§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [12th March], "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.)
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. LOWE
Sir, in the course of a long and illustrious career this House of Commons has gathered into its hands a very large proportion of the political power of the country. It has outlived the influence of the Crown; it has shaken off the dictation of the aristocracy; in finance and taxation it is supreme; it has a very large share in legislation; it can control and unmake, and sometimes nearly make, the executive Government. Probably, when the time shall arrive that the history of this nation shall be written as the history of that which has passed away, it may be thought that too much power and too much influence were concentrated and condensed in this great Assembly, and that England put too much to hazard on the personal qualifications of those who sit within these walls'. But, Sir, in proportion as the powers of the House of Commons are great and paramount, so does the exploit of endeavouring to amend its constitution become one of the highest and noblest efforts of statesmanship. To tamper with it lightly, to deal with it with unskilled hands, is one of the most signal acts of presumption or folly. When we speak of a Reform Bill, when we speak of giving the franchise to a class which has it not, of transferring the electoral power from one place to another, we should always bear in mind that the end we ought to have in view is not the class which receives the franchise, not the district that obtains the power of sending Members to Parliament, but that Parliament itself in which those Members are to sit, and for 142 the sake of constituting which properly those powers ought alone to be exercised. To consider the franchise its an end in itself; to suppose that we should confer it on any one class of persons because we think them deserving, that we should take it away from one place because it is small, or give it to another because it happens to be large, is in my opinion to mistake the means for the end. The franchise is an enormous advantage to this country—we are naturally enamoured of it; but when we look upon it in the light which I have just mentioned, and regard the conferring of it as the ultimate effort of statesmanship, as a matter of Reform, we, it appears to me, fall into the same error as the man would do who, having found that money had contributed much to his pleasure when young, and to his power in middle life, should, when he was approaching the close of his days—when pleasure could charm him no more, and power was no longer within his grasp—turn his attention from the end to the means, and terminate by loving money for its own sake. I mention this because I have, I think, some right to complain of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the manner in which he introduced the great subject under discussion to the notice of the House. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us, in substance, that he feared he had much to say to the House, and that he would not, therefore, take up our time by entering into the arguments or reasons in favour of a revision of our electoral system, or the extension of the electoral franchise. Now, Sir, I wish to speak on this matter with perfect temper and good humour; but I cannot help believing that my right hon. Friend will be of opinion that in taking the course I have just mentioned he did not deal altogether respectfully with the House. It is not right that a great Assembly like this should be called upon to entertain a proposition of the very utmost moment, touching most nearly a most vital part of our Constitution—effecting, in fact, if carried into law, an immense re-distribution of political power and an enormous alteration in the constituencies of the country—it is not right, I say, that such a proposition should be introduced to us, without having the reasons which induced the Government to lay such a proposition before us stated by the Minister by whom it is introduced, so that we may have something to guide us in estimating his scheme and 143 the principles upon which it is based. For my own part, I am not very particularly wedded to anything just because it exists, and I am quite prepared to follow experience and expediency as my guide in political matters wherever they may lead me. I have no prejudice in favour of the existing state of things. I care not, as far as any feelings or prejudices of my own are concerned, what the amount of the franchise is, or what the place in which Parliamentary power is vested. These are questions I am free to consider, because I wish to be guided by experience and induction, which, from their very nature, are always open to new light, from whatever quarter it may come, and by which everything is repudiated which savours in any degree of dogmatism. If, therefore, I complain of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in this matter, it is not because I am not willing to give the best consideration in my power to any proposal which the Government may make with the view of improving the constitution of this House; but although I am perfectly ready to entertain such a question, I do think it is but fair to existing institutions to say that the burden of proof is in their favour—that the presumption is in favour of that which is until it is removed by some argument which shows that that can be replaced by something better. The way in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed this great change without condescending to offer a word depreciatory of the present system, points out its faults and suggests remedies for them, leads to the conclusion that he assumed the burden of proof to be in the opposite direction to that which I have indicated, and that the defenders of the Constitution are bound to answer in the first instance the arguments of the innovators instead of waiting until the latter have made out their case. I, for one, deprecate that spirit of innovation which assumes that what exists is wrong, and introduces a proposal which distinctly calls upon us to pull down the noble work of our forefathers before a single word is said to show why we should assail it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer found plenty of time to deal with a great many subjects much less important. He discussed with the utmost sagacity and felicity the difference between "annual value" and "gross estimated rental," while he was eloquent in distinctions—in which we could not all follow him— 144 with respect to compound householders, tenants of flats, lodgers, and other abstruse personalities. But, although he ably entered into all these matters, and with a detail which reminds me more of a speech on the Budget than on Reform, he did not find—so pinched was he for time—a moment to say a single word why the Constitution under which we have lived so long might not be left to us a little longer.
Passing from that subject, I will state in a few words to the House all that I deem it to be necessary to address to them with respect to the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman asks leave to introduce. This Bill proposes, in short, to increase the whole electors of the country, whom he estimates at 900,000, by 400,000—that is to say, nearly one-third. [An hon. MEMBER: One-half.] Yes, one-half of the present constituency, but only one-third of that which will exist if the Bill passes into law. That is, nearly one-half of the existing number, and one-third of what the number would be. He proposes to make in the counties 171,000 new electors, and in the boroughs 204,000, the latter being almost altogether derived from the single class of persons renting at £10, or under £10. It will be almost entirely so, but there may be some slight difference—144,000 are absolutely and the rest pretty nearly so. With regard to the county franchise, I have only one observation to make. The proposition of the Chancellor of the Exchequer will very much enlarge the electoral area, enormously increase the expense of elections, and create a great re-distribution of political power. That may be right, or it may be wrong, but before we pass it we should be told the reason why. Then coming to the boroughs, the case is much more serious. The right hon. Gentleman opposed the voters in counties as being of the middle class to the voters in boroughs as being of the working class; and, according to the right hon. Gentleman's showing, if this Bill pass, we are to have 330,000 voters in the constituencies belonging to the working class, and 360,000 in the constituencies not working men. That is the system he proposes for our adoption. This leads us to a very grave consideration, because not only the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, but the statistics laid before the House show that the number of persons belonging to the working class already admitted to the franchise is 126,000, or about one-fifth of 145 the whole amount of electors. That is a most grave and momentous fact. Look what it proves. It proves in the first place that the Government were entirely mistaken as regards the main ground on which they introduced the present measure. The main ground they put forth for bringing in the Bill—until they came to bring it in, when they thought it expedient to put forth no ground at all—was that, the best of the working class were excluded from the franchise. The authority on which I make this statement is an authority which no one can dispute—it is a work on the English Government and Constitution is sued by Lord Russell twice in the course of last year—once in the spring, and again in the autumn. This is a passage from the Preface to the work—But may there not be still improvements?—in the Reform Bill, the noble Lord means; and this is the answer he gives—Each of the last four Ministries have been willing to add as it were a supplement to the Reform Act. For my part, I should be glad to see the sound morals and clear intelligence of the working classes more fully represented. They are kept out of the franchise, which Ministers of I the Crown have repeatedly asked for them, partly by the jealousy of the present holders of the suffrage, and partly by a vague fear that, by their greater numbers, they will swallow up all other classes. Both those obstacles may be removed by a judicious modification of the proposed suffrage.That proves most clearly that, in the opinion of Lord Russell as expressed last autumn, the best of the working classes had not the franchise. Is that true? Take the right hon. Gentleman's own statistics in your hands, and compare them with that Preface. Can you reconcile them? No, for they are absolutely irreconcilable. It is quite clear that Earl Russell wrote under a delusion, which was shared in by every gentleman who used the argument, and that I believe comprehended almost every Gentleman on the Treasury Bench. He was under the delusion that we all more or less shared in and believe that the working classes were excluded from the franchise, and that there was a sharp line drawn at the £10 franchise, above which the working men could not penetrate. That being the whole proposition which the noble Lord put forward with respect to Reform, and that being proved to be founded upon a mistake—I want to know upon what principle it is that the Government, having received the statistics which my noble Friend the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord 146 Elcho) advised them to obtain, showing that these people, for the sake of whom they asked for a Reform Bill, were already represented—I want to know why they now go on at all with a Bill in respect of the representation of the people. Surely this was worth explaining. We could have perfectly understood it if those statistics had not been there; my right hon. Friend would have told us at once that it was to enfranchise the working men; but these facts being as they are, my right hon. Friend says absolutely nothing, but assumes that, this House is going to entertain a proposition without knowing in the least what his adhesion to it in his own mind is based upon, or what reason there is for asking the House to accede to it. These statistics prove a little more. They prove a thing for saying which I have been greatly reproved—that the franchise was, in fact, in the power to a great, extent of the working classes. I have been reviled in the best and in the worst of English for the statement, and nobody has taken me to task more severely than the noble Lord whose Preface I. have read, because he has introduced a fresh series of paragraphs into his Preface to the last edition merely for the purpose of castigating me for saying anything so unkind and so untrue as that the franchise was in their power. All I can say is, if it is not in their power, how did they get, there? These statistics prove something more still, and what is also very well worth the notice of the Government. It is this—I do not apprehend we have any statistics to show us when it was that this great increase in the constituencies took place, but I think no one who knows the history of this country can doubt that it is owing to the great expansion of everything during the last twenty or thirty years. We know the causes at work which produced the expansion, but are they permanent or are they transient? The first cause was undoubtedly the discovery of gold in California and Australia, and the consequent depreciation of the precious metals gave an apparent increase of prices both in wages and in commodities. This led to higher rents and to higher wages—though I do not wish to embarrass the subject by going into figures. Another cause which kept up the rate of wages was the great emigration which took place, and is still taking place, from Ireland. Another cause was the vast extension in our trade and commerce, making labour every day more 147 and more in demand. Therefore, I am not wrong, I think, in considering that these causes which have existed hitherto have their efficacy by no means spent, and what we have a right to look at is, that the process of spontaneous enfranchisement that has been going on since the passing of the Reform Bill will go on hereafter, and probably with redoubled vigour. We have to build upon an admission—I cannot extract many principles from the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech, but it is impossible to manipulate figures and statements without implying something—and one thing that he laid down was that he did not wish to see the working classes in a majority in the constituencies in this country; at least, he said he did not much care himself, but for the sake of weaker brethren he would not like to see that. And, therefore, he rejected—with a bitter pang no doubt—the £6 franchise, and took the £7, because the £6 would have given 428,000, which would have been a clear majority of 362,000, whereas the £7 franchise gives 330,000, which leaves a very small majority the other way. But it must be remembered that we are not speaking for a year or two, but for the future, and I would ask the House what are the prospects of the constituencies—what are the chances that the principle which the Chancellor of the Exchequer could not screw his nerves up to face would remain inviolate? Is it not certain that in a few years from this the working men will be in a majority? Is it not certain that causes are at work which will have a tendency to multiply the franchise—that the £6 houses will become the £7 ones, and the £9 houses will expand to £10? There is no doubt an immense power of expansion; and therefore, without straining anything at all, it is certain that sooner or later we shall see the working classes in a majority in the constituencies. Look at what that implies. I shall speak very frankly on this subject, for having lost my character by saying that the working man could get the franchise for himself, which has been proved to be true, and for saying which he and his friends will not hate me one bit the less, I shall say exactly what I think. Let any Gentleman consider—I have had such unhappy experiences, and many of us have—let any Gentleman consider the constituencies he has had the honour to be concerned with. If you want venality, if you want ignorance, if you want drunkenness, 148 and facility for being intimidated; or if, on the other hand, you want impulsive, unreflecting, and violent people, where do you look for them in the constituencies? Do you go to the top or to the bottom? It is ridiculous for us to allege that since the Reform Bill the sins of the constituencies or the voters are mainly comprised between £20 and £10. But, then, it has been said the £10 shopkeepers, and lodging-house keepers, and beerhouse keepers, are an indifferent class of people; but get to the artizan, and there you will see the difference. It is the sort of theory the ancients had about the north wind. The ancients observed that as they went further to the north the wind got colder. Colder and colder it got the further they went, just as the constituencies get worse and worse the nearer you approach £10. They reasoned in this way—If it is so cold when you are in front of the north wind, how very warm it would be if you could only get behind it. And, therefore, they imagined for themselves a blessed land we have all read of, where the people, called the Hyperboreans, were always perfectly warm, happy, and virtuous, because they had got to the other side of the north wind. It is the same view that my right hon. Friend takes with respect to the £10 franchise—if you go a little lower you get into the virtuous stratum. We know what those persons are who live in small houses—we have had experience of them under the name of "freemen"—and no better law, I think, could have been passed than that which disfranchised them altogether. The Government are proposing to enfranchise one class of men who have been disfranchised heretofore. This class, dying out under one name, the Government propose to bring back under another. That being so, I ask the House to consider what good we are to get for the country at large by this reduction of the franchise? The effect will manifestly be to add a large number of persons to our constituencies of the class from which if there is to be anything wrong going on we may naturally expect to find it. It will increase the expenses of candidates—it will enormously increase the expenses of management of elections, even supposing that everything is conducted in a legitimate and fair manner—and it will very much increase the expenses of electioneering altogether. If experience proves that corruption varies inversely as the franchise, you must look for more bribery and corruption than you 149 have hitherto had. This will be the first and instantaneous result. Then, there is another which I wish to point out to hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House—their own experience will bear me out if they would frankly admit it—and that is, that by a singular retribution of Providence the main mischief will fall on the promoters of this Bill. A great many of these new electors are addicted to Conservative opinions; I do believe the franchise of the Government, if carried, will displace a number of most excellent Gentlemen on this side, and replace them with an equal number of Gentlemen from the other side of the House. But all this is merely the first stage. The first stage, I have no doubt, will be an increase of corruption, intimidation, and disorder, of all the evils that happen usually in elections. But what will be the second? The second will be that the working men of England, finding them selves in a full majority of the whole constituency, will awake to a full sense of their power. They will say, "We can do better for ourselves. Don't let us any longer be cajoled at elections. Let us set. up shop for ourselves. We have objects to serve as well as our neighbours, and lit us unite to carry those objects. We have machinery; we have our trades unions; we have our leaders all ready. We have the power of combination, as we have shown over and over again; and when we have a prize to fight for we will bring it to bear with tenfold more force than ever before." "Well, when that is the case—when you have a Parliament appointed, as it will be, by such constituencies so deteriorated—with a pressure of that kind brought to bear, what is it you expect Parliament to stop at? Where is the line that can be drawn? The right hon. Gentleman has said to us that he does not pledge Government to any re-distribution of seats, but if the Government should bring it forward he thinks this Parliament might be kept alive in order to effect that re-distribution. I am very much obliged to my right hon. Friend; but for my part I think Parliamentary life would not be worth preserving on those terms. Look at the position Parliament will occupy As long as we have not passed this Bill we are masters of the situation, Let us pass the Bill, and in what position are we? That of the Gibeonites—hewers of wood and drawers of water, rescued for a moment from the slaughter that fell on the other Canaanites in order that we 150 may prepare the Bill for re-distribution, with a threat hanging over our heads that if we do not do the work we shall be sent about our business and make way for another Parliament.
Thus much for the two main features of the Bill. But there is another feature in the Bill—that it is only a Franchise Bill, and does not deal with re-distribution of seats at all. That was the advice given to the Government by the hon. Member for Birmingham in his speech at Rochdale, and they have followed his advice. I do not make it matter of cavil against them that they did so. It is lawful to be taught by an enemy; how much more by a friend? But the hon. Member for Birmingham was not always of this opinion. I will read a passage from a speech of his which, I think, will convey a rather different impression—Repudiate without mercy any Bill of any Governments whatever its franchise, whatever its seeming concession, may be, if it does not distribute the seats which are obtained by the extinction of small boroughs mainly among the great cities and towns of the kingdom.
§ MR. LOWE
I will tell the hon. Member. But he has made so many speeches that it is not always easy to distinguish which, I am quoting from the speech delivered by him in 1859 at Bradford. There is a little bit more yet. He says—The question of distribution is the very soul of the question, and unless you get that you will be deceived, and when the Bill is passed you may possibly have to lament that you are not in the position in which you would wish to find yourselves,I read this not for the purpose of getting a laugh at the hon. Member for Birmingham, though I have no particular objection to that. I read it in order to point out to the House the working of the hon. Gentleman's mind. I have not the least doubt that the hon. Member for Birmingham, notwithstanding the apparent inconsistency of his speeches at Rochdale and Bradford, was perfectly consistent all the while. I believe he always had distinctly in view the re-distribution of seats. He has certain objects to obtain—which are not my objects, nor are they, I believe, the objects of many Members of the House-—and having those objects, the hon. Gentleman felt, I think very justly, upon consideration, that the way to get a redistribution of seats—at least such a redistribution as he wants—is not to seek 151 for it in the first instance. The present constituencies do not furnish a sufficiently powerful instrument for the purpose. He wanted an instrument to pulverize the representation, and therefore, like a good workman, he says, "Let us make the tools first, and then we shall speedily construct the machine." The tools for the construction of that machine are the House to be created by the Bill of the Government, brought in at his own instance, excluding the consideration of the re-distribution of seats until the Franchise Bill shall be carried, and an Assembly much more democratic in its nature than the present can be brought together. That is what I have to say with regard to the Bill of the Government. We shall have an opportunity of considering it on the second reading, but I earnestly hope that hon. Gentlemen will weigh what I have said.
And remember this, that there is another principle assumed throughout the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which is this—that you cannot possibly make constituencies too large so long as you do not put flagrantly improper people into them. That is, I believe, a mistake. It is quite possible to make constituencies so large as to deter from sitting in this House men of moderate opinions and moderate means who would be very valuable Members. It is easy to conceive that constituencies may be so large as to divide the representation between millionaires, to whom any expense is of no moment, and demagogues, who compensate for want of money by pandering to popular passions. The House must remember that Members of Parliament have thrown on them another duty than that of merely representing the people. It has been ever since the Revolution of 1688, and, if we do not destroy the conditions under which the arrangement subsists, it will continue to be the happy lot of this country, that the leading offices of the executive Government have only approached it through the vestibule of the House of Commons. If you form your House solely with a view to numbers, solely with a view to popular representation, whatever other good you obtain you will destroy the element out of which your statesmen must be made. You will lower the position of the executive Government, and render it difficult, if not impossible, to carry on that happy union between the two Powers which now exists. The Reform Bill of 1832 has certainly invigorated our legislation; but it may be 152 a question whether it has been equally efficient in invigorating our executive Government.
And here, if I have not already trespassed too much on the indulgence of the House, I would just pause to inquire what reasons can possibly be alleged—the Government have given us none—for bringing in this Bill at all. Is it that it is demanded out of doors? The working classes have gone very wisely, as I myself would go, ten miles to hear the hon. Member for Birmingham; but have they demanded this Bill? Has there been any energy in the demand for such a franchise as this? There have been meetings at St. Martin's Hall and elsewhere, but the resolutions have always been for universal suffrage. ["No, no!"] Almost uniformly they have spoken very disrespectfully of the hon. Member for Leeds and his proposition. Have any petitions been presented for this Bill? The last account I heard of the petitions was that four had been presented; how many more are there? Those who met in St. Martin's Hall have spoken out. Mr. Odgers moved the first resolution, but what he said he wanted was an Act of Parliament to keep up wages. There was another man, a mason, I think, who soared to a higher degree of patriotism, and asked, "Why don't you pass an Act of Parliament to make Ireland happy at once?" I therefore conclude that there is no very overwhelming pressure for Reform from that quarter yet. Is it from the constituencies the pressure comes? Why, I have read a passage from Lord Russell's letter in which he says that it is on account of the selfishness of the constituencies that the working men are kept out. That is, in other words, the constituencies are not favourable to Reform. Well, is it from the Members of this House? There, again, I call the same witness. The noble Earl said to a deputation which went to him with very extreme views on the subject of Reform, "I agree with you in most of what you have said; but I anticipate the greatest difficulty from the House of Commons." Lastly—and owing to the delicacy of the question I would not put it only the public interests require that I should do so—is it from the Cabinet? There, again, I call on Lord Russell, because the hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham asserted at a meeting that on the occasion of receiving a deputation, or on some other occasion, he found the noble Lord as ardent as possible 153 for Reform, but that he told him he had immense difficulties to deal with in his Cabinet.
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was at that meeting; but I say that there is not a word of truth in the statement. Lord Russell has never said one word to me that would in any way inform me what the opinion of any Member of his Cabinet was I have no recollection of having said anything such as the right hon. Gentleman alleges. If he is quoting anything that he has read, it is something which I never said—something which was incorrectly reported.
§ MR. LOWE
I have no wish to persevere in attributing anything to the hon. Gentleman which he denies having said. What I have quoted I read in The Star, though, of course, I am quoting from memory. I take in The Star when I want any information about the hon. Member. Well, now let us come to reason on the thing. It is said that it is in deference to public opinion this Bill is brought in. It is not because the working man is excluded. I have shown that. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer says that hon. Gentlemen on both sides have entered this House committed to Reform. Now, this is a question of high morality, and I wish hon. Gentlemen to turn this matter seriously in their minds. I apprehend that any Gentleman who enters this House docs not enter it as the Member for any particular borough or county, but as a representative of the whole country; and he enters it bound by an obligation which no promise he has given can add to, or take away from, one jot or tittle. That obligation is that to the best of his ability he will honestly do his duty to the country. Well, then, if a Gentleman finds himself hampered by pledges which touch his honour, there is always a course open to him to take. If he has got into a situation incompatible with honour, he should get out of it. If he remain in it he will be in that position described by one of our greatest poets—His honour in rooted dishonour stood,And faith unfaithful made him falsely true.I hope, therefore, whatever may be the fate of this question, we shall not hear that hon. Gentlemen are pledged to act contrary to their consciences, and to do what they believe will be injurious to their country.
I have now very little more to add in respect of the reasons for introducing this 154 measure. I find nothing so difficult as to get a Reformer to assign his reasons. The plan is to assume that there are reasons. Bring in the Bill; solvitur ambulando; by walking into the subject. In the arguments put forward on this subject we very seldom hear a Gentleman take it up and argue it from the beginning, so as to show us why we should have Reform at all. I do not now say we should not have it; but I say that you should not argue the Reform question as if the franchise were a boon which you had at your disposal, and of which you should make an equal distribution. You should not deal with it as if it were the Banda and Kirwee prize money which you were going to distribute. Is it a consideration of that kind which should form part of the political system of a great Empire? In fact, we have à priori grounds of all kinds alleged. But the franchise is not to be given on an à priori principle of justice. This is not a question to be decided à priori, or on what a Gentleman can evolve from the depths of his inner consciousness. It is a question of practical experience of the working of our laws—one as to the best machinery we can have for the work we have to do. I can well understand how such notions get root among the people. When the common people are told that there is anything to be got they think that, as in the administration of justice, there should be equality to all. They think the Government ought: to distribute everthing equally, as if something was to be divided between co-partners. But that is an entire misunderstanding of the real business of a Government. Government does not deal with justice. It deals with expediency. The object is to; construct the best machinery for the purpose to which it is to be applied. We may violate any law of symmetry, equality, or distributive justice in providing the proper machinery to enable us to do what is required of us. That being so, I will now state what I think the Government really ought to have done, and which it has not done. As this Bill, though it works on the constituencies, really is a Bill to alter the Constitution of the House, and to redistribute power in the House, I say it is the bounden duty of the Government to begin their inquiries by a minute examination of the state of this House—to see wherein it has succeeded and wherein it has failed. When that is done, let them still further improve what they find good if they can do so, and remedy what they 155 find to have failed. It is the duty of the Government, like any other physicians, to study the case with which they have to deal. If they do otherwise they are acting like a physician who spends his time in mixing drugs and sharpening lancets, and never takes the trouble to see what is the matter with his patient. As the Government do not appear to have conducted such an examination as I have suggested, perhaps we may with advantage do a little in this way for ourselves. I have the most unfeigned respect and veneration for this House, and therefore I should not wish to see its constitution altered without good grounds; but let us try to do what is the most difficult of all things—let us endeavour to acquire self-knowledge; let us try "to see ourselves as others see us." This House has been called the "mirror of the nation," as if the nation had nothing to do but look at this House in order to see itself as in a looking-glass. Now, I want the House to look at itself in this mirror. I think, then, we may say, without self-praise, that this House holds—not only in England, but throughout the whole world—a position far above that ever held by any other deliberative Assembly that ever existed. It is more respected all over the world, its debates are more read, and they exercise more influence on mankind than those of assemblies infinitely more popular. Ought we not to be proud, then, of the position which this House occupies in the body politic of nations? Well, I think I may go further, and say that the functions which it has principally to discharge—those of finance—it has discharged with greater success than any other deliberative Assembly. Of course it is not perfect, nothing human is. I dare say there are people who think that the Votes for the army and navy are outdoor relief for the aristocracy, that the Church is in the same category, and so forth; but the majority of the people of this country are satisfied that the finances are managed by the House in a manner creditable both to the House and the nation. If I go further, it must be said of this House that it never has been deaf to any appeal for the protection of the humbler classes. I know there is a clamour that the poor man is not represented in this House. But can any one say that the interests of the poor are neglected here? Look to the debates we have had on the cases of poor women who have been removed in steamers from this country to Ireland. In this House 156 immediate attention is given to everything affecting the poor. It is impossible to find a remedy always, but such cases always receive attention. I will not say what this House has done in legislation; I said it last year, and I will not repeat it. But I think I may say this House is a very orderly assembly—one of the most orderly of deliberative assemblies. When we go to other places—and indeed we need not go further than a place not 100 miles from us, we find that the House of Commons will bear comparison with any other assembly for the regularity of its proceedings. It is independent also. Whatever may have happened 100 years ago no one will say that there is any personal corruption in the House of Commons now, It is industrious, too. We labour more hours, and get through a greater amount of business, than any other Assembly in the world. These are great merits. I want to know, will the Bill which the Government have proposed leave all these things as it finds them? Will the constituencies in their altered character have no influence on the House? As the polypus takes its colour from the rock to which it affixes itself, so do the Members of this House take their character from the constituencies. If you lower the character of the constituencies, you lower that of the representatives, and you lower the character of this House. I do not want to say anything disagreeable, but if you want to see the result of democratic constituencies, you will find them in all the assemblies of Australia, and in all the assemblies of North America. But this House, like all human institutions, possesses imperfections, and I will point out one or two of them. In the first place, a great change has been operating since the year 1832, which no one has noticed, but which, I think, ought to have been taken into consideration. That change is this, that the House of Commons is now much nearer its constituents and much more influenced by them than it was before. In old days when a man left his constituents there was a great gulf between him and them, but now the constituents have a second function in addition to electing their Members. They can communicate with them by railway and by telegraph, and sometimes it has happened that the vote of a Member has been changed in the course of a debate by a telegram received from his constituents. A measure is sometimes proposed but not fully gone into, and 157 the local press, although insufficiently informed on the question, takes it up and argues upon it, and the result is that the constituents make up their mind on the subject before they have heard the real issue to be raised, and they force their conclusions on their representatives though these may be far better informed. The less informed tribunal, therefore, acquires more influence than it should over the superior and better informed tribunal. These are small blots, perhaps, but they are worth mentioning, because I want to ask whether more democratic constituencies would be inclined to give their Members more freedom than they have at present? "Would they be more tolerant of the opinions of the honest and able man who does not follow the whim of the moment? Would they be more patient, more tolerant, and more inclined to respect real dignity and consistency of character than they are now? Then there is another subject, and a very serious one indeed, which I have already touched upon—that is, the relations subsisting between this House and the executive Government. Now this House and the executive Government working together form a most invaluable institution. The House derives support from having a Government to lead it, dignity from its power of access to the very fountains of all political knowledge, and authority and information from being able to exercise the privilege of interrogating the Ministers of the Crown—a privilege of which it has largely availed itself this evening. On the other hand, the Ministers of the Crown derive strength and many advantages from being placed in immediate contact with the Legislature. They are not placed in a position like that of the Secretary of Finance in America, who is obliged to get a private Member to pro-pose his financial measures, Here all the Departments of the Government are represented—its Members sit in this House and have in debate the support and assistance of their friends and colleagues when the policy of the Government is attacked. I hold, therefore, that they gain infinitely by contact with each other, and that any thing which would tend to sever the connection between them must be dangerous and most mischievous. It is painful to observe that the first Reform Bill, however successful it may have been in legislation, has not been equally successful in this matter. Since I have had the honour of sitting here it has been painful to observe 158 the increasing weakness of the executive Government in this House. Formerly, if a Gentleman moved for Papers which, in the opinion of the Government, ought not to be produced, or which it would be unwise to put the country to the expense of printing, the Ministers resisted the Motion, and inconvenience or expense was saved to the public. But who resists such Motions now? Formerly, if a Committee were asked for, to inquire into a subject which had been already threshed out and examined into, or one which it was not proper to investigate, the Minister of the Department to which it related could get up in his place and say, "I cannot grant such a Committee." What Minister can say so now? Our ancestors, when they had once settled in their own minds that a thing was right, acted according to their convictions. Now, however, if a question is important and difficult it is delegated to a Committee; if not to a Committee, to a Commission, or it is delegated to some local authority, or it is made an open question. The whole machinery, in fact, has fallen a great deal too much into the hands of this House, and the effect necessarily must be, if the process goes on, to injure the influence and standing of this House; because, if the House should appoint a Committee to transact the business of every public office behind the Minister, it would incur an immense amount of responsibility and blame which is now laid upon the shoulders of the executive Government, and which the Government on its dissolution carries away with it as the scapegoat carried on its head the sins of the whole congregation. All these things are matters of very serious importance. You are aware that the wise men who founded the Constitution of America knew that, with its democratic foundation, it would be absolutely impossible to have the English system, so they established a system under which the executive Government and the Legislature should exist for a different period of years, and should be elected by different authorities, in order that they might have no point of contact with each other. The feebleness which that quality imparted to the Executive and the Legislature in America may be seen in the discord which has broken out between the head of the Executive and the Legislature. So long as we retain our present Constitution such a state of things could not exist for a moment in this country. And, therefore, 159 it seems to me quite evident that if this House means to maintain the great power and influence which it exercises over the executive Government, it must beware of putting itself on too democratic a foundation. In proportion as it does so it will lose the power of working the existing system, until at last it will be driven, as the Australian and other colonies will ultimately be driven, to appoint the Executive for a number of years certain, whether the Executive be, or whether it be not, in harmony with the Legislature of the time. Now, I ask the House again whether with America and Australia before us, and with proof that it is the democratic state of their society and institutions which mainly renders a system like ours unworkable in those countries, it is wise in us to push forward in a direction which, though it may make this House more popular, will deprive it of the noblest property it possesses, that of working in accordance with the executive Government. Then, again, elections are day by day becoming more expensive—I refer, of course, to legitimate expenses. It is not difficult to account for this. A torrent of wealth is flowing into the country, and persons naturally seek a seat in this House—some for political purposes, and some for purposes non-political. There are, for instance, the representatives of great companies and great interests, and gentlemen wishing to get into society under the stimulus of their wives and daughters. I say that this is a most serious matter, because it is only through this House that the most important Members of the Government can enter the Government; and if you require, in addition to the immense labour and the vicissitudes to which public life is subject, that the aspirants to office should expend more in conciliating their electors than they receive from the public, you will make public life impossible to the class of men which you wish to have. I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how long he thinks the small boroughs would exist after a democratic Constitution has been brought into effect—those small boroughs on behalf of which he made so eloquent a speech in 1859, as the places which sent to Parliament such men as Chatham, Pitt, Fox, Canning, and Peel. How long does he think those boroughs would survive the measure which he has brought in without a word of explanation on this important branch of the subject? And will the right hon. Gentleman tell us 160 how, when these boroughs are thrown away, he proposes to supply their place? For, unless this House is willing, like the Congress of America, to put an end altogether to its connection with the executive Government, it is necessary either that something of the kind should be kept up or other means devised for bringing about the same result. It is better that the truth should be told at once than that we should go on encouraging people in the belief that the Government which we now happily carry on can be carried on under conditions inimical to its existence.
Then there is the question of the "Private Business" in the House of Commons:—And I must say that I view with the greatest jealousy and alarm the degree to which this House has become a machine for the transaction of what is called "Private Business." "We fancy that we are investigating the schemes of people who have raised capital for the purpose of carrying them out, and that we are simply ascertaining whether the public assent ought to be given to those schemes or not. But, in reality, we are doing nothing of the kind. We are investigating schemes got up by people with no capital at all in order that they may sell the approval of this House in the Stock Exchange. Then, Sir, there are other affairs equally unpleasant, such as Government subsidies and contracts. Now, I cannot express how much I wish that an end could be put to this state of things; but do you think that by lowering materially the franchise below the present £10 you will redress any of these evils? Is it the result of our experience, looking at America, and at the democratic institutions there, whatever merits they may have, that the people are jealous of the moral character of their representatives? Did you ever hear of a man who was ostracized from public life in America in consequence of his having committed a murder, a forgery, a perjury, or any-thing of that kind? Things which would not be tolerated for an instant in England are passed by without notice in America. For however impetuous and impatient democratic constituencies may be of the acts of their Members in matters where their prejudices are affected, they are singularly loose in their requirements in other respects.
I think, then, that I have shown that such a Bill as the Government intends to bring in, while it would not in any degree alleviate any of the faults which I have 161 taken the liberty with all respect to point out in the constitution of this House, would aggravate every one of them, and there is not a single merit described in this imperfect sketch which it would not injuriously affect. Now, I want the Chancellor of the Exchequer to show us how this measure would work in regard to this House. My sketch is imperfect, and possibly may be entirely erroneous, but let the Government make their sketch or theory upon the subject. Let them tell us what are the faults in the House of Commons, and how the present measure will remedy those faults but let them not fling the measure on the table and say that we must adopt it, without hearing one single reason in favour of or against a state of things which has existed so long and so happily. It has been said, indeed, that precisely the same arguments have been used now as were used in 1832; but you must remember that to make a good argument two things are requisite—first, that the principle it self be sound, and secondly that the fail corresponds to the fact which it assumes Now, the arguments against Reform in 1832 were excellent, only they did not correspond to the facts of the case. The question which hon. Gentlemen beg in representing the two eases as parallel is—Are the facts of the case now the same as they were in 1832? Well, Sir, that is a question I am not going to enter into; but I may just point out this—that in 1832 the controversy was perfectly defined. The question was—Did the system then existing work well or not? One side maintained that it did work well, the other contended that it did not; and the country decided very rightly, as I, for one, think that it did not. But that is not the controversy now. It is now admitted that the system does work well; and the controversy now is, ought we not still to alter it? Take, for instance, a very clever letter, signed "H.," which appeared in The Times of yesterday. In reply to the question what good a Reform Bill could be expected to accomplish, the writer said—I am quite willing, for the sake of this argument, to answer 'none.' Nevertheless, I reply, even if that be so, the passing of a Reform Bill is a positive advantage,—simply, as I suppose, because gentlemen are, as they call themselves, "committed." That is, for the sake of preserving our consistency, we are to do that which we know to be injurious 162 to the best interests of the country. You must also make this distinction between the present time and 1832. The grievances that were complained of in 1832 were practical grievances. Do not believe for a moment that the House of Commons was reformed simply on account of the anomalies of the system. The House of Commons was reformed because the public mind was revolted by things which they thought had in the legislation and government of the country, and seized upon those anomalies as the weapons to abate the nuisance. That, being a practical grievance, has been redressed, and led for a certain time to n settlement of the question. But, Sir, nobody ever settles a question by remedying a mere theoretical grievance, and that is just the grievance we have now to deal with. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us ill his speech, as one gnat inducement to pass his Bill, that we should find in it a complete settlement of the question, and that he hoped that impracticable persons—I do not know whether I was one to whom he referred—if for no other reason, would be induced to give their assent to the Bill because if would be a settlement of the question, Settlement? What significance does the right hon. Gentleman attach to that word? He stated that you are to go on with this Bill for twelve nights in this Session, and if you cannot pass it in twelve nights, it is to be left to the charities of private Members, and those charities are, we know, very cold. Thus, probably, the measure might go over this year, and begin over again next year, and when we have disposed of it we are to be refreshed by a Franchise Bill for Scotland and a Franchise Bill for Inland, about which we were told that the information was rather than not in a state of preparation. Then, when we have done with the three Franchise Bills three Re-distribution Bills are to follow; and even then we shall not be out of the wood, because there is to be also a Boundaries Bill, one of the most difficult and irritating subjects which can be imagined—and after that we are to come to a Registration Bill, which is also a matter of great difficulty. We have now reckoned up eight measures, and there is one more yet, enough to make any man shudder to think of, and that is an anti-corruption Bill. So that the prospect of a settlement, which the right hon. Gentleman holds out, is that we are to begin de novo with the whole of our electoral system, 163 and to go through the whole of it in measures which, according to his own enumeration, amount at least to nine; and that he holds out as a settlement, so that if we will pass this Bill we may possibly, if we behave well, employ ourselves in going through this amount of work. That, however, is not my idea of a settlement, and I am quite sure that in addition to that there are unsettling causes which the right hon. Gentleman did not tell us of. Supposing the Bills are passed—as they will be passed, if at all—in mere deference to numbers at the expense of property and intelligence, in deference to a love of symmetry and equality—at least that is the name under which the democratic passion of envy generally disguises itself, and which will only be satisfied by symmetry and equality—I feel convinced that when you have given all the right hon. Gentleman asks you will still leave plenty of inequalities, enough to stir up this passion anew. The grievance being theoretical and not practical will survive as long as practice does not conform to theory; and practice will never conform to theory until you have got to universal suffrage and equal electoral districts. I say, therefore, that there is no element of finality in this measure, and though, as I have before said, I am perfectly willing to consider anything that may be brought forward, I crave leave to say that I shall consider the guidance of my own vote and conduct with reference to its influence on the good or bad working of the House of Commons, and not with reference to any theories about the ideal of good government, which, according to one great thinker, consists in everybody having a share in it—just as I suppose his ideal of a joint-stock company is one in which everybody is a director.
Well, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman, who had not time to give us a reason for introducing the Bill, found time to give us a quotation; and it was a quotation of a very curious kind, because, not finding in his large classical repertoire any quotation that would exactly describe the state of perfect bliss to which his Bill would introduce us, he was induced to take the exact contrary and make a quotation to show us what his Bill was not.Scandit fatalis machina muros,Fœta armis,he exclaimed, "and that," he added, "is not my Bill." Well, that was not a very apt quotation; but there was a curious felicity about it which he little dreamt of The 164 House remembers that among other proofs of the degree in which public opinion is enlisted in the cause of Reform is this—that this is now the fifth Reform Bill that has been brought in since 1851. Now, just attend to the sequel of the passage quoted by the right hon. Gentleman. I am no believer in sortes Virgilianœ, and the House will see why in a moment—O Divum domus Ilium, et inclyta bello Mœnia Dardanidum! Quater ipso in limina portæSubstitit, atque utero sonitum quater arma dedêre.But that is not all—Instamus tamen immemores, cæcique furore, Et monstrum infelix sacratâ sistimua arce.Well, I abominate the presage contained in the last two lines; but I mix my confidence with fear. The intentions and actions of the new Parliament are as yet hidden by the veil of the future. It may be that we are destined to avoid this enormous danger with which we are confronted, and not, to use the language of my right hon. Friend, be fated to compound with danger and misfortune. But, Sir, it may be otherwise; and all I can say is, that if my right hon. Friend does succeed in carrying this measure through Parliament, when the passions and interests of the day are gone by I do not envy him his retrospect. I covet not a single leaf of the laurels that may encircle his brow. I do not envy him his triumph. His be the glory of carrying it; mine of having to the utmost of my poor ability resisted it.
§ MR. C. P. VILLIERS
Sir, I fear that after the applause which the able address of the right hon. Gentleman has just received, it will appear somewhat presumptuous in me to follow him; but it is, I assure him, from no want of respect for his influence, but the contrary, that prompts me, as a Member of the Government, to make a few observations upon some things that he has said, and in the first place let me say, that amidst so much in which I differ from him that there was one suggestion that he proposed to us in the propriety of which I entirely agree. He observed that on this question we should endeavour, if possible, to regard ourselves as the world outside are regarding us. That, Sir, is a wholesome maxim, and I would especially recommend it for re-consideration by my right hon. Friend himself—for I do not hesitate to say that 165 the view that is taken of this House on this subject is peculiar, and I am afraid not very flattering, for it is now upon this question, as it has been in all times past, one of suspicion and mistrust, and, for this obvious reason, that the question is one of this House reforming itself, and wherever you go, and whoever you meet, you will find a common feeling of doubt and question as to the sincerity of the House in consequence. It is known that a Reform Bill touches the interests of Members themselves, and that plausible reasons are always devised for getting rid of any such Bill whatever it may be. People know that there are always plenty of clever and ingenious people in this House who will, for their own purposes, as well as for those of others, devote their talents to this particular object. It is well known how many sinister interests may be affected by the change, and what strong motives there must be on this account for defeating a measure of this kind before the House; and, indeed, if at this moment the public are believing that this measure will also succumb to the influences that are usually exerted on such occasions, I am not sure, judging from appearances this evening, whether they will be disappointed. My right hon. Friend says that when he was a Reformer the thing that puzzled him most was to give a reason for the Reforms that he advocated, and he was usually obliged to assume those reasons. ["No, no!"] Those were the words of the right hon. Gentleman. I do not know why hon. Gentlemen opposite should object to them, and we may assume, I suppose, that this is what puzzles him on the present occasion, though apparently it does not embarrass him. He cannot understand why there should be a reform of this House, and says that my right hon. Friend has given him none, that is, none to satisfy him. [An hon. MEMBER: He gave none!] Yes, my right hon. Friend gave one reason, which with some people will have weight—namely, that the honour, the morality, and the title to respect of every one of those Ministers who have at different times advised Her Majesty that the representation of the people was defective and required amendment are involved in making a proposition for reforming this House—and more than this, the pledges and the promises that those all around him gave at the last General Election, that the long established complaint of what was 166 unfair in the constitution of this House should be considered, and upon the faith of which assurances they were elected, makes it somewhat necessary that the subject should not be ignored by them. But, independently of this consideration, my right hon. Friend is alarmed at the precise measure proposed, and especially so because it proposes a reduction of the suffrage; but that I think must astonish the friends of the right hon. Gentleman, for, if I am not mistaken, his name figures but a few years ago in a majority in favour of a Resolution which caused a dissolution of Parliament on the question, and which was to this effect—that no Reform would be satisfactory to the country at large which did not reduce the franchise. I presume that I am correct? [Mr. LOWE: Quite right] Well, but then, with the right hon. Gentleman's authority for that opinion, will the House consider what it has been listening to from him for the last half hour, and will they say what weight is to be attached to all the terrors he has been seeking to awaken in our minds, traceable, strictly and especially according to him, to lowering the elective franchise? There is nothing else that alarms him in the present measure, for there is nothing of that dangerous character in it which the right hon. Gentleman will remember was once broached here, though reprobated immediately by the House, of treating the charters of incorporation, or the title deeds of municipal bodies, as musty parchments, that should not be heeded. Nothing of that revolutionary kind is before us—nothing but a simple reduction of the elective franchise, of which he once approved, but from which he expects us now to believe that all the evils that he has shadowed forth will follow, and from which he expects a realization of all the hasty sayings that he has gathered together of what may have been uttered at public meetings. But my right hon. Friend, with his usual dexterity, generalizes all the sources of his fear by one term, and with which he expects especially to alarm his auditory. This is the I word Democracy, and he sees in this mea-I sure the fatal tendency to Democracy, and I dilates upon that theme eloquently—and what is it that he sees so alarming in that? I Why, that this means whatever will increase the power of the people. But I ask why he dreads that, and if he docs, what he has been about himself for some years past and what has this House been doing with 167 his entire sanction? Why, that which is most calculated to level the distinction that exists between different classes of society, or rather, between the poor and the rich. What are the great distinctions in society? Are they not those founded on ignorance and poverty on one side, and wealth and knowledge on the other? What has he been urging forward himself especially but the education of the people, and who knows better than the right hon. Gentleman that he has not used a single argument against Parliamentary Reform this evening that has not been used in former times against the education of the working classes? He knows how even clever men, favouring the prejudices of the time, predicted the disturbance of all the relations of society as the consequence of what they called educating the lower orders, and why? Because it tended to put them on a level with those above them. I remember that, on the first circuit I ever went, the learned Judge at the Assize made a most eloquent address to the Grand Jury upon the mischief that would attend the new idea of educating the labouring classes, and the Grand Jury were so pleased at hearing their own views set forth upon such authority that they ordered the charge to be printed and circulated. What was the chief plea offered for the recent change in the commercial policy of this country? It was to remove the restraints on the industry of the working class, by which they were kept poor and degraded, and which, by extending the market for their labour, would render them more independent. Who has advocated more warmly than the right hon. Gentleman the advantage of liberating trade, or recognized more fully its effect upon labour, thereby elevating the condition of the now-called dangerous classes? Well, but neither the House or the right hon. Gentleman stopped there, for they have supported not only the policy of educating the poor, but of giving them every access to knowledge and removing every impediment to its being brought home to their doors—and for this purpose have we not removed the taxes on newspapers, abolished the duties on paper itself, and given in various ways facilities for the diffusion of information among them without any fear of the consequences to ourselves or any alarm about democracy? and yet surely these are the things that are calculated to establish that equality which we are now told is not consistent with the safety of the Constitution, from which, if 168 there was anything to apprehend from the working classes, it would really be alarming. Why, does my right hon. Friend really believe that if the people were as ill disposed as he supposes them that they could not carry out the objects now which he says they have at heart. Surely before the people are so maligned, and before we are to believe the evil designs with which they are charged, we ought to have some evidence submitted to us on the point. It is notorious that the people have more intelligence and education, and consequently more power than they ever had before, and surely then there would be no difficulty in learning precisely what are their views and intentions. It has certainly not been usual of late years to hear them charged in this manner either here or elsewhere, but the contrary. Where do they assemble themselves, then, to discuss these objects? Where are the political combinations that they are forming? To what works or address can the right hon. Gentleman point to where the Crown, or the Church, or the House of Lords, or the other institutions of the country are assailed especially by the working class? Why, my right hon. Friend knows well, that just in proportion as the people have had more liberty and more education, that there has been a diminution of all vituperation of this kind. He knows that in days gone by that strong feelings were expressed in this sense; but now there is no candid man reviewing our position who will not admit that our institutions are more secure just in proportion as the people have become more free and intelligent, and have reason to believe that justice is attainable. My right hon. Friend thinks then, perhaps, that the Constitution of this House is perfect. I do not know whether he has been as long a Member of this House as I have; but I am not one who am in a condition to say that the improved legislation of this House has purely resulted from the manner in which this House is constituted, or the general interests are represented, or that Reforms have either been voluntary or attained without enormous sacrifice. I will not go into the history of the Reform Bill of 1832—but I will say that the old Parliament was defended by some for its past results as this House is, and that the Reform of itself was effected by other considerations than that of any sense of the wrongs which the people had endured. My right hon. Friend knows well what a long and painful agi- 169 tation, since the Act of 1832, was needed to effect any change in the economical policy of the country; and that for nine years successively an agitation almost revolutionary was necessary to redress the greatest wrong that was ever inflicted by, and to confer the greatest advantage that was ever gained by, the people, by a repeal of the Corn Laws; and I am not, here alluding to the only measures that have been at last obtained without reference to, or the conviction of, this House of their merits. The right hon. Gentleman says that this Bill has, however, been introduced wantonly and without reason, since all men are satisfied with the actual working of the present system, and that it has only been at the instigation of some of whom he has spoken with no respect. That can only be asserted in forgetfulness of what has passed of late years, and of the complaints that have been continually made for a greater length of time of certain defects in the Reform Bill of 1832. A great compromise was made on the passing of that measure with a view to its success; but it was never denied that the apprehensions of that time, with regard to the franchise, was carried too far, and that it was fixed at a point higher than was right. This declaration, if I mistake not, was made some years ago by its author, Earl Russell, who said that the franchise was placed higher than was necessary to allay the alarms which prevailed in certain quarters on that occasion. I have been just furnished with his very words, which I will read to the House, It was in 1852 Lord Russell said—At the time of the Reform Bill, in placing the right of voting in householders where the value was £10 a year, we did what I think it was right to do, and what it was our duty to do, we placed the suffrage rather higher than it was necessary to fix it."—[3 Hansard, cxix. 260.]But it was not only in late years that this defect in our system has been observed. It was discussed at the time, and no unimportant person remarked with confidence on its impolicy. Sir Robert Peel very deliberately called attention to the circumstance. He recognized the policy of the Constitution in allowing the working men to have a share in the direct representation of the country; he witnessed without approval the provisions made to withdraw from the people those old franchises by which numbers of them had used to exercise the privilege of electing Members to this House, and by which they would 170 be eventually disfranchised; and he warned the noble Lord in one of his celebrated speeches—The objection is this, that it severs all connection between the lower classes of the community and the direct representation in this House, and he asked him to consider what would be the effect of cutting off altogether the communication between this House and that class which is above pauperism, and below the arbitrary line of £10 rental. He said he (Lord Russell) ought to be cautious how he subjected a great, powerful, and intelligent mass of our population to the injury, if not the stigma, of uncompensated exclusion."—[3 Hansard, ii. 1346, 1347.]That speech made an impression on many in the House at that time, and probably had been remembered by some of his Friends when they came again into power, for I find that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) more than thirty years afterwards had to consider this subject. He, with all the advantage of subsequent experience, declared, in the following words, what his opinion was then of the title of the working men to the franchise, and said—When I know that my fellow-countrymen, the working men of this country, were within the last thirty years considerably improved in everything that distinguishes men and makes them safe subjects, I do not think it a degradation to a borough or to any other constituency that a portion to those fellow-countrymen should have through that legitimate channel a share in the franchise."—[3 Hansard, clii. 1007.]I quote the right hon. Gentleman as one who enjoys the respect of his political friends, and whose sagacity is admitted on all sides, though I am aware upon this point at the time he differed with his friends, though it is no secret, I believe, that in the opinion that he then expressed, and in the Reform he was ready to support, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge entirely coincided. Well, but are there two Members who, in this House, or in the country at large, are considered better judges of what real Conservatism consists than those two Members? and is it not known that, looking to all the circumstances of the case, they thought that the reduction of the franchise, from £10 to £8, was perfectly safe, and all the more desirable, because their other friends had proposed to reduce the county franchise to a lower figure than is here proposed? and yet my right hon. Friend the Member for Calne is raising all this cry and alarm at the consequence of democracy, because the measure before the House carries the reduction farther by £1, 171 and proposes the franchise to be at £7 instead of £8 rental. This is really no bad criterion by which the country may judge of the character of the measure, and of the character of the opposition offered to it. Sir, I venture to say that we are in a different position from those who had to contend against the Bill of 1832—proposing a change of a system which had prescription in its favour, and proceeding in a direction with which the country was not familiar—and it is not inappropriate to refer to the predictions which were then made, grounded on the mistrust of their fellow-countrymen. Let me read for the advantage of my right hon. Friend one or two specimens of the views and the fears entertained by the clever men of that day. Here is one of a noble Lord, then a Member of this House, eminent in the legal profession, and one whose character and talents are respected by all, I mean Lord Kingsdown, who was then Mr. Pemberton—What prospect of tranquillity did this measure hold out to the country? In each succeeding year would the registering barrister go his round scattering dissension as be went along. The seed time of discord would come round as regularly as the seed time of husbandry, and would, he feared, produce a much more certain and abundant harvest. We should have the worst curse of the American system without its [3 Howard, xi. 448.]Again, let me read what was said by one who most of us here remember, a late Member of the "University of Oxford, the much-esteemed Sir Robert Inglis—He believed that the other House of Parliament could not save themselves though they threw up the National Debt, the Corn Laws, the Church, the Courts of Justice; and all the arguments which had been heard in that House upon the question of Reform went all equally against an hereditary peerage. There was no stopping, no holding back, until we had sacrificed first our agricultural system, then our courts of law, then our Church, then the public creditor, until nothing was left to tell even of the wreck of our former glory."—[3 Hansard, xi. 438, 439.]Well, here is another authority (Mr. Croker) who went for much in his day, though who, certainly, is not much considered now, but doubtless a very able man—If this Rill shall, unhappily, pass and become a law, I will assert—and I believe it from the bottom of my heart, and that reluctant belief has been formed after the most anxious and agonizing reflections—that it will put an extensive power in the hands, not of the people, but of the populace, who will soon destroy their own work like a toy, and scatter to the winds all those complicated and contradictory clauses which it has cost you two painful and fruitless years to frame. But will it 172 end here? No. They will go on from bad to worse, having no other guide than their passions, for you will have eradicated from their minds every principle by which mankind are controlled. Anarchy, with all its horrors and miseries, will ensue. The appetite for change will go on increasing so long as there remains food on which it can be indulged, and will lie down at last, like the wild beast, appeased and quiet only when it is satiate with having devoured all that is within its reach."—[3 Hansard, xi. 479, 480.]Let me here read also what view was taken of the Bill by a sagacious Scotch Member then in the House (Sir John Malcolm), who, speaking of the Bill in 1832, observed—One consequence of this Bill would be to crowd their table with petitions upon the questions of Indian Government and Indian trade, which might eventually lead to most disastrous consequences."—[3 Hansard, xi. 427.]But now, in contrast with the views of these gloomy prophets, let me refer to some comments made in this House on the Reform Bill, which fell from one of the most distinguished Members that ever had a seat in it, and who curiously enough was at that time the Member for Calne, I mean Mr. Macaulay. That celebrated man remarked that—The arguments urged against this Bill would apply with equal force against any plan of Reform whatever. A large majority of the Opposition called themselves moderate Reformers, but the objections which they offered to the present Bill could be applied to any measure of practical Reform. They talked of anomalies; could any plan of Reform be devised in which anomalies would not exist? … They might take population, or assessed taxes, or whatever test they pleased, but there would always, as they had already seen, be mathematicians ready to prove that their mode of computation would produce anomalies.… It, therefore, became moderate Reformers who objected to the Bill on the ground of anomalies to consider whether any plan of moderate Reform could be produced in which there would not be no anomalies.… Of every plan of Reform it might be said that it was the first step to revolution. It would always afford an opportunity of making allusions to the scenes of the French revolution—to the guillotine, to heads carried upon pikes, and all the horrors of that eventful period."—[3 Hansard, xi. 459, 460.]There was no universal form which could be assured of good Government. He would not make institutions for all ages and all nations. He gave his assent to the Bill because he thought it was adapted to this country at present; but he should think it unsuitable, because too democratic, for Hindustan, and because not democratic enough for New York. He had no more idea that a Government could be called good which was not in unison with the feelings, habits, and opinions of the people governed, than that a coat could be called good which was not suited to the size or shape of the person for whom it was in- 173 tended. A coat that does not fit is a bad coat, though it has been cut to suit the Apollo Belvidere. He did not support the present Bill because he thought that democratic institutions were best for all ages and for all countries, but because he thought that a more popular Constitution than that which now existed in this country and in our age would produce good Government."—[3 Hansard, xi, 456, 457.]Most confidently do I agree in the good sense contained in the views thus expressed by Mr. Macaulay, and contend that in our day we have only to consider what is suitable to our time and country; and when this moderate measure is considered, together with the requirements of the case, it is some answer to those speculative fears which, upon some abstract reasoning about democracy, it is sought to alarm us. I do not myself believe that any of these dangers will follow from this measure, and I may reply to my right hon. Friend that he has given us no reason himself for expecting them. I advise him to look at the facts before him before he jumps to conclusions again in the way he has done, and he will then discover abundant proofs of late years afforded of the good conduct, patience, and forbearance of the working people that will make him wonder at the chimeras he has conjured up, and almost ashamed of the unjust reproaches he has put upon them. The moment chosen, indeed, for casting a slur upon the working people of this country for their want of conduct, honesty, or intelligence is most unfortunate. Are we not fresh from admitting the patience and fortitude with which the people in Lancashire bore their recent suffering, and is there a person in this House who would now withhold from them the credit which is due for their exemplary conduct upon the occasion of the cotton famine? In my judgment there are higher qualities than mere patience under want which might justly be ascribed to the working class upon that occasion, and that superior wisdom, offering an example to all around them and above them, was exhibited by them during the Civil War in America. I was in a position to hear much about their feelings in Lancashire during that time, and I believe that much of the patience, referred to arose from the decided and distinct opinions which they had formed respecting that great struggle as much as it did from any other cause; and I believe that everything which was done to induce them to clamour for a departure by this country from a policy of strict neutrality and non-inter- 174 ference completely failed; and they could not be shaken in their steadfast conviction that it was an unrighteous war in its origin, and had been provoked for their own purposes by the Southern or Slave States, a matter which few will be found to deny in these days. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend agrees with the working men in their view of that matter; but, possibly not. I venture to think that their whole conduct upon this occasion entitled them to respect and confidence; and unless my right hon. Friend can adduce some other evidence than he has done yet to lead us to think that their purposes are evil, and that they desire to obtain power to give them effect, he has presented to this House no reasonable ground for objecting to this measure. Complaints have certainly been made by some persons that this measure is not comprehensive enough, as we have confined our measure to the franchise only; but it is curious to see how cordially these persons appear to be acting with those who have usually opposed Reform altogether, a circumstance which may possibly be ascribed to the objection which really they have also to any Reform. I do not admit the objection to the measure that it is too narrow in its scope, and that it is not sufficiently comprehensive in its character. It is what it professes to be, and does not in any way exclude the consideration of other measures. But to that argument of its not containing more, there is this reply that I think may be offered, that upon four distinct occasions the measures of Reform have failed, and most people have supposed that it arose from attempting too much by one Bill; and I think it is no bad test of the earnestness of those who have brought in the measure now that it has been especially framed with the view to its not sharing the fate of those that preceded it. In amending the representation there is abundant precedents for proceeding gradually, or, as it is termed, piece-meal, and during the last fifteen years Parliamentary Reform has been treated in its separate branches. We have had separate Bills for England, Scotland, and Ireland. We have dealt separately with the franchise in Ireland—first in 1829, and again in 1850—when the county and borough franchise were reduced. By a distinct Act the property qualification for Members of Parliament was changed, and by another Act entirely abolished; by another Act the law of registration was amended; by another the law as to the rating of compound 175 householders was altered; by another, the period for taking the poll was shortened. By another Act the polling places were fixed; by another, corruption was punished. By distinct Acts Sudbury and St. Alban's were disfranchised; by a distinct Act the representatives of Yorkshire and Lancashire were increased. Bills have also been brought in by the Government,—one for the appropriation of vacant seats, and the other to check bribery. A very able speech was made last night by the hon. Member for Wick (Mr. Laing) in which he argued, not like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne, that no Reform was needed, or that the representation was as perfect as it could be, but that there were many defects which ought to be dealt with, and he complained of the order in which we were proceeding. He said that we ought to deal with the distribution of seats before we extended I he franchise. Well, that is a nice question. I think, however, the logic of the matter is the other way, and that we ought first to decide how many electors there are to be before we begin to re-distribute members among then. If after that it should appear that there was a great and inconvenient disproportion between the electors and the representation in particular seats, and great inequality in the distribution of representatives between different places, that would be a most proper subject for special legislation. But hon. Members know well that these matters are determined somewhat by policy, and that there is an honest intention on the part of the Government of dealing with the whole subject of Reform. The right hon. Gentleman disputes the policy of introducing any Bill whatever, and seems to rest upon the fact that it is not demanded. He says, who calls for it? Where are your petitions? What is the necessity of the measure? Well, then, I am ready to contend that there is a policy in amending what has before been so frequently observed to be defective, though there may be no pressure at the moment. I say that it is unwise to leave such a disproportion as exists now between the voters and the male adult population of the country—a matter which has now become so notorious Great emergencies may arise in this country, and when the Government may want the fullest support which the community can give it, I say it is not desirable upon these occasions that large sections of the people should feel that they have no share 176 in the Government of the country; and I say it is, on the contrary, a wise policy to identify as large a portion of the people as possible in all the responsibility of Government. But nobody demands Reform, says the right hon. Gentleman. I say again, is that a proof that it is not required? Will hon. Members reflect for an instant upon how often that was alleged against other great questions being settled, and questions that we are now proud of having passed. I hardly know of one great important question that has not been deferred till almost the latest moment, and until it has been possible to ascribe the change almost to some unworthy motive. Many here remember the postponement of the Catholic Question, and the confidence with which its needlessness was asserted only one year before the Act of Emancipation was passed. Many must recollect the famous speech made in another place by a Prince of the Blood next in the succession, pledging himself in the most solemn manner to maintain the restrictions imposed upon the Roman Catholics. That speech spread joy in all the ranks of the opponents of the Catholics throughout the country. Most men believed that the Catholics were silenced for another generation. Meetings were especially held throughout the country, and fresh pledges were given by public men never to yield on a matter so vital to our Protestant constitution. Why, there are oak trees now growing up that were planted in that year by certain very distinguished men as symbols or pledges to the community of their fidelity to the cause, and yet such men were to be found only one year after as the active promoters of a complete measure of Catholic emancipation. Why, upon this very subject of Reform it is a fact that the noble Lord now at the head of the Government felt so discouraged by the indifference which was shown in the House on this matter that he avowed his intention of discontinuing his constant Motions upon the question. But that was in 1828, if I am not mistaken. If I was to name the time when there was the most complete hopelessness of success among the advocates of free trade than at any other moment after the agitation had commenced, it was in the year 1845. There had been a succession of good harvests, trade was brisk in consequence, railway speculation had reached its height, and no one seemed to care for free trade. During that year the speeches of free traders had been gloomy, and during 177 the time that I had been connected with that question I had never heard more rampant speeches in favour of protection. This, however, did not justify the continuance of the Corn Laws—the suspense was accidental—and so was the sudden failure of the crops in Ireland, which happened in the autumn of that very year—the people were starving, and within one year monopoly and protection received its deathblow. What has occurred before may have its parallel in the case we are discussing. We hear the working people spoken of in the first place as indifferent to their enfranchisement, and spoken of disparagingly, as if they were disqualified by their character for political rights. We hear, indeed, already of a chance of the Bill being rejected on the first reading, but surely no man can think that such a question can be settled by adopting that course. Even if people should seem quietly to accede to such a course, may not that arise from deducing a moral from impolitic postponement in former cases, and think that such rejection may lead ultimately to a far more comprehensive measure of Reform. Are there many, however, who intend to reject this measure that will be pleased with such a settlement of the question? What is it that they would wish the people to infer from their refusal to deal with this question in a constitutional way? What is it, I ask, that those who desire to reject this Bill, would hare the people do? They say the people do not want it, because they are so quiet and orderly. But if the people do desire it, what are they to conclude from this kind of argument? Why, that they must resort to other than constitutional means to obtain it—and is that the lesson that any wise man would wish to teach them? Here is a measure that could be passed quietly—that those who are enabled to represent the opinions of the people are ready thankfully to accept for them, though declaring what is notorious, that it falls very far short of what they consider they are entitled to; and I say that if we lose the very great advantage which the present opportunity offers to us of passing such a measure, we are totally disregarding the lessons which history and our own personal experience offer to us. I will detain the House no longer, and thank them for the attention they have given me. I only rose to answer the challenge of the right hon. Gentleman, who asserted that we had no reason or good motive for proposing this 178 measure. I have endeavoured to show that the people are entitled to our confidence, and above all to the fulfilment of the promises deliberately made to them; and I have ventured to refer to reasons why it is most inexpedient in us, on every ground, to neglect the duty which, by our present position, we are bound to perform towards them.
§ MR. R. F. PHILIPS
said, he was not one of those who thought that, they were sent to the House pledged to vote for others and to carry out laws of which they did not approve:—he was not sent to this House by reason of any pledges, but by reason of the conviction of the constituents that, having passed his life amongst them, he would feel it his duty to stand up for their rights. In periods of privation and distress the working people had proved themselves worthy of the confidence of their fellow-countrymen, and they felt themselves aggrieved at not having a fair share in the representation. Knowing this, and knowing the difficulty the Government had in bringing forward a measure that would have any probability of passing, he, for one, begged to tender to the Government the expression of his intense gratitude to them for introducing one that would admit so large an additional number connected with the working classes to the franchise. In the borough which he represented (Bury), the constituents would be increased from 1,300 by the addition of about 400, and he would feel his own position enhanced in representing so much larger a number. He also thanked the Government for the bold manner in which they had come forward to make a change in the county franchise. It had been thought by many that the £10 franchise was best; but he considered that which, had been proposed deserved the support of all Liberals both moderate and advanced. He should give the measure of the Government his cordial support.
§ MR. LEATHAM
thanked the Government for the courage they had shown in bringing in this Bill. He was one of those who always wished to see the working classes fairly represented, and he thought that a percentage of the working men might; have been permitted to be selected by them-I selves and placed on the electoral roll. He therefore thanked the Government for their courage in bringing in a Bill which would add 144,000 of the working classes to the constituencies. Many were afraid of admitting them, not because they doubted 179 the intelligence of the working men, but because if it went further there might be a difficulty in dealing with them, owing to their large numbers. The proposal of the Government was, therefore, a very judicious one, and entirely met his views. There had been some mistakes relative to the numbers of working men now in possession of the franchise. There were many persons included among the class of working men who were not properly called by that name; as, for example, men who, though working themselves, employed others under them. A great many of these were entered under the head of working men, but were really master workmen. He believed the Bill before the House provided a fair adjustment of the county franchise. The Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the leader of the Opposition (Mr. Disraeli), introduced in the year 1859, contained much to commend it to the judgment of hon. Members, and he would have supported it had it not excluded the freeholders living in Parliamentary boroughs from voting at county elections. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in the present Bill had steered clear of many great difficulties, while he inserted certain propositions which would be highly acceptable to the people of this country. The proposal to give the franchise to depositors in savings banks was an excellent adjunct to the Bill. Indeed, taking the measure as a whole, he believed it would give great satisfaction. He protested against the time of the House being occupied, as it had been the previous night, by personal attacks upon hon. Members, and thought that those Gentlemen who had long held seats in the House ought to set the new Members a better example. Such conduct could not advance the great questions before the House. He should give the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman his hearty support, and he was convinced it would meet with the approval of the industrious, loyal, and contented people of the country.
§ MR. ARTHUR PEEL
said, it was with considerable diffidence that he ventured to step into the arena which had been made to echo with party conflict. He quite agreed with the opinion that had been expressed in the course of the debate, that the question before the House was not one of statistics, but a constitutional question. The statistics which had been laid before the House were not necessary for the formation of an opinion; but, at the same time, he thought they confirmed the 180 opinion previously held, that a change was required in the electoral system, and they might help to give a finishing touch to it. Three classes of opponents set themselves in array against the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman. The first naturally fell under the able guidance of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe), the motto on whose banner was, "No Franchise below £10." That Goliah of logic seemed to attach an extravagant intrinsic importance to that particular sum. He, however, and those who entertained views similar to his, were really opposed, not only to the Bill now under consideration, but to any Bill whatever for the extension of the franchise. A second class opposed the Bill because it did not go far enough, and a third class ranged themselves against it, because it was not, in their opinion, a sufficiently comprehensive measure. He might be permitted to say that the Bill brought in was not such a Bill as he would have framed had it been left to him, because he preferred a £10 franchise in the counties, and a £6 franchise in the boroughs. Still, he did not see sufficient cause to justify him in offering opposition to it. He would not now consider the case of the counties; but, adverting to that of the boroughs, he should be content with the £7 rental franchise as a settlement of the question for years to come. He, however, trusted that the present Government and the present Parliament would have to consider measures dealing with the redistribution of seats, and with the question of purifying the process of elections and the simplification of the machinery, believing that they were subjects demanding speedy legislative action. He could not accept the objection that had been raised to the Bill now before the House, that the present electoral system adjusted itself, and that consequently they should not lower the franchise nor diminish the existing standard, which was yearly the means of adding fresh bodies of the working classes to the constituencies. But what was the actual fact? The House was told the other night by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer that since the year 1831 the decrease of working men possessing the franchise was from 31 per cent to 26 per cent. The borough of Warwick, which he had the honour to represent, would afford an illustration of this statement. He found that the number of electors on the register of that borough in 1832–3 was not less 181 than 1,300, but now the total number was but 760. The population, however, had not decreased, on the contrary, it had slightly increased; in 1831 the population numbered 9,000, but now it was 10,000. Another objection to the present measure was that the admission of the working classes to the franchise would simply be introducing the thin end of the wedge to all sorts of democratic innovation, and, therefore, it was argued that it would be much better to resist all attempts at extending the franchise. But there was a fallacy lying at the bottom of that argument, it being supposed that the working classes when they obtained the franchise would move as one great and united body. His experience in the city of Coventry showed this supposition to be a mistake In Coventry no less than 70 per cent of the constituency consisted of the working classes, and against them the shaft of ridicule had often been launched. Many public men had pointed to that place asking the question, "Will you have your boroughs like the city of Coventry?" because it was believed that there all the evils connected with democracy existed. At the time when the French Treaty came into operation the working classes suffered very severely. In the year 1862 he can vassed the constituency, and was exceedingly astonished to find the difference of political faith that prevailed among the people. Although poverty sorely pressed upon them, he frequently entered houses side by side, the inmates of which held political opinions as conflicting as those entertained by Gentlemen sitting on the Ministerial and Opposition sides of the House of Commons. He believed that the working classes would exercise the franchise in an honest and independent spirit, and not be so influenced by their leaders, as to follow them as sheep do their shepherds. He was convinced that the working classes were as capable of exercising the suffrage as any that now possessed it. No fear need be entertained with regard to the effects of the Bill of the right lion. Gentleman, and he sincerely hoped that it would pass into law. He thought there was no use in exhuming the dry bones of past propositions—he preferred to consider the question on its substantial merits, and on its merits he felt it to be his duty, and the duty of others situated like himself, to adopt every means to promote the success of the measure, and rescue it from the 182 slough of doubt and despond into which hon. Gentlemen had plunged it, and place it on the terra firma of legislative enactment.
§ MR. ALLEN
said, the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer met with the general approval of hon. Members on the Ministerial side of the House; and doubtless, with the approval of the great mass of the people of the country. Speeches both for and against the measure, characterized by great ability, had been delivered in that House. The speeches of the two right hon. Gentlemen, the Members for Stroud and Calne (Mr. Horsman and Mr. Lowe), were remarkable equally for their ability and their length. When listening to the able speech in which the hon. Member for Calne had opposed the Bill, he (Mr. Allen) could not help thinking that it would have been much more fitting if the right hon. Gentleman had been sitting on the other side of the House. It was not extraordinary that the right hon. Gentleman should have alluded to the question of the redistribution of seats, because to him that must be a very painful subject. That, however, was not the subject before the House. They had now to deal with the extension of the franchise, and the simple question was should they trust the people or not? The right hon. Member for Calne thought the people were not to be trusted. Representing so large and influential a borough, no doubt the right hon. Gentleman looked forward to the time when that borough would be swept away, and he would have to seek some other constituency. Very few Members on the Liberal side of the House shared that right hon. Gentleman's opinions. Representing a borough (Newcastle under-Lyme), in which working men formed nearly 60 per cent of the entire electoral body, he (Mr. Allen) had been delighted, during his canvass of that borough, to find how much intelligence, political knowledge, and general I good conduct was displayed by those working men. The way in which they had; behaved during that election would put to shame many boroughs in which working men, instead of being nearly 60 per cent, formed only a very small fraction of the constituency. With regard to the statement that the working classes showed great apathy and carelessness on the subject of Reform, that very few petitions had been presented—in fact, that the working classes cared very little about the franchise, the absence of petitions for and of excitement 183 about Reform was a good sign, for a judicious measure was far more likely to be judiciously discussed and carried out while people were calm and quiet than it would be in the midst of turmoil. The truth actually was, that though there was an absence of excitement there was a deep and settled determination on their part to have what they considered their just rights, and that unless the present moderate measure was passed they would very soon be irresistibly forced to pass a measure of Parliamentary Reform of a much more sweeping character.
§ MR. SCHREIBER
said: Mr. Deputy Speaker—Sir, when Her Majesty's Government have so lately placed in the hands of hon. Members a bulky volume of "Electoral Statistics," I hope that I shall not be thought to exhibit an inordinate appetite for that description of literature by appearing thus early as an applicant "for more." But at the risk of seeming to be unreasonable, and in spite of what the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer said last night about the fullness of our knowledge, I shall express the very strong opinion which I hold that this House is invited to approach the question of Reform on most inadequate and imperfect information. For some months past Her Majesty's Government, with commendable industry, have been boring vertically downwards through the successive strata of the rate book in quest, I presume, Sir, of that political wisdom which is from below. I would now ask them to turn their thoughts and researches upwards with the view of ascertaining, with some approach to scientific accuracy, the composition of the existing constituencies. And, Sir, as an English borough Member, I would be understood as referring solely in these remarks to the cities and boroughs of England and Wales. I would put it, then, to hon. Members on both sides of the House, and more especially to the eminent philosophers who sit below the gangway opposite, whether we do not live in a state of the most un philosophical ignorance as to the precise distribution of political power in our several constituencies. Between what limits of rental does the real power reside? Who are our present political masters? A memorable passage in the political history of 1852 might indeed suggest the belief that they live in houses of less than £20 a year. Still, these are questions which we cannot answer; but which, on merely abstract grounds, it 184 is most desirable that we should have the means of answering. But more than that, Sir, the information which I seek would possess at the present juncture a most important practical hearing. Great changes are impending; great additions to our constituencies are promised; and what the full effect of these would be it will be impossible to estimate, unless we are furnished with an accurate analysis of the bodies to which additions are to be made. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne, whom I am sorry not to see in his place—[Mr. LOWE here bowed from a back seat under the gallery opposite]—I beg pardon—the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne, whom I am happy to see in his place, has seen this point with his usual sagacity, and expressed it with his accustomed clearness. Speaking last year of the effect of the Franchise Bill of the hon. Member for Leeds, he said—Not only is it (the constituency) increased—it is diluted; and the additions being all of persons rated below £10, these have a sort of chymical affinity with persons of the same class a little above themselves, and the two united become masters of the situation. In these cases, therefore, the present constituency, including all the property and all the intelligence of the place, would be disfranchised without a prospect of escape; and this, I venture to think, would be a very great evil."—[3 Hansard, clxxviii. 1432.]"A great evil!" Sir, it would be the very greatest that could he inflicted on this country; and how nearly any given change of franchise would inflict it can only be known when the composition of the existing constituencies has been accurately determined. I wish therefore, in the first place, to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will use his influence to expedite the production of the Returns, moved for at the commencement of the Session, and following the rentals in boroughs and cities upwards from £10 to £20, both figures inclusive? Then there is another part to which I ask the attention of the right hon. Gentleman; and it is this—In whatever other respects the new voters may differ from one another, in two particulars they will be all alike—they will be all members of the industrial or operative class, and they will be all exempt from the incidence of direct taxation. The question, then, arises for which it fearfully concerns this House to have an answer, in what numbers will the new voters find on the existing registers others who escape the burden of direct taxation? Because, if we go and 185 blindly establish in every borough register a numerical majority interested in the remission of indirect, and the substitution of direct taxation, we can hardly expect much longer from the Chancellor of the Exchequer the language which I was delighted to see that he addressed to a recent deputation on the subject of the malt tax, "No doubt there were gentlemen who held that the taxes of the country ought to be raised from property or income; that was what was called direct taxation." [Mr. WHITE: Hear, hear!] The hon. Member for Brighton consistently enough cheers that. "On paper such arguments appear to be irresistible, but as far as his (Mr. Gladstone's) experience went, the propositions were impracticable." Will the hon. Member for Brighton cheer that? "At all events, he did not see his way to the adoption of them." Words those, Sir, not lightly uttered, nor soon to be forgotten; and which I accept as a pledge from the right hon. Gentleman, befitting the high office that he fills, that he will guard the £330,000,000 a year assessed to the property and income tax in this country against the fantastic experiments of Mr. Robertson Gladstone and the members of the Liver pool Financial Reform Association. And yet, Sir, it requires no great sagacity to foretell that if the hon. Member for Birmingham and those who act with him succeed in carrying this Bill, the right hon. Gentleman will either have in revise those opinions, or to make way for some one who has long since discarded such antiquated maxims of finance. I therefore, in the second place, ask the right hon. Gentleman if he can inform the House what proportion of the electors on the existing registers are assessed to property and income tax; and till he tells us that, and into what proportions the £20 line divides the existing constituencies, I shall adhere to the opinion I have expressed, that this House is invited to approach the question of Reform on most insufficient and defective information. Before I sit down, Sir, I wish to express my deep sense of the indulgence which the House has extended to these imperfect observations.
§ MR. LONG
said, he thought that the House ought not only to have full information upon this question, but was bound to exercise great caution in dealing with the extension of the franchise. The measure appeared to him to be only the part of a complete scheme which the Government had neither the wisdom nor the courage to 186 introduce. The measure itself was inadequate and unsatisfactory, and he hoped the House would hear from those hon. Members who sat below the gangway on the Ministerial side what were the grounds which induced them to give their assent to a measure so incomplete and unsatisfactory as that under discussion. In former measures proposing to extend the representation—in that, for example, introduced by the Government of Lord Derby in 1859—a franchise was given based upon an educational qualification; but in the present Bill no such proposition was contained. Again, the re-arrangement of the limits of boroughs so as to make the constituents within them fairer samples of the various classes of which the community was made up was, he thought, a scheme not beneath the dignity of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; yet he took no step in that direction, as if he were satisfied with those constituencies as they now stood. He was, he must confess, surprised to find that hon. Gentlemen below the gangway, and, above all, the philosophic Member for Westminster, and those around him, could accept so calmly and with such perfect bonhommie the plan of Reform which was so contemptuously handed to them by the right hon. Gentleman. They would, he trusted, make a manly, straightforward, English declaration of what it was they expected from the Bill, for if not they must not be astonished to find that those who sat opposite to them put upon it a somewhat different interpretation from that which it appeared to bear on the surface. The Bill was either a sham or a reality. If it was a sham, it was unworthy of support from any quarter; if a reality, it must be looked upon as forming only part of a great scheme, and the House was, he thought, entitled to demand that that scheme should be laid before them in its entirety. To proceed on the opposite principle of presenting to them only a part first, was to act somewhat like a bankrupt who paid his creditors by instalments. The present Bill was the first instalment, when the second would be paid was very doubtful. For his own part, he protested against such a mode of proceeding, and I should strongly advise the right hon. Gentleman to take hack his Bill and bring it back in a different shape. He was not disposed to look upon the question as a party question, but as one which lay at the very root of the Constitution of the country; and so far as it tended to affect prejudicially the institutions of which the House was 187 the guardian and trustee, he, for one, was opposed to its provisions.
§ MR. MELLER
said, he entertained to the Bill several objections. It was not well, he thought, that institutions which had stood the test of time should be lightly abandoned; nor was there any good reason, so far as he could see, why the proposed change should be made. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Villiers) had that very evening descanted on the benefits which the late Parliament had conferred upon the country, and why the present Parliament should not be held to be capable of doing similar service he was at a loss to understand. He had heard of no grievance with which the House of Commons, as now constituted, could be held to be incompetent to deal. Did hon. Gentlemen opposite suppose, for instance, that such an extension of the franchise as was proposed by the Bills of the hon. Members for Leeds and Surrey would have bettered the condition of Ireland, and that if it had been an established fact Fenianism would not have existed in that country? Such views as he advocated on the subject of Reform might be characterized as Tory obstructiveness, but he called them Conservative consistency. The next reason he objected to the Bill was because it was an essential principle of the Constitution that all classes should be represented in that House. Now, he was inclined to believe that fully 26 per cent of the working classes were at present represented in Parliament; and, although he was not prepared to contend that there were not some anomalies in the existing electoral system, be felt assured the House of Commons fairly reflected the national interests. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had stated that the £14 occupation franchise which the Bill would give to counties would constitute in reality a middle class enfranchisement, but he (Mr. Meller) scarcely thought these £14 voters would have much sympathy with the land, while the leasehold and copyhold tenures would be biased rather by borough than county influences. As to the franchise being conferred on those who happened to have £50 in a savings bank, he could only say that, while he was an advocate of prudence and providence, he could not understand why it was that the claims of those who had money in the public funds should be ignored. The next proposal in the Bill was that which would enable a man in lodgings paying a rent of 4s. a week to 188 obtain the franchise. This he considered a most democratic and revolutionary measure. In his own possession there was some property in what had once been a fashionable quarter, but now was let out in the way described by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. These flats, so far from being occupied by the middle classes, were entirely occupied by the artizan class. It was said that, practically, the operation of the lodger franchise would only affect the metropolitan boroughs. But surely, when the re-distribution of seats came to be considered, claims for a greater proportion of seats would be put in on account of the increased numbers, and the effect would be wholly to alter the existing state of things. Assuming that the tendency of all these contemplated changes was in a democratic direction, democracy, they knew, led not to liberty, but to its very opposite. Allusion had been made to certain small boroughs, and because they returned a majority of Conservative candidates it had been insinuated that the Returns were ascribable to undue influence. As far as the borough which he had the honour to represent was concerned, he averred fearlessly that the Return was due neither to Conservative landlord influence nor to corrupt influence, but to the free action of the better elements of the constituency. He should look with all possible pleasure upon those who were proposed to be added to the constituencies, and should welcome them as the right hon. Gentleman requested, were it not that these new comers disturbed the fair equilibrium of the State. The Chancellor of the Exchequer begged them not to feel alarmed; but his allusion to the wooden horse he would answer in a few words—Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes.
§ MR. ACLAND
said, he must express his regret that some Gentlemen professing to be Liberals, and some even who, in former times, expressed strong Liberal opinions, should have risen to stab the Government measure from the rear. In common with several leading Members of the Government, he himself had been a follower of the late Sir Robert Peel; but his convictions, like those of others, had moved on, and he was now a sincere and cordial supporter of the Liberal Government. During an absence from Parliament of eighteen years, he had opportunities of studying the feelings and learning something of the wishes of the working and unrepresented classes; and having been invited by the moderate Liberals to stand for Birmingham 189 at the last election, he had learnt a lesson he should not soon forget; and, returning now in some degree with fresh blood, he felt sensitively for the honour of the House and of that great party of which he was a Member. After fourteen years dealing with this question those upon whom responsibility rested should suffer nothing to be done with their concurrence which might lead to the supposition that the matter was being trifled with. Speaking broadly, the arguments of the opponents to this Bill appeared to him to fall under two simple heads—either they were unwilling to have a measure passed that Session which it was quite possible to pass, or they distinctly and plainly avowed they were not Liberals and did not trust the people. Now he believed that they were safe in trusting the people, and that the House would not do its duty to the country unless it allied itself with popular sympathies, and unless it gave to the working classes that increased representation to which their superior intelligence and education entitled them. Experience of late years did not show that the constitution of the House needed no improvement. Questions in which the great mass of the people were interested had dragged their slow length along. Something more of popular sympathy was necessary to enable the Government to carry measures which the country required. On this ground alone, if there were no other, he was anxious to see one part of the Reform Question carried that Session, and that was the enlargement of the electoral body. With regard to the fear of democracy he left that question to be argued by hon. Members on the other side of the House. The Bill itself appeared to him to be marked by an honest and sincere desire to give the working classes a fair share, and not more than a fair share, in the representation of the country, and it redressed some practical grievances by admitting deserving voters to the franchise who were at present excluded by the operation of certain rules. As a Liberal county Member, he was glad to say that the measure would tend to strengthen the Liberal party in the county representation. He said this without any reference to the desire of strengthening his own position. But he wished to point out to county Members that if the liberal element were excluded from the county constituencies the effect on the lauded interest might be very serious if nearly the 190 whole of the county representatives were marked out as being pledged by their position to the maintenance of Tory views. He regretted that the right hon. Gentleman had found himself unable to introduce some of the so-called "fancy franchises," though he should rather call them "forethought franchises." The extension of the franchise to the working classes ought always to move in accordance with their self-organization, and he should have been glad, if it had been possible, to introduce a franchise founded on the provident societies and clubs of the working men, which were always regarded by them as the test of forethought and respectability, the members embracing the most intelligent portion of that class. Education, also, ought to be recognized as a test of qualification, there being many curates and Dissenting ministers in country places who lived in houses the rental of which was not higher than the lodger franchise, which he was glad to see inserted in the Bill, and hoped would meet the support of hon. Members opposite. He admitted that a large number of persons regarded Reform with some apprehension; but it was the bounden duty of Liberal Members to protest against arguments which were used in order to cut the ground from the very principles on which they were returned. Although some of his constituents might at first share in that apprehension, he believed that after due consideration they would come to the conclusion that the measure now submitted offered a fair and reasonable solution for the present of one important branch of the great question of Reform.
§ MR. WHITESIDE
Sir, though the measure of the Government will receive a more close and searching examination on the second reading, if ever it arrives at that stage, still I will venture to submit to the House one or two observations on the question as it now stands. I will, in the first place, venture to express a hope that the differences which are likely to arise between the hon. Member who last spoke and his constituents may be happily adjusted; hut, so far as I understood the lion. Member, he seemed to be about to give a vote which is not likely to be satisfactory to his constituents—a fact which, at all events, shows that he understands the principle of Parliamentary representation. I only trust that further consideration may induce him to re-consider the opinions he has somewhat rashly uttered in regard to this measure, and to adopt an 191 opinion more in harmony with those he represents. The principle of the Bill—or rather, I should say, the no-principle of the Bill—is beginning to be understood; and when the hon. Member who last addressed the House said that he would leave the Bill to be discussed by Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House, be fell into a momentary forgetfulness of the course of the debate, which has been carried on by Gentlemen on the Ministerial side of the House, and scarcely any observations have been made by us sitting on the Opposition Benches, on a Motion which we are, of course, anxious to discuss, but which we naturally supposed would be best understood by Gentlemen on the Ministerial side. It is a remarkable fact that no one on the Treasury Bench has risen to address the House in support of the Bill since the Chancellor of the Exchequer delivered his copious exposition, save the President of the Poor Law Board, who has made a speech in which he has shown in what thorough contempt he holds the British Constitution. Certainly some allowance is to be made for the eloquence of the right hon. Gentleman, but I took down one sentence he uttered to the effect that the first duty of the House was to decide on the number of voters and then to distribute the Members among them. Now, I should like to know what that means. So far as I understand the sentiment, it means that we are to upset everything in the country; and then, when we have blotted out the old county and borough and city constituencies, we are to parcel out the Members among the number of constituencies previously arranged according to the measure of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I think that a mischievous opinion, rashly expressed by a Cabinet Minister; and my only hope is that he really did not exactly understand what he was saying, and that no other Cabinet Minister will abide by the principle he enounced. With respect to the rest of the right hon. Gentleman's speech no doubt it was a very able speech, but it appeared to be more composed by the aid of the scissors than by the head, being interspersed with a number of quotations extracted from the speeches of defunct Cabinet Ministers in debates which occurred on the great question of Reform before some of the present Members of the House were horn. I heard the right hon. Gentleman seize the opportunity of answering something which had been said by Mr. Croker, who has been in 192 his grave forty years. Now, I have the advantage of having heard both Mr. Croker and the right hon. Gentleman, and I am fully alive to the contrast. Mr. Croker was a wit and a scholar, and if he were alive to vindicate his opinion, he would have proved that he understood what he said, and would have maintained his opinion with eloquence, spirit, and ability. But what is the use of quoting speeches made forty years ago? We want the ideas of the Ministers of the present day to prove that the present crude measure thrown on the table is worthy of the consideration of the House, and justified by necessity. Instead of doing that the right hon. Gentleman reads us long passages cut out of former debates, which I thought were supplied to him by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who believes, perhaps, that better speeches were made forty years ago by Cabinet Ministers than are likely to be made now. What the right hon. Gentleman had to show was that the measure is not only in itself wise and politic, but a reasonable settlement of a great political question. The hon. Gentleman who last spoke (Mr. Acland) seemed to think that every Gentleman on the Opposition side of the House was opposed to an extension of the franchise. It is no such thing; but we are opposed to a measure of this nature, which unsettles everything and settles nothing. I am not altogether unacquainted with the views of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the subject of Reform. When Lord Palmerston was alive everything was kept quiet, and there was no nonsense, except when he happened to be absent from the House; but about two years ago I received a hint that on a certain Wednesday in May a Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Leeds was about to be discussed; and somebody informed me that the Chancellor of the Exchequer might come out on the occasion. Curiosity, consequently, attracted me to the House, and I heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer make, in the course of the debate, the usual Ministerial speech. The measure was said to be good, the hon. Gentleman was complimented, and then advised to withdraw his Bill for the present and to trust to the Government to look after matters for the future. If the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Locke King) were in his place, I would ask him what he thought of the support he got from Lord Palmerston for his Bill for a. £10 county fran- 193 chise. The noble Lord's speech in reference to that subject was a charming example of the manner in which a politic Minister could say obliging things to the hon. Gentleman and then snuff him out. That was the kind of support which Lord Palmerston gave during his career to the subject of Parliamentary Reform, and those Gentlemen who sat in his Cabinet during the four or five years when Parliamentary Reform was proposed by sincere men contrived to make speeches which meant nothing, and let the thing pass by quietly. I am not impressed with the sincerity of Ministers who pursue that course, and my distrust is by no means lessened by the figures of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer was seduced by the hon. Member for Leeds to undertake the support of his Bill, what was his argument? It was my lot to make a few observations in reply—not to his figures, but to his principles. He works poetically with the Rule of Three and does with figures what he pleases. I distrust his figures very much. I heard the right hon. Gentleman use these words when supporting the Bill of the hon. Member for Leeds. He asserted as a fact, "That the influence of the working classes was almost infinitesimal in the franchise of the country." Was that true? ["No!"] That is candid, at all events. But the right hon. Gentleman added that he wished "a soft and gentle influence exercised over the electoral body, through the admission of what he called the upper class of working men who ought to be as competent for the franchise as the lower of the middle class." Are these figures accurate? He said himself he was surprised at the result of the figures. It appears that the working classes represent 26 per cent of the borough constituencies, or perhaps more; and it has been demonstrated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe), in a speech which has not been answered, that the causes which have operated to give the working classes such a share in the constituency now do and must continue to operate to increase it. To what recourse has the Chancellor of the Exchequer been driven in order to maintain his Bill? He said, "True, a great many of the working classes possess the franchise; but there are irregularities—a great many working men have the franchise in one place, but very few have it another." How does this Bill meet that case? There must be such inequalities, according to the ne- 194 cessities of the place and the number of working men who find employment. Therefore, to say that a sufficient number of working men are represented, but unequally distributed over the country, is to prove nothing, because our system of representation never was that men should be equally represented all over the country, but that their representation should somehow or other be felt. That was a sufficient answer that was given by the hon. Member for the Wick burghs (Mr. Laing). I have heard many speeches in this House, but I do not think I ever heard a more clear or convincing speech on the question of the inequalities of our electoral system than that spoken last night by the hon. Member. It was wise, politic, and constitutional. He did not mean to open the settlement of 1832; but he said, "if your theory of inequalities requires that you should open that settlement and redress those inequalities, then I can prove that the inequalities in the representaion of particular boroughs, as compared with great counties and cities, are far greater and more anomalous than the inequalities that exist in the electoral body itself." He proved that to demonstration by clear and logical arguments. And how was that met? What arguments have been urged since on the subject? The only argument I heard was this—and I am glad of the opportunity of answering it. It is impossible, we are told, to do everything at once. It is impossible to rectify all the abuses in our Constitution in a day; and therefore, said the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his speech, it is impossible for us to do more than we have done. With the view of doing full justice to the right hon. Gentleman, I will read two or three lines from his speech. The right hon. Gentleman asks this question—he being the only man living that could answer it—"Are we to have a complete measure?" How do I know? The right hon. Gentleman puts the question with infinite official composure, "Are we to have a complete measure? or are we to have one that is incomplete? "I will answer the question from my knowledge of the right hon. Gentleman's character;—he does not intend we shall have a complete measure, and I think he does not intend, from his manner, to give any measure at all. "I would ask next"—and it is an interesting question coming from a Gentleman of his experience—"I would ask, what is a complete measure?" Then he makes an admission which a speaker constantly 195 does when, he does not intend to act upon it. He says, "We are sensible of the immense advantage that would attend an operation whereby you would be able to deal with the whole range of the question at once." Operation is a very good description of his Bill—but does the right hon. Gentleman intend to be the operator himself? Although, as was truly observed by the right hon. Member for Calne, he gave no reasons for his Bill, he did not venture to repeat his non-exploded fallacy of casting the onus prdbandi on his opponents—he will reserve this for the last extremity in which the Ministry may be placed. Having put that case, he goes on to show how it was impossible that we should have a complete Bill. He says, "There must be a consideration of the franchise in England and Wales and Scotland. The subject of the Irish franchise, too, must be considered. Then comes the whole group of questions that are included in the common phrase, 're-distribution of seats,'" and he gives us some idea of those questions—"questions between the three kingdoms—questions between town and country—questions between total extinction and capital punishment, such as was inflicted in Schedule A, and the milder method of amputation such as was administered in Schedule B, or that yet milder method of grouping boroughs together adopted by my noble Friend at the head of Her Majesty's Government in 1852. All these are matters that must undergo careful consideration. Then comes the boundary question, then the machinery for elections, then the consideration of the state of the law with respect to corrupt practices at elections." And having shown us the political purgatory into which we are to be placed, he said, "All this lies before you. I now ask you, are you not content that we should only produce this measure regarding the electoral franchise?" assuring us that if we live nine Sessions of Parliament, we shall have a like measure of torture every Session. Now, I ask the right hon. Gentleman, why did he present to this House that awful category of questions? Why terrify us in this manner? Is this fair? Is it Parliamentary? Why are we to be subject to such Ministerial torture? And is it true that they could not bring in a complete measure? Then, does not that show what an unfortunate state we are in? The right hon. Gentleman has pronounced sentence on the capacity of his Ministry. He has proved one of two things—either Ministerial imbecility or Ministerial dis- 196 honesty. The history of the various Reform Bills was given very distinctly last night by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stroud (Mr. Horsman). He subjected all the parties that mingled in these transactions to political anatomization. He skilfully cut them up, fairly and impartially, and he did not forget even ourselves, But there was one point he did not discuss, and that was the conduct of Earl Russell in his abstract Resolution. I never believed that he wanted to carry Reform. I never believed that Lord Palmerston wanted to carry Reform. I never believed anything of the kind, and I entirely acquit his Ministry of any such feelings. But Earl Russell sat down with his skilful colleagues to consider how he could stop discussion, and brought forward his abstract Resolution, This was the plan devised, and carried into execution for the express purpose, not of settling Reform, but to upset a Ministry and to prevent what he himself called a Conservative measure of Reform. Then, in order to show that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not the least atom of foundation for what he has said, I would ask the House to recollect the scope and object of the Reform Bill which was introduced to Parliament by Lord Derby's Government. In the first place, the nine questions which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has spoken of are all disposed of by it, including the enfranchisement and disfranchisement of boroughs not fairly represented at the present time. And I beg to call the attention of the hon. Member for the Wick district to the fact that Honiton, the borough he mentioned, is among those the Bill proposed to deal with. Among those places that the Bill proposed to favour were Birkenhead and Staleybridge; and the measure also proposed to divide the West Riding of Yorkshire into three divisions, and Middlesex into two. The Bill provided complete systems of registration and of polling; it accurately defined the duties of the sheriffs, and, in addition to this, it provided a plan of enfranchisement and disfranchisement, and disposed of the whole question of the right of voting. Thus the several questions which the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced to the House with such elaborate pomp, declaring that they would of necessity require nine separate measures in order to dispose of them, are all, with the exception of the question of corrupt practice, treated of in Lord Derby's Bill, which Lord Russell helped to strangle in its birth. That is the truth 197 upon the subject of Lord Derby's Bill; and I should like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman expects any man of sense and ability in this House to believe that it would have been impossible to place the entire subject before the House in the way contended for by the hon. Member for the Wick district. I contend that that hon. Gentleman's assertion is undeniable when he says this question should not have been opened at all unless with a view to settle it completely and at once. Why do I say this? Having regard to the possibility of settling the whole question in one Bill, I believe it has been proposed to introduce it to the House in fragments, because of the observations which fell from the hon. Member for Birmingham. I believe that hon. Gentleman's sincerity with respect to this question; but never more so than when he remarked that there were three things to be done. First, we were to secure the extension of the franchise, and having accomplished that we were to rest satisfied a while. Then we were to have the ballot; and after that a redistribution of seats. The design, Sir, is the main thing for us to look to, and if it were accomplished the conclusion of the right hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Horsman) would undoubtedly be demonstrated—what-ever you may please to call our form of government, if the event hinted at were to occur it would then necessarily become to all intents and purposes a democracy. By this I mean, not that the form of the Constitution would be abolished, but that the entire power of the State would be lodged in this House; the House of Lords would be a pleasant so-so sort of place—a pa geant; and as for the Crown, it would be a phantom. Then I have something to say with respect to the 40s. franchise. Lord Derby's Bill proposed to abolish the right of 40s. freeholders in boroughs to vote for county Members, on the ground that those who lived in counties should vote for the county alone, and those who lived in the boroughs for the boroughs alone. What was the 40s. franchise when it was created? Forty shillings in that day were worth as much as £40 would be now. They had no idea in olden times of a man having a vote unless he was in a position to exercise an independent will, and they thought it necessary that he should have sufficient property to insure that he was interested in the stability of the country. And what does the right hon. Gentleman propose to do with the anomaly which time has pro- 198 duced out of this originally sound arrangement? He proposes to aggravate it: and the incident brings to my mind something which occurred in Ireland upon the subject of this very franchise. A thick-headed Secretary came over to Ireland about fifteen years before the Union, and he said to Parliament, "We have the right of voting in England by virtue of 40s freeholds; and we must introduce that custom into Ireland." But Sir Lawrence Parsons, a very able gentleman of Ireland, made a prophetic speech upon the occasion. He said that if they carried that 40s. franchise they would perhaps find it last for a time; hut they might be sure that in a few years hence the priesthood would intervene between the 40s. constituency and the landlords, sweep away the power of the landlords, and establish the power of the democracy and the priesthood. The Bill was carried, and Sir Lawrence Parsons' prophecy came true, a pauper tenancy has been created, has come under the control of the priests, and has turned against the landlords When Sir Robert Peel carried his Emancipation Act he said it would be impossible for the safety of the country to allow that franchise to exist and to carry his measure. Accordingly, he abolished the 40s. franchise, with great satisfaction to the country, which was coveted with this pauper constituency More recent legislation, however, has given us the franchise we have now in Ireland; and although the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not stated what he intends to propose when dealing with Ireland. I presume he thinks of lowering the franchise there also. All I can say is, that if it is done at the present time it with be done by a Parliament run mad. Bui at present we have got a good constituency in Ireland, in the £8 rating it boroughs, and the £12 rating in counties. The right hon. Gentleman also left the question of Scotch representation in obscurity: but I would remind him that both of these questions me of great importance to the people of this kingdom. This is another proof of the danger and mischief of dealing with -this measure piecemeal, when we do not understand the whole scope and meaning of this Bill before Parliament assents to it The belief that such measures as these can be taken seriatim seems to me to be most unphilosophical, especially when we consider how careful we should be when proposing to deal with so delicate a subject as the Constitution of the country. I defy any man to tell the 199 result of adding some 400,000 electors to the present constituency; yet we are invited to introduce them first and then ascertain the consequences. Therefore, I say, Parliament has a right to ask what is intended to be done, not only as to the franchise, but the redistribution of seats and other matters in England, and also in Ireland and Scotland. It has been said we must elevate the working classes by giving them the franchise. No such thing. But I do not believe that we elevate them by giving them the franchise, though I can understand that they may elevate themselves by their economy and their prudence, and if they can do so and get the franchise, that is a wise and politic arrangement. I cannot, however, understand the principle which says that we are to go lower and lower in the scale of civilization to the electors instead of offering them an inducement, by prudence and proper conduct, to elevate themselves to a position to which they might fairly aspire. The policy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to me to be mischievous and unconstitutional; and if the Cabinet—I do not include the younger Members—had thought about trying during the time of Lord Palmerston to have framed a wise and comprehensive Bill, having a precedent before them, they could very well have redistributed the seats and provided a simple form of registration. Purposely they avoid taking that course, and I must say the question you must ask is, What is the design in view in avoiding that rational, sensible, and constitutional course, and adopting one unwise, unfair, and unsafe? He was copious in the matter of figures, but sparing enough in stating the principle upon which the Bill was founded. No wonder hon. Gentlemen can get no answer to their inquiries as to what are the great evils in the present system. Every right hon. Gentleman on the Treasury Bench smiles as that question is put. There are two classes of persons in the world—and in this House one class who are constantly at work to discover evils where they are difficult to find; and the other loyal and satisfied with the Constitution under which they live. If we look abroad and compare the state of the Continent of Europe with our own country, we find that whilst abroad they have been disturbed by convulsions and torn by revolutions, we have been happy in the enjoyment of a system of government which has managed to combine liberty with order and stability. It was the fancy of a philosopher 200 that this beautiful system of representative government was invented in the woods; but whether it is a realization of that idea of wise men of old, or the result of happy accident, or providential arrangement, the result is that it combines private happiness with public freedom. There is no part of the world in which the arts of industry and peace have been more fully developed. And as I am satisfied that the Constitution rests upon a sound and satisfactory basis, I trust that those who are elected to this House will prove themselves the wise, the faithful, and the fearless guardians of the blessings that we enjoy.
§ MR. FAWCETT
I deeply regret that I should for one moment stand in the way of one of the most able Members of the Cabinet (Mr. Goschen, who had risen at the same time and had given way). I thank him for his courtesy; and I will endeavour to be as brief as possible in my remarks. I would scarcely have adventured, as a very young Member of the House, to have intruded myself into so important a debate, had it not occurred that some few weeks since a personal appeal was made to me by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stroud (Mr. Horsman) who seemed to think that I was deficient in courage, because I—he was pleased to call me a Radical and a representative of the working classes—had not expressed my opinion on Reform. If that appeal had come to me from a different quarter I would have immediately ventured to respond to it; but I doubted an appeal urged by a right hon. Gentleman who sits on the Liberal Benches, and is always enthusiastically cheered by the Conservatives who sit on the opposite side of the House. I think, however, the occasion has now come when any independent Member has a right to express himself on the question of Reform, and I most gladly give expression to my feelings on this occasion. If I do, in the least degree, represent the working-classes, I am glad, as their representative, to be able to say that I accept this measure most thankfully, and I will do everything in my power to give it a most cordial support. It seemed to me that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stroud, delivered last evening, replete with brilliant epigram and telling antitheses, was a carefully-prepared essay on this theme—"Has Earl Russell been consistent? And is the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) a Republican?" Suppose he had proved both these positions—suppose he had proved the 201 inconsistency of Earl Russell and the republicanism of the hon. Member for Birmingham, it would not have affected me in the slightest degree on this question. I think that on a grave and important question like this we have something more—something of far greater and nobler consideration—to deal with than the inconsistency of a noble Lord or the extreme opinions of an hon. Member. And I must say—I do not say what is the impression produced upon Members who have had more experience of this House than I have—but it seemed to me that the right hon. Member was sadly throwing away his brilliant gifts of rhetoric when on a great and important question like this he occupied an hour mid three quarters in uttering miserable personalities ["Oh!"] and uttering—I will leave out that adjective, and I will say paltry—personalities against Earl Russell and the hon. Member for Birmingham But we have listened this evening to a speech of altogether a different kind. You listened last year—I wish I had been in the House at the lime to have enjoyed the intellectual treat—to a still more remarkable speech, a speech filled with deep thought and, I will frankly say, with earnest intention. But before I deal with one or two of the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe), I wish to put a simple and homely question to him, and if he cannot answer it to my satisfaction I will tell him with that frank ness with which he spoke that his arguments and his reasonings, acute and profound as they may be, will not much influence me, and I believe they will not much influence the country. The question I wish to put to him is this—Did he not join that combination which declared that no Government was worthy of the confidence of this country unless it reduced the borough franchise? I tell the hon. Gentlemen on the Benches opposite that if I had been in the House at that time I never would have joined that combination. I think the Willis Rooms compact was a factious one, and was based—I think it was based—on insincerity, and I believe that that insincerity has for six years infected the political atmosphere of this country, and that it will require clear thought, vigorous action, and out-spoken language, before our deliberations can be re-invigorated by genuine party conflict. But I want to know something more than this. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he did not become a 202 distinguished Member of tin Government that came into office expressly to carry an extension of the suffrage? I want to ask him whether he did not sit on the Treasury Bench when an extension of the suffrage was proposed wider than that which is proposed by the present Bill, At all events, he listened to that measure; he gave it his approbation by silence; and he remained a passive coadjutor of a scheme which as he now phrases it, "degrades the suffrage," and if the suffrage is degraded he said, in a brilliant epigram last year, that "one of two things would occur either that his party would be ruined or that his country would be ruined," Now, Sir, it seems to me that every argument which the right hon. Gentleman has urged against the extension of the suffrage he must have been aware of when he sat on the Treasury Bench, and when that measure for the extension of the suffrage was introduced, he then, as now, had read his Bentham; he knew the passage from Aristotle; he had then seen Australia, and he had seen democracy there; he then knew the habits of the working-classes of this country. And why did he not then come forward and tell us of the imminent risk of this country being ruined, and of its institutions being overthrown? Possibly, it may he said that the right hon. Gentleman has changed his mind, and that every one has a right to change his mind. I admit that. But why does he not get up and tell the House what are the reasons which have induced him to change his mind? Two years ago no one would have had the slightest right to say but that the right hon. Gentleman was as earnest and as sincere a Reformer as any one in this House. What has quenched his reforming zeal? I hate personal insinuations, and would be the last to insinuate that that reforming zeal had been repressed by the strong reasons of the noble Lord the Member for Stamford (Viscount Cranbourne), I would be the last to say it, but I know it has been said out of doors in high life. But has anything occurred in the country? I think that something must have occurred in the country, and that what has occurred has been wrongly interpreted by the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends who now act with him on this question, for I find that not only he but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stroud and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wick (Mr. Laing), and the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Marsh)—all the Liberals, in fact, who spoke against Re- 203 form—all alike voted against the Government of Lord Derby. ["No, no!"] I believe that the majority which displaced Lord Derby's Administration—the division was taken on the 10th June, and I rend the division lists this morning—and I saw the Dames of those four hon. Gentlemen. What, therefore, I say is, that I think some event must have occurred in the country during the last few years which has produced a general effect on their minds—an event which I think has been wrongly interpreted by them. I look to the history of this country during the last four years; and one event has occurred. But what is the lesson to be drawn from it? I say that the lesson to be drawn from it is an unanswerable argument, far more powerful than fifty volumes of statistics, in favour of the extension of the suffrage to those who at the present time are unrepresented. I need not say the incident to which I allude as having occurred during the last four years is that one of the most important branches of industry in this country has been paralyzed; the most important section of our labouring population was thrown out of employment; that they were reduced from comparative affluence to the depths of destitution and distress. How did they bear it? Did they then show that they were wanting in any social virtue? Did they come here in haste and ask for support? No. They exhibited a proud and a manly independence, and would almost have sold the clothes from off their backs before they would have asked any one to assist them. But this is only one and not the most important feature of this incident. It was thought by many in this country—it was thought by many of our leading statesmen—that if England were deprived of raw cotton the Lancashire operatives would have rebelled, and have demanded the cessation of the American blockade. What was their attitude? I went to Lancashire in the depth of their dire distress, and what was the feeling pervading that suffering population? The sentiment—the noble and glorious sentiment which prevailed was this—we would infinitely rather that our industry should be permanently prostrated—we would far sooner that a bale of cotton should never again be woven into cloth in a Lancashire mill—than that slavery should continue. I know that there are many brilliant pages in the annals of our country, but I think when the future historian of this country writes the events of the 19th century, his description of the conduct of our artisan 204 population in their hour of trial will form not the least—I may say the most—brilliant page in the brilliant history of this country. This is the chief event that has occurred affecting the artizan population of our nation. I confidently ask those Gentlemen who have forgotten their reforming zeal whether this is the event which has induced them to change their opinions? The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Marsh) says, "I have come back from Australia. Look at that country, and you will stand aghast at the result of democracy." Now, I will say this, that I have looked at that country, and if I had been there, as he has been—if my energy there had met with great pecuniary success—if I had known, as he knows, that property there is as secure as it is here—that the laws are as well and as justly administered there as they are here—I should have been ashamed to come back from that country and speak of its people as if they were a horde of bandits. Why, every time I look at Australia or at any part of our Colonial Empire, I am the more proud of being an Englishman; for I think that our colonies are the centres of a civilization equal to our own. Greece had achieved many of the greatest intellectual triumphs of modern civilization; Rome had an Empire as vast as ours; but the freedom, the greatness, and the glory of those countries have departed, and have left no living testimony behind. But what seems likely to be the destiny of this country? We in every quarter of the globe are founding nations which image our own greatness, which inherit our institutions, which cherish our feelings, and which in ages yet to come will reflect the greatness and glory of the nation from which they have sprung, Australia to arrest popular progress! Why, there is not an Australian who will not agree with me in saying that not even in this country is loyalty to our beloved Queen a more dearly cherished passion—the people there are as free, as happy, and wealthy as are the people of this country. Property, as I have before said, is as secure; law is as justly administered; and they at least have not, as we have, a burden of destitution constantly reminding our statesmen that they have left their highest mission unfulfilled, and that is to wage successful war against pauperism. But there is another argument advanced by the hon. Member for Wick and the right hon. Member for Calne. The Member for Wick indulged in 205 a mathematical illustration of his arguments, and drew an imaginary curve I have studied in the same school of mathematics, and I understand his illustration. He says draw two curves, and wherever you find the greatest number of the working-classes there you will find the greatest bribery. The right hon. Member for Calne says, introduce more of the working-classes to the franchise, and you introduce those who are corrupt—those who can be bribed and intimidated. Now, I think I know as much of the working-classes as either of these hon. Gentlemen. I do not represent a small borough, but I represent a place which is peculiarly a working man's constituency. The right hon. Member for Calne went on to say that if you increase the number of working men in a constituency it will be impossible for any but a rich man to obtain access to this House. I do not like to enter into details of personal history; but in a case like this there is nothing like a little of a man s own personal experience. I went to the constituency which I represent unknown; I had not a single friend in the borough. The first thing I told the people was that I was an extremely poor man—that I could not afford to employ a paid agent or a paid can vasser—that all the income I possessed had been won by my intellectual exertions in a fair open field. I did not promise to subscribe a single shilling to any of their institutions—and the only pledge I gave them was this. I said, if you return me I will give up my whole time and energy to my Parliamentary duties. I believe the Returns show that there are 2,000 working men in Brighton; and nine-tenths or a larger proportion voted for me on these terms. And I now confidently throw a challenge to the Member for Wick. I know that he is a man of great commercial eminence I have no doubt that he possesses vast wealth; but I will tell him this, let him go to my borough and squander wealth as profusely and profligately as he likes, and if I should do my duty to my constituents I defy him to shake the allegiance of the humblest or poorest man who recorded his vote in my favour. There are two other arguments to which I wish briefly to allude. The first is this. It is frequently stated that if you admit the working classes to the franchise they will overwhelm every other class by voting en masse. I think the argument is based upon a fallacy. I do not think you have any more right to assume that the working class will 206 vote en masse than that the middle class or the upper class will do so. Look at the questions which affect them Take them one by one, and I confidently say that they are as divided on these questions as other classes are. And I think also that hon. Gentlemen opposite are somewhat rash in concluding that hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House who are considered peculiarly to represent the working-classes are those who are most in their favour, because I think that questions which are likely each year to assume a greater importance in this House are questions affecting capital and labour, and many Gentlemen who now consider themselves the representatives of the working classes are notably capitalists, and on such questions are more likely to sympathize with their order than with labour. I will give an illustration. I will take a measure like the Factory Act which was passed in 1848. I believe that no measure has ever done more good. I believe that it has promoted the welfare I of the working-classes and arrested their physical deterioration. I am deeply anxious that these Acts should be extended far and I wide over the industry of this country. I believe that then the great reproach of this age will be removed—namely, the ignorance of the people, and with that you I will remove all its attendant evils; and I also believe that if you extend these Acts; you will achieve another great result—you will prevent that melancholy fact which is constantly forcing itself on my attention, I that owing to the employment of juvenile labour there are tens of thousands of lives annually sacrificed in this country. The operatives have always been in favour of this factory legislation. But the manufacturers—and the hon. Member for Birmingham will bear me out in saying that he and others like him opposed the Factory Acts. Then with what favour will their constituencies look upon men who oppose measures such as these? But I can tell them that the labouring classes are almost to a man in favour of their extension, and if you increase the strength of the labouring population in the constituencies with no other object than that of giving them more power in the House to get this beneficent legislation further extended, I believe that a measure for the extension of the suffrage would work results which would soon convince every hon. Member opposite that it was one of the most beneficent pieces of legislation ever produced in this country. I will now give one or two other illustra- 207 tions. A considerable section of the advanced Liberal party—so far as foreign policy is concerned—are always in favour of the strictest non-intervention. But they do not represent the opinions of the working men of this country. I went to many public meetings of working men when Poland was being ground down by Russia, and I have no hesitation in saying that the opinion of a considerable minority of the working men was in favour of intervention, and that they would have waged war on behalf of the rights of freedom and justice. Take another question on which they are divided amongst themselves. Hon. Gentlemen who have not mixed with the working-classes so much as I have think they are all in favour of strikes and trade unions. There is a very large number of them who think as strongly as any Member of this House that Strikes cannot possibly benefit them, and they dislike and distrust those who advocate them. Take, again, religious questions. There is a section of the working-classes, and I believe a majority, who are bitterly opposed to the slightest encroachment on the Sabbath as a day of rest. But you may say that I omit the most serious allegations that can be made against the working-classes—that they are in favour of unjust taxation, and are ignorant of political economy. I think when the working-classes are taunted with ignorance of political economy hon. Members should recollect that there was a great party in this country who, year after year, maintained a wicked and unjust monopoly, and that the maintenance of that wicked and unjust monopoly was what the great author of political economy eighty years ago showed to be contrary to the first elements and the simplest axioms of political economy. I think I have brought forward one or two reasons to show that there is no fear of the working-classes voting as a class. There is one other argument. It is said that this Bill involves inevitable arithmetical degradation. It is only necessary to remark, in reply to that argument, that the same reason would have conclusively told against all Reform—it would have told with equal force against the Reform Bill of 1832. Then others say we shall not have a complete measure introduced into this House until we get a redistribution of seats. I wish we had it, and I look forward anxiously to the time when we shall have it; but if we have it, will not the same argument of arithmetical degradation apply to 208 it? Will it not be said that if Manchester and Liverpool are given one Member more each, why should not another Member be given to other large towns, until you gradually give Manchester and Liverpool twenty or thirty Members each? Therefore it is that I distrust those hon. Members who so loudly and persistently call for a complete measure, because I believe when they make that call they are not very anxious to have any reform of the representative system at all. As I said at the beginning, I joyfully accept this measure, and I place confidence in the assertion of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he will not let the Reform question stop here, but that he will direct his great powers of statesmanship to bring about a complete reform of the representation of the country. But, in the meantime, I give my cordial support to this measure, which will introduce 400,000 more electors, because I believe there will not be 400,000 electors more independent, intelligent, or patriotic, than those upon whom it is now proposed to bestow the suffrage; and when I feel this, I think that we are supporting a measure which will tend to secure the permanent greatness of this country, and which will implant our institutions more deeply in the hearts and affections of the people. In the course of my studies I have been led to consider the conditions upon which the material prosperity of this country depends, and I have been sometimes struck with this consideration, that I believe there is only one real danger which can imperil our prosperity; and it is this—that if any other country should be able to offer to our labourers a more illustrious or happier career, we should lose those without whose strong arms and acquired skill the greatness of this country cannot be maintained. I know that it is repeatedly said to our labourers, as an inducement for them to leave England and go to Canada and Australia, that they there enjoy all the privileges of citizenship, whilst if they remain in this country they are deprived of them. I hope, however, the parent country will no longer foster this unfortunate policy; and I hope that day will come, step by step, and gradually, when the English emigrant will no longer be able to say that when he left his native country—a country he loved so well—he was considered to be somewhat dangerous, and that if he had a vote that the institutions of the nation would be imperilled; whereas when he emigrated he became the founder 209 of a nation possessing the same institutions as our own, and which in time would be as free, as happy, and likely to be as great as the mother country. I thank hon. Members for the generous forbearance which they have shown towards me since I have been a Member of this House, and more especially for the patience with which they have listened to my observations this evening.
Sir, although in the course of this debate I have been the subject of much remark, and of not a little that may be fairly termed unusual attack—I beg to assure the House that I have not risen for the purpose of defending myself, since I am ready to leave my course in this House and my political character to the impartial view of Members of the House, and to the just judgment of my countrymen outside the House. Nor have I risen for the purpose of entering into an elaborate defence of the Bill introduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I think, however, that there has been so much said which is not to the point, that it may he advantageous if I endeavour to explain to the House what I understand the Bill to be—to state some of the grounds on which it appeals to us for support, and to ask the House whether, under the circumstances of this question, and in the existing condition of the country, it is the duty of Parliament to permit it to pass into a law. One thing in the Bill is highly satisfactory to me—that both in what it does and the manner in which it proposes to do it; it is distinct, clear, without any tricks—without semblance of giving something in one clause, and then under a feeling of alarm withdrawing that something in the clause that follows. I have always beer in favour of meeting this question and dealing with it in such a manner that every person in the country who is now an elector, or who is to be included in the Bill, should comprehend that it was a measure, so far as it went, fair and generous to the people of the country whom it was intended to enfranchise. I think I can show reasons—if we can for a moment get rid of the notion of a party combination—why this House should readily, and without hesitation, agree to this Bill. One portion of it will recommend itself, I am quite certain, to all hon. Gentlemen who are enthusiastic admirers of the Bill of 1832—and on this point I can confidently ask for the support of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe)—that is the portion of the Bill which is intended to remove all legal obsta- 210 cles or difficulties by which many persons who were intended to be enfranchised by the Reform Bill have been up to this time deprived of their votes. The Reform Bill proposed to give a vote to every occupier of a £10 house in a borough. Well, it is shown—partly it may be owing to the wording of the Act, partly owing to the decisions of Judges and Courts—thatthisex-tension of the franchise was never complete that by the operation of clauses which made it necessary to pay rates, and which made it necessary almost in effect that the occupier himself should pay the rates—many thousands—I know not the number—have been disfranchised from 1832 up to the very hour at which this Bill shall pass into law. In Scotland there is no such disqualification as that which this Bill proposes to remove, for there they have no rate paying clauses, and they have no system of compounding which would juggle men out of their franchise; and the object of this Bill is to assimilate our law in this respect to the law of Scotland, and to give to the Reform Act of 1832 the same efficacy which the people expected from it when it passed both Houses of Parliament, Well, I suppose, although I daresay hon. Gentlemen will not admit it by any outward expression of opinion, they are not against such an improvement of the Reform Act as will give the vote which this part of the Bill is intended to give. The right hon. Member for Calne can certainly not refuse his assent, because if there be one thing besides the classical times of antiquity to which he is more devoted than another it is clearly the Bill of 1832, The next point to which I shall ask the attention of the House is that which the Bill proposes to do in respect to the county franchise. Here I must say, at the risk of saying what is not complimentary to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his Colleagues, that I think the Government have shown a remarkable feebleness, which lays them open to great blame and to the expression of great surprise, not only on the part of the House, but of almost every person in the country who has expected a Bill on the subject of Reform. They propose to bring the franchise down from a £50 occupation to one of £14. The occupation franchise in counties was a measure of your own carrying in 1832. I do not say that to touch it would not have been necessary now if you had not then disturbed the ancient franchise of the counties; but when the county occupation franchise was fixed at 211 £50, and the franchise in boroughs at £10, he must have been a very dull man indeed who could not have foreseen that the county franchise must at some time not remote be greatly reduced. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke encouragingly in that Reform discussion many years ago, when the House carried the first reading of the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Locke King); but from that time to this there has been a good deal more notice taken of this question. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire and his Cabinet—the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley) being very intimately concerned with the then leader of the House in manufacturing a Reform Bill—they had not had much experience, and it was not to be wondered at that they bungled it somewhat. They brought in their Bill—a Bill containing some good things and some bad things—among others it proposed a £10 franchise in counties. They took, however, a considerable compensation by attempting to withdraw all freeholders within the limits of boroughs from the county franchise—transferring them to the electoral body within the limits of boroughs. But that does not in the slightest degree change this fact—that they did with due deliberation come to the opinion that £10 occupiers in counties were fit and proper persons to exercise the elective franchise. You do not suppose that they proposed to put some scores of thousands on the county lists of whose fitness they were not well assured, and then endeavoured to compensate for this by their proposal with regard to the freeholders in the boroughs. They believed, and believe now no doubt, that £10 was a proper and fitting franchise for the counties in England and Wales; and I should be glad to find them when the House shall be in Committee on this Bill proposing to reduce the sum of a £14 franchise to a £10 one. If they wish to have an easy victory over the Government, and to prove themselves consistent, and to extend the range of the county registration, I and a good many Members in this part of the House will be extremely happy to give them our cordial support—and I can promise them the support of the right hon. Gentleman behind me (Mr. Lowe), because he has fixed his affections on a £10 rental franchise. If he were to Bay he approved a £10 household franchise in boroughs he must do so also in the counties, because 212 we all know that the £10 householders in counties are generally men in better pecuniary circumstances than those in boroughs. Now, as far as I have gone, I think at least I have shown that hon. Gentlemen opposite, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne, cannot offer any opposition to the Bill of the Government with regard to these two portions of it. I may say further, with respect to this proposition of the Government, that there was one illustration the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Whiteside) might have made in his amusing speech—for, however much the country is going to ruin, the right hon. Gentleman can always be amusing in this House—there is one illustration he might have made. He might have said that in Ireland they had a £12 rating franchise for the counties, and that is as near as may be in value to £14 rental franchise. Therefore, the proposition of the Government—although I disapprove it—still it has the sanction of the course which has been taken in Ireland, and this, I have heard from Irish Members, is considered a not unsatisfactory condition of the county franchise. And, with the experience of a great number of years of this franchise in Ireland, I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne might screw up his courage to support this proposition of the Bill. Now I come to the only point on which there is any difference. I think the world has never shown an instance of a great legislative Assembly such as this making a great disturbance among themselves, exciting themselves, getting into a violent passion, pouring out even cataracts of declamation like that we heard last night, and all upon the simple question whether the franchise in boroughs shall remain as now at £10 or shall be fixed for a time at £7. Hon. Gentlemen opposite appear to be surprised at the frankness with which I speak. The head of the present Government was laughed at for years because he spoke of finality in connection with the Bill of 1832. I should be very happy if it should so happen, as the right hon. Gentleman has suggested in his fervid imagination, that the working classes would in great number surmount the barriers of £7, and that ultimately it should be even equal to a household suffrage in the country. But does any hon. Gentleman opposite believe that he is carrying a Bill—did any hon. Gentleman sitting in this House ever vote upon any measure of arrangement and organization like this one, and could confidently assure 213 himself that the measure should be final? He must have a very poor notion of what our children will be if he thinks them less competent to decide such questions for themselves than we are at present to decide them. Therefore do not think that because I use the phrase "for a time" I am not of opinion that this Bill if it be carried in all probability will put an end to Bills having reference to the suffrage—for such portion of time, at least, as this Bill will be found to meet the views of the intelligent—[Laughter]—allow me to finish the sentence—of the intelligent population of this country. Now, the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed in addition to the £7 franchise what he calls a lodger or tenant occupation franchise. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire in his Bill proposed something of the same kind, but with a £20 qualification, while the present Bill proposes a £10 qualification—£10 being very nearly the same for a holding of this kind as £7 would be for a house. But the right hon. Gentleman opposite proposed provisions in his measure which would be extremely difficult, and I think would lead to an interminable perplexity, I have no doubt that the proposition now made by the Government is simpler than his, and likely to be carried out with less difficulty and more satisfaction to that class of persons in this metropolis who are interested in this part of the Bill. With regard to the £7 franchise, let us examine it for one moment. Somebody has said, and many persons have written, that this Bill is my Bill—that the Government made this Bill at my recommendation ["Hear, hear,"] I thought somebody would say "hear!" Now, I have not been able to find a point of the Bill which is what I recommended, I never was in favour of a £6 franchise, and I should never have proposed it. I believe in a household franchise for the boroughs of this country. But when I found a powerful Government like the last—and which was not as honest as it was powerful—proposing a £6 franchise, with the expectation that it would carry it, I was not to stand in the way of a considerable enfranchisement of the people, merely because I had an idea that household suffrage would be better A £7 franchise is a proposition I have never said one syllable in favour of, and it never entered into my mind that the Government would split hairs in this fashion, and would leave the £6 franchise, their own proposi- 214 tion, and which nearly everybody in the country who has asked for a Reform Bill has expressed himself ready to accept, and would offer to the House a £7 franchise. But now here it is offered, and unfortunately, beggars in the House of Commons, like beggars outside of it, cannot be choosers, and we are sometimes in a position to take only what is given Now, when the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bucks was brought in a very remarkable thing happened Two most eminent and respected Members of the Government seceded from it, and took their seats on the third Bench behind, and I think I see one of those distinguished Members (Mr. Walpole) sitting there at this moment. They both made what we call a personal explanation to the House, and tin explanation was that they differed from their Colleagues on this question of the suffrage. They do not like that the suffrage in counties should be brought down to the rate of the boroughs, and that the suffrage in the boroughs be continued at the same rate which it was at the time of the Reform Act. I am not sure whether these right hon. Gentlemen coincide in the opinion that the county franchise should be brought down to £10. I think the right hon. Gentlemen expressed some dissent—at least they were of opinion that the franchise in the boroughs ought to be reduced; and I know the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), in the words which have often been quoted since, expressed himself in favour of establishing a borough franchise at £8. Well, now the Government have been splitting hairs with regard to £6 and £7; I hope the right hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House will not split hairs between £8 and £7; he cause surely after the discussion this question has undergone—after the mode and manner the House has been brought into difficulty by past transactions—after the great expectations which have been raised throughout the country, I think it would show very ill statesmanship on the part of those right hon. Gentlemen and a needless obedience to the cause of party—it would hardly he becoming in them—if they were not willing to make the small concession of £ I in answer to the concession of £1 which I am willing or forced to make—and join with me in giving at least a friendly, if not an enthusiastic, support to the Bill of the Government. And, after all, this £3, what is it? The right hon. Gentleman behind me (Mr. Lowe) has conjured up a 215 frightful apparition. The £10 is the salvation of the country. For thirty-four years its operation has been such as to extort from him unlimited approval. I do not know whether he will think £9 perilous, or £8 in any degree of doubtful utility, but £7 he considers to be actually destructive to the interests of the country; and he has shown moreover that it would destroy the connection between the executive Government and the House—that it would reduce us to all the evils which are supposed to exist in connection with the constitution of the United States, without any of its advantages; in fact, I know not that a more gloomy, discouraging, and appalling picture of the future of the House and the country was ever drawn by any Member of the House, and all the foundation of those horrors is that we should reduce the franchise in the boroughs to £1 lower than was recommended by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire and his Colleague the Member for the University of Cambridge. Now, I appeal to Gentlemen opposite whether they will allow themselves in considering the position of this question—it may be possible—I do not think they can, but it may be they can make it impossible—that this question of the suffrage should be got out of our way during this present Session of Parliament. If they do make it impossible—I am not much given to prophesy—but I venture to predict that there are many on these Benches now who will live to regret the course they have taken. Now, there is one other proposition—it is made in this Bill—which I hope the House will not listen to for a moment, and that is the savings bank franchise. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire had something like it—perhaps the very same thing—in his Bill. I disapproved of it then. I have no objection to enfranchise those who may be enfranchised by it; but I think conscientiously it is the very worst of all "fancy franchises" ever proposed. It will be unequal to the last degree, and it will be, I believe, the source of every kind of fraud. And I agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wick (Mr. Laing), who, I think, in speaking of it said he did not see why the investment of £50—the saving of it in a savings bank—should give a man a higher social and political position than the investment or saving of an equal sum in any other description of property where the investment could be fairly ascertained. I object altogether to giving the franchise to one man 216 and shutting it out from another—that second man, it may be, being far more heroic than the other. For example, a man may have to provide a humble equipment for a daughter's marriage, a small sum for a son's apprenticeship—something may be taken out of his earnings for the education of his children, he may have under his roof an aged parent, and he may be performing to that parent the most sacred and most holy of duties, and these may cause him to withdraw £5 or £10 from his little fund in the savings bank, or may prevent his having any fund there at all, and the law steps in, and for doing so much, which in every rank of life is so honourable and so exemplary, his name is erased from the electoral list of the town in which he lives. I protest against this savings bank franchise. I think also it would be liable to great fraud, because three or four members of a family may invest in a savings bank in one name and so give to that one person a vote. I do not in the least object to any one person having a vote, but I do object to giving it under a system which, altogether apart from the usual processes of enfranchisement, is liable to the utmost inequality, and to a species of fraud which cannot be prevented. Now I have gone through the Bill in its main provisions, and I would ask the House what they think of it? The Chancellor of the Exchequer tells us—in fact, we well know—that we have in England and Wales about five and a half millions of men. Under this Bill he further tells us we should have 900,000 electors. [An hon. Member: 1,300,000.] But not 1,300,000 when the double qualifications are taken off. Whatever that be, it will place within the franchise something perhaps a little more than one in five, and will leave out of the 5,500,000 more than 4,000,000 of grown men in England and Wales who will still not have the franchise. Of those he says there will be 330,000 working men. Well, this is a very—as I am quite confident whenever the matter is fairly looked into will be found out—exaggerated estimate. The right hon. Gentleman included 60,000 who now live in £10 houses to be admitted by the repeal of the ratepaying clauses. And more than that, he included every man between £10 and £7, although the experience of every one tells us that is not correct; and as to all those working men brought forward in those blue books, except the hon. Members for Coventry, I will undertake to say that there is scarcely a single Member of the 217 House, looking to his own canvass and his own constituency, who has not been astounded to be told that there are so many working men in the existing constituencies. I do not say the whole, but the half, of this statement is a delusion of the most transparent kind. I should only be too glad if it could be honestly ascertained that so many working men could be found on the register; at least, I think it would do something towards confirming hon. Gentlemen in the view they entertain that the conduct of so many of those men as possess the franchise has hitherto been most exemplary in their exercise of it. Now, I appeal to hon. Gentlemen—I am very earnest in my wishes upon this question, because, notwithstanding the unkind allusion and imputation cast upon me sometime ago by a right hon. Gentleman who sits on this side of the House, there is nobody who has so great an interest as I have, in a certain sense, in a fair and early settlement of this question. I have had as much to do with it as any one, I think, in discussing it publicly out of the House and in the House. I have discussed it frankly, and whatever hon. Gentlemen may think to the contrary, I never spoke on any question in which I took a greater interest, or with a deeper conviction that I was serving the true interests of their class as well as my countrymen at large. I do not know whether I may appeal to the right hon. Member for Calne; but I should be glad if he would give me an intimation that I have succeeded in converting him, because I think I have shown that everything this Bill proposes is really bound up in some shape or other with the Bill of 1832, or with the propositions in which he has been concerned. I have got here—it is really curious how things drop into your hands when you want them—here is a paper, The Norfolk News, of the year 1859. It contains an article headed, "Redeem your Pledges," and consists of extracts from the election addresses of hon. Members on this side the House—I am not sure about the other—and especially of Whig Ministers just previous to the election in June 1859. The first is from the election address of Lord Palmerston, who said there must be a Bill to alter the law regulating the representation of the people in Parliament. Then Lord John Russell said we should have to consider the great question of the amendment of the representation of the people in Parliament. Sir George Grey said that at the earliest period consistent with duty, 218 the Government would be prepared to deal with the question of Parliamentary Reform. Then there were similar extracts from the speeches of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, from the speeches of the Attorney General of that day, and of the Solicitor General. Then there is an extract headed, "Right Hon. Robert Lowe, Vice President of the Committee of Council on Education." And what did he say in 1859, before the Government of the right hon. Gentleman opposite was discharged from the service of the House and of the country? The Right Hon. Robert Lowe says—It will be the duty of the Government to prepare a measure of Reform, and I have every confidence that it will be one which if not fully satisfying men of extreme opinions will be acceptable to the great body of the people.I think the right hon. Gentleman has a very short memory, or else he trifles with this House, Is it conceivable that a man who wrote that in his election address in 1859 should stand up to-night and deliver such a speech as we have heard from him for an hour and a half. I am afraid, Sir, that when under these circumstances men change their opinions after they are fifty years of age there is not much expectation of turning them back again. I feel that I could not with much hope appeal to the right hon. Member for Calne, or to his Colleague the right hon. Member for Stroud—I do not know that I should appeal to the noble Lord the Member for Haddington (Lord Elcho), who, with the exception of the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Marsh), is the only Member at this side of the House who cheers the sentiments of either of the right I hon. Gentlemen, What is the reason, I ask, that Gentlemen who have been holders of office take this course with regard to the Bill of the Government? I will not I deal in any insinuations, but I will say that, from Gentlemen who held office with Ministers in this country, but happened to be I left out of what may be called "the daily ministrations "—we had a right to expect a very minute account of the reasons why they change their opinions before we can turn round and change with them. These; are the Gentlemen who all at once start up as the great teachers of statesmanship in the House and the country. Are they what the right hon. Baronet the Member; for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) spoke of in the recess—are they "the foremost statesmen of the country"—and 219 if so, is there to be a bid by them to take the place of Gentlemen who have not much succeeded as statesmen when in office? In office these right hon. Gentlemen are as docile as any other Gentlemen in office—but I fear, notwithstanding the ideas some people have of my influence with Earl Russell, that I am not able to offer them any arguments on his part that will tell upon them. I do not object for a moment to a Member of this House being fond of office. The Chancellor of the Exchequer lives much more happily in office than he would live if he were out of it—though I do not think he will live quite so long. I do not complain of men who are fond of office, but I could never comprehend the reason they like it so much. If I may parody, or, I should say, make an alteration in a line or two of a stanza of one of the most beautiful poems in our language, I might ask—For who, to dumb forgetfulness a prey,That pleasing, anxious office e're resigned,Left the warm precincts of the Treasury,Nor cast one longing, lingering look behind?What I complain of is this, that when place recedes into the somewhat dim past, that which in office was deemed patriotism vanishes with it. We have one wild howl of despair from these right hon. Gentlemen because it is proposed to diminish the franchise in boroughs from £10 to £7, and to add by so small a proposition as that something to the freedom of the people of this country. The right hon. Gentleman below me (Mr. Horsman) said a little against the Government and a little against the Bill, but had last night a field night for an attack upon so humble an individual as I am. The right hon. Gentleman is the first of the new party who has expressed his great grief by his actions—who has retired into what may be called his political Cave of Adullam—and he has called about him every one that was in distress and every one that was discontented. The right hon. Gentleman has been long anxious to form a party in this House. There is scarcely at this side of the House any one who is able to address the House with effect or to take much part in our debates that he has not tried to bring over to his party or cabal—and lastly, the right hon. Gentleman has succeeded in hooking the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne. I know there was an opinion expressed many years ago by a Member of the Treasury Bench and of the Cabinet, that two men would make a party. When a party is formed of two men so amiable and so 220 disinterested as the two right hon. Gentlemen, we may hope to see for the first time in Parliament a party perfectly harmonious and distinguished by mutual and unbroken trust. But there is one difficulty which it is impossible to remove. This party of two is like the Scotch terrier that was so covered with hair that you could not tell which was the head and which was the tail. The right hon. Member for Calne told us that he had some peculiar election experiences. There are men who make discord wherever they appear. The right hon. Gentleman on going down to Kidderminster got into some unpleasing altercation with somebody, and it ended with his having his head broken. But I am happy to say, and the House will bear witness, that with regard to his power now it is probably as strong as before he took his leave of Kidderminster and went to Calne—a village somewhere in the West of England. The right hon. Gentleman found on the list of electors of Calne about 174 names, of whom, according to the blue book, about seven were working men. I suppose three or four of them were probably keepers of shops, and some of those whom the Chancellor of the Exchequer I think improperly included in his list. When the right hon. Member went down there he found a tumult even more aggravated than at Kidderminster. They did not break his head, but they did something that in the eye of the law was much worse, for they shut up the police in the Town Hall, and the little mob of this little place had the whole game to themselves. The right hon. Gentleman has told us of the polypus, which takes its colour from the rock on which it lives, and he said that some hon. Members take their colours from their constituencies. The constituency which the right hon. Gentleman represents consists of 174 men, seven of whom are working men; but the real constituent of the right hon. Gentleman is a Member of the other House of Parliament, and could send in his butler or his groom, instead of the right hon. Gentleman, to represent the borough. I think in one sense—regarding the right hon. Gentleman as an intellectual gladiator in this House—we are much indebted to the Marquess of Lansdowne that he did not do that. And now, Sir, I said that I want to explain the particulars of this Bill, and to appeal to the good sense and patriotism of hon. Gentlemen opposite. I ask them not to take the disparaging view of their countrymen 221 that has been presented to them by the right hon. Member for Calne and the hon. Member for Salisbury, who, I presume, from their former residence at the Antipodes, seem to take a Botany Bay impression and a Botany Bay view of the character of the great bulk of their countrymen. Why the right hon. Gentleman some nights ago, when I was not here—I recollect I went out to send a letter up to the gallery—said that I, even in the matter of the cattle plague, set class against class. [A laugh,] The hon. Gentlemen opposite, who from the ease with which they are amused must be a most amiable party, laughed at this observation. I ask any man in this House, is it possible to do a thing more perilous than that which is done by the right hon. Gentleman and his Australian Colleague the hon. Member for Salisbury—namely, to make it appear that there is a gulf that shall not be passed between the highest and most powerful and a portion of the middle classes, and the great body of the working people, who are really the heart of this great nation. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that by-and-by, if everybody will wait long enough, everybody will get over this barrier and be inside the franchise. Well, that is no great consolation, if what he has said be true, that by the Bill of the Government we, or our children, shall be eaten up at some future time. Would it not be infinitely better to show our trust in the people now? Of all the follies and crimes which Governments commit, that of a constant distrust of their subjects, of their citizens, of their country, is about the wildest and most foolish. But the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stroud and somebody else who followed him tells us the people are very indifferent about this matter. I think I just caught the hon. Member for Salisbury in the hubbub of the House as he rose to speak, making an observation about the number of petitions, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne said he thought their number was not more than four Well, how many petitions were there previous to 1831? Bear in mind that Lord John Russell had for some time discontinued bringing forward his annual Motion for Parliamentary Reform. In 1821 one petition was presented to the House in favour of Parliamentary Reform. In 1822 there were twelve, in 1823 there were twenty-nine, in the six years that passed between 1824 and 1829 there was not a single petition presented to this 222 House in favour of Parliamentary Reform; and in 1830 there were fourteen petitions—ten more than those with which the right hon. Gentleman made himself merry tonight. And what took place in 1831–2? Why some of you were running for your lives—in the midst of a storm—which you had not foreseen, but which was as inevitable as any storm that arises in the heavens. It was an accident that brought it about—the French Revolution. Well, there are always accidents. A great portion of the things that happen in our lives, so far as we can judge, have the appearance of accidents. But with the accident there was material for a conflagration, and a conflagration arose. I recollect that Mr. Francis Place and others well known to many hon. Members of this House went to the Duke of Wellington as a deputation when he took office after the fall of Lord Grey's Government, and they remonstrated with the Duke—he was not a man who much liked that sort of thing—and they told him what was going on, how dissatisfied the people were, and how perilous they thought the course of the Government in opposing Reform, And what did the Duke say? He was standing warming himself at the fire. He said to these gentlemen, "Whatever comes I am prepared for it. You have got heads on your shoulders, and I would advise you to keep them there." Two or three days afterwards the Duke of Wellington was obliged to resign. The popular feeling in the country and in the metropolis was such that this great soldier who knew no such thing as fear, and who was as honestly disposed for the good of the country as many of us are—such I say was the alarm and the feeling prevalent in the country, that he was obliged to resign, and Lord Grey permitted to come back, and the Reform Bill was eventually carried. I Now, I ask, do hon. Gentlemen think that I no accidents will ever happen again? That accident was in Paris; and in 1848 there was another accident in Paris which was followed by a succession of accidents in other parts of Europe. I recollect at that time a noble Lord who was a Member of this; House and who sat on the other side came J to me to assure me that he had always been in favour of a great extension of the suffrage. I always had the belief that he was afraid of what was coming, and was not quite sure that I should not be a Member of a Provisional Government. I ask hon. Gentlemen whether it is not better to accept a measure so moderate, and if you like, as 223 may be said by many in the country, so inadequate, but still to some extent so good? Is it not better to accept this measure, and show your confidence in the people, than to take the advice of the right hon. Member for Calne—the most revolutionary advice that was ever given in this House—and shut your doors against five millions of people, and tell them that unless they can scramble over this £10 barrier none of them shall ever find a direct representation in this House? The right hon. Member for Stroud talked loudly last night about constitutional rights and constitutional principles. But who was it that made the Constitution of England almost more than any other men in our history? Why surely the men of the first and second Parliaments in the reign of Charles I. Are there not on the Journals of the House—the Clerk could easily find and read them for you—Resolutions of this House which declare that wherever there is not some direct interdiction or contradiction the ancient and common franchise of the people of this country in the towns is the house holding franchise? And do you mean to tell me that Lord Somers, who lived in an after time, was not himself a great authority, and to a large extent one of the builders of our existing Constitution; and yet Lord Somers, being on a Joint Committee in the House of Lords, told a Committee of the House of Commons in conference, that although the Lords were of opinion that no man by birth had any right to an office, yet that by birth he had a right to a vote, ["No, no!"] and that the possession of the vote was the only true security which an Englishman had for the possession of his life and property. ["No, no!"] Well, I am not saying that is my opinion, I am giving you the opinion of a man, one of the greatest in the Parliamentary and historical annals of this country, and therefore I say you, as a party, are neither constitutional nor wise if you put yourselves in opposition to a Bill which is so moderate as this, and by which you might give great satisfaction to vast multitudes of the people of this country. Now, if this Bill be rejected you will show that you are against all Reform. You will show that you have no confidence whatever even in that portion of the population which lives in houses between £10 and £7; whereas if you pass this Bill you will show that you are not cut off altogether from sympathy with the multitudes of your people. I say that there is peril in this, and that every day 224 increases that peril. You have a population divorced almost entirely from the land and shut out from the possession of the franchise. My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) touched on the question of emigration; the right hon. Member for Calne spoke of the intelligence of the people in this way—of their combinations and their associations. We all know that they are reading, debating, thinking, and combining, and they are well aware that in all our colonies, as well as in the United States, the position of their class is wholly different. Now, I think if you do not moderate your tone and your views with regard to the great bulk of the working classes, you will find your country gradually weakened by a constantly increasing emigration. And you will find some accident happening when you will have something more to do than you are asked to do to-night, under threats, and it may be under the infliction of violence. Now, Sir, I said at the beginning that I did not rise to defend this Bill. I rose for the purpose of explaining it. It is not the Bill which, if I had been consulted by its framers, I should have recommended; if I had been a Minister it is not the Bill which I should have consented to present to the House. I think it is not adequate to the occasion, and that its concessions are not sufficient. But I know the difficulties under which Ministers labour, and I know the disinclination of Parliament to do much in the direction of this question. I shall give it my support because as far as it goes it is a simple and an honest measure, and because I believe if it becomes law it will give more solidity and duration to everything that is good in the Constitution, and to everything that is noble in the character of the people of these realms.
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Bright) appears to treat with contempt our discussions upon the question of lowering the franchise. He says that any one looking on would feel a profound contempt when he found that we were debating and raising our passions on a subject so trivial as that of the alteration of the franchise from £10 to £7. Now, I think it must have struck hon. Members as rather remarkable that the hon. Gentleman who treats with such contempt a discussion upon the lowering of the franchise from £ 10 to £7, should have executed not one but three tours through the provinces for the purpose of obtaining a reduction of the franchise 225 from £10 to £6. The hon. Gentleman expressed his disappointment with my right hon. Friends behind me (Mr. Walpole and Mr. Henley) because they were likely to object to the alteration from £8 to £7 But the hon. Gentleman attaches so much importance to the alteration from £10 to £6 as to be worth the agitation of the kingdom, and the reduction to £7 as worthy the approval of this House. We have had an exhibition to-night of what may be called a lovers' quarrel between the hon. Member for Birmingham and the Chancel for of the Exchequer. Now there was nothing said that was calculated to inflict a deep wound upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but just the amount of kind and gentle censure has been administered that would cover the pretence of their being a difference between the hon. Member for Birmingham and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and serve to disguise those common and conjoint intrigues which have been the occupation of the winter. Nobody ever asserted that the particular figure of the franchise was adopted at the instance of the hon. Member for Birmingham. We know that the Government have something else to look to besides that hon. Member; they have to look to certain great, families, to whom it is not entirely-convenient that the political power of the country should pass from the control of property; they have to look to the great Whig party, whose historic traditions are not in favour of democracy; and, consequently, it is possible or certain that the hon. Member for Birmingham has not been able to obtain the precise figure of the franchise he desires. In the main and most important point of this measure, however, the Government have scrupulously and obsequiously followed his dictation. On the chief question which everybody discussed throughout the winter, "Will the Government measure include a redistribution of the seats, or will it deal with the suffrage only?" there was a great difference of opinion among the Radicals. All the old-fashioned Radicals were entirely in favour of including a re-distribution of the seats in the Bill; but all the advanced Liberals, and most moderate Liberals, as well as the hon. Member for Birmingham, adopted a peculiar line of policy. They pressed upon the Government the expediency of dealing with the franchise in the first Bill, leaving the re-distribution of seats for a second Bill. As the hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham is 226 rather skilful in the art of denial, I will venture to read the words he used on this point, He said—I agree, therefore, that it would be an incumbrance to a Suffrage Bill at this moment to interfere with the distribution of scats; it would make it more difficult to carry a Bill, and whatever distribution of scats you could now make must necessarily be trifling and unsatisfactory, and would leave that question still unsettled, even for the shortest possible period. You will carry such a Bill much more easily. Public opinion hereafter will be more ripe to deal with the question of the distribution when there are a larger number of electors returning your Members to Parliament. I mean a larger number in the different boroughs. You will have what a mechanic will call a larger lever and a better Parliament, which would deal more satisfactorily with all questions which may come before you.Now, if I may call the attention of the House at this hour of the night from the declamation of the hon. Member for Birmingham to the sober, prosaic, and somewhat dull statistics on which the Bill is founded, I would earnestly press upon you the consideration of the real consequences of the abandonment of the question of the re-distribution of seats to which the Government has consented. Take first the counties. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has produced a measure which we should have expected from him. Throughout the whole of his political career—and he has passed through many phases of opinion, and shown great varieties of character; but there is one—if I may so call it-—golden link, which connects them, and that is his persistent, undying hatred of the rural interest. I call the attention of hon. Gentlemen who represent counties to the manner in which this peculiar characteristic of the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made itself seen in the Bill which he has presented to the House. The counties as they at present stand with respect to the boroughs have one or two great grievances to complain of. The first is the obvious one that they are to a great extent unrepresented. I believe sixty or seventy Members ought to be added to the counties if you would bring them up to the level of the boroughs in the representation according to population. [An hon. Member: You would require 130?] That may be correct; I am not confident as to the precise number required. But that is not the only grievance under which the counties suffer. A great grievance of which they have a right to complain is this—that throughout many counties there are numbers of unrepre- 227 sented towns, the inhabitants of which are purely urban in their sympathies, and as they enjoy county votes, in conjunction with the freehold votes in the represented towns, they almost entirely swamp the rural interest of the county. If Reformers were just, if their pretences of equity in the distribution of political power were anything more than a sham, they would long ago have recognized the enormous inferiority to which the rural populations are, subject in the electoral system. But what is the Reform Bill to do? Does it remedy this inferiority? On the contrary, it aggravates it enormously. The right hon. Gentleman has made two proposals—one is that there should be a £14 occupation franchise, which is to extend throughout the counties, including the unrepresented boroughs; and the other is a £50 leasehold franchise. The result of this would be that the whole of the population of the boroughs who live in houses of the value of £50 would come into the counties and swamp the county representation. By this means the representation in perhaps more than a quarter of the counties of England would be turned into an urban representation.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
The noble Lord has misapprehended what I stated. What I stated was that we intended to extend to copyholds and leaseholds within boroughs the same privilege as was provided in the Reform Act in reference to freeholds—that there should be votes in such cases for the counties.
I still understand that £50 leaseholds in boroughs will give to the holder a vote for the county.
But still there would be a large number of instances in which, in such cases, votes were not given for boroughs, and to this extent it would intrude urban representation into the counties. What I wish to point out is that the county rural representation is largely overburdened with the urban element already, and instead of remedying that defect the Chancellor of the Exchequer only seeks to aggravate it. What I want hon. Members to observe is this—that if you are to have a Bill for the redistribution of seats, you had much better have it along with the Bill for the extension of the suffrage, in order 228 that you may be able to calculate the effect of each upon the other. The matter is most important in reference to counties, but it is still more important in reference to boroughs. If seats are to be taken away from certain places, they ought in justice to be given to those unrepresented towns which at present are overwhelming the counties. Feeling the extreme importance of this question, I must ask the attention of the House to a few statistics, that hon. Members may have a fair statement of the case. I have not heard in this House the number of boroughs which will fall entirely into the hands of the working-classes, if the franchise of the Chancellor of the Exchequer be adopted. The right hon. Gentleman told us that he had gone cursorily over the boroughs; but I wish, with his great intellectual power, he had gone carefully over them all; for had he done so, I think his conclusions would have been slightly modified. I have taken out of the list the boroughs which, if a £7 franchise be adopted, will be handed over to the majority of the working-classes; and if I may so far trespass on the indulgence of the House, I should very much like to read them. They are Beverley, Coventry, Greenwich, Maldon, Newcastle, St. Ives, and Stafford. Then I come to those towns which an £8 franchise would give into the hands of the majority of the working-classes—namely, Bridgewater, Birkenhead, Chatham, Devonport, Lincoln, Northampton, Nottingham, Canterbury, Lancaster, Leicester, Maidstone, Oxford, Ryde, Rochester, Salford, Southampton, Southwark, Yarmouth, Pembroke, West-bury, Worcester, and Walsall. Perhaps, however, the right hon. Gentleman will object to my including Devonport in this list, seeing that he proposes to disfranchise the employés in the dockyard; but from what has transpired in the course of the debate, I am led to believe that he will not. The boroughs that a £7 franchise would hand over to majorities of the working-classes, are, Chester, Hastings, Marlow, Scarborough, Cheltenham, Colchester, Durham, Bristol, Monmouth, Dover, Guildford, Hereford, Hythe, Marlborough, Newark, Newport, Shrewsbury, Tamworth, Derby, Birmingham, Bolton, Bury, Cambridge, Dudley, Gateshead, Hull, Liverpool, Macclesfield, Manchester, Newcastle-on-Tyne, Oldham, Peterborough, Preston, Rye, South Shields, Stoke, Sunderland, Warrington, Wigan, Winchester, Wolverhampton, Yarmouth, Beaumaris, Cardiff, Car- 229 marthen, Haverford-west, and Montgomery. The results are that in seven boroughs, which have thirteen Members, the working-classes have the majority at a rental of above £10; in twenty-two boroughs, which furnish forty Members, they have it at £8; and in forty-seven boroughs, which furnish eighty Members, they have it at £70. So that there is a total of 133 seats, which, if this Bill passes, would be absolutely at the disposal of the working-classes, I have taken these figures entirely from the statistics of the Government, but I have not allowed for those causes of incapacity or double register, some of which are to be removed by this Bill, and some of which will continue to operate, and I have taken no account of the proposed lodger franchise—two things which may balance each other. I think you may take it that 133 Members will be handed over to the working-classes if this Bill should pass. What relation have they to the 334 English borough Members in this House? They will not be a majority; you tell me that there are 201 remaining that are distinctly middle-class seats, against 133 working-class seats, which still leaves a considerable middle-class majority. Remembering these figures, I want you to consider the question of the re-distribution of seats. It so happens that almost all the cities that are likely to be disfranchised are on the middle-class side of the account, and not on the working-class side of it. In the Bill of the Government of Lord Aberdeen, introduced in 1854, which I take as the latest instance of disfranchisement, I find fifty five middle-class seats taken from boroughs a proposal which, coupled with this Bill, would hand over a majority of seats to the working-classes. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, who has left the House, as he usually does, after he has spoken ["Not 'right honourable!'"] Oh, I was thinking of the rumours of the winter—told an audience some years ago, as the House has been already reminded by the right hon. Member for Calne, that any Bill for the re-distribution of seats should be repudiated which did not give a larger number to the large towns. It is a point to be noticed that, in the division I have drawn between working-class seats—constituencies where the working-class are in a majority—and the middle-class seats where they are not, the large towns fall on the side of the working-class, and the towns to be disfranchised fall on the middle- 230 class. In the schedules of 1854 there are no less than forty-five Members who would be taken from middle-class seats, and according to the dictum of the hon. Member for Birmingham, who, we all know, advises the Government in these matters, would be transferred to the working class side of the account. Add thirty-five to 133, and you will find you will have 168 Members who will be absolutely at the disposal of the working-class, and who will form an absolute majority of the borough Members in this House, I think hon. I Gentlemen will admit I have made out my case, that it is of vital importance, before you consent to this particular reduction of the franchise, that you should see what are the schedules which the Government propose to introduce. Unless you: can see them and have them in the same; Bill, so that you can insure that the two will be carried together, you may be thrown over at any moment, and you may find that a franchise not introduced with the intention of leaving the working-class in a majority leaves them absolute masters of the country. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted that a measure handing over the boroughs to a majority of the working-classes ought not to meet with the acceptance of the House. I think he used the word "sudden," as if he seemed to contemplate that the working-class might govern us at some future time; but, confining ourselves to the present, he did not seem to entertain any such opinion. With these prospects before us, we have a right to ask for some consideration for a class not much thought of now. What are we to say of the owners of property if such a Bill as this passes into law? We often hear of the anomaly of excluding a large number of working men from the representation. There is another anomaly in our Constitution of which we hear much less. We never hear of the great anomaly that the wealth and property of this country is absolutely unrepresented in a technical sense. The whole centre of gravity of the Constitution is placed upon the voters between £20 and £10. All the wealth that lies above them, all the numbers that lie below them, are equally excluded from direct representation. If you talk of anomalies, there is anomaly on both sides, and the policy of the Bill of 1832 was intelligible enough—whether rightly or wrongly I do not say—to trust to indirect influence on both sides, to trust to the influence of property from above, and to trust to the 231 enormous influence numbers have below on the tradesmen they employ, in the hope of thus obtaining a fair representation in Parliament by giving to the central class the whole nominal power of the country. I have no objection to correct anomalies if you correct them fairly and fully. I have no objection to see our Constitution made as theoretical and symmetrical as you please; but if you are resolved to correct the anomaly by which numbers are excluded from the Constitution, you must correct also the anomaly by which wealth is excluded. It is madness to talk of correcting anomalies by putting weights into the balance on one side and not into that on the other. Those who entirely neglect, as the Government appear to do, the case of wealth, forget what this House exists to do. Its main object is the management of finance, the collection and the expenditure of taxes, and one would think à priori, if you introduce an ideal philosophy to determine what the Constitution should be, you would allow the people to vote in the expenditure of the taxes, somewhat in proportion to the amount they contribute. You would think that abstract justice would require that the man who contributed £10,000 a year should have rather more voice in the distribution of the taxes than the man who contributed £10 a year. But in that respect your Constitution is absolutely anomalous; you pay no regard whatever to the man who contributes largely; you allow your policy to be regulated entirely by those who pay smaller sums, and then you complain that your Constitution does not regard the claims of numbers. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board told us that there was a practical grievance he wanted a more Liberal Parliament to redress, and that was that it had taken a very long period to pass a measure of free trade. I was rather surprized at him advancing that consideration. He must have wholly overlooked the state of opinion in the democracies of the world upon free trade. I should have thought that, if there was one thing better established than another it was that in proportion as you advance in democratic form of Government, in that proportion is the doctrine of protection to native industry cherished. I would recommend free traders to study opinion in democratic nations—in Australia, the United States, Canada, and France. In each of these countries you 232 have a much wider suffrage than you have here, in each free trade doctrines are scorned. The statement of the right hon. Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe) that the working-class, if admitted to the suffrage, would make demands inconsistent with our present views of what is expedient and just, was challenged by the President of the Poor Law Board. He stated that no such unreasonable demands were made. That seemed to me so direct a contradiction of notorious facts, that I obtained a statement of what the demands of the working-class really are, and what you will have to grant if you do—as I have shown you do by this Bill—give to the working-class a practical majority in the House of Commons. I wish to refer to some of the meetings to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne alluded, as the President of the Poor Law Board has had the hardihood to challenge the accuracy of the statement made with respect to the extravagant demands of the working-classes. At a meeting of delegates in St. Martin's Hall, I find that—Mr. Odger, shoemaker, in moving the first resolution, said that the House of Commons and former Governments had not kept faith with the people on the question of Parliamentary Reform.[Mr. Bright: From what is the noble Lord quoting?] From the report in The Times. [Mr. BRIGHT: That does not prove it correct.] The hon. Gentleman is not, I believe, very fond of The Times, but if The Morning Star contains a more correct report, I shall be happy to refer to it. Now, Mr. Odger is an important man. He is a friend of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He is the man who stimulated the right hon. Gentleman to make that rash pledge with respect to universal suffrage which he delivered some time ago. We all know how the Chancellor of the Exchequer influences us, and it is easy to conceive the person who influences the Chancellor of the Exchequer must be a very great man indeed. Well, then, Mr. Odger says that—The House of Commons and former Governments had not kept faith with the people on the question of Parliamentary Reform.That I believe.A Reform Bill was promised, but nothing short of manhood suffrage would satisfy the working men of this country. It was necessary, moreover, that there should be no long waiting in this matter.He then goes on to say— 233Give them votes, and they would see that the poor man's daughter, who was worked twelve, fourteen, and sixteen hours a day, should have time to go abroad and view the face of nature.As I understand it, therefore, one of the results of Parliamentary Reform would be to abridge the hours of labour for the poor man's daughter. Now, I have as great sympathy for the poor man's daughter as the right hon. Gentleman or the hon. Member for the City of London; but I should wish it to be explained to us by what special course of legislation the poor man's daughter is to be enabled to view the face of nature as a consequence of Parliamentary Reform. Mr. Odger proceeds—They would prevent the poor agricultural labourer from working for 8s. a week. All men who were willing to work should have work provided for them.Now, I would appeal to the apostles of political economy to know what is the nature of the legislation by which this result is to be obtained. These are things which are not regulated by wishes, hut by the in flexible laws of supply and demand. That reminds me of one of the commonplaces connected with the French Revolution—I speak of the last, not of the old Revolution—one of the great achievements of which was to be that all men should have work who were willing to labour. There were to be ateliers nationaux, and such, I suppose, would be expected to be one of the first re suits of Parliamentary Reform. This is a matter of serious consideration when we are invited to give our assent to a Bill which will give the working-classes an absolute majority of the representation in the Mouse of Commons. Even if the Bill should pass we know that they will not succeed in the attainment of these objects which are so much in violation of the truths of political economy, but the attempt to do so might be more disastrous than the success of the measures themselves. The very fact that, the men whom they trust as their speakers and delegates at political meetings urge such subjects on the notice of their hearers, ought to be sufficient to warn you of the danger of the course upon which you are about to enter when you propose to give the working-classes entire and undisputed control over the policy of Parliament. I have heard no argument which should at all reconcile us to this danger, except the commonplace argument that the proposal which is made is a settlement of the question. Now, I should like to ask what is meant by the word "settlement?" 234 Do you believe that if you pass this measure the question of Reform will never make its appearance again? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Villiers) endeavoured to show us how futile were the fears of those who dreaded the enfranchisement of a large portion of the population, and pointed to the Bill of 1832 as our model for the judgment we should form as to the future. But what, let me ask, does that precedent teach us? We know that the measure of 1832 was passed in the belief that it would be a settlement of the question; but we also know that no sooner was it passed than politicians were found who urged a further extension of the franchise and a more rapid progress towards democracy. We know that these men went on for a few years apparently disregarded and unable to influence the policy of the country; but what afterwards happened? If we take the events of the past for our guidance, we must conclude that something like this is a fair picture of the future:—"We shall pass this Bill and a measure for the redistribution of seats as a sequel. No sooner have we done that than the hon. Member for Birmingham, or, perhaps, some demagogue keener than he who may supplant him, will urge the further claims of the people based on such arguments as those of Mr. Odger. We shall again hear all the old arguments in favour of trusting the working-classes, couched in the same sentimental language to which we have listened to-night. We shall be asked to barter away the power of imposing taxation, and to hand over the right to expend it, not on any sound principle, or upon any intelligible security, but merely on the principle of giving a trusting and ungrudging boon to the people. After these arguments have been urged for a time the Minister of the day will find that be cannot keep the Liberal party together unless he gives some countenance to them. He will pledge himself to a Reform Bill. He will impress on his followers the expediency of passing such a measure. He will press it, forward it once, twice, or three times, and then perhaps withdraw it, and bid the country "rest and be thankful." But at last his own selfish and restless egotism will prevail over every other consideration. He will urge on his reluctant followers, and force by all the pressure of that machinery which party can supply, to introduce yet another reduction of the franchise, and make another step towards complete demo- 235 cracy. Is that, I would ask, an improbable picture? Look back to what has taken place since 1832. Apply the parallel; judge of the future by the light of the past, and you will, I think, recognize the justice of the prophecy that this cannot be a final settlement of the question. The same causes which induce a Minister to disturb the settlement of 1832 will induce a future Minister to disturb the settlement of 1866. You will have the same arguments repeated. The same process will take place, be it through a period of few years or many, as has taken place between 1832 and the present time; and, if you accept that instance as your guide, it is certain that at a complete democracy you must arrive at last, and that, perhaps, within no very distant period. I hope we shall not pay much attention to the threats which the hon. Member for Birmingham so freely displayed before us to-night. He has hinted very broadly that if we do not pass this Bill "an accident" will happen. I confess I, for one, am not afraid that such an accident can be produced by his agency. Most of us must have read of the acute Buffering which was undergone before the Reform Bill of 1832 was passed. Under that suffering it is conceivable that almost any political convulsion might take place. If such a convulsion should, unfortunately, ever again befal this country—which I can hardly believe, for such a combination of causes can scarcely again take place—then it may be well to imagine that the strength of mind of our public men will be once more tested, and that the institutions of the country will be subjected to a severe trial; and if, unfortunately, it should happen that that period should be coincident with the reign of a not very steadfast King and a revolutionary time, I can well believe that another Reform Bill, as violent, or more violent than that of 1832, might be demanded, I do not dispute the possibility, though I doubt the probability, of such an event. But I am certain of this, that nothing you can do now can diminish the danger or disaster which you will then have to face. Whether you lower the franchise to £8, to £7, or to £6 will be absolutely immaterial in the face of such a tempest as that. If you have to meet a storm of that magnitude, it will not avail you to have tampered with the bulwarks of the Constitution now. Rather, I should say, economize your strength, keep the Constitution in that condition that the decision of the more educated and the calmer 236 classes can for the time, at any rate, make head against the violent impulses of the populace, and you will possibly be able to ride over even such a tempest as that. But if you yield now, far from conquering every such danger, far from diminishing the violence of such attack, the only result will be that you will be weaker to confront it, and the hurricane will be more terrible than if you had not Yielded.
§ MR.JOHN HARDY (Dartmouth)
said, it was easy to make quotations from previous speeches of the right hon. Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe), but the passages quoted only showed that the right hon. Gentleman had now grown older and wiser. The Chancellor of the Exchequer appeared also to have changed his views; for whatever might be his present opinion, he never remembered to have read a more constitutional speech than that which he uttered in favour of the small boroughs some years ago. He (Mr. J. Hardy) was not ashamed to say that he represented one of these small boroughs. On the contrary, from that very circumstance, he occupied a more independent position than those who entered the House returned by a large constituency and pledged to support a Reform Bill. When he came into the House that evening he heard the Ministerial Benches cheering the hon. Member for Birmingham, and he did not wonder at it. They appeared to him to have been in the position of a man who had sat all day with his feet in the water trying to get a "rise;" and he did not feel surprised that they should be glad at having at last found some one to give the Bill a good word, He thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer had begun at the wrong end. Had he introduced a Bill for the re-distribution of seats, with one or two fancy franchises, as they were called, he should have supported the measure. But the proposal to lower the franchise to the people instead of raising the people to the franchise seemed to him extremely objectionable. The right hon. Gentleman said that a reduction to £6 would swamp the constituencies, and yet he felt himself justified in going to within a pound of the limit which he declared to be so dangerous. Had these statistics been in the hands of the Government at an earlier date, perhaps a different figure would have been mentioned. It really seemed as if some sporting Member of the Cabinet had called out "Seven is the main," had thrown the dice, and thereupon the matter had been settled. 237 Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House were always so ready to promise sacrifices which cost them nothing, so freely gave promissory notes upon the Constitution, that Conservatives who had principles could not keep pace with their opponents in elasticity of conscience. The species was nearly extinct, but he was one of the few remarkable beings who had never given a pledge, either upon the hustings or in the House. Whig candidates had two distinct sets of professions—one for use with Radical constituencies, and the other reserved for counties disposed towards Conservatism, In the celebrated case of Lord Amberley a Radical conversion had been effected in a single night. Nobody entertained a higher respect for the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer than he did, though he had consistently opposed him at Oxford, and as the result proved, perhaps he was right in the end. The right hon. Gentleman was as conscientious a man as anybody in that House. But what was the good of con science? It was a good thing, capital thing for home consumption, but a man in public life needed political principles; and he had never yet been able to find out what the political principles of the Chancellor of the Exchequer were? Now, he brought in a Bill for a £7 franchise, which he said ought to be a £6 one. Well, then, why was it not? Why did he not bring in a definite Bill, first of all dealing with the re-distribution of seats? There was an aristocracy of wealth and talent, why should there not be a £10 aristocracy of electors? When everything else was rising in value, why should they lower the franchise? There was no need for the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Baines) to run about Leeds looking for voters in the kennels. When the right hon. Member for Calne told them they would lower the House of Commons in the eyes of the world by lowering the franchise, he perfectly agreed with him. He was not afraid of the working-classes, but he should not like to see the House of Commons tilled with Fear-gus O'Connors; yet that Gentleman was looked up to as a great oracle in Yorkshire. He did not want to detain the House, but it appeared to him that Gentlemen who, under false pretences, occupied seats below the gangway, and who were always at the beck and call of the Ministry, thought that they were the only Members who ought to be heard. They came up from such places as Leeds raging for Reform, took their seats 238 on that Bench, and sunk down to the Bedford level of Reform, and were so kind to the House that they must give it their opinions upon every question in debate. What did the House care for their opinions? He had sat still and listened so long that really it was easier to speak than to listen, on tin1 principle that being no smoker, if he went into the smoking-room he was obliged to take a cigar because the atmosphere was so intolerable to him; and he had been now listening for so many years to speeches from hon. Members that he was obliged to speak. The hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) was so extremely peaceable that the other night he objected to the word "defend" being incorporated into the Oaths Bill, and at the same time he sat for a borough which only lived by the manufacture of small arms. He wondered that such a borough kept him in the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had as a preliminary step to this Bill, got together a great number of statistics. He (Mr. J. Hardy) hated statistics—but the; right hon. Gentleman had thought proper to bring before them the statistics of all the constituencies. Many hon. Members who sat on the other side of the House were overridden by their constituents, and no doubt the Members for Westminster and Finsbury would support the Bill. The Tower Hamlets were represented by common sense in that House—but what would they all arrive at if their constituents were multiplied? He, for one, should give his hearty opposition to the Bill.
§ MR. HIBBERT
(who was almost inaudible owing to continued cries for an Adjournment or Division) was understood to say that he wished to say a few words as to the extent to which the town he represented (Oldham) would be affected by the I Bill. It would be open for some other Member to move the adjournment after he had done. He was not prepared to accept as accurate the Return of the number of working men with votes in the town he represented. The first Return to the Poor Law Board stated the number at 480, but in the number were included not only shopkeepers but beerhouse-keepers and small farmers. The population of Oldham was 107,000, and only 2,085 were at present on the register. Of that number 315 had been returned as working men, while the number ought not to have been more than 150. Instead of one in eight the proportion ought to be one in sixteen. 239 In Rochdale the proportion was one in twenty-nine. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne had stated that a natural extension of the franchise was taking place owing to increase of wealth. By a Return he held in his hand, it appeared that six large towns around Manchester had in 1851 a population of 172,000 and 10,000 electors. Since then the population had increased to 377,000, but the electors had not increased at that rate. The workmen in the town which he represented did not hire a £10 house, because they could get a good comfortable house for £7 or £6 rent. Though the Bill did not go so far as he wished, he would give it every support. There were some Members on the Ministerial side of the House who sought to do the work of the Opposition, but he hoped that they would unite to enable the Government to deal with this question and to carry the Bill by a large majority.
§ SIR RAINALD KNIGHTLEY moved the adjournment of the debate. [Cries of "Divide!" and "Adjourn!"]
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
certainly did not wish to check the course of the debate if it was the desire of the House to continue it. But he confessed he was a little sceptical on that point, seeing that twice during the evening the debate was only very narrowly saved from extinction. ["No, no!"] He should, therefore, like to know whether there was really any general desire on the part of the House to continue the discussion; if so, he should not oppose the adjournment.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned,"—(Sir Rainald Knightley,)—put, and negatived.
§ SIR RAINALD KNIGHTLEY
said, he had no wish to trespass on the attention of the House if the desire was that the debate should not be adjourned. He wished, however, to confirm what had been stated by his noble Friend the Member for Stamford (Viscount Cranbourne) relative to the great inequality in the representation of towns and counties. According to the Census of 1861, it appeared that the county Members represented nearly three times the population of the boroughs. The inhabitants of the boroughs also, in addition to returning their own Members, exercised a very great influence in the returns for the counties. By this Bill it was proposed to give the additional privilege of double voting,
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, there would be no double vote in county and borough in respect of the same qualification.
§ SIR RAINALD KNIGHTLEY
thought that was a mere quibble. A person having a property of £12 value virtually had two votes—one for a £10 house and the other for the county in respect of a small garden attached.
§ MR. W. E. DUNCOMBE
wished to put a Question to the right hon. Gentleman with respect to the Electoral Returns. He wished to know why there had been no Return of the number of 40s. freeholders in the counties, and whether the right hon. Gentleman would direct Returns to be made, not only stating the number of the 40s. freeholders in each county, but also the number of such freeholders who belong to the working classes. He knew that there were a large number of 40s. freeholders belonging to the working classes who had not been included in these Returns.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
rather believed that the blue book did contain the number of 40s. freeholders. ["No!"] He was not quite certain, but such was his impression. If not, he would endeavour to ascertain whether there were the means of producing such a Return. He thought the Return was already contained in some Parliamentary paper.
§ MR. W. E. DUNCOMBE
wished to know if there were the means of ascertaining the number of 40s. freeholders who belonged to the working classes?
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, there were no such means. He did not think it would be possible to obtain such a Return. There was the machinery by which the numbers could be ascertained, with very considerable delay, as respected the boroughs, but not as regarded the counties. Nor was there any reason for seeking it, because there was no question of giving the working classes the franchise for the counties. Having stated that it appeared to him there was no desire the debate should be adjourned, he would not trouble the House with any reply. He would only say that the Government were quite content with the course of the dicussion, and perfectly satisfied that their measure would receive full, fair, and earnest consideration at the hands of the House of Commons.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.241
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. CHANCELLOR of the Exchequer, Sir GEORGE GREY, and Mr. VILLIERS.
§ Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 68.]