HC Deb 23 March 1866 vol 182 cc851-6

Sir, in rising to move that the House at its rising adjourn to Monday, the 9th of April, I think it may be convenient, in reference to the course of business after the Recess, that I should state the view which the Government take of some important notices placed on the paper of the House, and particularly—not for the purpose of argument, but for the purpose of information to the House—particularly with regard to the notice of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Kinglake). That notice is in the form of a notice of a Question to be put to me—the hon. Member has given notice of his intention to ask me, "Whether in the course of the Easter recess the Government will take into consideration the expediency of proceeding by Resolutions, towards a settlement of the questions relating to the Representation of the People." In answer to my hon. Friend, I have to say that, the Government having introduced a Bill for the purpose of dealing with the franchise in England and Wales, our intention is to persevere with that Bill, and that we do not intend to proceed by way of Resolution. The next Notice of Motion relates to an Amendment to be proposed on the second reading of the Bill by my noble Friend the Member for Chester (Earl Grosvenor). With respect to that Motion, I would simply say—speaking of the Mover and the Motion in different senses, for no one who knows my noble Friend can speak of him in other terms than of the highest respect and regard, but Motions and Movers are very different things—with respect to the Motion, I have to state that it is the intention of the Government to resist it. They will resist it upon the ground—first, that it is a Motion which, as far as we can judge, says one thing and means another; and secondly, on the ground that it is, in our judgment, a direct vote of want of confidence in the existing Administration. Then there is another Motion to which the hon. Member for Bridgwater has attached his name. The Motion of my noble Friend the Member for Chester has reference to the second reading, but the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater refers to something to be done in the interval between the second reading and the Committee on the Bill, and presumes the second reading to have received the assent of the House of Commons. The hon. Member proposes to move— That it is not expedient to go into Committee on the said Bill, until this House shall have before it the expected Bill for the re-distribution of seats. Perhaps I may be permitted to remind the House of what I have already stated, or rather what I have already stated on the authority of the Government, and on their behalf. We consider it part of the obligation we undertook to deal with the question of the re-distribution of seats, and we likewise gave it as our opinion that that question may be properly dealt with by the Parliament which now exists. My hon. Friend, in addition, asks for a specific explanation of our intentions. We are not unwilling to give that explanation. After the second reading and before the Committee we shall be prepared to state distinctly to the House our intentions with respect to the franchise in Scotland and Ireland, and all the questions connected with the re-distribution of seats; and as we wish to convey those intentions in a form most convenient to the House, and to place the House in the fullest manner in possession of them, we shall put them in the form of Bills, and lay those Bills on the table. At the same time, I cannot state too distinctly to the House, as we are desirous, above all things, not to be misunderstood, that our intention in laying the Bills on the table is confined at the present time to the object I have named—that of giving information to the House—and that we propose to proceed with the Bill relat- ing to the franchise in England and Wales in the manner we originally announced, and with that Bill exclusively until its fate is determined. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving, "That this House do at its rising adjourn to Monday, the 9th of April."


Sir, I am not in one sense surprised at the announcement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, though I confess I am so in another. I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the manner in which he has referred to my name in connection with the Motion of which I have given notice; but I have no wish or desire to separate myself in any way from that Resolution, The views of many hon. Members with whom I have the honour to act, as well as my own, on this question, are, that before we legislate on any part of the great Question of Parliamentary Reform it is necessary that we should have before us all the other Bills alluded to by the right hon. Gentleman, and that we should consider the Question as a whole. I wish, therefore, to ask the right hon. Gentleman, whether he still intends to proceed with the second reading of the Franchise Bill before the House shall have an opportunity of considering the other Bills which ho proposes to lay upon the table? [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: Unquestionably.] The principle of a Bill is generally considered to be dealt with on the second reading. I believe that the principle of that Bill and the principle of the other Bills are so intimately connected that I cannot myself see that it would be possible or statesmanlike to take the sense of the House on the second reading of the Franchise Bill before the House shall have had an opportunity of considering all those measures and the whole of the proposals relating to the subject; neither do I think the House will consent to such a course as that proposed by Her Majesty's Government.


The noble Lord has just said that the second reading of a Bill is the occasion which Parliament provides for the consideration of its principle. Now, Sir, it is precisely for that reason that I propose the Motion for carrying to a later period of the existence of the Bill the objection to which I refer. The period when you are considering the principle of the Bill is the very last on which you are entitled to approach it by any objection founded on external circum- stances. I entertain quite as strongly as the noble Lord entertains an objection to the idea of separating the question of the franchise from that of the re-distribution of seats; but while I have determined that I will give effect to that objection by my vote in this House, I will choose my own time for submitting the Amendment to the House. It seems to me very clear that the period of the second reading is the very last you could choose for objections of that kind. The Motion for leave to bring in the Bill would, I think, have afforded a proper opportunity; but the most appropriate occasion for my Motion is when, after having expressed our opinion on the Bill, we are invited to go into the consideration of its details. I, for one, am in a situation which I believe to be common to many hon. Gentlemen in this House I am in the situation of having over and over again committed myself to the principle which is to be affirmed in this Bill. Am I to follow the noble Lord so far as to evade the opportunity of declaring ray opinion on the principle of the Bill? I have now to say that I have taken this mode of giving effect to the view I entertain, and I prepare for myself an opportunity of asserting the principle on which the noble Lord has founded his objection quite as efficient as his would be; but I make it consistent with the opportunity of voting on the question of the principle of the Bill. I am also not ashamed to say that I am glad to find I can make my view consistent with a vote which is not hostile to the party with which I have the honour to act.


After what has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I wish to be permitted to say a few words with reference to the Motion which stands in my name for the 10th of April next. That Motion is for the purpose of collecting data and statistics on which we may determine the question whether a re-distribution of seats and a rearrangement of boundaries are necessary. I gave that notice not from a desire to embarrass Her Majesty's Government, but to draw forth a clear and distinct assurance that a Bill for the re-distribution of seats is regarded by them as an essential part of a scheme of Reform. After what has fallen from my right hon. Friend I am satisfied that want of time, and want of time alone, is the reason why the other Bills could not be brought in at the same time with the Franchise Bill, as stated in the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and as I now find that he will, concurrently with the Franchise Bill passing a second reading, lay on the table the data and materials on which the other two Bills are framed, I feel that I am not called on to pursue my Motion further. I now beg to withdraw it, and on the understanding that these further materials are to be collected, and that the other measures are to be proceeded with, I shall give my vote for the second reading of the Franchise Bill.


Sir, it is proverbial that to change your front in the face of an enemy is always a very perilous operation; and I cannot say that I think the course adopted by the Chancellor of the Echequer to-night is an exception to the rule. So far as I can learn from the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, we are much in the same position as we were before—we are called upon to take a leap in the dark. What is objected to in the Amendment of the noble Lord who has recently addressed the House is, I understand, this—that the Government having indulged in very vague and general allusions to a large scheme or schemes of Parliamentary re-construction have favoured us with a definite measure on one portion of it only, and that one which, in the opinion of the noble Lord, and, as I believe, in the opinion of a majority of the House and the country, cannot properly be dealt with unless we had every information as to the other portions of the subject. Well, now, the right hon. Gentleman does not at all pretend that we are to be in any other position than we were when he made his statement. We are to proceed with the Bill respecting the franchise, and we are to be favoured with what he has called the views of the Government on the other questions. True, he says they are to be put in the form of Bills, but they are Bills that are not to be proceeded with. Sir, I think this is trifling with the House. Sir, it is obvious that this great question has been introduced to us by men who have not well considered it; who have changed their opinions constantly during the time it was preparing for the consideration of the House. There is evidence of great inconsistency, of great want of judgment, of great wavering; and, as always happens, timidity and precipitation are nearly allied. The right hon. Gentleman spoke as if he had solved a great difficulty; but the fact is he has not touched it—he has only evaded it—and the House is left in the same nebulous state in regard to the policy of the Government as they were before. What security have we if this Franchise Bill pass that any of the other Bills of the Government will ever be passed either during this or any other Session? The House may be betrayed into the most precipitate decision on points connected with the subject which never can be brought to any happy solution except with reference to other topics which the Government will not now deal with; and the country is left in a state of complete mystification. If I might presume to offer any advice to the Government, which their numerous Cabinet Councils, so hurriedly called, show they are in want of, I would say this—that a Government which has to deal with a great Question in the House of Commons, and wishes to treat it successfully, should, above all things, treat the House of Commons with frankness.