth declined to vote unless paid to do so. Voters publicly put themselves up for purchase. Bids would commence at $10 and run up to $50. Great good humour and merriment prevailed all day. The announcement of Padel-ford's unsuccessful attempt to bribe the town-clerk of Cranstone undoubtedly lost him a large vote.Probably if he had succeeded he would have got a very large vote.In other towns wholesale bribery was even more open and outrageous. … Good order has been maintained throughout. Everybody drinks, but everybody appears to be used to it.1793 The paper from which he had taken this extract was the New York Times, one of the best written journals in America. It recently expressed a confident hope that in a short time, owing to the operation of the Bill now before the House, the American system would soon exist with full vigour in this country. Their "brethren in England" were congratulated on the prospect of being able to sweep away the aristocracy and the church, and to place themselves in all respects on the same satisfactory footing as the American people. But the New York Times was notorious for its constant denunciations of the national short-comings, the notorious bribery of the constituent and the representative. Here was a passage giving a description of the unblushing corruption attendant on the passing of a city Railway Bill in 1860:—Most of the American people are stolidly indifferent to the proofs of corruption on the part of their representatives. It seems to be taken for granted; and to whatever extent it may be carried, it excites no astonishment and arouses no special indignation.And this was the state of things, on the introduction of which into England the American journal offered us its congratulations. Although he (Mr. Gregory) felt full confidence in the general good sense and demeanour of the working classes of this country, he yet could not extend the same confidence to the persons who upon many questions would direct and advise them. His hon. Friend the Member for Bradford described the working classes as far too independent and clear-sighted to be led away; but they knew that there were men who generally acted as their leaders, men ready and plausible in speech, who were prepared for their own private purposes "to make the worst appear best counsel, soft to ear," and by appealing to the honest and warmhearted feelings of those men to lead them for the time to most disastrous conclusions. There could not be a better example of that fact than that furnished by the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett), who reminded the House that, some few years ago, there was a large proportion of the working classes in favour of our going to war on behalf of Poland. He himself remembered seeing in the lobby a deputation from the various trades who waited upon Lord Palmerston, and who asked the noble Lord to proclaim war against Russia on account of Poland. 1794 Lord Palmerston, in reply, reminded the deputation of the destructive effects of such a course; that a war would cause the disruption of commerce, the cessation of trade, extra taxation, the want of employment, and general distress. Their answer, however, was, that they were prepared for all those results, and notwithstanding they desired war. Now, he did not think that there could be a more unfortunate illustration of the danger of committing political power indiscriminately in the hands of the working classes than the facts which he had described. The hon. Member for Bradford furnished another illustration of the danger of such a course, when he mentioned the fact of the late Mr. Cobden's visit, some years ago, to the West Riding of Yorkshire. Mr. Cobden was loved, and cherished, and respected by all who had the good fortune to know him, and especially by the working classes, but he found the population of that place to be ten to one against him when he denounced the Russian war. Other occasions of war might arise, and then the most virtuous, the most prudent, and most trusted leaders of the working classes might appeal to them in vain, if their hearts were set upon war, even though the war itself might be of the most Quixotic and mischievous character. The hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. Hughes)—not the conspirator, not the gentleman dwelling in the cave of Adullam, but the philanthropist Member for Lambeth—in his speech the previous night, had called himself essentially the representative of the working classes in that House, but he (Mr. Gregory) thought that if the House contained a large number of Gentlemen holding similar opinions to those, of the hon. Gentleman, they would exercise by no means a salutary influence. Here was a slight résumé of what the hon. Member said:—He spoke rather contemptuously of what he termed so-called sound notions of political economy. He asked why there should not be strikes to get an advance of wages of 1s. 6d. per week, because Lord Westminster's property had been doubled by the working men. They had great grievances, he said. While they were working out great ideas how had the Legislature housed and fed them? He (Mr. Gregory) presumed it was the opinion of the hon. Gentleman and of those who had returned him, that it was the office of the Legislature to house and 1795 feed the people. The hon. Member went on to inquire, How came their food to be adulterated? The next question he supposed would be, How came bluebottle flies into butchers' shops in hot weather? Next he asked, How came necrosis of the jaws to be introduced into this country among persons who made lucifer; matches? a thing, he contended, which would not be suffered to exist in any other country in the world; and in the same sentence he added that it had been imported from Vienna. The hon. Member also was indignant with the answer which had been given by Parliament as to the proper mode of dealing with intoxicating drinks, forgetting that the object which Parliament had in view was to prevent the poor man from being shut out from the refreshment which he so greatly needed, and which the rich man could at all times command without any difficulty. If these were to be the arguments and the claims of the representatives of the artizan classes, he certainly wished to have safeguards against the preponderance of those classes. He did not like the word classes; but the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had, in all his recent speeches, based this Bill exclusively on the admission of classes. Had Mr. Clay's Bill been accepted we should have heard nothing of classes: the franchise would have depended on individual merit. Now, he was forced against his will to compare and balance the power and pretensions of classes. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his colleague the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the city of London (Mr. Goschen), had said that this was essentially a class measure, that the Reform Bill of 1832 had bridged the chasm between the upper and middle classes, and that this Bill would bridge the chasm between the middle and the lower classes. He differed from the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Graham), who said last night that it was not right or proper that the middle class should predominate in this country. It was his (Mr. Gregory's) opinion, and he believed it was the opinion of the majority of that House, that the middle class, which goes upwards into the highest extreme of society, and penetrates into the lowest, was the class of all others that could exercise the best influence on the policy and the Government of the country. They 1796 might be slow in their ideas. They might not have within them, according to a phrase he had read, "great lamps of internal consciousness," whatever that might mean. They might not entertain novel ideas upon politics, morality, and religion. They might be "Philistines" in short; but he must say that he saw, under their direction, a better chance of economy, peace, moderate progress, and freedom,—and by freedom he meant freedom of individuality of action and will,—than in any other form of government whatever. These opinions were held, he believed, by many hon. Members who would support the Amendment; and it was the best reply he could give to those who said that all who voted for the Amendment were illiberal and reactionary. This was the reply to those who said that no one could be Liberal unless he accepted and turned up his hat for the proposal of the Government. Stand off, for we are holier and more liberal than ye are—such is the language held towards those whose only crime it was to demand, that a measure of such infinite importance as this, should be treated as one comprehensive measure, each part of it being connected with and illustrating the whole. His right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. M. Gibson) said last night, "Let us have some understanding as to where we are on this important question;" but the moment others repeated the observation, the right hon. Gentleman turned round upon them, and said it was dictated by a spirit of suspicion against the noble Lord at the head of the Government, and that it manifested an uncharitable feeling and a want of confidence in and of love of the Government. He (Mr. Gregory) was quite sure that his right hon. Friend would have quoted at that time, if he had thought of it, the well-known words of a modern poet—In love, if love be love, and love be ours,Faith and unfaith can ne'er be equal powers;Unfaith in aught is want of faith in all.He never in all his life heard such dogmatism as was exhibited on this subject—dogmatism on the part of those who claimed the rights of private judgment in matters of religion, but who refused it to others in matters of politics. In the novel of Tom Jones, Parson Thwackum was described as discoursing on religion with Philosopher Square, and he said:— 1797When I speak of religion, I speak of the Christian religion; and when I speak of the Christian religion, I speak of the Protestant religion; and when I speak of the Protestant religion, I speak of the religion of the Church of England; and when I speak of the Church of England religion, I speak of that branch of the Church of England to which I myself belong, and the opinions of which I am determined to enforce,Now, it appeared to him that they had their Thwackum in that House, who said, When I speak of Liberals I mean those Liberals alone who support the Liberal Government; and when I speak of those Liberals who support a Liberal Government, I speak of those who support the advanced section of it; and when I speak of those who support the advanced section of the Cabinet. I speak of certain Gentlemen below the gangway; and when I speak of a certain number of Gentlemen below the gangway, I speak of myself; and if any one differ from me, let him be excommunicated, and let him depart hence a conspirator, dirty and degraded. There was a notion among a certain sect called Swedenborgians, that in heaven all married folks melted into one angel; and it would almost appear as if the theory prevailed, that all those who were to be permitted to sit in the Paradise of the Liberal benches must submit to be melted and fused into one hon Member, the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright). He did not wish to make any observation in the smallest degree offensive to the hon. Member, and he was quite of opinion that the attacks made upon the hon. Member were very often useless and painful. It must, however, be borne in mind, that the hon. Member was the representative of certain principles, and that out of the House he used expressions by no means complimentary to the House or to the Members of the House, who had not the opportunity of replying to them in platform speeches. Moreover, he thought that the hon Member thoroughly enjoyed the conflict. The other evening the hon. Member told the House a story about a Scotch terrier, but he (Mr. Gregory) had read a story about another Scotch terrier which, perhaps, might be some relation to the dog referred to by the hon. Gentleman. The story was told in a most amusing book called Rab and his Friends. A gentleman observed a little dog following a gamekeeper, which appeared to have a singularly pre-occupied look, and to be an unsympathetic dog, not enjoying the 1798 gambols of his fellows of the canine species. The gentleman asked the reason, and the keeper replied, "Eh, sir! Life is full of seriousness to him; he never can get enough of fighting!" Pugnacity begets pugnacity, and so he was convinced that the hon. Gentleman was not displeased at the combats he provoked, and of which apparently he never could get enough. Those who revised to accept the present Bill had been reproached with making use of expressions of distrust with respect to the Government. They well knew that the Government advised with and consulted the hon. Member for Birmingham, and that their course of conduct was directed by him. As to what the hon. Gentleman intended, the House must be guided by his own words, and he had distinctly told them that he looked on this Bill as a mere leverage for other Bills. The hon. Gentleman was a very clever man, but there was another very clever man from whom the hon. Gentleman might take a lesson. That other clever man was at that moment expiating his offence against society by a forced residence in Coldbath-fields Prison. He alluded to the convict Caseley. Caseley was asked the other day to give evidence in the Court of Queen's Bench respecting the most prompt and easy mode of making an inroad into other persons' property by forcibly opening their safes; and he replied that that was a matter depending on the use of lawful or unlawful means; lawful means, in burglar's phraseology, signifying such as performed the operation silently, slowly, but surely; and unlawful means being such as operated quickly, but made a noise and alarmed the neighbourhood. Well, the hon. Member for Birmingham had alarmed the neighbourhood, and the noble Lord the Member for Chester had sprung the rattle. He must now protest against the manner in which those Members who took an independent course on this question had been treated in that House, and out of the House, by the organs of the Government. They did owe party allegiance to the Government under whose banners they had enrolled themselves. No one was more ready to act up to that allegiance than himself. As a general rule, he was ready to surrender any private opinion for the good of party; but, on a great occasion like this, the greatest question of modern days, when he saw it treated as a juggler's trick, half 1799 shown and half concealed—when he saw the House of Commons managed as pious missionaries manage their savage converts, not telling them too much for fear of embarrassing their simple minds; and when he saw the old constitutional Whig party, which had stood by every Liberal Government with desperate fidelity, not mingling in tea-room plots or smoking-room cabals; when he saw that party utterly ignored, and the state policy advised and steered by the advice of a Gentleman from whom they differed toto cœlo, they had a right to enter their protest, and they had done so. Because the noble Lord who introduced the Amendment said he wished to see not merely a part of the Bill, but the whole of the Bill, he was told, "Your words say one thing, but they mean another." Because he had framed the Amendment so as to endeavour to get within it as many supporters as possible to give effect to it, it was whispered confidentially about that it was the work of the arch enemy. Indeed it had been said, that there were at least a hundred Gentlemen ready to swear that they had seen the original wording of the Amendment in the handwriting of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli). When the right hon. Baronet the Member for Hertfordshire (Sir Bulwer-Lytton) said, "Show me the position in which England will be when this Bill passes," the Secretary of State for the Home Department replied, "Such an observation on your part could only originate in your distrust of the working classes." He (Mr. Gregory) might here parenthetically observe, that if the right hon. Baronet the Member for Hertford distrusted, the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary distrusted also; or why stop short at £7, and not go on to household suffrage. That was the way in which they were treated. The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir G. Grey) had appealed to them to be candid and to show their cards; and to that appeal his answer would be this—What would have been their position if Lord Palmerston had lived? Would they have been now discussing such a Bill as this? He did not believe they should. He believed the country would have been perfectly content to go on under the prudent management of the noble Lord and the financial genius of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There might, no doubt, have been a Re- 1800 form Bill, as he was bound to say that he did not think the House could have escaped from the pledges that had been given on Reform; but it would have been a well-balanced and entire measure; untainted with suspicion, it would not have said one thing and done another. It would have given them a redistribution of seats, which, after all, was the essential thing. It would have enlarged the County franchise; and if the Borough franchise had been lowered, it would have been so adapted to the whole that the measure would, from the authority of the noble Lord, have been accepted by all the Members on that side, and would not, he believed, have been refused by hon. Gentlemen opposite. He (Mr. Gregory) did not hesitate to say, that he would rather not have broken the £10 line if he could have helped it. He would have widened the Borough suffrage to any extent, but by other tests. That scheme, however, he feared could not be realized. What therefore remained to be done? Could Reform be resisted, and ought it to be resisted? He believed it could not, and it ought not. A few years ago those who opposed Reform had, on their side, the sympathies of the head of the Government—a great portion of the Cabinet and of a large number of those who sat on these benches—and the feeling of the country was averse to change. But, he was bound to say, a great change had taken place. He regarded the present movement, however, as one that differed from the ordinary course of public movements; because, instead of being a movement upwards on the part of the people towards the Government, it was a downward movement on the part of the Government towards the people. The petitions, the remonstrances, and the prayers of the Government to the working classes, rather than the petitions, remonstrances, and prayers of the lower classes to the Government, had created the movement. That was one characteristic of this Reform movement. Another characteristic was that it had been retarded by its chief advocates, and precipitated by its opponents. He believed it had been retarded for many years by the hon. Member for Birmingham's denunciations of all those things which Englishmen hold dear. But a compensating power existed in politics as well as in nature. The great opponent of the hon. Member for Birmingham, the right hon. Gentleman the Member 1801 for Calne (Mr. Lowe), made use of some observations which had been misrepresented, misquoted, and misunderstood; but he was bound to say that they had sunk like words of flame into the hearts of those who earned their daily bread by labour. They asked, "Do you believe us to be drunken, ignorant, venal, and violent? If you do not, you have one way to show it, and that is by giving us the franchise." He (Mr. Gregory) would rather have a Reform Bill ten times over than that there should be a collision or ill feeling between the upper and lower classes. He quite agreed with an observation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that words coming from a Gentleman of the position and power of the right hon. Member for Calne ought to be unambiguous, because they were written, as he said, with a pen of iron and on a rock. But when he was in Dalmatia a little while ago he heard a proverb which he thought applicable, in this instance, to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was this—"If you go out stealing fowls, tie up your own hen by the leg;" and when the Chancellor of the Exchequer blamed the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne for making an explanation of those words which had been misunderstood, misquoted, and misrepresented, he ought to recollect how, some year or two since, he himself had been an equal sinner, and had been obliged to write a well known "preface" explaining certain expressions which had created at the time a considerable amount of uncomfortableness among his colleagues and elsewhere, He thought, notwithstanding all this, that great progress had at length been made in this matter. Not one speaker of any eminence had yet got up either on tins Liberal or Conservative benches and said that Reform was unnecessary. Everyone said they were all for it, and always for it. It was quite the realization of the canon of Vincentius of Lerins—"quod omnibus ubique et semper." They all agreed as to Reform, and when they did agree their unanimity was wonderful. Was it not possible for the Government to do something to meet the honest, difficulties of the case? He would suggest that the Government might pull the question out of the mire of party strife by agreeing, if their Bill were read a second time, to introduce a Bill for the redistribution of seats, and that the two Bills 1802 should then proceed through their other stages pari passu. He was quite aware that it might not be possible to pass a complete measure this Session, but, by adopting this course, they would next Session get rid of all the difficulties which had arisen. They would get rid of all discussions as to the principle of the Bill, and the great number of questions which would arise in committee; and he really believed there would then be a possibility of satisfactorily settling the question. He only threw out the suggestion—he had consulted nobody whatever about it; but the Government, he thought, ought seriously to entertain it. This determination to have the whole scheme before them, had been stigmatized as a plot, a cabal; and hints had been frequently expressed of coalitions and amalgamations. He knew of no plot; he utterly repudiated all idea of the existence of any party faction, or of a desire on the part of Liberal Members to get rid of the present Government. He, for one, looked forward to the great financial abilities of the Chancellor of the Exchequer being employed for many years in settling questions of the greatest magnitude as affecting the prospects of this country, which, he believed, no one could handle but himself. He also looked forward to the settlement of questions connected with that distracted country from which he had come, which, he believed, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had both the heart and will to settle—questions from which every other Minister had recoiled, and from which, so long as they did recoil, Ireland would be our weakness and our shame. But one thing he would say, and he was confident his words would find an echo among many hon. Gentlemen, he did deprecate that constant abuse, that misinterpretation of motives which had been attributed to every one who might go into the same lobby with the noble Lord who moved this Amendment. He considered that this attempt to drive away from the Liberal benches men who entertained moderate and reasonable views was an unwise attempt. The time might come when a policy might be endeavoured to be enforced upon the Government which they would gladly resist. They would then look for the support of those independent men whom they now called men who could not be depended on, and they would find they could be de- 1803 pended on. He could assure the Chancellor of the Exchequer that, by the vote which he and the Friends around him would give, they would only be expressing the opinion which they heard on every occasion and on which ever side they turned. In many instances Gentlemen on that side of the House might give the Government their vote on the present occasion, but they would not give it with a willing mind. There was a pressure put upon them; he would not say by their constituents, but the pressure of friendship, of old-established ties, and old political associations. He recognised these ties and gave credit for these motives, and all he asked of them and of Gentlemen who sat on the Treasury Bench was, that they would, in return, give to him and to those who agreed with him, credit for submitting to what he trusted would be but the temporary severance of party ties and political friendships, only under an overwhelming conviction that there was something far above friendship and party; he meant, their duty to their country.
§ THE SOLICITOR-GENERAL FOR SCOTLAND (Mr. YOUNG)
entreated the indulgence of the House while he stated, with as much brevity as he could command, the opinions he humbly entertained with respect to the measure before them, and while he attempted to give the answer which occurred to him to some of the objections urged against it. He would not be understood as wishing to imply that the Bill under discussion was not of sufficient magnitude to merit, and indeed demand, their earnest and anxious consideration; or that the principles which it involved, and the arguments by which it was supported, ought not to be subjected to the closest examination and the sharpest criticism. Yet he could not help thinking, that those who had spoken against the measure, looking to the asperity of their hostility to it, had hardly given enough weight to the moderation of its provisions. The scope and tenour of the Bill might be stated in a single sentence: It proposed to reduce the occupation franchise in boroughs to £7 and in counties to £14; and that it offended the political opinions of hon. Gentlemen opposite, that was the extent of its offending. Regarding it from a Conservative point of view, and with reference to the mere extent of the changes it proposed, it contrasted favourably in respect to the county franchise with the measure intro- 1804 duced by Lord Derby's Government in 1859, and not unfavourably in respect to the borough franchise with the opinions expressed in the same year by the leaders of the Conservative party. The Chancellor of the Exchequer quoted a passage from the speech delivered by the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire after the reassembling of Parliament in 1859. He (Mr. Young) wished to refer to a speech made by the hon. and learned Member for Belfast (Sir Hugh Cairns) on the same occasion, in which, after stating that the Government were prepared to admit a lowering of the borough franchise, he said that that subject, like other parts of the Bill, was one which might be treated in Committee, and which ought to be properly treated there; and the hon. and learned Gentleman went on to remind them that in his place elsewhere, the then First Minister of the Crown (Lord Derby) had declared before the dissolution, that if the question had been between a £10 and an £8 suffrage in boroughs, the matter would not have been difficult to arrange. He doubted not that there were conscientious and consistent Liberals as well as conscientious and consistent Conservatives who would be disposed to consider a proposal to reduce the franchise without any determination to reject it, but who objected to the present Bill on the ground that it was not accompanied with a measure on the cognate subject of the distribution of seats. Those Gentlemen were the proper, and the only proper supporters of the Amendment of the noble Lord. There were likewise Liberal Members who were sincerely and on principle in favour of a reduction of the franchise, and also sincerely and on principle in favour of a redistribution of seats, but who might think that on the balance of expediency it would have been better to have dealt with those two subjects not separately but together. Now, with great respect for those who thought otherwise, he must be permitted to say he was strongly pursuaded that that was precisely one of those matters upon which a member of a great party might waive his individual opinion in deference to the leaders of the great body of the party. And if such deference was paid, those who paid it were not amenable to such charges I as had been been brought against them by the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire. Without such a waiving I of individual opinion on such points of 1805 expediency it seemed to him that party government would be impossible in that House. He need hardly say that remark of his was not applicable to those who elevated such a point as the course of procedure an a matter of that kind into the dignity of a great question of political principle; but, of course, he might express some surprise that the mere question of expediency as to the bringing in of a Franchise Bill by itself, or in conjunction with another relating to the redistribution of seats, should be elevated into a matter of principle upon which a great party fight should take place. Besides those who did not concur with the Government in the expediency of treating the subject of the franchise separately, and who objected to the Bill before the House on that ground, and on that ground only, there were undoubtedly others whose objection rested upon a much wider ground, viz. that of the principle of the measure itself They had discussed the Bill upon its merits, and upon its merits condemned it; condemned it as revolutionary, because it involved a transfer of political power; condemned it as democratic, because it gave supremacy to numbers. Several hon. and right hon. Members who espoused this view had addressed the House in language which could not be misunderstood. A great deal was said in she early part of the debate, as to the precise meaning of the Amendment; but that Amendment was clearly expressed, and no doubt could be entertained of its plain, natural meaning. The Amendment declined to discuss the principle of the Bill as inexpedient. Those who condemned the measure on its merits, and yet supported the Amendment, necessarily said one thing while they meant another. The Amendment was one which could easily be under stood; and if any doubt had been expressed with regard to it, probably it had arisen, not from the Amendment itself but from the meaning attached to the words of those who intended to vote for it. The noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn, in his admirable speech, told them that those who supported the Amendment were not to be considered as condemning the principle of the Bill; and so, with perfect consistency on his part, he refrained from discussing the principle of the measure. But what was to be said of those who had discussed it, who had said everything they could against it, and had arrived at the 1806 conclusion, satisfactory to their own minds' that in point of principle tin y could not support the measure? How were they consistent in affirming it was inexpedient to discuss the question, and yet proceeding to express their hostility to it? It was with regard to such speeches that the assertion was made that they said one thing and meant another. He did not mean by this to find fault with the conduct of those hon. Gentlemen, for they might, perhaps, be justified by Parliamentary usage in refraining from moving a direct negative to the second reading, and in supporting a Resolution by which they hoped indirectly to attain their object and defeat the measure. On the propriety of such a course he wished to offer no opinion; but it was surely no injustice to them to say, that if they had seen their way to success they would have acted in a more straightforward manner, and would have proposed a direct negative; or, if they had desired to give more emphasis to their opinions in the shape of a Resolution, that Resolution would not have limited itself to affirming the discussion of the principle of the Bill to be inexpedient. For his own part, the moderation of the measure was to him a great recommendation, for he had never professed the extreme opinions of the advanced Liberals, He should, however, be doing an injustice to the provisions of the measure were he not to state, that the more he had studied the subject and weighed the arguments on either side, the more satisfied had he become that the, Bill was founded on sound constitutional principles; and that, so far from being pregnant with danger to the Constitution of the country, it was calculated, as it was certainly intended, to give them greater strength and stability, He would state briefly, if tin House would bear with him, the grounds; of that opinion, and in doing so he should follow the logical order adopted by his, hon. and learned Friend the Member for Belfast, in a speech which had deservedly called forth the highest praise. Tin view taken by the hon. and learned Gentleman with respect to the Bill was, that without a redistribution of seats—without knowing the nature of such a measure—it would be impossible to estimate accurately the amount of voting power which the Bill would confer on the supposed balance of political power, The hon. and learned Gentleman then proceeded to lay the 1807 foundation of his argument in some constitutional principle applicable to the franchise; and accordingly he commenced his speech by endeavouring to ascertain the principle of the Constitution with respect to the suffrage. He (Mr. Young) agreed with the hon. and learned Gentleman as to the issue before the House, but felt inclined to divide it into two issues—one with respect to the second reading of the Bill, and the other that raised by the Amendment. The right hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to have a similar view of the question, for he said it might be divided into two matters—one relating to the Bill dealing with the Franchise, the other as to the manner in which the Government proposed to deal with the whole question of Reform. The first was raised by the motion for the second reading, and the second was raised by the Amendment. At the outset of his argument the hon. and learned Gentleman said, it was important to ascertain what the principle of the Constitution was on the subject of the franchise. This he defined to be the creation and maintenance of an equilibrium in the representation of all classes, by such a distribution of the franchise as would establish a balance in the voting power of all parties. The hon. and learned Gentleman maintained that, according to the principles of the Constitution, the supremacy of numbers was guarded against by fixing a point below which the suffrage could not fall, and that the fear of an undue weight of property was guarded against by fixing a point above which the suffrage should not rise. Where the hon. and learned Gentleman found this second point he could not discover. Where was it? He could not refer merely to the peerage, because that would be beside the question. But was that a true statement of the principle of the Constitution in regard to the suffrage? Did the hon. and learned Gentleman give a just application of the term "the middle class" as lying between one point and the other? He would venture to affirm that the principle of the Constitution on which the suffrage was at present based was to give a vote to the borough occupier of £10 and upwards, without reference either to his class, or the numbers of his class, or the degree of intellect, education, or amount of property which he might possess. It was true that the lower the class to which the voter belonged the greater were the number of limitations. In boroughs the occupiers 1808 of houses between £10 and £20, and in counties the occupiers between £50 and £100, were more numerous than those above those figures. But, though this was so, was it not inaccurate to say that the suffrage had any relation to the numbers composing the class of voters, or that it contemplated their combining for any one object? The Constitution regarded these voters as citizens of the country, and took no account of classes or trades; and it fixed no point above which the suffrage was not to rise. The hon. and learned Gentleman ignored fitness as a qualification for the suffrage, and said that was an invidious distinction. Above all he affirmed that it was beside the question, or was at best only a secondary consideration. But was it really the opinion of hon. Members opposite that fitness to exercise the franchise was beside the question of who should have the franchise, or was merely a matter of secondary importance? He thought that the opinion expressed by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Adderley) was more in accordance with that of hon. Gentlemen opposite. He said that so far as the general principle of representation was concerned, they were all agreed that it was to be based upon worth, industry, and intelligence. Which was he to take as the opinion of hon. Members opposite? The right hon. Gentleman said they were all agreed that the qualifications for the suffrage were worth, industry, and intelligence, while the hon. and learned Gentleman maintained that fitness was beside the question, or only of secondary importance. The constitutional principle announced by the hon. and learned Gentleman was however very cleverly, and if he might say so without offence, dexterously conceived, in reference to the use he intended to make of it. If he (Mr.Young) might be called upon in turn to state the true constitutional principle in the matter of the franchise, he thought it might be expressed in two words—self-government. It was, no doubt, possible to say that the franchise was only a means to an end, and that if the end were attained it might be dangerous and unwise to meddle with the system under which we enjoyed good government. But this appeared to him to conceal a great fallacy. He would quite admit that the country was not suffering from bad government. They all admitted this; but the question was one of self-government, and it was 1809 a mischievous fallacy to say, that where they had good government they were to let things alone on the principle of letting well alone. They all knew that good government might exist and had existed without any popular government—without any element of self-government. We in this country had long been of opinion that, without the popular element, without self-government, there could be no stability; and so long as men possessing industry, intelligence, in a word "fitness," were excluded, no matter how excellent the government, might be, it was not self-government with respect to them. That was our constitutional principle, and he defied hon. Gentlemen to examine our Constitution as they might, to examine the Reform Act of 1832, and they would find no other principle than this—to make the government of the country self-government with respect to everybody fit to be entrusted with a voice in it. There might, no doubt, be fair ground for difference of opinion as to where the limit was to be fixed—whether at £10, £9, £8, or £7, The hon. and learned Member for Belfast, in a very eloquent and impassioned part of his speech, asked. "What is there in the eternal fitness of things which prescribes £7 as the limit?" But they on that (the Ministerial) side of the House said nothing about "the eternal fitness of things;" such language was entirely that of the hon. and learned Member himself. What the Government said was this, that the £7 limit was proper, not in "the eternal fitness of things," but according to the fitness of things at this time. If they were to speak of "the eternal fitness of things," he would ask, what was there in "the eternal fitness of things" that would lead the hon. and learned Gentleman to fix on £10? Ten pounds was fixed on in 1832 as a safe point according to the fitness of things and the condition of the country at that time, and £7 was hell to be a safe point now. But the House was not asked to affirm the £7 limit, nor any other particular sum; that was a matter to be considered in Committee. The only thing that the House was asked to affirm was, that, without any reference to the eternal fitness of things, the reduction of the franchise both in counties and boroughs was proper. In 1859 the hon. and learned Member for Belfast maintained, with respect to the Bill of 1810 Lord Derby's Government, as a proposition which had the support of himself and his party, that it was a question, not for the second reading, but for Committee, whether the town franchise was to be reduced or not. In the same way the House was not asked now to determine whether £7 was the proper limit to fix for the borough franchise, and £14 for the county, but merely to say that it was fitting that some reduction should be made in both. Now, a great deal had been said in the course of the discussion about this being a revolutionary and a democratic measure. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Hertfordshire (Sir Bulwer-Lytton) was kind enough to favour the House with a definition of revolution, and the hon. Member for the Wick Burghs (Mr. Laing) with a definition of democracy. The right hon. Baronet said the measure was revolutionary, because a transference of political power leads to revolution, and this Bill would produce a transfer of political power. The hon. Member for the Wick Burghs said the measure was democratic, because democracy gives supremacy to numbers, and so would this Bill. With respect to the Bill being revolutionary, it was well to understand what was meant by so formidable a word. It meant this and nothing more,—that if they introduced any persons who had not the franchise now to share it with those who had, to the extent of that introduction political power was transferred from its present possessors to those who might be newly introduced. But if this language held good with respect to the present Bill, it would apply equally to the Bill of 1852, of 1854, and of Lord Derby's Government in 1859; for each of those Bills wrought, in precisely the same sense as the present Bill, a transfer of political power And then, if it was a democratic measure, because, it would give supremacy to numbers, what would hon. and right hon. Gentlemen say of the Act of 1832? If ever there was a revolutionary measure within the spirit of the definition that was one, because it effected an immense transfer of political power. If was a great experiment, too, because the country was proceeding upon untried ground with only the light of argument and reason to guide it. And with respect to its democratic nature, did it not give supremacy to numbers in the sense of the hon. Member for the Wick Burghs? for whenever 1811 anything was determined by vote there was supremacy of numbers. They had supremacy of numbers in that House. They had it under their existing electoral system. The voting power of the youngest, the least experienced, and, if he might say so without offence, the most foolish Member of that House was equal to that of any other Member. All votes were equal within those walls, and equal in the country, and it was the supremacy of numbers that told in each case. But if the right hon. Gentleman meant that numbers were to destroy the proper influence of character, position, intelligence, education, and wealth, they might depend upon it that these were things that neither legislation nor numbers could destroy or impair. Parliament could not create, neither could it impair or destroy these influences. They had had their natural operation under the Reform Act of 1832, and he did not even understand the meaning of those who declared that they would cease to exist upon the addition of voters between £10 and £7. Now, he would ask hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who objected to this measure as revolutionary and democratic, whether the Reform Act of 1832 was a great success or a great failure? Had it not been a great success? Everybody must admit that. But they had heard with respect to it, when in the same stage of existence as the present Bill, every argument now used, everything which had now been said about democracy and revolution, only then it was said with tenfold power. The falsification of all the prognostications of evil which were expected to follow the Act of 1832 ought to make hon. Gentlemen more careful now of anticipating similar disadvantages. He admitted that it was a matter of degree; but what was the opinion of the other side on that point? Was it that in 1832 our predecessors hit the very mark which "the eternal fitness of things" pointed out, and that with such accuracy that it is as fitting now as then? The measure then passed was a wise and prudent one; but it was impossible to conceive that our predecessors, in a great experiment which was intended to remedy all the evils of bad legislation, should hit at once a right and reasonable limit, which was not only suitable then, but would remain so after all the changes of four-and-thirty eventful years. But what after all was it that was now proposed? It was only 1812 a reduction of £3. The House was not asked even to affirm that that reduction of £3 was not too much, but merely to affirm the principle that there should be some reduction. The figures would be subject to revision in committee, when hon. Members could determine whether the franchise was to be fixed at £7, or at any other amount. The hon. and learned Member for Belfast warned them that, in the event of the franchise being reduced to £7, there would be an overwhelming influx of the lower classes into the representation, and that they would combine to enforce the repeal of the law of primogeniture, and to carry laws for the subdivision of land, and to alter the existing relations between the employer and the employed. Hon. Members had been surprised at finding that a large proportion of the working classes had possessed a share in the representation since 1832; yet it had never been suggested that those classes had, up to the present time, combined for purposes adverse to the public interest. Did the hon. and learned Member think that if the persons inhabiting £7 houses had been possessed of the suffrage in former years they would have combined for the purpose of keeping up restrictions upon trade, religious disabilities, high postage, and dear newspapers? There were, however, combinations for such purposes, but they were among persons of quite a different class from those now sought to be enfranchised. To him, then, it appeared that substantial and sufficient reason had been alleged to affirm the principle of the Bill. But then it was said that the Government, in introducing the Bill, had adopted an unreasonable and an unstatesmanlike course, because they had not coupled with it a Bill for the redistribution of seats. The noble Lord who seconded the Amendment (Lord Stanley) said that the conduct of Government implied distrust of the House; that it was artlessly artful; and that it was an attempt to gain the support of those Members who might be tempted to oppose the the double measure; and the noble Lord said that the introduction of the Franchise Bill by itself was a Parliamentary manœuvre and a trick. But was there no manœuvre, was there no trick on the other side? Was not the Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Chester so framed as to catch the votes of those Members who might be opposed to the 1813 principle of the reduction of the franchise, although in favour of the redistribution of seats? The noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn said the Government had introduced this fragmentary measure because they knew they could not carry a whole one. Therefore, according to the noble Lord's own argument, the Government had adopted the very course that could enable them to carry the Franchise Bill. The Government adopted the course because they wished to carry the Bill. If they had wanted, like hon. Members opposite and some on this side of the House, not to carry the measure, the Government would have taken that course. There might be a majority in favour of reduction, and there might be a majority in favour of redistribution; but there would be a minority in each case, and if the two things were put together in one Bill, the two minorities would become a majority and hot it measures would be defeated by this simple manœuvre. The Government had separated the two measures in order to prevent this, and now were accused of being artlessly artful for bringing forward the present Bill just because they hoped to carry it, and wished it to be discussed and decided upon its own intrinsic and proper merits. Hon. Members opposite said this Bill should not be passed without some guarantee being given that the same Parliament which dealt with the question of reducing the franchise should also deal with the question of the redistribution of seats. So far as the Government could give such a guarantee it had been given; but the Government could not insure its own life or that of Parliament? But even in the event of a dissolution before the question was settled, would not the existing constituencies return the new Parliament? He could see nothing dreadful or alarming in such a supposition; for it did not signify whether the new elector had been on the register six days or as many weeks or years. They could scarcely be objected to on the score of inexperience, because the new £10 householders who were constantly being added to the list of electors were quite as inexperienced as those who would be added by the present Bill, This was only one of the scarecrows held up to alarm and disturb the timorous. But the redistribution of seats, it was said, was so intimately connected with tin extension of the suffrage, that the two were 1814 only to be dealt with simultaneously. But suppose they were both included in one Bill, the House would have to consider and deal with the one before it could touch the other. The proposition of the Government was this—that whether you are to redistribute the constituent body, or to leave the present arrangement alone, those whom this Bill proposed to enfranchise ought to be admitted into that body. It was only after they hail estimated the number composing the constituent body of the country that they could alone proceed to the rearrangement and redistribution of seats. But the principle upon which the Government had dealt with this question was, that those to whom the franchise was extended ought in any case electoral body. The noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn illustrated his view of the case by what he regarded as two analogies—one financial and the other architectural. The noble Lord said that the right hon. Gentleman the CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER had always deprecated the proposal of any reduction or abolition of a particular tax until the whole financial scheme of the year had been laid before the House, and he contended that this proposal to deal with the extension of the franchise before considering the redistribution of seats was of a similar nature. But in the former case the House had a choice. There was a certain amount of money to be spared, and the question was, which of the taxes should be reduced? a matter which could not be determined without reviewing all of them; but in this case they had no such choice between the extension of the franchise and the redistribution of scats. The noble Lord in his second illustration said, that no one thought of building a new palace by a room at a time, and without having a plan of the whole building. But in this case the Government did not propose to build any new palace. They were simply going to enlarge their existing building, with a due reference to the demands of those who were to be accommodated. The very first thing, therefore, was to ascertain the number of those for whom the accommodation was required. They were not going to interfere with the existing building or with its present inmates. They were going to add to the family it was true, and were going to provide accommodation for that addition, and for that pur- 1815 pose they might require a re-arrangement of rooms; but in this case it was simply a matter of enlargement, and not of reconstruction. He would conclude his observations by referring for a moment or two to the remarks made by the hon. and learned Member for Belfast upon the letter written by an hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright), in favour of or in condemnation of which it was not his intention to say a single word. The hon. and learned Gentleman in his remarks upon this subject said—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 a class of people who ignored argument and did not appreciate moderation; as if they were persons to be driven and incited by words of the kind I have read.Agreeing, as he did, with the opinion expressed by the hon. and learned Gentleman, he might add that those, for he objected to the use of the word "class" as foreign to our constitution, whom this Bill proposed to enfranchise were men who did not ignore arguments, who did appreciate moderation, and who were not to be driven or incited by words to the commission of what was wrong. It appeared to him to be a strong argument in favour of their fitness for electoral privileges when they bore in mind the fact that, in spite of all that had been said to them during the last fifteen years, in language oftentimes inflammatory and calculated to convey to them the impression that they were suffering from injustice and wrong, they had not responded to these statements, and had neither indulged in agitation or demonstration. They had, on the contrary, confined themselves to their ordinary pursuits, in which they had displayed an industry, an intelligence, and a sense of moderation such as they must always desire to see practised by those to whom they wished to extend the franchise.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I am sorry, Sir, that the hon. and learned Gentleman who last spoke has left the House, because I should have been glad to express in his presence the sense which I sincerely entertain of the obligation under which he has laid us all by the speech to which we have just listened. It was impossible to listen to that speech without a feeling of congratulation that the subject was in his hands. He has treated it in a manner worthy of its importance, and we have listened to a speech that 1816 was distinguished for reasoning, whether we agree with it or not. I may add, that it was no diminution of the satisfaction with which I listened to it that, while I willingly acknowledge the ability, the argumentative power, and the moderation with which he handled these topics, I was convinced that the case with which he had to deal was an extremely weak one; for I am sure that a Gentleman of his ability and power of reasoning, if he had a good cause, would have made a far more convincing statement than that which we have had the pleasure of listening to. The hon. and learned Gentleman addressed himself mainly to the task of answering various speakers. He began by answering the Chancellor of the Exchequer; then he attempted to answer my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Belfast (Sir H. Cairns); and he concluded by an attempt to perform the difficult feat, from which most on his side have shrunk, of answering the argument of the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn. With the first observation that fell from the hon. and learned Gentleman respecting the Amendment now before the House, I confess I was surprised. He remarked on the observation which has been made to the effect that the Amendment said one thing and meant another; and he explained what was really meant by the use of such an expression. He said that with regard to the Amendment itself nothing could be clearer than its meaning, and that he did not for a moment mean to say that the Amendment did not mean what it expressed. But his doubt was as to the meaning of those who supported the Amendment. He drew a distinction which had been drawn before the holidays between the Motion and the Mover; but he drew it in exactly an inverse sense from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Chancellor of the Exchequer also drew a distinction between the Motion and the Mover. Of the Mover he spoke with the greatest respect; but with regard to the Motion he spoke of it with great contempt, as of a thing that said one thing while it meant another. I was happy to find the hon. and learned Gentleman opposed on that view of the subject to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I was still more gratified to find that the right hon. Gentleman cheered him when he made that explanation. We are all accustomed to sudden changes on the part of the Chan- 1817 cellor of the Exchequer; but I confess I was surprised when I found That the Chancellor, in such a marked way, cheered a distinction drawn by the hon. and learned Gentleman in a sense precisely the reverse of that previousy made by the right hon. Gentleman himself. That, however, is a point of very little importance. We all know that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House have their differences among themselves, and now we find that those differences are not confined to those between the Treasury Bench and the other benches, but extend to the Treasury Bench itself. With these differences, however, we have little to do. I am more anxious to say a few words on the argument which the hon. and learned Gentleman addressed to what he conceived to be, the views of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Belfast. Now, though I have not referred to the report of that speech, I am certain, from my own recollection of that able and brilliant speech, and I am confirmed by the recollection of hon. Friends who also heard it, that the construction put upon it by the hon. and learned Solicitor-General for Scotland was entirely erroneous. What did he say as to the scope of that speech? He said my hon. and learned Friend announced that the Constitution fixed a point below which the suffrage could not fall, and another point beyond which it could not rise; and then the hon. and learned Gentleman created some merriment by asking where was that point? Now my hon. and learned friend did not say anything of the sort. What he said was that the Constitution was founded on the principle of giving to tin people of this country such representation as would fairly represent all their opinions, and that, inasmuch as it was necessary, in order to provide for the fair and perfect representation of the people, that you should not have a superiority—an overwhelming superiority—of mere numbers, it was necessary that you should make some kind of arrangement which would enable you fairly to represent the whole interests. He went on to say that there were two ways in which it was conceivable that this might be done.—either by giving to those who possessed a larger share of property a greater proportion of votes, or by so distributing the power of voting as to neutralise the superiority of more num- 1818 bers. Then my hon. and learned Friend proceeded to say, that if we had adopted the former principle it would have given a great preponderance to the upper classes, which the Constitution did not desire to do; and he argued that there should in t be a line drawn so that those who were above it should have greater power; but, on the contrary, he adopted the other principle of distributing the voting p aver among the constituencies in such a manner as to provide for the fair representation of ail classes; and my hon. and learned Friend went on to speak of the £10 line as being the line below which the suffrage was not to extend. I say, therefore, it is altogether a great fallacy, and a very unfair mode of argument, to put into the mouth of the hon. and learned Member for Belfast, language which he never uttered, and sentiments which I am certain were far from his mind, and then to found an argument upon an imaginary absurdity, such as that which the hon. and learned Gentleman attributed to him. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor-General for Scotland says, that my hon. and learned friend ignored fitness as a principle in the Constitution; but that is not a fair representation of what he said. What my hon. and learned Friend said was, that in distributing the right of voting you did not go upon the principle of saying what men were fit for a vote—you do not give a vote to every man who is fit for it—or you would have to give the vote to a large number of people who are net now included in the franchise, and whom this Bill does not propose to include, fait who are people of education and intelligence, as may be variously tested, and are doubtless perfectly fit to be Included. But it is very difficult, if not absolutely impossible, to ascertain the fitness of each separate person, and make that a test for voting; and what my hon. and learned Friend said was, that in your proposed arrangements you did not attempt to deal with the test upon which you were to proceed. But what did the Solicitor-General say with respect to his own principles? The Solicitor-General said he repudiated the various principles which he attributed to my hon. and learned Friend, and laid down what he considered to be the true constitutional principle, namely, the principle of self-government He said the object of this Bill was to give the people self-government, 1819 not good government, for he expressly distinguished between the two. He said. "You don't suppose we bring forward this Bill because we want good government—or because we think the government which exists is not good. We have not a word to say upon that; but it is not good government at which the Bill aims, but self-government, and that is the principle of the Constitution." It occurred to me immediately to ask who is the "self" to be governed—who is it that is to govern himself? Is it the whole nation, or is it that portion of the people who are fit for it, and who are to govern themselves and those who are not fit? If the view is that the whole nation is to govern itself, and is to have the right of electing Members who are to sit in Parliament, then I say that such a Bill as this, or any similar measure, any measure but such as might be conceived by the most extreme section of the most extreme party, fails in giving effect to such a principle. Neither this nor any similar Bill would have such an effect. Bills like this are not Bills to enable the people to govern them selves, but to enable a majority to govern others; and if we are to readjust the Constitution upon the principle of placing the government in the hands of certain classes or certain people, then, I say, we are entitled to take into consideration what are the qualifications which those whom we make governors have for exercising their functions. If the government of the country is to be handed over to a numerical majority we must ask, critically, what are the qualifications which fit them for the delicate and arduous task we are going to throw upon them? We should not forget, when talking fluently of self-government in the British House of Commons, that there is a great deal which we are called upon to do as an important organ of government. There is a great deal for us to govern lying even beyond the four seas which surround these islands. Remember the extensive complication of interests within these islands, and the extreme delicacy and complication of our relations with foreign countries. Remember the great extent of our empire and the large portions of the world's surface, as well as the large fractions of the world's population over whom we in this country have to bear sway. We have to consider very seriously how far those to whom we entrust the responsible office of choosing the most important 1820 branch of our Legislature are capable of exercising the delicate functions we commit to them. The hon. and learned Gentleman, after enunciating this rather extreme principle of constitutional government, seemed to be a little alarmed at what he had said, and seeing, perhaps, some expressions of surprise on the part of his auditory, he qualified his statement by saying, "That is to say that everybody who is fit ought to have a vote, and to take part in the election of Members." There is the gist of the whole question. Who are the people who are fit, and who are the people who are to say they are fit? If you acknowledge that the ruling principle is to be that of self-government, and say to the people, "My friends, you who are fit are to govern yourselves and those who are not fit," then those who you say are not fit may turn round and say, "Who gave you authority to say we are not fit? You happened to have the power of initiating this matter, but what right have you on your own principle to say that we are not as fit as you are?" The argument which the £6 and £5 householders and the people who are not householders at all would have against the £7 householders, if that principle were admitted, appears to me to be unanswerable. They may say, "We deny altogether your right to pick and choose who are to be held fit to govern themselves and to govern us." If you talk of good government, that is a different question; but if you talk of self-government, and yet pick and choose those who are to exercise it, you are doing that which the hon. Member for Birmingham said was so very bad—you are pretending to give and at the same time you are withholding. The true principle upon which you should proceed in altering the representation of the people should be to get as good a representation of ail classes and all interests as you possibly can. I should like to ask upon this point, whether there is no other mode in which the various classes which ought to be heard can obtain an influence over the Government of the country than by voting for Members of Parliament? I think there is. It was said by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Leveson Gower), and said very truly, that in this country public opinion, if it did not actually govern, exercised a very considerable influence over the governing power. The wealth of the country has its power in 1821 producing an effect upon public opinion; the intelligence of this country has a still greater power in originating, producing, and modifying public opinion; and the working classes at this moment have by no means an insignificant effect upon the formation of public opinion. We hear comparisons made as to the relative proportions of the influence of the voice of the working classes in this country in the year 1832 and at the present time, and we are told that in 1832 they had 30 or 31 per cent of the representation, while they now have only 26, arid therefore they have lost in proportion. I do not for one moment believe that. Even admitting the figures I deny altogether that the influence of the working classes has decreased since 1832, I say it has enormously advanced from causes quite independent of any alteration in your electoral system—because the working classes have themselves enormously advanced. All the advantages which they have obtained, and which I am bound to say they have made such good use of—the education provided for them, the newspapers circulated among them, the rapid communication by railway, the cheap postage, and all those other elements of advancement which you are so fond of talking about, and of the importance of which I am as sensible as any of you—all these advantages have elevated considerably the position and importance of the labouring class of this community, and have given them a much more important position than they held thirty years ago. If any proofs were wanted of this—if it were necessary to say one word about the absurdity of that phrase, "admitting them within the pale of the Constitution by this Bill," as if all who had not votes were excluded from the Constitution—if it were necessary to adduce any proof of this, I should call as a witness the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Layard), who I am sorry to see is not in his place, and who told us the other night how, when standing as a candidate for the representation of York, he owed his high place on the poll to the exertions of a committee composed of working men who did not possess the suffrage! They worked so well for him in the city of York that they very nearly returned him as their representative. If that is so, how can it be said that the working man who does not possess the suffrage is "out of the pale of 1822 the Constitution," and that he has no influence whatever with those who have, to elect his representative? I have no doubt that those who know most of the circumstances and influence of the working classes, can multiply instances of this sort beyond measure. I came across a curious instance of this myself in reference to a working man. I was engaged on a canvass in the city of Exeter on behalf of a noble friend of mine, and was asked by a tradesman to speak to his foreman who had not a vote, who was rather dissatisfied with some expressions I had used with regard to church rates. I went and found a most intelligent man, who discussed the whole question with me extremely well, and made use of some remarkable expressions. He said, "I am not a voter. I have never cared to get a vote, although I might have done so if I had chosen; but for various reasons I do not care to take part in politics. I have, however, a great interest in this question; and if I am right in the inference I draw as to your opinions, I am not sure that I may net think it necessary to qualify myself and to put myself on the register so as to work against such views." He also said, "I am not anxious to qualify myself as a voter, because I believe that the workmen here who have votes are well treated, and no undue influence is brought to bear upon them. If I thought there was any undue influence brought to bear upon them, I should seek to obtain a vote in order that I might oppose it." I was struck with the fact that he seemed to care so little for the franchise, and I was also struck with the amount of influence which such men possessed, and which even extended in his case to his master, who had requested me to go and talk to him. I do not offer this as an argument against extending the franchise. I should be glad if any measure could be adopted to extend the franchise to men of that stamp, or to any large class of working men of real intelligence and fitness for the franchise. At the same time I think it is must important that the balance of power, if I may be permitted such a phrase, should be preserved. This balance of power I interpret as meaning that character of the Constitution which gives to the whole nation and to every interest in it, whether a majority or a minority, a lair opportunity of expressing its opinions. I am as anxious that the sentiments of the 1823 working man should be represented in this House as I am that the sentiments of every other class of the community should be represented; and I think the great problem we have to solve is, how we are to obtain that representation of the working classes, which you say is not at present full and satisfactory enough, without admitting them in such numbers as to swamp all other classes, and to give to mere numbers a power they ought not to have. It is because the Government measure gives no hint of a solution to this problem that it is necessary to continue discussing it. A Bill merely dealing with the franchise will not solve the problem. Arguments have been used in support of the measure that appear to me to be absolutely childish. Some hon. Gentlemen have asked—What has the question of the redistribution of seats to do with the extension of the franchise? The connexion is obvious. You have here a scheme founded upon elaborate returns: you are told that if you extend the franchise to a certain point you will get a certain number of Members who will directly represent the working classes. But it is manifest that, according as you redistribute the seats, you will create a greater or a lesser number of constituencies in which the working classes will predominate. I suppose there can be no doubt that if you were to have a redistribution of seats, you would give an additional number of Members to the larger constituencies, and diminish the number of those returned by the smaller constituencies. Now, I find in the Returns that there are fifteen of the present constituencies, each of; which has upwards of 10,000 electors, and if you give an additional Member to each of them, you will dispose of fifteen seats. That is precisely the number of seats which it was proposed by the Bill of 1859 should be taken from the smaller boroughs. But in seven of those fifteen larger constituencies the working classes would constitute a majority of the electors; while out of those fifteen smaller; boroughs there are only two in which the working classes constitute such a majority. It is obvious that you have here on a small scale an instance of the mode in which a redistribution of seats might affect the relative proportions of the numbers of different classes, and might lead to more extensive changes than now appear to be contemplated. 1824 We have been told by some of the supporters of the present measure, that if the Government were at once to disclose the whole of their scheme they would meet with such an amount of opposition that it would be impossible for them to make any kind of settlement of this question, and that is in itself an admission that we have not now the whole subject fairly before us. I now propose to refer to the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster (Mr. S. Mill) in reply to my noble Friend the Member for King's Lynn. I believe that no attempt ever has been made to answer the main argument of my noble Friend the Member for King's Lynn, except that which has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster. The kernel of my noble Friend's argument is to be found in that sentence in which he stated that it is most important and necessary that the same Parliament which settles the question of the franchise should also settle the question of the redistribution of seats; and that it is impossible for the Government to afford us any guarantee that such a result will be attained if we pass the present Bill. The Solicitor-General for Scotland endeavoured to show that the Government, as far as promises were concerned, could guarantee that the present Parliament should be preserved to pass the entire measure: the hon. Member for Westminster, however, has given the only attempt at a real answer to the argument. The answer which my hon. Friend gave to the argument is this. He said, supposing it should turn out that it was impossible for this Parliament to settle both questions, and supposing we passed this Bill, which was good in itself, if we could trust the new constituencies which we are going to create to elect a House of Commons competent to deal with other matters, we could trust those constituencies to elect a House of Commons competent to legislate on the subject of redistribution. But I believe that the proposed new House would be peculiarly ill-qualified for that particular office. I should like to put this point to my hon. Friend:—Suppose we could trust such a House for other purposes, could we trust them when they would have been elected for this special purpose of a redistribution of seats, and none other? If the Franchise Bill should pass, and we should be unable to pass the Redistribution Bill, 1825 and a dissolution were to follow, I contend that in the Parliament elected for the purpose of dealing with the redistribution question you would not have a fair sample of an ordinary Parliament. If a Parliament were elected under ordinary circumstances to discuss such questions as might arise in the next seven years, very likely it might be a fair sample of a Parliament representing the country on general subjects. But under the first state of circumstances we should have an appeal made to the constituencies of a very special character. They would be told that they were called upon to elect a House of Commons for one purpose and only one—the redistribution of seats: because it must be obvious that the moment they had settled the redistribution they would be dissolved. And what would happen? We should have every constituency pledging Members up to their eyes—if I may use a vulgar expression—at all events, pledging them as deeply as possible to adopt a particular course with reference to the redistribution question. Small constituencies would elect men on the pledge that they would vote for the maintenance of such constituencies, and large towns probably would take the opposite course. What would be the case in the counties? They would be under the domination for the first time of a new element. Under the change which this Bill proposes, certain towns for the first time will have a right to vote in county divisions. And on what principle would those towns be likely to vote? Why, that Burnley or Accrington, or Torquay, or some other town, as the case might be, should get a Member. The votes would not be given to a candidate because he was of this party or that, or because he was an able financier or an able politician, but because he had pledged himself to vote for the preservation of Honiton or Thetford on the one hand, or for the largest distribution of seats for such towns as Burnley, Accrington, or Torquay on the other. You would thus get as bad a House of Commons as it is possible to imagine. I believe, on the other hand, that the present House is peculiarly well qualified to deal with this subject. If you were to cast about for a happy conjuncture of circumstances with a view to bring to a conclusion the Reform difficulty, I believe you could not discover any more favour- 1826 able than that in which we now stand, or I should, perhaps, rather say, in which we stood before the Government began to meddle with this question. You had a Parliament elected under peculiarly auspicious circumstances. The question had been before the public for a considerable time, and the mind of the country was well informed with respect to it. The general election took place at a time of very considerable political tranquillity, although I admit not of political apathy. The country was really anxious for a settlement of the question, while it was not disposed to exact any inconvenient pledges with respect to it from its representatives. The country was interested in this question; it desired to see it settled, but it was not disposed to violent measures. Members were elected on the most vague and general promises, and several not on any question of Reform at all. I ought not to say anything in praise of ourselves, but it is generally admitted, that there is in the present Parliament a large body of moderate and intelligent Members, and if the Government had come forward with a statesmanlike measure, there would have been every disposition on the part of the House to take it into consideration. The Government, however, have thrown their opportunities away, and have prejudiced the question. We are told that this vote is to be a vote of confidence or no confidence; and an appeal is made to us not to drive an able Government from office. I say nothing as to the general ability of the Government; nothing as to their ability in finance or in foreign policy; but as to their ability in respect of the settlement of the question of Reform, I think we are prepared and have the right to come forward and say, that the course which the Government have pursued is not such as entitles them to the confidence of Parliament. They have not dealt with the question in a manner calculated to inspire the confidence of the House, because their course has not been a statesmanlike and consistent one. What has the Government done? They came forward and told us in the Queen's Speech, that they were preparing statistics connected with the subject of Reform, and intended to bring the conclusions at which they arrived under the notice of the House. But the moment those statistics were prepared, and before time had been given 1827 to hon. Members to examine them properly, the Government came forward with a portion of their measure. And in what condition have those statistics come before the House? It is very difficult to make them out. One has to perform a complicated process of arithmetic before he can solve them; and, what is more, they are full of actual errors—errors by no means unimportant. I will only trouble the House with one instance of their inaccuracy; but I believe it is but a sample of the errors which are to be found in those statistics. I have taken an opportunity of making inquiries in several boroughs, and I will state to the House the information I have received from the city of Exeter. I am glad to see my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Coleridge) in his place; and no doubt that hon. and learned Gentleman will be able to confirm what I am about to state as to the inaccuracy of the returns relating to the city which he so well represents. The Government returns state that there are 898 freemen in the city of Exeter. It so happens that the real number is 224. That is to say, they have multiplied the real number, not by the rule of three, but by some imaginary rule of four. The number in 1832 was only 586; and no one can suppose that the freemen in Exeter can have largely increased since that time. The returns give the number of electors in Exeter as 3,088; in reality it is only 2,791. They give the number of working men on the Parliamentary register as 512. I am informed, as the result of careful inquiries on the subject, that the actual number certainly is 660; and that, in addition to these, there are 137 other electors who to all intents and purposes are working men. If there was only the discrepancy as to the number of working men, it might perhaps have been accounted for by a difference of the mode in which the numbers had been estimated; but when we find such a monstrous error as regards the number of freemen, what are we to suppose as to the general accuracy of these returns? When one such error has crept in it is likely there are a great many more errors. Well, the Government having presented these statistics, brought forward their single measure, and they have first taken one course and then another with regard to that measure, destroying confidence by their evident 1828 vacillation and uncertainty. Again; the arguments which they have used in support of their plan have not been such as are calculated to inspire confidence. We have not heard a single argument to show that this Bill is calculated to meet any of the difficulties, or cure any of the evils which are acknowledged to exist in our electoral system. There is nothing in the measure to meet the great evil of corruption; nothing to remove the great difficulties under which minorities were placed; nothing in any respect to do away with the evil of making Members the mere delegates of constituencies. On the contrary, while no attempt is made to deal with those great evils, the Bill rather aggravates them. It will add to the number of electors in boroughs which are the most notoriously corrupt and open to objection. The argument which the Government has used to show that the Bill will improve our electoral system must go a great deal further than they carry it, or it proves nothing at all. Then there has been the argument which I may call the argument from pity, which we have heard from the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and the argument from terror, which we have heard from the hon. Member for Birmingham; arguments applicable, as the critics tell us, to the great works of the drama, but surely not to a great constitutional measure. Then there was that argument which has been so well disposed of by my hon. Friend the Member for Galway—"Be wise in time;" but when we call to mind the experience of the last fifteen years, we find that the House of Commons is not disposed to be induced by threats and pressure to take whatever may be offered to them, without seeing whether they cannot have something better in its place. I will not detain the House with further remarks on this unfortunate subject, but I hope the Government will fairly consider the position in which Gentlemen on this side of the House are placed with respect to this measure. The Government ought not to impute to Members sitting on this side of the House—it is unworthy of them to do so—that in voting upon the Amendment we are expressing any opinion upon questions which are not raised by the terms of the Amendment itself. We express no opinion upon the question of the suffrage. We do not consider that question to be involved in the Amendment. We express no opinion upon the general 1829 merits or demerits of the Government. We do not consider that question to be involved in the Amendment. My noble Friend the Member for King's Lynn has said, and it cannot too often be repeated, that what the supporters of the Amendment intend to express is the objection which they entertain to deal with the question of Reform unless they can deal with it as a whole. As for want of confidence, that which they intend to express by their vote is limited to the ability of the Government to pass a satisfactory measure of Reform upon the principles on which they are now proceeding. They do not intend, and I hope that many hon. Gentlemen upon the benches opposite, upon a matter of this kind, do not intend, to follow the Government blindfold into the lobby. It is all very well to say that the House ought to have confidence in the Government. But there are two kinds of confidence. Some probably feel, with the hon. Member for Westminster, confidence not so much in the Government as in their own principles, which they are not afraid to follow out to the full length. Others may entertain a genuine feeling of confidence in the Government, leading them to expect that the present Bill will be followed up by a wise and statesman-like measure of redistribution. To the latter I have nothing whatever to say, save to congratulate them upon being able to entertain a conviction for which I must confess that the Bill, to me, does not seem to afford sufficient grounds. But there is, or there may be, a third class of Members who, by voting on the ground of confidence, will be placing themselves in a false position. Their confidence is that having voted for the Bill upon the second reading, in order to save the Government, somehow or other they will be able to get rid of it by-and-by. Now, of all courses, the one most fatal to the honour of the House would be to trifle and play with this subject any longer. If, by passing this measure, Members believe that they will be really effecting a satisfactory settlement of the question, they are quite right to vote for it. But if, disliking and distrusting the Bill, they yet vote for the second reading because they have confidence that the Government will carry the matter no further, they commit treason against the House. Between the alternatives presented to them of inflicting a blow upon their party, by separating from leaders whom they believe to be wrong, or 1830 of inflicting a blow upon the character of the House, by making believe to pass a Bill which in their hearts they intend to oppose, they have no right to hesitate. Considering how long the question has been before the country, how much experience has been gained, what was the temper of the nation at the time when the dissolution took place, and how calm and patient its attitude still is, in spite of the apparent ebullitions of feeling got up during the Easter recess, I maintain that this is not a time to deal hastily with the matter, but one with which they ought to proceed deliberately, and in a statesmanlike manner. To the concluding sentence of the speech delivered by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, "Be wise, and be wise in time," I will venture to oppose the well known Latin adage, Sat cito si sat bene.
§ Mr. COLERIDGE
I, Sir, am very unwilling to intrude into this great debate, and I think I can undertake to promise the House that I will not intrude for very long. But I am desirous to say a few words to explain how it is that some of us Liberal Members, sitting upon these benches, at whose heads the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hertfordshire (Sir Bulwer-Lytton) was kind enough not to discharge the book which lay before him on the table, although we may feel strongly the force of many of the objections made to the course taken by the Government; and although, whatever we may feel about individual Members of the Government, we are, perhaps, not very passionately enamoured either of the Government itself or of the Bill which it has proposed, are yet determined to support the Bill and steadfastly to maintain the cause of the Government against the Amendment moved by the noble Earl (Earl Grosvenor). And it is the more important that we should do this, since the somewhat remarkable address made to this House last night by the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho). As far as the noble Lord was content in defending himself against accusations which, as far as I know anything about those with whom I am in the habit of acting, have been made against him neither in this House nor out of this House, he was perfectly entitled, if he thought those accusations had really been made, to defend himself against them. And it is no business of mine to interfere for a single moment with the serene moral 1831 content—a balance, I hope, to the political discontent the noble Lord spoke of—with which he surveyed his own conduct and his own character. Indeed, he seems to me to have improved on the old story of Diogenes, and, after going along these benches with his lantern in search of what it seems he could not find, he turned the full blaze of its light upon himself, and there he discovered his honest man. As far as he was defending himself it was all very well; but when the noble Lord proceeded from defence to attack, and when he ventured to turn on a set of men as upright, as honourable, as independent as himself, and presumed to say of them and the votes they were about to give, that they were going to do violence to their political convictions, and vote against what they knew to be right, I take the liberty of saying, at all events as to a portion of the party with whom he usually acts, that he has a great deal as to their disposition and character yet to learn. He has to learn that they can feel as keenly, and can resent as scornfully, imputations which were made upon them plainly enough in the face of the House, as he can feel and resent imputations which, but for my perfect conviction that he would not say anything which he did not believe, I should be inclined to treat as the coinage of his own over-heated and over-sensitive imagination.
I, therefore, shall vote against the Amendment of the noble Earl, very much upon the same ground which the Amendment itself takes up against the Bill of the Government—namely, that it is ill-timed, badly constructed, and, if carried, will not tend to a settlement of the great question of Reform, but rather to vexatious delays, and to the postponement of any real or practical dealing with it. I do not at all say that such is the object of the Amendment, but I do most certainly say that such will be its inevitable result; and disclaiming, as I am sure the noble Earl will believe me I do sincerely, anything approaching to personal imputations, which would be alike irrelevant and unbecoming, if I were to say that such was the object of the Amendment, I should hardly be exceeding the just limits of description. Because, as far as I know, the noble earl the Member for Chester has never said a word in this House or elsewhere in favour of the extension of the suffrage. On the contrary, as some one has already observed—the debate has 1832 gone on so long that I don't pretend to be able to say who—the noble Earl, either in this House or elsewhere, has never denied that he does not desire Reform. With his excellent good sense, he must also be aware that if this Amendment be carried, the whole question of Reform is once more at sea. He must be perfectly aware, that if the Government stand by the declaration they have made, as honourable men, and if the Amendment be carried against them, they must go out. He must know that the party with which he has been in the habit of acting must to a great extent be broken up. All these things are not mere speculative conjectures, but direct, certain, inevitable results of the Amendment which the noble Earl has proposed. If the noble Earl has seriously contemplated these results and is prepared to face them, I do not for an instant say that he has not a right to bring forward the Amendment and press it all he can. But he must not suppose that those results are simply improbable. Results such as I have indicated, or something like them, will certainly follow from his Amendment if carried; and I, for one, am not prepared to encounter them. I pass from the noble Earl to the seconder of his Motion. If the noble Earl had looked round the House for a seconder, he could not have found within its walls a better or more powerful supporter than the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley). The noble Lord will forgive me for saying in his presence what I have often said behind his back—that he is about the best judge that any counsel ever had the good fortune to practise before, and his speech upon this question was a noble specimen—if I may presume to say so—of the powers of his mind. The noble Lord indeed has pledged himself—and anything coming from the noble Lord must be taken in the fullest sense of an honourable understanding—to some measure of Reform. But that pledge related to some unknown measure, and some perfectly indefinite time. And giving full credit to the noble Lord, as I do, for entire sincerity in what he said, I cannot help applying to him the old Latin adage which says, that you are to know what a man means by looking at his companions. The noble Lord is surrounded and is constantly acting with certain hon. and right hon. Gentlemen of the highest honour and the greatest ability, but whose opinions on the subject of Reform are no 1833 secret, because, like men, they have proclaimed them in this House, The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Huntingdon (General Peel), the right hon. Baronet the Member for Hertfordshire (Sir Buhver-Lytton), the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Staffordshire (Mr. Adderley), and the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Belfast (Sir Hugh Cairns), are all Gentlemen with whom the noble Lord is in the habit of acting; and when he pledges himself to a measure of Reform, of course he must be understood to mean Reform somewhat in the sense these hon. and right hon. persons, who, being most likely in the same Government with him, would be consulted with regard to the form of the measure. The kind of Reform they would be likely to favour would be a raising of the qualification for the suffrage, and a curtailment of the limits within which it is exercised, rather than anything which we on this side of the House are accustomed to class with ideas of Reform. I do not say that the noble Lord, in the course he has pursued, has not been acting in a perfectly fair and straightforward manner. We must, however, look to the practical result, the persons by whom he is surrounded; and by the result, and by the persons who are carrying the result into effect, we must judge of what is the practical meaning of the declarations of the noble Lord. But we have to deal at the present moment with the Amendment of the noble Earl; and one or two Gentlemen have pointed out, that in a critical and accurate view of the phraseology of that Amendment, it does not distinctly pledge him to anything like an extension of the suffrage, or to anything like what we call Reform. That may be so, critically and accurately looked at; but I think, proposed as it has been and supported as it has been, it would not be becoming in me to doubt that the Amendment was put forward bonâ fide, that it means what an ordinary understanding would assume it to mean, and that the noble Earl and noble Lord mean by their Amendment that they are ready to entertain the question of Reform in the only sense in which the word Reform has been used for the last thirty years; and that when they say that they are ready to enquire into the extension of the suffrages, they do not mean to say that they are ready to inquire merely for the purpose of refusing to extend it. Well, Now, are 1834 hon. Gentlemen opposite prepared to embark in that course? Are hon. Gentlemen whom I see on the opposite benches prepared to vote upon the Amendment in that sense? Are they really intending to deal with the question of Reform in the sense in which we understand it? I do not mean to say that every detail is to be the same; but are the principles of Reform with which they are to set about the matter the same principles which everybody has understood Reform to mean? As I said before, if they are not in earnest about it, then, of course, I perfectly understand why they vote for the Amendment of the noble Lord. I do not complain of their taking this course; but I think they ought to tell us plainly in what sense they vote for it. If they are in earnest, and if, being in earnest about it, they yet take upon themselves to reject the measure of the Government, I cannot help thinking that, by means of this Amendment, they are advancing in an unwise and a dangerous course. I say it is an unwise course, because I think that they themselves would find, if they consider it, that the question of Reform is not a question with which they would particularly like to deal, and that they could not probably deal with it successfully, nor in a sense in which they themselves would like to deal with it, in the face of a powerful Liberal Opposition. Further, I venture to think the course they are entering upon is a dangerous course, because it is in the nature of popular demands to rise upon rejection; and it is exceedingly unlikely that, if they refuse this moderate measure of £7 and £14, the next time they may be called upon to vote upon it, it will present itself in so moderate and conciliatory a shape.
Well, having said that, I do not mean to disguise at all the fact that there are certain positive objections to the course taken by the Government. [Opposition Cheers.] I should be ashamed to argue this question in the House of Commons unfairly; and I am rather surprised if those cheers were intended to be ironical. I say that there are certain positive objections to the Bill of the Government, and I believe that those objections could not be better summed up than they have been in the speech of the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley). He has collected with great industry, and arrayed with great skill, all the objections which arise to the mind of any reflecting 1835 man as soon as he learns that this question is not to be dealt with in a single measure. Therefore, when the noble Lord's speech is called unanswerable, though I cannot imitate his ability I can humbly endeavour to imitate his candour, and I say that in a certain sense it is unanswerable, seeing that those objections do, in point of fact, exist. The true answer, it seems to me, is, not that they do not exist, but that, under the peculiar condition under which the Government approach this question, it was a choice of difficulties with them. They have chosen that course which had the least amount of difficulty in it, and which under the circumstances, and having regard to all that had gone before, they had a right to believe upon good grounds was the best course open to them. What was the state of the case when the Government entered upon office? For the last fourteen or fifteen years we all know the question of Reform had been handled by successive Governments, and by both the great parties in the State. There have been successive Reform Bills, and it was an inevitable matter that there should be a Reform Bill proposed to the House of Commons, and some reduction of the franchise was an inevitable portion of any Reform Bill which could be presented. Now, it is quite true that for the last few years, owing to the altogether exceptional balance of parties, and which made him a political necessity, and the strange fascination—that is, strange to those who had not the honour of a seat in this House—exercised by Lord Palmerston, who cordially disliked the subject of Reform, upon almost every human being around him, the question has remained in abeyance. How, however, in the face of the declarations which Lord Palmerston had himself made from time to time at Tiverton, where he spoke in address after address of the necessity for lowering the franchise, and its being an essential feature in any measure of Reform, and after putting forward the want of that essential feature as the ground for rejecting the Bill of Lord Derby, he should, have contrived to put the matter aside for four or five successive years, I am sure I do not know. Nor is it now in the least material to inquire, for everybody, I think, must have assumed that the successors in power to Lord Palmerston, not having his ability to put it aside, as gentlemen and as men of 1836 character, pledged over and over again to the country to bring in some measure of Reform, were bound to introduce some such measure. A measure of Reform, then, was inevitable; and it was impossible, as the Government thought—and I say they had good reason for thinking so, because it was never done before—to deal wholly with the question at once. What part of the question, then, should be dealt with first? Why, surely, that part which had always entered, in some degree, into every Reform Bill, and which was a common element in every Reform Bill which was ever talked about or introduced. Prior to the Amendment of the noble Earl, and prior to the division which has taken place on this side of the House, no man would have supposed that the reduction of the franchise would not be an essential feature in a Government Reform Bill. In 1859 and 1860 there were debates and divisions, not upon the redistribution of seats, not upon any other matter connected with the Reform Bill, but the question of the franchise solely. Lord Derby's great division was taken upon the question of the franchise. I think, therefore, that the Government were only acting as sensible men, when, on finding that it was impossible to deal with the question altogether and during one Session, they took that part to which there would be the least objection, and which everybody admitted must form part of a Reform Bill, and which they themselves thought would be a fair and practical mode of testing the principles of the House of Commons on the subject. That may be considered as the general defence which the Government might set up. But the course which the Government has proposed is now objected to, as far as I can make out, upon three broad grounds, with which, if the House will permit me, I will proceed to deal. First, it is said that it is important not to lower the franchise till you have ascertained what you are going to do about the redistribution of seats; because it is said, and with truth, that a redistribution of seats will have a certain effect upon the franchise. The answer to this objection seems to me to be twofold. First of all, the substantial answer is that, under any circumstances, £7 and £14 respectively are right and proper limits to reduce the franchise to. We think, as a matter of fact and common sense, that when you 1837 get, to £7 in boroughs and to £14 in the counties you include all who ought to have a vote, entirely without reference to the groups in which you are afterwards to include voters. That is one broad answer; for, whatever you do with the redistribution of seats by-and-by, you must take £7 and £14 limits. It has been forgotten moreover, it seems to me, that if the redistribution of seats will affect the franchise, so will the franchise affect the redistribution of seats. Anybody who knows anything about revision—which did not exist in the time of the old Reform Bill—knows that under revision the number of voters may be most materially altered. Until, therefore, you have ascertained the size of the groups of electors under the new law of franchise, you will not have in your hands the proper materials for determining how the seats should be distributed. Now that, I think, is an answer quite as good as the objection. If the lowering of the franchise affects the distribution of seats, so, on the other hand, does the redistribution of seats affect the franchise. The second ground of objection is one which has been put in a variety of ways, but it may be shortly stated to be, that this is a Bill which is not the Bill of the Government, but that it is a measure which has been dictated by a powerful leader of the people, and that it ought therefore to be rejected by the House of Commons. Now, dealing with the House with perfect frankness, which I regard as being simply another way of dealing with it with proper respect, I may say that though this might be a good objection in the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite, it is not so to me individually. I do not pretend to agree with the hon. Member for Birmingham in everything which has fallen from his lips; indeed, this being a free country, I take the liberty of saying that I dislike and differ from many things which he has uttered, while I still more decidedly disapprove the tone in which he has occasionally expressed himself. I should have said that he is, in my opinion, at times unfair to the English aristocracy. But my noble Friend the Member for Stamford favoured us the other day with a statement which is somewhat humbling to the plebeian mind, for he told us that he never had any means of knowing what the feelings and opinions of the aristocracy were. If, however, a noble Lord, who is the heir to one 1838 of the great branches of the house of Cecil, and who is not altogether unknown to another great branch of that family which has, I suppose, something or other to do withBurleigh-house by Stamford town,knows nothing of the views of the aristocracy, what can I know? It may very well be said, therefore, that I am not in a position to judge whether the hon. Member for Birmingham is or is not sometimes unfair towards the aristocracy; but if my noble Friend should in time to come succeed in arriving at any dim and imperfect knowledge of their opinions, and would be good enough, as a matter of private friendship, to communicate that knowledge to me, I should then be better able to form a judgment in the matter. This I may, however, say—that if the term "English aristocracy" is meant to indicate English gentlemen of noble birth, of ancient family, with large possessions, and great wealth, expressions have, I think, now and then fallen from the hon. Member for Birmingham which are not quite fair towards such persons. At the same time, Sir, we are a practical people, and we are accustomed to deal with practical matters. We are, in the present case, dealing with a matter which affects the feelings and interests of the people; and if, therefore, the Government went straight to the hon. Member for Birmingham, who is one of the greatest leaders of the people, to consult him on a question which has immediate relevancy to the people, I for one should imagine that they were only taking a course which they were, as sensible and honourable men, fully justified in adopting. [Cries of "No, no!"] Hon. Gentlemen opposite may say "No;" but I would put it to them whether, if the Government were dealing with a great commercial question, they would not be quite right to consult with respect to it a great merchant; or whether, if an agricultural question was under their consideration, they would not do well to take the opinion upon it of some man of great estate who knew something of the subject? I for one am of opinion that that would be a wise course to pursue, and I therefore cannot see why, in dealing with a question affecting the desires and wants of the people, they should not consult an hon. Member against whose uprightness and honesty of purpose no human being can fairly say a word. The noble Marquis the Secretary for 1839 War (Marquis of Hartington), indeed, took some pains the other evening to explain that the Government did not take the advice of the hon. Member for Birmingham on this subject at all; and if he be right, the objection of which I have been speaking of course fails in point of fact, while in any case it seems to me to be entirely unworthy of the attention it has received.
But be that as it may, the real objection entertained to the Bill by those who oppose it is, that the persons to whom it proposes to extend the franchise are unfitted for its exercise; that they are unfit in themselves, or because of the use which other persons might induce them to make of it. Now, the first form of objection derives its greatest importance from the now famous speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne. For my own part, I cannot help thinking that a good deal of the enthusiasm which has been aroused on behalf of this Bill has been kindled by that speech. It is, indeed, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer will forgive me for saying so, the most powerful speech which has been made in favour of the Measure of the Government. It now seems we have all misunderstood him. If the right hon. Gentleman says so seriously, so of course it is. But it is really entirely his own fault. The right hon. Gentleman, in declaring against the expediency of lowering the franchise, introduced into his observations the most powerful description of the "ignorance, brutality, and corruption" of a large number of those by whom the franchise is now possessed. The right hon. Gentleman is not in the habit of making use of bad arguments or irrelevant statements; and if this description had any force or relevance, it must be apprehended by an ordinary understanding as intended to convey the impression that, inasmuch as those who at present have the franchise are stained with certain vices, there was every probability that those to whom it was about to be extended would be stained by the same vices; and that it was, therefore, inexpedient that any such extension should be made. It now appears, however, that this is not the true meaning of the words which fell from the right hon. Gentleman; and if it be not, all I can say is, that it is a thousand pities so great a master of language did not say so in so many words. If, as I now understand, the right hon. 1840 Gentleman thinks that under the corrupt, brutal, and ignorant stratum of which he spoke lies a layer of hard-working, energetic, self-denying, self-respecting men, who have affirmed by their lives their fitness to exercise the franchise in the opinion of every human being in this House, except, perhaps, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Belfast, he ought to say as much in plain terms, and furnish us at the same time with the most satisfactory proof that we have misunderstood him by voting for the second reading of this Bill. The chief ground therefore, as it now appears, on which this alleged unfitness of the working classes for the exercise of the franchise was supposed to stand, was laid down in a speech which, it is said, has been misunderstood; and the objection of fact founded upon that speech has been answered by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster (Mr. J. S. Mill), who spoke with a knowledge in which I do not affect to share, and with an authority to which I can make no pretension.
It is, however, said, that it is possible the working man might make a bad use of the franchise; but what use he would make of it must be of course more or less a matter of conjecture; and the conjecture will vary in strength and soundness according to the character of the man who makes it. For my own part, I must say, judging only from what has been done by those who have been enfranchised since 1832, which is, after all, the only substantial ground to take, I conceive no sort of justification to exist for these gloomy anticipations. I am perfectly ready to give great credit and great glory, if you please, to the English aristocracy, who, in the early part of this century, to adopt the words of Pitt, saved England by their energy and Europe by their example. I maintain, nevertheless, that, taking the last thirty-four years, during which period the popular element in the constitution has greatly increased, and has exercised a much greater influence in public affairs, they furnish a history not one atom less creditable to the courage and the honour of this country, and much more creditable to its good sense than that which is furnished by any thirty-four years by which they have been preceded. Prophecies of evil are very easily made, but they cannot, from the nature of things, possibly be verified except by the result, which is future. And if hon. Gentlemen opposite would 1841 bear with me, I would say, because I deem it to be the truth, that the leaders of their party, although they have constantly indulged in political divinations, have not found that it has pleased Providence in its wisdom to favour them with the exclusive production of a race of true prophets. I do not myself believe that the slightest semblance of danger threatens the great Conservative party, or the great interests which they represent, from any change which we may introduce. I have said elsewhere—when it did me no particular good to say it—and I repeat the statement here, that a wiser or nobler aristocracy than ours never existed on the face of the earth. Their wealth, their education, their high honour, and strong sense of duty, constitute them when they please the true leaders of the people. Now and then, no doubt, they, I honestly believe through ignorance—I mean, of course, not general ignorance, but the want of acquaintance with special subjects, such as the feelings and interests of a class to which they do not belong—leg slate somewhat unkindly, just as the working classes might err in the same way towards us if they had the power to legislate exclusively. But be that as it may, I hold the existence of anything in the shape of a dislike to the governing classes, or a desire to overthrow them on the part of the lower orders of the people, to be "the baseless fabric of a vision." It is an idle dream.
It has been said, and with some severity, "It is not so much the people that we are afraid of, as of those who lead the people." I cannot pretend to speak of persons with whom I have no acquaintance, but it appears to me that this apprehension is as groundless as the others. Do you think that we who sit on these benches cannot see the dignity and beauty of many forms of social life to which we are supposed to be hostile? Do you suppose that we have never read history? Have we no imagination? Have we no sentiment,—a very different thing from sentimentalism,—which always has counted, and which, whatever some cynical gentlemen in their sublime fiery wisdom may think or say, as long as the hearts and feelings of men remain the same, will continue to count, as a great power in human affairs? Do you think that we are blind to the claims of association, or deaf to the voice of tradition? I tell you we are not. I tell you we care for these things as much as you care for them, but 1842 we care for other things besides. We wish to preserve what you wish to preserve; but we think the best way to do so is by satisfying the just demands of the people, by showing confidence in them, by treating them as friends, and even by inviting them in large numbers to enter within the gates of the Constitution at which they are now knocking. Guard, if you please, the grace of freedom with the majesty of law. But you are the true revolutionaries and not we; you who reject these moderate demands of popular advance; you, who instead of deepening the channel and widening the banks as the stream grows broader and deeper, strive to hem it in and pond it back until at last the accumulated weight of waters bursts the puny barriers you have erected, and bears with it destruction instead of fertility. There is much more to be said, but I will not run the risk of turning into impatience that kind indulgence of the House on which I will make no farther inroad.
§ MR. HORSMAN
I have listened, in common with every Member of this House, to the speech we have just heard from the hon. and learned Gentleman, with attention, with interest, and with admiration. There has been throughout that speech an earnestness of tone and a clearness of reasoning, combined with a frankness and generosity of spirit, which must constrain even those who do not agree with the opinions of the hon. and learned Gentleman to acknowledge the ability and force with which he has expressed himself; but, at the same time, I must express my disappointment to perceive throughout the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman a condensation merely of the uniform argument which has marked the addresses of the supporters of the Government measure from the first day of the discussion until now. If, it is reiterated, you are not a supporter of the Government Bill, you are not a true Reformer. Now I protest against the particular Bill of any Government being put forward as a test of a man's sincerity on Reform. I thought we were living in an age and under an administration which was opposed to all arbitrary and intolerant tests; and I object to any Minister taking a Bill out of his box, and saying, "Here is my standard of liberality; every man who conforms to it I embrace as a brother and true believer, and every man who rejects it I excommunicate as a 1843 heretic and as an impostor." We know there was a day when a dominant Church condemned all who did not belong to it, and denied them the character of Christians. We know that historians tell us, Lord Macaulay being the last of them, that in the days of the Commonwealth, the Fifth Monarchy-men passed two resolutions: the first was—that the Saints should govern the earth; and the second was—"We are the Saints." Well, Sir, the arguments and the language we have heard in this debate afford another example of the tendency of history to repeat itself. The hon. and learned Gentleman's speech has not been marked by the illiberal tone and the intolerance which, if the occasion occurred, would amount to persecution, that has characterized much which has fallen from the opponents of the Amendment. The argument of the supporters of the Government has been to claim for themselves a monopoly of political wisdom and virtue, and to heap the most odious imputations on those who have formerly been associated with them; who have made the advancement of Liberal ideas the labour and love of their lives; who have gone through an ordeal of sacrifice for their principles, which many of those now professing Liberal opinions have not been called on to face; and who only ask for themselves that right of private judgment which I always understood to be the first and most sacred article of the Liberal party. I was pleased when I saw the hon. and learned Gentleman rise to address the House, for I was sure he would address himself to the measure of the Government and grapple with the Amendment of the noble Lord. Fairly and courageously he has adverted to both those subjects, and if he has not succeeded in entirely establishing his case, it has been from no lack of ability, but from the difficulties inherent in the task. My hon. and learned Friend in dealing with this question had a twofold task to perform. He had to show first that the suffrage of the Bill of the Government was in itself deserving of our support; and, secondly, he had to show that the Bill, as part of the policy of the Government, was also defensible, and was not open to the objections made to it by the Amendment. And how has he addressed himself to these two points? He began by stating that the noble Lord who moved the Amendment had urged three objections to 1844 the Bill. First, that it ought to be accompanied by a redistribution of seats; the second, that it had been suggested by the hon. Member for Birmingham; the third, that the working classes were unfit for the franchise. Of those, the two first objections are merely incidental to the question; and, as to the third, no such thing has ever been stated or hinted at by the noble Lord. Now, it is strange that, when there is one obvious and frequently urged objection—and one never answered yet—that the hon. and learned Gentleman should evade that, and should raise up, encounter, and demolish three other objections which were really never urged. What has been objected to is, the principle on which the reduction in the suffrage has been made. We say that that principle is the extension of the suffrage in a downward direction on the principle of government by numbers. That objection we have urged over and over again; and it has never been met, but has always been evaded. We say, also, that the same necessity now alleged to justify the lowering of the franchise from £10 to £7, would on the same pressure take it down from £7 to £4, or even to 4s. We tell you that there is no resting-place in the £7 franchise; and that therefore, on that principle, the Bill is really a measure which offers no ground of settlement until you arrive at universal suffrage. We urged the same objection last year to the Bill of the hon. Member for Leeds. It has never been answered, and it cannot be answered. Our case is even stronger this year than it was last year. When we urged it against the Bill of the hon. Member for Leeds, we were accused of ignorance; but since then we have had electoral statistics, which show the truth of our statements, that by that Bill the existing Constituencies would have been swamped. The Government indeed have practically admitted that such would have been the case, for they have actually taken a higher franchise than that contained in the Bill of the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Baines). I must say, that when these electoral statistics came out, I expected from my Friend the Member for Leeds some confession that he had been misled in the statement he had made in the House last year. There has, however, been nothing of the kind. My hon. and learned Friend says, one of our objections to this Bill is, that the working classes are unfit for the 1845 franchise. Now, that is an objection which certainly I have never urged. I have always said precisely the contrary. I have had periodical meetings with the working classes for many years—meetings of electors, meetings of non-electors, and mixed meetings of electors and non-electors. I have often addressed them, but in no speech I ever made did I ever utter a word that by any amount of ingenuity can be construed into any disparagement of the class of working men. The grounds on which I object to the reduction of the franchise on the principle of this Bill are consistent with the opinions which I have ever entertained since I entered upon public life. I was told the other day by the hon. Member for Cork, that I was inconsistent in my opinions on this subject. Now it so happens that, thirty years ago, on the very first occasion that I stood on the hustings, I encountered obloquy, because on this subject I would not profess the opinions of the programme of the Liberals. On various subsequent occasions I encountered opposition, and in 1840, on the day of the declaration of the poll, a riot took place, when some of my friends were injured. It is a curious thing, as I happen to know, that, on two occasions during the last five years, parties have been sent down to Cumberland to grope through all the speeches which I have made for thirty years back, in order to fix the charge of inconsistency upon me; but the report they have taken back to those who employed them was that, having made the most diligent search, they could not find one single opinion I ever uttered about the House of Lords or Commons in the slightest degree at variance with the course I am now pursuing. One discovery they certainly did make, and a liberal use has been made of the circumstance in some of the organs that support the Government. They discovered that, after I had been seventeen years Member for Cockermouth and had lost my seat, the constituency presented me with a piece of plate; and they suggested that, as I was at that time a Liberal and had now ceased to be a Liberal, I should return that piece of plate. My answer was, that if they found out one single sentence in any speech I ever made which would convict me of inconsistency, I would return that piece of plate the next day to those who had presented it to me. There is one comfort, Sir, which my friends and myself have under all the 1846 charges which are brought against us. It has been the fate of greater men before us to be misunderstood. But I, for my own part, have one especial consolation. Ours has been the fate not only of great men before us, but of those whose reputation is at this moment of particular value; and I am going to give the House an instance which, I think, will be peculiarly significant. It so happens that the Constituency I have the honour to represent has been represented before I was connected with it by very eminent men; and one of these eminent men, of whom the Constituency had reason to be proud, was Lord John Russell; he represented Stroud for some years. Now it does so happen that the noble Lord is another evidence of the fickleness and injustice with which Reformers may be treated by those who call themselves their friends; and he can bear testimony to the fact, that with a section of the Reformers of his own Constituency he was occasionally in the hottest water. I was a Member of this House when Lord John Russell made that memorable speech which is popularly known as the "Finality" speech, and which led, at the time, to his being treated with an injustice and indignity of which the authors must look back to now with regret and shame. But it also happens that the Constituencies which were then not prominently before the public as connected with the Reform question are those also which have an unhappy prominence at this time. When Lord John Russell made that finality declaration I remember Mr. Charles Buller got up, and in almost unparliamentary language accused him of bad faith; Sir William Molesworth made it the subject of a long address to his constituents at Leeds, and through them to the Reformers of all England. Then, as now, Leeds and Birmingham were the two centres of the Reform agitation, and took a prominent part in endeavouring to excite popular opinion against the Member for Stroud. I want just to show the House what occurred on that occasion. The Spectator was at that time the organ of the advanced Liberal party, and in giving an account—I must say a very unfair account of the speech of Lord John Russell—it commented upon it in these words:—There are indications in various parts of the country that the Russell declaration will bring forth good fruit. The council of the Political Union of Birmingham, we understand, 1847 have addressed their brother Reformers of Stroud to require from him who misrepresents them in the People's House the resignation of his hitherto convenient seat.…Last Tuesday Lord John Russell declared that the intent of the Reform Bill was to give the 'Landed interest' the ascendency in the legislature of the country; and added, 'I still think that a preponderance in favour of that interest tends to the stability of the general institutions of the country.' The phrase 'general institutions' is not remarkable for elegant precision; but taking along with it the eulogistic word 'stability,' we learn that it was intended to express a preference for the political ascendency of the squire and farmer class.…If the South Devonshire squirearchy do not return Lord John at the next election they will be ungrateful; but what will the Reformers of Stroud say to their Member?…The Political Union of Stroud, having taken into consideration the address of the Birmingham Political Union relative to Lord John Russell's qualification as a representative of his present Constituents, passed a resolution declaring his Lordship an unfit person to represent the borough of Stroud in Parliament.Why do I read these extracts? It is to ask Gentlemen on this side of the House, whether they do not now look back with regret and shame to the injustice with which they must think that Lord John Russell was then treated, and whether it ought not to teach them some charity to those who are now suffering similar imputations. Lord Russell has lived to rebuke and shame those by whom he was then assailed; and I have that faith in the justice and generosity of the English public, that I believe the noble Lord who has moved this Amendment and his Friends will equally have justice done to them, notwithstanding the imputations now so lavishly cast upon them. I will detain the House very shortly. My hon. and learned Friend has referred to the circumstances in which this Reform Bill was introduced. He declared that it was necessary, and that it was inevitable. Now, let us for a moment inquire, how far my hon. and learned Friend was justified in that statement? What are the circumstances to which my hon. and learned Friend referred? In the autumn of last year we have been told, by some Members of the Cabinet, that, at the very first Cabinet meeting held after Lord Palmerston's death, this question of Reform was considered. What are the circumstances under which it was considered? The Secretary of State for the Home Department told us the other night, that the Cabinet found that, at the election, the great majority of the Liberal candidates had pledged themselves to Reform on 1848 their election. My noble Friend the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) indeed showed last night that that account was not quite accurate. But what was the character of those addresses? Some one has, I understand, been lately collecting all the addresses of the Liberal Members at the last election; but if they had collected those made at the General Election of 1859, and printed them in parallel columns, they would have presented a remarkable contrast. The dissolution of 1859 occurred in consequence of the resolution of the present First Minister of the Crown for the reduction of the borough franchise, and consequently the address of every Liberal candidate contained a specific pledge to the advocacy of a £6 franchise. But the dissolution of 1865 took place under very different circumstances. The Secretary of State for the Home Deparment (Sir G. Grey) speaking on this matter, on the eve of the election, told us distinctly that Government did not go to the country on the question of Reform. He said they referred that question to the country; and when the country responded, the Cabinet would be guided by circumstances. The Liberal Members took their cue from the speech of the right, hon. Baronet, and, instead of pledging themselves again to any specific reduction of the franchise, they spoke of Reform in very general terms, and left themselves open to deal with it according to circumstances. What were those circumstances? They knew very well, so long as Lord Palmerston was Prime Minister, they never would be asked to support a large and comprehensive Bill, because they knew he would consult the feelings and opinions of the public generally, and would not take counsel with the hon. Member for Birmingham. Thus, under these circumstances, the Government determined to undertake the question of Reform. They had before them a letter written by my noble Friend the Member for Haddingtonshire, who had given notice, in this House, to move for a Commission on the subject. They, however, determined to deal directly with Reform; and having taken that determination, they determined to institute a preliminary inquiry into the statistics of the question. And what was the result of this inquiry? They were so surprised that, if I am not misinformed, they sent back the statistics to be revised by the clerks; they really 1849 could not believe that they showed an accurate state of things. Am I misinformed on that point? I must say that we have heard, on very good authority, that the Government was so surprised at the effect of the returns that they could hardly believe them. [The Chancellor of the EXCHEQUER: they had been sent back for revision, many of the figures being evidently erroneous.] Mr. HORSMAN: But is it not the fact? Well, sir, the point is not a very material one; but I believe the Government will not deny that they were taken wholly by surprise at the nature of those Returns. Last year we were all told that some 5 or 6 per cent of the working classes would be admitted to the franchise by the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds (Mr. Baines); and it was found by these returns that the working classes number 25 or 26 per cent of the town constituencies already. Well, the Government determined on introducing a Bill dealing with the suffrage only, and a paragraph in the QUEEN'S Speech showed that that was their intention; but when we came to the discussion upon the Address, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie) objected to that part of their policy, and stated in very strong terms, that this side of the House of Commons would not be satisfied with merely dealing with the suffrage. The independent outbreaks of my right hon. Friend on that occasion rather astonished this side of the House; and it appears also to have terrified the Government. They instantly modified their policy. It has been supposed that the noble Lord who moved this Amendment (Earl Grosvenor, and those who support him were parties to the demand of the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock for a more, comprehensive Bill. Now, I am not aware that any one Member on this side who supports the Amendment of the noble Lord has at any time expressed a desire for a large and comprehensive measure of Reform. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer delivered a speech to which, if it were an earlier hour in the evening, I should wish to refer; and in which he made a charge against me, a charge which Lord Russell, of course under a misapprehension, subsequently repeated, namely, that I was now against a fragmentary measure of Reform, although I had voted for it on former occasions, and that I now ask for a large and comprehen- 1850 sive measure. Now, will the Chancellor of the Exchequer have the goodness to tell me upon what occasion either I or any one who supports this Amendment have ever asked for a comprehensive measure of Reform? He cannot mention any such occasion, although more than once it has been asserted that we have done so. The right hon. Member for Kilmarnock, indeed, asked for it; but we never asked for anything of the kind. We watched with great curiosity the effect of what was going on, and we saw that the demand of the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock was calculated very much to embarrass the Government. We know that it has embarassed them, but we were no parties to that embarrassment. It was then open to the Government to take one of two courses: either to adhere to their policy of bringing in a simple Franchise Bill, or to abandon that line and to introduce a Bill dealing both with the franchise and with the redistribution of seats. Either of those lines of action they might have adopted, and either would have been defensible, or at least intelligible; and, if defeated upon either, they might have been defeated without discredit. But they have chosen to pursue a third course. They say, "We will adopt a large scheme, of which we will only show you a part, and you must commit yourselves to that part before you have seen the whole." That was, of course, a transparent device, but it served for an opening for the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock and those who concurred with him, to come back and vote for the Government. Yet I think their return has been rather dearly bought, because, although their votes may save the Government from defeat, still they can only carry the division even with the aid of those votes by a narrower majority than any Government was ever satisfied with before. And, under such circumstances, their victory must be more damaging and more humiliating than any defeat could have been if they had taken a more direct and manly course. Sir, the Government changed their policy, and then it was that the Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Chester came in. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer had adhered to the Suffrage Bill, he would have heard no objection from us on the ground that he did not also deal with the redistribution of seats. I beg to tell my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that I am only now stating 1851 what is consistent with the course which I have pursued on this question; and I will make that clear and intelligible in a moment. What we should have done would have been this: If the Government had introduced and adhered to their simple Suffrage Bill, we, the supporters of the noble Lord's Amendment, would have discussed that Bill upon its merits. We would have discussed it as we discussed the Bill of the hon. Member for Leeds last year. It would have been so far a complete policy for the Government. Their scheme would have been small: it might have dealt with only a part of the question of Reform; but as far as their policy was concerned, it would have been in a sense perfect and complete; and, I repeat, we should have discussed it upon its merits. But when, without any objection or any demand on our part, they change their policy and say, "We intend also to deal with the redistribution of the seats," then we tell them, "As you are going to deal with that larger question without any demand from us, and as you have a larger scheme, we ask that you will at least allow us to see it." That, Sir, is the ground on which the noble Lord the Member for Chester moved his Amendment; and the simple ground on which we stand is that which was put in a very plain and homely way by the noble Lord (Lord Stanley), who seconded that Amendment, when he remarked,—What would you say to the architect who proposed to build for you a single room of a house without letting you see the plan or estimate for the whole building? Your reply would of course be, 'But I must see both the plan and the estimate before you proceed.' And what would you think if the architect then turned round on you and said, 'You can't be sincere; you don't intend to build at all?But the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other right hon. Gentlemen near him say they cannot understand the meaning of this Amendment; but if any Gentleman will only give me his attention for a moment, I think I can make it perfectly clear to him. The noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley) asked,Why should you deal with Reform on a different principle from that on which you deal with finance? Why should you take a part of a scheme, and ask any one to agree to that without seeing the whole?Now, Sir, in treating these questions there is nothing like treating them upon great authorities. We know that in this House we are the slaves of authority; and that 1852 in great questions of this kind, if any one whom we respect as an authority has enunciated a particular doctrine, we are all inclined to respect and be guided by it in our discussion. Well, it has happened that upon a question of finance an appeal was recently made by a Member of this House to a great financier as to the repeal of a particular tax; and what was the answer then given by that eminent authority? His words are so apposite, so applicable to the present occasion, that I am sure the House, and especially those Gentlemen who sit around me, will listen to them with deference when they know whose language it is I am about to quote. Here is his language:—These are attempts to commit the House to conclusions while the House has not in its possession the means of judgment; and their only effect can be to fetter the future action of the House, and create embarrassment and disappointment among those who may have fair claims on the public exchequer.These, Sir, are very wise words. When were they uttered? On the 18th of April, 1866. And what was the occasion? Why, on the motion of the hon. and learned Member for Suffolk (Sir Fitzroy Kelly) for the reduction or repeal of the malt tax. And the great authority who spoke them was my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Then, I ask him, does he not now understand the Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Chester, seeing that it is based on the very sound doctrine laid down by himself in the passage which I have just cited? My hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Coleridge) addressed himself to another point with great force and effect, and I must say in a spirit of candour which we must all appreciate. He said: "This is a party question; remember what you are about; you will break up your party; you will bring in the Gentlemen on the other side of the House. That is a result; which I myself cannot keep out of sight; and I will not take upon myself the responsibility of any such proceeding." Now we must recollect—my hon. and learned Friend may not know it as well as I do—that ever since the passing of the Reform Act the Liberal party has consisted of two distinct sections—the one moderate, and the other more advanced; and that, although the moderate section during the greater part of that time has outnumbered the extreme section in the proportion of three or four to one, yet it 1853 has never on any single occasion attempted to fetter the freedom of the more advanced Liberals, whose independent action has constantly brought them into collision with successive Liberal Administrations, and even led to the destruction of more than one Liberal Government. What, Sir, was it that overthrew the Government of Lord Aberdeen? Why, a Motion made by the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) from this side of the House, and which was supported by the Gentlemen opposite. Who voted for that Resolution? I will not mention the names now, but they are those of what might have been called the flower of the old Whig party. Again, Sir, three; years afterwards, the Government of Lord Palmerston was outvoted upon the China question by a motion made by Mr. Cob-den. That motion came from below the gangway, and was again supported by Gentlemen on the other side of the House; and who were Mr. Cobden's great supporters on that occasion? There were many distinguished names in that division, but the two most eminent and illustrious among the supporters of that motion were the noble Lord who is now the head of the Government in one House, and my right hon. Friend who is the leader of the present Government in the other. But my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Coleridge) says: "You must take care; mind what you are about; you ought not to bring on a motion upon which you may have the support of hon. Gentlemen opposite, because it may lead to a change of Government; and that is one of the consequences which you must deprecate." Now, Sir, it so happens that on the occasion when Lord Palmerston was outvoted upon Mr. Cobden's resolution, that resolution was seconded by the present President of the Board of Trade, who was supported by Lord Russell and the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. The debate was a remarkable one, and the division and its result were equally remarkable; but perhaps the most remarkable thing of all was the speech delivered by no less a person than my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Milner Gibson). I must beg his particular attention to the answer winch was given, as if in anticipation of the present occasion, by the right hon. Gentleman. He said on that occasion:—Another point which had been very strongly urged was this—that it might be very well to 1854 support the hon. Member for the West Biding (Mr. Cobden); their feelings and convictions might be that he was right; but then they must. look to the state of parties, and to what might be the result of their vote. They were, in fact, invited to vote against the motion simply because hon. Gentlemen opposite were going to vote for it. He would make what might seem a peculiar remark, but nothing gave him so much confidence that it was right to support the present motion as the fact that the great body of the Conservative party were about to support it.He went on to explain his reasons for that opinion, and, having done, said this, which more particularly applies to the position of the noble Lord the mover of the Amendment:—When the hon. Member for the West Riding brought forward a motion consistent with all the views which he had entertained and professed in his public life, was he to be deterred from asking the support of his friends because Members of the Conservative party, forsooth, would support it?I have no delicacy in reading what follows, because it describes what we know could not take place in these days; and therefore Gentlemen sitting behind the Treasury Bench will not mistake my motive in doing so; but I wish to show the manner in which independent Liberals in those days spoke of the supporters of the Government whom they were assailing:—He had been told that there had been a meeting of the Liberal party lately at the residence of the noble Lord. He had read the report in the public newspapers; for it seemed now to be the fashion to publish in the journals reports of these private political meetings. That meeting was remarkable more for the absence of certain distinguished men than for the presence of those who attended it. He read over the names, and he must say that it was the first time he ever recollected a meeting of the Liberal party being held without the name of Lord John Russell appearing among those who attended it. There were other distinguished names which were not to be found in the list of those present at that meeting. He should like to know what the noble Lord at the head of the Government said to his hon. Friend who attended the meeting? What pledges were given, what inducements were held out? When sufficient inducements were held out on such occasions, many a Member, for the purpose of saving a Ministry in danger, gave a vote that was not exactly according to his convictions. He felt at liberty to make these statements, for he could assure the House that the pressure—the disagreeable pressure—that was put upon hon. Gentlemen to induce them to change their votes upon this important question was of a character that could only be equalled by the pressure put upon voters at a small provincial contested election, in order to compel them to vote in this or that direction. Now, hon. Gentlemen were at liberty, with a due regard to the public interests, and without being in the least afraid of the deluge, coming upon them, if the Government should 1855 experience some difficulty on this occasion, to pronounce their conscientious opinion upon the motion of the hon. Member for the West Riding.Now, Sir, as I before observed, I am only reading this to show how Gentlemen who now deny to us freedom of speech and action, spoke and acted in those days, and by whom they were supported in the motions by which they assailed and ejected Liberal Administrations. But then it may be said that these Gentlemen were acting conscientiously; whereas we appeared dirty conspirators. But was not the charge of conspiracy brought against those Gentlemen on that occasion? Why, Sir, in the list of Members of the Liberal party who divided on that occasion against the Government were some of the most eminent Members of the party. Among them were Lord Robert Grosvenor and Sir Francis Baring, who have both been selected for elevation to the Peerage. Sir Francis Baring then repudiated, in the strongest terms, the charge of being a conspirator. He said:—He was sorry to hear the cry which was always raised on occasions similar to this, that there had been a conspiracy. He would only say that he never came to a vote with more personal pain, or after more anxious and earnest inquiry; and he never gave a vote in that House with a clearer conscience. If the time had to come again, and it was to be the last vote which he was to give in that House, he would give it with the utmost cordiality.The same thing occurred in the following year on the Conspiracy Bill. Another motion was brought forward from this side of the House, which was again supported by Gentlemen opposite, and on that occasion Lord Palmerston was ejected from office. I want to know, if on one occasion after another, three years in succession, the Ministry were left in a minority or ejected from office, and if liberty of action was allowed to Members on this side of the House without their being subjected to any unworthy imputations, why we are not to be allowed that same liberty of action when we are taking a course which is consistent with the opinions we have always hitherto expressed? I wish now to say one word upon the last question involved in this debate. We are told that the issue is changed; that it is not a question of Reform, but that the vote is to be taken as a vote of confidence in the Government. Now, Sir, there is no doubt that the Government have it in their power to 1856 convert any question they please into a vote of confidence; and, as the hon. and learned Member for Belfast (Sir Hugh Cairns) remarked the other night, they might, if they chose, make a motion for the adjournment of the House a vote of confidence. But as this, Sir, is an arbitrary power, it is a power which should be exercised under a sense of responsibility, and the Government are bound to show their supporters that the call they make upon them is one that the occasion renders both necessary and legitimate. I will ask the House, however,—and I think I may appeal to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer after the opportunity for consideration that he has had,—does that necessity apply to the Amendment of the noble Lord which we are now discussing? Why, Sir, we all remember what occurred on the day previous to the adjournment of the House for the Easter recess. We remember the conversation which took place between the noble Lord and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and how the noble Lord showed that he was actuated by no unfriendly feeling to the Government, and had no desire to embarrass them; and how, with his wonted earnestness and sincerity, he stated that if the Government would make that concession in substance which they had already made in spirit, and allow us to see their whole scheme before we commit ourselves to a part, he would gladly withdraw from a position which was to him one both of novelty and pain, and into which he had been forced only by a sense of public duty. But how was the noble Lord answered by the right hon. Gentleman? His right hon. Friend was perfectly immoveable—nay, he was not only immoveable, he was defiant. He changed the question at once into a vote of confidence, and upon what basis? What was the difference between the Government and my noble Friend? Merely this,—whether a Bill for the Redistribution of Seats which they had prepared should be laid on the table of the House a day before or a day after the second reading of the Franchise Bill. Was there ever so narrow, so mean a basis for a vote of confidence? The right hon. Gentleman said in effect, though not in words, "We could indeed show you what you want, but we wont do it. We will first exact a vote of confidence; and when we have had from you that 1857 proof of submission to the course we dictate, we will then indulge you with a sight of the measure which we have prepared; but even then we will only let you have a sight of it, for no sooner have we produced it than we shall withdraw it and not proceed with it till next Session." Even then, however, the noble Lord was anxious to explain to the Government and the House that this construction of his Amendment into a vote of confidence was not what he intended or accepted. He expressed his sincere respect and reverence for the noble Lord at the head of the Government, whom it had been his pride to follow during the whole of his public life, and his general concurrence also in the principles and policy of the Government. And I must say for myself, that although I have felt very strongly the unexpected manner in which this question of Reform was revived on Lord Palmerston's death, and, as I believe, against the feelings and wishes of the country; and although I have expressed myself strongly as to the manner in which the Government have allied themselves to agitation on the subject, still, as to the general policy and proceedings of the Government since they came into office, I have seen many things to approve and commend and nothing to condemn. If, therefore, the Government had been assailed by a vote of want of confidence on their general policy and proceedings, they would have been supported with unanimity on this side of the House; and I do not believe there would have been a single defaulter from their rank. I ask then, was it wise to go out of their way, and raise a false issue on the only question on which there was a real difference of opinion among Members of the Liberal party, raising that false issue upon a vote of confidence on the one question on which they were suddenly reversing the policy of the most popular Minister of our time, and, reversing it in a. Parliament which was elected to support that Minister, by deferring to the wishes of one section of their party and disregarding the feelings of the great majority of their supporters? But then, Sir, let me ask again—Is this question of Reform a particularly favourable one on which to take a vote of confidence? Is it not one upon which all the Members of the Liberal party are treading upon dangerous ground? We cannot shut our eyes to the fact, since it is now brought so 1858 home to us, that the question of Reform is practically in the hands of the same Government who during the last fourteen years have produced a series of Reform Bills, every one of them containing £5 or £6 franchises, and all based on the repeated and unqualified assertion that the working class were wholly excluded from the franchise. But the statistical returns recently presented to the House have shown that that assumption is entirely a mistake, and that 26 per cent of the existing constituencies are composed of the working class. Now, does not that exposure convict our Ministers of having been legislating carelessly, thoughtlessly, rashly, dangerously; and can it be maintained that such conduct on their part constitutes a claim to our confidence? Because they have been for many years past leaping in the dark, is it a reason that they should insist upon our leaping in the dark? But even when we have discovered our error, do we stand upon safer ground? The Cabinet admit that a £6 franchise would swamp the existing constituency, and therefore they have placed the qualification higher; they have added another pound; and it must be conceded, that the addition of that pound may postpone the swamping process perhaps for four or five years. But what says the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He can perceive no objection to swamping. He, speaking in his individual capacity, is prepared to accept it with all its consequences; and, although he does not recommend or press it now still it is his sincere opinion that no practical inconvenience would arise from allowing the working class to be a majority of the whole constituency. From this, therefore, I gather, that if my right hon. Friend were out of office next year, and free to vote according to his convictions, the friends of household suffrage, and even of more extended suffrage, need not despair of his support. Such conduct may be very frank and very courageous, and it may be also very sound and wise, but those opinions do not happen to be the opinions of Parliament or of the country, and they do not establish any fresh and irresistible claims to confidence. But if I have no confidence in the measure, of the Government, I have still less confidence in the means resorted to in order to force it upon a reluctant Parliament. As to the means adopted by individual Members, I make 1859 no remark; but I must say I see with regret a Minister of the Crown joining in, assisting, and encouraging that agitation. I must say it is unprecedented, that when a Minister of the Crown has laid upon the table an important public measure, which stands for the first measure to be considered after the recess, and which is deserving of the calm and dispassionate consideration of Parliament—I say it is unprecedented in the history of Parliament that that Minister should go down to the provinces, and there endeavour to excite agitation in favour of his own Bill. I do not say this needlessly to hurt the feelings of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but I conceive it still more without Parliamentary precedent, that the Leader of the House of Commons should go down to the provinces and make a speech in disparagement of the House of which he is himself the leader. Such proceedings may excite temporary enthusiasm, but I am sure that such enthusiasm is dearly purchased by the loss of dignity and influence which must inevitably follow when the right hon. Gentleman resumes his place as the Leader of the House. I must say also that I think the right hon. Gentleman was rather unfortunate in the illustrations he employed when he described the position of the Government; for he said, "We have broken down our bridges, we have burnt our boats." Well, Sir, but these are the acts of desperate men, and they do not usually inspire confidence. Such words as these convey images of war, of aggression, of conflagration, and desperation; and are hardly calculated to increase our confidence in the Minister who used them. Why is the peaceful endeavour of the Government to carry a Reform Bill to be associated with such appalling images? How is it that, in a time of such profound tranquillity, when Ministers have succeeded to such a peaceful inheritance, when there is an absence of all party strife or political passion—who is it and what is it that has rendered the position of the Government so perilous and so critical, that Ministers go into the provinces as agitators and illustrious statesmen, and in the flights of their own excited imaginations describe themselves and their colleagues as political desperadoes. And all this as another claim to confidence! I can only say let those in whom it inspires that confidence, follow the Ministers whose beneficent and hopeful enterprise is described by broken bridges 1860 and burnt ships. I prefer, for my part, the guidance of those whose mission is more peaceful, and whose language is more assuring; who contemplate great constitutional changes with the calmness of statesmen, and win the confidence of the country by appeals to reason; and who, leaving to others the more exciting arts of menace and agitation, trust only for their success to the goodness of their cause, the purity of their motives, and the grateful sympathy and support of an approving country.
§ MR. BRIGHT moved the Adjournment of the Debate. [Loud Cries of"Goon!"]
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
We have arrived so nearly at the hour of midnight, that I do not think we ought to press any one who wishes to address the House to speak tonight. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] It can only be practicable by the general consent and convenience of the House, if we endeavour to-night to arrive at some understanding as to the termination of this debate. [A Cry of"Go on!"] I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bucks is prepared to express any opinion upon this subject; but I think it desirable to come to an understanding, that either on Monday or Tuesday we should undertake to arrive at a decision upon the question before us. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ An Hon. MEMBER: Friday! [Laughter.]
§ MR. DISRAELI
Sir, I am willing to use any influence I may be presumed to possess towards the regulation of a protracted debate like this upon an important subject. I have always sincerely desired to keep in view two objects: the one was, to secure, as far as I could for both sides of the House, a fair and free discussion; and the other was, when that discussion was obtained, to facilitate the progress of public business, even if I disapproved of the measures of the Government. Now, there is no doubt that the discussion upon the Amendment of the noble Lord has been protracted for a considerable period; but I am sure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will admit that the subject is one of vast importance; and though not wishing to say anything the least discourteous to the right hon. Gentleman, I must remind him that there is in this debate a peculiarity which has given it this protracted character, and may probably be extended beyond that period which was at first anticipated. The House will recollect, and it is but fair to the 1861 noble Lord who moved the Amendment, as well as to those hon. Gentlemen who support it, to bear the fact in mind, that this debate was adjourned during the recess in a peculiar manner to another place. The consequence of that operation, upon which I wish at present to make no comment, in its effects on the debate in this House has been, that a great many speeches must be answered which were not made in the House of Commons. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will admit that, not contented with the usual speech of Ministers in introducing a measure, not contented with the ordinary expository speech in his place in Parliament, he took the opportunity of visiting the county palatine, where he made no less than six speeches on this subject. Under any circumstances I should not think myself entitled to make speeches to that amount. We on this side of the House are not in the position of the most favourable mortals before us; and as my name has been mentioned frequently in the course of this debate, it will not perhaps be thought unreasonable in me to expect that the House will allow me to make a few observations before if; terminates. The debate will be opened on Monday by an orator of commanding powers, who, whatever may be our differences of opinion, seldom enters into a debate without adding some fuel to the tire. From communications which have been made to me, not only by Gentlemen who honour me with their confidence and friendship, but by some accounts from the benches opposite, I do not think that this debate will be concluded by Monday evening; but perhaps by that time we may be able to form some estimate as to the period of its conclusion. Under these circumstances the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me, that it will be necessary, in order to ensure the termination of the debate at some reasonable period, that we must all of us be prepared to make some sacrifices. All cannot expect on this Motion the opportunity which I am sure all would enjoy. But still I think that, on Monday evening, we shall be able to see how the debate is proceeding; and I should certainly hope that, before the end of the week, we may see its termination.
§ Debate further adjourned till To-morrow.
§ The Clerk, at the Table, informed the House that Mr. Speaker had been obliged, by the stale of his health, to retire from 1862 the House for the remainder of the night:—Whereupon Mr. Dodson, the Chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means, look the Chair as Deputy Speaker, pursuant to the Standing Order of the 20th day of July 1855.