§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Clay.)
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Sir, I am sorry that it falls to my lot to oppose the second reading of this Bill. At the same time, I must say I never rose to discharge a disagreeable duty with a more perfect conviction that the House will concur in my proposal that the Motion of my hon. Friend be rejected, should he persevere in pressing it upon the House. I think it better to move its rejection rather than to pick out from it, as might easily have been done, some invidious topics. It would have been easy for me to have pursued the course which is in fashion elsewhere—to have taken some of the provisions of the Bill of my hon. Friend and have exposed them in an invidious isolation; to have said that the whole measure was so ill-considered that it was much better not to proceed with it. Had I, however, adopted such a course, I should have deemed myself acting in a manner unworthy of this House, and justly offensive to my hon. Friend. I am sure, therefore, I may rely upon him to appreciate the motives which induce me—should he intend to proceed to a division on the Bill—instead of occupying any narrower ground, to meet the Motion for the second reading by the Amendment that the Bill be read a second time this day six months. I do not deny to my hon. Friend that there is something abstractedly good in an educational test, provided it could be reduced to a form of extreme simplicity. If some test, simple, definite, and unambiguous in its character, 1478 could be devised—some test capable of being applied to voters of all classes without raising odious distinctions between man and man according to the circumstances in which it may have pleased Providence to place them—I think that if all these conditions could be absolutely fulfilled, it might be wise to require that all classes of persons should conform to this educational test. The nearest approach to a condition of this nature that suggests itself to my mind is, that the voter should be required to sign his own name, and that nothing but the signature of the voter in his own hand-writing should be admitted as making up the condition of a good and valid claim to the franchise. But it is quite plain, I think, upon consideration, that such a test would break down. It would be impossible to determine what should be the character of the signature required for such a purpose. Every kind of absurd and even painful conditions would arise. Some persons might labour under temporary disability, others might have lost the strength sufficient to guide the pen, and a great many signatures even of men of education are absolutely illegible. [A laugh.] I hope that the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite does not imply by his laugh that the signature of the humble person addressing the House is illegible. I may, however, mention a circumstance illustrating my remarks. It occurred in the case of a gentleman who had the honour of being appointed Under Secretary of State for the Foreign Department under Lord Aberdeen—not Mr. Canning, for his handwriting, like the rest of his character, was of the most finished description. Almost the first act in the official life of this gentleman was to send to Lloyd's a notification of a blockade. This notification had to be inserted in the Gazette, and no doubt it was sent at the last moment. Its publication was absolutely necessary, and though the letter appeared in the Gazette perfectly correct in its terms, it ended, "I have the honour to remain, your obedient servant (name illegible)." It does not therefore, I think, require any very elaborate arguments to show that a test of the nature I have referred to could not possibly be applied with success. I think there is no such shape in which the educational test could be successfully applied; but, without committing myself to that as an abstract proposition, I may, at all events, remark that my hon. Friend in his Bill has not succeeded in discovering it. My first objection to the Bill is, that 1479 there is no presumptive or primâ facie ground for it whatever. At present our electoral system is totally devoid of any educational test, and no one finds that there is any serious necessity for such a teat to the working of our system. I do not admit, when any enlargement of the electoral system is proposed, that such an enlargement arises from any such necessity. It does not arise on the ground that the persons proposed to he admitted to these privileges are unfit to exercise the functions. That the House has never declared. The House, on the contrary, has read a second time, without any objection being taken to its second reading, a Bill for establishing the £7 franchise in the boroughs of this country. That proposition has received the unanimous assent of the House, and I do not, therefore, think that my hon. Friend is in a position to say that, on the score of unfitness, it is necessary to invent an educational test by way of qualification to that Bill. But, then, where is the necessity? My hon. Friend does not propose to remove the present qualifications. He does not require gentlemen to pay a 1 s. or 1 s. 6d. to travel to a place to be examined to see whether they are fit to vote. He leaves all existing franchises in operation, and he proposes this as an addition which is required by the limit now put to the franchise. Is it to be supposed that the numbers it is now proposed by other Bills to admit to the electoral system are such that it is necessary to restrain their admission by an educational test? The only case in which I can conceive my hon. Friend would have a primâ facie warrant for introducing such a measure as this would he a case in which it was proposed to admit at a single blow the entire population of the country. It would in that case be fair for my hon. Friend to say, "This addition is so enormous that it amounts to an absorption of the present constituencies, and, without alleging any unfitness against the persons whom it is proposed to enfranchise, I would limit the number by an educational test." But, whether there would or would not then he ground for this measure, it is not necessary to express an opinion upon that proposition, because the persons whom it is proposed to enfranchise are very few in number compared with those who at present enjoy the privilege; and those of the working classes whom it is proposed to admit would form a compara- 1480 tively insignificant minority of the whole constituent body. Then I might tale exception to the Bill of my hon. Friend—an objection derived from the exactly opposite quarter—because it proceeds upon the principle of universal suffrage. Undoubtedly we desire to see the whole of the people educated; we hope that, if not we, yet our children may live to see attained that by no means Utopian object which embraces a state of things wherein every man shall be possessed of a certain amount of education. I take it for granted that if the franchise in America or Prussia were ordered according to the provisions of this Bill the result would be little less than universal suffrage in those countries. But I am not by any means disposed to enter upon discussions about universal suffrage, nor do I want to be committed to the principle asserted by my hon. [Friend, that all shall be enfranchised who could pass the test he desires to impose by this Bill. That is very well for an individual opinion, and the introduction of the Bill is a safe way of indulging extreme Liberal views, because my hon. Friend may at once have the credit of all the philanthropy and enlightenment which can possibly attach to the most advanced school of opinion, and likewise the luxury of a corrective consideration that his Bill if it should pas3—which he knows is entirely out of the question—and become law, it would be almost as inoperative as if it had never been introduced. But the measure of my hon. Friend does involve in that respect the placing of the representation on the wrong basis. It appears to me that the proper course for Parliament to take is this, that when the occasion has arrived for an enlargement of the constituencies, it should consider in what way, and the whole circumstances of the case; and I, for one, do not think it would he wise to pass a measure which proposes in this manner-to admit the whole population at the present moment to the electoral franchise. I will now state a practical objection to the measure which, it appears to me, will entirely put it out of court. The Bill is not intended to touch any man who comes under the sanctifying influences of a £10 qualification. My hon. Friend does not think it necessary to extend to that region of virtue and intelligence his protecting and purging care. But how will the provisions of the Bill bear upon those who live in houses below £10 in value? 1481 Their sons will be turned out from school with a fair amount of education. They will be able to read and write, and possibly able to do simple sums in arithmetic. They will thus be the best part of the labouring population, scholastically considered. But are they those whom it would he the duty of wise legislators to admit to the franchise? Undoubtedly they are not. They are young men whose characters are immature, whose spirits are high, whoso views are strong, and who have given no pledges to society. Do not let it be supposed that I am going to apply the epithets which others have seen fit to apply to the labouring classes. I am simply speaking of those of scholastic attainments in comparison with the mass, and I say that they are not the persons whom you should select from the labouring class as a representative section. The labouring classes should be considered not in respect to their scholastic knowledge, but with reference to their habits of life, their settled character, and as fathers of families; and they should be presented with the franchise in proportion as they excelled in these respects. But suppose a young man of one-and-twenty should pass the examination and acquire a vote by virtue of his having retained sufficient of the learning he gained in school, it is not to be supposed that he will continue to retain the same amount of producible education at the age of thirty or fifty; yet he will retain the privilege of voting. The habits of his labouring life will cause his school knowledge to rust; and, judged by the Bill of my hon. Friend, he would in that case be a worse man at fifty than he was at twenty-one; yet all practical experience shows that as a general rule he is a more stable and trustworthy man at the latter than the earlier period of life. And although he may not have retained that knowledge which he gained at school, and which procured him the right to exercise the franchise, he cannot be reexamined—for I believe it would not be held a good objection by the Revising Barrister that the man could write once and could not write now, and that therefore he should not be permitted to remain on the register. The Bill, too, would enable all the sons of an illiterate father to exercise the franchise, while the latter would be debarred from attaining the privilege himself; and that, in my opinion, affords a conclusive reason against the measure. I have been obliged hitherto for the purposes of my argument 1482 to assume that a large number of the younger men among the labouring population would be able to attain the franchise. But is it so? I find that those young persons who desire to acquire a certificate of educational qualification would have, according to the third clause, to pass a satisfactory "examination in writing from dictation, and elementary arithmetic—that is to say, in simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, and in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division of money." Now, I wish to notice two points. My belief is that my hon. Friend positively requires by this Bill as conditional to conferring the franchise that the would-be elector shall do a great deal more than is required by the Civil Service Commissioners as a condition of attaining offices which give a secure maintenance during the whole period of able-bodied life, and a pension for the remainder; and my hon. Friend actually asks Parliament to say that before a man shall acquire a share, however limited, in the choice of the persons by whom he is to be governed, and a voice in the disposal of the taxes which he is called upon to pay, he must pass a more severe standard of examination than is required of men who desire to enter offices in the public service at salaries ranging from £80 to £150 a year, with the prospect of a pension as well. What is writing from dictation? It is a most severe trial, and one in which failure is the lot of myriads of young men who apply not for offices of manual labour, but for clerkships. Yet the House of Commons is asked to make satisfactory writing from dictation the condition of attaining the electoral franchise. Putting aside subtraction and multiplication of money, I should like to know how many of the labouring classes can pass an examination in division of money, or how many Members of this House can pass such an examination. If I give the sum £1,330 17s. 6d., and tell the Members of this House to divide it by £2 13s. 8d., I want to know how many would do it? [Mr. HUNT: 658.] There are not three or four in this House who could do it. I would say there are not thirty or forty without the least fear of contradiction. I will go further, and say it is not necessary that they should; and that they may be admirable Members of this House without being able to work such a sum. [Lord ROBERT MONTAGU: You cannot divide by £2 13s. 8d.] One illustration is better 1483 than a thousand arguments. The noble Lord is one of the more promising financial Members of this House, and he tells us positively that division of money is a thing that cannot be done. It is quite unnecessary for me in that case to pursue my argument with reference to that branch of the subject. In point of fact, then, it is apparent that the would-be elector would break down in the examination, and would not be able to pass. [Mr. CLAY: Yes, he would be able.] I will only say, then, that in my opinion he could not pass; but it does not matter. I am under the impression that it would be quite impossible to settle in Committee what should be the amount of this educational test, and I believe my hon. Friend would be quite unable to get over the practical objections which I have raised. Sir, I presume my hon. Friend intends this Bill to be a great boon to the labouring classes. Let us see upon what footing he puts them. In the first place, he requires of them a probation of about two years; before applying to be examined they must have resided for six calendar months in a given city or borough; before the period of examination a further period of four months would elapse; the journey and the arrangements connected with the examination must then be made, though no exact time is fixed for that; then two months is allowed for transmitting the certificate, and fourteen days for advertising:—then it is provided that the list for the Revising Barrister must be prepared before the 3l8t of July—so that there will be an average interval of six months between the presentation of the certificate and the Revising Barrister's acknowledgment of it; and four months more must elapse before the period of full registration arrives. Thus, a man desiring to get a certificate under my hon. Friend's Bill would be two years about it; and, not content with that, he actually wants the would-be electors to pay a price for the privilege. Now we are not liable in that way. As far as I recollect, we are not liable to pay a price—[An hon. MEMBER: IS anybody liable?]—for being put upon the register. I will not trust my memory with great confidence, but I rather think that at the passing of the Reform Bill a payment of 1s. had to be made for registration. In boroughs it does not now exist. Does it exist in counties? [Lord ROBERT MONTAGU: No!] Very well, then, it has been done away with for the wealthier part of the community; but my hon. Friend considerately 1484 requires that beside the mental purge of education, their purses also should be purged according to the following tariff:—He requires them to pay 7d. for a registered letter, 1s. fee for examination, and 1s. 6d. on the delivery of their certificate. He does not provide for the return of the money in the event of failure; but he kindly permits them to go up as many times as they please for examination, and toties quoties to go this round of payments. But this is not the whole of the expense to which my hon. Friend proposes to put those whom he professes to favour. In the Scotch Church there is the phrase "fencing the tables," used by way of describing the means taken to prevent persons not properly prepared from taking part in sacred rites. My hon. Friend, I must admit, has fenced his tables very well, and the sacred rite of the franchise is not likely to be intruded upon by too many labouring men. I think my hon. Friend has totally overlooked all considerations of human feeling. In my opinion the labouring classes—the mass of the English people, would rise with dissatisfaction—I will not use a stronger word—against those enactments which my hon. Friend proposes to establish in connection with what he calls a boon, but to which he has given a very different character by this Bill. My right hon. Friend proposes to burden the people with conditions of time and the observance of a multitude of forms from which the whole of us are free. And let us remember that the observance of minute particulars and dates with regard to notices and documents, and going backwards and forwards, are annoying even to such as are in our station in life, and would become almost impossible of observance by persons of a certain station. Many and many a poor person in receipt of £20 or £30 a year on account of invested property, from which the income tax has been improperly deducted, has never applied for its return, because he did not know how to go through the necessary form. The same difficulties would stand in the way of those who would otherwise avail themselves of the provisions of this Bill; and to so great an extent is this so that my hon. Friend might, for any use the Bill will be to them, put a cipher at its head and substitute a cipher for every one of its clauses. It is not only the payment of 7d., and 1s., and 1s. 6d., but my hon. Friend requires the candidate for a certificate to make a journey to the place of examination; for the Bill does not 1485 require that the examination should be held in the place where the candidate resides.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Clause 9, I believe, is the one applicable to the case, if any is so, and that says that—The said Civil Service Commissioners shall, with all convenient speed, after the receipt of any such application, appoint a day, being not later than four calendar months after the receipt thereof, for the examination of the candidate by whom the same shall have been made, and of any others whose examination may, in their judgment, be properly and conveniently held at the same time and place, and shall give written notice thereof to the town clerk of the city or borough for which the said candidate seeks to be registered as a voter.Is there anything in that clause ordering where the examination should take place?
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I know he must; but that is not sufficient. What course is to be pursued in the small places in the country where, perhaps, three men will apply for examination in the course of the year? Will my hon. Friend tell me that if one man in a population of 5,000 applies for a place to be examined, that he is to be examined in that place?
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Very good. I beg pardon. With that provision my hon. Friend gets rid of the objection about journey-money; but he does not get rid of my objection, when viewed in respect to such a place, for instance, as the city of Wells—a very distinguished city in our Parliamentary annals it is likely to be. I say that three or four separate examinations may be required under the terms of the Bill to be held in the city of Wells for the purpose of admitting three or four voters. That may not be a burden to the people examined, but it will be a burden to the public so entirely out of proportion to the requirements of the case, that I really think my hon. Friend can hardly be serious in making the proposition. I think he would find it necessary to do in his case what is done in reference to the Civil Service examination. He would have to appoint places where 1486 examinations are to be carried on. But then he proposes examination lists for three or four days. It may seem to us a very small thing to lose 3s. or 4s. for one day's work, or 10s. or 12s. for two or three day's work; but what the Bill of my hon. Friend imposes is a very serious matter. The applicant for examination must pay of his hard-earned money something like 3s.; and I apprehend he must lose his time and pay for the time of his being examined. [Mr. CLAY: An hour will suffice for the examination.] My hon. Friend says the examination will not occupy more than an hour. Well, applicants must be examined in dictation and also in reading; that is implied, although not stated. [Mr. CLAY: No!] Applicants are further to be examined in elementary arithmetic, including the division of money; and I say that it is impossible to believe that these examinations can he conducted in a way to relieve a man at least from the necessity of losing a day's wages. My hon. Friend would not, surely, examine them like children in a school? He does not propose, I apprehend, that they shall stand in a class in the presence of the examiner. [Mr. CLAY: They are to be examined by papers.] The examination in writing from dictation cannot be done by writing alone—it must be done vivâ voce, and that is an operation which will occupy considerable time. It is a matter on which a difference of opinion may prevail to a certain extent; but I fully believe that my hon. Friend will require a day at the very least for the examination itself, besides a great deal of time for performing all the other demands of the Bill. The practical fine in money putting it moderately, of from 10s. to £1, which my hon. Friend would impose upon the working classes, would of itself be a greater barrier to their attaining the franchise than the payment of £50 would be to Gentlemen occupying the position of those who sit in this House. This is not a just method of dealing with the matter. I will not say whether the Bill of my hon. Friend could have been framed in a manner so as to avoid the objections to which it is justly open; but, in my opinion, no method has yet been suggested of making any educational test practically available in regard to the franchise. Even if such a method had been suggested, there is no necessity whatever in connection with the present slate of the representation, or in connection with any proposals before Parliament, to bring such 1487 an educational test forward in this House. The principle of the Bill of my hon. Friend is as much too wide as the practical operation of the Bill is too narrow. In my opinion, if there were no other objection to the Bill, it ought to be rejected on the ground of the aspect it presents to the better part of the population of this country, considered in respect to those feelings and that sentiment of self-respect which they entertain in common with ourselves, and which it is our interest not to depress, but to cherish. Upon grounds of a general character, and upon the particular grounds relating to the provisions of the Bill, I feel bound to oppose it. Regarding the amount of accomplishment and knowledge required, the cumbrous difficulty—practically, the almost impossible nature—of the process my hon. Friend requires these, I must say, unfortunate people to go through, I contend that his Bill is unsound in principle, and that it would be inoperative and even offensive in practice. I have spoken with great plainness about the provisions of the Bill now before the House. When my hon. Friend introduced it he spoke with such gravity, ability, and weight on the general position of affairs in regard to Parliamentary Reform, as to draw from me a feeble, but a willing and cordial testimony to the perfect sincerity of his intentions. Nor do I now wish to withdraw any portion of that testimony. I am certain no man would have used the words which were used by my hon. Friend unless he had felt that his case for the representation of the people was a case absolutely requiring solution. I ask, therefore, my hon. Friend to draw the distinction which I draw, and which I hope may be truly drawn, between the impracticable, the inexpedient, and, as I think, unjust nature of the provisions of the Bill, and my perfect admission that we have no right to impeach the sentiments of the Mover of it. We all feel the difficulties of the case—some feel them in one direction, and some in another. Where one man sees daylight, another sees nothing but darkness. We have no fears, no misgivings in proposing a £7 franchise. But, of course, whatever we may think of the proposals of others who do not see the difficulties in their way, though visible to us, it is our bounden duty to make the fullest allowance for their motives and intentions. I have not a doubt that it is the intention of my hon. Friend to propose a liberal and beneficial measure, and that he is actuated by a kind and 1488 generous spirit towards those classes now excluded from the suffrage. We find no fault with his motives. The position in which he stands is doubtless due to the difficulty of his circumstances, and, perhaps, the casual errors into which we are all liable to fall; and the measure he has produced, instead of bearing such a character as he wishes, bears a character in almost every respect directly the reverse. I now beg to move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ LORD ROBERT MONTAGU
said, that he certainly did not rise to object to the very Conservative tone of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. The right hon. Gentleman had expressed great horror of the Bill of the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Clay) because it would admit so many working men to the franchise; to all that he (Lord Robert Montagu) did not intend at the present moment to demur. He could not, however, but think that the debates on the subject of Reform which had lately taken place in that House, especially of the speech of the right hon. Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe), and, above all, the speech of the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, (Mr. Disraeli), had had some effect on the Chancellor of the Exchequer, seeing that he had made a speech which had been welcomed by all on the Opposition side of the House. There was one thing, however, in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer which was objectionable, and that was the tone of dictation which he assumed at the commencement of his speech. Before many hon. Members now in the House occupied their seats he said, "It is quite impossible to permit such a Bill as this to pass."[The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: I did not say," it is impossible."] It seemed to him that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had assumed a tone of dictation; but he would let that pass, as it would add nothing to his argument. The right hon. Gentleman considered this Bill—in its "invidious isolation," as he expressed it; adding that, perhaps, a greater number of his arguments might have had weight if the Bill 1489 had been considered alone. He (Lord Robert Montagu), however, refused to consider this Bill alone; for it seemed to him that it was a complement to the Bills which the Government had brought in, filling up the gap in the Government scheme. He therefore must express the hope that some hon. Member would move that this Bill, if it should pass the second reading, be referred to the Committee to which the two other Bills had been referred, and that it be an Instruction to that Committee to amalgamate the three Bills together. But the right hon. Gentleman said the hon. Member for Hull had not showed any ground for bringing in this Bill. Now, he (Lord Robert Montagu) contended that the hon. Member had very strong ground—namely, the omission of the Government to do so. The Government proposed to reduce the franchise to a very low degree, thereby admitting a number of persons to exercise it whom hon. Members on that side of the House thought would not be qualified to do so, at the same time ex eluding a number of others who were held to be competent to take part in the election of Members of Parliament. An instance might be taken. A young man might have passed his college life with great credit and attained a scholarship. He might have studied hard and become very learned. He then went home and dwelt in his father's house; but he would have no vote, although more qualified for the exercise of the franchise than the small shopkeeper who paid a rent of £7 annually. Young men entering upon any of the learned professions, although fully qualified to vote, because they had not left the parental roof, and were not paying house-rent, could not obtain the franchise. Here, then, was the gap which the Government had left, and which the Bill of the hon. Member for Hull proposed to fill. There were also many artizan bachelors hiring a single room each for which very little was paid. They probably spent much of their time at mechanics' institutes in intellectual studies; and were they not to have votes? He had seen artizans possessing all the intellectual qualifications for the franchise. When at Liverpool on one occasion he was accosted by a mechanic with a sack of tools on his hack in the Latin language, and that man knew most of Virgil and Horace by heart. Now, that man was a poor man, and under the Bill of the Government he would not obtain a vote, while under the Bill of the hon. Member for Hull he might, The right 1490 hon. Gentleman objected to the examinations proposed because they were so severe, observing that they were more severe than the Civil Service examinations. Now, was it to be supposed that persons would be admitted to the Civil Service and other offices in this country if they were unable to write from dictation and perform the commonest sums in arithmetic. If such were the case, Civil Service examinations were a mere farce, and the sooner they were done away with the better. He (Lord Robert Montagu) had, however, looked upon the Civil Service examinations in another light, believing that those persons who had not studied the commonest rules of arithmetic and learned to write from dictation were excluded from public offices; for, indeed, every man in this country, whether artizan or tradesman, ought to attain that amount of learning. Then the right hon. Gentleman spoke a great deal about signatures, remarking that many would be excluded because their signatures were illegible; though the illegibility of a man's handwriting was not proof that he was unlearned. It would be easy to distinguish between the writing of an illiterate person and that of a scholar. The objection of the right hon. Gentleman to the Bill was, that by means of the examinations it required, a great number of persons would be excluded from the franchise; but the chief argument of the right hon. Gentleman, in the commencement of his speech against the Bill was, that it would bestow something like universal suffrage such as that in America and Prussia. But how did these arguments tally? It was true, no doubt, that by the examination proposed many would be excluded from the exercise of the franchise; but was not an educational test the true test, and by it was not a natural qualification acquired? Then the right hon. Gentleman's objection fell to the ground. If, on the other hand, it amounted to universal suffrage, it showed a very considerable Conservative advance in his views, which was, nevertheless, contrary to the arguments he had already used. With regard to the sum in division, which the right hon. Gentleman had suggested, it was quite possible to divide a sum of money, but not by money. How could any one divide money by £2 16s. 8d.? The question might be asked, "How many times 2s. will go into £1?" but that was not dividing by money; it was simply dividing twenty by two. He might be asked, "How many times will 6s. 8d. go into a 1491 pound?" but that was merely asking him to divide 240 by 80. If the right hon. Gentleman were to ask the hon. Member for Brighton (Professor Fawcett), or any Other authority, he would receive the same answer—namely, that it was possible to divide by a sum, but not by money. Then, the right hon. Gentleman alluded to the shilling which was formerly imposed upon the registration of a vote. It was very true that that payment was after a time abandoned; but was it abandoned because a vote was of so little value that no one liked to pay a shilling in order to obtain it? If it were true that persons would rather retain a shilling in their pockets than pay it in order to get a vote—or 3s. 6d. under the Bill of the hon. Member for Hull—it showed that hon. Members were taking a great deal of trouble to bestow the franchise on people who concerned themselves very little about it. The right hon. Gentleman further said that if these examinations were to be required in order to obtain a vote the people would rather leave the country than submit to it. But if the franchise were so easy of attainment, only necessitating an expenditure of 3s. 6d. and a few hours' examination, surely the people could not care so much about it if they refused to take that small amount of trouble and pay that very insignificant sum? It had been argued that the franchise was a stimulus to education, and he believed this to be the case. If it were not so, a representative Government would be worse than a despotism, where the irresponsible monarch made the laws, and placed in office persons fit to fill them. If the franchise were not a means of education the people would lose their knowledge and cease to be educated; public matters would no more employ their minds, and, to borrow the most picturesque expression of the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill) the people would become like a "flock of sheep innocently nibbling grass side by side." That being so, if education was the end the House had in view, how could objection be taken to a test for the franchise, that test simply requiring a low educational qualification? If the franchise was to be given to the people in order to educate them, it ought to be placed before them as an incentive to acquire at least a qualification in the lowest branches of education. The franchise gave persons power over the property of others to a certain extent—was it not, then, perfectly reasonable to 1492 require that those who had power over the property of others should be qualified to administer their own affairs—that they should have learnt at least sufficient to perform their duties to their families? The right hon. Gentleman said, "No; give them the franchise; give them power over others, though they may be totally unable to look after their own affairs, and though they could not even give the lowest grades of education to their children." The right Gentleman further said that no necessity had been shown for an educational test under the present system. It must be remembered that in boroughs the present system required the tenancy of a £10 house, and was not at present flung into the dirt for anybody to pick up. A certain amount of restraint, industry, and energy was required before a working man acquired the franchise—thus qualified, he possessed a certain right to the suffrage. But the right hon. Gentleman desired to lower the franchise to such an extent that any one might have a vote in this country. ["Oh, oh !"] He did not understand the meaning of those inarticulate noises. What he maintained was that the franchise should be a stimulus to self-culture; and not only so, but that the possession of it should be the result of a certain amount of self-restraint and study. Without these conditions a man must be debarred from the exercise of the franchise. He contended that the only claim to the franchise consisted in intelligence, and that it must not be held as a right. If it was a right a man might dispose of it for his own advantage; he might accept a bribe; he might sell it, and no one could interfere. Neither was it a privilege. If it was it would be said that the whole country was being governed by a privileged class. It seemed to him that the Bill of the hon. Member for Hull recognized the claim of intelligence to the franchise, and for that reason he would impose a test upon those voters who would come in under the low qualification of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was necessary to remember that the House of Commons was now all-powerful, and had not the same check which it had in former days. The whole policy of the realm was dictated by the House of Commons; the Prime Minister was virtually appointed by the House of Commons; the Administration must be pleasing to the House of Commons; and even the fate of our colonies depended on the votes of that House. Was it not, therefore, most necessary that 1493 those who were to select the persons to act in the House of Commons should be able to do so with moderation and with wisdom? Besides, constituencies exercised great influence over their representatives. Why, then, should not the voice of education and intelligence he heard in this country? As a sort of check to counterbalance the schemes of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, an educational test such as that proposed by the hon. Member for Hull was necessary, and therefore he trusted that this Bill would be referred to the same Committee as that to which the other Franchise Bill was referred, and that the two would be amalgamated. With that end in view he would give his vote in favour of the second reading of the Bill of the hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. CLIVE
said, that as his name appeared on the back of the Bill, he might be allowed to make a few observations in reference to it. He held that the principle of the Bill was a sound one; but he must confess that he never thought so well of its provisions as he did after listening to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman had urged numerous objections to the details of the Bill; but they were all such as could be remedied in Committee. With regard to the expense of registration, his hon. Friend (Mr. Clay) had been unwilling to charge it upon the country; but amendments in this direction might very easily be made. Again, the Chancellor of the Exchequer made an objection to the plan of examination, which showed that he could not have read the Bill, while his observations with respect to signatures were too trifling to be noticed. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to have exerted himself to say all that was possible against the Bill, but his efforts only showed how little objection could really be taken against it. The Bill now before the House would impose a certain limit to the franchise; whereas if it were fixed at £7 it would soon come to £5, and at last to universal suffrage of the worst description, He objected to fixing the franchise at £7, for it seemed nothing more than a compromise between those who were struggling to reduce it to £8 and those who wished it to be £6. He believed that there were large numbers of people in the great towns qualified for the franchise, and his desire was to introduce the best men and keep out the worst. On this ground there could be no 1494 objection on the Ministerial side of the House, while on the other hon. Members were apprehensive lest they should go a little too far. Now, in the present Bill, at any rate, there would be some satisfaction in knowing that they had gone as far as it was possible to go. A great deal had been said about taking advantage of the season of calm in dealing with the matter of Reform, seeing that a storm might hereafter arise; but he thought very little of such arguments. One great evil to be contended with was the indifference of the working classes with regard to the franchise. At the present time the Committee-rooms upstairs were filled with working men. He did not say that they could read Horace and Virgil; but when questions were put to them he always received the same answer—namely, "Give us equitable laws and good wages, and never mind the franchise." With good wages they could secure the franchise themselves, and the House was quite ready to give them equitable laws. If the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) were to attend the Committees more frequently, and thus come in contact with the people in the rooms upstairs, he would doubtless see what erroneous opinions he entertained in regard to the working classes. They did not care so much about the franchise as the House had been asked to believe. The main point, after all, was to settle the Reform question. The limit of £8, of £7, or of £6, would not settle it; but the present Bill held out a prospect of a settlement. When once matters had arrived at such a point that every man, by a slight exertion of intelligence or industry, could obtain the franchise for himself there would be an end of those appeals to opinion out of doors with which at present they were so constantly threatened. These reasons had induced him to put his name upon the Bill. He wanted the question of Reform settled, so that the House might be enabled to devote attention to the practical business of legislation, now so greatly interfered with by perpetual struggles about the elective franchise. Both sides of the House might, he thought, agree in sanctioning the franchise contemplated by this measure as a supplementary franchise—whether to the existing £10 qualification which had excited the sneers of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or to the £8, £7, £6, or any other franchise which might eventually be adopted.
§ MR. EWART,
retaining the opinions 1495 which he had expressed upon the subject three years ago, felt deeply obliged to the hon. Member for Hull for introducing this question to the consideration of the House. He did not altogether approve the machinery proposed by the Bill, thinking the simple test of writing, such as he had seen imposed at Florence last year, might prove sufficient. But he gave his hearty approval to the principle of the Bill, and thought it ought also to be viewed with favour by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; for, exposed as he was on the question of Reform to blasts from all points of the compass, the only wise course seemed to be to wait, to collect all the information and suggestions bearing upon the subject, and then at leisure to bring forward a measure carefully matured. All true friends of the country, and all true friends of the Government, must concur in recommending such a course. No harm could possibly result from its adoption; and of this he was persuaded, whatever policy the Government might now desire to carry out, it was the course to which eventually they would be driven.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
I wish to express as briefly as I can the view which I take of this question. No observations have yet been made upon the subject in which I am so disposed to concur as those we have just heard from my hon. Friend opposite. It is on the very ground advocated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the closing words of his speech—namely, the present position of this difficult and anxious question of Reform—that I am quite unable to concur in the sweeping censure which the right hon. Gentleman has thrown upon this Bill. I doubt whether there are many Members in this House—I do not believe there are many Members even on the Treasury Bench—who entertain any serious idea that the Bill proposed by the Government can pass in the present Session, even though we were to sit here during the month of September or the month of October—which I venture to think that we shall not do. I do not believe we have yet become submissive enough to accede to that most extraordinary proposal. Under these circumstances, I think we are deeply indebted to any hon. Member who in good faith and sincerity contributes materials towards the ultimate solution of this difficult subject; and I believe that that good service has been rendered by the hon. Member for Hull in placing this Bill before us. I listened attentively to the speech 1496 of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but it seems to me that it was, from the beginning to the end, a minute criticizm of the details of the measure. I heard nothing in the observations of the right hon. Gentleman which appeared to me to grapple with the really practical question—the principle of the Bill. I was very much struck by one passage in the right hon. Gentleman's address, in which he told us to mind what we were about, and to pause before we adopted the principle of the Bill, because it would lead to universal suffrage. But why is it that we object to universal suffrage? It is because we believe that universal suffrage would admit to the franchise a large body of persons who, in the present state of things in this country, are not fit to exercise it. But if every man in the country were capable of going through a well-devised and satisfactory educational test, the view which many of us take of universal suffrage might be very materially modified. I am afraid, however, that there is little danger of our approaching universal suffrage in the way which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has shadowed forth. I am one of those who earnestly wish the day was approaching, or that we had any chance of seeing the day, when every man in this country will be able to pass through a satisfactory educational test; and I believe that one advantage of adopting some such principle as that on which the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Hull is founded is, that it would afford a very great stimulus to education. If the principle of the measure were to be adopted, I strongly suspect that the next time I or any other Member introduced into this House a proposal for the extension of education we should find much greater zeal employed in its support than we have hitherto witnessed. But what is the object which we ought all to have in view in dealing with this question of Reform? Our object ought to be to admit men to the franchise, as far as we can, on the ground of their fitness for its exercise; and I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer cannot deny that education is an element in that fitness. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade shakes his head; but am I to understand him to mean that education is not an element in fitness for the exercise of the franchise? I can hardly imagine that any person who has considered the question will deny that it constitutes such an element. With these views I cannot vote against what I conceive 1497 to be the principle of the Bill; but it is well known that in voting on the second reading of any measure we are merely deciding upon its principle. I am not prepared to assent to many of those details in this Bill which have been criticized by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and I have no doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Hull will himself admit that if the measure should go into Committee many of its clauses might with advantage be modified. I think the Committee would afford the proper opportunity for discussing the questions raised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I will not now stop to consider how many men in the House, or out of it, could work those sums he has been good enough to set for our consideration; and I have merely risen for the purpose of stating the reasons which would induce me to vote for the second reading of the Bill if the Motion should be pressed to a division.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
I am sure that every Gentleman sitting on this side of the House must have listened with the greatest satisfaction to the right hon. Gentleman; for he has just told us that fitness, after all, constitutes a very important element in determining the propriety of investing a man with the franchise—a view altogether in conflict with that of the hon. and learned Member for Belfast, who has stated that fitness is no element in the consideration of the question. We have heard it laid down by hon. Gentlemen opposite, throughout the whole course of these debates, that the maintenance of the balance of power is the great object to be considered, and that the main point to which we must look is whether by any new measure the working classes would be likely to form a majority in the different constituencies of the country. But how does this tally with the speech to which we have just listened? Indeed, I am surprised to find that the noble Lord the Member for Stamford (Viscount Cranbourne) has not already risen in his place and called for statistics for the purpose of ascertaining how many working men would be entitled to vote under this Bill. If that is a good argument against the proposal of the Government it must also be good against the present proposal. Quite a new light broke upon me when the noble Lord the Member for Huntingdonshire (Lord Robert Montagu) declared that this was a scheme which might be fairly 1498 regarded as a complement of the Government Reform Bill. But it was brought in before the Government Bill, and I cannot see how in that supplementary character it is to receive the support of hon. Gentlemen opposite, as hon. Gentlemen opposite have resolved that the Government Bill is not to pass. It will be strange, indeed, if they vote for it as the supplement to a proposal to which they have announced their determination not to give their assent. It will be like what was done on Monday last, when hon. Members opposite showed their anxiety to prevent bribery and corruption by providing for the insertion of clauses on that head in a Bill which they did not mean to allow to pass into law. I can easily understand that there are many Members of this House who sympathize upon this occasion with the hon. Member for Hull, because they are anxious that the working classes should be admitted to the franchise; but I am at a loss to conceive how the Bill can meet with the support of hon. Gentlemen opposite, who have over and over again declared that the one principle which ought to be taken into consideration in dealing with the question of the franchise is that no one class in the country should obtain a preponderating power. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire told the House plainly, in a passage which I quoted upon a former occasion, that as regarded the working classes, the greater their good qualities the greater was the danger of admitting them on an extreme scale to the franchise; and if that is the view of hon. Gentlemen opposite, it is strange that they should support a Bill without any statistics, without any safeguard as to the Re-distribution of Seats, and without any provision for the suppression of bribery and corruption—without any of those preventions which on other occasions they have insisted on as essential—that those hon. Gentlemen should be ready to accept a proposal which is unaccompanied by those provisions which they have previously contended were indispensable to any complete measure of Reform. No one has contradicted the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the principle of the Bill is universal suffrage, while it is quite possible that its practical operation may be to admit to the franchise very few of the working classes. This, in fact, is the attraction of the Bill. It 1499 combines the maximum of Liberal profession with the minimum of Liberal result. I am quite certain that this is a Bill which would never be allowed to pass by itself through the House. It may pass the second reading, or it may pass the Committee; but it will never be allowed to become law by itself; and if it should receive the support of hon. Gentlemen opposite it will be difficult to resist the conclusion that they vote for a proposal which they know to be impracticable in order that they may conciliate some Members on this side of the House in their opposition to the measure brought forward by the Government, which they know to be bonâ fide and practical.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
congratulated the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down on the possession of one advantage highly important to a Cabinet Minister—a most conveniently short memory. While taunting the Conservative Bide with dislike of anything resembling education as a qualification for the franchise, he forgot that only a few years ago, at a time when he had not reached his present height of political eminence, before he was a Cabinet Minister, or even a Member of the House of Commons, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire, then the leader of the House, brought forward a Reform Bill full of educational franchises. That Bill was met by an inarticulate howl from the other side, which denounced all educational qualifications as "fancy franchises," a term of reproach which had since attached to all ideas of emancipating education, till the hon. Member for Hull had the courage to bring forward the present proposal. He did not say that the Bill in its present shape could pass or ought to pass any more than he asserted that the two Government Reform Bills, which were read a second time without a division on the main question, ought in their present shape to become the law of the land. Those Bills had been forced down their throats, and they had therefore the equitable right, if they chose, to express their freedom of action by bringing up any parallel measure to the same stage. Those two Bills, certainly not with the goodwill of the Treasury Bench, had since been referred to a sort of joint-stock amalgamation committee, so that there was in being at the present moment no Reform Bill actually before the House, but only two half Bills out of which sanguine persona ventured to hope 1500 that one practical measure might, if possible, be made. Clearly, therefore, it was but just and reasonable that the question of an educational franchise should come before the same Committee. It was said that the principle of this Bill, if followed out to the bitter end, led to universal suffrage; but the objection, if tenable, applied with equal force to a most venerable and important portion of the body politic—the constituencies existing in the three Universities. There, the only qualification was the degree of M.A.; no residence, no property, no payment of taxes was required, and the vote now might even be sent by post. It would probably be in the recollection of some hon. Members that six or seven years ago, when the Reform fever was at its last height, a scheme signed by many names of eminence in literature or science was extensively circulated, which proposed to overlay the old territorial constituencies of the country with other constituencies composed exclusively of persons possessing certain educational qualifications. He did not say that the scheme was practicable, but at least it introduced some other element besides impecuniosity, which was the principle of the £7 franchise; it proposed that education and intelligence should play their part in electing our representatives. The great object of the House should now be to settle this question of Reform for ever—that is, until some fresh pressure from Birmingham created fresh activity on the part of future occupants of the Treasury Bench. When every other subject was being postponed till this question of Reform was got rid of, it was trifling with the intellect of the country, it was paltering with great opportunities, to deprive the House of the possibility of considering, together with the other features of a Reform scheme, this question of an educational and intellectual franchise. He should vote for the second reading of this Bill, with the fervent hope and expectation that it would be referred to the same Committee out of which ultimately was to proceed the complete, perfect, final, and immaculate Reform measure under the able obstetrical management of his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ MR. DENMAN
said, that he had a distinct recollection of signing the document to which the hon. Member (Mr. Beresford Hope) had alluded—which he thought must have been fully twelve years ago. He was as 1501 fully persuaded now of the advantages of education as he was when he signed that paper; but from subsequent experience and after careful reflection, he had come to the conclusion that an educational franchise, however desirable it might be in theory, would be found impracticable, and was therefore undesirable as a political measure. What was the examination to which they would subject persons claiming the right to vote? It was stated in one of the clauses that it should be an examination in writing from dictation and in elementary arithmetic—that was to say in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, Now, it appeared to him that any such provision would admit to the suffrage a much greater number of the working classes than was desirable. He believed that in the towns of this country it would admit to that privilege far more persons than would be admitted by a £7 rental clause, which met with so much opposition from hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House. The number admitted would be so enormous as to make it quite certain that they would swamp the other classes. But this was a question of statistics, which it was as important, or even more important, that they should be acquainted with than was the more easily ascertained question of who would come in under a £6, £7, or £8 franchise. He had been led to the conviction that an educational franchise would be a mistake altogether, because it must either be a most unsatisfactory test, or it must be something which, if satisfactory, would hit exceedingly few persons who had not the franchise already, or who would not have it under the extension proposed by the Government Bill. The result, he believed, must be mischievous. Somebody or other must be appointed to conduct the examinations, and supposing those examinations to he conducted in the fairest way, and without any bias in any direction, there would be nothing to prevent the admission of a very strange set of people to the franchise. There would be nothing to prevent the admission of "Jem the Penman," and people of that class, who could read and write and forge, and who would be enabled to come in with the greatest ease. There would be nothing in an education test efficient to exclude improper persons from obtaining the franchise. If they had a better sort of examination—if the examination was to be in the history of England, or in some simple elementary part of it, or in the elementary principles of history 1502 generally—he would defy them then to avoid the almost certain result that there would be the greatest possible uncertainty as to who should have the suffrage. Then there was the further consideration that somebody must appoint the inspectors to make the examination, and an examination in history would involve an examination in politics, and if they gave to the inspectors an opportunity of plucking or passing persons on the ground of their knowledge of history, they would afford the Government an opportunity of making the whole thing one great and gross Government job. He would put it to the House whether, looking at the true principles of the Constitution of this country, there was any reason to depart largely from the principle that persons should only have the suffrage in respect to the occupation or possession of some property which gave them a stake in the country, and enabled the House to say—"These persons are not likely to be transient or flitting; they are not likely to be rash or reckless in matters of legislation, because they are themselves personally affected by the legislation which takes place." If the House were to agree to an educational franchise they would bring within the suffrage a number of young men who had not the least responsibility, and who were as likely to be reckless in the choice of their representatives as any class of the community which could be named; or the whole thing would become a gross Government job, and might entail the most mischievous results. The Bill was one which nobody would stand up for in principle as the principle was embodied in the third clause, and if it were to be passed at all it must certainly be altered very largely before it could receive the sanction of Parliament. The principle, if they were to bind themselves by it, required far more consideration than had yet been given to it; and though it might be a matter for future consideration, at present the House could not dissever the Bill from the principle contained in it, and he did not see how they were to agree to it.
§ MR. WHITESIDE
My hon. and learned Friend who has just sat down (Mr. Denman) has told the House that, having at a former period entertained an opinion in favour of an educational qualification, he changed his mind some considerable time ago. He has not favoured the House with the arguments which originally convinced him, in favour of an educational 1503 franchise; but I think it would require better arguments than those which my hon. and learned Friend has adduced in support of his present views to convince the House that the question of an educational franchise is not worthy of being entertained by discreet men in this Assembly. I think the question would be one of great interest at any time; but I think it has a peculiar interest at the present moment. I agree with an opinion which I will presently show the House to be one entertained by the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill), that the principle of an educational franchise is Conservative, because it admits and asserts that all men are not equal—that is to say, that all men have not an equal right to govern their fellow men. That is a very important principle, and one which I feel gratified to find enforced by the able arguments of the hon. Member for Westminster. The very fact that they mark out a distinction between men according to the measure not merely of the natural understanding, but of the acquirements which they have made through life, establishes a very important principle for consideration in dealing with the electoral franchise. Property is the qualification recognized by our laws for the possession of the franchise; but intelligence and fitness have always been in a manner required by the Constitution. I admit that these latter qualities have always been associated with a property qualification; but if we go back to the establishment of the old 40s. franchise, we shall find that at the time when it took place that amount was of nearly as great value as £40 is at the present day, and it was assumed that the man who possessed such a property qualification was a person of mind and intelligence. But we are now debating a scheme of what is called Reform. That is a very good name for it. It may be a crude scheme, or it may be a very good one. It may be by accident, or it may be by design, that the Bill of the hon. Member for Hull comes before us at this particular juncture; but the possibility of an educational franchise has been considered by the ablest thinkers and the ablest writers, and all that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said against it has been negatived by practice in the freest countries on the continent of Europe. And I must observe that the right hon. Gentleman's indignant protest against young men having votes was an extremely rash one. Young men are often more generous and 1504 patriotic in their political sentiments and more fit to exercise the franchise than old ones. In the University which I have the honour to represent, when, at the election which Mr. Croker contested, ribands and stars and titles and dignities were scattered by the Government, the young men of twenty-one who had just obtained their scholarships, rejected all those influences and returned a great man. Therefore, that was a miserable observation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. How does the principle now acted on in the Universities differ from that of this Bill? Certainly it differs from it in the degree of knowledge required; but in both cases the test is an educational one, for without reference to property scholars and graduates who have taken the degree of Master of Arts have votes in the Universities. I do not understand my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Denman) to go as far in his opposition to an educational qualification as to have any intention of seeking to put an end to it in the case of the Universities franchise; but if he should make any such attempt he shall have my steadfast opposition. In what way can the educational principle be worked out? According to such writers as I have been able to consult, there are two modes of carrying it into effect. One is having an educational test by itself, without any property qualification, the educational test of itself giving the right of voting to every person who has reached a prescribed standard of education. But what is the other mode? It is to require that the party applying for the franchise must have a certain amount of property, and to refuse to give him the franchise, even though he has that property, unless he reaches a prescribed standard of education. I think the second of those modes is a most important matter for consideration. I think it would be a fit subject for a Committee. There might be a reference to a Committee to consider whether the franchise could be reduced, and, if so, by what tests and conditions it ought to be accompanied, and, whether an educational qualification might not be required. The Chancellor of the Exchequer says that would be impossible, and got quite angry at the notion; but the right hon. Gentleman did not argue the question with his usual ability—in fact, he did not argue it at all. I find that the hon. and gallant Member for Aberdeen (Colonel Sykes), after addressing his hard-headed constituents, in reference to the Bill of the hon. 1505 Member for Leeds, used this language to that intelligent audience—But it is not that kind of suffrage I sanction—a mere brick and mortar representation. I accompany that with an educational test; that the man who is intrusted with power to send Members to Parliament should have the discrimination and judgment to do so with care, and when he has that, then give him the power to do it.These remarks are worthy of consideration, because it is to be remembered that, when you give a person the electoral franchise, you invest him with power over other men, and therefore, you have a right to annex conditions in order to test his fitness. In the course of various discussions on the franchise, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has frequently repeated the assertion that votes ought to be given according to the number of hundreds or thousands of inhabitants in a particular place. Now, that is democracy. It is founded on the principle that one man is as good as another, but the hon Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill) does not hold any such opinion, as I will show by an extract from his writings, Indeed, it is impossible to contend that one man is as good as another. I remember hearing an orator in my own country who, addressing a large political audience, asked—"Isn't one man as good as another? The sentiment was democratic, and an Irishman in the crowd expressed his approval of it by exclaiming, "To be sure he is, and better too." But what does the hon. Member for Westminster say on this point—It is the fact that one person is not as good as another, and it is reversing all the rules of rational conduct to attempt to raise a political fabric on a supposition which is at variance with fact. Putting aside for the present the consideration of moral worth, of which, though more important even than intellectual, it is not so easy to find an available test, a person who cannot read is not as good for the purposes of human life as one who can. A person who can read, but cannot write or calculate, is not as good as a person who can do both. A person who can read, write, and calculate, but knows nothing of the properties of natural objects, or of other places and countries, or of the human beings who have lived before him, or of the ideas, opinions, and practices of his fellow-creatures generally, is not so good as a person who knows these things. A person who has not, either by reading or conversation, made himself acquainted with the wisest thoughts of the wisest men, and with the great examples of a beneficent and virtuous life, is not so good as one who is familiar with these. A person who has even filled himself with this various knowledge but has not digested it—who could give no clear and coherent account of it and has never 1506 exercised his own mind, or derived an original thought from his own observation, experience, or reasoning, is not so good for any human purpose as one who has. There is no one who, in any matter which concerns himself, would not rather have his affairs managed by a person of greater knowledge and intelligence than by one of less. There is one who, if he was obliged to confide his interest jointly to both, would not desire to give a more potential voice to the more educated and more cultivated of the two.Now, the moment the hon. Member for Westminster arrives at that conclusion in what position does he stand? It is true he puts the other view—that every man should have a vote; but the moment he titters that republican sentiment philosophy comes to his aid. The hon. Gentleman lays down a principle which is ridiculed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is the principle of this Bill, but in working out his tests the hon. Member would give different men votes of different value dare say that in his opinion the vote of a lawyer ought to be worth the votes of five knife-grinders. The House will see the mode in which it is proposed to carry out the Utopian theory of an eminent philosopher. The hon. Member for Westminster says—The perfection, then, of an electoral system would be that every person should have one vote, but that every well-educated person in the community should have more than one, on a scale corresponding as far as practicable to their amount of education, and neither of these constituents of perfect representative system is admissible without the other. While the suffrage is confined altogether to a limited class, that class has not occasion for plural voting, which would, probably, in those circumstances, only create an oligarchy with in an oligarchy. On the other hand, if the most numerous class, which (saving honourable exceptions on one side or disgraceful ones on the other) is the lowest in the educational scale, refuses to recognize a right in the better educated, in virtue of their superior qualifications, to such plurality of votes as may prevent them from being always and hopelessly outvoted by the comparatively incapable, the numerical majority must submit to have the suffrage limited to such portion of their numbers, or to have such a distribution made of the constituencies, as may effect the necessary balance between numbers and education in another manner.The hon. Member also thinks that there is no difficulty in applying the test of reading, writing, and arithmetic; but in this the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not agree with him. I am sorry I did not hear the first part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, because I am sure I missed an intellectual treat; but when I entered the House I found him excited, and on asking what his warmth was all 1507 about I was told that it was simply about reading, writing, and arithmetic. Now what does the hon. Member for Westminster think of these branches of learning in connection with a test for the franchise? He says—But reading, writing, and the simple rules of arithmetic can now be acquired, it may be fairly said, by any person who desires them, and there is surely no reason why everyone who applies to be registered as an elector should not be required to copy a sentence of English in the presence of the registering officer, and to perform a common sum in the rule of three. The principle of an educational qualification being thus established, more might hereafter be required when more had been given; but household or even universal suffrage, with this small amount of educational requirement, would probably be safer than a much more restricted suffrage without it. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are but a low standard of educational qualification, yet even this would probably have sufficed to save Franco from her present degradation. The millions of voters who, in opposition to nearly every educated person in the country, made Louis Napoleon President, were chiefly peasants, who could neither read nor write, and whose knowledge of public men, even by name, was limited to oral tradition.That does, I admit, give us a very formidable lesson on the value of an extended suffrage. The hon. Gentleman has doubtless noted, in verification of this doctrine, the speech addressed by that eminent person a few days ago to the working classes of a certain part of France. In the presence of the working classes, he said that among them he could breathe freely; that he was conscious of the value of the support of the millions; and that he could afford to set at naught the opinions of the scholars, the wits, and the statesmen of France. Napoleon did not care for Thiers any more than Philip did for Demosthenes. The Emperor was quite safe in addressing the sentiment about the Treaties of 1815 to the men to whom he addressed it; but I believe that the educated people in France are as much opposed to war as we are. Then, again, does the hon. Gentleman believe in Bismarck? I do not; but I wish we had him here for a short time. Bismarck was for Parliamentary reform, for a wide extension of the suffrage, and would appeal from the middle class to the universal suffrage of Germany, in order to enable him to elect a Parliament to carry out the objects of his depraved ambition. The necessity of an educational test had been satisfactorily proved by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster, who in this matter contradicted the Chancellor of the Exchequer. This is what 1508 the hon. Gentleman says, and I invite the attention of every thoughtful Member of the House to the passage, as it will show that he was of opinion that in the management of a Reform Bill this educational test ought to be taken into consideration. The hon. Gentleman says—No lover of improvement can desire that the predominant power should be turned over to persons in the mental and moral condition of the English working classes; and no Conservative needs object to making the franchise accessible to those classes at the price of a moderate degree of useful and honourable exertion. To make a participation in political rights the reward of mental improvement would have many inestimable effects besides the obvious one. It would do more than admit the best and exclude the worst of the working classes.Now, I say with the hon. Gentleman, that to admit the best and exclude the worst of the working classes is the policy of every thoughtful man. The hon. Gentleman goes on to say—That all should be admitted to the franchise who can fulfil these simple requirements is not to be expected, nor even desired, unless means were also taken to give to the higher grades of instruction additional or more influential votes. Without such a provision the educational test adapted for permanency would require to be much more stringent.More stringent that is than the test of reading, writing, and arithmetic. The hon. Gentleman goes on—What should now be pressed on the consideration of practical statesmen is, that any lowering of the pecuniary qualification for the purpose of giving the franchise to a greater number of the working classes should be combined with the further condition of an educational test.That is just what I am contending for. Well, the hon. Gentleman proceeds to say—It would be a most substantial improvement in the existing representative system if all householders, without distinction of sex, were admitted as electors, on condition of proving to the registering officer that they could read, write, and calculate.Their knowledge, however, is to be accompanied with the possession of household property. The hon. Gentleman goes on—This, then, is one important principle which the expected Reform Bill, without going to any length in innovation which need alarm anybody, may inaugurate.That was written in anticipation of the Reform Bill of Lord Aberdeen's Government; but the mere mention of the subject now has sent the right hon. Gentleman the 1509 Chancellor of the Exchequer into a political rage. He is actually enraged at the introduction of a subject upon which valuable essays have from time to time been written by thoughtful men—namely, the connection of the lowering of the franchise with an educational test to be applied in the manner indicated by the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman, by the by, proposes to extend the right of voting to the fair sex. Now, I recommend him to withdraw that suggestion from his next publication. I know of an instance in Ireland where the ladies exercised their right of voting under some private Act. Their voting papers were at first rejected; but the Court of Queen's Bench subsequently held that they were good. But what did the ladies do? Why, they turned against the Radical candidates and proved themselves to be a most Conservative body. I warn him, therefore, as to what the consequences may be. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer said he was not aware that an educational test had been recognized—although I believe the right hon. Gentleman is a personal friend of Garibaldi. Well, when there was a revolution in Italy Garibaldi objected to the middle classes, and proposed that universal suffrage should be instituted in order to enable him to declare war against Austria and to sweep away that old impostor, the Pope, as I believe he called him. The Italians decided to take the kingdom of Naples—and I must do them the justice to say that they have taken everything they could. The Neapolitans were invited to determine the question by universal suffrage, and they accordingly did so. But when I once asked an Italian gentleman whether the lazzaroni could safely be intrusted with the franchise, he replied, "Oh, no; we allowed them to vote by universal suffrage once, on the question whether they would accept the Sardinian Constitution, but we shall take care that they never vote that way again." On my expressing surprise, he showed me the organic laws. "There," he said, "you see that, first of all, nobody can vote till he is twenty-five years of age, then nobody can vote who is unable to read and write; and, in the next place, no one is entitled to a vote unless he pay a certain amount of direct taxes." I at once remarked that that was a very safe and Conservative suffrage after all. "Yes," he replied, "because if the suffrage were more exten- 1510 sive you could not govern wisely and well." Now, although the Chancellor of the Exchequer was so irate, I venture to express an opinion that even if the Committee were in favour of a reduction of the franchise they ought not to reduce it one single guinea without adding to it an educational test, as recommended by the hon. Member for Westminster. I confess that I cannot understand the argument of the hon. and learned Member for Tiverton (Mr. Denman). At one time he said that under this Bill the middle classes would he swamped. Now, I certainly will not vote for any measure that would have that effect, because I think that the middle class ought to govern. But my hon. and learned Friend, after saying they would be swamped, went on to assort that very few of the working classes would be admitted to the suffrage.
§ MR. DENMAN
What I said was that, if this Bill were carried it would have the effect of swamping the middle classes; but that if a more stringent test were applied—a proceeding to which I objected—then it would bring in very few of the working classes.
§ MR. WHITESIDE
The hon. and learned Gentleman guards himself with "ifs" and "ands." The Chancellor of the Exchequer, however, said that the working men would not be at the trouble of going through an examination of two hours' duration, and that they would object to the payment of a shilling. That must have been said in censure of the working classes. What is the case in Switzerland, where universal suffrage prevails? I remember on one occasion falling in with a Swiss gentleman who discussed the subject of government and popular education. He remarked, "We could not exist as a Republic unless we had an educational test." "But," I said, "suppose a man does not choose to educate his son?" "Oh," replied he, "we take the child by force, and send him to be educated whether the father likes it or not." The Chancellor of the Exchequer would, doubtless, feel indignant at this if he resided in Switzerland; but, nevertheless, he would have to submit. It will be seen, therefore, that in Switzerland, where no property qualification is required, a high standard of education is reached. And when a proposal is made to reduce the franchise in this country, and to give a preponderating power to one class, is it unfair, unreasonable, or inexpedient to take into consideration the propriety of combining an educational test 1511 with the reduced franchise? The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Goschen), inquired why we objected to the working classes; but he mistook the ground of our objection. We object to the indiscriminate admission of a multitude of persons to whom no test has been applied. I do not like to hear so much about classes. We are only to look at the question of expediency. There is no abstract right. That is a theory of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but it is now held by no one except the right hon. Gentleman himself. It is for Parliament to specify the conditions upon which the franchise shall be given, and if the Committee is bent upon reducing the franchise, then I think the hon. Member for Hull has done good service by suggesting the practicability of introducing an educational lest. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said we had no statistics on the subject; but what statistics could possibly be required? Then the right hon. Gentleman said the principle would lead to universal suffrage; but I deny that that would be the result unless such a high standard of education as the right hon. Gentleman admitted to be impossible were universally attained. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman may live—though not as a Minister of the Crown—to see the day when all Englishmen shall have become as wise and as well educated as himself—for I should be willing to give him the franchise. But the right hon. Gentleman went on to argue that this measure would admit but very few persons to the suffrage. I trust that argument is unfounded; but, at all events, if all but a very few of the working men would be excluded by the moderate test proposed, upon what principle can you admit them by hundreds of thousands? Then the right hon. Gentleman objects that this Bill could not be carried out; but in Italy and Switzerland it has not been found impracticable to ascertain whether men possessed a certain amount of education. At all events, the subject is worth investigating. The test proposed is, as the hon. Member for Westminster says, a Conservative one—and I thank him for the word, for if it is Conservative, it is right, and if it is anti-Conservative it is wrong; and I admit that it is the duty of the Members of this House to amend and improve the best Constitution in the world.
If I could regard this measure introduced by the hon. Gentleman 1512 the Member for Hull (Mr. Clay) in the light in which he regards it I think he would not surpass me in anxiety to see it receive the cordial approval of the House of Commons. But after that consideration which many of us have been obliged to give to this question during many past years—for it is a question which has been much pressed upon public attention by certain writers in this country—I confess that I am unable to see either the righteousness of the principle or the possibility of advantageous practice with respect to any measure of this kind. I believe that if anybody fifty years hence should be induced from any cause to review the opinions which I have held or have expressed upon the question of representation, I should be held to be by those who do mo any justice one of the most Conservative politicians of my time. I differ from hon. Gentlemen opposite in many things, and I differ from them much in this—that I am unwilling to depart from the ancient practice of the Constitution of this country under any circumstances where such departure does not appear to be absolutely necessary for the public good. Now, take this proposition which is before the House. Every one who has spoken, either in favour or in opposition to this Bill, has admitted that the Bill involves that which is entirely new in this country. I believe, notwithstanding what has been said by the right hon. and learned Member for Dublin University (Mr. Whiteside), that it is almost as new, speaking of it as a matter of working and practice, in every other country. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the condition of Switzerland, and told us an anecdote of some Swiss gentleman, but it is so many years ago that I fear he has forgotten what he said. But that Swiss gentleman did not tell the right hon. and learned Member that men in Switzerland were not allowed to vote until they passed through a certain educational examination. He no doubt told him that in Switzerland there prevails a public and, as I understand, a compulsory system of education. [Mr. WHITESIDE: So he said.] So he said; but that is a totally different thing from asking a man to go through a formal examination of this kind with a view to ascertain whether he should be placed on the roll of electors. I want solid proof of its necessity to be offered to the House and to me before I accept a proposition so entirely new, and, as I think, so entirely fanciful, as that involved in this Bill. I want to be shown 1513 how the ancient practice of the Constitution, the ancient line on which our forefathers always travelled, and on which we have hitherto travelled, is not sufficient for an adequate extension of the franchise and an adequate and satisfactory representation of the people. The idea of education, in the sense of reading, writing, and arithmetic—and I know not what other branches of knowledge may at some time be added—seems to me to be almost puerile in considering this question. The right hon. and learned Member for Dublin University is a man who has all the advantage of the highest education which the highest University of his country can give, and he has had his wits expanded by a great and successful practice in the law, and he has been in the House for many years, and we know how skilful he is in debate; but I undertake to say that the political principles of that University, so far as he represents them, are principles upon which the Government of this country can by no means be maintained. I say further that if this Parliament had governed the United Kingdom upon the principles of the representatives of the three Universities, there has been no anarchy in any European kingdom during the last hundred years that would have been comparable to the anarchy which would have prevailed amongst us. What is the object of education, except it be directed to a special question or a special purpose? My hon. Friend behind me, the Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill), is a man as highly educated, probably, as any man in this House; and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not surpassed in education and acquirements probably by any man in the kingdom:—but what is the good of their high classical and it may be scientific education, if directed to certain things and purposes which have not in the least come in their line? For instance, I will take them both into my factory in Lancashire, and put them to do the simplest thing:—I would set them to put one of the commonest pieces of machinery together, and to keep it going; and the result would be that they would be scarcely able to keep their fingers out of mischief—and we should in a short time have an addition to the number of those accidents which unfortunately happen too frequently in our manufactories. Education as regards politics—if a man is educated as regards politics—is just as good, of course, as education with regard to any other object. 1514 If you take all the clergy of England, who are an educated body of men—no doubt some of them are mediocre, but a great many of them are men of high attainments—but if you take these men and put them through an examination on political questions and political principles, you will find, for the most part, that they know very little indeed about them. Well, if an educated man—classically and scientifically educated—knows nothing of politics, which is very often the case, how shall he be more competent to decide who shall sit in this House—or, if he sit in this House himself, how shall he be more competent to decide what laws shall be passed than men in the humbler classes of society? The object in giving them the vote is this, that they should choose some man of their neighbourhood in whom they have confidence, that he may come to Parliament to assist in making the laws under which they shall live. I do not know whether we have any in this House who have written history, but we have many that have read it, and who may remember that it is not very long ago—say as late as the time of Queen Elizabeth—that probably the majority of the members of the Peerage of this country were not able to read or write; and much of the greatness of this country—it may be all the greatness—has been achieved when the upper classes as we now call them—the rich, the propertied, and the powerful classes had very little of that kind of education to which this Bill refers than is now obtained for the most part by the most industrious and intelligent of our Sunday school children. Let nobody get up after me and say that I disregard or undervalue the worth of education. I have not had the advantages which many have had, but that fact only makes me the more value that which other men have obtained, and there is not living at this moment any man who values more than I do for its usefulness to others, and for its luxury to one's self, that admirable education which is now being obtained to such an extent amongst the higher classes of society. But now I come to this particular Bill. I understand that it applies only to cities and boroughs, and that it does not apply to counties; though perhaps my hon. Friend will say that he is ready to apply it to the counties, and if he did so I suppose hon. Gentlemen opposite would support that proposal as much as they do the Bill which it is now proposed to apply only to cities and boroughs. Now I ask whether it is neces- 1515 sary for us—for I must be shown that it is before I can vote for this Bill—to depart from our ancient practice, because what we want is what the people shall feel to be a fair representation, and that this House shall undertake an honourable and intelligent guardianship of all public interests. The ancient Constitution held that every householder in every city and borough shall vote. No lawyer would—and I am sure the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin would not out of this House—undertake to deny that. If he would read the introduction to that admirable and laborious Report upon the boroughs of England, prepared by Serjeant Merewether and Mr. Stephen thirty years ago, when the Municipal Reform Bill was under discussion, he would find that proved beyond all possibility of dispute. For many reasons that franchise had become greatly limited, and it was necessary when the Reform question was considered in 1832 that that limitation should, to a large extent, be removed; I hold it to be a great misfortune that the old Constitution was not then restored. The limitation, however, was removed, and the franchise was extended to the limit of an occupation of £10 per annum. Why was it that Government and Parliament fixed upon £10 in 1832? I have no doubt it was fixed upon this ground, and this only—that, looking generally at the occupiers of £10 houses in boroughs, it was believed that they were a class of men moderately and sufficiently independent in means and income, and sufficiently informed to enable them in their different constituencies to select, without an absolute stupidity, Members to sit in this House. Everybody is now delighted with the £10 franchise of 1832; and there are some who express an extreme admiration for it, I suppose chiefly because they do not want to go lower than that. But what is the ground upon which the Government now ask the House to proceed further and to go as far as £7. I am not about to defend £7 in the least. I should just use the same argument as regards the £8, £6, or £5 franchise. The ground is this. There has been a great advance of intelligence amongst the people, and a great extension of political information, and no doubt a great extension also of independent feeling and of a desire for political position. Therefore they say that all the arguments that were in favour of a £10 franchise in 1832, and by which then it was success- 1516 fully defended, can now be brought forward in favour of a further extension of the franchise, to a somewhat lower amount, which the Government has proposed to fix at £7. Let me ask the House whether this test of occupation which our forefathers first established is not the highest and best test for the adjustment of a great question like this. What is the difference generally between men who live in houses of the lowest character—I mean lowest in point of value—and those men who live in houses worth £20, £50, or £100 per annum? We know, first of all, that the house which a man lives in is to a large extent the test of his income and his expenditure. I do not say that it is so in every case, but speaking of the rule all over the country, the house a man lives in and the rent he pays may be taken to be the test of his expenditure, and expenditure in the main is the test of income. The man who is a householder, in a great majority of cases, is a married man, and in a great majority of cases there are children in the house. You will generally find that he is a man with a fixed position, and if you enter the house you will find, as you begin from the lowest—say the £4 or £5—until you come to the £50 or £100 rental, all the signs of what we call civilization—namely, comfort, luxury, it may be, physical and mental enjoyment, newspapers, books, education, and so forth. This must be so clear that I will not argue it. You find in the houses of the smallest rental, and those which are the poorest furnished, less probability of the education of the children than there should be. Trace this from those lowest houses to the houses of higher quality, and you find that what I say is the case—the house is the real test for what you wish to ascertain when you propose to make an extension of the franchise. I will suppose, for the sake of argument, that the other Bill now before the House has passed, and that the franchise is lowered from £10 to £7. You will then include in it many persons who are just in the same condition in life as those that have the franchise above the £10 limit, and you include some of a somewhat lower condition in life; but the condition of those families between £10 and £7 is such that you may fairly confer the franchise upon the occupants of such houses; and at any future time, if you wish to extend it further—if this education about which you talk so much has further extended—you can go down to £6 or £5, or take your municipal franchise of house- 1517 hold suffrage. By the household test, I say, without fear of contradiction, that you get the best test you can possibly have of the means, and expenditure, and enjoyment, and education, and civilization, and independence, of the great bulk of the population. There is no manner of doubt about it, and our forefathers were perfectly right in regard to the course they took as to giving the franchise to the occupiers of houses in cities and boroughs; and the framers of the Reform Bill were right, if they thought it proper to depart in any degree from that ancient principle, in fixing a line of rental which they thought would fairly embody those whom they wished to enfranchise, so that it could be lowered at any time hereafter, when the public opinion of the country thought that it would be advantageous to admit a larger number of the population into the suffrage. The Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to one point in this Bill which I think is of considerable importance, and that is the different manner in which it would treat the young of twenty-one, and the old, I may say persons of fifty and upwards. I do not say it would be wholly inoperative—I do not say it would lead to universal suffrage. You would have under this Bill some—I do not know what number—of young men living with their parents who would obtain the franchise. It might admit a large number of young men from twenty-one to twenty-five or thirty years of age. Now, I have no objection to young men, but I think a system of franchise which said to the great bulk of the existing working men of England "Whilst your boys of twenty-one shall be admitted to the franchise under the Bill now before the House, you, their fathers, because in your time education was not so common, shall not be admitted, although it may be that you have brought up those very boys in the position in which they are now," I say a Bill like that would be wholly contrary to the constitution of the country, and would be grossly insulting to the great body of the working classes. That I hold to be a strong ground against this Bill. It is obvious that if the Bill came into operation it must operate precisely in the manner in which I have now described; because it is not to be expected, when men have been engaged in laborious occupations for twenty or thirty years, and their education very small at first, has remained wholly uncultivated afterwards, that they will in any appreciable numbers 1518 whatever come into the franchise by the operation of the Bill before the House. I am free to declare that it is not because this Bill will admit many or few, nor yet that it will lead to universal suffrage, that I am opposing it. I do not fear universal suffrage, but I do not in the least recommend it. I have never said anything for it in public or in private. I have a letter in my pocket at this moment from one of the most eminent writers in the United States, who tells me that he believes universal suffrage is the most Conservative thing in the world. Whether it be or not, I am for standing on the old line of the Constitution of this country. I believe that our forefathers were right and wise when they were willing to intrust the representation of the cities and boroughs of the kingdom to the heads of families, occupiers of houses within those cities and boroughs. And with that opinion I have opposed always, and probably shall always oppose, any of those fancy franchises which I believe are departures from the ancient Constitution, and which are generally offered to Parliament and the country by men who, I think I may say, have some fear lest that ancient Constitution should be fairly put in practice. Those literary gentlemen outside who write the London weekly papers, who are all for what they call culture because they happen to have a smattering of two dead languages, talk of culture and say the great body of working men of this country should be permanently excluded from the franchise. I have no sympathy with such notions, nor any of those schemes which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire proposed in 1859, and which the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Beresford Hope) calls educational franchises. The hon. Member for Stoke spoke as though he wished to impose upon the House when he called Lord Derby's Bill a Bill with educational franchises. Why, it was a Bill to admit lawyers, from the highest of the profession to the humblest attorney, medical men who were licensed, schoolmasters, and so forth. As a rule, all those classes would be admitted by the Bill which is now proposed by the Government. There is not a man of any one of those classes who would say he was dissatisfied, and believed, notwithstanding he himself might by accidental circumstances be excluded, that those classes were excluded—there was never one of those men—lawyer, doctor, minister of religion, or schoolmaster—that was not fairly repre- 1519 sented in this House. I am against these fancy franchises. I stand by the old line of the Constitution. I say that our forefathers were generous and just in their views of representation, and I would rather take their opinion and act upon their example than take the opinion of the hon. Gentlemen opposite, who seems to me to change about with a facility that is ludicrous and deplorable. By such changes, in conjunction with some Members on this side of the House—they think they can embarrass the Government and thwart the progress of the Government Bill for the representation of the people. I believe if this Bill were passed, or Bills of this nature, they would produce confusion throughout the country in that which is now simple. There is not a working man in England—I hope, at any rate, there is not an hon. Member on that side of the House—after what we have heard during the last two months, who can doubt my anxiety to admit the working classes to a fair representation in this House: but I am unwilling to depart from principles which have been long tried, which we thoroughly comprehend, and which can give working men representation fairly and constitutionally, to favour any of those new-fangled propositions, although they may be introduced with perfect sincerity, as I do not doubt this Bill is introduced by my hon. Friend, who is the father of this Bill. I beg hon. Gentlemen opposite, if I may give them a word of warning—after twenty years of looking into their faces, and speaking to them, I am afraid too often—they perhaps yet suppose I would say things to them which I do not believe. If they do, they do me a great injustice. I ask you whether, if instead of professing, as to-day, in very vague language—1 know what it means—probably to be followed by votes that are not vague—an enthusiasm for a wide extension of the suffrage through the door of this Bill, would it not be more consistent with your assumed character for Conservatism if you were to adhere to the ancient lines of the Constitution, and if you find it desirable to admit any number, be it large or small, to the possession of the franchise, to travel on the same road that your forefathers have travelled—a road which is adequate for all purposes, of a most complete and satisfactory representation—a road along which I will undertake to say the working men of England look for that emancipation which they claim, and not to any fanciful proposi- 1520 tions like that which is now before the House?
Sir, I desired to rise earlier in the debate, in order to reply to the challenge of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy, who expressed his surprise that I had not. already asked for statistics showing the number of persons to be enfranchised under this Bill. But I think the right hon. Gentleman forgets the exact position in which we stand. When we were discussing the second reading of the Bill for the better representation of the people, we were discussing a Bill to the figures and other details of which the Government had absolutely pledged themselves. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had been going about the country breaking his bridges and burning his boats; and we knew that it was the determination of the Government to adhere to the £7 franchise; and therefore we could only discuss the Bill upon the assumption that that franchise formed an integral portion of it. If the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hull (Mr. Clay) had taken the same line, we should have been placed in a similar difficulty with regard to his Bill. If the hon. Member had declared that he had passed the Rubicon, and was going to stand or fall by the chief details of his measure, I should feel a difficulty in voting for the second reading. But he has brought forward this Bill, as I understand him, merely to sanction a principle; he has not said that he is resolved to adhere to every detail, or even to every important detail; and we may therefore hope, if the House should now sanction the principle, that in Committee we may induce him so to modify the Bill that there may be no danger of admitting extravagant numbers to the representation, or of passing impracticable provisions. If we should get into Committee, one point I should certainly deem essential—namely, that the franchise it would bestow should be regarded as supplemental and complementary to other qualifications for the franchise. I believe it is the general feeling of the House—I am sure it is the feeling of this side of the House—that an educational qualification, meaning thereby the qualification of intelligence, no matter how ascertained, is essential to fit a man for the proper exercise of the franchise. At the same time, it is felt we should by no means divorce our legislation from that principle of property and occupation which is already contemplated by our 1521 law, and which we hold to be one of the first principles of the Constitution. I do not, therefore, feel myself precluded from voting for the Bill because it does not contain such provisions. Its main principle is one to which we attach the greatest value: and, as the hon. Member (Mr. Clay) is not obstinately wedded to details, I have no doubt that in Committee we shall be able to adjust clauses which will be satisfactory to many Members on both sides of the House. We have heard a great deal this afternoon about our ancient Constitution. In fact, this afternoon has been remarkable for Conservative speeches, de-livered by orators from whom we should have least expected them. Some inspiration of Conservatism seems to have lighted upon men whom I should have regarded as among the most advanced Radicals in the House—the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the hon. Member for Birmingham. The hon. Member, in particular, expressed a deep admiration for the ways of our forefathers; for the ancient paths of the Constitution, and for principles which, having tried, we have found safe and effectual, in preference to new and untried principles of which he entertains, it seems, a great horror. Now when I hear an idolater of democratic institutions, an admirer of Americans, a Gentleman who is always urging legislation according to the American model—when I hear him appealing to the principles of our ancient Constitution, I feel very much as Antonio felt when Shylock quoted Scripture for his purpose. I will ask the House whether, in their opinion, the ancient Constitution of England was democratic? In ancient times, no doubt, it was found safe and right to intrust large bodies of the lower classes with very considerable power. But was that power the rule of numbers over the rest of the community? Was it not balanced by strong constitutional checks, which the rule of mere numbers could never overcome? You had, then, a really powerful Monarchy; you had a House of Lords, whose prerogatives and privileges no one disputed; you had a population far more thoroughly under the influence of the higher classes than they are at present; and with a population so constituted, with institutions in that stage of development, it was undoubtedly consistent with a thoroughly non-democratic Constitution that in particular cases the franchise should be largely given. But, applying to the hon. Member for Birmingham the words which 1522 he applied to the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Beresford Hope), I say that he is imposing upon the House when he tries to find in the ancient Constitution of this country any sanction for the democratic views to which he has devoted himself with such fervour. The truth of the matter is that we have to vote upon this Bill, and we on this side of the House are inclined to vote in its favour, because we are at present engaged in mending the bad Bill of the Government. The Government has already committed us to propositions which in our opinion will give an undue advantage to the numerical principle. We seek, then, for restrictions and conditions that shall put a check upon that principle, and enable us to adopt the proposals of the Government, or something like them, with safety. The whole question relating to this constitutional change must be dealt with on the principle of compensation. The hon. Member for Birmingham objects to what he calls fancy franchises. I do not doubt that he objects to them, for it is by these franchises, these compensatory provisions, that we hope to diminish the power of mere numbers, and to reconcile a wide extension of the suffrage with the maintenance of our institutions as they are. If you pass the Government Bill in its present shape, we say that it will have two great faults among others; and one is that it will increase corruption. We did our best the other night to remedy that evil, and to our extreme astonishment were opposed by the advanced Liberals. The other great fault of the Bill is that it will give power to ignorance. We are now doing our best to remedy that evil also; and again we find that ignorance is as popular with the Liberal party and its leaders as corruption was on Monday. Sir, I was not surprised at the sneers which the hon. Member for Birmingham launched at what he called culture. For I well know that if the instincts of culture—if the opinions which culture suggests—if the philosophy with which all knowledge really and thoroughly pursued must imbue the minds of politicians—if these are to prevail there is very little chance in this country for the views of the hon. Member and his school of thinkers. His whole hope is in the supremacy of ignorance. His main object is to discourage and sneer down culture in every form. ["Oh, oh !"] I assure hon. Gentlemen that I heard the phrase issue from his lips with as much surprise as they did. Whatever an hon. Member might think, I 1523 did not expect that any man—even the advocate of the most democratic principles—would sneer at culture for its own sake. [Mr. BRIGHT: I never did so.] Did not the hon. Member sneer at those who wrote out of doors because they possessed culture—because they know fragments of one or two dead languages which he appeared to look upon with intense contempt? Possibly if the hon. Member had himself cultivated those two languages with greater concern, he would know more and be a more reliable guide. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: Oh !] I am sorry to excite the anger of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We all know with what success he has cultivated these "dead languages." I ask him whether he cannot find in the range of ancient literature much that will teach a man to dread democracy? And when I listen to so distinguished a master of oratory as the hon. Member is—one whose culture of his own tongue is so undoubted, and who, I cannot help thinking, has much of that other culture which he affects to despise—I am surprised that he, too, should not have read in the lessons of ancient experience and the teachings of ancient sages a warning of the dangers into which he is recklessly hurrying his country. Sir, I had no wish to occupy the House, but I desired to set myself right with regard to the grounds upon which my vote will be given to-day. For the details of the Bill in their entirety I do not vote. I do not even pledge myself to this Bill as a single and isolated measure. But, as we are already engaged in mending the Government measure, and this Bill appears to contain a corrective of that which is perilous in the measure of the Government, I accept it in the hope that, if we are bound to the principle of numbers in our Constitution we may at least have some assurance that those admitted to the franchise will properly exercise the trust conferred upon them.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
I wish in a few words to recall the attention of the House, and I hope of the country, to the very remarkable position in which this measure is placed by the speeches which have been delivered upon the other side. The noble Lord the Member for Stamford (Viscount Cranbourne), and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University (Mr. Whiteside), professing to vote for the principle of this Bill upon its second reading, have, if I understand their speeches rightly, supported it as a restric- 1524 tive measure, imposing limits and fetters upon the franchise as already enjoyed, or upon the extended franchise proposed by the Government. Now, what is this Bill? Its title is, "A Bill to extend the Elective Franchise for Cities and Boroughs in England and Wales;" its preamble says that "it is expedient to confer the right of voting for Members" "upon certain of Her Majesty's subjects who have not heretofore possessed the same." From the beginning to the end, every clause in the Bill is an enfranchising clause; but the argument on the other aide is a disfranchising argument. Says my noble Friend opposite, "We do not vote for this Bill upon its merits; we do not commit ourselves to a single clause; we do not intend to confer the franchise either on those who can read and write and do a little arithmetic, or any other class of persons whatever, upon the footing of an independent educational qualification. But we have before us the bad Bill of the Government and"—I am happy to hear this from my noble Friend—"we are engaged in an attempt to mend that Bill." He is, therefore, most anxious to get into Committee on the Bill, there devoting his attention to the Amendment of its clauses; and then an excellent idea occurs to my noble Friend and the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Whiteside)."The Government are going to extend the franchise to a certain class of householders whose rental is below the amount which now gives a title to the franchise. If that measure passes—not otherwise, because we have not the least notion of extending the franchise—if by any accident the House should give electoral privileges to any class of Her Majesty's subjects not now possessed of then—what a capital thing it will be to have an educational test; not in the counties, because there an educational test might not be altogether acceptable, but in the cities and boroughs! Here are 'conditions,' restrictions,' 'qualifications,' upon the extended franchise proposed! Here we have a valuable 'corrective' to the Government plan! Here are the necessary 'compensations,' and 'checks' to an extended franchise!" This is the position taken by my noble Friend and the hon. and learned Gentleman. Now, it is well that this should be understood; I confess that it entirely relieves hon. Members opposite from the possibility of our retorting upon them the charge which my noble 1525 Friend made against the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the hon. Member (Mr. Bright), that all on a sudden Radicals had turned Conservatives. It might otherwise have occurred to the unenlightened and uninitiated, who did not know what was going on, that perhaps Conservatives had on a sudden turned Radicals. My noble Friend takes care that we should be better informed. Are hon. Gentlemen on the other side going to confer the franchise on everybody who can read, write, and do a little arithmetic? Nothing of the sort. "We don't mean to extend the franchise at all if we can help it," says my noble Friend—"we do not want to confer the right of voting upon any of Her Majesty's subjects who have not heretofore possessed it; but if by any accident the franchise should be fixed below the £10 line, we may, perhaps, by engrafting upon that measure the change proposed by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Clay), in some degree neutralize and limit its operation." Now, if it be wise and right to limit and neutralize in any such way the increase of the constituencies, a proposal to this effect may be made in Committee upon the Government Bills; but to vote for the principle of the measure now before the House upon these grounds calls to my mind words which we have often heard—"an organized hypocrisy." And now, while upon my legs, I would take the liberty of tendering my thanks to the hon. Member for Birmingham for the speech which he has just addressed to the House. The hon. Member has often said many things which I have heard and read with pain—not so often in this House as out of it. The admiration I feel for his abilities and distinguished services, and the respect which I have always been disposed to feel for his character, have made me regret most sincerely the things to which I have alluded. They have given an advantage—a very considerable advantage—to the opponents of measures which he has, I believe, for the good of his country, desired to see pass. But on this occasion his sentiments are the same which I believe he has before expressed, and which I and all who attended the meeting at the house of the Premier before the introduction of this Bill heard him express—that he never had been, and did not expect that he ever should be, an advocate either of universal or of manhood suffrage; that he adhered to the ancient principle of household suffrage already known to the Constitution; 1526 that he expected the ultimate extension of the franchise to go as far as that, but further than that he did not expect or desire to go. Sir, I should be ashamed of myself if, hearing this said by an hon. Gentleman who has so often been the subject of attack in this House, I did not in my place here state that for some years past, since I have been able to give my mind to the consideration of this question, I have held opinions substantially the same as those expressed by the hon. Gentlemen. Of course, I am now stating my own views, and not the views of those near me; hut I do think that the present municipal franchise—a franchise given to heads of families inhabiting rated houses—is the point to which we must ultimately advance, and to which on Conservative principles I, for one, should be well pleased to advance now. Meanwhile, I repeat that a great public service has been done by the hon. Gentleman in making the House and the country understand that with regard to the franchise he does not favour those extreme and revolutionary measures the advocacy of which has been sometimes imputed to him.
§ MR. ADDERLEY
Sir, the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down (the Attorney General) summed up his attack upon this side of the House by retorting upon us one of those pointed expressions which have become celebrated from the mouth of the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire. He stigmatizes our opposition as an "organized hypocrisy." He says that we are employing in favour of an enfranchising Bill disfranchising arguments. But let me ask him whether every Bill for the extension of the elective franchise short of universal suffrage is not a disfranchising Bill of necessity; for what is any Bill qualifying the elective franchise but a Bill to disfranchise all below its limit? [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen laugh at that argument—but the Bill of the Government is a disfranchising Bill, and is defended chiefly upon the ground of its disfranchisement. If it were not, why did they take the limit of £7 and except all between that and zero. The question before the House is simply one of degree. What limit shall we impose upon universal suffrage; the question is one of degree and limit; whether the limit of the Government be a good and satisfactory limit, or whether the Bill proposed by the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Clay) does not suggest to us another qualification that might be combined with that of the Govern- 1527 ment, and in combination with it might give a safer protection against the approach of universal suffrage. The hon. Member for Hull, in introducing his Bill, said that he looked on the Bill of the Government as inevitably tending to universal suffrage, and he proposed his educational franchise simply as a limit and as a clog upon the inevitable progress to universal suffrage. There is nothing more remarkable in this debate than two points that have been elicited; first, the horror of the Chancellor of the Exchequer at universal suffrage; and secondly, the anxiety of the hon. Member for Birmingham to walk in the ancient lines of the Constitution. The hon. Gentleman has come out as the champion of the Constitution as a bigotted old Tory. The fact is that there is nobody to whom the Conservatives are more indebted than the hon. Member for Birmingham, for his attacks upon them—for his unlicensed abuse of the country party, and I would even say for his open and avowed attacks upon the Constitution of his country; for the effect has been that there has been such a re-action in the opinion of the country that it has done more for the interests of the Conservative party than even the best arguments of the Conservatives themselves. What has the hon. Gentleman said in his remarks to-day? He says that the ancient lines of the Constitution preclude the Government from even discussing this educational franchise. He supposed it to be a novelty, and as a novelty he would discard even the discussion of it. Let me say that there is nothing essential to the Constitution in the mode in which you impose a test or limit upon the franchise; but what is common both to the Bill of the Government and to this Bill of the hon. Member for Hull is that it imposes a test and a limit upon the elective franchise; and whether the Government test of property, or the educational test be adopted, there is no essential difference between them. What is essential and what the hon. Member for Birmingham may safely follow out in standing on the ancient ways of the Constitution is imposing some limit, and as we see no secure limit in the proposition of the Government against a rapid descent to democracy, we are glad to take into consideration any additional check, and we think that a combination of the two proposed might be some additional security. The hon. Member for Birmingham said that he hoped that 1528 no one who followed him in the debates would accuse him of depreciating education; but I say that it was impossible for any one to hear his remarks without seeing that he did do so. He said that if the legislation of this country had been carried on in the spirit of the Universities, we should have seen no progress in the past century, and he laid down the principle that he saw little use in a test of general education unless it were special to some practical purpose. I, for my part, would take just the reverse of that principle. I see very little good in special unless it is based on general education; and it is exactly on that principle that I do not want a knowledge of political economy, or the dead languages, or such like knowledge to be the test of the franchise; but I want some proof of mental fitness—such as some minimum proof of general education and intelligence—which, in combination with other tests, may be useful as restricting to capable citizens a defence of the Constitution. In discussing the second reading of this measure we are simply to take into view the principle of it; and, with the single exception of the hon. Member for Birmingham, no one has disputed the wisdom of the principle of the measure. The whole speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was suited for Committee and not for the second reading. Every criticism of the right hon. Gentleman referred to details of the Bill. ["No, no!"] I appeal to those who heard it whether the various clauses were not brought up one after the other and criticized and scanned, and the objections thus raised were the sole objections made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the second reading—some of them were inconsistent with others, but all were such as could be removed in Committee. This Bill is very much akin to that of the Government; they both stand on the same ground; they both discuss tests and limits of the franchise, and they both in my opinion go greatly too far in their propositions. The Government Bill proposes to intrust the elective franchise mainly to those who have the least property, and the Bill of the hon. Member for Hull proposes to place the elections mainly in the hands of those who could barely read and write. They both go too far; but I believe that the two might be very well combined, and that the tests of property and education in combination would be much safer than 1529 either the one or the other alone. The Chancellor of the Exchequer having first expressed his fear that this Bill might lead to universal suffrage, afterwards suggested many other objections in a totally different direction. He said that the examination proposed was too severe, though the hon. Member for Hull had said that he proposed that amount of education which was required for the lowest employments in the Civil Service. Then he said that the payment of 1s. fee would be an additional bar; but this only showed how far the right hon. Gentleman appreciated the desire of the lower classes to have the franchise, if he thought the payment of 1s. would be an obstacle to its acquisition. He then said that there were forms prescribed by the Bill which would act as a restriction; but was he not well aware that if the franchise were greatly extended the matters of form would be conducted, not by the voters, but as in America, by agents for them, who would act in elections upon a large scale as factors of votes? The question before us is, what is the best and safest line in the face of the advance of universal suffrage; and I would appeal to the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill), who is by far the most able writer upon the subject, and upon whose principles the Bill is, in fact, founded. He himself has maintained that upon such an extension of the suffrage as was proposed by the Government—and adopting which we must look to a much greater extension—it would be wise in this country to combine with it very considerable checks; and he proposed a most effectual check in the shape of plurality of votes; that the rich banker and merchant should have more votes than his clerk, and the scholar than an ignorant labourer. But these philosophers are not to be depended upon in this practical House; for when these questions come for decision they are so enamoured of the abstract principle that they forget all checks which in their writings they described as necessary, and support the proposition without any safeguards. I say therefore that the hon. Member for Westminster is a broken reed to rely upon, and that we must be cautious in attaching his reasons to a practical conclusion. But I appeal to him to say whether he has not argued that these checks were absolutely necessary; and that is the sole proposition which is before us now. I maintain that we can put these two Bills—the Bill of 1530 the Government, and the Bill of the hon. Member for Hull—together; and that if we combine both checks on the descending process of the franchise, it will be much safer than to take the Bill of the Government without any check. I wish the House to recollect that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has allowed thus much—that at all events an educational test might be admitted to this extent, that when a voter gave his vote at the poll he might be called on to sign his name. This is a material admission, and the hon. Member for Hull should recollect it, and if he is deprived of the nine-tenths of his Bill he may take refuge in that as a valuable additional test of that intelligence and independent interest in politics which ought to be required of a voter. The views which I have taken lead me to give my vote for the second reading of the Bill, which I feel is, in principle, in accordance with the Government Bill.
§ MR. LOCKE
said, he was at a loss to understand the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, for the latter part of it contradicted the first. In the beginning he said that if the Bill of the hon. Member for Hull were added to the Government Bills it would limit them, and at the end of his speech he appeared to think that the three Bills were tending to universal suffrage. He (Mr. Locke) could not understand how things which were tending in the same direction could be made to limit each other. The right hon. Gentleman had treated the hon. Member for Birmingham very unfairly. He had read that hon. Gentleman's speeches for many years, and he had never known him to express opinions on this subject different from those which he had this day expressed. He would challenge any hon. Gentleman to show from the speeches of the hon. Member for Birmingham, and he had addressed many meetings on the subject for some years past, that he ever desired to reduce the franchise in this country except upon principles already established. The hon. Member for Birmingham had always advocated household suffrage—whether with payment of rates or without was simply a matter of discussion, and the Attorney General had stated that household suffrage where the householder was rated was the proper suffrage. Hon. Gentlemen opposite should remember that the question of payment of rates, in connection with the franchise, had been a bone of contention from the Reform Bill in 1832 1531 to the present time, and that two months had hardly elapsed after Its passing before that very point was raised and contested. Some might think that the franchise should be disembarrassed of the payment of rates—others not; but it was an important thing to decide whether the two should be connected or not. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Adderley) had said that the advocates of household suffrage were advocates of manhood suffrage, and therefore the Bill of the hon. Member for Hull should be attached to the Government Bill in order to limit its operation. But the right hon. Gentleman should have remembered that in boroughs like Preston, Southwark, and Westminster the scot and lot voters had formerly been the persons who returned Members to Parliament, and could he as a strict Conservative object to revert to the principles of the ancient Constitution of this land? And then the clauses were called revolutionary which would merely extend the principles which had been adopted in modern times, which would not bring back the rights of voters to what they were before they were curtailed by the Act of 1832, but would merely take a step in that direction. The noble Lord the Member for Huntingdonshire (Lord Robert Montagu) would annex to the franchise proposed in the Government Bill the tests of reading, writing, and ciphering, and that was to be done in Committee. But that was not the proposition of the hon. Member for Hull, who declared the franchise proposed in his Bill to be distinct from all other franchises, and to be in addition to them—not a limit upon them. The object of the noble Lord was, therefore, entirely at variance with that of the hon. Member for Hull. The preamble declared that it was expedient to extend the suffrage throughout the country. But though that was quite proper the Bill was objectionable in this respect, that it was not to be applied to counties. Why should it not be so applied? If it were necessary to introduce intelligence into the boroughs, â fortiori it was necessary to introduce it into the counties. He knew that hon. Members opposite would not assert there was more intelligence in county than in borough electors. If the Bill passed it was easy to see that voters might be manufactured without limit and without difficulty. The noble Lord opposite had only to bring the schoolmaster into Huntingdonshire and teach the people up to the point required—it would not be necessary that they 1532 should understand the rights of the Constitution, or the wants of the community; all they would have to do would be to get well crammed with the "three R's" to pass the examination, and then they would be let loose, a component part of the constituency, for the rest of their lives. Thus the noble Lord and hon. Gentlemen opposite would create their own voters at about 10s. 6d. a head, and that would not be too great a tax upon the landlords. Hon. Gentlemen were so little in earnest on this Bill that it would be said the House was "out for a lark" on Wednesday morning, and met in different lobbies to finish the amusement of the day. Some hon. Members got up, and, with grave faces, not only argued from their own philosophy, but drew copiously from the philosophy of the hon. Member for Westminster. The right hon. and learned Member for Dublin University (Mr. Whiteside) talked about Italy and many other subjects, but the staple commodity of his speech was the philosophy of the hon. Member (Mr. Stuart Mill). Now, he (Mr. Locke) would admit that he was fond of reading to a certain extent, but he would also admit that philosophy was not one of the things that particularly charmed him. A troublesome pursuit, indeed, was the reading of philosophy; for by the time you had got into your head all the dogmas and doctrines of the philosopher, that edition of his books had run out and he wrote another. And what was the consequence? You had always got to do it all over again. If you had read your philosopher well, you quoted him. Your friends said, "Who are you quoting?" You perhaps replied—"Mr. Stuart Mill." And the remark was "Ridiculous !"He had asserted the other day that Mr. Stuart Mill was in favour of the ballot. His friends said," Oh dear, no!" "But I read it." "Then it must have been a precious long while ago," one of them said; "because it was only the day before yesterday I read his work, and found that he is decidedly opposed to the ballot." His hon. Friend had once written in favour of the admission of ladies to that House, and in favour of admitting them as jurymen—he begged pardon, jurywomen. If the hon. Gentleman would take up the question so long advocated by Mr. Grantley Berkeley, and endeavour to take away the screen of the ladies' gallery, which prevented hon. Members from looking at them, it would be a step in the right direction, and they would all agree with him. He would ask 1533 the House whether it had not heard enough of philosophy to-day. To use a common phrase, they had had a regular "go-in" at it, and now let them get back to the region of common sense, which would teach them when they went into the lobby to vote as they thought. He should do so, most unquestionably. He should oppose this Bill—he hoped hon. Gentlemen on the other side would not laugh—for the reasons given by the hon. Member for Birmingham. It might be philosophy, but it was newfangled, incomprehensible, and contrary to the Constitution.
SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, he desired to say a few words before the conclusion of the debate, to which he had listened with very great interest. Many remarkable statements, and some strange phenomena, had been witnessed in the course of the discussion; but he must say that the phenomenon which struck him as the most curious was the conjunction between the Attorney General and the hon. Member for Birmingham. They had heard a great deal of grouping lately, and some very strange instances of it had been brought under the attention of the House in connection with the scheme of the Government. But strange as it might appear that such towns as Westbury and Wells, or Lymington and Andover, should be grouped together, he thought that neither these nor any of the other equally curious groupings in the Bill were so remarkable as the group which had been presented to the House by his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General towards the close of his speech. His hon. and learned Friend got up and told the House that the silence which he had so long preserved upon the subject of the extension of the franchise was not occasioned by any dissatisfaction because the measure of the Government went too far, but that on the contrary that if he had been consulted, he should have concurred with the hon. Member for Birmingham in the opinion that it did not go nearly far enough; that upon this point he and the hon. Member for Birmingham were at one, and that the extension of the franchise ought not to stop short of household suffrage. That was a remarkable coincidence. They knew that groups were not confined to two, and that sometimes a third was added, and he (Sir Stafford Northcote) was going to ask to be allowed to associate himself in a certain sense, and with perfect consistency, with the hon. and learned Gentleman and the hon. Member for Bir- 1534 mingham. He did not intend to go the length of saying that it was desirable to extend the franchise down to household suffrage; but he would agree that if it were the intention of the House to extend the franchise by going below the £10 limit for boroughs, there was no point whatever short of household suffrage at which they could consistently stop. Sooner or later under such circumstances, they must come down to household suffrage; and he was prepared to say that if that were the point to which they must go, he was just as willing that it should take place at once as that it should take place at a later date. If they were to have any extension of the suffrage at all it would be far better to have one that would settle the question for a considerable length of time, and which—to use an expression that had been uttered in the course of the Reform debate—would enable them to feel the ground under them. There was nothing more mischievous than that there should be a vista of Reform Bills one after another, reducing the franchise step by step from £10 to £8, and from £8 to £7, and from £7 to £6, and from £6 to £5; thus keeping a perpetual running sore in the Constitution. He was anxious, therefore, that the question should be settled in one way or the other, and, if possible, that it should be settled in the present year. He hoped now that they were discussing the question before them on rational and philosophical principles, that it would be discussed fairly and fully, and some grounds found upon which the franchise might safely rest. And now he must part company with the Attorney General and the hon. Member for Birmingham. He was obliged with the utmost sharpness and definiteness to say that he thought to descend to household suffrage at once or at any time, with any safeguards whatever, would be a most mischievous and reckless innovation on the Constitution. Upon that ground he opposed, and should always do so, any general lowering of the franchise beyond the present limit of £10. That being so, how was he now to deal with the Bill? A certain problem had been presented to them. It had been represented that the progress of intelligence had been such that in the large cities and boroughs there were many who might exercise the franchise with extreme advantage, and that it would be a great improvement if they were brought within the pale, not of the Constitution, but of 1535 the electoral body. He agreed that a considerable number of working men might be thus enfranchised with advantage. The question was, however, how it should be done. Several plans had been suggested at different times. There had been the "fancy franchises," as they were termed; and it had been thought that either by the savings bank franchise or an educational franchise something effectual might be done, so as to introduce not the whole body of the artizans, but the more intelligent and more deserving part of that body. The present was a measure of this kind, being founded on the principle that some other test than the rental of a house might be adopted as a test for the electoral franchise. A great deal had been said as to the motives which induced hon. Members on his side of the House to vote for this measure, and it was asserted that there was some inconsistency between the line taken by one and another. It was not for him to say whether the arguments used in the support of the Bill were perfectly consistent with each other; but he was anxious clearly to define his own position in voting for the second reading of the Bill, and he would assure the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Locke) that he intended to vote as he thought. He did not believe that the principle of the Bill went to universal suffrage or anything approaching to it, nor did he wish to restrict the franchise already given, but he supported the measure because it extended the franchise in cities and boroughs to those who were now excluded from it. If Parliament thought it right to extend the franchise to a large number of the people, it was far better to do so by some kind of educational test than by the unsatisfactory and, as it seemed to him, dangerous principle adopted by the Government for the reduction of the renting franchise from £10, whether that was a reduction to £7, £6, or £5. He did not think the particular figure of the reduction was a matter of much consequence; he did not know whether he should think it worth while to walk from the House into the lobby in order to vote for one of these figures as against another. The principle of selecting those who were to be admitted to the franchise was one, it appeared to him, that had been very well received and very favourably spoken of by many who were not prepared to support the present Bill. His hon. Colleague in the House (Mr. Acland) had, he observed, 1536 given notice that on the discussion for the extension of the franchise, he would move that the franchise be extended to certain persons upon an educational test; that graduates of the universities and members of certain learned professions, although not £10 householders should enjoy the privilege of voting for Members of Parliament. He (Sir Stafford Northcote) agreed in the principle of that clause, but it was a clause that was applicable only to the rich, and if it were good for the rich, why should they not extend it to the poor? All the arguments used by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his remarkable speech at the beginning of the debate against the extension of the educational franchise to the poor, were equally applicable to the clause proposed to be moved by his hon. Colleague. The right hon. Gentleman said that these examinations were troublesome, that they would put those who were to be admitted to a considerable expense, and that they would admit to the privilege of voting young men not so ripe or so well qualified to exercise the franchise as they would subsequently become. All these considerations would apply to the admission of graduates of the Universities. How were they to be examined without considerable trouble and expense, and would they not be permitted to vote at an age when men were not usually qualified as householders? If the Legislature was prepared to do this for members of the Universities, why should it not equally be done for artizans? Was it an objection to giving the artizan the franchise that it would put him to some trouble? He had thought it was a great object to separate those who thought it worth their while to obtain the franchise, from those who were indifferent to its exercise. Look at the proportion of voters in many of the large borough constituencies who abstained from voting, and the indifference with which a large class looked upon the franchise unless when they were roused by mass meetings and told they were refused something which they had a right to obtain. But although a very large portion cared very little for the franchise, there were others who were anxious to possess it; and if the Legislature imposed a reasonable educational test, they would have the means of distinguishing between those who desired to obtain the franchise and those who were indifferent to its possession. And when it was contended that intelligence alone was not a test of fitness, 1537 it was well to remember that an intellectual standard was the test of other qualities. It showed that a man had a certain amount of self-denial and perseverance, that he had given up enticing pleasures, and that he endeavoured to qualify himself for the higher duties he had to perform. His hon. Friend the Member for Hull would remember that they had heard a great deal of this argument years ago, when they sat upon the Committee on Civil Service Examinations. It used to be said that those examinations did not test the qualifications which civil servants ought to have—that they did not want to find out what the candidate knew, but what he was. But the examinations did test what he was, because they tested how far he had been industrious, what use he had made of his time, and whether he had devoted himself to suitable studies. And they used to make a contrast—which might also well be made in the present case—between the selection of civil servants by examination and their selection merely because they were the relations of £10 householders. The argument they had urged in those days against the Secretary of the Treasury was this, "Examination may not be a perfect test, but it is, at least, as good as yours, for under your test you appoint a man only because he is the nephew or son of a person who lives in a £10 house." The hon. Member for Birmingham told them that the reason for reducing the franchise below £10, and fixing it at £7 or £6, was that when the £10 limit was adopted it was supposed that it would admit the comparatively educated class, and that education having since then further extended itself, they might expect by a lower franchise to obtain an educated class of voters. That was to say, as education extended itself, so it was reasonable that they should go down in the scale and extend the elective franchise. Now, he would ask, which was the best way of ascertaining whether men of a particular class had or had not availed themselves of the educational advantages that were offered them? Was it by taking the arbitrary limit of £6 or £7 rent, or by some process of examination? Surely the question would not bear argument for a moment. If they wished to know whether individuals or a class had availed themselves of the advantages of education, an examination was the simplest, easiest, and most direct mode of ascertaining the fact. Another point on which they had heard a good deal said was 1538 this—that if this measure were adopted it must lead to universal suffrage. Now, the Bill as at present drawn contained certain restrictions which would prevent the admission of all persons who were able to read, write, and cipher at once to the franchise; and it would be both perfectly easy and perfectly right, if they went into Committee, to introduce certain other restrictions to avert any undue swamping of the existing constituency by young men just fresh from school. They might impose the limit of age. They were often told that there were 5,000.000 males above twenty years of age who were now unrepresented. A very considerable percentage of those 5.000,000 consisted of young men between twenty and thirty; and, therefore, if they took a limit of age somewhat higher than twenty-one, and made it a condition that those who were admitted to the franchise by an educational test should not be below twenty-three, twenty-four, or twenty-five years of age, they would thereby interpose a considerable barrier against the supposed tendency of the system towards universal suffrage. Again, conditions as to residence and various other points might easily be imposed, so as, while admitting a large number of persons, not to open the door to their whole adult male population. But it was not necessary to enter into these matters now. What he said now was that he approved the principle of that Bill as he understood it—namely, as a Bill to admit certain persons to the franchise by an educational test; and all he was prepared to do was to give his assent to that principle by voting for the second reading of the measure. If he thought the details of the Bill were so absurd that there would be no possibility of putting it in a working shape in Committee, of course it would be futile to affirm a principle which could not be carried out. But he believed it would be perfectly easy to deal in Committee with every one of the objections which had been stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer—and scarcely anybody else had urged objections—and also perhaps to provide a satisfactory mode of meeting them. He did not say they would be able in that way to settle the whole question of the franchise; but that certainly was one of the very important considerations which ought to be taken into view when they were engaged upon that subject. He was very anxious that they should approach that question of the extension and settlement of the franchise upon something like a reason- 1539 able basis. They had a grave business before them. As they had been reminded in the course of those debates, it was no light matter to attempt to alter the foundations on which the House of Commons rested. It was all very well to talk as the hon. Member for Birmingham did—and no doubt with perfect sincerity—about wishing to stand upon the old lines of the Constitution; but they must remember that very great changes had taken place in the condition of England, in the Constitution of the country, especially in the position of that House in its relations to the executive Government, and, moreover, in regard to the class of persons who were now able and anxious to enter that House. Great changes had taken place in the motives which made gentlemen wish to come to that House, both of a social and economical character; and therefore it was absurd to say they should reject a proposition merely because it was not in accordance with the ancient lines of the Constitution. Why, it was quite possible to alter and entirely to violate the ancient spirit of the Constitution by keeping rigidly to what were called its ancient lines. He distrusted altogether—he would not say that new-born zeal—but that zeal almost too good to be true, of the hon. Member for Birminghan on behalf of the ancient Constitution of this country; and he ventured to think that the hon. Gentleman, if he pursued his task of carrying out the Constitution in the direction in which he proposed that it should be carried out, would land them upon something that would be extremely different from the Constitution of England as either they or their forefathers had known it. For himself he hoped they would be prepared to look to the circumstances of their own day—to look to what they wanted that House to he, and to what they wanted it to do, and to consider in what way they could most adequately provide for the selection of good and competent men to do their work. The Government of this country rested mainly in the hands of that House. That and the other branch of the Legislature had an influence over the Crown itself, over the executive Government, and over every power in the country, such as in former times they never had. And that House had this peculiar influence—it had not only the power of legislation and the power to a certain extent of controlling the Executive, but it also had the power and perhaps the duty of informing and maturing the mind of the country. Every question was dis- 1540 cussed in that House which agitated the community and different views were there brought to issue by those who were competent to debate them. The House and the country thus received very considerable information on points of difficulty and importance through their discussions. The office of the House was not merely to collect at first hand, as it were, the raw material of popular opinion, or the first hasty impressions of the people. If that were their sole office they would soon lose the authority and influence they possessed; because the first hasty impressions even of a majority were not always right. On the contrary, it was more probable that in the first instance the opinions of the majority would be somewhat wrong. He believed, indeed, that ultimately the opinions of the majority would, probably, come right; but their crude first impressions, until they had been submitted to discussion and argument, were as likely to be wrong as right. Therefore, care ought to be taken, when they were constructing the machinery by which that House was to be elected, not to fall into the vulgar error of supposing that their only object was to get a House of Commons which should represent the feeling of the great mass or majority of the people. They wanted a House of Commons which should represent all the different views and different interests existing among the people, in order that they might be able when a question was presented to them fairly and completely to discuss and sift that question. Public opinion, informed and influenced by the action of that House, would no doubt ultimately be supreme; but it was most important that, in the first instance, they should secure a well constituted and competent House of Commons, able to gather public opinion, as it were, into a focus, and give proper effect to it. Therefore, when they were considering what should be the constituent body to elect that House the same principle of selection rather than that of the admission of mere numbers ought to guide them in their attempts to improve the representation of the people. The subject of the elective franchise was a matter which might fairly engage, and which ought to engage, their serious consideration. They ought not to shrink from discussing the question how they could amend the representation and the franchise at full length and in the most thorough manner. They had been told that that Bill was supplementary and complementary 1541 to the measure of the Government. He did not know how far that Bill was to be called either supplementary or complementary, but that debate certainly was of great importance as supplementary to the discussion upon the principles of the Government Franchise Bill. The principles of the Government Franchise Bill were not as satisfactorily discussed even in the lengthened debate which had taken place upon them as they would have been if they had been brought into more direct issue; but they had been treated rather in relation to another portion of the Reform scheme which was then not before the House, and the House did not go as fully as it was desirable it should do into the principle upon which the suffrage should be extended. The discussion that day, whatever its results might be, had, however, done a great deal to supplement and complete their discussion upon the principle on which the franchise should be extended. Before sitting down he was anxious to join his voice to that of the hon. and learned Member for Southwark (Mr. Locke) in expressing a sincere hope that before the debate closed—and there was still time left for it—they might be favoured with the views of the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill.) He and that hon. Gentleman had known each other before in other positions, and he felt that the hon. Gentleman would not believe him to be guilty of any flattery when he said that that was a question which the hon. Member had made so much his own, and on which he had written so well, and also spoken so ably in former debates, that it was natural when they were discussing questions of that importance—questions of principle rather than of detail—they should be anxious to know what his opinions on the subject were. The impression of some Gentlemen when they came down to the House that day was that the views of the hon. Member for Westminster were likely to be favourable to the principle embodied in that Bill. Whether they were so or not it was impossible for him to tell, but he was sure the House would listen with the greatest pleasure to anything which that hon. Member might say on the subject. The hon. Gentleman, he knew, took in the main the view he had himself just expressed—namely, that it was important so to arrange the representation as to get the best possible selection of Members for the House of Commons; and he therefore ventured to ask the hon. Gentleman, 1542 whether, in his opinion, the principle of the hon. Member for Hull's proposal was not one well worthy of their consideration?
§ MR. ACLAND
said, that nobody was more anxious than he was to hear the hon. Member for Westminster, and if that hon. Gentleman wished then to address the House he should very willingly give place to him. [Mr. J. STUART MILL shook his head.] It was a remarkable fact that nobody had explained what was the real principle of this Bill. The leader of the Opposition had maintained a most doubtful silence, and had left the tactics to be pursued to be gradually revealed by those of his followers who had taken part in the debate. They had had various statements as to the nature and intention of that measure. The right hon. Member for North Staffordshire (Mr. Adderley) had told them that new restrictions were to be combined with the proposed £7 franchise, that that Bill was to be a clog and an additional check upon the extension of the suffrage. The hon. Baronet who had just spoken (Sir Stafford Northcote) only accepted the measure as a safeguard; and then he let out the result of the most remarkable silence maintained on the Opposition side for the last fortnight. ["Oh, oh !"] Well, he had himself been engaged in other duties in the country at Whitsuntide, and he had tried in vain to find out what was to be the move on the other side on Monday; but at length they had heard from the hon. Baronet that he was determined to oppose any reduction of the franchise, and that he, in fact, regarded that Bill as a substitute for the extension of the suffrage. Not being himself a pupil of the hon. Member for Birmingham, nor even scarcely having the honour of his acquaintance, he must nevertheless bear his personal testimony to the fact that in 1859 that hon. Gentleman had held just the same language before his constituents as he had held in that House. The hon. Member for Birmingham, when denouncing "fancy" franchises before his constituents, made use of the expression that he was a Conservative in the sense of going upon the old principles of the Constitution. The present Bill proposed to establish an official test for the qualification of a voter, irrespective of providence, character, or prosperity. That test was to be an examination of a purely abstract kind—not an examination as to real knowledge or practical skill—not a proof that a man had done or could do anything beyond working a sum. 1543 He was not opposed to what were called "fancy franchises," but maintained that they ought to be unconnected with the Government for the time being. This Bill, however, placed in the hands of subordinate officers of the executive Government the power of conferring the right of voting in this country as regarded all men who did not live in £10 houses. If that principle were applied to the boroughs, hon. Gentlemen opposite could not with any face refuse to apply it also to the counties. Were they prepared to say that the mere abstract, standard of reading, writing, and ciphering, applicable to little boys of eleven or twelve years of age who worked for farmers, was to be the test by which men should be admitted to exercise the elective franchise? Hon. Gentlemen opposite knew there was nothing which in their hearts they so much hated as a mere abstract intellectual qualification. A notice of Motion which he had himself given had been referred to as being of an analogous character to the present measure; but none of the franchises proposed by him were dependent on the official action of Government employés. He had often said that a mere house test, though a good one, ought not to be the only test for a voter. He was very favourable to educational tests which fulfilled the conditions of social as well as purely intellectual qualification. If the hon. Member could point out any local or other machinery independent of the Government and applied by persons having no direct interest in the control of the examinations he would be disposed to support it.
§ MR. MONTAGU CHAMBERS
said, he wished to explain his reasons for voting against the Bill. Although he had listened attentively to the debate, he had failed to discover that anything liked a fixed idea prevailed with regard to the principle of the Bill, or any precise explanation as to what was contemplated by it. He was unable to discover whether it was education alone or education coupled with some other qualification that should give the vote. He would therefore start with supposing that they meant education alone; and having listened to the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, and certain philosophic extracts that had been read from the writings of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster, he could not ascertain what was meant by education. Was it mere book learning? Was it the instruction which 1544 might be obtained in our ordinary schools in reading, writing, and ciphering, or was it that more extensive instruction which would enable a man to judge of the value of the vote with which he might be intrusted? Upon that point no two speakers seemed to concur in opinion, each person classifying the description of education to be required under different heads. Supposing it to mean, to use an ancient expression to be found in Bacon, that it was simply book-learning, then the course of the debate had introduced a number of difficulties having reference to University or middle-class education, and such as was given to the working classes. But if the supporters of the Bill would look to its provisions and see the nature and character of the education contemplated, and the examination which those who desired a vote were to undergo, this would be found to be an attempt to deceive and injure them, and he had no hesitation in saying that it was an extremely insidious Bill, and likely to do them more harm than good. Scarcely a working man would submit himself to the examination proposed, and, according to his impression of the working classes, when they came to read this debate they would exclaim "What is the House of Commons about?" If any hon. Members had taken the trouble merely to glance over the heads of the clauses they would find how impossible it would be to work this Bill. Hon. Members opposite did not appear to understand its remarkable provisions. The third clause enactedThat any such person, to be entitled to a certificate of educational qualification under this Act must pass, in conformity with the provisions therein contained, a satisfactory examination in reading, writing from dictation, and elementary arithmetic, that is to say in simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division; and also addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division of money.Now, he ventured to affirm that there was not a Member in that House who was not a banker, or accountant, or very quick at figures who could do a sum that might be required under this Bill in the division of money; and to prove that assertion he called upon hon. Gentlemen to rapidly answer him this question. Supposing that they had £100 placed in their hands, and they had to pay their workmen £3 8s. 6d. each, how many could they pay out of it?
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow.
§ House adjourned at ten minutes before Six o'clock.