THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I have now, Sir, to ask that those paragraphs of THE QUEEN'S SPEECH that relate to the electoral franchise may be read at the table.
§ Paragraphs in Queen's Speech at the opening of the Session read, as follows:—
§ "I have directed that information should be procured in reference to the Rights of Voting in the Election of Members to serve in Parliament for Counties, Cities, and Boroughs.
§ "When that information is complete, the attention of Parliament will be called to the result thus obtained, with a view to suck 19 improvements in the Laws which regulate the Sights of Voting in the Election of Members of the House of Commons as may tend to strengthen our Free Institutions and conduce to the Public Welfare."
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
again rose and said—Mr. Deputy Speaker, Sir, if in order to estimate justly the difficulties of the question which I have now to bring before you it be right, as I suppose, to take into view not only its own extent and complexity, and not only the strange fluctuation of circumstances which has attended and marked its history, but also the weakness of the hands into which the treatment of it has fallen, then, perhaps, I may well say that few Ministers have risen in recent years to address this House under greater difficulties than those which at this moment attend my own position and my present task. Sir, those difficulties are difficulties which I am conscious affect in the first instance Her Majesty's Government; and they are perfectly sensible of the weight of responsibility which attaches to them. But although they be concentrated in their greatest weight upon us, yet they are not ours alone. The interest in the successful solution of this question is an interest common to the whole House of Commons, and to every party, and every section of a party that sits within these walls. For, Sir, let me remind you that those paragraphs which we have just heard read are not the only paragraphs in which, under the most solemn form known to the Constitution, the subject of the representation of the people has been brought under the notice of Parliament. By no less than five Administrations, and in no less than five Queen's Speeches before that of the present year, the House of Commons has been acquainted by the Sovereign, under the advice of her constitutionally appointed Ministers, that the time, in their judgment, had arrived when the representation of the people ought to undergo revision. It is needless to refer to the terms of those Speeches severally; but it will at once be recollected that they have not been delivered exclusively at periods when Ministers taken from one side of the House were in power. In 1859, and in 1860, by both parties each in its turn, those solemn pledges were given in the face of the country. And, Sir, having much, I fear, to state to the House, I shall not, under the 20 circumstances I have stated, unnecessarily occupy its time on this occasion by discussing the general ground of the question whether there ought to be a revision of our electoral system, and whether the franchises of the people ought to be extended. With such an accumulation of authority, and of authority proceeding from every quarter, in my favour, I hold it to be superfluous for the moment to debate that general question. I shall assume that by these declarations, so repeatedly and so earnestly made, the general ground and justification have been sufficiently, nay, amply laid down on which Her Majesty's present Government are warranted in placing before you a proposal relating to this important subject. And I venture, Sir, to request from the House not only for myself that kind patience and indulgence which I have, times innumerable, received at its hands, but likewise, for the question which I have to introduce, that grave and earnest attention which belongs to a matter undoubtedly of a serious order.
Sir, it may be with great truth said, with respect to the origin of this question, that it is emphatically the work of the House of Commons itself. Let me remind the House, as the period has now long gone by, and as many of the Gentlemen whom I address have now taken their seats on these Benches for the first time—let me remind the House of what happened in the beginning of the year 1851. And I must say that the event which then occurred was of a nature to saddle the responsibility connected with the introduction of this question, in a high and peculiar sense, not merely on one or on another Minister or Government, but upon the whole body of the House of Commons. It was an independent Member—my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Locke King)—who, on the 20th February, 1851, moved for leave to bring in a Bill to grant a £10 occupation franchise in counties. In the debate which followed, the sole opponent of that Motion was my noble Friend now at the head of the Government. Every other authority in the House either approved or was silent on the occasion. Although, in resisting the Motion, the noble Earl, then first Minister, promised that the Government would itself take the question into its consideration, and would in the following Session make a proposal for amending the representation of the people, yet this did not at the time satisfy the House, and the Government 21 were beaten by a majority of forty-eight. The minority consisted of fifty-two Members, and among those fifty-two there were not, I think, more than twelve or fifteen who sat on the Benches of the party opposite. So that it cannot, I think, be denied that the first initiation of this subject in the form in which it now comes before us—having begun as a question of the county franchise only, but it being perfectly well known that a change in that portion of our system must draw a change in the borough franchise along with it—the initiation of this subject, I say, was in a peculiar sense the work of the House of Commons. And, therefore, in inviting you to co operate with us, the advisers of the Crown, in endeavouring to bring it to a solution, we are inviting you not only to relieve us of difficulties, but to effect a work in which Parliament itself has bad from the first a common interest with ourselves. Sir, the election of a new Parliament naturally made the Government feel that the time had arrived when it was right that the sense of the representatives of the people should again be taken in regard to the laws which regulate our electoral system. The duty of the Government in this respect was a very plain one. No doubt, they had before them the discouraging record of former failures. No doubt, they had to deal, as it was obvious, with a state of the public mind that was not clear, definite, and resolute, but rather bewildered or, at the least, indecisive. Their duty, however, was, as I have said, plain. It was at once to examine the whole materials within their reach which could throw real light upon the case, to cast aside every consideration narrower than those which belonged to a great public and national interest; not to inquire for one moment what might be for the benefit or for the convenience of this party or of that; to be more studious of the substance than of the shadow or the name of their own consistency; to apply their minds and the best powers they possessed to the framing of a prudent, but an effectual measure; and then to await the issue at the hands of Parliament; but, as far as depended upon them, having framed their measure, to sustain and support it with all the energy and decision they could command.
And, Sir, the first question which we had to consider was a most important one. It was whether we were to attempt legislation in the present Session, or whether we were to be content for the time with in- 22 quiry, it was beyond all dispute that the careful examination of the facts of the case lay at the very threshold of the subject. It was want of information, or the want of definite and authentic information, which formed the greatest matter of contention during the debates of the year 1860. It was scarcely possible in that year to get at the point really in issue. Such were the doubts, such were the misgivings, such was the scepticism in regard to the figures on the one side and on the other, that we felt that if we were really to come to issue on the merits of the case, we must endeavour to make ourselves, and to make Parliament as well as ourselves, masters of the material facts appertaining to it. Well, Sir, with no delay—I believe in the first Cabinet after the funeral of our lamented head, but certainly before approaching any other domestic question of a public character—we applied ourselves to consider and frame the heads under which that information was to be obtained. As soon as those heads could be framed, the necessary measures were taken for procuring it; and I am bound to say that the assistance we have received from the Poor Law Department, and in particular the labours of Mr. Lambert, who has been the person principally concerned, were, in point of ability and of assiduity, everything that we could desire. Indeed, I am persuaded that if Members, whether they sit on this side or on that, have been able, since Saturday morning last, to institute any examination of the volume which has been laid on the table, they will admit that in the preparation of that volume the time has not been misspent; and they will likewise admit that they have now the advantage of approaching the consideration of this important question with such a knowledge and such a mass of authentic and weighty facts as have never been collected before.
We, therefore, Sir, can truly say that no time has been wasted. Had we found that it was not feasible by the means at the command of the executive Government to obtain information which should be full in its scope and range, and authentic and trustworthy in its character, we should have had no hesitation in at once seeking the aid of Parliament, and postponing legislation until such information had been obtained. But when we saw what could be done, and when, as the materials began to flow in upon our 23 hands during the winter months, we perceived what had been done, we had no doubt whatever as to the practicability of satisfying both the branches of the Legislature with regard to the sufficiency of their knowledge; and, therefore, we had not the least hesitation in at once pledging ourselves, as early as the commencement of the Session, to the introduction of a measure on this subject. And here, Sir, I am anxious to make an explanation in reference to the preparation of the electoral statistics now in the hands of the Members of this House. There have been here and there not unnatural indications of a disposition to murmur at the supposed delay in the production of these papers, and to ascribe it to hesitation and vacillation of purpose on the part of the Government. Undoubtedly that has not been the case. So anxious have we been to give promptly to the House of Commons, as far as we could, the same means of judging with ourselves, that I can truly state that on Friday evening I could not obtain for my own use a completely finished copy of those papers, except the copy that was laid by me on the table of the House of Commons, and that, consequently, when so laid, passed out of my hands. But the question of time has an importance very different from that which it derives from its connection with vague rumours or vague insinuations. It has this importance—it is now the 12th of March when I make to you the first proposal for the introduction of a Bill; and, taking into consideration the approach of the Easter recess, it will not be possible for us to ask you to read the Bill a second time till the second week in April. As prudent and practical men, therefore, we have had to measure what our powers might be with regard to legislation in the present Session. Then, of course, arose the question for consideration—Are we to have what is termed a complete measure, or are we to have one that is incomplete? Now, I would ask Members of the House to consider what is meant by a complete revision of our representative system. I must omit from a complete definition or explanation of it some branches of legislation which are or have been favourites with a portion of the Members of the House, and which we, as a Government, do not admit to be necessary or desirable to take into consideration. I do not, therefore, refer to such questions as the question of secret voting, or the 24 question of shortening Parliaments, which we cannot undertake to view with favour either now or at a future time; but to what would generally be admitted to belong to a complete revision of your representative system; because we—like every one else—are sensible of the immense advantage which would attend an operation whereby you would be able to deal with the whole range of the question at once. In the first place, there must be a consideration of the franchise in England and Wales, and a like consideration in Scotland, where it is, perhaps, even more obviously, I might say urgently, required. The subject of the Irish franchise, too, must be considered, although that is in a simpler state, because the electoral arrangements in that island have been more recently adjusted by Parliament, and the machinery necessary for such purposes is much more perfect than in this country. Then comes the whole group of questions that are included in the common phrase "re-distribution of seats"—questions between the three kingdoms—questions between town and country—questions between total extinction, or capital punishment, such as is inflicted in Schedule A, and the milder method of amputation, such as is administered in Schedule B, or that yet milder method of grouping boroughs together adopted in principle by my noble Friend now at the head of Her Majesty's Government in his Bill of 1852, but susceptible of being applied in many and very different forms. All these are matters that must undergo careful consideration by Parliament, and must, of necessity, entail protracted discussion. Then comes another question which, in reviewing your electoral system, can never be avoided—namely, whether the present boundaries of boroughs are such as the circumstances of those boroughs naturally demand. To meddle with the boundaries of boroughs for the sake of affecting questions of town and country representation, and the balance of interests, would, in my opinion, be a gross abuse. But, on the other hand, to inquire what are called the natural boundaries of each borough, as determined by public convenience, from time to time, is not only a natural and useful, but it is an essential part of any complete review of our electoral system. I am sorry to say that there is another matter belonging to that review which I do not believe to be less urgent at the present time than at 25 any other, and that is the consideration of the state of the law with respect to corrupt practices at elections. I cannot hazard prophecies on that subject, which is as difficult as it is important. But I am afraid the urgency of it is in no degree diminished; and, undoubtedly, it could not be passed over by any Government in taking a complete review of the electoral system. Lastly comes a question of great practical importance, though no doubt of a less arduous character, concerning the administrative machinery for registration and for the holding of elections. These subjects are complex in themselves; but they have been further complicated by the speculations of many men of great ability and great authority, who have thought that, taking into account on the one side the demand for the extension of the franchise, and, on the other side, the difficulties we have to encounter with respect to the due or undue distribution of power among the different classes of the community, the time was come for introducing in one form or another propositions to which they attach great importance. One or other of them, or several of them, may be supported by arguments the most ingenious and by authorities the most weighty, but yet they are propositions of almost all of which it may be emphatically said that they are in the old English sense innovations, and which, as being innovations, never could come under the criticism of this House without a careful, a searching, and a jealous examination. Now, was it possible for us to suppose that as we now stand we could expect that it would be in the power of Parliament to accomplish the complete review that I have described during the present Session? It is all very good, very conformable to the habits of this country, and a very constitutional practice to entertain the idea of what we call the omnipotence of Parliament. But time and space are not yet annihilated, either for the purpose of making lovers happy or for any other purpose. I, therefore, want to know what is the time at our command in the position in which we stand, and what is the time requisite to enable Parliament to deal deliberately and effectually with this group of subjects? Neither of these questions is very difficult to answer. As regards the time at our command, as far as I can at present judge, if we obtain leave from the House for the introduction of this Bill, we shall propose that the second reading take place on the 26 12th of April. Suppose, then, I measure the time between the 12th of April and the middle of July, which I think will be the latest period at which such a Bill can be sent to the House of Lords, I find that the evenings certainly at the disposal of the Government would amount to about twenty-four. One-half of these might, as we must calculate, probably be occupied by the financial arrangements of the Session, and by the business of Supply. Beyond a period, then, which might not much exceed twelve evenings, we shall have nothing whatever to depend upon but the charity of private Members and the crumbs that may fall from their table. What have we found on similar occasions in former years? In 1860 we spent about ten nights, in trying, I may say, to do nothing. The great example of the Reform Act may give us some idea of the time occupied by complete reviews of our electoral system. A single one of the three Bills, out of which the Reform Act finally grew, occupied fifty nights of the House of Commons. But I feel that I should understate the case if I were to say that 100 nights, at least, were required for the complete review of the electoral system which was achieved in the year 1831–2. It may be said, and said very truly, that at that time there was a political heat and excitement, and a degree of apprehension which do not now exist; and I do not suppose that any such review as I have indicated would at the present day require so great a time. But, then, let me point out that the time occupied in passing that Act and the subsequent Acts was not less than six or eight times in extent that which is now, even at a sanguine estimate, at our command. On the occasion to which I have referred, you did indeed achieve a complete review of your electoral system; but, in order to do so, you turned day into night, summer into winter. You called upon every man of every class to sacrifice all his domestic engagements, you made the seasons of the year give way to your resistless and determined will, and you justly sacrificed—you were compelled to sacrifice all other legislation, I may say, of a nature to require serious discussion for two years. These are not the circumstances in which we now stand. We may reckon, I have no doubt, upon very fair and reasonable treatment with respect to the progress of a measure of this kind. Do not let it be supposed that I am apprehensive of what 27 is called obstruction. We may gather, I think, what we may anticipate from a few words in a speech delivered by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli) in 1860. He said—He and his friends desired, in short, not delay, but that deep and deliberate investigation of a great subject which was in accordance with the freedom of discussion by which the Parliament of England was characterized.The right hon. Gentleman was justified in calling for such an investigation, and for us to attempt now to overlook or pass by such a call would be a breach of duty on our part. We have determined, therefore, that it was quite impossible for us to do more than in approaching this question to look first at what we might think came first in the natural order of importance, and I do not doubt for one moment that the branch of the question which stands first is in its own importance and in the public estimation that which relates to the enfranchisement of large numbers of our fellow-countrymen now excluded from the electoral suffrage, but qualified, as we believe, to use it.
This, we think, to be the first and most urgent claim upon us, and this, therefore, unable as we are to deal in Parliament with the whole matter, we propose for immediate legislation. We might, it is true, have adopted a different mode of action, we might have framed a complete measure or a complete set of measures, and might have thrown them on the table of this House, claiming credit for the comprehensiveness of our views, and availing ourselves of every formula of objection to legislating piecemeal. But we should have done this knowing perfectly well that such measures could not in the time at our command be duly considered; that the effect of the proposal would simply be to prevent all possibility of real progress during the year; and that to all the unhappy miscarriages which have occurred in former years with relation to this subject, we were adding the certainty of another failure the most disastrous, and by far the most discreditable of them all. We have therefore determined to confine the Bill which we are about to ask for leave to introduce to the consideration of the electoral franchise, and we have founded this determination on a review of the time and circumstances in which we stand, and on the amount of opportunity at our command.
Perhaps, however, it may be asked— 28 and the demand is, I think, a fair one—what view we take of the Scotch electoral franchise. A question which has been put to me this day by an hon. Baronet opposite has, indeed, given me an intimation that we must not expect to stir this question in England without being prepared to deal with it in Scotland also. What we ourselves think is, that a fair review of our representative system must include, if not all, yet unquestionably most of the important subjects I have named. We freely admit that the present plan is incomplete. But it will be asked, "Do you intend to complete it?" Now, I have ever been averse—and I think that aversion is justified by general observation and experience—to dealing in pledges, which in a case like this must, in part at least, embrace a future Session. Such are the number and variety of the circumstances which must affect the position and duties of the Government of an Empire like ours, that we must, in my opinion, look to the future itself to determine the proper opportunities for dealing with the portions not at present touched of this important question. This, however, I am free to say, that while I am convinced the group of questions bound up with the complex subject of Parliamentary Reform are beyond handling in one Session, and especially in what remains to us of the present Session, yet I cannot have the slightest doubt that if the Government find it to be their duty to take up those other questions by way of direct sequel to the proposition which they now make, the present Parliament will be perfectly competent to discuss and decide whatever measures we may bring forward.
Having arrived, Sir, as we at once arrived, at the conclusion that we ought to deal with the question of Parliamentary representation and to approach it first in that branch which concerns the franchise, it was equally obvious to us that if we did not revive the Bill for which we were responsible as a Government, in great part composed of the same individuals, in 1860, that Bill, at least, formed for us the natural starting-point of our inquiry. I will first take the question of the county representation. This is not a question beset with intrinsic difficulties; and I do not believe that it is regarded with anything like the jealousies with which the question of the borough representation is surrounded. In the year 1860 a proposal was adopted by the Government which had been Contained 29 in the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey, to reduce the occupation franchise in counties from £50 to £10. That proposal was not attended, I believe, by any other proposal touching the county representation. What we now propose is a modification of this plan. We propose to reduce the occupation franchise—my statement is not precisely accurate when I say to reduce the occupation franchise, but it is accurate enough, and is, perhaps, that which will generally be best understood—from £50 to £14. That reduction of the franchise from £50 downwards will not precisely correspond with the £50 franchise as it now exists. We propose to leave that £50 franchise precisely as it stands. The occupation franchise which we propose between £50 value and £14 value will be an occupation franchise, not, however, of land alone, but of a house, or of a house with land. That is the nature of the franchise which we propose, and there is no great difficulty in estimating from the papers which have been laid on the table the amount of enfranchisement which this change will produce. It would correspond as nearly as possible with the effect of a £12 rating franchise. If hon. Members will look to the figures furnished by the volume of statistics which has been laid on the table with respect to a £12 rating franchise, they will find, I think, that its effect, after making proper deductions for those who do not claim to vote, and for those who have not been in occupation a sufficient length of time to come upon the register, will be to add to the present number of county voters 172,000 persons. I may be asked why it is that we do not go down to the limit of £10. I do not know, and I certainly cannot say, that there would be any danger, so far as I am able to discern, in going downwards to that limit, but what we think on the whole is this, that by the change which the Bill recommends we shall obtain not only a very large, but a very independent addition to the county constituencies. At least we are of opinion that by going from £14 to £10 we should probably obtain not a more but a less independent reinforcement of the county voters. We have, I may add, no apprehension whatever with regard to the considerable enfranchisement which we pro pose; and we hope no such apprehension will prevail in any other quarter. It will, I think, be admitted on all hands, and I, for one, very strongly entertain the opi- 30 nion, that this must be viewed as a middle-class enfranchisement. The county constituency, when thus enlarged, will be a middle-class constituency in the same sense—nay, rather more strictly than under the present system. The number of persons properly belonging to the working-classes and having a £14 rental franchise will be so very small in number as not to be worth taking into calculation. Or at the least, I may say, that such portion of the newly I enfranchised body as may belong to the labouring class, will be tenants of small holdings of land in immediate connection with the landed class.
We have looked, however, further into the matter to see whether there were any cases in which, under the present law, there were interests of a more strictly proprietary character, interests connected with tenure, the most properly of all belonging to the county franchise, not provided for by the present law; and we found the following state of the law to prevail with regard to county franchises derived from property within the limits of cities and boroughs. We found that a man possessing a 40s. freehold within a borough might draw from it a county vote, but that if he had a copyhold, which is a rare case, or a leasehold, which is much more common, and which is just as truly a proprietary interest as a 40s. freehold, and may in many cases be fifty times the amount, he is not entitled to vote for it in the county within which it lies. We propose, therefore, by a clause in the Bill to give the possessor of copyhold and leasehold property within the limits of boroughs the right of voting beyond those limits, as if they were freeholders within the limits of boroughs, and to enable them, under the same conditions of relative amount which are fixed by the present law for freeholds and leaseholds respectively, to come upon the county register.
I am not able to estimate what the numerical effect of this proposal will he. It would not be possible, I think, to obtain any adequate materials for the purpose. The change cannot be numerically very large; but it must, I think, be good so far as it goes, because it will give a kind of constituency thoroughly germane to the nature and purposes of a county representation.
I come now to another topic affecting counties, and it is the only remaining one I need mention. I introduce it at this point because it is in connection with coun- 31 ties, in my opinion, that it will have its principal operation. I must, Sir, briefly allude to the subject of those franchises, new to the Constitution, and distinct from the franchise of tenure and occupation, which have sometimes been endowed with scoffing or irreverent names, but which may be properly called, I think, special or bye-franchises. A number of those franchises were proposed by the Ministry of Lord Aberdeen in the Bill of 1854, and again in the Bill of 1859, by the Ministry of Lord Derby. So far as the Bill of 1854 is concerned, I may say that many of us who form the present Government were responsible for it. But we have considered further and very carefully the nature of those franchises, and the numerous considerations that bear on the policy of their introduction. And first of all I think I may say, without fear of contradiction, that they are not suitable or adequate as a general basis for extending the franchise. They do not in general admit any large number of such persons as you cannot get by the old customary constitutional means of occupation and tenure. They have, however, a great tendency to complicate the electoral system by introducing a multitude of titles and a diversity of investigation, thereby multiplying and increasing the expense, already very heavy, which is connected with our system of registration. And therefore, speaking generally, the effect of our review, I do not hesitate to say, has been unfavourable to the general introduction of those bye-franchises and special franchises; but there is one among them with respect to which, although not attaching to it any exceeding importance, yet, notwithstanding, we think there are sufficient grounds for recommending it to the favourable notice of Parliament—I mean that which is called the savings banks franchise. The savings banks franchise has these advantages:—first of all, as far as it goes it meets a feeling prevalent in the country, and a feeling to which we are disposed to give effect as far as we can without the sacrifice of more important ends and aims—a feeling that it is desirable to include within the constituent body, by the method of what I may call spontaneous selection, some who could not be included by any method of franchise you could adopt founded upon the old principles of occupation or tenure. Now certainly it is true—it must be true—it is beyond all reasonable doubt or question, although the nature of savings banks does not allow us 32 to offer you any demonstration of it—it is true without any doubt that provident habits enable many persons in early youth, many in very humble circumstances, many not having any independent holding, to amass their little stores by the time they come to legal age, and thereby, as, we think, to qualify themselves, and justly qualify themselves, for taking part in the choice of those who are to govern the country. And, above all, the savings banks franchise has this notable advantage, that it is attended with no complication of title whatever. Every savings bank depositor possesses—it is necessary for him as a depositor to possess—a book, in which is inserted every payment in he has made—every payment out he has received, with the date of each and all of these payments; so that an inspection which could hardly require a minute of time would tell you when you had fixed your standard whether a man is qualified to be put upon the register as a savings bank depositor or not. We therefore propose that all adult male depositors of £50 and upwards, who have been possessed of that deposit for two years in a savings bank, or in a Post Office savings bank, shall be entitled to be registered for the place in which they reside. The place wherein they reside will, I think, commonly be outside the limits of a town. Of course, I do not mean because there will be no such savings banks depositors in a town, but because in the towns the nature of the franchise may probably be such as to include the great bulk of them. But a large proportion, I think, of savings banks depositors will be found to be below the limits of the £14 holding which is proposed for counties; and it is on that account that I mention the savings banks in connection with this department of the electoral system.
With respect to the term I have mentioned—namely, two years for the duration of the deposit, we do not follow precisely the arrangements proposed in some former Bills, but it is obviously proper to propose a certain period of time as an essential part of the qualification in order to prevent this franchise from being used as a means of corruption.
And now, Sir, as to the probable or possible numbers of depositors in savings banks who may be enfranchised. If we look to the Returns regarding the savings banks, printed within a few days, we find that out of the imposing totals of the depositors of all classes no less a number 33 of male adults in England and Wales than 94,000 are depositors to the amount of £50, and of those the depositors for two years amount to 87,000. But when we come to consider the probable operation of two most powerful causes, we shall find that we must not reckon upon large enfranchisements from this source. It would be a mere delusion in my opinion to look upon it as a means of a large enfranchisement. The first of these causes is that so large a proportion of these persons will be enfranchised by other titles and claims; and the second is the immense deduction that ought to be made from the apparent effect of every provision for the extension of the franchise when that franchise is accompanied, as it is of necessity in this case, with the condition that the possession of the franchise must be attended with the trouble of an annual claim. Now the trouble of an annual claim in this case is inevitable. The money might be withdrawn, the qualification might be lost; and to prevent gross abuse it is absolutely necessary that the claim should be made. We cannot in a case like this relieve the depositor from his trouble by means of a public officer. The claim must, therefore, be made, and must be renewed from year to year; and, therefore, although we think this a good franchise, we offer it simply as a collateral and subsidiary franchise. If it adds 10,000 or 15,000 to the electoral body, I believe that is the outside of what it will do. It is right, however, to observe that any estimate of numbers under this head must necessarily be matter of conjecture. But, at any rate, it is a very good franchise as far as it goes, and moreover we hope that under the operation of the Post Office savings banks it will be a franchise having a tendency to gradually extend itself. These remarks, I think, complete what I have to say upon the subject of the county franchise. The enfranchisement in counties will, according to the plan of the Government, as far as we can see, be a middle-class enfranchisement. The effect of it will be not to increase the relative share of the working classes in the representation, but, on the contrary, to diminish that share proportionately, because the influence of the working classes, represented by the very small freeholders, will form hereafter a diminished percentage of the entire county constituency, as compared with that which exists at the present moment.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
There must be a house; and if the house is inhabited by the man there is no stipulation as to its value; while if it is not inhabited by the man, it must be worth £6 at least, or one-half of the county qualification. And I will now pass to the question of the franchise in boroughs.
I think it will contribute to clearness, which, above all things, I am desirous to study, if I first call the attention of the House to the fact that the inhabitants of towns for the purpose of enfranchisement may be dealt with in four distinct classes. One class, and this is the principal class, inhabit separate houses, or at the least a separately rated building, and likewise pay their own rates. These are the proper objects of the Reform Act of 1832 with respect to the franchise, and these I shall call ratepaying householders. The next class consists of persons who inhabit their own houses, and whose houses are separately rated, but who do not pay their own rates, these being paid either under Mr. Sturgess Bourne's Act, or, and more commonly, under the Small Tenements Rating Act, or under particular local acts in certain towns. In all these cases the rates are paid by the landlord. I shall designate these persons by a phrase by which they are best known, though I am not sure that it is one of exact legal precision; I shall terra them compound householders. The third class of persona with respect to whom it appears that they have now in law a claim to enfranchisement like the two former classes, but whose claim is, as far as we can obtain information, practically null and valueless, is formed of those who not only do not pay their own rates, but whose holdings are not separately rated. That is to say, they are inhabitants of a separate portion of a house, but this separate portion not separately rated, and these persons pay their rents without any reference to rates whatever. The first two classes we think to be properly householders. There has been some tendency, I believe, in legal decisions to favour enfranchisement, and, accordingly, either to introduce the third class under the title of householders, or if not yet to give them the effect of that title—that is to say, to consider these men as qualified for the franchise, though not householders. But I much doubt whether, except in a few 35 instances, such as the case of Victoria Street, where the houses are partitioned into separate holdings of a very superior class, so that there can be no question of their sufficiency of value, this class is now to be found in practice on the list or register of voters at all. As regards them, inasmuch as they are not separately rated, we hold it better, I might almost say we find it indispensable, to deal with them as lodgers. The only mode under the present law by which they could obtain the franchise would be by getting their holdings separately rated. The enormous majority of them are, I believe, to be found in London, and, as nothing could be more inconvenient than to have an electoral law requiring parishes to adopt rating arrangements, not for rating purposes, but only arbitrarily imposed upon them for the purpose of the franchise, we think it better to let things take their natural course. Substantially, these persons are found standing in the category of lodgers; and as lodgers we deal with them, although generally speaking there is an open door, a common staircase, and an access to the abode independently of the landlord or his representative. The fourth class are lodgers properly so called, being persons who inhabit their own rooms, but as inmates in the houses, indeed, in the domestic establishments, of others. And let us now approach the question on which, it is idle to disguise, so much indecision, so much jealousy, and so much apprehension exist—namely, the question of the town franchise; and we wish, as far as depends on us, to remove all that indecision, to allay that jealousy, and to abate that apprehension. We think this can best be done by a full exposition of the facts of the case. What is the present state of the town constituencies, and what progress has been made by them, as compared with the population in the represented towns, since 1832? In 1832 the town constituencies numbered 282,000 voters. Of these, 63,000 and odd were freemen, 44,000 and odd were voters under scot and lot, and other old rights of a popular character, and 174,000 were £10 householders. Between 1832 and 1865 the ten-pounders rose to 463,000. The gross total of the constituency—we have no net total for the year 1832, and therefore I can only compare the gross numbers—the gross total of the constituency was 514,000 in 1865. That shows since 1832 an increase of 82 per cent. Within the same period the 36 population of towns has increased as follows:—In 1831 the population of the towns was 5,207,000; in 1865 it is believed to have been £9,326,000. The increase has been 4,119,000, or 79 percent. So that the growth of the constituency—and I wish to call the attention of the House to this fact—the growth of the constituency in towns, notwithstanding the vast augmentation of the wealth of the country, has practically but just exceeded the bare growth of the population. That is, I apprehend, an important fact for the House to bear in mind. In the counties it is otherwise; there the growth of the constituency has been as great, but the growth of the population has been much less; the growth of the constituency has been considerably beyond the increase of the population.
I now come to a point of very great interest and also of importance, and I think the House will be of opinion that if three or four months had been spent in the collection of these Returns, they would not have been ill-spent, presuming that they had led to no other result than the particulars contained in the blue book of Friday last, with respect to the representation of the working classes in the present constituency. The figures as they stand come to the following result. I mentioned, I think, that the town constituency was 514,000. Great pains have been taken in every case to strike off double entries, and I have no doubt that has been done with considerable precision. The net amount of the constituency, as far as we can ascertain, is now 489,000. All through my statement, for the convenience of the House, I confine myself to thousands. The £10 voters of the working classes are returned as 108,000, and the freemen and old-right voters of the working classes as 20,000, making a total of 128,000, and showing an apparent percentage of 26 per cent of the present constituencies as belonging to the working classes. Well, now, Sir, there will be, I have no doubt, some dispute as to the soundness of our definition of the working man; and I am bound to say that our definition is a large definition. [Mr. WHITE: Hear, hear!] I believe, however, that though imperfect and disputable, yet it is the best definition that can be found. [Mr. WHITE: Hear, hear!] Let my hon. Friend try his hand at framing a better; he will find it no easy matter. I do not believe this admits of accurate definition; but we 37 found the only definition we could take is undoubtedly a liberal definition, and you might say that 10 or that 20 per cent of those included in the working class under our definition are so considerably interested in shop keeping, or are otherwise in circumstances such that they ought not to be found among the working class. There is undoubtedly a certain amount of debate able ground. I think it right to notice this in order that there may be a clear understanding of the case as it stands. But suppose we deduct 20 per cent from the amount, the result of these remarkable figures will still be that, not less than 21 per cent of the constituency may be considered as belonging to the working class. And I freely own it is a larger percentage than I had expected to find. I am very glad that this is so; and if the percentage were still higher I should like it all the better. But I must observe upon this infusion of the working class in the pre sent constituency that, in the first place, it is exceedingly unequal I have gone roughly over the 200 boroughs, and I think I gathered together about sixty boroughs in which the proportion the working class possessed of the franchise was not less than one-third. I gathered thirty other boroughs, commonly boroughs of greater importance, and in these I found the proportion of the working class was not more than one-tenth; and this distribution of the working class is not only unequal but I must say, being myself a northerner, it is least where it ought to be largest, I mean in the towns of the north. As an illustration of this I will mention the names of six towns—in Oldham, with a constituency of 2,285, the working class represent 315, or one in 8 of the population; in Halifax, with a constituency of 1,771, the working class stands at 171, or one in 10; in Stockport, with a constituency of 1,348, the working class is 124, or one in 11; in Bradford, with a constituency of 5,189, the working class is 438, or one in 12; in Leeds, with a constituency of 7,217, the working class stands at 523, or one in 14; and last of all, there is a town which deserves special mention, not only on account of the distinguished man by whom it was but twelve months ago represented, but for other reasons—I mean the town of Rochdale, which has probably done more than any other town in making good to practical minds a case for some enfranchisement of the working classes; because it is the town where that remarkable system, 38 and at first sight I do not hesitate to say that most critical and even perilous system, obtained, under which the working class ousted the retail dealer from his accustomed province, and took into its own hands the business of supply; and where, through the extraordinary intelligence and self-governing power of these men, that system has been brought to a successful issue, and has become a source of the greatest comfort and profit to themselves. What is the case in Rochdale? With a constituency of 1,358, the enfranchised working class stands at only 68, or one in 20. I say, then, that if the percentage of the working class on the whole constituency be more satisfactory than I, in common with others, was led to expect, the manner of its distribution is even less satisfactory. The case of Rochdale is peculiar. It so happens that, a district which naturally would belong to it is not included in it; and that illustrates the necessity of including some consideration of the present state of boundaries in any complete revision of the representative system. Well, Sir, we are very much pleased and in good humour with ourselves because we find that 26, or more probably that 21 per cent of the working classes are included in the borough constituencies. Let me now approach another point. How was it in 1832? I have endeavoured to make the best estimate in my power, because this is a very interesting and important question. I apprehend there cannot be the smallest doubt of these propositions—first of all that, the enfranchisement of the working class as it stood in 1832 was not an excessive enfranchisement at that time. Secondly, that the advance of the working class since 1832 in everything that can entitle men to some share in the Government of their country has been a great and an undeniable advance. It is not denied on any hand—whether we take education in schools; whether we take social conduct; whether we take obedience to the law; whether we take self-command and power of endurance, shown under difficulty and privation whether we take avidity for knowledge and self-improvement—if we apply any one of these tests, or any other test that can be named, there can be no doubt at all that if the working man in some degree was fit to share- in political privileges in 1832 he has, at any rate, attained some considerable degree of additional fitness now. How, then, I ask, stands the case now as compared with 39 1832? In 1832 there were 63,000 freemen; I take the proportion of working men at that date to have been the same as by our Returns we find it to be now, that is to say, to have been 54 per cent of that number; consequently, there were 34,000 freemen belonging to the working class. The scot and lot and potwallopers were 45,000, and I assume that 60 per cent of these voters belonged to the working class. In my opinion that is a very moderate estimate; an estimate below the truth. The £10 occupiers in 1832 were 174,000. I assume, for the purpose of comparison, that in 1832 the working class represented only 15 per cent of the £10 occupiers of that day. The result of this computation is that of the total constituency of 282,000 in 1832, the proportion belonging to the working class was 87,000, or 31 per cent. They are now at the very outside not more than 26 per cent. It is not satisfactory, in all points of view, to deal with this question as a matter of pure statistics; but then I must say, if these statistics prove anything, the figures I have quoted prove that the working class, which ought to have borne an increasing and growing proportion, has borne a dwindling and diminishing proportion to the whole number of the town constituency, and consequently that the time has arrived when something ought to be done to increase their share in the elective franchise.
And now, Sir, if I may take so great a liberty, I wish to address one word to Gentlemen opposite. No wile, no stratagem can lie in what I am about to say; it is the simplest thing in the world. Let them take the distribution of the working class voters in different parts of the constituency; I would promise them that they may, if they will, derive immense consolation from it; let them observe the effect of this working class element upon the relative strength of political parties—because it is not to be denied that there is, and I admit not unnaturally, a considerable apprehension of the effect of a large enfranchisement or of any enfranchisement of the working class with regard to a diminution of that particular Parliamentary influence which most naturally and justifiably these Gentlemen regard as the influence most essential to the well-being of the State. I will, for the purpose of illustration, take a case which we may call celebrated on the one side, and notorious on the other. How stands the population of the working classes in the metropolitan boroughs as compared with the rest of the country? England, 40 without the metropolitan boroughs, has, in her town constituency, 27 per cent of the working classes; England, in the metropolitan boroughs, has only 23 per cent of the working classes; and yet I apprehend that it is an undoubted fact that if there be one section of Members who steadily, perseveringly, and uniformly represent Liberalism in this House—a somewhat advanced Liberalism, indeed, but also, I am glad to think, sometimes a philosophic Liberalism, too, it is the section of those Members who have been sent up to this House by the metropolitan boroughs. Thus, from constituencies having the smallest proportion of the working classes have been sent up Members the least "Conservative," in the party sense of that term. That is my small modicum of consolation, humbly, but sincerely, offered to Gentlemen opposite.
I have stated, Sir, that the Government, in approaching the consideration of this question, naturally took the Bill of 1860 as their starting point. I may be asked whether we adopt the Bill of 1860 simpli-citer. Let me now call the attention of the House to what took place in 1860. And though we then spent ten nights apparently in doing next to nothing, and although a good deal that was irrelevant was said in comparing our own institutions with those of other countries, it is my duty to admit that in the course of the discussion of that year some important facts were elicited. I do not think that, if we had been permitted to have gone into Committee on the Bill of 1860, we could have held to it exactly as it stood. Not because in our view of the Bill it would have admitted too many persons to the franchise. What was the view we then took of it? My noble Friend now at the head of the Government, in introducing the Bill on the 1st of March, pointed out that the effect of it would be, as he judged, to enfranchise 194,000 persons in the boroughs; but that was, in our belief, an outside estimate; and during the time the Bill was before the House we saw reason rather to contract it than otherwise. Sir George Lewis—than whom no man certainly could be a more acute and impartial judge—estimated the number from later information at 160,000. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham had taken it at about the same amount, from 160,000 to 170,000. I do not think anyone who is of opinion that our borough representation should be remodelled would 41 say that was an unreasonable or an unduly large enfranchisement, but it was, as we found, an enfranchisement badly distributed and imperfectly adjusted. We must bear in mind that the metropolis, as measured by population, has within it one-third part of the population of the whole of the towns in the country; and undoubtedly, I think it could be shown that the operation of that Bill would have been highly unequal as between the metropolis and the provincial towns. Very large numbers would have been enfranchised in very many considerable towns, but it was shown to us that in London under the present law numbers of persons are excluded from the franchise as it now exists, although they come within it according to the spirit of the law. I refer to those compound householders who cannot number less than 40,000 in London alone. This large body of persons, though standing on a footing of equality with many of the present voters, the Bill of 1860 virtually passed by. The Bill of 1860 was, it might almost be said, of no use at all to London. Such was the scale of rents in the metropolis, that a descent from £10 to £6 was of no importance whatever. It is quite true that this Bill for establishing a £6 occupation franchise did, according to our estimates, purport to enfranchise a number somewhere between 160,000 and 200,000 men; and that other estimates were placed in competition with ours, which placed the numbers higher. The then Member for Marylebone (Mr. Edwin James) made a most effective speech in relation to some points connected with the London constituency and the number of persons likely to be admitted in the various London boroughs under the £6 franchise he estimated, I think extravagantly, at about 400,000. But a Committee of the House of Lords, which considered this question, by a large majority adopted a statement that the £6 franchise would have enfranchised a number I think approaching or even exceeding 300,000. Now we could not admit these computations; we held to our own belief, and still placed the number of the working classes that would be admitted to the franchise at from 160,000 to 180,000 or thereabouts. While we contended that this was a proper number to admit, we also contended that the franchise should be placed at £6. Now I am bound to admit that if the Bill had proceeded into Committee the two propositions could not have 42 stood together. Either the one basis or the other must have been given up. No one would have proposed to bring down the franchise to £6, and yet to leave £10 householders unenfranchised. We must have given them the advantage of a real admission. Not wishing to change the relations of class to class, if we had gone into Committee we should probably have had to make a change as regarded the £6 rental. The most authoritative statement on the subject was that made by Lord Russell himself towards the close of the discussion, after the debates in the House of Commons had shown the imperfection of the proposed arrangement. On June 4, 1860, my noble Friend said—And this I will say, that, if you will propose any of the measures that have been mentioned this evening, either for raising the franchise by making it a rating instead of a rental franchise, or by increasing the amount of the rental, or, in another way that has been pointed out, by admitting a great number of voters who are distinguished by property, or by a high degree of knowledge from those belonging to the working classes, any proposition of the kind shall be fairly considered by us in Committee. We certainly shall not declare ourselves so completely wedded to the franchise which we have put forward that we will not submit to treat on the subject. If in Committee such a proposal as I have alluded to be made, and if the House should prefer it to that which we have originated, it will be our duty to see whether the Bill with such an alteration would be a valuable measure, whether it would extend the franchise in a manner that would strengthen the institutions of the country; and, in that case, though we might not think it a change for the better, we should be ready to adopt that alteration."—[3 Hansard, clviii. 1992.]Sir, it was in our view essential, as was declared by a Motion carried in this House in 1859, that any fresh enfranchisement in the towns must be an enfranchisement downwards. But now that the facts have been brought before us, we find they prove that through some defective operation of the present law large numbers of persons, being householders, who pay a rent, which the law allows to be a sufficient presumptive qualification, are not in possession of the franchise, and we find it impossible to overlook their claims. We find it our first duty to inquire who there are that, being above the line of £10, and being at present within the spirit of the law, should be enfranchised; and then to devise some plan whereby they may be enfranchised. The first question, then, for us to ask is, What are the defects in the law which bring about the result complained of? They are two; one of them I have already glanced at; and I will now mention the 43 other. By the present law a man fulfilling the various conditions with respect to the time and value of occupation, and being rated, cannot be brought upon the register unless he has paid the Queen's taxes and local rates made since a certain date. This is usually called the ratepaying clause. Men do not call it the taxpaying clause, and certainly, as far as the Queen's taxes are concerned, if I may venture to form a judgment upon the investigations we have made, I think the local authorities have been exceedingly considerate, and have not given much trouble to the voters. But so far as the ratepaying clauses have been considered there has been a great obstacle; some trouble has been occasioned and many have lost the benefit of their vote. It has been supposed sometimes that the local authorities, for particular purposes, did not apply for the payment of the rates until the time had elapsed when the vote could be secured; while in other cases, do not let us conceal from ourselves the fact that voters belonging to the two parties, at any rate a portion of them, have bad their taxes paid by the political agents in the interest of the respective candidates. In one instance, the local gentleman who most candidly sent up the information, wished it to be understood that this communication was to be considered confidential. Again, there are "certain boroughs where the law is systematically, and by a joint understanding, overlooked on both sides. All this is bad, and bad in various ways. The operation of the law has been unjust and unequal; and this is a clause which we propose to do away with altogether. In Liverpool, I do not overstate the case when I say that there are not less than 6,000 or 7,000 persons, and probably more, whose rates are regularly collected from the landlords by arrangement with the parish officers, and therefore those persons are disfranchised. They are not compound householders, but ratepaying householders, and they lose the franchise contrary to the intention of the Reform Act, and without any fault of their own. We propose, therefore, to abolish this clause; and we expect, as the victims of this clause are almost all of the class that come within the general designation of working men, we shall by this means admit not less than 25,000 persons to the constituency of those I call above the line.
Then we come to the question of the compound householders; and what we think just and right is that the compound 44 householders should be treated exactly like the ratepaying householders. If the rent of their houses is on such a scale that, in the judgment of the Legislature, they are suitable persons to be enfranchised, it is perfectly certain, as an economical truth, that the rates upon the house, though paid in the first instance by the landlords, are ultimately and truly paid by the tenants; and it cannot make any difference to us, it does not justify drawing any line of distinction, that instead of being paid directly by the householder, they are paid by the landlord and charged by him in the rental. At present the law is defective in this respect, that the name of the compound householder does not commonly appear upon the rate book. Now, for the purposes of rating it ought so to appear; and in an Amendment that we shall have to propose in the law of rating we shall provide that the name of the holder of a house, as well as of any rated holding that is not a house, shall appear upon the rate book, from whence, just like the name of a ratepaying householder, it will pass to the list of voters, without imposing trouble or burden of any kind upon the householder himself. Being, too, on the list of voters, it will be subject to the scrutiny of the revising barrister, just like the name of a ratepaying householder, and, unless proper ground of objection shall be preferred, it will take its place upon the register. An effective enfranchisement, therefore, will be given to the compound householders, whereas up to the present time their enfranchisement has been almost purely speculative. There are, indeed, some instances to the contrary. I rather think the great town of Birmingham is one such instance; but the metropolis affords by far the most important illustration of the present operation of the law; and in the metropolis you may say, without any fear of contradiction, not only that the compound householders are not on the register in one case in fifty, but likewise when they are on the register it is because, for some particular purpose, an election agent has thought it worth his while to find out the names, prefer the claims, and get them put on the register. Now, that is not the way in which we want a constituency to be fashioned, and if our proposition be adopted, the name of the compound householder will be put upon the rate book and the register without the trouble and difficulty of a claim, and by the very same spontaneous process as that by which the name 45 of the man who pays the rates himself comes upon them.
Then comes the other class to which I have already alluded—a class of persons also very numerous in the metropolis; I mean those who inhabit flats and portions of houses, which flats or portions of houses, though having a separate access, are not made the subject of separate rating. Now, with regard to this class we can, I believe, do nothing, at least as to their theoretic title, but we must in that respect leave I them just as they are. At present, if I they can show that the value of the apartments which they occupy of what the law calls the clear annual value of £10, and if they can get to be rated—which I believe they are entitled to ask, though a test of that kind must in practice generally form an insuperable obstacle—they may by a circuitous process cause themselves to be | registered on the list of voters Now, under our Bill there will be no necessity that the apartments should be rated, and that difficulty, consequently, will be obviated. Thus we propose to confer on them a great advantage by the removal of an obstacle: but we can do no more. A public officer cannot know the rent that these people pay. He knows the value of the holding of the compound householder, because for rating purposes it is necessary that he should know the value of the house; but he does not know, and cannot know, the rent that is paid by a man who inhabits only part of a house That class, therefore, we must leave as they are now, subject to the burden of claiming, If such a person can show that his rooms are of a clear annual value of £10, the benefit he will derive from the Bill will be that he will be released from all necessity of being rated, and he may then come upon the register; but he will come upon it with the necessity of renewing his claim from year to year.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
We believe there will be an addition of probably 35,000 persons to the constituency in consequence of the provisions, we propose to make respecting compound householders above the line of £10, nearly the whole of that addition being in the metropolis. The estimate, I think, is sufficiently near to accuracy, because we have ascertained the number of houses in the different parishes 46 which are compounded for, or where the rates are paid by the landlord.
Thus far, Sir, I have given the House an anticipation of what I may call enfranchisement above the line. The number we think amounts to 60,000 persons—namely, 25,000 by the abolition of the ratepaying clauses, and 35,000 by the new provisions of the law with regard to compound householders.
I now come to a question of considerable interest, the question which is commonly called that of the "lodger franchise." Now, we propose to place lodgers, properly so called, that is—persons who hold rooms as inmates of another man's house or household—exactly upon the same footing as those who hold tenements or apartments, that is to say, rooms or parts only of a house having no separate rating, although with a separate access. Those two classes we shall treat together, just as we treated together ratepaying and compound householders, and in fact, every person who, because separately rated, will, according to the provisions of our Bill, come upon the list of voters at once by the action of the proper public authority. We also take together those men who dwell in tenements and apartments (so to call them) and those who dwell in lodgings. And the provision we make is this—that if they can show that the rooms they inhabit are of the clear annual value of £10, of course without including either rates, taxes, or cost of furniture, they will be entitled, upon claiming year by year, to be placed upon the list of voters. The conditions of time are, I need hardly say, the same in all these cases. Hut I must now refer to the proposal as to the lodger franchise contained in the Bill of 1859. It was proposed by the Ministry then in power that any person paying £20 by the year, or 8s, by the week, for any rooms, whether furnished or unfurnished, should be entitled, upon making his claim, and subject to certain conditions, to be placed upon the register. Now, there are, we think, insuperable difficulties in the way of any attempt to deal with any franchise resting upon the rent paid for furnished apartments. In the first place, bear in mind that the clear annual value of rooms is a thing which is continually estimated from day to day in every town in the country, and which is capable, therefore, of being brought to some definite standard. On the other hand, if we endeavoured to deal with furniture and 47 the portion of rent paid for it—for the use, that is, of movable commodities—it would be a very fluctuating and inconvenient basis for the franchise. If, however, the case is unsatisfactory when you view it with regard to furniture alone, much more defective is the basis proposed when we come to consider that £20 a year, or 8s. a week, or any sum paid for furnished lodgings, not only includes furniture with the rooms, but it includes almost always more or less of personal service. It includes sometimes firing, sometimes cooking, very commonly the use of the kitchen fire. In point of fact, it gives a basis of so uncertain and slippery a character that it would be quite impossible to employ it with advantage for the purposes of enfranchisement. I hope the right hon. Gentleman opposite will not think I am criticizing his Bill in a censorious spirit, because I have done so no more freely than I have performed the same operation on our own Bill of 1860, with respect to its inequality as between the metropolis and the country. I wish the House, therefore, to understand—for I know that great and very natural interest has been excited on the question of the lodger franchise—that we propose to deal with it in a manner which we think will include every case, and more than every bond fide case, that could have been included by the provisions of the Bill of 1859; because if a man pays £20 a year for furnished lodgings, those lodgings ought to be, and as a rule, unless many other things besides the use of furniture were included, would be, worth more than £10 of clear annual value as defined by the law. Supposing, then, the rooms which a lodger occupies are of £10 annual value, he would be entitled, subject to the usual conditions as to time of occupation, to claim, and to come upon the list of voters.
Now, I can give no information, and I believe the right hon. Gentleman was unable to give any in 1859, as to the number of persons who would, perhaps, be enfranchised under the title of lodgers; but this I may say, that, in the first place, my firm belief is that it will be a small one; and, in the second place, my firm belief likewise is this, what I now speak of is a middle-class rather than a lower-class enfranchisement. The operation of claiming, and of claiming, too, year by year, is one that must be very burdensome to working men; whereas young men, such as clerks and men of business, familiar 48 with the use of pen and ink, if educated and intelligent persons, and desirous of obtaining the franchise, will estimate the trouble far more lightly. We calculate, therefore, on a certain amount of middle-class enfranchisement by the provision I have described; but I should be misleading the House were I to pretend to entertain the opinion that any large number of the working class, or any very large number even of the middle-class will come upon the register by virtue of that which we term a lodger franchise. A great number of persons now inhabit tenements, being almost all of them working men, and all of them theoretically entitled, out of whom scarcely any find their way to the register; and this is, in my opinion, a demonstration that no very large or considerable additions to the constituency are to be expected from this source. Consequently, I do not venture to add any figures under this head, but I take the 60,000 persons whom I have already named as the amount of additional enfranchisement granted by provisions of the Bill, which I have the honour of asking leave to introduce.
I next come to the question of that description of enfranchisement which I venture to call enfranchisement below the line—that is to say, enfranchisement as related to any portions of the community above the limit of £10 downwards—from £10 which is not only a necessary, but is in our view the most important part of any measure relating to this subject.
My noble Friend Lord Russell, in a speech delivered in 1860, adverted to the possibility of changing the proposal for a £6 rental franchise into one for a rating franchise of the same amount. The question of a rating franchise has always been one of the greatest interest to those who have been engaged in the preparation of our numerous, I will add, our too numerous Reform Bills. The advantage of having an external standard to determine the claim for registration, not based simply upon a process which, as often as the question is raised, each man must conduct anew for himself, but dependent on the evidence of a public authority, though guarded by an appeal, it being the business of that public authority to fix the value of a holding for certain parochial purposes, which are not political—the value of a franchise of that kind, considered narrowly and closely from such a point of 49 view, is obvious. There was another reason also, which, but for objections which I shall presently mention, would have led us to the adoption of a rating franchise—to the adoption probably of that franchise indicated in the passage of the speech of my noble Friend to which I have referred. The Small Tenements Act provides that in all the boroughs where it is adopted—and it is adopted in, I think, a considerable majority of the boroughs in the country—for every tenement up to and including those of £6 the rates shall be paid not by the occupier, but paid by the landlord. Now there would have been a great advantage in saying We will adopt the precise limit which Parliament has indicated, as expressing its view of the capacity to pay direct local taxes. Where that capacity begins the franchise shall begin; where that capacity ends, the franchise shall end also." But when we came to look at the operation of the Small Tenements Act, which includes all houses of a value of £6, us well as those under that value, we found that the enfranchisement would not have exceeded 80,000 persons, and we did not think that this was such a number as, upon one of these rarely recurring occasions of the re-adjustment of the franchise, we could propose to Parliament, or hold out to the country as anything like a settlement of the question But then we were met by another question—and this is the last of the drier subjects which I shall have to submit to your consideration. It is nevertheless, F think, one of some importance, and in respect to which I beg to invite your attention during a few minutes. We were called upon to consider the great change—I will go further and say, the great Reform which has been effected by my right hon. Friend the President of the Poor Law Board, through the medium of the Union Assessment Act. In former times it was said, "Why not have a rated franchise—a franchise taken from the rate book?" But the inequality of that rating was so gross and so anomalous in the various parts of the country that, though we did admit it into the Bill of 1854, we, nevertheless, subsequently considered that it could not prove a satisfactory basis for the franchise. The rating, however, is now immensely improved. It is, of course, our duty to take the best and simplest basis for the franchise that we can find. The simple question, therefore, is whether there is not another basis more 50 nearly coinciding with the present basis, although differing from it in legal expression, which is better than the basis of rating. That basis is the clear annual value; but it is the clear annual value as determined by the column in the rate book, called the gross estimated rental. Now, rating is good it we consider it as the adoption of a public independent standard—a standard supposed to be impartially chosen for local taxation But in everything in which the rating is good, the gross estimated rental is good also, whereas it escapes many sources of error and of inequality which are inherent in rating. For the rateable value after all is estimated by certain deductions made from the gross estimated value. The rateable value contains no new and independent element of estimation which we do not get from the gross estimated value. The rateable value is not then, per se, the proper test to adopt as the basis of the franchise. It is not the test of what a man actually pays for his tenement, but it is only the test of the net value of the tenement to the person beneficially interested, which is no doubt important to the parish officers, as it determines relative capacity to pay; but with which we have really nothing to do. You may, for example, have two houses, paying £20 a year each One of those may belong to a solid and substantial class of houses, and may only require a deduction of £6 or £8 per cent for repairs; but the other may have been built of slight materials, and therefore requiring much more money from year to year—perhaps £15 to £20 per cent—to keep it in repair, and in a condition equally good with the other house. But the same rent is paid for them both, and the same franchise, according to the view of Parliament under the circumstances I have referred to, might fairly be demanded; but if we adopt the standard of rating as the basis of the franchise one would be enfranchised whilst the other would be excluded. Again, there will also remain an element of inequality in reference to insurance as well as repairs. The duty on insurance has of itself undergone a material change within the last few years. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Hubbard) pointed out that the fire insurance duty amounted to I or 5 per cent on the net income from the house, when it stood at 3s. per cent. But it is now reduced to half that amount. We connect this proposition with the present legal rule, by saying that the column 51 of the gross estimated rental shall be primâ facie evidence, until contested, of the clear annual value. Thus, we shall secure the double object of adhering to the present definition, and of avoiding all the inequalities inherent in rating, while, at the same time, we shall in this manner attain that simplicity, certainty, and facility, which is obtained by the use of the rate book, as a public and impartial document in each parish.
Now, Sir, the gross estimated rental is, as we find, in exact correspondence with the rack rent. There will, of course, be an appeal, to the revising barrister. But in all the boroughs except thirty, the gross estimated rental appears to be under the operation of the Act introduced by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Villiers), as nearly as possible equal to the rack rent. In these thirty boroughs one-half exhibit a considerable inequality; but it is only because the operations under the Act of my right hon. Friend are not quite completed. Certainly, before any practical steps can be taken under this Bill those operations will be completed. There are a few other cases of local acts, and certain cases in the metropolis, where in point of fact the column of gross estimated rental is not at present in accordance with the true principles of the Union Assessment Act. That is to say, it represents a mere conventional sum. With a view to correct this inequality, we propose to provide by enactments on the subject, and then we can with confidence recommend the gross estimated rental as the proper basis of the franchise. But then, even while these inequalities exist in a few particular cases, we have a means of applying a test with sufficient accuracy to the gross estimated rental as a whole. We have called for the Income Tax Returns. We know that these represent a sum considerably above the rack rent; for in every case where the landlord pays the rates he includes them in his returns, and consequently the income tax assessment is, in very many cases, much in advance of the rack rent. The gross annual Income Tax Returns, allowing for all excesses, give a total valuation of £39,238,000; and the gross estimated rental, though still defective in some places, amounts to £37,375,000. The difference at this moment therefore is only £1,863,000, or 5 per cent. We have therefore no hesitation whatever in what we propose, feeling that we can now found ourselves upon a secure basis of operation which will be the means of in- 52 troducing a great practical improvement in the administration of the law.
It appears, Sir, that the present town constituency consists of 488,000 persons. Dividing those as above the line of the working classes from those below it, I find that in the former category there are 126,000, according to a large and liberal estimate, who belong to the working classes, while I take 362,000 as the number of voters in the towns who do not belong to them. We propose, as I have said, to add 60,000 to the present number of £10 voters. All these I take as belonging to the working classes. I do not now refer to the lodger, or to the depositor in savings banks; both of these would probably be of small numbers; the lodgers at any rate of mixed and balanced condition. Up to this point, then, I may roughly reckon that we have 186,000 persons, more or less, on the future register, who belong to the working class. If a £6 rental were added, I find that this would be the result. A £6 rental, calculated upon the most careful investigation, and after making every allowance and deduction that ought to be made, would give 242,000 new voters, whom I should take as all belonging to the working class. I should thus arrive at a gross total of 428,000 persons, which would, in fact, probably place the working classes in a clear majority upon the constituency. Well, that has never been the intention of any Bill proposed in this House. I do not think it is a proposal that Parliament would ever adopt. I cannot say I think it would be attended with great danger, but I am sure it is not according to the present view or expectation of Parliament. And although for my own part I do not think that much apprehension need be entertained with respect to the working classes, even if admitted in larger numbers than we propose, yet this I fully admit, that upon general ground of political prudence, it is not well to make sudden and extensive changes in the depositories of political power. I do not think that we are called upon by any overruling or sufficient consideration, under the circumstances, to give over the majority of town constituencies into the hands of the working class. We propose, therefore, to take the figure next above that which I have named—namely, a clear annual value of £7. I will give the House the exact numerical result, so far as we can distinctly make it out, of the proposal to fix the 53 borough franchise at a clear annual value of £7. The figure of £7 is not very far from that apparently fixed by the Small Tenements Rating Act, but the result as to admission will be considerably larger If Gentlemen will take the pains to add together from page 54 of the statistical volumes the gross total of the male occupiers at £7, and under £10, and will then make a Rule of Three sum, having for its first two terms the gross number of occupiers above £10, and the present number of the £10 constituency, and for its third term the gross number of occupiers between £7 and £10, the fourth term will give the probable constituency upon reducing the franchise to £7. [Laughter from the Opposition Members.] I am very glad that these studies in arithmetic prove so amusing, as they are generally thought to be among the drier class of subjects. But the result is that the figure is 156,000 persons. [An hon. MEMBER: The gross number?] No, the net number. The gross number will be between 207,000 and 208,000; and from the net number a deduction must be made of a certain number of freemen who have already the franchise. I take off from the 156,000 one-third of the total number of freemen now enjoying the franchise, and that leaves 144,000 who would be enfranchised by the reduction to a clear annual rental of £7 But it is right I should point out the causes by which, in the view of some persons, this calculation may be modified. There are some persons living in houses between £7 to £10 who do not belong to the working classes. The number of these, so far as our inquiries extend, is probably small. I believe that 5 per cent would be an over-statement of the amount, and it is needless to take into view the reduction by this number which may be balanced from other sources. Then, again, there must be a deduction, some would say a considerable deduction, made on account of the more frequent removals which take place among the holders of small houses. But, on the other hand, an increase will have to be made in allowance for the effect likely to be produced by the abolition of the ratepaying clauses on that class of persons. The Rule of Three sum is affected by all the causes I have named, including the abolition of the ratepaying clauses and the operation of the new provisions we propose to make for tons pound householders: also there would be some small addition to be made for the 54 savings bank franchise. I do not myself attach any very great consequence to the general upshot of these various modifying circumstances. They may, I think, be taken, on the whole, as balancing one another, and, desiring to avoid all minor points of controversy, I should say that the addition to the working class voters by the reduction to £7 would be about 144,000.
And, Sir, I wish to point out to those who may still think that this addition to the constituency ought not to take place, that all are disposed to admit that the franchise ought to be at the least attainable by the working man. I think that the most extreme speeches heard in this House in opposition to change are of this character. They all state that it is desirable that the working man should be able to reach the franchise. That, of course, means that he should be able to reach it by means of such efforts as it is really within his power to make. Let us consider his position with regard to the £10 franchise. £10 clear annual value, when you make the proper addition for rates and furniture, must imply that the man is at a charge for his residence of not less than £16. I am safe, I may even claim that I speak with moderation, when I say that the working man does not spend more than one-sixth of his income on his house. Therefore, in order that he may have a £10 house, his income must be £96, or, in other words, without making any allowance whatever for sickness and casual interruption of work, he must receive, at least, £1 17s. per week, or, if we allow for necessary breaks, about £2 per week. Now, Sir, it is plain that only a very small portion of the working classes can hope to receive £2 per week as the wages of their labour: many an able, industrious, and skilful workman, using his best exertions all his lifetime, would and must fail to attain to such an income. Accordingly, I do not think that a £10 franchise can be said to be liberally and fairly within the reach of the working man. A £7 franchise would work in a different manner. Adding 60 per cent, as in the other case, for rates and furniture, to the sum of £7, it would come in the gross to £11 4s. which would represent an income if £67 4s. or instead of 37s. per week a little under 26s. a week. Now, 26s. a week is an income which is undoubtedly unattainable by the peasantry or mere hand labourer, except under very favourable 55 circumstances, but it is also an income very generally attainable by the artizans and skilled labourers of our towns, though perhaps not so easily in the country.
I will now, Sir, endeavour to give a general view of the figures in this case, in order that they may be placed clearly as a whole before the House. In the counties, as I have said, if our Bill shall become law, the working classes will be a much smaller proportion of the whole constituency than they now are, as the 40s. freeholders, among whom they are to be found, will form a smaller proportion of the aggregate number, and I can hardly reckon the agricultural servant at £14 rent as belonging to the class of working men. In the towns the voters of the classes, other than the working classes, amount to 362,000. The working class, as it appears, has now 126,000 persons, and there will be new electors of the working class for houses above the line of £10 amounting to 60,000, and for those below the line of £10, so far as we can calculate, 144,000, making the entire number of the working classes in the constituency 330,000 or a total addition of 204,000 to the 126,000 now included in the constituency. The total enfranchisement contemplated in counties is, by the £14 occupation, 172,000, to which, however, is to be added whatever may be thought fit for copyholders and leaseholders having their qualifications within represented towns, and for the savings bank franchise. As in towns there will be an addition of 204,000 persons, we are likely to have a total addition of 376,000, so far as we may venture to offer definite figures on this subject. With respect to the lodger franchise, to the copyhold and leasehold franchise for counties, and to the savings bank franchise, we maybe at least safe in throwing in the 24,000 which are necessary to make up round numbers, and in stating that the total enfranchisement will probably embrace 400,000 persons, of whom, speaking roughly, one-half will belong to the working class and the other half to the middle class, including among the latter, in the counties, many persons of education, although, perhaps, not many of great means or station.
And now as to the proportion which the new constituency will bear to the total number of our householders. There appears to be in our towns a population of 9,326,000. Of these the adult males may be taken at 2,331,000, and the adult male 56 occupiers are 1,347,000. Of occupiers, occupying houses at and over £7, there are 847,000. The actual constituency of 488,000 represents 36 per cent of the male occupiers. The proposed constituency of 692,000 would represent 51 per cent of those male occupiers, and of the working classes there would be in the towns, according to these figures, 330,000 enfranchised against 588,000 unenfranchised, being less than two in five, but more than one in three of the working classes. Again, Sir, the gross constituency of the whole country will stand thus. There are already, taking the gross numbers, 550,000 voters in the counties of England and Wales. There will be 488,000 in towns, making a total of 1,038,000. But in order to know the actual number of persons a very large deduction must be made for those who possess a plurality of votes. I cannot think that even upon the most liberal estimate the present constituency consists of more than 900,000 electors. In addition to those we propose to bring in 400,000, making for England and Wales a total constituency of 1,300,000. The total number of adult males is 5,300,000; so that the whole number enfranchised in town and country would be one in four, as nearly as possible. So much for the figures. I do not know whether the House would like me to recapitulate very shortly the legislative proposals which form the basis of them.
The first is to create an occupation franchise in counties, for houses alone or houses with land, beginning at £14 rental, and reaching up to the present occupation franchise of £50. The second is to introduce into counties the provision that copyholders and leaseholders within Parliamentary boroughs shall be put upon the same footing as freeholders in Parliamentary boroughs now stand for the purpose of county voting without any alteration in the relative amounts of qualification for household and copyhold as compared with freehold. The third is a savings bank franchise, which will operate in both counties and towns, but which will, we think, have a more important operation in the counties. In towns, we propose to place compound householders on the same footing as ratepaying householders. We propose to abolish tax and ratepaying clauses, we propose to reduce £10 clear annual value to a £7 clear annual value, and to bring in the gross estimated rental taken from the rate book as the measure of the value, thus, 57 pro tanto, making the rate book the register. We propose also to introduce a franchise on behalf of lodgers, which will comprehend both those persons holding part of a house with separate and independent access, and those who hold part of a house as inmates of the family of another person The qualification for which will be the £10 clear annual value of apartments, without reference to furniture. We propose to abolish the necessity, in the case of registered voters, for residence at the time of voting. And, lastly—I say lastly because though there are some other minor provisions, I do not think it needful to trouble the House with them at the present time—we propose to follow the example set us by the right hon. Gentleman opposite and the Government of Lord Derby in 1859, and, sustained and supported I must say by many great authorities, to introduce a clause disabling from voting persons who are employed in the Government yards, while they continue to be so employed.
Sir, I have detained the House very long in this explanation, and I have now briefly to consider what is the true representation to be made of such a plan as that which we now submit. It certainly makes a large addition to the constituency. The number of persons who will be enfranchised by this Bill, not upon an estimate wholly vague, but taken on the basis, as far as may be, of the positive and absolute figures which we have been enabled to present, will, I think, certainly be greater than the number of those who were enfranchised by the Reform Act; for no estimate of the enfranchisement effected by the Reform Act would carry it very greatly beyond 300,000 persons. As respects the county vote, we do not apprehend that it will raise here any question of principle. As regards the borough vote, we hope that our plan is a liberal, as we believe and are sure that it is a moderate and a safe plan. It alters greatly in towns the balance as between the working classes, defined in the liberal manner which I have stated, and the classes above them; and yet it does not give the absolute majority in the town constituencies to the working classes. It is probable that, according to the various tempers of men's minds, we shall be told that we have done too little, or that we have done too much. Our answer is, that we have done our best. We have endeavoured to take account of the state and condition of the country, as well as of the 58 qualifications which the people possess for the exercise of the political franchise. We are mindful that unhappily the limbo of abortive creations is peopled with the skeletons of Reform Bills. We do not wish to add to the number of these unfortunate miscarriages. We may have erred, but we have endeavoured to see how much good, by the measure which we propose, we have a prospect of effecting for the country. As to the completeness of the measure, I have given to the House what I think are the clear and distinct objects which any Government attempting to deal with the question of the representation of the people must have in view, but honesty of purpose equally compels us upon careful examination of the facts not to attempt, by any measure that we could lay on the table of the House at this given moment, that which we know to be impracticable, and in which, therefore, we must fail. If we are told that, with respect to the franchise itself, we ought to have done more, our answer is that it was our duty to take into view the public sentiment of the country, disposed to moderate change, but sensible of the value of what it possesses, sensitive with regard to bringing what it possesses into hazard. And, whatever may be the opinion entertained of the growing capacity and intelligence of the working classes, and of their admirable performance at least of their duties towards their superiors—for it has ever appeared to me that though they have sins, in common with us all, yet their sins are chiefly, and in a peculiar sense, sins against themselves—yet it is true of the working classes, as it is true of any class, that it is a dangerous temptation to human nature to be suddenly invested with preponderating power. That is the reason why I think we have not done too little in the way of enfranchisement. We may be told, on the other hand, that we have done too much. I will hope that wall not be urged. We do not entirely abandon the expectation that even those who have protested almost in principle against the extension of the franchise downwards will be disposed to accept a measure which they do not wholly approve if they think it offers the promise of the settlement for a considerable period of a grave, important, complex, and difficult subject. I would beg them to consider what an immense value there is in the extension of the franchise for its own sake. Liberty is a thing which is good not merely in its fruits, but in itself. This is what we 59 constantly say in regard to English legislation, when we are told that affairs are managed more economically, more cleverly, more effectually in foreign countries. "Yes," we answer, "but here they are managed freely; and in freedom, in the free discharge of political duties, there is an immense power both of discipline and of education for the people." If issue is taken adversely upon this Bill, I hope it will be above all a plain and direct issue. I trust it will be taken upon the question whether there is or is not to be an enfranchisement downwards, if it is to be taken at all. We have felt that to carry enfranchisement above the present line was essential; essential to character, essential to credit, essential to usefulness; essential to the character and credit not merely of the Government, not merely of the political party by which it has the honour to be represented, but of this House, and of the successive Parliaments and Governments, who all stand pledged with respect to this question of the representation. We cannot consent to look upon this large addition, considerable although it may be, to the political power of the working classes of this country as if it were an addition fraught with mischief and with danger. We cannot look, and we hope no man will look, upon it as upon some Trojan horse approaching the walls of the sacred city, and filled with armed men, bent upon ruin, plunder, and conflagration. We cannot join in comparing it with that monstrum infelix—we cannot say——Scandit fatalis machina muros,Fœta armis: mediæque minans illabitur urbi.I believe that those persons whom we ask you to enfranchise ought rather to be welcomed as you would welcome recruits to your army or children to your family. We ask you to give within what you consider to be the just limits of prudence and circumspection; but, having once determined those limits, to give with an ungrudging hand. Consider what you can safely and justly afford to do in admitting new subjects and citizens within the pale of the Parliamentary Constitution; and, having so considered it, do not, I beseech you, perform the act as if you were compounding with danger and misfortune. Do it as if you were conferring a boon that will be felt and reciprocated in grateful attachment. Give to these persons new interests in the Constitution—new interests which, by the beneficent processes of the law of nature and of Providence, shall be- 60 get in them new attachment; for the attachment of the people to the Throne, the institutions, and the laws under which they live is, after all, more than gold and silver, or more than fleets and armies, at once the strength, the glory, and the safety of the land.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to extend the Right of Voting at Elections of Members of Parliament in England and Wales."—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)
§ MR. MARSH
said, he looked upon the measure which had just been so eloquently described to them as the beginning of the end. There had been no petitions presented in favour of a £7 franchise, and very few in favour of a £6 franchise. The tendency of the proposed Bill was towards universal suffrage; and he appealed to the right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) himself whether it did not tend to that result? It was said that that measure would settle this question; but he (Mr. Marsh) maintained that, on the contrary, it was just such a measure as would keep it unsettled. The right hon. Gentleman himself had expressed the opinion that a £6 franchise would swamp the existing constituencies; and yet the £7 proposal was not very different from it. He thought the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) would hail the proposal as a step towards universal suffrage. The right hon. Gentleman said that the class of voters who came in under the lower franchises frequently voted for Conservative candidates. That might possibly happen in quiet times; but suppose there came a great political fight, instead of being on the Conservative side they would be on the other side, and the greater need there was for Conservatism the less Conservative would they be. Look at what had happened in Australia, where a popular House of Assembly, overriding everything, raised money without the consent of the other branch of the Legislature. He believed the fact to be that a very small number of the Members of that House really desired Reform; while those who did really desire Reform were those who wished to bring the country to the lowest level of democracy. And why did they wish for democracy? They wished for it simply because they had some particular hobbies to ride. At one time that hobby was for financial economy, at another peace throughout the world; but he denied that 61 democracy had been favourable to human freedom or progress. If they looked at its operation on commercial progress, civil progress, or religious freedom, they would find that it had been the opponent, and not the friend of, measures for the advancement of freedom under those heads. In very early times the export of wool was prohibited not for the sake of the landlords but of the hand-loom weaver and cotton spinners. Protection was indeed the child of democracy; the navigation laws were not introduced under the reign of the Stuarts, but by the Commonwealth; and in modern times it required all the energies of the great ruler of France to induce his people to accept free trade, and if they looked to America, they found high protective tariffs in connection with democracy. It was the same in our colonies, where there had been a large extension of the suffrage, combined with local self-government. As to social and civil freedom, it was only necessary to refer to what had been done at the time of the French Revolution, and to the state of things in France under universal suffrage at the present moment, to see how far democracy promoted civil freedom. The press was completely gagged, and this year there had been twenty-one warnings, six condemnations, four suppressions, and two interdictions. Under the democratic institutions of America they had such legislation as the Maine Liquor Law; and in this country, where the trades unions legislated for their fellow-workmen, the result was that the houses and workshops of those who did not assent to the legislation of those unions were blown up with gunpowder. In Australia the influence of trades unions was more extensive than here; there they operated on Parliament with a view to give their measures the force of law, and a deputation from trades unions had urged on the Government there the propriety of introducing an eight hours labour Bill. There had been religious democracies in Spain, Naples, and France, but they had not promoted religious freedom. No one could say that hitherto the interests of the working classes had been neglected in this country. Many Acts had been passed for the special benefit of these classes which were in direct contravention of the laws of political economy. Railway companies were compelled to carry them at a certain rate, the truck system had been made illegal, the health of towns had been promoted, Post Office savings banks 62 had been established, Government annuities had been introduced, Factory Acts had been passed, a Bill relating to the dwellings of the poor was now before Parliament, taxes had been reduced which pressed upon the labouring classes, whilst the income tax had been imposed on the upper and middle classes. It was said that there had been great improvement since 1832, and that the working classes had risen intellectually. On the other hand the advance of civilization and the introduction of machinery necessarily led to the elevation above their class of those who displayed superior intelligence, and only those remained down whose abilities and energies did not lift them higher than the average level. All the arguments founded on the intelligence of the working classes as qualifying them for the exercise of the franchise applied equally to their fitness to serve as jurors; yet nobody contended that the qualification of jurors should be lowered. Wherever there were freemen in boroughs numerous petitions were presented to the House against bribery; yet the people to be admitted to the franchise by this Bill were of about the same class as the freemen who were bribed. Much had been said about "bricks and mortar" as an electoral qualification. He agreed with the late Lord Macaulay, that where we saw the best houses we saw the most intelligent people; but the principle of this Bill was to give the franchise to the occupants of the worst houses; so that "bricks and mortar" was, in his opinion, a very good qualification after all. Wherever a nation started with a high franchise, she entered, it seemed to him, on her political career with a greater chance of success than by adopting the contrary course. Belgium started with such a franchise, while in Italy the franchise was nearly the same as our own £10 qualification, and it had, he maintained, succeeded so far as she had gone. Looking, on the other hand, to Australia, where he had many very dear friends, with a beautiful country and an unrivalled climate, what did he find to be the case? Corruption of the grossest kind prevailed in the political system. At one time certain persons in the colony wished to carry a particular point; they accordingly raised a large sum and went round to those members of the Assembly who they heard were determined to vote against the project, and to some of them they gave £10, while the greatest patriot of all found his 63 patriotism oozing out of his fingers' ends on being offered a sum of £750. Again, a scene in the House was thus described—While all Melbourne was absorbed in a cricket match a furious debate was taking place in the House, on the Motion of Mr. Barton, that a sum of money should be placed on the Estimates for the payment of Members.The narrative went on to state—All disguise as to the motives of the Mover and his friends was cast off. It was explicitly declared that the popular Members could not live without appropriating the public money.A scene in the Assembly was thus described—One hon. Gentleman was charged by another with uttering words 'grossly untrue.' The Speaker having called him to order, he substituted the words 'utterly false,' which was also objected to. He then tries 'untrue,' with no better success, and ultimately is allowed to characterize the statement as not in accordance with fact.The question was, how were we to prevent democracy from gaining ground? He replied that it could only be done by the inherent excellence of our mixed Constitution. In early times it had survived the proud Cortes of Spain and the gallant States General of France, and when the French Revolution broke out this country was saved by the inherent excellence of the Constitution. We ought to show that the House of Commons was now, as it had always been, in advance of public opinion. He felt this question most strongly—more strongly, perhaps, than any other hon. Gentleman present. Others might have heard and read of democracy, but he had seen it and felt it in its deepest reality. He hoped the House would pause before it did anything which would cause us to drift into democracy, or which would do away with that Imperial Parliament by which the country had been governed so long and so well.
§ SIR JAMES FERGUSSON
said, he wished to offer a few remarks, although he was conscious that, as this was a question of first-rate importance, the House was naturally looking to those who had had greater experience for an expression of opinion in regard to it. The interest manifested by the vast assemblage which thronged within those walls two hours previously, and the tones of just solemnity in which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced the measure proved the magnitude of the question and the large share of attention which it merited. Indeed, the discussion of a measure affecting our 64 representative system must always be regarded as one of first-rate importance, for it was impossible to take such a measure into consideration without at the same time touching upon questions which lay at the very root of the Constitution, and on the safe solution of which must depend the future prosperity of the country. One point which had presented itself to his mind with a somewhat grave aspect was the prospect that had been opened to them of discussions on the great subject before them at the present time, but also of future discussions on those portions of it which had been postponed. For the first time, certainly, since the great measure of 1832, they had been called upon to consider a Bill, presented on the authority of Her Majesty's Government, and relating to the representative system, but which at the same time dealt only with one portion of the many branches into which that question divided itself. In the various measures which between 1851 and the present time had been introduced on the responsibility of the Ministers of the Crown there had always been an attempt to deal with this important subject in a comprehensive manner, and to include all the points necessary for the settlement of the question for a series of years at all events. Indeed, when private Members had on their own responsibility introduced measures dealing with only one portion of the question, the Ministers of the day had always replied that if the question was to be touched it must be settled once for all, and that it would never do to be taking it up anew year after year, because to do so would be perpetually imperilling the Constitution, or at all events keeping the public mind in an unsettled state. He invited the House to consider what was the prospect which the discussion of the franchise in counties and boroughs in England alone would open to the House? He confessed that the answer he had received from the Chancellor of the Exchequer at an earlier period of the evening with regard to the electoral statistics of another portion of the kingdom was entirely unsatisfactory. The right hon. Gentleman said that inquiries had been set on foot as to the electoral statistics of Scotland, but that he could give no undertaking as to when the Returns might be expected. As to Ireland, the right hon. Gentleman had said nothing; but taking into consideration its present exceptional condition, perhaps no very inviting prospect could be held out of 65 legislating on the representative system of that portion of the kingdom. But what was the prospect even with regard to England? The discussion of this question, he presumed, would occupy a considerable portion of the present Session, and unless, by some method or other, the days at the disposal of the Government were considerably multiplied he did not see how between the present time and the middle of July the question could be fully debated and decided. Though simplicity was, according to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, one of the characteristics of the Bill, to his mind the measure was so complex, that in one point, at all events, he was unable to realize its scope and object. Then, the right hon. Gentleman had submitted, on the responsibility of Government, proposals respecting several of those franchises upon which Her Majesty's Ministers had cast so much ridicule when they were proposed by the Government of Lord Derby. Now, this branch of the subject would lead to much discussion; and certainly when exceptional franchises were proposed by the Government, it was not to be expected that no others would be proposed by hon. Gentlemen in that House. He presumed, also, that it was intended to consider the representative system of Scotland next Session; and he believed that the advances which that country had made since 1832 would prove that its electoral system had become altered in its character, as much, at all events, as had been the case in England. The case of Ireland, would, perhaps, be ready for consideration about the year 1868. It was possible, however, that though in 1866 the Government weapon had one barrel only, it might, in 1867, have two. The system proposed might have its merits in the eyes of a new Parliament by offering a greater chance of a prolonged existence than if the whole subject were introduced and brought to an untimely end in the present Session. But if this question were a great and a difficult one, as he admitted it was, ought we not to follow the precedent of those Ministers who advised the Crown in 1830, and who, recognizing the magnitude of the question, submitted their measure to Parliament before Christmas, and devoted the whole of the following Session to its discussion? They did not delay the introduction of their Bill till the month of March, so that it could only be advanced a single stage before Easter. As the right hon. Gentleman had said, the event 66 proved that the Government had not exaggerated the difficulties they had to contend with when he proposed to devote the whole of the Session to the consideration of this subject. It should not, however, be forgotten that not one of the off-nights could be spared, as the Estimates, the disturbance in Jamaica, and a dozen other important subjects were awaiting discussion. It was somewhat ominous, he thought, that about two months since the hon. Member for Birmingham gave a tolerably accurate description of what might be expected in the Government proposal, the acceptance of which he advocated because it could be employed as a lever for future proceedings. Immediately after this speech the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), who had gained for himself an excellent position in the House, delivered one of a similar character. Now, he (Sir James Fergusson) thought it ominous that the measure introduced by the Government contained the very proposals which had been thus indicated by two Members in their public addresses, and who avowed that they looked upon such steps as a means of leverage. The right hon. Gentleman had spoken of the present Parliament as being capable of settling the question of Parliamentary Reform, but that was a matter of uncertainty. Appeals might be made by the Government to the people, new Parliaments returned, and the country for some time filled with great excitement with discussions of various branches of the question. There was a peculiarity as to the manner in which the Bill had been brought forward. The whole measure bore the impress of the utmost haste. The electoral statistics had been furnished, according to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, at so late a period that even he, by his own confession, had scarcely had time to consult them. On Saturday they were put into the hands of the Members, and on Monday the Bill, professedly founded on them, was brought in. It was hardly to be supposed, however, that it had been prepared in such hot haste; because, as he had explained, the Bill was, no doubt, sketched out two or three months ago, and several Members of the Government, from time to time, had given indications of its intentions. On the contrary, it would rather seem as if at the last moment the Government had been surprised by the general result of the information they had obtained, and that the statistics were only meant to cover the 67 entrance of the measure into the House. Perhaps no one had shown greater ignorance—if he might say so, with the utmost respect—on this subject than the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself. In the Session of Parliament of 1864 he stated that not one-tenth of the working classes were included in the present constituencies. He would, however, refer to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, which contained the following passage:—I will not enter into the question whether the precise form of franchise and the precise figure which my hon. Friend has indicated is that which, upon full deliberation, we ought to choose; but this I say, not to be misunderstood, that I give my cordial concurrence to the proposition that there ought to be, not a wholesale, but a sensible and considerable addition to that portion of the working classes—at present almost infinitesimal—which is in possession of the franchise. What is the present state of the constituency, any departure from which some hon. Gentlemen deprecate as a 'domestic revolution?' At present we have, generally speaking, a constituency of which between one-tenth and one-twentieth—certainly less than one-tenth—consists of working men. And what proportion does that fraction of the working classes who are in possession of the franchise bear to the whole body of the working men? I apprehend that I am correct in saying that they are less than one-fiftieth of the whole working classes. On the other hand, my hon. Friend indicates that kind of extension of the suffrage which would make the working classes a sensible fraction of the borough constituency—an important fraction, but still a small minority."—[See 3 Hansard, clxxv. 315, 316, 317.]How did this language of the right hon. Gentleman harmonize with the analysis of the statistics now presented to the House? It showed an astonishing misapprehension of the facts of the case. There was one other point in the right hon. Gentleman's speech which he thought should not be lost sight of. He stated that it was at the Cabinet Council held immediately after the funeral of Lord Palmerston that the present measure was first contemplated. It so happened that one of the last speeches of that noble Lord which it was his fortune to hear was on the Bill of the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Locke King). He thought that the general apprehension expressed at the time of the decease of the noble Lord, that the country would deeply feel his loss, was now to some extent realized by the proceedings of the Government the moment he was removed from it. The noble Lord said—There would be great advantage in making some change, but I cannot vote for the £10 franchise provided by the Bill. The two principal 68 interests are, the manufacturing and commercial on the one hand, and the agricultural on the other; and any alteration of existing arrangements which would tend to introduce too much of the commercial element into agricultural constituencies would, I submit, injure the balance which we ought to be most anxious to preserve. … I hardly think it was expedient of my hon. Friend to bring forward his Bill at the present juncture, for it is plain that there does not exist the same anxiety for organic change which was observable some time ago. The fact is, that organic changes were introduced more as a means than as an end, the end being great improvements in the whole of our commercial legislation. … There are also other considerations connected with external affairs tending to abate our anxiety for organic changes. The events which are taking place in other countries, and which are in a great measure the result of their constitutional systems, have made the people of this country much less anxious for change. … In voting for the second reading I am not prepared to vote for the particular franchise proposed in this Bill."—[See 3 Hansard, clxxiv. 953.]But scarcely had the grave closed over their leader than the Government entered upon a course which was utterly different from that advocated by Lord Palmerston, and which had had the sanction of the country for so many years. He utterly disclaimed the imputation of being afraid of the introduction of the working classes to the franchise; for he had found among the artizans intelligence not behind that possessed by large portions of the present constituencies. If, however, the object was to maintain a just balance, and not to throw the whole power of election into the hands of one class, he was exceedingly surprised at the course pursued by the Government. He looked forward with grave apprehensions to long discussions on fragmentary portions of great questions, which must cause much excitement in the country, and the ultimate results of which could not at present be estimated.
§ MR. P. WYKEHAM MARTIN (Rochester)
, expressed his earnest hope that the Government would not detract from the value of their measure by attempting disfranchisement as well as enfranchisement. He now offered a word or two in support of the claims of the employés in the Government Dockyards, that there might be ample time for considering, the matter before the day stated for the second reading of the Bill. Those voters were perfectly independent, and had supported the return of some of the most consistent and determined opponents of the Government; and during all the years a Liberal Government was in power Sir Frederic Smith maintained his hold upon Chatham. 69 At the present moment, although there was a Liberal Government in power, Devonport had returned two Opposition Members; and he thought the charge of corruption could not be sustained against the voters of that place. If the object, as had been stated by an hon. Member, was to prevent these people from having their claims brought before the House, the measure did not go far enough; everybody related to these men must be disfranchised. He disclaimed the idea that he was interested in advocating their claims, as very few indeed of his constituents came within this class, and he would be as little affected by the disfranchisement of these men as almost any Member of the House not representing an inland town could be. It so happened, however, that in any appeals he had made to the House in their behalf, he could only recollect two occasions on which an employé in tins dockyard had spoken to him in reference to the question under consideration. It was rather too bad when venality was not proved against the dockyard employés, that they should be deprived (merely because they exercised the English privilege of grumbling) of a right which they esteemed very highly, and which, on the whole, they exercised as fairly as any class of the constituencies of this country. He hardly ever heard of a case in which a voter employed in a dockyard by the Government had condescended to take a bribe. He hoped the long discussions to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had alluded would not result in demolishing the Bill. It would not be to the credit of the House if the same misfortune befel this venture as that which happened to the Bill of 1860. That Bill did not perish from the crafty fence of the right hon. Member for Bucks or the slashing blows of the hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin; but it fell, as it had been said to happen to certain generals, because it was shot from the rear by its own allies. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer was fond of classical authorities, and as he sat meditating what might be the fate of his measure, ought to remember with dread the prophecy of the old gipsy at the birth of Horace—Hunc neque dira venena, nec hosticus auferet ensis:Garrulus hunc quando consumet cumque loquaces,Si sapiat, vitet.At any rate, unless it were upon the ques- 70 tion of the dockyard men, he (Mr. P. W. Martin) would not be found among the obstructives.
§ SIR FRANCIS CROSSLEY
said, his conviction was that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was perfectly correct last Session when he said that not more than one-tenth of the working classes had the franchise at present, and the statistics now placed before the House were, owing to the nature of the instructions given for their preparation, not such as to controvert that fact. He was sorry that the Government had not gone further in the way of extending the franchise, and proposed a £10 franchise for counties and a £6 franchise for boroughs. At the same time, considering the great fear entertained by hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House, and by some on the Ministerial side, he believed that the Ministry had honestly dealt with the subject, and on that account he would support them; and he believed they would also have the support of the great body of Reformers throughout the country. What was wanted in respect to this question was honesty—a proposition not made for mere popularity, but for the purpose of removing evils admitted on all sides. The Bill of 1832 was not fitted for 1866, as great progress in education, in prudential habits, as shown by the Savings Banks Returns, and in various other respects had been made by the working classes. He felt confident that the working men were as well qualified for the franchise now as the £10 householders were in 1832; and he was satisfied that it was not safe to exclude from the franchise large bodies of men as well fitted to exercise it as those who now possessed it. He trusted that the present Parliament, before it came to an end, would deal with the other question of the distribution of seats. At the same time, he conceived that the Government were quite right in dealing with the franchise in one Bill, and leaving the distribution of seats to be comprehended in another measure. He was of opinion that the good sense of the House would acknowledge that the Bill had been prepared with great care, and that it would settle the question for a long time. The hon. Baronet who had just spoken (Sir James Fergusson), spoke of the Bill as only a step—but if in 1832 a step had not been taken we should have had a revolution. This Bill was another step in the same direction, and in like 71 manner he believed it would preserve the peace and prosperity of the country for many years. If they wanted to destroy the evils of democracy they should admit those who were outside within the pale of the Constitution, and thus give them an interest in maintaining its action and existence.
§ MR. CRAWFORD
said, he wished to call the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—from whose speech he trusted it was only an accidental omission—to a matter of great interest to his constituents and to the electors in all large cities where business was carried on—he referred to the operation of the seven-mile radius, which acted as a virtual disfranchisement to many persons who carried on their business in London, paying rent and rates, but were not privileged to vote because they did not live within the seven-mile radius. In the last Reform Act that distance was adopted as representing the time it would take a voter residing within such a radius to come up to poll, and also it was directed against non-resident freemen. Now, however, merchants who lived thirty miles off could reach the polling place in as little time as it formerly took them by coach with the distance of seven miles. He also wished to know whether it was intended that copyholders and leaseholders in cities and towns should be kept out of the town register and transferred entirely to the county register. The abolition of the rate-paying clause and the lodger franchise would afford great facilities to compound householders in the City of London, and would meet with general approval. In the middle course which the Government had steered he thought that they would obtain a very great amount of support from those who represented the metropolitan constituencies.
§ MR. SERJEANT GASELEE
, though a little satisfied with the Bill, thought it had a decided blot upon it because it proposed to disfranchise dockyard voters. A petition presented against the return of himself and colleague had been withdrawn, and he believed there was not the slightest pretence for any of the numerous charges brought against them in that petition. He protested against disfranchising this class of voters, men respectable and excellent in their way, while those freemen who engaged in every kind of corrupt practice, and were a disgrace to the country, remained on the register. So far from approving this part of the Bill, he thought 72 that employés in the Post Office, Custom House officers, and other persons in the service of the Government at present disqualified, should be enfranchised.
§ MR. DUTTON
said, that though he must admit that this was hardly the time for discussing the merits of the Bill, he wished at the earliest opportunity to refer to one or two of its provisions. He agreed with the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just spoken (Mr. Serjeant Gaselee) in what he said about the dockyard men. He was not a dockyard representative, but he happened to know a great many of those men, and he was at a loss to understand why by a measure for admitting so many of the working classes to the franchise, a number of the most intelligent of that class should be disfranchised. He knew that in a letter from Devonport the other day it was suggested that the dockyard men there ought to be disfranchised; but, perhaps, it was thought that they ought to lose their votes because they had returned two Conservatives. He concurred with an hon. Member who preceded him, that as the Government had resolved upon descending from £50 to £14 in counties, and from £10 to £7 in boroughs, it was scarcely worth their while stopping short in their concession to those who were demanding a still further reduction of the franchise. He was not afraid of the working man; but as he read the statistics placed before them that night it appeared to him that, throwing in the large boroughs and the small ones of the counties, and taking the average of all, the working men in those boroughs had 26 per cent of the representation in their hands; and that if the large towns—and it was found there the cry for Reform principally came—were taken by themselves, the working men had 40 or 50 per cent of the representation. As to the fancy franchise, the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed that there should be qualification arising from the possession of £50 in a savings bank. Now he could not see to what class of men that qualification could be of any use. No working man could afford to keep £50 in a savings bank; and a tradesman in a small business would not keep such a sum in a savings bank, because he could employ it in his trade at a profit of from 12 to 15 per cent. In practice, the use which would be made of that provision in the Bill would be by persons who would keep £50 in a savings bank with a view of obtaining a vote without complying with the condi- 73 tions that would otherwise be required for securing the franchise. No doubt the Bill would be well ventilated when it came to the second reading; but his present impression was that the Bill would not be found to be a satisfactory measure of Reform.
§ SIR HENRY HOARE
was of opinion that the Bill was excellent as far as it went. There was no danger to be apprehended from the admission to the franchise of the men to whom the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed to give votes. But the House were now rather in the position of persons to whom a carriage was presented without horses. He hoped they would have a positive promise of something to draw this Reform carriage, and that what they were hereafter to get in that way would not be an engine which would pull them off the line. Those who appeared to have prompted this Bill would also seem to have copied from the history of England the example of all leaders of the people who had preceded them. All leaders of the people from the time of Jack Cade to the present day had shown distrust of the landed proprietors. That leader made it one of the grievances of the men of Kent that the free expression of the will of the people in the election of the knights of the shire was interfered with by the proprietors of the land. He thought that one of the great blots in our present electoral system was the inadequate representation of that portion of the population who lived in counties. He and many hon. Gentlemen on his side of the House had given pledges which they meant to redeem; but it was painful to be placed on the horns of a dilemma. They must redeem their promises; but in doing so they might be obliged to go further than they thought safe, or originally intended. Unless there was a distinct pledge on the part of the Government that a measure for the redistribution of seats would be introduced, he should feel bound to vote against this Bill at a future stage.
§ LORD ROBERT MONTAGU
said, he had misgivings in respect to the paulo-post futuro legislation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Not content with the proposal now before the House, the right hon. Gentleman had given them notice of his intention to bring in another piece of the Reform Bill at a future time. The prospect which the House had now before them was one of Reform Bills or portions of Bills arising Session after Session. Year 74 after year the country was to be kept in agitation; and Members of that House would never know one year what their constituencies were to be the next. In his county there were five large towns, one of which was a borough. By the proposed reduction in the franchise the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be handing the power over entirely from the rich farmers who now had the right of voting to the small shopkeepers in the towns, who would acquire that right under this Bill. But, not content with reducing the franchise to £14 in counties, the right hon. Gentleman would give leaseholders in boroughs the right to vote not only for the boroughs, but for the county also. It would seem as if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had set himself down to contrive a plan for swamping the agricultural constituencies. He, for one, protested against the electoral power in counties being practically taken from the large, influential, and honest class who now possessed it. Did the Chancellor of the Exchequer suppose that, by lowering the franchise, he would increase the check which the House of Commons now exercised on the administration of affairs? On many occasions—such as those of the insurrection in Poland, the dispute about the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein, and the war between Italy and Austria—the class to whom the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed to give political power would have driven this country to war if their demands had been attended to. Did the right hon. Gentleman think that he would check bribery by lowering the franchise in boroughs? They did not know the whole scheme which the Chancellor of the Exchequer was going to propose. They had only a small part of it. If he was going to build a house and went to an architect for a plan, would he think it enough if the architect said to him he could only give him a picture of the belfry? They certainly required to see the whole scheme before they could judge of it. They could not even see the foundations; this only could be said for certain—they would never be free from the masons and bricklayers, and the constant pestering of the architect's little bill. That was one of his objections. Another was the entire swamping of the agricultural class. If the Bill had proposed a re-distribution of seats, that objection might have been partially remedied, because, by uniting certain towns, the Chancellor of the Exchequer might, to some extent, have cured the evil; but at present the towns which had not represen- 75 tatives of their own would swamp the agricultural constituency.
§ MR. HANBURY
desired to say, as the representative of a large constituency (Middlesex), that he thought the Bill would meet all the requirements of those whom he represented. He was not at all afraid of the working man. He had for the last twenty-five years employed a great number of working men, and he could say from his experience of them that a more respectable or intelligent class did not exist. He did not think their object was to advance the democratic movement or to impair the Constitution, for the advantages which they derived from that Constitution were equal to those derived from it by the middle and upper class. He was rather surprised at the objection which had been stated by some, that the Bill was not a double-barrelled one. He thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer had proved beyond a doubt that time would not allow of such a measure being brought forward. If the Bill had been more comprehensive they all knew what the result would have been. Reserving his opinion on the details, he could not help expressing at once his general approval of the Bill.
§ MR. LAING
said, although the time had not arrived for pronouncing a definite opinion upon the whole important question submitted to them this evening, it might not be useless to express a view upon it so far as it involved a clear definite issue on which, no doubt, all had made up their minds. That issue was, the question of re-opening the great Reform settlement of 1832 by a measure which, on the face of it, was not a complete and final settlement. The Chancellor of the Exchequer made, to his mind, one of the most conclusive speeches he ever heard; but the conclusion was entirely different from that which he meant to convey; for it brought home to his (Mr. Laing's) mind most forcibly the impolicy of the decision to which the Government had come in introducing a measure at that period of the Session, when there was not time to give full and fair consideration to the whole subject. The Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted that the Returns had been procured so late that they were only in a complete printed form even in his own hands on the Friday evening which preceded the introduction of the Bill. He could easily believe it, for if those Returns had been in the possession of the Govern- 76 ment in sufficient time for deliberate examination, he felt confident they would have led them to the very opposite conclusion to that to which they had come. If one thing was shown more than another by these very admirable and interesting Returns, it was that the case was much stronger than had been supposed for a redistribution of seats, and very much weaker for the extension of the franchise downward. He stated that on the authority of the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself. What did the right hon. Gentleman say in 1860 in defending the Reform Bill then brought forward by the Government of which he was a Member? He said he estimated that, of the 480,000 now constituting the borough constituency, about one-ninth belonged to the labouring class; most of them being freemen or scot and lot voters, and here and there a £10 occupier. Well, then, the conviction in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman in 1860, under which he supported the Bill of that year, and gave those pledges which had been adverted to this evening, was a conviction that the £10 franchise of 1832 admitted the smallest—an infinitesimal—fraction of the working class to the privilege of the representation. Now, what did these remarkable Returns disclose? They showed that in bringing forward the Bill of 1860 the Government based it on a calculation which was erroneous to an extent of very nearly 300 per cent. They based their Bill on the calculation that the total number of the working classes included in the enfranchised class was under 50,000, and that these were almost entirely freemen and old scot and lot voters; but the fact now disclosed was that there were 136,000, of whom no less than 108,000 were £10 householders, of which class the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1860 said only single voters would be found here and there. Was not that a material element in judging of the pledges which public men had given on a question of this sort? Surely, the re-opening of so great a settlement as that of 1832—one of the very gravest questions affecting the interests and future history of the country—ought to be made, to say the least, on something approaching to accurate information. The only valid reason he ever heard for re-opening that settlement was the belief that it was too rigid and exclusive, and did not admit the working classes to anything approaching a fair share in the representation, Now, by these Returns a conclusive 77 answer was given to both these questions. It was shown, on the one hand, that the proportion of the working class, instead of being so insignificant as had been supposed, amounted to 26 per cent of the whole number of the borough electors; and it was shown moreover that, so far from the system being rigid and unelastic, the number was steadily and rapidly on the increase, The Chancellor of the Exchequer said, that the number of the working class admitted under the £10 franchise in different towns was very unequal. No doubt that was the case; but a careful analysis of the Returns presented would show that it was just in the growing towns, in the great seats of industry, or in the new and rising towns springing into importance, that the increase of the number of working men admitted to the £10 constituency was most marked. Some instances had been quoted where the number of working men in manufacturing constituencies was comparatively small; but if they took a number of the larger cities, the great seats of industry, they would find that in the metropolitan district—South wark, for instance—the proportion of working men was as high as one-half; in Manchester it was 27 per cent; in Salford, 34 per cent; in Sheffield, 26 per cent; in Wolverhampton, 24 per cent; in Nottingham and Leicester, 40 per cent. They would also find that the proportion in which the working men shared the franchise was peculiarly large in those towns which had made a rapid progress during the last few years, though not seats of manufacturing industry—in Brighton, Cheltenham, and Southampton. In those towns the proportion of working men had now gone up to from 30 to 50 per cent of the entire constituency. That brought him to the great fallacy into which he thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer fell in estimating the number of working men who had acquired the franchise under the existing Act. He said that the proportion of the whole was not greater than it was in 1832. But why was that? Because in 1832 they had a large body of freemen, scot and lot and old voters, who by the Bill of that year were placed in a state of suspended animation. They had died out; but their place was more than taken by a new class, who had shown themselves the élite of the working class by rising so much above the general level of their class as to occupy comfortable and respectable houses at a rental of £10. 78 That was a growing franchise; and if things remained as they were, seeing the growth of wealth, prosperity, and the advance of wages, there would be a steady increase both in the absolute numbers and proportions of the working men admitted to the franchise. He did say this very materially weakened the force of the argument adduced for re-opening the great settlement of 1832 on the ground that the working men were almost entirely excluded. But, as regards the re-distribution of seats, how did the case stand? Was it possible there could be a stronger case than that disclosed by the Parlialiamentary Returns? He found a number of boroughs—forty—in which the population was under 7,000; the number of electors averaging 400 in each; those forty boroughs, therefore, with a united population of 200,000, and an aggregate number of voters of 16,000, returned sixty-four Members to that House. Contrast that with the single county of Lanarkshire, with a population of 530,000 by the last Census—more than that of the whole forty boroughs united—and returning only one Member to Parliament. Dundee, with a population of 78,000. [An hon. MEMBER: 91,000.] True, the increase had taken place since the Census Returns. Dundee, the capital of a staple branch of industry, with a population approaching 100,000, had a single Member—exactly l–64th of the representation enjoyed by the forty small boroughs, whose united population only doubled that of Dundee. Glasgow, again, with a population of about half a million, and more than 20,000 electors, only returned two representatives as against the sixty-four returned by these small boroughs. But the case for re-distribution became even stronger if the table of boroughs was examined with an eye to the increase or diminution which had taken place in the population of the large towns and small boroughs since 1832. In eighteen boroughs, returning 23 Members, the population had actually diminished since that date, whilst in the eleven largest manufacturing towns in the North, the number of £10 householders in the same period had increased by 178 per cent. The contrast was not merely remarkable as regarded the population relatively to the Members; but while, on the one side, they had a set of small boroughs stationary or declining in. population, on the other they had a number of large towns rising rapidly into importance, with electors in each of those 79 towns increasing more rapidly than the electors in all the small boroughs put together; and yet they commanded no adequate proportion of the representation. Take a single instance. He selected it not from any invidious motives, but because it was the smallest borough returning two Members. Honiton in 1831 had a population of 3,509; this was now 3,301; a decrease of 208 had taken place in the number of electors, and there were now only 348 on the register. Yet Honiton had as great a voice in the Government of the country as Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, or Dublin. Anomalies like these could only be defended on one ground—that they formed part of a great settlement which had worked well, and which it was inexpedient to disturb. Re-open that settlement and there was not a vestige of an argument that could be urged for retaining the existing distribution of seats. The principle of such a re-distribution had been recognized in the various Reform Bills from time to time brought forward. It was recognized in the great Reform Bill of 1832; in the Bill of 1854, brought forward by Lord Russell; in the Bill of 1859 and again in 1860 the distribution of seats was recognized as an obvious and necessary part of any settlement of this great question. That it forms an essential part of any settlement must be apparent to every one, because how are we to arrive at the knowledge of whether it is or is not expedient to make a large extension of the borough or county franchise, unless we know the whole conditions of the problem to be put forward? The real practical question in any Reform is not whether men who live in £7 or £8 houses are to return the Members, but how to contrive such a balance of political power as shall fairly represent all the different interests of the country; above all, as shall strike a fair balance between the Progressive and Conservative elements of the country. Previous to 1832 the Conservative element so far preponderated that the country was brought into great danger; it was impossible to effect salutary changes in time, and, consequently, matters were brought to a point where a choice had to be made between the alternative of Reform or revolution. But since the Reform Act of 1832, could any one fairly and justly say that the Conservative element had unduly preponderated in the political representation of this country? Had not abuse after abuse been reformed until at last we had 80 no practical abuses left? ["Oh!"] He repeated that deliberately. Improvement had been carried to such an extent that it was no longer possible for the public opinion of the country to declare, "There is something which ought to be done, and the Parliament of the country will not do it." There were no longer any great questions upon which the opinion of the country was not in entire accordance with the opinions represented in that House, The existing system worked admirably, yet Parliament was asked to re-open most exciting questions. It was all very well for those who belonged to the school of the hon. Member for Birmingham—for those who instead of admiring the harmonious working of our existing system regard it as an oppressive monopoly, injurious to the interests and insulting to the feelings of the great masses of the community—it was very well for them to ask that questions might be re-opened which would excite agitation without settling anything. And if he agreed with them in the end, of course he would agree with them as to the means. But dissenting from them in their ends, he dissented from them entirely as to the means; they stood on opposite sides of the wall, and, as a defender of the fortress, he did not feel in the least degree disposed to assist them in inserting the point of the lever which was intended to topple down the battlements upon his own head. To those who were satisfied with the working of the Reform Bill, and who thought the existing political system admirably adjusted, it was all-important, when a proposition was made to re-open that settlement, that they should see as a whole what was proposed with regard to re-distribution. Who could doubt that if, this year, such an extension of the suffrage as was now demanded were conceded, an application would be made next year for a re-distribution of seats based upon the utter disproportion of the representative power enjoyed by the large cities and the small boroughs which he had already described to the House? The balance between the Conservative and Progressive elements in the country depended very much upon the mode in which the seats taken from the small boroughs were applied. In the three settlements proposed in 1854, 1859, and 1860, it was proposed to give to the counties most of the seats taken from the small boroughs. That in itself, of course, was a Conservative proposal 81 calculated to give the Conservative element a fair counterpoise for what they might lose by the disfranchisement of the small boroughs or the lowering of the suffrage. But if changes were all in one direction to strengthen the Democratic or Progressive element and to weaken the Conservative element, did they not risk the entire disturbance of that balance which had worked so well, and the introduction of further changes such as they might not altogether like to contemplate? Serious questions were involved in a departure from the £10 franchise established by the Reform Bill of 1832. What prospect was there of being able to draw a line anywhere else, or of taking a stand upon any other figure if once they departed from that which gave them a precedent and a principle? It afforded a precedent, because it formed part of a great historical settlement which had worked well and done admirable service for thirty-five years. It constituted a principle, and one recognized throughout the whole of our English Constitution, that the franchise was a trust and not a right. Once admit the franchise to be a right, and limit it as you might, it landed you in universal suffrage, subject only to limitations, such as those of pauperism, crime, and similar distinctions. But hold it to be a trust, and then it followed that it was a trust to be exercised by that portion of the community which had reached a certain standing and acquired a certain stake in the country, and whose ability to act upon solid sense and reflection rather than from inconsiderate impulse might be presumed upon. Now, the £10 franchise drew that line in a general way very clearly and very distinctly. Taking the number of houses inhabited by male occupiers, they would be found to be about 1,300,000 in number. Of these, 639,000 male occupiers lived in houses of the value of £10 and upwards, so that, taken broadly, it might be said that the upper half of the inhabited houses conferred the franchise, and its owners held it as trustees for the remainder. But once descend materially below the £10 level—go down to £7 as proposed by the Government measure—and on what principle could they rely to meet the demand which would at once be raised that they should go down to £6? That demand would be made, and forcibly made, by those who advocated these measures out of doors. No such distinction existed between the £7 and £6 qualifications as between the £10 and 82 those below £10. It could not be said the £6 householder had less real stake in the country than the £7, or if any difference at all existed it was quite evanescent. At any rate the only argument brought against it by the Chancellor of the Exchequer was that he recoiled from the consequences. The figures presented to the House showed that a £6 franchise would give more than one-half the borough representation to the working classes, and the right hon. Gentleman frankly admitted that though he might not personally, yet the majority of the House would recoil from such a measure. But if the working classes at present formed 26 per cent of the voters under an elastic franchise which yet permitted their increase, was the difference between that proportion and one-half so very great that they were to recoil with horror at the one and be in such hot haste with the other that they could not allow themselves time for deliberation? But there was another consideration. The object was to admit the intellect of the working classes, as it was found among the artizans and mechanics in the larger towns. It was proposed to do so by simply lowering the household franchise over the whole area of borough constituencies, with the fact staring them in the face on these Returns that in three out of four boroughs they could not attain their object, but would simply lower and deteriorate the constituency. If they looked through the Returns, they would find that, apart from the large towns in which an intelligent and highly-paid working class had obtained the £10 franchise, the places that were most distinguished for the great proportion of working men were the places which were not favourably distinguished in the annals of elections. Were he in a lecture-room, he would draw a diagram which might be called a chart of corruption. On one side would be the boroughs, instrinsically the most expensive and most productive of petitions to the House. Beside these would be that class in which were most of those freemen and scot and lot voters not coming in the category of artizans of intelligence. He would mention, as types of this latter class, Stafford, Shrewsbury, Canterbury, Lincoln, Maidstone, Gloucester, and Beverley. He could prolong the list, but merely mentioned a few typical instances. They would find that a large extent of working men's franchise and enormous election expenses went together. It must be a matter of notoriety to every Member of 83 that House that if in the ordinary run of small or middle-sized boroughs they were to extend the franchise lower than at present they would increase the expense of the elections. He asked any Gentleman if he were asked to guarantee the expenses of a contested election for one of those boroughs of 20,000 or 30,000 inhabitants, would they not fix a larger amount for the guarantee if the franchise were £6 than if it were £10? Then the moral aspect of the question must be considered. One great object of lowering the franchise was to hold out to the working classes a motive for good conduct and provident habits. The existing franchise did this to a considerable extent. It was evident that the present working class £10 householders were superior men of their class. But if the franchise were indiscriminately lowered, others of not so high a character would be admitted to the privilege—men who had not been so provident and careful to lodge their families in comfortable houses. He thought there was a great advantage in extending the constituencies by admitting what were called the "fancy franchises." Some of the fancy franchises, if made large enough, would admit a number of the working classes, which would be an unmixed good. What could produce a more excellent moral effect than the savings bank franchise, if it were low enough? And why should not the franchise be extended to other classes of property? Why should not the man who possessed £30 or £40 of realized property of any sort in a bank or any other form have a vote? Why should not the man who has bought a house of his own of the value of £6 a year have a vote, while his neighbour who only rented a house at £7 was so privileged? If the moral elevation of the working classes were aimed at, the household franchise should not be lowered indiscriminately; it should be kept at a high standard, and the franchise should be otherwise extended by plans based upon intelligence and providence. He had thought it advisable to express the opinions he had because he believed they were held by many of the moderate Liberal party, and he felt bound to express his deep disappointment that the Government had resolved to deal with the matter piecemeal, and not by one comprehensive measure. He was of opinion that, in bringing forward a measure of such grave importance as the one under consideration, which proposed to disturb a settlement that had lasted so long and worked so well, 84 more deliberation was needed, and more grounds should have been shown than were shown by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in support of it. What, after all, were the grounds upon which the House was asked to support the Bill? Simply pledges, given some years ago. For himself, he had given no pledge on entering Parliament, but a promise generally to support Lord Palmerston's administration. And he did not feel disposed to violate that pledge, either in the letter or the spirit. Would Lord Palmerston have consented, in the face of the Returns recently presented to the House, to introduce a measure proposing to lower the franchise without re-distributing the seats, to re-open an agitation the issue of which none could foresee, to offer them a Reform Bill which was not final and contained no element of security?
§ Captain GROSVENOR and Mr. BAINES rose to address the House; after considerable confusion and cries of "Order!" Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER called on Mr. BAINES.
§ MR. BAINES
said, he was sorry to interpose between the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster (Captain Grosvenor) and the House, especially as he was a new Member, but after the intimation he had repeatedly received from the Chair it would not have been proper for him (Mr. Baines) to forego his claim. He had taken a lively interest in the question of Reform, but would detain the House only a few minutes. It appeared to him that the hon. Member for Wick (Mr. Laing) had proved too much. He had undertaken the task of proving that no practical grievance existed in this country such as to call for any amendment of the existing electoral system; yet the latter half of his speech consisted of an exposure of the absurd and glaring anomalies attaching to the present distribution of seats, and for the redress of which he contended. Now, this was surely a practical grievance, and sufficiently refuted the former portion of his speech. It should, however, be remembered that the same thing had been said years ago by a much greater man. In 1830 the Duke of Wellington affirmed that no conceivable form of representation could exceed in excellence and adaptation to its ends the then existing system; while the Reform Act of 1832 was declared by the Conservative party in Parliament to be nothing less than a revolution, and calculated to subject the intelligence and education of the country to the ascendancy of the uneducated classes and the mob- 85 ocracy of the country. These prognostications had been signally falsified; for the Reform Bill was passed, and the House had just heard from the hon. Member for Wick, as well as on a former occasion from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe), that Parliament since 1832 had been a perfect model of a legislative body. Now he freely admitted that many of the practical grievances which existed before that date had been removed; but why had they been removed? Simply in consequence of that very infusion into the House of the popular element which Conservative Members declared at the time to be a revolution. He believed that there were good grounds for expecting a further measure in the same direction to be at tended with the like beneficial effects and it surely was a practical grievance that there should be such anomalies as the hon. Member for Wick had described, and that the proportion of the working classes in the borough constituencies should have sunk from 31 to only 21 per cent. The Chancellor of the Exchequer stated the pro portion, indeed, at first, at 26 per cent, but declared himself willing subsequently to set it down at 21 per cent; and considering the extraordinary material, moral, and intellectual advance which had been achieved in this country during the past thirty years—an advance, perhaps unprecedented in the history of the world—it was surely a grievance that the proportion of the working classes in the borough constituencies should be only two-thirds of what it was in 1832. He did not rise for the purpose of entering into the general argument of the question, but to express his belief that on the side of the House on which he sat there was a considerable measure of satisfaction with the Bill, [Laughter.] He was aware that that feeling was not universal among the Gentlemen around him: but as he had had the opportunity of conversing on the subject with hon. Members whose real attachment to Reform he confided in, he could assure hon. Gentlemen opposite of the existence of that considerable measure of satisfaction. For his own part, he did not regard the Bill as a perfect one. It was for the purpose of pointing out the parts of the Bill which were imperfect—although in a sense opposite to that indicated by the hon. Member for Wick—that he had risen. In the first place, he would ask, Were the calculations with which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had favoured them strictly accu- 86 rate, with regard to the proportion of the working classes that now possessed the franchise compared with the proportion that would possess it in the event of the passing of his Bill? Hon. Members would have an opportunity of testing the accuracy of his figures between the present time and the time when the matter would come on again for discussion after the holydays. The Chancellor of the Exchequer computed that the number of the working classes in boroughs who possessed the franchise at the present time was 126,000; but the accuracy of that computation was to be doubted, on the ground that it comprised under the head of "working classes" several important classes and individuals who, although they might in one sense be working men, should in truth be classed in a higher rank. He was informed that the Poor Law Board in preparing the Returns had expressly directed that small tradesmen should be included under the head of the "working classes." when their shops were managed by their wives. He maintained that these persons, although working men, were something more, inasmuch as they must have some capital with which to stock their shops and carry on business, and must keep books and give credit. Therefore a considerable proportion of the numbers placed under the head of the working classes should be struck off. He might instance in support of his argument that in the borough of Wakefield the working classes only numbered eighty voters; but when the Poor Law Board gave directions that the small tradesmen, or those whose families kept shops, should be included under that head, the numbers were at once raised to 120, or 50 per cent. Again, he had been assured by one of the representatives of the borough of Oldham, that of the 315 voters of that borough returned under the head of the working classes, not more than one-half could strictly be said to belong to that class. Therefore, instead of the Chancellor of the Exchequer taking the number of the working classes to be 126,000, he would have been far beyond the mark in putting it at 100,000; and even that number would include many of the old freemen and scot and lot voters. Then the right hon. Gentleman was also wrong in assigning to the working classes the whole of the 60,000 compound householders; whereas, in point of fact, a large proportion of that number consisted of small tradesmen. The right hon. Gentleman 87 further classed all those whom he intended to enfranchise by going down to £7 among the working classes; but, in reality, a large proportion would consist of clerks, retired tradesmen, &c. His belief was, that instead of the number of the working classes in the future constituencies being 330,000, it would not exceed 250,000. They were told that, in the event of the Bill passing, they would revolutionize the country. But what were the facts? Out of a total adult male population of 5,180,000, 1,300,000, or one in four, would be enfranchised, the great bulk of the unenfranchised remainder consisting of the working classes; and, although the working classes were three times as numerous as the upper classes, they would only have one-fourth of the total elective franchise. Notwithstanding those miscalculations, he admitted that there was much that was excellent in the Bill. As far as the extension of the franchise went he entirely approved of it, though he did not see upon what grounds the Government, on the question of the county franchise, had receded from the position taken up by hon. Gentlemen opposite and by the hon. Member for Surrey with respect to it. Nor did he believe that the £6 borough franchise, which he had himself proposed, would be too great an extension. Of course he approved of the lodger franchise, of the savings bank franchise, and of the abolition of the rate-paying clause; and, although the measure was opposed by hon. Gentlemen opposite, he believed the Bill would prove in its effects a really Conservative measure.
said, he must express his regret that his first rising to address that House had given rise to a proceeding so much out of order as to call for a remonstrance from the leader of the Opposition, and he begged to apologize both to the hon. Gentleman in the Chair, and to the hon. Member who just sat down for any discourtesy of which he might unwittingly have been guilty. He asked for a large amount of that indulgence usually accorded to hon. Members while they committed that first fault which public school tradition allowed to go unpunished. He felt called upon to make a few observations on the question before them as the representative of one of those great constituencies which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had characterized, in the course of his opening statement, as notorious for their attachment to questions of a liberal tendency. In the course of the month of 88 February he had listened with great interest to the preliminary discussions which this subject underwent, and he then derived an impression which had been rather strengthened than otherwise by what had fallen from various speakers to-night—it struck him that there were many hon. Members in that House who did not correctly appreciate the position which this question occupied before the country, or the difficulties which had encompassed those who had taken upon themselves the arduous duty of attempting to frame a Reform Bill, so that it should raise the people instead of flooring the Ministry, that it should admit a certain proportion of the working classes to the privileges of electoral power, instead of admitting right hon. Gentlemen opposite to official residences in Downing Street and Whitehall. Hon. Gentlemen were aware that this question had been before Parliament in some definite form or other for fourteen years; but they did not seem so universally to appreciate the fact that in the course of that time its position before the country had materially changed. Fourteen, or twelve, or even ten years ago discussions upon it were confined more or less to the statesmen on either side; but in the period which had intervened, and which had been marked by such gigantic strides in moral, material, and educational progress, the semi-aristocratic study of politics had become the study of the nation, and the claims of the unenfranchised had been discussed by the unenfranchised themselves in a moderate and intelligent, but in a firm and determined spirit. It had been a favourite argument with hon. Gentlemen opposite in their efforts to get rid of this vital question—and he was afraid the same argument might at times have been whispered by hon. Members on the Ministerial side—that there was no agitation for it in the country. But that was saying a great deal too much. There was agitation, and the whole strength and colour of the argument was derived from the fact that it was of a peaceful and orderly character. And he might add, that for this the country was as much indebted to the good sense of the people as to the wisdom and statesmanship of their rulers. Would that House like to wait until the character of this agitation changed? While Lord Palmerston was alive, and especially during the years when he presided with such able authority over the last "Long Parliament," 89 there were reasons personal and political why the people should acquiesce in a temporary postponement of their claims. But now that it had pleased Providence to remove that great man, now that no danger from our foreign relations was to be apprehended; above all, now that our Sovereign had called into existence a Government pledged beyond its predecessors to the popular cause, and comprising men upon whom the people reckoned, and reckoned justly, as their staunch allies, it would be highly impolitic, it would be highly dangerous to trifle any longer with those claims. There were two ways in which the Government might have trifled—they might have trifled by attempting to elude the subject altogether, or by bringing in such a measure as could not, under existing circumstances, and in the face of existing combinations, by any possibility become law. No doubt the arguments which he had heard urged in that House against piecemeal legislation, if taken in the abstract, were of some force. No doubt a comprehensive measure, dealing largely and uniformly with this subject, in all its branches, would commend itself to the mind as symmetrical and complete. But would it pass, and if not, what then? Why, it was that very affection for abstract principles, that very hankering after that which was symmetrical and that which was complete, that we owed this long disappointment so deeply unsatisfactory to the people. What the people required from those they trusted was a proof that that trust was mutual They would recognize no such proof in any artistically designed system for perfect representation which could not possibly become law. They would, he was convinced, recognize such a proof in the measure which had been brought before the House to-day; which, although it might not wholly satisfy their political aspirations—and probably it was not right that it should—at any rate went far to establish the principle that they were not doomed for ever to political exclusion. He was not going to assert—it would argue great presumption and great credulity if he did—that the measure which they had heard propounded to-day was the best measure in its present state which could have been devised even under existing circumstances, but even in its present state it would have his cordial support, because it fairly embraced the chief points of a long promised concession. And he would 90 very respectfully remind the House that whatever differences of opinion might exist among its Members as to the advantages of this or that particular scheme of Reform, there was no public object which it could be called upon to promote more important in its nature, more imperative in its necessity, than the re-establishment of that confidence between the people and their rulers which had of necessity been somewhat impaired by a long course of promises lightly broken, and of pledges wholly unredeemed.
§ MR. HORSMAN
Sir, there are two subjects of sincere congratulation which will come home to hon. Members; the first is that we have at last the long expected Government Reform Bill before us, and the next is that it is so extremely satisfactory to the advanced Reformers. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds (Mr. Baines), as representing those advanced Reformers, is now in a very happy state of mind because the Government has reproduced his single-barrelled Bill, which would not go off last year, respecting the borough franchise, only considerably cut down; and he accepts it, if I understand him rightly, according to the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer who proposed it, as a settlement of the question. But I must remind my hon. Friend, in passing, that he very much misunderstood the arguments of the speech of the hon. Member for Wick (Mr. Laing). He did not say in that able and argumentative speech that there were no anomalies in our electoral system; but what he said was this—that there were much greater anomalies in the state of the representation with regard to the boroughs than in the suffrage; that you are beginning at the wrong end, that you are dealing with the smaller anomalies first, and therefore necessitating a new agitation, further demands, and greater changes. But I do not intend to enter into the provisions of the measure. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, at the commencement of his address, reminded us of that paragraph in the Queen's Speech which referred to this subject. He told us that this was no isolated measure, but one of an historical character, associated with the memories and the mishaps, with the obligations and the defalcations of former Cabinets, with Royal Speeches which mocked the nation, and Parliamentary pledges which played with constituents; and he made this reference to the past partly as an apology for the Government again embarking on an enter- 91 prize on which so much failure and discredit had been incurred, and partly as a reproach, to induce the House of Commons to redeem public character by the fulfilment of obligations too long evaded, and the discharge of duties too long and too disgracefully delayed. I have no intention of following my right hon. Friend through his statistics, because this question is in reality not a statistical, but a constitutional one. We are not dealing to-day with details, but with principles. You have first of all to discover and establish the principle on which you are to legislate, and the statistics can then be rendered serviceable as auxiliaries to fill up the details—I prefer dealing with that portion of the speech of my right hon. Friend in which he vindicated the policy of the Government in taking up this question at all. My right hon. Friend invited us to survey the situation, and I willingly accept his invitation. For the retrospect is most valuable. It is valuable as enabling us to take a comprehensive view of the origin and character of this measure, and form our judgment upon it—whether it be a wise and well considered proposal, free from the vices of its abortive predecessors, commending itself to the House and to the country as an honest and intelligible effort to settle a perplexing question, or whether, when divested of the rhetorical embellishment and dazzling ingenuities of my right hon. Friend, and displayed in its own naked and incongruous proportions, it be anything else but another bid for power, another promise made only to be broken—another hope raised only to be dashed, another in the long series of political frauds and Parliamentary juggles so transparent that instead of a crowning honour and success it is the culmination of weakness, incapacity, and failure. My right hon. Friend began by a reference to the past, but of what does that history remind us? Five times have the lips of Royalty been stained by promises which have not been kept—five times has the honour of Ministers been pledged to what they have not performed. That is very true. It is very sad, and it is very discreditable; but to whom? Not to the House of Commons which was never a party to those pledges, and is not bound to whitewash the character of Ministers, whose proceedings when an opportunity offered itself it invariably disapproved. But when my right hon. Friend told us that five Cabinets had been com- 92 mitted to Reform, surely he omitted to explain that four of those five, although nominally different administrations, were identically the same Ministers with a new shuffle of places, and that Lord Russell was a prominent Member of every liberal Cabinet that introduced a Reform Bill—that it was he, and he only, who insisted upon the introduction of those Bills which were notoriously introduced less to meet the exigencies of the nation than to meet the exigencies of a particular Minister, and that every one of those Bills was opposed to the opinion of Parliament and to the sense of the nation. But that makes a very great difference—that is an important fact: because when the authority of history is invoked to influence and to guide us in this matter, there is a vast difference between one individual Minister four times insisting upon the necessity of a change, and four distinct and separate Ministers approaching the question from opposite points of view and concurring in the same necessity. But my right hon. Friend said it was not the Ministers who were responsible, but that the responsibility rested upon Parliament for originating and directing the action of the Government. How did he prove that? He said that in 1851 there was a discussion and a division on the Bill of the hon. Member for Surrey (Mr. Locke King), that in that division Lord Russell was defeated, and that it was in consequence of that defeat that the House of Commons forced upon the Government the necessity of legislating in this direction. My right hon. Friend argued from this that it was the House of Commons and not the Ministry who was responsible for everything which has since occurred. At any rate, I shall not be corrected when I say that my right hon. Friend attributed the origin of all this legislation on the part of the Ministry to the vote on the Motion of the hon. Member for Surrey, in which the Government were defeated, Lord Russell being the only speaker in the debate who opposed the Bill. This, according to my right hon. Friend, was the foundation for all the subsequent proceedings of the Government, and if I can show you that the foundation is rotten, all the superstructure which my right hon. Friend has built upon it comes crumbling to the ground. Let me give my right hon. Friend one piece of advice, and that is, that when he in future takes any statement of facts as the foundation of a speech or line of policy, he should verify 93 these facts for himself, and not accept his information second-hand from any clerk or secretary. That course has to-night led my right hon. Friend into one of the most serious blunders that I have ever seen committed in this House by any prominent man. The original mistake, I am certain, is not his own, and I am equally convinced that he will regret having been led into error by trusting to information supplied to him by another. What are the facts? It was in the debate on the introduction of the Bill by the hon. Member for East Surrey that Lord Russell spoke. But in what sense? So far from allowing the House to originate the policy of the Government, he rose and said that it was twenty years since the Reform Act of 1832 was passed, and he offered to give a pledge, if the hon. Member for East Surrey would withdraw his Motion, that the Government should introduce a Reform Bill in the following year. But the House and the hon. Member for East Surrey were not satisfied with the assurance, and they divided against the Government. The House was a very thin one, consisting of only 156 Members, and on the division being taken the Government was defeated, the "Ayes" numbering 100, and the "Noes" 52. That division took place on the Motion for the introduction of the Bill—a Motion which is usually assented to as a matter of form. But after the hon. Member for East Surrey had defeated the Government, the House of Commons perceived that the question was a serious one; and, consequently, on the second reading, in a larger House, there was another division, when the numbers in favour of the second reading were 88, those by whom it was rejected being 299 [Mr. LOCKE KING interposed a remark, which was not heard.] I beg my hon Friend's pardon. He is quite mistaken, for I have referred to the debate since the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The promise made by Lord Russell wan given on the introduction of the Bill Lord Russell was defeated in the division in a thin House; and, on the Motion for the second reading, my hon. Friend's Bill was rejected by a majority of more than three to one. This, then, was the event which, according to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, showed that the House of Commons was determined to have a Reform Bill, which compelled the Government to introduce a Reform Bill afterwards, and was the foundation of all subsequent legislation. I was 94 not, I must confess, at all surprised that my right hon. Friend passed over the Bill of 1852 without even a cursory allusion to the Bill which in 1852 was brought in in consequence of Lord Russell's pledge, for he perhaps remembered that by a curious accident we are possessed of the secret history of that measure. The House may recollect that Earl Grey obtained Her Majesty's permission to state what had occurred in the Cabinet with respect to that Bill, and his statement brought to light this interesting fact, that in the reformed Cabinet of 1852 there was only one Reformer. Earl Grey bethinks himself to say in order to be safe that there might possibly have been a second or even a third, but although he was certain that three was the maximum, he adhered to his belief that the reforming element in the Cabinet was represented by an unit. He went on to say that Lord Russell had pledged himself without the slightest consideration for his Colleagues, and without their knowledge or assent. They were very angry, but although they disapproved the pledge, they showed a consideration for Earl Russell which he had not shown for them, and determined to assist him to redeem it. The Bill was accordingly introduced, amid a flourish of Reform trumpets, as a fresh proof of the conscientious liberality of an united Cabinet who thought of nothing but their country. But the curious may ask how was it that a whole Cabinet of dissentients should stoop to accept a Bill which they disapproved and dreaded? On that subject, also, Earl Grey is painfully communicative. As he is only permitted to speak for himself, he leaves us to draw our own inference about his Colleagues, but the reason he gives for himself is this. He says that when the Bill was introduced the Cabinet was doomed, its days were numbered, it was in extremis and that therefore the introduction of the Bill could do no harm because it was quite impossible it could pass into law. 1 wish the House to bear in mind the history of this Bill of 1852 as given by a most unimpeachable authority, because this was the starting-point of the new agitation which Earl Russell has kept alive ever since; it gives the key to that disgraceful and otherwise incredible Reform history of the last fourteen years, and it shows that a series of Bills brought in by a succession of Cabinets were in effect the work of one and the same 95 Minister, and tending to one and the same end. I need not detain the House by going through the history of the other Bills. No Minister has received permission to give us the secret history of the Bill of 1854; but we know that it also was pressed on a reluctant Cabinet and a reluctant House of Commons, in the teeth of remonstrances and protests on the eve of the Crimean War. But the Parliament would not have it, the country would not have it, and the advanced Re-formers unanimously condemned it as being utterly insufficient and worthless. Then came the Queen's Speech of 1857, delivered in the first week of December; but although the Government were not turned out till the end of the following February, Lord Palmerston confessed that the Bill had not even been prepared. Then came the Bill of the Derby Cabinet in 1859, which rather took the Liberal party by surprise, and was nearer legislation than we have been since that time. And, Sir, it is only fair to say that, regarding the Bill itself, it was universally admitted to be a better Bill than any Lord Russell's Cabinet ever produced. But while we are now considering the past as a guide to the future, I feel bound to speak of that Bill with the same freedom that I have spoken of those that have emanated from this side of the House; and the real mistake and blot of that Bill was not merely that the country did not want it, but that it was notoriously against the traditions, and the feelings of the great majority of the party by which it was introduced; and therefore it was that the country looked calmly on while by an abstract Resolution a penalty was inflicted upon it which was prompt, signal, and has been enduring. I do not think that it is for the interest of those who introduced the Bill to recall it too much to the recollection of the House. The opinion of the country upon it may be summed up in a single sentence. The country did feel, whether rightly or wrongly, that the opponents of the Reform Bill on that occasion put Reform up to auction, and that they had no right to complain if it was knocked down to the highest bidder. Then came the Bill of 1860, to which my right hon. Friend referred to-night, and as to which the country, sensibly alarmed, felt that it had no escape; for there was an unexampled conjuncture of political leaders in its favour. Lord Palmerston, Lord Derby, Lord Russell, and the right hon. Member 96 for Bucks were all so deeply committed to the Bill that it passed the second reading almost without debate. Sir, the nation was in despair; but even then its true feeling made itself known throughout the House, and broke out in a manner too strong to be resisted. The House of Commons rebelled against its leaders. Abandoned by the front Benches, the rank and file stood true to their defences, and cheered on, and, supported by the public out of doors, they bombarded the Treasury Bench with such inexhaustible rounds of rhetoric, that they fairly wore out the Government and laughed the Bill out of the House. And so the question remained to the close of the last Session. But the history of these Bills would be incomplete unless we borrowed an illustration which has been very opportunely furnished by the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright). We have described the acts of the Ministry, but the hon. Member has given us a portrait of the actors; and in reference to the Bill of 1860, in a letter written in September, in which he declined an invitation to a Reform banquet at Glasgow, after an allusion to Lord Palmerston which I need not read, he gave this opinion of Lord Palmerston's Colleagues, who are now sitting on that Bench. He said—His Colleagues preferred their places to their honour as public men, and they consented to the greatest political fraud of our time rather than leave the Treasury Bench even for a season.Well, Sir, that is rather strong language, it is a specimen of what is termed the hon. Member for Birmingham's "pure Saxon." But is it true—that is to say, is it true in the sense in which he meant it to be construed as contrasting his conduct with that of the Ministers he denounced? Why, Sir, if I had made a complaint that Ministers had remained in place after they had dropped their Bill, that would have been consistent in me, because I have always expressed my opinion that when they gave up the Bill which brought them into office they ought also to have relinquished office. But that was not the opinion of the hon. Member for Birmingham, and with the circumstances so fresh in my mind I could hardly believe my eyes when I read his letter. For what were the circumstances? On the day when Lord John Russell was about to withdraw his Bill there was an unusual bustle on these Benches; and when I came down, expecting the adjourned debate to go on, I was told that 97 Lord John Russell had communicated to the hon. Member for Birmingham that it was his intention to withdraw his Bill, and it was even stated that the noble Lord had taken counsel with the hon. Member for Birmingham, and was withdrawing the Bill by his advice. Whether that was true or not, most undoubtedly the noble Lord withdrew it with his knowledge and concurrence, because no sooner had Lord Russell and the right hon. Member for Bucks who followed him resumed their seats, than the hon. Member for Birmingham got up expressly to state his concurrence in the withdrawal of the Bill, He justified that withdrawal, he commended it, and for five years afterwards, while the Government remained in office, he gave them his undiminished support, and on the only opportunity that was offered to him he honoured them with his Vote of Confidence. [Mr. BRIGHT was understood to express dissent.] I can only say that during those five years I knew no steadier supporter than he was, and undoubtedly on the Vote of Confidence—the great trial of strength between parties—he voted with the majority. Then, I ask, if they committed the greatest political fraud known to our times, was he not an accomplice and abettor of that fraud? and if they sacrificed their honour to keep their places. I ask whether he did not, to some extent at least, sacrifice his honour to keep them in their places? I do not ask whether it was just, generous, but was it seemly in him to boast in such opprobious terms the Ministers for whose acts he had made himself responsible, and for the purposes of a new agitation thus coin political capital at their expense. But there was comfort for the Ministry in store. The hon. Member for Birmingham can inflict a wound, but he knows also how to apply the soothing remedy. I have shown you the picture drawn in September; but they gave him another sitting in November, and then we have another sketch slightly varied. Hear what the hon. Gentleman says on the 30th of November. Speaking of the Administration—Some one has said that the Ministry is very much the same as it was—I venture to say it is very different. I think I know almost every Member of the Administration, and many of them with that kind of intimacy which comes from long attendance in the House of Commons, and I should say that it is composedOf what? Of pledge breaker's, of dishon- 98 ourable men who sacrifice their honour to their places? No!It is composed of men more entitled to public confidence probably than any other Ministry of our time.That is portrait No. 2. But the wind changes again, and it shows how deeply my hon. Friend is in the secrets of the Cabinet, and how he knows the fluctuations of their Councils, because within one short month he again changes his mind, and those dear and intimate friends of whom he spoke so affectingly, the old Whigs, he proposes to inter with all the symbols of national respect in Westminster Abbey, After the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to-day, we may possibly have another change. Its complexion is always varying—To-day 'tis black—to-morrow white—next day 'Tis neither black, nor white, but dingy grey.Now the House will observe that from 1852 to 1865 this question of Reform had been agitated under the most favourable circumstances. It had been taken up by every Administration, and supported and recommended by every prominent public man. It has had three-fourths of the press as the partisans of one side or the other writing in its favour. It had public meetings innumerable, and an active agitation founded on the undisputed fact of 5,000,000 of unenfranchised operatives. Yet these Cabinets were all defeated, the Ministers more or less discredited, the Bills all rejected; the agitation a failure: and the more the question was stirred, the more vividly apparent it became that the projected changes were not suited to the wants and temper of the times, and that the country—watching, listening, reading, and judging—was brought slowly, but surely, to the conviction that these changes were not founded in reason, that they were opposed to justice, that they were fatal to the growth of liberty—that they were the creed of a small and noisy section of politicians of extreme opinions, who had gained an accidental and mischievous importance from the fact that the two great political parties in the Slate were so evenly balanced that rival chiefs vied with one another in bidding for the support of that extreme minority; but that the general thought and education of the country—the morality, the statesmanship, the patriotism of every class, from the highest to tin lowest—clung with instinctive fervour to tin institutions which they saw approached 99 with an unfriendly hand, and with one will and one voice forbad that that old tree of English liberty which had been the Blow growth of ages and the admiration of nations should be transformed into the brazen image of ignorance and intolerance which the worshippers of Trans-Atlantic equality wanted to set up. And that is my answer to one conclusion that might have been drawn from the historical statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that this question has been five times recommended from the Throne. Undoubtedly, he might have added with truth that there is no previous instance, at least in our time, of any great question five times recommended from the Throne not passing into an Act. But what is the reason of it? It is obvious—it is because there is no previous instance of any Minister five times pressing on the Sovereign and the Parliament an important change which was opposed to the well-ascertained feelings and interests of the nation. On former occasions, Sir, great national demands founded on reason and justice have prevailed—as they always ought to prevail—over narrow prejudices and selfish and exclusive interests. But in this case the national demand was to be let alone, and Lord Russell, as a persistent disturber, has been treated with an unexampled patience and forbearance which are happily at last exhausted. Now, Sir, one would suppose that with these facts and this experience before them the Government might have been deterred from hastily committing themselves on this question of Reform. But, nevertheless, Lord Russell, and his Colleagues, who had already broken down four times upon it, determined to come before Parliament with another Reform Bill, without any allegation whatever of new circumstances and new strength, or new views upon it. There was, indeed, one novelty, and only one, connected with this further attempt on their part, and that was their chivalrous determination (as it was called) to stand or fall by their intended measure. I confess, Sir, I was never able to appreciate this "chivalrous determination," on a matter as to which I knew the Government had no choice. Sure I am that the country is determined to have no more trifling with this question of Reform. Sure I am that the country is sick—heartily sick—of the insincerities and hypocrisies which have made the very name of Reform a scandal and reproach to public men. And I very much 100 mistake the character and temper of this new House of Commons if it would suffer another Ministry to trade on the Reform cry—and introduce and abandon a Bill and yet remain glued to the seats of office. It was, therefore, not only right and proper, but absolutely imperative for the Government to stand or fall by their measure; and it needed no very wise prophet to foretel that whether they were to stand or fall must depend entirely on the character of the Bill they introduced. I think the House will agree with me that there are three great essentials to the success of any Government attempting at this time to deal with the question of Reform. The first is, that the attempt should be made by a strong Government; for Lord Russell himself told the deputations in the autumn that the opposition to his Reform Bill would be very determined and the difficulties very formidable. Therefore, a Bill should only be introduced for the purpose of being carried; it should be an instrument of legislation, not of agitation, and for that purpose the Government should be strong. Then the second essential is, that it should be, for a generation at least, a settlement of the question; and the third is, that a Government bringing in a Bill for the settlement of the question in the face of a formidable opposition should have the power of appealing to the country by a dissolution. I ask the House, then, how many of these essentials are found united on the present Treasury Bench? Suppose we take them one by one. In the first place, have we a strong Government? On this point, of course, I can only apply a very obvious and very easy test, yet one to which it is impossible for any Member of the Government to take the least exception. Let us compare the present Government in point of strength with the last, which attempted and failed to carry a Reform Bill in 1860. Well, in that Government there were no less than ten Members of the Cabinet with seats in the House of Commons. Only six of them remained when they determined to introduce this measure. Four of them were gone; six only remained, and without one single addition to their number for weeks after they announced their determination to bring in a Reform Bill, and even till within a few days of the meeting of Parliament. Six only remain, and who were those that are gone? Were they insignificant men; not missed, easily spared? Why, do not the 101 names of Sidney Herbert, Cornewall Lewis, and Palmerston, remind us that they were the very flower of the Cabinet? With one or two exceptions they were the Cabinet itself. Compare the Cabinet of 1860 with the present Cabinet. Why, it is almost like comparing a living, moving, sentient being with his own skeleton And when the task in hand was six years ago too mighty for the strength of giants, what miraculous virtue do we expect to find in the notoriously discordant remains? Then, is what you propose a settlement of the question? What does it settle? How does the Bill settle it? And here I must beg to disabuse my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the delusion which he showed he was labouring under, in common probably with the rest of his Colleagues. He said, and he repeated it twice, "We shall have done at least something." Well, but the country does not want you to do "something." What the country wants is that you should settle something; and if you do not settle something you are not doing but undoing and unsettling. You are unsettling everything—unsettling the Act of 1832, unsettling Administration, unsettling legislation, unsettling the thoughts, the occupations, and all the great interests of the country Now, I hold that there is nothing a Government can do which is so mistaken and so mischievous as to raise great issues which it cannot define, and to let loose a force which it cannot control. But even as to the suffrage what are you settling? Remember, there was by common accord only one problem to be solved—namely, how to admit the masses to a share of political power without giving them a monopoly. Well, does the speech of my right hon. Friend solve that question?—does it even touch it? Why, there is only one mode of satisfactorily settling any great controversy, and that is to found your settlement upon a recognized and intelligible principle. What, then, is the principle of your Bill? Is it the old principle of the representation of property? Is it the principle which was enunciated the other day at Manchester, that representation and taxation should go together? Is it the principle of intelligence advocated by the Member for Hull (Mr. Clay)? Is it that doctrine of abstract right which was so suddenly proclaimed in my right hon. Friend's famous speech on the Bill of the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Baines), and which was afterwards so hurriedly 102 withdrawn? Why, it is none of these. There was nothing in my right hon. Friend's speech of to-night that we can dignify with the title of a principle. It was nothing but a reproduction of the old, stale, worn-out and discredited device of the first downward movement in the direction of government by numbers. My right hon. Friend hopes that we shall take the division on this Bill upon that principle. Well, if this is to be the principle of the Bill, I ask again what difficulty do you remove, what agitation do you silence? because even the £6 Franchise Bill of the Member for Leeds of last year was taken to be only an instalment. But there was a portion of my right hon. Friend's speech to which I must say I listened with astonishment and regret. He said, "We don't attempt, we don't profess, to affect a settlement;" and using words which, coming from him, surprised me more than if they had come from any other Member of this House, or from any other public man; he said—and I took the words down—We are unwilling to look to the future. The circumstances are so varied that we must look to that future itself for proper opportunities of dealing with these important questions.I am sorry that my right hon. Friend gave expression to these opinions, because emanating from him they derive great weight and go forth with great authority. Dealing, Sir, only with the circumstances of this Session or of this Parliament, and looking to the future to take care of itself, may be a very good commercial principle—it may be a very good rule on which to carry on the business of a large establishment at Manchester But I beg to say it is not statesmanship; and I am quite sure that my right hon. Friend on mature reflection will feel that he has committed himself to a dogma which is not only unsound and untenable, but which, coming from the Ministerial Bench, is as startling as it is paradoxical. Why, there is no doubt that we can only deal with the circumstances of our own Session, or of our own Parliament, or our own generation; but if we deal with them on false principles which become precedents for the next generation, we are not leaving them as free as we are to take care of themselves. No doubt circumstances are shifting and variable; but principles are enduring and eternal; and as we are the slaves of precedent, one false step on a mistaken false principle is in fact kindling a conflagration for our successors to extinguish? Carried 103 out to the full extent, the argument off my right hon. Friend means this:—A Government, especially if it finds itself weak, is only to have a hand-to-mouth policy—is to keep things square exactly for its own time, and to take care of itself, if need be, even at the expense of its successors. That is the argument of the Chancellor of the Exchequer carried to its logical result; and if that is to be our rule of conduct, I would suggest to my right hon. Friend, who is a great economiser of the public money, that he should advertize for tenders, and I venture to promise that within a given time he will have offers from more than one joint-stock company to carry on the business of this country on the hand-to-mouth principle quite as well and much more cheaply than it is being done in our day. Well, Sir, it is quite evident hon. Gentlemen feel that my right hon. Friend went rather further than he intended in enunciating that doctrine; because I am sure that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been asked in a more impartial moment to describe the functions and the character of an English statesman, he would have said that he was the man above all others whose special duty it was to look not only to the present, but to the future—the man who above all others was supposed to have stored his mind with all the riches of historical truth and political science, and constitutional lore, in order that he might see farther and soar higher than other men—that he might bring in a knowledge of principles, of precedents, of maxims, of legislative science, in order to foresee, to provide, to avert—and so far as the limitation of poor human faculties will allow it—to foretel and command the future. My right hon. Friend is the very last man from whom I should have expected such a justification of routine and mediocrity; for although we know that under some foreign Governments the Minister of State is only separated from the herd of politicians by the fussy consequence of office and the gratifying arrival of quarter day, we know, and no one better than the right hon. Gentleman, that that is not a measure of an English statesman directing the destinies of his age. We place him on a loftier pedestal, we try him by a more exalted standard; we gift him with a clearer vision and a nobler inspiration; and, while in his own time we honour him as a guide and an example, it is for after generations to pay the real tribute to his worth and bless him as a benefactor. I wish 104 the House to observe the wonderful inconsistency of my right hon. Friend. See how differently he deals with a question which he really understands and really loves—see how differently he deals with finance. Why is he torturing his brain and straining his faculties to reduce the National Debt? Not merely to meet the requirements of a particular Session of Parliament, or a particular generation. We know very well that the requirements of our own time would rather lead us to keep the money in our pockets and pass on to another generation the debt which we inherited. But, in finance, my right hon. Friend does look forward—finance has been his study, it is his pride, it is his ambition, on finance he intends to found a reputation, and therefore on finance he is careful, conscientious, logical, and far-seeing. But as to Reform, that for a mind like his is merely a platform recreation. We know that he only began to think of it seriously two years ago; and then it was a sudden freak, almost like that visit of the casual to the workhouse. He saw a dark muddy pool before him, he plunged headlong in, and he has been soiled and shivering in questionable company ever since. Well, then, I think it is admitted this Government is not strong; it is admitted also that there is no attempt at a settlement of this question. And now in a few words I will deal with the question of dissolution. Nothing can justify a dissolution of Parliament on any particular question, except the necessity of ascertaining the opinion of the country upon it, coupled with some hope that the response of the country will be favourable to the Government dissolving. But the national opinion on Reform has been already ascertained unequivocally on the two most recent occasions. The dissolution of 1859 took place expressly on Reform, and the new Parliament refused to legislate. Again, at the close of last Session, the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Baines) by his £6 Franchise Bill on the eve of a dissolution, applied a very severe screw to Liberal Members; but they, even with visions of the hustings before their eyes, laughed at his screw and demolished his Bill. And of all the Liberal Members who assisted in that praiseworthy work of demolition I cannot put my finger on one who lost his seat by that vote; but the disasters that befell those enlightened and independent Liberals who voted for the Bill may be told by scores, and they fell most grievously on the Bench behind me, among what 105 might be termed the body guard of the Member for Birmingham. His favourite aide-de-camps were swept away; and if it had not been that the Member for Rochdale providentially emerged alive out of the fray the great republican chief would have lost even his trumpeter. Well, then, I ask, what more can we want with dissolutions? They have already shown that the further a man goes in Reform the more precarious is his seat; and a dissolution, under such circumstances, would be not only unconstitutional, but let me tell my right hon. Friend he knows it would be suicidal. And although it is barely possible that some old and desperate politicians might be prepared to play the game of pi-rates and to set fire to the ship before they left it, I am quite sure that no Minister with a future before him would dare to offer such an affront to the country, for it would most certainly place such a mark as one decade of years would not be sufficient to efface. One would suppose that the lack of these three essentials—strength of the Government, settlement of the question, and legitimate power of dissolution might have prevented the Government from unnecessarily impaling themselves on the question of Reform. But there is a fourth essential which, according to Lord Russell and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Members for Birmingham and Leeds, and all who have hitherto attempted to legislate or agitate on this question is more vital than all the others combined. One and all have said that, without a strong public opinion out of doors, without the certainty of an irresistible popular support, any Ministry attempting to deal with the Reform question would be highly censurable, and would be so helpless that—in the phrase used by my right hon. Friend tonight—they would only make themselves ridiculous. Lord Russell expressed the desire for that agitation in very remarkable words when he said—The next Ministry attempting to deal with tin; Reform Question must be supported by a popular breeze not only to carry a measure through the House of Commons, but strong enough to carry it over the Bar of the House of Lords.But when Lord Russell and the Chancellor of the Exchequer laid their heads together last autumn there was no popular breeze, and no indication of it. Lord Palmerston had left the country in a profound calm; it was contented and prosperous at home, and it was at peace abroad. Lord Palmerston was a statesman who bad deeply studied 106 the English character and English institutions. He knew that the first law of political life in England was that we should rule by the voice of the educated majority. His keen sagacity had told him that the educated majority in England was in favour of tranquillity, and not of agitation. He had bequeathed to his successors the example of his wisdom, and its fruit in a recently obtained Parliamentary majority so considerable that, wisely employed, it would have secured to his successors a strong and enduring power. Tinder these circumstances, one would have thought that the path was so plain before them that no amount of folly or of perverseness could have led them to mistake it. But in an evil hour they summoned the hon. Member for Birmingham to their councils, and if he gave them the advice which he afterwards repeated on the platform, and circulated over the country by his organs, he would appear to have guaranteed the breeze that was to carry a Reform Bill over the Bar of the House of Lords. He must have told them that the calm which Lord Palmerston bequeathed was artificial and deceptive—that it was only the precursor of the storm, that Reform was not dead but dormant, that it pervaded the whole nation, that its feelings were dangerously pent up, and only pent up because it was awaiting the speedy return to power of the great Minister reverentially termed the "Father of Reform," who had already been the benefactor and was again to be the saviour of a nation, that was on the brink of revolution, and could only be saved by a single-barrelled Reform Bill. Now if any man had gone to Lord Palmerston and talked such nonsense to him, as that the country was bursting for Reform, he would have been laughed out of the room. We remember what Lord Palmerston said on the hustings to his friend Mr. Rowcliff, who asked him why the Government had not introduced another Reform Bill. "Why," said he, "because we were not geese." That reply of Lord Palmerston his Colleagues received both as a compliment and a witticism. It went straight to the understanding of Englishmen; it told them more than volumes of writing and hours of speaking could have done. That reply of Lord Palmerston's was strikingly characteristic; it showed his strong, masculine, English common sense, which we all know is of more value, for the guidance of men and the management of parties, than all the other gifts and qualties a Minis- 107 ter can possess. Lord Palmerston would never have been weak enough to be persuaded that England would be governed from Lancashire, or the Liberal party domineered over by the Member for Birmingham. But the man who had been a pigmy in the hands of Lord Palmerston was a giant in the hands of his successor; so Lord Russell at once fell into his toils, and was easily persuaded that as he was the idol of an adoring nation, he had a Heaven-directed mission to fulfil, and like a devout and dauntless patriot, he girded himself for its fulfilment. And so the die was cast. Reform, a comprehensive Reform, was to be the cry, agitation was to be the means; the wise and tranquil policy of Lord Palmerston was to be reversed, the days of truce and compromise were over—and so was the reign of the majority of moderate Liberalism behind the Treasury Benches. The real Liberal party was no longer in that quarter of the House, where formerly it was associated with names of historic renown in great party conflicts, and Liberal triumphs. No; the true and trusted Liberals now were only to be found below the gangway—in the minute section below the gangway which acknowledge the leadership of the hon. Member for Birmingham, and only his nominees were to be preferred as the heirs and occupants of the Treasury Bench and the future governors of England. To them the word was given to "agitate! agitate! agitate!" proclaimed trumpet-tongued through all their organs—at simultaneous meetings in every district—monster gatherings in every town, petitions, addresses, deputations, leagues, placards, and all the machinery of uproar. The hon. Member for Birmingham was himself to rush through the provinces, to ride on the whirlwind and direct the storm. And when the giant spirit of the nation was fairly roused, then the great ruling Council were to consider how it would please them to carry out that redistribution of electoral power which we are to-night assembled to discuss. We know how this plan of campaign was prosecuted—we know how, during those two months of democratic delirium, until the bubble of their popularity burst the instruments of the Government wrote and spoke, and how they bullied, blustered, exulted, and crowed, and threatened; how we were told how the Benches on the Opposition side of the House were to be cleared, and how those on this side were to be purified. Demo- 108 cracy was upon us. For two months we had a foretaste of its sweets, and little was left for us to imagine of the sort of liberty which we should enjoy in this House when these new patrons of liberty were enthroned as power. I observe that there was one topic, usually urged on these occasions, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer carefully avoided. We are often asked to bear in mind the advantages of legislating in a calm, and I am surprised the right hon. Gentleman did not invite our attention to that. Could it be that some of his own Colleagues have not been alive to the advantage of legislating in a calm? There were some of them, who during this agitation, by the countenance and favour shown to the hon. Member behind me, did their best to assist him to let loose the furies of agitation and the demons of disturbance. It was on their mission, in their name, as their auxiliary and ally, that the Member for Birmingham went down as a plenipotentiary to the provinces to lash the people into fury with the recital of imaginary wrongs and fabricated grievances. And if, as was threatened in more than one Ministerial organ, we have not had the scenes of 1831 revived—if we have not had the excitement at Birmingham, and burning of Nottingham, and riots at Bristol—and if the Chancellor of the Exchequer, under a pressure which he could not resist, has not submitted to our notice to-day a very different Bill in a very different tone—that of a master who had a power at his command we should do well not to brave; and if the Member for Birmingham himself, who would then have towered as a dictator over the Government, has not been enabled, like a second Cromwell, to stamp his foot and cry out to refractory Members, "Get you gone; you are no longer a Parliament. Lord Russell has no more need of you." If, I say, all this has not occurred, it is not to the Colleagues of my right hon. Friend that we are indebted for our escape, but to the good sense and loyalty of those who are wiser in head and sounder in heart than some incendiary politicians in high places who have done their utmost to excite them. But the agitation has failed—failed ridiculously, failed ignominiously; and as the unwelcome truth flashed on those popular leaders of the platform that they were, without exception, the most unpopular section in the political community; that they were discredited, distrusted, and shunned; why 109 then their demand for a liberal and comprehensive Reform dwindled down, becoming "small by degrees and beautifully less," until the climax of their discomfiture being reached, by the paragraph in the Queen's Speech, they were ready, like the Member for Leeds, to express their unbounded satisfaction for anything however unpalatable in quality or infinitesimal in quantity, which the ingenuity of the Government might devise to break their fall by enabling them to boast that in the consolatory words of their never-failing Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer they had at least "done something." I have treated this Bill as a Government measure; but we all know that it is entitled to be so called only by courtesy, and that however short it may fall of the original conception and design, that conception and design had its birth not in Downing Street, but in Birmingham. There is not a man in this House who does not know it is the Bill of the hon. Gentleman behind me, who by the spell which he has thrown over Lord Russell has been the ruling spirit of this movement. It is, in short, the old battle revived—the Member for Birmingham and Lord Russell against the majority of the Cabinet and the country. Everybody is aware of the ascendancy of the hon. Gentleman, Of late it had been an ascendancy so ostentatiously and so alarmingly displayed that it has created a profound sensation through out the country and in the Liberal ranks in this House both above and below the gangway. The question has been asked during the last three weeks by Liberal Members of one another, What are the real principles, what are the aims, what are the claims to our confidence and support on the part of this new ruler whom Lord Russell seems determined to set over us? Do we adopt his principles? do we endorse his ends? Is he the right and proper person to reform our institutions? Can we with safety accept his guidance? Upon this point, however unpalatable it may be to some Gentlemen on this side of the House, I should like to say a few words. I am speaking in the presence of the hon. Member for Birmingham, and I am speaking with the full knowledge that he will follow me in this discussion. [Mr. BRIGHT: No, no!] I think I am going to give the hon. Gentleman something he will reply to. [Mr. BRIGHT: No!] I am told that we are not to have any declaration of his opinion from the hon. 110 Member for Birmingham; but if the House will give me its attention for a few minutes, and if he will give me his attention, I will venture to say that I will place something before the House which he will reply to. What I am going to say is this—and I shall say it very briefly—that while I do not deny that the hon. Gentleman is sincere in seeking to bring about the changes which he advocates, I maintain that he does not desire them in the sense in which we do—namely, with a view to reforming, and strengthening, and perpetuating what we admire and value. We in England understand the word "Reformer" only in one sense—that of a man who is a sincere adherent and friend, and upholder of the form of Government, to render which reform is intended more perfect and durable. But if the professed Reformer be a passionate admirer of Republican institutions; if he openly avows that our English institutions are faulty in those respects in which they differ from Republican institutions, and that the reforms to be made ought to be after the mode and in the direction which would gradually but inevitably assimilate them to republicanism; if he publicly deprecates and decries, not the defects of our English form of Government, but that form of Government itself, and in those very speeches in which he unfolds the changes and Reforms which he advocates, then I say—and I do not believe any man in this House will contradict the assertion—such a Reformer is not a sympathizer in our view—he cannot be a sincere and honest, co-operator in our objects; he approaches the work not in the spirit of Reform, but of revolution, and he is not a friend but a enemy of the institutions which he sets himself to change. Upon that point I will enable the House in a very few moments to judge, so far as the hon. Member for Birmingham is concerned. Out of his own mouth. I will ask you to say whether he does not fall under the disqualification which I have just given. It happened at the time when Lord Derby's Government was in office that the advanced Reformers determined to have a Reform Bill of their own, at which, I believe, the Member for Hull (Mr. Clay) was in the chair, and at which it was moved by the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) that the hon. Member for Birmingham should prepare and take charge of a Reform Bill. He accepted that mission. He prepared his Bill. He explained its provisions at pub- 111 lic meetings in several of the most important towns in the North of England, stating at the same time what were the views and principles of Reform which he himself entertained. He complained that his Bill was very much attacked and misrepresented in the newspapers. It was said, he observed, that he meant to assail the monarchy and the House of Lords, and he set about vindicating himself from those charges. At the meeting to which I allude he made a speech, from which I will read a short extract. This speech was delivered in his official character as a representative of those who called him to prepare the Bill It was with the others which he delivered at that period revised by himself and published, and must therefore be regarded as containing the most solemn declaration of political faith which any Englishman could make in the face of the country. In the extract to which I refer, the hon. Gentleman said—I shall take the course of addressing myself to this question according to the light I have with regard to it from great study, from much consultation with others, and from an honest wish that I have that the question of Reform should be rightly viewed by every intelligent man among my countrymen. Now, we will mention two or three things that we do not want. We do not propose in the smallest degree to call in question or to limit the prerogatives of the Crown. I believe we are prepared to say that if the Throne of England be filled with so much dignity and so much purity as we have known it in our time, and as we know it now to be, we hope that the venerable monarchy may be perpetual.But that hope of perpetuity is coupled with an "if," and that "if" is unknown to the British Constitution. The British Constitution does not allow any man to set up his own standard of individual excellence in the Sovereign, and make his allegiance personal and conditional. But the language of the Member for Birmingham tolerates the monarchy so long as the monarchy comes up to an almost ideal standard of personal excellence—and I call it an ideal standard, because if we look through the long lines of Sovereigns of this or any other country, I know not where during so protracted a reign you can find such another realization of so high a standard. Well, the Gentlemen behind me think that those opinions about monarchy are quite orthodox. And now we come to the next highest branch of the Constitution—the House of Lords. Let us see what the hon. Member's opinions are in regard to the House of Lords—We do not propose even to discuss, much less 112 to limit the legal and constitutional privileges or prerogatives of the House of Peers. We know, everybody knows, nobody knows it better than the Peers, that a House of hereditary legislation cannot be a permanent institution in a free country.I am waiting for the cheers from the Members behind me. Now, I deny that the Peers know any such thing—I deny that this House knows any such thing, and I deny that the country knows any such thing, and the Constitution flatly contradicts the Member for Birmingham. The Constitution says that an hereditary Peerage is a permanent institution in a free country, and because it is compatible with freedom. I believe, Sir—however much it may shock the Gentlemen below the gangway—that there is an irreconcilable enmity between democracy and freedom, but I know of no irreconcilable enmity between freedom and an hereditary House of Lords. On the contrary, I believe that it is its hereditary character that secures to the House of Lords an independence that renders it a stronger bulwark of freedom than an elective chamber can possibly be. But when the hon. Gentleman says that an hereditary Peerage is incompatible with freedom, what is that but saying that it ought to be abolished, or, in other words, that the Constitution ought to be so far abolished? And though the abolition may not be proposed in his Reform Bill, still it becomes a question of levers and instalments. Well, then, we come to the House of Commons. The feeling of the hon. Member for Birmingham is that the suffrage is the birthright of every Englishman, and that an unenfranchised adult is outside the Constitution. What, then, is his political creed? If the monarchy is to be contingent upon the highest standard of personal excellence which a Sovereign can attain, but failing that is to be not hereditary, but I presume elective—if the House of Peers is not to be hereditary but also elective, and if the House of Commons is to be chosen by universal suffrage, what becomes of the British Constitution, and how far are we removed from a Republic? Why, if there be any meaning in words and any force in language, the political principles of the hon. Member for Birmingham, as publicly propounded in the face of his countrymen—I do not presume to judge of his personal and individual feelings—his political principles, I say, are the principles, not of an Englishman, but of an alien. He is not a believer in the British Constitution, but he 113 must be as thorough-going a Republican as President Johnson himself. But this is the confidential adviser and director of the head of the Cabinet, and the director and, so far as depends on Lord Russell, the director and dictator of the Liberal party—that Liberal party which, as we have been reminded by the Member for Wick (Mr. Laing), only six months ago followed Lord Palmerston as its leader. Now what is involved in a change from the policy of Lord Palmerston to the policy of the hon. Member behind me? It would be a greater change of policy than has in our time ever been effected by the transfer of Government from one side of the House to the other. But happily that change has not been accomplished, and I do not think it is likely to be accomplished. But the nation, however, has had a great escape. The death of Lord Palmerston brought on a very serious crisis. Two months ago the hon. Member for Birmingham had, apparently, command of the situation. Every moment of the recess was fraught with peril. But with the assembling of Parliament the crisis has passed; for no sooner did Members congregate together and compare opinions and the opinions of their constituents, and discuss the situation, than an almost universal feeling pervaded this side of the House, the real character and effect of which will make themselves known when we come to the second reading—if, indeed, we ever do come to the second reading of the Bill, [Laughter and cries of" Divide!"] I do not expect that what I am saying is palatable to Gentlemen in that quarter of the House, But what I do say is, that the first and most imminent peril being now over, it is for the Liberal party calmly to re-consider its position and its duties as to the future. We have seen that a succession of weak Ministers have been driven by the necessities of their position to give to a small minority of extreme opinions an importance utterly disproportionate to their number in this House or to their influence out of it. The consequence has been that the whole Liberal party, against its convictions, and still more against its interests, has been drifting towards Demo cracy. Nothing can be more injurious to its character or more fatal to its stability, as many Liberals of moderate opinions are now beginning to discover. [Cries of "No, no!"] Well, two Gentlemen say "No!" but only two. [Laughter.] And it has brought political parties to this state 114 —we have now a prospect of a succession of short Governments and frequent dissolutions, all tending to that confusion which every moderate man must deprecate as most surely contributing to the ascendancy of extreme opinions. Therefore it is, Sir, that in my heart I believe that much of the future of England may depend on the spirit with which the new House of Commons realizes and rises to the discharge of its first and most responsible duty. But I will, tell my right hon. Friend who cheers me what that duty is. It is to vindicate the supremacy of constitutional opinions—to spurn the dictation of an intolerant minority to make it a first condition of the occupancy of that Bench that the Ministers of the Crown shall be men of unquestionable attachment to the principles and the policy which are so deeply implanted in the convictions and cherished in the hearts of educated Englishmen—those principles of freedom which have not been successfully defended against the encroachments of monarchs and the passions of multitudes to be now surrendered at the feet of a more ignoble tyranny, that policy of progress—of sound and peaceful and constitutional progress, which has hitherto reflected the growing intelligence of the nation, and can only be arrested or fatally driven back by the successful machinations of those who would trade alternately on the weakness of Ministers they despise, and the presumed ignorance of the masses, whose contempt for the abortive agitation of the last four months has proved how deeply sensible they are of the blessings of the institutions under which they live, and that they have become too enlightened to be deluded, and too distrustful of demagogues to be betrayed.
§ MR. LOWE moved the adjournment of the debate.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
There can be no objection on the part of the Government to the adjournment of this debate under the present circumstances of the discussion, but it is exceedingly desirable that we should proceed with the debate to-morrow. My hon. Friend the Member for Kilkenny (Sir John Gray) has, however, a Motion on the paper relating to the important question of the Irish Church Establishment, and I, therefore, appeal to him if he will be kind enough to waive that Motion. ["No, no!"] In the event of the hon. Gentleman failing to be successful in the ballot to-mor- 115 row, we would assign an early day for his Motion.
§ SIR JOHN GRAY
I shall be most happy to do everything in my power to accommodate the right hon. Gentleman, and I should be very sorry to interfere with this measure. If, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman will name any day positively for my Motion, I shall be glad to accede to his request.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
If the hon. Gentleman fails in the ballot, we will undertake to give him a day.
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow.