HC Deb 20 February 1866 vol 181 cc825-47

said, although I have no reason to expect that the permission which I am about to ask will be refused to me, yet, as my proposal involves an entirely new principle, I should be wanting in respect to the House if I did not in this first stage of my Bill explain its principle, and in great part its details. I will endeavour to show my gratitude for the patience which I respectfully ask from hon. Members, by compressing into the smallest possible compass that which it is necessary that I should say. In seeking, then, to extend the elective franchise in cities and boroughs in England and Wales, my proposal in no way interferes with any existing franchise, but it contemplates any man of full age, and not otherwise disqualified, but not having a vote by any other title, shall have the right to demand to be examined. This examination I will hereafter describe. On his passing it to the satisfaction of the Commissioners, acting on the rules which they observe in similar Civil Service examinations, he will receive a certificate. This he will present to his town clerk, or other officer in non-corporate boroughs, charged with analogous duties, and he will be entitled to be placed on the register of electors. The words "full age," mean twenty-one years, but if a Committee of this House should think fit to raise the age to twenty-five years, I should see no objection to the change. As it is necessary to provide against a sort of wandering population of electors, I propose that no man can claim to be examined until he has resided six months in a place. It is easy to increase this term to a year should the House deem it advisable. I consider six months to be sufficient. If the voter leaves the place, he applies to the town clerk for his certificate, and is removed from the register. His title remains good in his new place of abode, but he cannot claim to be registered until after six months' residence. I may here say that I have good reason to believe that no serious mechanical difficulty exists in my scheme. In the year 1859 I served on a Committee to consider the working of the Civil Service Examinations, and one subject of inquiry was, how far it would be practicable to give to every man in the country the right, without nomination, to be examined as to his competence for different situations in the Civil Service. It is clear that such an idea contemplated an immense number of examinations—probably quite as many as would be required by this Bill, and certainly of a much more elaborate character. The gentlemen connected with the Commission, whom we had the advantage of examining, saw no difficulty in the task proposed to them, and Mr. Horace Mann put in a plan by which he proposed to accomplish it. But beyond this I know—not officially, indeed, but privately—that gentlemen connected with this Commission see no serious difficulty in the scheme which I have now the honour of explaining. The examination which I propose is very nearly that which is exacted from the lowest class of outdoor officers in the Customs service—being writing, spelling, and the four first rules of arithmetic, compound as regards money, a matter with which every one has to deal; not as regards weights and measures, this being a speciality of the Customs service. If a man can write and spell, I take his reading for granted; as it is advisable that this examination should be entirely conducted by papers to be examined only by the Civil Service Commissioners, a local examiner being liable to the charge of a party bias. The Commissioners would be bound to examine each candidate within four months of his application. They would, from time to time, as occasion required, appoint in any borough in which there were candidates for examination, an officer whom I will not call an examiner. His duties would be confined to handing to the different candidates sealed papers which he would have received from the Civil Service Commissioners, sealing up and returning to the Commissioners the answers, keeping order in the room in which the candidates would be assembled, and watching that they did not receive any improper assistance. Beyond this, he would probably be required to read three or four easy sentences, which, from his dictation, the candidates would write, as their exercise both in writing and spelling. The expense of these examinations would not be great, and I am assured it would be amply recouped by a fee of 1s., which I propose that each candidate should pay on presenting himself for examination, and a second fee of 1s. 6d, to be paid on the receipt of the certificate. Now this proposal affects, first, the classes who possess the required information, and to whom this examination will be a matter of very little time, and of still less trouble. Very many, as we well know, though it is difficult to calculate their number, in our own class of life, who from accident have no vote—clergymen, members of learned professions, and others; teachers, of whom there are 24,000; next, commercial clerks, of whom there are nearly 60,000, but few of them enjoying the franchise. After these we come to assistants in shops, the majority able to pass the examination which I require of them. As to the numbers of these there are no certain statistics, but I shall not be wrong in putting it as greatly in excess of that of the commercial clerks. As to these two last classes, I may say in passing that I have not questioned any one of them—and I have spoken with many—who has not assured me that this proposal would be received by them as a most acceptable and sufficient boon. But these are the classes which all of us, so to speak, have expressed our willingness to admit to the right of voting, and whose admission we have contemplated by various "fancy franchises," as they have been called in undeserved derision. My proposal would render all these schemes unnecessary. But there is yet another class, who already possess the knowledge which my Bill requires—I mean the most educated of the working men. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, acquainted as he is with the members of mechanics' institutes, and other similar societies, will be the first to admit that these are in no insignificant number. But Members from all parts of this House, and speeches on every hustings, have professed willingness to admit to the franchise the intelligence of the working classes, if any means could be devised of finding it out. I offer this plan, if not as a perfect, at least as the best way of making the selection. My proposal, however, equally concerns those who have little or no education, and who, to obtain a vote, must take no little pains to master the acquired knowledge; and these are, no doubt, the bulk of the working men. I have perhaps as much experience as any one of the demand made on the perseverance of these men—and even of men in a somewhat higher social position, say, the sons of small shopkeepers—in order that they may pass such an examination as I have described. For since the commencement of these examinations I have watched with great interest, and not without knowledge of the men themselves, and of the result of their labour, all the appointments in the Hull Custom House, which, as hon. Members know, is one of the largest in the kingdom. I say, then, with confidence, that though the working man of average intelligence can master this examination if he chooses to do so, he must, for this object, sacrifice to the schoolmaster his leisure hours, few and uneasy as they are, for three or four months at least. When he shall have done this I shall welcome him to the franchise. I shall trust him freely, not for his little smattering of learning, but for his earnestness; for I am fully convinced that the best guarantee we can have that a man will be a sensible and trustworthy voter is his own anxious desire to acquire a vote. I am not fond of the expression "an educational test," as applied, at least, to this Bill. As regards the educated, I look on this examination as a test of social position and trust worthiness—not, indeed, a perfect one—no such test can be perfect—but as being at least as good as the living in a £10 or a £6 house. As regards the uneducated, I look on it as something much better—a test—in this case a perfect test—of honest earnestness. There is a general belief in this House and in the country, which no one entertains more sincerely than myself, that something must be done in the way of extending the elective franchise. There is a desire still more general—that whatever is done may be a settlement of the question. There is a fear on the minds of many that any mere lowering of the property qualification, far from being a settlement of the question, can only make a further step in the same direction more rapid and inevitable. Nor is this fear unreasonable, for as long as we consider property to be the only qualification, it is clear that there is no sure standing-ground until we have reached the lowest symbol of property, whatever that may be. I offer, then, this measure as at least pro raising the condition of permanence; for should it become law, I cannot see that any man in the country, as far as the boroughs of England and Wales are concerned, would have reasonable ground of complaint on the score of exclusion. I will now notice, very shortly, the objections which have been made, in conversation, to my scheme, and which—some of them at least—may be made during its discussion here. I have been reminded that, more than thirty years back, an educational test was a favourite idea with Lord Brougham and other political thinkers of the day, and that it was abandoned as impracticable. And this is true, but these great authorities proposed their test as the basis and sole title to the elective franchise. It was objected to this idea, and the objections prevailed—first, that to obtain a sufficient number of voters the test must be so low—mere writing the name perhaps—that practically it would amount to universal suffrage; secondly, that the conduct of such a vast number of examinations would be so troublesome and so expensive as to be al-most impossible. But these objections, cogent or otherwise—as to which there may be much difference of opinion—do not apply to my proposal. The examinations under my Bill, though doubtless very numerous in the first year or two, would not be, as I have endeavoured to show, in such numbers as to present any very serious difficulty, and as I only propose a new franchise in addition to those which exist, it is not necessary to put the test very low, Again, I have been asked why my Bill does not extend to the counties. Well; it seems to me that, in that which I have proposed, I have gone to the extreme limit to which a private Member of this House should venture, and that it is more fitting that the county franchise should be dealt with by county Members. But beyond this, my plan is not as applicable to the county as to the borough franchise. The inhabitants of all towns have easy and very cheap access to the schoolmaster. Not so with a rural population, who would probably have to go so far—to encounter so much trouble and expense—in order to find the instruction they need, that, as regards them, my plan would be almost inoperative. Not a few have suggested to me that, if one man is to be examined, all should be so. That all should be passed through the same sieve. This idea I wholly dissent from, and conceive that it would be the same mistake, which, to my thinking, we make at present—namely, to recognize but one title to the franchise. We now, with the exception of our freemen, admit no title except property. I wish to establish a second title—intelligence. Let a man pay in some shape for this privilege. If he cannot pay in money let him pay in mind. Under our present system we do not require property to be intelligent. I shall not ask intelligence to be rich. Some tell me that my scheme is almost universal suffrage; others, that it sounds well enough, but that practically it would admit scarce any of the working-men, who would not take the trouble which this Bill imposes on them. In this conflict of opinions I might almost leave the one to answer the other, and flatter myself with the belief that I had hit on a happy medium between the two. I will, however, admit to the first objection, that it is possible enough that in years to come—years which none of us may expect to see—the principle which I seek to introduce, even with a higher test, may lead to something like universal suffrage. But it would be by a slow and safe progress, such as has gradually made our Constitution that which it is—a progress to which our institutions would gradually and safely adapt themselves, much more gradually and safely than to the same result, arrived at in a much shorter time, by a constant lowering of the property qualification, which I take to be inevitable, if you are resolved to retain property as your sole title to a vote. I may be asked, where is the condition of permanence in my scheme? I may be told that my test may be as gradually lowered as a property qualification. I deny it. I see permanence in this. My test is so low that no man would have any ground of complaint on the score of exclusion, which he would not be ashamed to urge. I see permanence in the well-known tendency of examinations rather to become more strict than more easy. More than in either of the foregoing reasons, I see permanence in the double title to a vote. Bach would take care of the other. The householder would oppose any debasement of the educational test. The man who voted in virtue of his certificate would oppose any lowering of the property qualification, and would say, "Let my neighbour take the same trouble which I have taken, and obtain a vote as I have done." But now as to those who allege that practically scarce any of the working men would avail themselves of the advantage which this Bill offers to them. I do not believe that it would be so, and my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, who knows the working men well, will be as incredulous as I am. I should be very sorry that this objection should turn out to be correct, for I admit that my first wish in making this proposal has been to benefit the working-man. But if this objection should be well-founded, what would it prove? That the working classes have no great anxiety to possess the franchise. That their smarting sense of injustice at being excluded from it—their abiding feeling of injury—has no foundation in fact, and exists only in the imagination of those who profess to speak in their name. Lastly, there are not a few who tell me, Why do anything at all? The country is prosperous and contented. Poll it from one end to the other, and a large majority will be found in favour of leaving things as they are. This may be true. I believe that it is true as regards existing constituencies. But, though a large majority of the country may prefer to leave things as they are, it is impossible to do so. A large party in the country do ask for Parliamentary Reform, and to that party all of us, so to speak, are pledged. It is true that our pledges have been chiefly given when the state of feeling in the country was very different from that which it is now, and when there were practical grievances to be redressed. Still we have given pledges from which we should be ashamed to escape—we have raised hopes which we may well be afraid to disappoint. Our position is this: suppose a dozen men, of whom eleven owe a debt to the twelfth. No doubt a large majority of this body would prefer not to pay. But they must pay, or be dishonoured. Let no man please himself with the belief that it is possible to shuffle this matter off, and let it be forgotten. Rather let him consider in what coin it is most wise and honest to pay a debt from which there is no possible escape. As to the details of my Bill, I shall listen with interest and respect to the suggestions of my friends; but there is one point on which I should be unwilling to give way at all, but as to which any material change would affect the principle of the Bill, and destroy its purpose. I mean any proposal materially to raise the standard which I have suggested. Raise the standard of your examination, carry your arithmetic to fractions, and ask for some knowledge of history, &c., and you will no doubt get a valuable addition to your constituent body; but you will not do that which this Bill proposes to do. You will not take away the ground of complaint on the part of the working classes that they are excluded from the franchise. Expect them to pass an examination which not more than one in 5,000 of them could master, and your proposal is a delusion—almost an insult. If you shut the door so close, you may as well double-lock it at once, and leave the working classes to find their way in by some access more easy, and less safe. I have now, I think, trespassed as long on the patience of the House—a patience for which I am very grateful—as it is at present necessary that I should do. I am aware that the novelty of my proposal may startle the timid, while its moderation may fail to satisfy the rash. But I am myself honestly convinced that it is a wise and safe measure—but that I fear to be charged with presumption, I would say the safest and the wisest. However this may be, I offer it as my contribution to the great discussion of Parliamentary Reform, and with sincere diffidence, but not without hope, I commit it to the consideration of the House.


Sir, whatever may be the judgment of the House with regard to the expediency or the practicability of the Bill of my hon. Friend there can be no difference of opinion upon this point—that this is a question deserving the most serious consideration, and one which well warrants a searching discussion in this House. I respond entirely to the words of the hon. Gentleman's speech in which he has expressed an opinion that the sentiments of Her Majesty's Government, so far as they can have formed an opinion up to this moment, should be given in the course of the evening with regard to the proposition of my hon. Friend. The House will bear in mind that this is no effort of mere political dilettantism; that this is not the speech of some new Member anxious to obtain a name for originality and for daring. It is a proposition from a Gentleman who has long been in this House; who represents a large and intelligent constituency; who has himself taken part in almost all the great business of this House for many years; and who has brought to bear upon every question which he has treated an amount of practical good sense and solid judgment which has always obtained for him the attention and respect of the House, Moreover, my hon. Friend has always taken his stand in what I may call the ranks of the most advanced portion of the Liberal party, and therefore no one can throw out the imputation against him that he has made this proposal for the purpose of endeavouring to shelve or stifle this question of Reform. This Bill may be looked upon, as the hon. Gentleman described it, from a two-fold point of view. We may look upon it either with regard to its own intrinsic merits or as an alternative to the Bill which has to be proposed by Her Majesty's Government. I do not hesitate to say that I accept it as a good Bill in itself, and I am bound to say so because, having voted last year against the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds (Mr. Baines), I might possibly be open to the suspicion that in supporting this proposal I am actuated by an endeavour to throw confusion into the Liberal ranks and to impede the Bill to be proposed by Her Majesty's Government. I may, however, state that in the conclusion of my remarks last year upon the Bill of the hon. Member for Leeds I said that although I would oppose that Bill, yet I would say "aye" without misgiving or hesitation to any Bill which would have for its object the enfranchising of those of the working classes whose enfranchisement would be for the benefit of the country. The time has come when I am able to redeem that pledge, for I think that the Bill proposed by my hon. Friend is one that will enfranchise that portion of the working classes whose enfranchisement will be for the benefit of the country. I think the Bill hits precisely that class of workmen alluded to by Earl Russell yesterday in his answer to a Scotch deputation that went to him. He said there was a certain class of intelligent and skilled artizans, each of whom were debarred from the franchise, because he was obliged to live in a house the rental of which was less than £10, inasmuch as he had not the means of taking a larger house and providing, at the same time, for the education of his children. This Bill will admit that man to the suffrage. Not only, therefore, do I advocate it upon that ground, but I advocate it upon the broad ground that it would be advisable and expedient to admit, if they are not already admitted, the élite of the working classes to the suffrage. I entirely agree with some observations made by the noble Lord who proposed the Address to Her Majesty at the opening of this Session. The noble Lord said that—"The greater the number you admit to the suffrage the greater the power you confer upon the decisions of this House." I adopt that expression of the noble Lord, but with certain qualifications, and those qualifications are these:—that those num- bers whom you introduce into the suffrage should either bear with them that interest in the institutions of the country which is derived from property, or that they should bear with them that interest which primâ facie men of intelligence and men of education in the mass may be presumed to take in all questions affecting the State policy of the country. I think my hon. Friend's Bill hits that case precisely, for the existing franchise provides for the property qualification, and the Bill of my hon. Friend provides for the question of education and intelligence. My hon. Friend in the course of his speech has referred to certain difficulties which have been alleged against the Bill, and the most important of these seems to be that one Gentleman says the franchise would be too narrow, while another says it would be too wide. With regard to the charge of its being too narrow, I am quite prepared to go with my hon. Friend, and to say I do not believe that, at the present moment, the adoption of his Bill would admit a very large or at all a preponderating portion of the working classes. I believe my hon. Friend the Secretary for the Treasury if he were in his place would bear out this assertion. Without attempting to compare the standard of English with Irish education, I know that the Secretary for the Treasury is too often obliged to write letters expressing the deep regret with which he announces to myself, or to some other Gentleman, that some young person in whom we have taken an interest has not been successful, notwithstanding many months of preparation, in obtaining the desired appointment of an outdoor officer of Customs. If that be so on the one hand, look on the other at the number of persons—a most valuable class of competent men of business—engineers, lawyers, attorneys, and clerks—every one of whom, if they have not already obtained the franchise, would be admitted to the suffrage according to the scheme of my hon. Friend. And thus you get rid of all those multitudinous and intricate schemes of "fancy franchises" which have been raised within the last few years. On the other hand, there are those who say that in a short time this franchise would be so extensive that it would almost amount to a universal suffrage. I quite agree with my hon. Friend that a very long period indeed must elapse before that takes place: but even if it should come to universal suffrage, all I can say is, "so be it." All I can say is, that if you do come to universal suffrage by this Bill you will have taken the danger out of it, because universal suffrage will then be divided amongst an educated and reflecting body who have been long in training in a course of political education. If we are to be smothered or to be swamped, I had much rather be drowned in a butt of malmsey than in a barrel of swipes. No doubt there are many difficulties connected with the measure which has been called "Chinese," pedantic, coxcombical, with a variety of other uncomplimentary terms. The worst thing I have heard about it, however, is that it is a new thing. I have heard the expression, when my hon. Friend has been passing, "There goes Confucius," meaning by that that my hon. Friend was or would be a lawgiver who would administer this country on the Chinese system, that of literati and competitive examinations. I think the discussion upon this Bill ought not at the present to extend to its machinery, but should be confined to the broad principle of it as to a theory deserving consideration. I think I may quote, and call as advocates for the Bill, all those Gentlemen who have taken the most prominent part in the discussions on Reform. I think I may call my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds himself an advocate for the Bill, for in all his speeches the main point he has alleged has been the amount of instruction possessed by the upper portion of the working classes. He has referred to the extension of mechanics' institutes; to the number of cheap periodicals they take in; to the newspapers exclusively-representing; and to the quantity of literature consumed by the working classes. It is their intelligence and not their wealth that has moved the heart of my hon. Friend. Though perhaps he may naturally prefer his own £6 Bill, comparing it with this Bill, still I think I may quote him as an advocate. There is a gentleman, however, who knows as' much of the working classes as my hon. Friend, who might be described, as I saw a statesman defined in a passage I read in an American paper the other day, as a "stock, lock, and gun barrel Radical." I mean Mr. Holyoake. He wrote a pamphlet last year—a pamphlet in which I found much to disapprove, I am bound to say, but which I may describe as being both spirited and honest. I quoted a passage from it last year, and I will now venture to quote a portion of it again, because there are a great number of Members of this House now who did not bear me read it then, and it is a good thing that will bear repeating. Mr. Holyoake says, with reference to the £6 franchise— I know towns where ardent Reformers are afraid of an unqualified suffrage. Good Radicals, the most thorough of their class, have said to me, 'There is a mob in our town (there is in every town), ignorant, selfish, venal, and reckless of principle. Had they voted, our Liberal Members would be unseated at the next election. They would vote against those who seek to raise them.' This is the general feeling in Liberal boroughs. Now there is no plan of a £6 suffrage which selects the worthy and excludes the base. All £6 suffrage is blind, and hence we have Radicals arguing feebly, and fearing much the result of the very measure they plead for. Surely, this is political imbecility. We might next call upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer to support the Bill. We all have engraven on our minds the celebrated speech of the right hon. Gentleman, in which he said— If we debar a man from the suffrage, the onus of proof rests on us to show that he is incapacitated by some considerations of personal unfitness or political dangers. Now, I think this Bill meets that expression of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to a hair. Here you have expressly excluded, by the Bill of my hon. Friend, those two qualities which would most conduce, in my opinion, to "personal unfitness and political dangers," namely, ignorance and guilt. Now, I would go farther than my hon. Friend, and touch upon another point, to which he did not allude, but which I think is a recommendation to the Bill. I think a franchise of this description would have the greatest tendency to check venality and corruption. I am not prepared to say that because a man is able to do a sum in multiplication he would not take a bribe; but I do say that when you have men in the suffrage who can read and write and reflect, and who can canvass among themselves the merits of a candidate—I do say that these men are less likely to be actuated by degrading and venal considerations, and that they would be more likely to return representatives of a higher class to this House, than a constituency formed by a mere lowering of the suffrage. I was travelling only recently with a gentleman from Australia—the Mayor of Melbourne—and he said to me, before I knew of the principle of my hon. Friend's Bill, "We are endeavouring in our Australian colonies, and a great number of enlightened and thoroughly liberal men are working, to establish, if possible, an education franchise in lieu of that almost universal suffrage which has become almost intolerable." Now, I say, if you give your countenance to a measure such as this which we are discussing, and do not throw it lightly on one side, you will add materially to the efforts of those people in Australia. And now let me say a word with regard to Ireland. If you are going to give England a Reform Bill I am convinced you will not deny it to Ireland, and if you brought in a double-barrelled Bill—a Bill for the re-distribution of seats as well as dealing with the franchise—I do not suppose you would refuse a similar Bill to Ireland, where you have a number of small boroughs, composed of less that 150 or 200 voters, many of them notoriously the hot-beds of corruption. You would be, of course, prepared to sweep away a number of these small boroughs, and to add their representatives to great and populous counties, and to the large towns, such as Kingstown and Belfast. I presume you would also have something to do with the franchise. Now, I have heard many a complaint made of the want of independence of thought in some of the constituencies, but I have never heard any man in Ireland, however Radical he might be, try to remedy that want by advocating the lowering of the suffrage. But were yon to give such a suffrage to Ireland as that advocated by my hon. Friend, you would greatly strengthen the intellectual capacities of the constituencies. I will now turn from Australia and from Ireland to that small geographical point in which we on this side of the House are sitting. As for our own position, I cannot look on it with much hopefulness or satisfaction—ominous indications rise around me everywhere; strange whispers reach me from very Liberal mouths of a deep aversion to a £6 franchise, whether it be rating or whether it be rental. We do not know the Government proposal as yet. It may be a very beautiful composition, endowed no doubt with all those charms which the mature experience and the youthful ardour of the Cabinet can confer upon it. But "those whom the Gods love die young"—and I am sorry to say that I have heard on too many occasions that a considerable number of its nurses, if they only get a chance, are prepared to "overlie" and suffocate it. If the Government bring in a single-barrelled Bill, they know very well that they and their Bill will be as dead as Julius Cæsar within a month of its birth; shot down in the rear by your own men. If they bring in a double- barrelled Bill, they know that there are a number of hon. Gentlemen in this House, representatives of the doomed boroughs, who, notwithstanding their political allegiance, are not prepared to march before the Treasury Bench and to say to the Chancellor of the Exchequer—"Ape Cœsar Imperator! morituri te salutamus." Rely on it, they will die hard, and perhaps a great deal harder than the Bill. Well, then, which is the next process? We go to the country, which is indifferent if not hostile, jogging along in the old rut, in which you have already upset the coach, and what have you to rally round you the intelligence and enthusiasm of the nation? Have you no other standard than that wretched £6 old Aunt Sally, which has been so pelted with mud and battered—now rental and now rating—that it has lost all identity, and no one can tell what to make of it. What we want is something that will hold out to us a prospect of finality—something that will settle the question—something that will rid us of this endless annoyance and interruption of all business—and I think I see some prospect of that in the proposal of my hon. Friend. I met an American gentleman the other day, and he said to me, "This Reform Question of yours is something like an attack of the gravel—it utterly diverts your mind from everything else, and when other business is proposed it becomes a mere excuse and obstacle." I am looking for something which partakes of the quality of permanence, something large and liberal and yet thoroughly safe, something that will touch a stronger and higher chord throughout the country, if you appeal to the country, than this unseemly apologetic ad misericordiam plea of—"We must do something!" I wish for something that will arouse the enthusiasm and intelligence of the country—some measure calculated to elevate the character of the constituencies rather than debase it—and because I think I find these elements and qualities in the Bill of my hon. Friend, I shall give it my cordial support.


Sir, I do not rise to enter into the general question of Reform, as I know that the house is anxious to resume the discussion of the Cattle Plague Bill, but I am anxious to say a few words with reference to the Motion of my hon. Friend, because the measure he proposes is a novelty in this House, though the idea that pervades it has pervaded the writings of great political thinkers. Accustomed as we have been, on the subject of Reform, to denunciatory eloquence—uttered as some think neither rightly nor reasonably—not only in this House, but on the platforms of Birmingham, Manchester, and Rochdale—and used as we are to regard those speeches as the oracular utterances of the advanced Liberal party in this House and the country—it is quite refreshing to find a gentleman of advanced Liberal opinions—and no one can doubt that the hon. Member for Hull is a gentleman of advanced Liberal opinions any more than they can doubt his ability, honesty, and integrity of purpose—instead of denouncing our institutions and abusing his opponents—instead of endeavouring to palm off upon us the £6 franchise as a panacea for all political evils, it is a refreshing change, I say, to find such an authority bringing forward a measure of Reform which makes intelligence and education the passport to the suffrage. In doing this my hon. Friend follows in the wake of Mr. Hare, of the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill), and other political writers. None of those writers have spoken more strongly against the suffrage being given without some educational test. The hon. Member for Westminster especially insists most strenuously in his writings upon every man obtaining that position in the State to which his acquirements entitled him—that a master of arts should have more influence than the voters proposed by the hon. Gentleman. Such a test as that proposed by the hon. Gentleman—and, indeed, I believe that it is one of the arguments which the hon. Gentleman himself urged in its favour—would be in itself a test as to the sincerity of the voter in his desire to obtain the franchise. There are many hon. Gentlemen who are sceptical of the honesty and sincerity of working men upon this point, and the passing of this measure would have the effect of showing whether these objections are well founded or not. My hon. Friend proposes an educational test, instead of the rude principle of franchise we have hitherto had; and it certainly has the advantage that it will give a good educational stimulus to the country. Then, again, it will not increase the anomalies of the present system, for instead of admitting, as the £6 franchise would do, the provident and the improvident alike, it will let in only those who are intelligent, provident, and in earnest. It will meet further that great difficulty, the extension of the franchise to lodgers. Under the present system a Rothschild or a Mill has no voice in the Constitution unless he is a householder. So far for the reasons in favour of this Bill; but there are many serious and varied objections to it. In the first place, it is novel, and, in some respects pedantic, neither of which is a quality much relished in this House, and when they are found combined, the prospects of carrying the Bill are somewhat remote. Again, the measure does away entirely with the property qualification, and establishes for the first time an educational test alone as a title to the franchise. In the next place it abandons the principle of class representation, and adopts that of individual representation. The principle of class representation has been endorsed by a high authority—the hon. Member for Birmingham—who, in a recent speech at Rochdale, said that ours was not a system of individual but of class representation. Again, it will admit a clever man without any character—a burglar, for instance, if unconvicted. Counsellor Caseley, of whom we have heard so much lately, might have passed such an examination; and, therefore, mere intelligence without property or character would admit persons who had no interest in the security of the State. Lastly, I do not think it would necessarily be final. The hon. Gentleman looks to the measure as final, and gives as one reason for his belief that a standard of education once adopted, men would be ashamed to come and ask for it to be lowered. The hon. Gentleman further sees no danger of the standard being lowered, because the tendency of all examinations on those who have passed them is to screw up the test rather than down. The hon. Gentleman, however, does not consider what would take place in this House, although his view may be true as regards those out of doors. Judging by analogy, and reasoning from the past, we should have Members in this House attempting a short cut to distinction, by bringing forward Motions to lower the educational test, just as they now do to lower the borough franchise. One gentleman might move the omission of arithmetic from the examination, and another who had an inveterate hostility to the letter "h," might move that that letter should be cut out of the alphabet of the Civil Service; and we might have some future Member for Leeds, after a walk of two hours through the streets of Leeds, coming to the conclusion that the working classes were so universally wise that they might safely be admitted to the franchise without passing through any examination at all. There- fore I do not see that the doctrine of finality is a necessary result of the measure. If it is put to me whether I could support the Bill in the abstract I should vote against it; but it will have to be considered not in the abstract, but in connection with the Bill to be brought in by Her Majesty's Government. On the nature of that Bill will depend the view I should take of this measure. What that Bill can be no man can tell. Before Parliament met it was announced by the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) as a simple measure of enfranchisement, or what is called a "single-barrelled Bill," Then the right hon. Member for Ashton (Mr. Milner Gibson), in his speech to his constituents, announced something of the same kind. [Mr. MILNER GIBSON: No, no!] Such was my impression. At another time it was announced as a "double-barrelled Bill;" and the report now is that it is to be two single barrels, and to be loaded with No. 6. Now I believe this £6 franchise which is to be contained in this Bill—whether a whole charge or a half-charge—is a measure fraught with danger to the State; and, as was said by the hon. Member (Mr. Clay) it was a concession of that kind which would lead to further changes until it arrived at the lowest symbol of property, whatever that may be. And therefore if it is put to me whether I would support a £6 franchise or the Bill of the hon. Member, I shall certainly vote for the latter. It is encouraging to find that the hon. Member for Hull, not satisfied with repeating the parrot cry of a"£6 franchise," has cut out for himself a new and untrodden road through the briars and thorns which have so long surrounded this question of Reform.


Sir, I certainly expected to hear a few words from the Treasury Bench on this subject of basing the franchise on intelligence. Considering what the subject is, it is only due to the House that we should hear some expression of opinion from the Treasury Bench on the proposal of my hon. Friend. I do not think the circumstance that the other side of the House desire to go on at once with the cattle plague is a sufficient excuse for the silence maintained by the Members of the Government. I think, however, that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer fell into a little irregularity in the beginning of the evening when he pledged himself beforehand that none of the Motions on the paper should be opposed, for that is a matter which does not rest entirely with the Government. I confess I find it difficult to understand why the Ministry is so exceedingly reluctant to say anything with respect to the Bill. It is impossible to separate the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Hull from that great question of Reform which Her Majesty's Ministers led us to believe, until we read the Queen's Speech, was the most absorbing, the most overwhelming, the most pressing, and, in fact, the supreme question of the day. I should, therefore, have thought that when the question was brought forward to-day the right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench, and their friends below the gangway, would have shown great alacrity in expressing to the House the opinions which they have expressed out of doors. I can imagine one excuse for their reluctance. It may be that they feel a certain amount of soreness at the conduct of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hull. He must be to some extent regarded to-night as an object of envy by Her Majesty's Government, and there may be a pardonable feeling of dissatisfaction at the contrast obvious to the most superficial observer suggested by the difference between my hon. Friend and the Government. My hon. Friend pledged himself, like the Government, to introduce a Reform Bill at the earliest period of the Session, but, unlike the Government, he has kept his pledge. The hon. Member, too, had, like the Government, to base his Bill on statistics, but unlike the Government, he had no paid officers to assist him, and, still more unlike the Government, his statistics are complete. Like the Government, again, he wishes to extend the franchise, but, unlike the Government, he bases his proposed extension on a principle which he can explain and defend—and in that respect he has attained a statesmanship beyond that which Earl Russell has ever attained with his one idea of Reform, which is to give us a House of Commons elected by a mob. I can well understand that the position occupied by my hon. Friend tonight—that of a Reformer pledged to Reform, who, at the earliest moment, redeems his pledge—that of a business-like Reformer who has prepared his Bill, and that of a statesmanlike Reformer who bases it upon a principle, may well excite feelings of embarrassment, accounting for the silence exhibited on the Treasury Bench. But, Sir, if my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is unwilling to express any opinion on this Bill, I am still more surprised at the silence of the large and comprehensive Reformers below the gangway. How comes it that they have given no response whatever to this proposal to base the franchise on intelligence, though it is what they have been roaring about all their lives. When the hon. Member for Hull resumed his seat, I thought so many of them would be starting up for the honour of seconding the Motion that you, Sir, would have been perplexed which of them to name, instead of which they all remained fixed to their seats. Has their ardour been expended and exhausted during the recess? Or did it receive its quietus on the day the Queen's Speech was delivered? I must say, judging from what we have Been, that there was never so potent an instrument, and one with so magical an effect, as the Queen's Speech, for it mesmerized in a moment all the large and comprehensive Reformers in Her Majesty's dominions. The hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) was the first to show that he was stunned and silenced. When I was coming down to the House at four o'clock on the day Parliament was opened, I had not had an opportunity of reading the Queen's Speech, but I met a friend of mine who has a seat on this side of the House, and who is a very advanced Reformer. "How have they treated you Gentlemen in the Speech," I asked. He replied, "Very badly indeed; they hare shunted us into a siding." But, he added, "We shan't stand it, and there will be a row." "What do you mean by a row?" I inquired. He replied, "Go down at five o'clock, and just see how the Member for Birmingham will explode." Well, Sir, I came down to hear the Member for Birmingham explode, and there was ft great rush of new Members to witness the explosion; but the Member for Birmingham had not the least idea of exploding. He sat here for two whole nights mute and melancholy, the "observed of all observers." Even when the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington), with the most benevolent intention of enabling the large and comprehensive Reformers to relieve their feelings, at last got the hon. Member for Birmingham on his legs, he was ready to explode upon Jamaica, he was great on the cattle plague, and he went off at half cock upon Ireland. But on that great question of Reform which had been treated with such contempt in the Queen's Speech, and as to which we were told the whole nation would be clamouring at our doors for a large and comprehensive Bill, he was wholly silent. Although the hon. Member went up to boiling pitch on the other subjects, his temperature as to Reform was so frigid that no stimulant was sufficient to get him up to bloodheat; and as to the other large and comprehensive Reformers they all seemed afraid or ashamed to touch the question. No doubt the hon. Member for Birmingham has his own reasons for avoiding the question; he is an old and wily politician, and has reasons for the course he adopts, which perhaps the other large and comprehensive Reformers have not. There are, however, other Reformers in the House who profess to act upon principle apart from tactics. When, last year we obtained an easy victory over the hon. Member for Leeds we were told that during the last Parliament the advanced Liberal party had eaten so much dirt in the service of the Ministry that they were politically discredited and insolvent. But they said to us, "See what the elections have done—see what has happened at Brighton, at Westminster, and Lambeth—see what young blood has been sent into the House. Reformers un-contaminated, undemoralized by past Parliamentary proceedings; see how they will come out on Reform and redeem the character of Parliament and the country!"We were glad to hear of these valuable accessions to our debates—the reputation of these gentlemen had preceded them to this House—we welcomed them with pride and with pleasure; we knew them to be men of great ability, and believed what we were told of their zeal and sincerity; but still we watch and wait for them to redeem the character of the great Reform party, and others have waited and watched, and with what result? I can very well imagine these gentlemen congregated at the Reform Club around the hon. Member for Birmingham, when one of their admirers comes up and says, "We hear wonderfully little about Reform in this new Parliament. When are you coming out on Reform? Or what are you doing about Reform?" "Oh," says the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright), drawing himself up, "I am waiting for statistics." Then the admiring inquirer turns to the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill), and says, "What are you doing upon Reform!" "Oh," he replies, "I am helping the hon. Member for Birmingham." Then the inquirer goes to the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett), and asks, "What are you doing about Reform?" and he answers, "I am helping the hon. Member for Westminster." Then the inquirer goes to the hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. Thomas Hughes), and says, "I suppose you are like the rest of them, and that probably you are helping the Member for Brighton." The hon. Member for Lambeth replies, "Probably I am." Then, going through the club, the inquirer turns to a more candid Reformer, perhaps the senior Member for Brighton (Mr. White), and he asks him the same question, "What are you legislators doing about Reform?" "Oh," he says, "I will tell you what we are doing; we are helping the helpmates of the Member for Birmingham to smother Reform under a fictitious pile of imaginary statistics." These are the philosophical Reformers, who have been sent to this House for the purpose of advancing this great cause of Reform, who have shown their philosophy by the patience with which they have endured the delay of this great question, against which delay others have protested, and forming apparently no very high estimate of the sincerity which this patience exhibits. Of course, those gentlemen who would base the franchise on intelligence do not get much assistance from the hon. Member for Birmingham and those who agree with him. The latter want to go a great deal faster than the former. We know that intelligence is fatal to agitation, that as the schoolmaster advances the agitator recedes, and that an educated multitude no more believes in demagogues than in ghosts. But we do expect from men whose high reputation has given them another position in this House that they should follow Reform with a pure spirit, and, politically speaking, with a higher morality than has distinguished this agitation during the last few years; and it is nothing short of a public calamity when men of their high order lend themselves, as they appear to be doing now, by the indifference they are showing, to the degradation of the Parliament they were intended to adorn.


My right hon. Friend who has just sat down has expressed a hope that he would hear a few words from the Treasury Bench upon this occasion, and that hope of my right hon. Friend shall be gratified, while I can assure him also that those words will be very few. The principal duty in fact which I have now to perform is to render a just tribute to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Hull (Mr. Clay). That speech, as I thought, was characterized by great force, great ability, and great clearness of statement, as well as by considerable ingenuity in handling a very difficult subject; but it was characterized above all by an evident earnestness and sincerity, and a sense of the serious nature of the position in which he was speaking. For all these qualities I thank my hon. Friend, but especially for the display of those qualities in that portion of his address which related to the moral character of that class whose cause he was more immediately advocating. My right hon. Friend who has just sat down has sought to lead me a little beyond the performance of this duty by the contrast which he has benevolently been pleased to imagine between the position of my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, who has fulfilled all his pledges, and that of Her Majesty's Government, who he thinks already, before they have spoken one word, have contrived to violate all the pledges which they have given. I cannot admit the existence of that mortification which he supposes we must suffer in contemplating the triumphant honesty and integrity of the hon. Member for Hull. I can feel in this instance the satisfaction which the conduct of a good man naturally inspires, but that satisfaction is entirely unalloyed by any sting or reproach of conscience in consequence of anything we have done or not done on the question of Reform. In the speech of Her Majesty it was stated that the Government were engaged in gathering information upon this subject. Our responsibility with respect to that part of the question is very well tested by two considerations:—first, the time at which the Cabinet was formed and the state of public business on the death of Lord Palmerston; and next whether after the tenor of the debates which took place in the year 1860, it was or it was not material and important, with a view to the satisfactory handling of this subject, that an effort should be made to place Parliament and the country in possession of the best and most accurate information which we could command. We came to the conclusion that such an effort was desirable, and if my right hon. Friend thinks fit to challenge our judgment, and says that that was a proceeding intended only for evasion or delay, it is quite competent to him to do so, and we shall be ready to meet him whenever he invites the House to assent to such an opinion. But, if our views were just, our duty was a perfectly simple and disinterested one. We have in accordance with it prosecuted this inquiry. The systematic management and arrangement of a number of particulars with reference to the situation of counties and boroughs, if the Returns are to be rendered worthy of this House and are to present that accuracy and precision of which the subject admits, cannot be accomplished without a considerable lapse of time. Not one moment has been lost, and the announcement of the time when it will be my duty to make a proposal to the House on the subject of Reform has depended and will depend upon the day when we shall be able to produce this information. A very few days only, I hope, will now elapse before I shall be able to state when that day has arrived. But upon the present occasion I have only to say for myself, "my bosom's lord sits lightly on its throne." I have no sins to answer for on my part, or on the part of my Colleagues, as far as any delay hitherto is concerned. With respect to the very mild and modest invitation of my hon. Friend the Member for Hull (Mr. Clay), and the more detailed and elaborate invitation of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Horsman) who followed him in the debate for some expression of opinion from me, on the part of the Government, in reference to the merits of the proposal of my hon. Friend, I can only say that neither the respect I feel for the one, nor the admiration I entertain of the ability of the other, nor any other motive or consideration, be it what it may, will succeed in extracting from me a single word.

Motion agreed to. Bill to extend the Elective Franchise for Cities and Boroughs in England and Wales, ordered to be brought in by Mr. CLAY, Mr. GEORGE CLIVE, and Mr. GREGORY.