§ Order for Committee read.
§ MR. LOCKE
I wish to put a Question to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer with regard to the Order of the Day for the Committee on the Representation of the People Bill. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Coleridge) has given notice of moving an Instruction to the Committee "that they have power to alter the law of rating." That was the first branch of the Instruction. Then it went on—And to provide that, in every Parliamentary Borough, the occupiers of tenements below a given rateable value be relieved from liability to personal rating, with a view to fix a line for the Borough Franchise at and above which all occupiers shall be entered on the rate book, and shall have equal facilities for the enjoyment of such Franchise, as a residential occupation Franchise.The Question I wish to put to the Chancellor of the Exchequer is whether, if the words after the word "rating" in the third line of the Instruction be withdrawn, he would be willing to accede to the proposal of the Instruction to the Committee that they have power to alter the law of rating.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Sir, I think that, as a general rule, it is very inconvenient to reply to hypothetical questions. Therefore, I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman will allow me to ask him whether he has any authority to state that the latter part of the Instruction has been withdrawn.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I conclude now, Sir, that the latter part of the Instruction is withdrawn. I am sure that a Gentlemen of the hon. and learned Member's position would not make that statement without authority. Yet I think it would have been more Parliamentary if the author of the Instruction had put the Question, as he could have told us what were his intentions. But as I think that on an occasion like the present we should be precise, I will first read to the House the proposed Instruction that there may be no misapprehension or misconstruction as to my views. The hon. and learned Member for Exeter gave notice of his intention to move the following Resolution:—That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to alter the law of rating.And then it goes on—And to provide that, in every Parliamentary Borough, the occupiers of tenements below a given rateable value be relieved from liability to personal rating, with a view to fix a line for the Borough Franchise at and above which all occupiers shall be entered on the rate book, and shall have equal facilities for the enjoyment of such Franchise, as a residential occupation Franchise.Now, Sir, I must observe, with regard to the second and more considerable part of this proposed Instruction—that is to say, the portion of it after the word "rating," which the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Locke) has informed the House has been withdrawn—that I must regret, for my own individual sake, that we are to be deprived of the advantage of the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Exeter upon the subject; because, although I have devoted no inconsiderable time to that part of the Instruction, I have hitherto been unable to put any definite meaning upon it. However, as it has ceased to exist, I will not pursue the subject. With regard to the first portion of the Instruction—That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to alter the law of rating,1270 I must inform the House that Her Majesty's Government, although they were no doubt in error, were under the impression that the Committee had power to take the subject of rating into consideration without any Instruction from the House. The noble Lord (Earl Grosvenor), who takes so much interest in this question, must have been under the same misapprehension, or he would not have given notice of his intention to move the Amendments that stand on the paper in his name. Therefore, on this point it is unnecessary for me—it requires no "pressure," however "gentle," to say that I think it will be for the convenience of the Committee if the first part of the Instruction be adopted. Perhaps now that I am on my legs, I may state, for the convenience of the House generally, and for that of the Irish Members in particular, that on the sitting of the House on Friday next, I will move that the House upon that day adjourn until Monday, the 29th instant.
§ MR. COLERIDGE
With regard to the latter part of the proposed Instruction to the Committee, which stands upon the paper in my name, and which the right hon. Gentleman states, that after having devoted much time to it he is unable to understand, I trust that, had it been necessary for me to have gone into the subject, I should, without the expenditure of much time or trouble, have had little difficulty in explaining it to the right hon. Gentleman. It was from no desire on my part to be otherwise than frank in my dealings with the House that I did not withdraw the second part of the Instruction myself, but simply from a misunderstanding of the forms of the House, and because the hon. and learned Member for Southwark asked a Question of the right hon. Gentleman without an understanding with me. [Mr. LOCKE: That I deny.] Understanding from those ordinary means of information which Members of the House possess, that the right hon. Gentleman and those who act with him were willing to accept the first part of the Instruction, I have agreed to withdraw the second part of it. I may say that I never had it in my mind to disturb the peace of the Government or to oppose them in the passing of this measure. I have no desire to change the side of the House upon which we are so comfortably seated. Hon. Gentlemen may understand that when I say that I should regard it as a great misfortune if the Bill did not pass this Session. I say that with 1271 the most entire sincerity. As I understand that there will be ample opportunity in Committee to give effect if we choose—that is to say, if we can—to the latter part of the proposed Instruction, I have not the slightest difficulty in withdrawing that portion of it. I therefore now beg to withdraw that part, on the understanding that something to its effect will be introduced and fully discussed in Committee. I now ask leave to move the first part of the Instruction.
§ MR. LOCKE
I wish to make one observation with regard to the statement that has been made by the hon. and learned Member. He says that I had no communication with him with regard to the Question I put to the right hon. Gentleman. All I can say is I asked him whether he would like to put it, or whether I should. I may further say that the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Brand) went out of the House to bring the hon. and learned Member in to hear me put the Question and to give an explanation upon it. I hope that the hon. and learned Member will acquit me, under these peculiar circumstances, of having acted toward him in any way which was unfair or not according to the rules of the House.
§ MR. COLERIDGE
The hon. and learned Gentleman has misunderstood me. I never meant to say that he had acted in any way unfairly, or not according to the rules of the House. I was surprised at the expression of the right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) in reference to my not having personally withdrawn the second part of the Instruction. All I meant to say was that I had no message from the hon. Gentleman; I did not understand what his question to me referred to; and I did not think there was any arrangement on the subject between us.
§ SIR RAINALD KNIGHTLEY
I wish, Sir, to move an addition to the Instruction of the hon. and learned Gentleman. I wish to move that the Committee have power to make a provision against bribery and corruption. In 1860 the House of Commons affirmed that the question of bribery and corruption should be dealt with simultaneously with any measure for the reform of the House of Commons. Last year the House, by a majority of 10 in a full House, affirmed that principle. The Chancellor of the Exchequer gave notice at the commencement of the Session that he would deal with this question, though not in the same Bill. We have now nearly 1272 reached the Easter recess, but no such Bill has been laid upon the table. I wish that the question should not be shelved, and if we are to have the question of Reform dealt with, I trust that measures will be taken for the excision of this black spot.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I wish to point out the position in which the House is now placed. The hon. Baronet will do better to move his Instruction as a distinct Instruction. The Question before the House is, that it be an Instruction to the Committee to alter the law of rating.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I only wish to say, in reply to the observation of my hon. Friend (Sir Rainald Knightley), that the Bill of the Government relating to bribery and corruption is prepared. I should have brought it forward to-night had it not been that I did not regard it as desirable to interpose any Government business which might delay the discussion on the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Exeter. I will, however, now arrange to bring forward the Bill on Thursday next.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
I trust I shall be excused if I express a hope that the Instruction of the hon. Baronet——
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
I rise to order. The hon. Gentleman is under a misconception. The Instruction has not been moved.
§ Instruction to the Committee, that they have power to alter the law of rating.—(Mr. Coleridge.)
§ SIR RAINALD KNIGHTLEY
I rise to move that the Committee have power to make provision to prevent bribery and corruption at elections.
§ MR. OSBORNE
I rise to second the Motion. I do so because in the course of last Session when a similar Motion was made by the hon. Baronet, and hon. Members before me sat on the other side of the House, I took the same course. I so acted because I am seriously impressed with the importance of the question, and think that some Bill should be introduced for the further prevention of bribery and corruption. Since I am upon my legs, and as this may possibly be the last time on which the House will have the opportunity of discussing the principle of this Bill, I will, with the leave of the House, make a few observations upon it.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Gentleman rose to second the Instruction; and if it be accepted or rejected, then there will remain 1273 a Motion that I do leave the Chair, upon which the whole subject will be open for discussion, and that will be the time for the hon. Gentleman to make any observations.
§ MR. OSBORNE
Sir, I am obliged. I will content myself by merely urging the hon. Baronet to persevere with the Instruction which he has moved, and I will reserve what I have to say till the proper time.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That it be an Instruction to the Committee, that they have power to make provision for the prevention of bribery and corruption at Elections."—(Sir Rainald Knightley.)
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
The hon. Member, by giving notice of this Instruction, has vindicated the course he pursued last Session as well as the course which those hon. Members took who voted with him. It has been said that the Motion was factious; but I am sure that I myself, and the Members who sit near me, voted bondâ fide upon that Motion. If the Government think it best to bring in a separate Bill upon the subject, when we have seen that Bill we shall be able to form an opinion of the adequacy of the provisions to remedy that which has become a blame and discredit to our whole Parliamentary system. But another subject has arisen to-night, and arisen out of the Report of a Committee with respect to the result of an election in Ireland; and I think that when the general question of bribery and corruption is considered, it will be well also that the subject of intimidation should be taken into consideration. I have represented a popular constituency for many years, and I have been in various conflicts, and although I never knew my friends to be intimidated, I have known attempts made to intimidate them. But if attempts should be carried to such lengths as they have been in the county of Waterford, so that voters have to defend their franchise at the risk of their lives, many will no doubt forbear to exercise their privilege. It is idle to suppose that the people of this country or of Ireland value their franchises less because they have been long able to exercise them peaceably. If a measure for an extended suffrage should pass this and the other House of Parliament, as it will not extend to manhood suffrage, it will be of the utmost importance that the non-electors should be satisfied that the electors are free to exercise the privilege and trust with which they have 1274 been endowed for the benefit of the whole community. It is important, particularly in reference to the non-electors, that it should be known that electors exercise the franchise free from intimidation, and also from those baser influences against the exercise of which the Instruction of the hon. Baronet is so well directed.
I should not have ventured to address the House on this occasion; but the allusion that the hon. Member (Mr. Newdegate) has so unexpectedly made to the Waterford election has prevented me from remaining silent. I think that it would have been more respectful to the House, and that the hon. Member would have shown more fair play, if he had had—I was going to say the decency—but as perhaps that would not be quite a Parliamentary expression, I will say the courtesy to wait until the evidence taken before the Committee was in the hands of hon. Members. I challenge the hon. Member, when that evidence is in the hands of Members, to bring forward a Motion upon the subject. My able Colleague did not go into his defence at all. We had not a fair opportunity of making out our case because the hon. Gentleman who claimed the seat "funked the fight," and thus we were precluded from defence. I can tell the hon. Member that intimidation on the part of the people will not be the only sort of intimidation which we shall bring before the House if he will bring forward a Motion upon the subject. And not only intimidation, but perhaps we may also bring forward cases that may be included within the Bill that the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposes to lay upon the table on Thursday night.
The hon. Baronet (Sir Rainald Knightley) and also my hon. Friend (Mr. Osborne) have acted with perfect consistency upon this occasion. I may venture to call to the mind of the hon. Baronet that when he made a similar Motion last year I did not use any expression that was otherwise than consistent with my belief of the full integrity and singleness of purpose with which he was actuated. He has shown this again upon the present occasion; but I find myself under the necessity of pursuing the same course that I then pursued, and for the same reason that I then urged. I conceive that nothing can be more clear than the double proposition that the question of bribery and corruption is associated with that of Parliamentary Reform; and 1275 that though naturally and closely associated with it, it is more politic and convenient to treat the two questions in separate Bills. The proof of this is very simple. What we seek to gain in reference to Parliamentary Reform is of vast importance; and although it is desirable that we should be able to consider it free from party feeling, it is not practically easy to attain that object. Passion and prejudice will of necessity mix to a great extent with the discussions upon the Reform Bill; but in reference to bribery and corruption, we may hope to adopt some measure without party feeling. Upon this matter we have a general community of interest, and that being so, it is far better that we should treat the question by itself than attempt to pass a measure upon it in association with another subject, in regard to which the House will certainly be strongly excited. It is not therefore any indifference to entertain the subject, it is, on the contrary, my deep conviction of the importance of the subject, and of dealing with it speedily and effectively, that leads me to adhere to the course that the Government propose, that of dealing with it by a separate Bill. The Chancellor of the Exchequer at the commencement of the Session, when he proposed another Reform Bill, stated that he would include in it a clause in reference to bribery and corruption. I heard that announcement not with the least intention of opposing it, but with the belief that it would be wiser to have a separation between the two questions. I fully coincide with the Government in the belief that it will be best to have separate Bills, and therefore I cannot vote for the course proposed by the hon. Baronet.
§ MR. DILLWYN
I hope that in one shape or another bribery and corruption will be dealt with by the House. I hope that the subject of intimidation will also be dealt with. I will even go further, and say that—though in what form I do not say—I want to see some provisions to protect the voter in exercising his franchise, apart from the question of intimidation. I should not have risen on this occasion but that. I was a member of the Waterford Committee, the proceedings of which have been, I think, improperly introduced on this occasion. I am of opinion that it would have been more proper to wait until the evidence was before the House. I have only risen now to say that I cordially agree with the Resolution 1276 proposed, though I hope that it will on a future occasion take a wider scope. I hope that some definite steps will be taken to protect the voter in exercising his franchise. I do not say whether or not this should be done by the ballot, though I myself believe that this would be the most effectual mode of doing it, and I should be glad if the House took the same view.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
In deciding to separate the subject of bribery and corrupt practices from that of Parliamentary Reform, Her Majesty's Government were under the impression that they were following the general wish of the House. The manner in which the matter should be approached they did not consider to be very important. I may remind the House that when I have brought in a Bill to deal with bribery and corruption, if they consent to read it a second time, it will then be in the power of the House to refer it to the Committee in connection with the Bill as to Parliamentary Reform. The only question is whether the matter being one that is deserving of serious consideration it would be better to deal with it separately. Still, the House can refer it to the Committee upon Parliamentary Reform if they think it necessary.
§ MR. BARROW
I hope that we shall have full opportunity of considering what are the provisions for the prevention of bribery, corruption, and intimidation. I have the strongest wish that the question shall be decided, and also that we should know, before we pass the Reform Bill, what powers will be given for the suppression of these evils.
§ MR. CLAY
It will be in the recollection of the hon. Baronet that when he last year proposed an Instruction similar to that which he now proposes I voted with him. I never regretted that vote, and I think that no Reform Bill will much improve our representation unless we can contrive to secure an approach to the absence at elections of that which every gentleman sincerely regrets. We have now a promise of a Bill upon the subject on Thursday next, and it is clear that the subject can be dealt with separately, at least as well as by treating it in the Committee upon the Reform Bill. At the same time, I must say that last year there was not only no Bill, but there seemed no way of bringing the subject under discussion except that proposed by the hon. Baronet. Under the circum- 1277 stances, I urge him not to give the House the trouble of dividing on the present occasion, but to withdraw his Instruction, recollecting, after the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the Bill to be proposed may be referred to the Committee on the Reform Bill.
§ SIR RAINALD KNIGHTLEY
Understanding that the right hon. Gentleman will bring in his Bill on Thursday, and that after it has been read a second time it may, if necessary, be referred to the Committee on the Reform Bill, I will withdraw my Motion.
SIR HENRY WINSTON-BARRON
said, he would not have troubled the House on that occasion were it not for the observations made in reference to the late Waterford and Tipperary elections. But observations having been made of a character most injurious to the people of the county, with which he was connected, he thought it his duty to tell the hon. Member (Mr. Newdegate) that he had acted in a most unfair and improper manner in bringing that question before the House without knowing anything whatever of the merits of the case. The hon. Gentleman had talked of intimidation and coercion as having been practised at those elections. He (Sir Henry Winston-Barron) could tell him that there were two species of intimidation and two species of coercion. The one had provoked the other. It would come out when the evidence was published that men were dragged to the polling places by the orders of their landlords under military force, military coercion, military intimidation, aye, and police intimidation. Electors were thus dragged to the voting places against their will, their convictions, and their honest opinions, and some of them swore to those facts before the Committee. The whole evidence would soon be published, and then the House would see what the facts really were. He again told the hon. Member that he knew nothing whatever of the case. He no doubt took his opinions from The Times newspaper, for instance. He could tell the hon. Gentleman further, that a more garbled, a more offensive, and a more untrue statement never went before the public than that which had been published by the paper he alluded to. He felt that he would not be doing his duty to the House or the country if he did not denounce it as a tissue of calumnies and misrepresentations. He repeated that there were two species of coercion. When they had the evidence 1278 before the House it would be seen that the first and most material coercion was that which was practised in the attempt to dragoon the unfortunate voters into voting contrary to their consciences and convictions.
said, he should not think it necessary to trouble the House on that occasion with any observations; but he had placed a notice on the paper a few days ago to call attention to the late elections for Waterford and Tipperary. He had not as yet fixed any day for his Motion. Though asked to bring forward the question before Easter, he had no wish to do so, first, because he was anxious that the evidence taken before the Select Committees should be published and in the hands of hon. Members; and secondly, because it appeared to him that the subject could be more fairly and impartially considered when the passions and feelings of parties in reference to this matter had had time to subside and cool down. He could assure the House that when he introduced the subject he would endeavour to treat it in such a manner as would afford an opportunity for a fair discussion on all sides, and a calm consideration of all the facts. He simply wished to invite the House of Commons to express its opinion upon the manner in which elections should be conducted in Ireland as well as in England.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ CAPTAIN HAYTER
said, he rose to move that—All Parliamentary Boroughs having a less population than 10,000 persons, according to the Census of 1861, and from which the second seat he taken, shall be increased by adding either from the immediately surrounding district, or from one or more neighbouring Boroughs or Towns, a sufficient number of inhabitants to give every such Parliamentary Borough a population of not less than 10,000 persons.He should not have ventured to bring forward this Amendment, but that he felt himself fortified by the opinions pronounced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his speech upon the Re-distribution Bill of last year, as well as by the views expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire and the more distinguished of his Colleagues who took part with the Ministry of 1852 in bringing forward the scheme upon which this Motion was based. His object was to get rid of nomination bo- 1279 roughs, or of those which might be said to be represented by the nominees of great landed proprietors, whether Peers or Commoners. Now, that principle once admitted, he was willing to assent to whatever mode might be suggested as the best for carrying it out. Many hon. Members thought that the best way of carrying out this principle was by uniting unrepresented towns to existing centres of representation; whilst others thought that it would be better to divide them into purely agricultural districts. As to what boroughs should be augmented in size, and whence the electors for augmenting them should be obtained, were matters of detail which could be arranged by a Royal Commission. It became, however, his duty to call the most serious attention of the House to the fact that already out of twenty-three constituencies affected by the Government Bill, twelve would be converted into as pure pocket boroughs as the single seats unaffected by the Bill of Calne, Arundel, Wilton, and Eye. The twelve were Honiton, Thetford, Wells, Marlborough, Richmond, Leominster, Ludlow, Ripon, Huntingdon, Cirencester, Great Marlow, and Lichfield. Five of them would be the property of great Peers or Commoners holding Liberal opinions, and seven of Conservative. They were all, in addition to the single and pure pocket seats, unaffected by the Bill. If the disfranchising process were carried sufficiently high to make this a satisfactory scheme—say to the limit of 10,000 population—forty-five seats would be placed at the disposal of the Government. Among the fifteen double seats lying between the limits of 7,000 and 10,000 population he found the following constituencies, which would certainly become pocket boroughs:—Bridgnorth, Chichester, Chippenham, Malton, Poole, Stamford, Tavistock, and Wycombe; five of these would be the property of Liberal and three of Conservative Peers or Commoners. The total result was curious, since it told equally on either side; ten of the seats would remain in the hands of the Liberal and ten of the Conservative interest. But could that be justly called an improvement of the representation of the people which surrendered the Parliamentary representation of those boroughs to landed proprietors who already possessed, perhaps not unjustly, an overwhelming influence in them? It might be urged that the reduction of the franchise would work a change in these small 1280 constituencies not unfavourable to the growth of freedom of election. But the noble Earl, lately at the head of the Colonial Department, and his noble Friend (the Member for Stamford), had concluded that in these small constituencies household suffrage would be the universal rule, and that the new voters would altogether outnumber the old. In rural districts the compounder was unknown; and personal payment of rates everywhere prevailed. But could any one reasonably maintain that any alteration would counteract the influence of a landlord who owned the ground rents of half a borough, and who was not unjustly endeared to his tenants and neighbours? They were unacquainted with the actual state and condition of the compound-householders in these boroughs; but from such information as they had as to household suffrage pure and simple, the newly enfranchised constituency would outnumber and swamp the present. Peers or rich Commoners by the working of this Bill would engross to themselves the representation of twenty-four seats, which was a matter of serious and grave consideration, and unless steps were taken in time discredit would be thrown on what he considered the the best and wisest principle of re-distribution which had been proposed to that House. Upon this subject he would read to the House the opinions expressed last year by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer in dealing with the system of grouping. The right hon. Gentleman contrasted the plan of grouping unrepresented towns with the plan of grouping represented. And he said—Am I therefore an opponent of the system of grouping? Far from it. I think it is one that well deserves the earnest consideration of the House; it is a powerful and an efficient instrument if used with vigour and discretion. But where I think it might be of great advantage would be if we were to leave the present boroughs alone, and yet avail ourselves of their redundant representation, applying the principle of grouping to our unrepresented boroughs.… By grouping in this way I think you would obtain a very considerable accession to the constituency; and I believe that if you dealt with the question in such a manner, you would have the friendly co-operation of the old boroughs themselves."—[3 Hansard, clxxxiii. 888.]He endorsed those sentiments of the right hon. Gentleman. He well knew, from various sources, many unrepresented towns which might well be associated with those ancient boroughs which, as centres of representation, had held their 1281 place in the political system for 500 years. Some occurred to him at that moment—Newhaven to Lewes; Witham to Maldon; Workington to Cockermouth; Shepton and Glastonbury to Wells. All these had a natural affinity, as either the port of the small township, or the natural extension of municipal limits. In conclusion, he would call the attention of the House to the real value of those small boroughs, when so invigorated, to the better representation of the people. Many voices more eloquent than his had been raised to save them from reckless destruction. But those who could judge of the working of the legislative assembly of the nation knew well that unless the existing avenues by which men of distinction in every profession—in law, in arms, in our vast Colonial Empire were preserved, we should soon see that House, not the mirror and reflex of every opinion throughout our land, but separated into hostile camps and marching under rival banners, not to the improvement of legislation, but to everything that tended to hamper and impede the public business of our day. The small boroughs preserved this balance between parties, the two great parties, of the State, the one of which represented the agricultural, the other the manufacturing and commercial interests of our vast community. In conclusion, he appealed to the other side of the House as to whether such a system of natural grouping as he had described would not shield the small boroughs, for at least a generation, from ceaseless agitation and democratic attack. He asked the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer to rise above the tumults of party faction and the strife of the passing hour; and if he found in this method a means of settling the representation of the people upon a more satisfactory basis, and bringing the agitation upon Reform to a close, he would earn for himself and for his Colleagues a not undistinguished place in the brilliant roll of English statesmen whose names, for many generations yet to come, we should well know how both to cherish and to revere.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "all Parliamentary Boroughs having a less population than 10,000 persons, according to the Census of 1861, and from which the second seat be taken, shall be increased by adding either from the immediately surrounding district, or from one or more neighbouring Boroughs or Towns, a sufficient number of inhabitants to give to every such
Parliamentary Borough a population of not less than 10,000 persons,"—(Captain Hayter,)
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
The Question which my hon. and gallant Friend has brought before the House is one, I can assure him, that has not escaped our notice. It is, in fact, one that deserves consideration; but there are objections to it which have induced us not to adopt the scheme. I do not understand whether my hon. and gallant Friend intends one Member to be taken from each of the fifteen seats which would rank under the description of places with less than 10,000 inhabitants.
§ CAPTAIN HAYTER
I do not. The principle is equally applicable whether 7,000 or 10,000 population be the limit.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I should not be prepared to adopt the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman; because I do not think it can be adopted without its being pressed to a much greater extent, and that would lead, I fear, in the result to electoral districts. That I wish to avoid, if I possibly can, and to retain the ancient and distinctive character that still prevails, and which, even with all our changes, may be cherished in our representative system. I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will not ask us to divide on his Amendment. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has put it before the House, and no doubt hon. Members will consider it, and when in Committee on the Re-distribution of Seats, we can argue it more fully than now. The question has not escaped the attention of Her Majesty's Government; but, so far as we are advised, it is not a scheme that could be adopted with general advantage to the country.
said, that considering the important question that was nominally before the House, it was not expected that the House would be called on so early in the evening to discuss the Amendment proposed by the hon. and gallant Gentleman. It would be a pity for the discussion on this Amendment to close without the important principle which was involved being fully discussed. It appeared to him that without the proposed change the representatives of such small boroughs as survived the Reform Bill were likely to become more important persons than they had hitherto been in the representation of the people. If the cumulative vote, which appeared to receive the support of hon. Members opposite, should be carried, the 1283 result would be that the three-cornered constituencies would almost balance one another. Where there were two Members the minority would have equal weight with the majority. When any great question was before the country, the decision would virtually rest with the boroughs returning one Member. Supposing that scheme to be carried, he thought a very great addition should be made in the number of Members who sit for small boroughs. It was never intended to take more from the small boroughs than was required for the large towns which absolutely called for representation. The position of the Members for small boroughs was at present somewhat anomalous in the House. They appeared to exist by sufferance. Their position, if recognised and re-asserted by the passing of a Reform Bill, would be on a different footing to what it was before. If they wished to guard against the tide of popular agitation setting in after this Bill had passed against the small borough representation, the best way to secure themselves from such an attack would be to add to their number and position. Having an unpleasant recollection of the grouping scheme of last year of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone), he had no wish to refer to that part of the question. The addition to the numbers and respectability of the present constituencies would have a very great effect in securing them against the besetting vices of which they were accused. There would be less corruption, bribery, and intimidation. He agreed with the hon. Member (Mr. Bright) that there was a residuum that ought to be excluded. If they could not apportion more in accordance with justice the representation of counties and boroughs, the next best thing would be to extend the boundaries of the small boroughs, in order to give them a more independent class of population. This Amendment, which had been introduced by the hon. and gallant Member, had been included in the plan suggested in two schemes which had been brought before the House. He had not felt the necessity for the settlement of this question in the present year as strongly as many hon. Members. He had never been alarmed at the agitation which there was now such a desire to stop, and he feared in their haste they would be apt to settle many things besides this question, unsatisfactorily. He thought that the course which was recommended by the hon. and gallant 1284 Member was a step in the direction of a settlement. He knew no handle that was more easily used by agitators, or would be more likely to cause a renewal of the agitation after the passing of the Bill, than the numerical inequality that existed in small boroughs. He urged the Government to entertain the proposal contained in the Amendment.
§ MR. SANDFORD
said, this proposal was entitled to a much more serious consideration, on the part of the Government, than it seemed to be likely to receive. The President of the Poor Law Board told them that the Bill was founded on the Resolutions. But those Resolutions stated that they would only give an extended suffrage in connection with a plurality of votes, to prevent the undue preponderance of a class. The dual vote was now given up. Plurality of voting was not even thought of. Where, then, were the checks and counterpoises? The only way now of introducing thorn was by adding to the boundaries of small boroughs. He did not entirely agree with the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member, because it involved the principle of grouping; but he thought it most desirable to add to the boundaries of small boroughs, as by this means bribery and corruption had been stopped. Shoreham and Retford were notorious for their corruption; but that state of things had been put an end to by giving them a widely extended area. There was also another argument in favour of extending the area of these boroughs, as it tended to remove the inequality of towns and counties. For these reasons, though he could not support the Amendment, he hoped the subject would receive further consideration.
§ MR. LAING
said, he merely rose to suggest to the hon. and gallant Member that he should withdraw his Motion. In the present state of the House, and after what had occurred, it was apparent that there was no chance of having the important principles involved in the Amendment properly discussed and decided by the House. He should support the Motion; but he would suggest to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, in the interest of the cause he sought to serve, that he should withdraw the Amendment, and introduce the subject at a suitable time in Committee.
§ MR. WYLD
said, he thought it would be very difficult to carry out the principle of the Amendment universally. In many of the southern agricultural districts in 1285 England it would be found inapplicable. He agreed with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that there were many instances in which these ancient and peculiar boroughs should be preserved. The Reports of Commissions and Committees showed that large boroughs were as liable to intimidations as small ones. He hoped that when the Bill was in Committee the question of distribution of seats would be considered.
§ POULETT SCROPE
said, he wished to know if this was the time at which he should propose the Motion standing in his name.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The Question before the House is, that I leave the Chair. Since that Motion, an Amendment has been moved, and the hon. Gentleman cannot introduce the new Question of which he has given notice into this Resolution
§ CAPTAIN HAYTER
said, before withdrawing his Amendment, he would ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he would consider the matter in Committee? If so, he would withdraw his Question.
§ MR. WALPOLE
said, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had already stated that the Question was no doubt a very proper one to be considered in Committee.
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.
§ Original Question again proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ MR. SPEAKER
I have to point out to the hon. Gentleman that there is now no room to raise his Question. An Amendment has been negatived; and upon the Motion that I do now leave the Chair, no other Amendment can be proposed. But the hon. Gentleman can speak to that Motion.
§ MR. POULETT SCROPE
said, he believed he could put himself in order by moving the adjournment of the House.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is at liberty to address the House, as I have 1286 already stated; but he cannot move an Amendment.
§ MR. POULETT SCROPE
said, his Amendment appeared on the Notice Paper in this form—That it is expedient, by amendment of the Small Tenements Acts, or otherwise, to provide that the occupiers of houses under pounds annual value be wholly exempted from the payment of rates, and that those householders in Parliamentary Boroughs who occupy houses above that value shall alone be entitled to be registered as voters under this Bill; and such persons shall be so entitled, whether they are rated in person or that the rates in respect of the houses occupied by them be levied from the owners under the Small Tenements or any other Act.He agreed with the Government Bill to the extent that he desired to see the establishment of a rating franchise. But there was a provision in the Bill to which he could not assent; he meant that by which the rating was to be a "personal rating." He did not see what object was to be gained by insisting on a personal rating. What was the distinction between a payment by one's own hand and a payment through the hands of the landlord? He could not recognise any distinction; much less could he see any constitutional principle. It appeared to him to be a distinction without a, difference. If he took a house and agreed to pay the rates himself be paid a certain sum for rent. But if the landlord agreed to pay the rates for him, as was a usual practice, he paid a higher rent. Was there, then, any reasonable ground for saying that he was less fitted for exercising the privilege of voting for a Member of Parliament if he paid the rates through the landlord than he would be if he paid them to the collector himself'? That the occupier of a compound house did pay the rates through his landlord was admitted on both sides. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had framed a clause for the purpose of giving the compound tenant who had paid his rates through his landlord the power of deducting the amount from his next rent. He had been a Reformer all his life; but another question arose as to whether it was not desirable to eliminate from the electoral roll under the Bill that lower stratum of occupiers who were very little above those actually in the receipt of parochial relief, and who generally were not, either from education or otherwise, fitted for the franchise. The Bill of the right hon. Gentleman would admit this class in all cases where the occupiers paid 1287 the rates themselves. In forty-four boroughs this would give an overwhelming majority to this lower class. There would be a partial preponderance in the same direction in ninety-eight other boroughs. The best means of preventing this evil would, in his judgment, be to introduce a clause to the effect that the occupiers of houses under a certain annual value should be wholly exempted from the payment of rates, and that those householders in Parliamentary boroughs who occupied houses above that value should alone be entitled to be registered as voters, whether they paid their rates personally or not. He believed that unless the Resolution he now proposed were adopted, the agitation for reform would continue and increase until it ended in universal suffrage. The only safe and satisfactory mode of settling the question was by granting the exemption which he proposed; and he especially commended it to the favour and support of hon. Gentlemen opposite, as a Conservative measure which ought to meet with encouragement at the hands of all who were opposed to universal suffrage. He also commended it to hon. Gentlemen opposite, who were sometimes called, or called themselves, the peculiar friends of the poor, as a plan by which they might relieve the poor from a tax which weighed heavily upon them, and at the same time settle the franchise on a safe, substantial, and satisfactory basis.
§ MR. BERKELEY
said, he rose, in accordance with the Notice he had placed on the paper, toBring under the consideration of the House the state of demoralization in which the Electors of Great Britain and Ireland are plunged by corruption and the exercise of undue influence.He might almost address the House as "beloved brethren," so united did all appear on Reform. Thirty years ago, when he first entered upon political life, he supported household suffrage and the ballot. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had now proposed the first; and he therefore was in hope that the time was not far distant when they would also have the second. All he desired on the present occasion was to bring under the notice of the House the grievances under which constituencies now laboured through the corruption and intimidation that prevailed. It was for Her Majesty's Ministers to provide a remedy. He thought no one would deny that among the first principles of our Constitution 1288 was this—that every man should vote freely and indifferently—that he should neither be rewarded nor punished for doing so. Having discharged that function the elector did all that was required of him. Blackstone, Lord Chief Justice Holt, Sir Edward Coke, Walpole, Burke, Macaulay, and many other great lawyers and statesmen concurred in the sanctity of the vote and the necessity of protecting the elector in the discharge of his duty. No hon. Member would oppose those leading principles. Then it followed that if the elector could not properly discharge this duty no Reform Bill should be brought into the House which did not recognise the duties of the elector and protect him in the discharge of his electoral functions. It might be said with regard to corruption that a Bill was promised on the subject. No doubt a Bill might be brought in. But suppose the Government were defeated on any part of the Reform Bill and went to the country, as it was called—were they to go to the country on the present system, and with the present defective law, which protected the intimidator and briber, and encouraged corrupt practices? It appeared from various reports that from forty to fifty boroughs had been convicted of malversation of the franchise. There could be no doubt that in all these boroughs corruption was rife. If, then, these boroughs were in this state of corruption—if corruption by bribery was an evil, how much greater an evil was undue influence? Undue influence carried with it the essence of bribery, the principle of rewards and punishments. It had been said by Lord Derby that if you take a number of the counties and the leading noblemen and gentlemen residing in them, it will be easy to say what the politics of the Members will be. That was an admission that the noblemen and gentlemen in counties dictated to the electors, and that the electors did not vote according to their own free will. They were sent to discharge a duty at the poll, and they did not do so because they were under the dominion of the landlord and were liable to be turned out of their tenancies. He hardly thought that that state of things could be desired by any honest man. It was not an exceptional matter, it was the rule. If evidence was wanted on that point let the House look at that taken before Mr. Grote's Committee, which sat to inquire into the abuses which had crept into our 1289 electoral system. Mr. Grote proved that the landlords of the country took infinite pains to degrade their tenants, and to deprive them of all inclination to assert their independence in political matters. Mr. Grote considered the intimidation and punishment of electors the giant malady of our electoral constitution, and Mr. Macaulay stated that he considered the master evil of our electoral institutions was undue influence. It had been shown in the case of an estate, which changed hands three times, that when it belonged to a Tory the tenants voted for a Tory candidate, that when it belonged to a Whig the tenants voted for a Whig candidate, and that when it returned to a Tory the voters again voted for a Tory. Take the case of the Duke of Newcastle, who turned seventy men out for voting against his wishes. The noble Duke on that occasion said that every man had a right to do what he liked with his own. No doubt that was the case, and if the tenant had been landed property he might have disposed of him as he liked. If the vote of the tenant were to be the landlord's property, it would be infinitely better that he should possess it actually than that it should be given to the tenant. Let the House look at a more recent case—that of the Duke of Somerset. A more gross instance of undue influence had never been brought to light than that which had been reported by the Totnes Commission. The excuse of the noble Duke in that case was that whilst he was busily employed in building ships and making guns he knew nothing of the proceedings of his agents. One of the Commissioners asked the noble Duke whether he had not purchased a certain estate, and whether that did not give him a certain accession of power? His reply was that the fields which had voted one way before had, when purchased by him, voted another way, showing that, in his opinion, the electors had nothing more to do with their votes than the clods of the field. What had been done by the Duke of Somerset as to interference at elections had been done by a great many other Peers. No Reform Bill would be satisfactory which did not contain provisions to protect the voter in the exercise of his just right. He admitted it might be difficult to legislate against undue influence. The late Sir Robert Peel and Lord Macaulay had admitted the difficulty; but he hoped the majority of the House 1290 would, notwithstanding, endeavour to find a remedy, since the present law was a complete failure. He was satisfied that the voters in England required protection. But if the electors of this country required protection, those of Ireland stood in need of it still more. He did not believe that bribery prevailed there to the same extent as here; but undue influence was exercised to a degree perfectly frightful. Between the landlords and the priests the electors of Ireland were in a miserable condition. Scotland was better off in both respects than either England or Ireland. He earnestly pressed upon the Government to give the people of England some relief in this matter.
§ MR. GORST
said, that the sudden collapse of the debate, which had been expected to last till Easter, had taken most Members by surprise, and he thought he was only doing his duty in moving the adjournment of this debate. Hon. Members, he thought, would admit that the subject on which the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken, and several other subjects which had been brought before the House, had not been debated with that earnestness and attention which their importance called for. Several hon. Members had given notices of important Questions on the Speaker leaving the Chair. This was the last opportunity hon. Members would have of discussing the whole question of Reform; and he thought that the present debate ought to be adjourned to another night, in order to give Members an opportunity of expressing their views. He believed that the hon. Member (Mr. Osborne), and others, had come down with the intention of addressing the House; and if the Question that the Speaker leave the Chair should be forced on the House, those hon. Members would not have an opportunity of making their opinions heard. He moved the adjournment of the debate.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I hope my hon. Friend will not persist in that Motion. I freely admit that there has not been that general and sufficient discussion upon a question so important as Parliamentary Reform that I, myself, could have wished; but that has been occasioned by a variety of circumstances upon which it is now unnecessary to dwell, and which it is more easy to regret than to remedy. If this Motion for the adjournment is carried, you, Sir, will not be able to leave the Chair, and we 1291 shall not be able to make that first step in advance which is desirable. I must, Sir, take this opportunity of expressing to the House the deep gratification experienced by the Government and their gratitude for the generous and candid manner in which they have been treated by the House to-night. It shows that the House is resolved to support the Government in carrying this Bill through, subject, of course, to those Amendments which the House may think proper to adopt. I am convinced, after the encouragement we have received this evening, our discussions will terminate in the passing of a Bill that will command the respect and confidence of the country. On the part of the Government, I wish distinctly to express their sense of the generous candour with which they have been treated by the House.
§ MR. OSBORNE
Sir, I feel very sensible of the great disadvantage under which I rise to address the House on the present occasion. It is one of the pleasures of belonging to a united party that you should be informed only at the eleventh hour, on the eve of discussing a great question, that the political Epicureans of that party, who are tired and sick of the clamour and strife caused by a Reform Bill, are ready to pass any measure so that they may have a quiet life. But I think it rather an extraordinary thing that those enthusiastic Reformers should have waited until Monday, knowing well on the Friday what was to be brought forward, and that they should have suddenly turned tail when they heard that a dissolution was in view. The position is a most peculiar one. We are now to go into Committee on a Bill, the policy and principle of which have hardly been discussed in the House. The House will recollect that the second reading was shuffled through pro formâ, with the understanding that a discussion should take place upon the principle of the Bill before you, Sir, left the Chair. I ask hon. Gentlemen—let them agree with me or not—whether they are satisfied with the position in which this Bill stands at present; whether they are so eager as to pass a measure of any kind in hot haste without knowing or discussing the principles of that measure? There are many principles in the Bill which the House is entitled to question; nor have the difficulties of the subject been smoothed by the course pursued by Her Majesty's Government. Her Majesty's Government have displayed as 1292 much vacillation as the House has displayed forbearance. What was the course taken by Her Majesty's Ministers on the opening of Parliament? We know that there was a paragraph on the subject of Reform in what is called "Her Most Gracious Majesty's Speech." But Her Majesty's Government were not prepared with any definite scheme or plan. What happened? The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer came down to the House and made a long voluminous speech. Nothing came of that, but a week after was produced a bundle of Resolutions. What happened to those Resolutions? That litter of Resolutions, as I may call them, were ushered in with as much pomp and circumstance as they were abandoned with celerity and confusion. In what position do we stand, now that two months of the Session have expired? We have had this bundle of Resolutions and two Reform Bills brought under our notice. It is not necessary for me to refer to Reform Bill No. 1, because the circumstances attending its birth and sudden extinction were graphically related by the right hon. Baronet (Sir John Pakington) to his constituents at Droitwich. That Bill shared the fate of the thirteen Resolutions. It followed them to the mausoleum of defunct Government schemes. And now the Government have recurred, and with great success, to what is called "their original policy." The House has been induced to give a second reading to a Bill which no Gentleman on either side approves. However much the Conservative party as a body dislike it, the Liberal party distrust it as much. And all this because the right hon. Gentleman was so profuse in his promises that he was ready to amend the Bill and to bow to any suggestions that might be made in Committee. Hon. Members on this side left the House under the idea that they had gained a great victory, and such was the dazzling pyrotechnical display of eloquence on the part of the right hon. Gentleman, that hon. Members on the Ministerial side of the House were under the impression that they had gained a great victory too. And what is the consequence? Parliament has been bamboozled, and we are going into Committee on a Bill which no ten Members in their secret hearts like. Sir, I humbly think that in the grave position in which we are placed we ought to seize this opportunity, however late, to come to some understanding as to the principles 1293 on which this Bill is based. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has lately given an answer in Downing Street to a chosen few, which he expressly refused to give in this House. He was questioned by hon. Members on this side of the House, and also by a noble Lord, his late Colleague (Viscount Cranbourne), on the other, as to what were the vital points of his measure. He refused to give an answer, and the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) also refused. On Saturday last, however, waited upon by a crowd of admirers from Manchester and the districts in Lancashire, the right hon. Gentleman disclosed the vital points of this measure. We all know now what they are. The vital points of the Government Bill are personal rating, and I suppose residence. Everything may be given up but personal rating and two years' residence. Sir, I was not inclined to take what is called a factious course when the Bill was introduced. Indeed, I recommended that it should be read a second time. I am ready to do penance for having given such foolish advice. What is this Bill, which since it was printed has proved, I am sorry to say, like many of my acquaintance, for the more I know of it the less I like it? It is a Bill founded altogether on false pretences. Pretending to extend the suffrage in one direction, it effectually restricts the suffrage. It is an attempt, and a very successful attempt, to throw dust in the eyes of the Liberal party, and it is a Bill which, as we have seen to-night, has put salt on the tails of forty-eight Liberal Members. What are the provisions of this Bill? I find that they contemplate what is now called by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench an extension of the franchise, but what when in Opposition last year they termed a degradation of the franchise. They provide also for voting papers. Last of all, though it is now struck out, this Bill contained that unfortunate blunder founded on the fatal fifth Resolution. I mean the dual vote, which, like the fifth proposition of Euclid, has proved the pons asinorum of the Treasury Bench. And what are the clauses? I am prepared to show what they are, and I will not trespass long, for the House, I am aware, is not in the humour to listen. Almost every one of these clauses has been denounced and ridiculed by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his Col- 1294 leagues. On the 26th of March, 1852, Mr. Hume proposed a lodger franchise, one year's residence, payment of rates, and household suffrage, and how was that Bill treated? The Chancellor of the Exchequer stigmatised that proposal as a "revolutionary recommendation." That was, then, his alliterative mode of describing household suffrage. In the year 1867 part of that scheme has become a "Conservative construction," and hon. Gentlemen opposite, like the "Dupes" of the French Revolution, have hailed this "revolutionary recommendation"—as it was called in 1852—as a great Conservative measure. But was the Chancellor of the Exchequer peculiar in that view? There is a right hon. Gentleman who was absent the other night when it was alluded to, and therefore I may as well take the opportunity of refreshing his memory now he his here—a right hon. Gentleman who has lately been promoted to the Secretary-ship of State for India (Sir Stafford Northcote), and what was his opinion in 1866 of the scheme which is now brought in? It was quoted the other night; but, unfortunately, it was in the absence of the right hon. Gentleman, and perhaps, since it is very short, the House will allow me to read it again, for it is well to read these things when we have this recent penitence before us. Here is the deliberate opinion of the right hon. Gentleman upon this "Conservative construction"—He was obliged with the utmost sharpness and definiteness to say that he thought to descend to household suffrage at once or at anytime, with any safeguards whatever—"with any safeguards whatever," and there was no dual vote proposed then, for this was on the educational franchise of the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Clay)—would be a most mischievous and reckless innovation of the Constitution."—[3 Hansard, clxxxiii. 1534.][Sir STAFFORD NORTHCOTE: Hear, hear!] Is it possible? Has the right hon. Gentleman arrived at such a frame of mind that he can say "Hear, hear!" to this? Well, after this there is really no telling what a Member for Devonshire and a Secretary for India may not do under these circumstances. Well, Sir, we have also a proposal for taking votes by voting papers. Now, I remember a discussion in this House in 1852. I have the paper in my pocket; but I will keep it until we get to that part of the Bill in Committee. 1295 This proposal was then denounced by the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) as a project which would increase bribery and corruption. But there is a recent adherent and convert to the Government; and if the House will allow me I will read what I call a choice specimen of personal rating on the part of a noble Lord (Lord Robert Montagu), who about four weeks ago, from the opposite corner, put some very awkward questions to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but who has now gone through the glorification of being transferred as Vice President of the Council to the Treasury Bench. Here is what the noble Lord said last year, and they are so pat one would almost think he was addressing the present instead of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer—It would seem as if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had set himself down to contrive a plan for swamping the agricultural constituencies..… Did the Chancellor of the Exchequer suppose that by lowering the franchise he would increase the check which the House of Commons now exercised in the administration of affairs?.… Did the right hon. Gentleman think he would check bribery by lowering the franchise in boroughs?"—[3 Hansard, clxxxii. 74.]The noble Lord then grew poetical, and shaking his finger at the then Chancellor of the Exchequer—will he shake his finger now?—he continued—Men faithless once are ever faithless men, Give them but scope, they soon will turn again.But that is not all. The noble Lord concluded an animated speech—though it was not so much appreciated as it ought to have been, for I remember that there was barely a House, but the oratory of the noble Lord always enchains me—he concluded thus—The Government having before abandoned their character in order to gain their power would not now part with their power in order to regain their character."—[3 Hansard, clxxxii. 1283.]These, Sir, are the sentiments of noble Lords and right hon. Gentlemen who opposed tooth and nail a Bill which was offered by their opponents, and who now come down to the House with a Bill of their own, and talk of patriotism and ask for forbearance. I give them credit, at least the higher members of the party, for patriotism; but I cannot think they are entitled to that forbearance which the House, it seems to me, has been rather lavish in the bestowal of. The Chancellor of the Exchequer at the beginning of the Session disclaimed the idea that in bringing forward his Resolutions as a tentative process he was angling for a policy. Now, 1296 I take it that angling for a policy is to some extent a tentative process, though it may be a fair and legitimate Parliamentary practice. But there is a species of fishing which is neither fair, sportsmanlike, nor legitimate. My hon. Friend (Mr. Bright) is, I believe, a salmon fisher, and knows to what I allude. There is what is called cross fishing, where a line is used with different coloured flies, and where both sides of the stream are swept. Now, the right hon. Gentleman and his Colleague the President of the Poor Law Board (Mr. Gathorne Hardy) have lately been employed in this sportsman like transaction. They have been fishing both sides of the Parliamentary river, and we all know with what success they did so the other evening. The President of the Poor Law Board skilfully threw his flies over the head of the hon. Member for North Lincolnshire (Mr. Banks Stanhope). He threw the dual vote, the two years' residence, and the counterpoises, and declared that this is a Conservative Bill. That declaration secured the hon. Member. This solitary fish rose on the occasion and was safely gaffed and landed. Then there came the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who threw the fly—not a real fly, but a false fly—of household suffrage down below the gangway on this side of the House, and immediately the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) gorged the bait and was safely landed in the Ministerial basket. Such has been the process which has been going on, and now, forsooth, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has given up the use of the rod and has taken to the net, in which he has caught forty-eight ultra-Reformers on this side. This is the way in which the House of Commons and the constituencies of the country have been bamboozled by the Government in their endeavour to pass a Reform Bill which nobody approves, with which nobody is content, and which everybody would like to throw out. How is it that those forty-eight Gentlemen to whom I have referred have been caught? It is because they are afraid of their seats, and dare not face their constituents. I know that it is not a pleasant process to be obliged to vacate one's seat; but, at the same time, I would much sooner be turned out of my seat for an honest and straightforward course of action, than continue to hold it by resorting to subterfuges. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer tells us that this Bill is 1297 supplementary to the Act of 1832. If it be, why not stick to the old form and model of the Act of 1832—to rental, which was made the basis of the franchise in 1832? Instead of that, the right hon. Gentleman, in his supplementary Bill, introduces a totally new principle—that of personal rating. This question has never been discussed in the House, though it seems to have been received by Reformers generally, and by the forty-eight ultra Reformers in particular, with a sort of placid content. They have accepted what was called the "unerring instinct" displayed by the House last year, and not a word has been said for rental. Nevertheless, I believe that there are a considerable body of Members anxious to take a division on the question between rating and rental, and they are not content to see introduced, in a Bill described as supplementary to the Act of 1832, which based the franchise on rental, the new theory of rating. But we are told that the House itself arrived in the course of last year at the principle of rating by "unerring instinct?" Now, what was the whole history of this "unerring instinct?" It was nothing more or less than the instinct of a majority of 11 on an Amendment moved by an Irish Member, the noble Member for Galway (Lord Dunkellin). Some timid Liberals and bolder Tories succeeded in turning the Government out. The question as between rating and rental was never discussed, not even by the President of the India Board (Sir Stafford Northcote), who can give such strong opinions when he pleases. Not one of the Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench opposite—for they were too wise in their generation—spoke on the subject. They were content to see their work done by the noble Lord the Member for Galway, and by another noble Lord—a Scotch noble Lord (Lord Elcho). Seeing their work done by a Scotch and Irish contingent, not a word did they say; and so the "unerring instinct" of accepting rating was simply the instinct to throw out the Government, and seat themselves in their places. I therefore maintain that there has been no satisfactory discussion as to whether rental or rating should be the basis of the franchise. I wish to see the franchise based on rental, and rental alone. And why do I wish it so to be based? If I want arguments in my favour I can easily procure them from the armoury of the Gentlemen who sit upon the opposite Benches. And what were the arguments 1298 always adduced with respect to rating? The arguments against basing the franchise on rating are that it is impossible to have an equal assessment all through the country, and that there would be danger from rating of placing the franchise at the mercy of political associations and of parochial authorities, who may or may not be political partisans. I will give you the high authority of one who has studied this particular question, and who in 1859 said—There is a wish—I would once have said a very general wish—that instead of the household suffrage being founded on value, it should be founded by preference on rating.… I confess that I was always much biased in favour of that idea. It appears to me if you could make—to use a common phrase—the rate book the register, you would very much simplify the business of election. But when you come to examine this matter in detail in order to see how it will act, you will find it is involved in difficulties—great, all acknowledge, and, I am sorry to be obliged to confess, to my mind insurmountable. For the purpose of securing the advantage of having the rate book the register, you must, of course, leave perfect discretion to the overseer. The overseer has an interest in raising rates people may say, or he may be a very hot political partisan. Are you prepared to leave to the overseer the absolute discretion of appointing those who are to exercise the suffrage?… Unless you permitted the overseer to be unchallenged, you could not make the rate book the register."—[3 Hansard, clii. 982.]That was the opinion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1859, and I think that his arguments go very far to justify the remarks I am making as between rating and rental. But we are told that certain new clauses have been brought up. I must say that I never saw a Bill so badly drawn; and what is the effect of these new clauses, which were only laid on the table on Saturday last? They have no effect at all. They will only influence those boroughs which are under the Small Tenements Act, or some local Acts, and they will infallibly give occasion to the creation of a multitude of fagot votes. This Bill, in fact, promotes the predominance of wealth, and paupers will be put on the register by wealthy men and political associations. Hon. Gentlemen would admit this if they examined the blue book so largely quoted from last Session, containing the evidence given before a Committee of the House of Lords appointed to inquire into the probable increase of electors from a reduction of the elective franchise. Mr. Sidney Smith, secretary to the Registration Society, was summoned before that Committee, and he stated—You would greatly increase the power of poli- 1299 tical associations by making any provision by which individuals would have to take trouble to keep themselves on the register, and would pro tanto disturb the natural expression of public opinion.Such is the tendency of this Bill, and alter it in Committee as you may, it will still give a powerful impetus to bribery, corruption, and intimidation. In my mind, there are only two modes of dealing with the Bill. One way, which, perhaps, would be more agreeable to the hon. Gentlemen below the gangway, would be to strike out the ratepaying clauses, and come to household suffrage pure and simple. ["Hear, hear!" from some Opposition Members sitting below the gangway.] Well, I do not complain of that; probably, I might even support those hon. Members who are sure to be in a minority; for neither the country nor the House of Commons would stand these extreme doctrines. There are Gentlemen who are sufficiently enthusiastic even to figure in minorities, but I hope they will remain there. The other way has already been suggested by my hon. Friend (Mr. Poulett Scrope), and is well worthy the consideration of the House. The "Instruction" has gone to keep company with the dual vote, and I can say nothing about it. But I believe that if the figure named in it had been £5, it would have let in 200,000 more voters than the Government Bill, and if £4 had been the figure, double that number would have been admitted. However, that is gone. De mortuis nil nisi bonum. But what is now the position of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer? When we last debated this question he was, with suavity and condescension, ready to accept hints from anybody. Suddenly, however, he boils up on Saturday at his private meeting with a public reporter, and says that he will die in the last ditch for personal rating. He pledges the existence of his Bill and the Government together on that ground. This declaration was never made to the House of Commons—grateful as the right hon. Gentleman has expressed himself to the House of Commons—and I think he has a great deal to be grateful for. Why was not that declaration made in the House of Commons? That announcement was reserved for his uproarious supporters from Manchester. But I want to know what has been the origin of this? Has he discovered or has he not that any Instruction such as was going to be offered to-night 1300 is not for the interest of the Conservative party? I am in possession of a very curious paper; I do not know whether I should read it to the House. ["Read, read!"] Oh, if you press me, of course I must. But I must tell you, Sir, and the House in general, that it is a confidential communication—not given to me confidentially, but given to me by a Conservative Friend who does not altogether agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because he says he is a Democrat. The communication is dated, very appropriately, "April 1, 1867," and headed "confidential," and addressed to the agent of a certain borough in the North of England—a Tory agent, of course—at least, I do not know what he is, for it is very difficult in these times, when my hon. Friend below me is actually appearing, to a certain extent, in Conservative colours, to say who's who and what's what. But here is this confidential communication. I will read it for the benefit of the country Gentlemen on this side of the House. It is as follows:—6, Victoria Street, Westminster Abbey, S.W. My dear Sir,—You are aware that the Reform Bill of the Government proposes to give the franchise to all occupiers for two years of dwelling-houses (only) in boroughs who personally pay the full tenements rate (not the compounded rate), and without reducing the Small Tenements Act. Notice has been given in the House of Commons by Lord Grosvenor of a proposal to reduce the limit of the Small Tenements Act from £6 to £5, and to give the franchise only to occupiers at or above a £5 rating. It is probable that such a qualification would not be limited to dwelling-houses only, but extend to shops and buildings with land, as in the Act of 1832.I should be exceedingly obliged if you would let me know by Friday morning which of these two proposals would work most favourably in the Conservative interest in your borough, and which, in your opinion, would be the most likely basis of a permanent settlement.—I am, dear Sir, yours very faithfully, W. SPOFFORM.[Ministerial cheers, and laughter.] Yes; but you will mark the words—"in the Conservative interest." I think that was a mistake of the right hon. Gentleman in drawing that letter—for I have no doubt that he has drawn it, because it is signed by the confidential agent of the Conservative party. But I want to know, has the right hon. Gentleman made that declaration that personal rating is the vital point of this Bill with two years' residence because he thinks it is for the interest of the Conservative party, and will form "the most likely basis of a permanent settlement?" Sir, I do not know what the 1301 interest of the Conservative party is as opposed to that which we hold on this side of the House; but I feel convinced of this—that this Bill, with personal rating and two years' residence, cannot, and will not, form a permanent basis, and instead of settling and fixing the franchise will only renew agitation. For this reason, I am opposed to going into Committee on this Bill. I know it is no use saying so; but I must be allowed, having a strong opinion on this Bill, and not being frightened at the threat of a dissolution, to express that opinion. I am aware there is a section of this House amiable, intelligent, and confiding—men who spent a great deal of money on their last election, who are somewhat dazzled by the ignis fatuus presented to their eye in the shape of household suffrage. They are now, alas! cajoled into thinking that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the Veiled Prophet of Democracy. Therefore, they are ready to follow him into that "Serbonian bog"—as he described it—a Committee of this House, in the hope that they will find a secure resting-place for their foot in household suffrage. But they will not get the better of the right hon. Gentleman. He will make use of them for his own purpose, and these Gentlemen, forty-eight in number, will be treated as the thirteen Resolutions were treated. When they are done with they will be put aside. But I must say that it is not creditable to the great parties in this House, whether they sit on this side or that, that we should be cajoled into passing a Bill which we well know offers no settlement of the question. Sir, great forbearance has been shown. But I shall ever regret that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) did not test us to see what his party are made of. For my part, I would sooner have been in a miserable minority than be reckoned among a party who never know their own mind and are cajoled into passing a measure, not because they think it a good measure—not because they think it will lead to a settlement of the question, but merely to put off the evil day. Sir, however anxious I may be to pass a Reform Bill this Session, I, for one, would much sooner see the Bill, if a bad one, postponed to another Session than pass an imperfect and incomplete measure. Sir, I have taken the liberty of making these observations before you leave the Chair. I repeat, I have a strong opinion on the subject; but I hope 1302 I have not expressed myself in stronger terms than the occasion warrants.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
Sir, I should certainly not have ventured to intrude myself on the attention of the House but for the personal notice I have had from the hon. Gentleman in the course of the somewhat amusing speech he has addressed to the House. I saw it reported that when I was absent the other day from indisposition an hon. Gentleman referred to the speech I made last year, and to which the hon. Gentleman has just recurred. The hon. Gentleman refers to me as one of the most recent penitents on the subject of Reform. If I were a recent penitent or a penitent at all, I hope I should have the candour to avow it. But, Sir, the opinions I held and expressed last year I hold and am ready to express now. I in no degree depart from the principles I then held by supporting the present Bill. I will take the very speech to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, and I will ask him, not to pick out a few words or a single sentence, but to examine the whole argument. The argument of the speech I made on the second reading of the Bill for establishing an educational franchise, introduced by the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Clay), was this—that if you desired to extend the franchise in boroughs and to include, as I admitted it was desirable to include, a number of persons now excluded, you must consider by what means you are to do that. I was comparing the Bill then proposed with that for the reduction of the rental franchise in boroughs from £10 to the limit of £7. I said, if you are going on the principle of reducing the rental occupation franchise from £10 to any other figure—you cannot stop at any limit until you cone to household suffrage, and I said I am not prepared now, or at any other time, with or without safeguards, to adopt household suffrage. I took my stand on the occupation franchise fixed by the Act of 1832, which has become consecrated by time; below which I thought it unsafe and unwise to reduce the rental occupation franchise. That was the view which the Conservative Government took in 1859, and they take it now. But holding that view the question presented itself how we should admit those whom it was desirable to enfranchise. There was at that time no other mode of doing that than by proposing other franchises, which should be collateral to the borough rental occupation franchise; and by means of this franchise 1303 we hoped we should be able to admit a considerable number of working men. In 1859 our ideas were not so extended as they are at present. In 1859 it was proposed to admit what was thought a considerable number of working men under the savings bank franchise, under the educational franchise, and under various others. In 1867 we go beyond that. We propose to add to the £10 occupation franchise a ratepaying franchise and a taxpaying franchise, and, with these additions to the existing rental franchise, we believe a very large number of persons will be admitted whom it is desirable to enfranchise. The ratepaying franchise is in no sense a substitute for the rental occupation franchise. It is an addition to, not a substitution for, that franchise. No one will understand the intention and meaning of the Government measure, or the position which Conservatives take in supporting that measure, who insists upon regarding the ratepaying franchise as a substitute for the rental qualification. When hon. Members make objections of this kind—that our franchise is bad because the terms on which it is given are different from those on which the existing franchise is given—it shows that they entirely misunderstand the spirit in which we propose the rating franchise, and they are making an absurd and a preposterous allegation when they state that we ought to put the ratepaying voters on the same footing as the £10 householders. That is the argument I should have proposed to you had the Motion of the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Coleridge) been brought before us, because that Motion would have raised the question and brought into prominent view the difference between the two franchises. I now come to the objection that has been raised that we are going to put the ratepayers, whom we are going to admit to the franchise, to the trouble of making the claim to be placed upon the register, that we are going to mulct them to some extent by making them pay rates upon less favourable conditions than other ratepayers, and that we are going to put them to other inconveniences to which £10 householders are not subjected. This was precisely the objection which was taken last year to the educational franchise by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) who said he objected to that franchise, on the ground that it would be putting a man to trouble in order to obtain the vote it was proposed to give him, and that the principle which 1304 should be adopted was that if the franchise were conceded at all, it should be given free from any such conditions. The objection, however, serves the useful purpose of pointing out clearly the difference between the principle upon which we are proceeding and the principle upon which Gentlemen opposite, or at least those who represent what are called advanced Liberal opinions, are proceeding. I can quite understand hon. Gentlemen opposite saying that if a man was going to have the franchise he should have it upon the same terms as any other voter. Their principle, as I understand it, is that by nature every man has a primâ facie right to the suffrage, and that it is only owing to considerations which it is difficult to understand, but which appear to be satisfactory to them, that they think themselves justified in excluding a large number of persons from the exercise of this right. But that is not the view we take of the matter. We regard the franchise as being not a right, but a trust. In our opinion this House should be so constituted as to form an assembly that shall truly represent the public opinion of the country—that shall truly represent all classes and interests, and that in it all questions and opinions shall be brought to the test of fair discussion. But, even assuming that the view of Gentlemen opposite is correct, the question resolves itself at last into one of selection. Even they admit that they must use some means by which the best men may be selected for exercising this right or this trust. Well, it is this principle of selection that is at the bottom of all those franchises which hon. Gentlemen opposite are pleased to laugh at, and to call "fancy franchises." We do not say, "We will not give a vote to persons under a particular class," but we say, "We will open the franchise to every person who may think it worth his while to take some slight trouble to obtain it." And that is the principle of all Conservative Reform Bills. The governing power in this country is public opinion which will in the end prevail, whatever be the constitution of this House. I am free to state that, in my opinion, this House as at present constituted represents very fairly the public opinion of the country, although I might admit that its constitution as a representative assembly is not perfect, and that it might be benefited by the infusion into the franchise of a larger proportion of the working classes. Now we think we can provide for the satis- 1305 factory representation of the working classes by some principle such as that which was contained in the Bill of 1859, and which in a much larger measure is contained in the present Bill. That is the principle I have already referred to that persons may be selected—or, rather, may select themselves—from among the working classes, who, by taking some little trouble, will show that they desire to have, and that they are qualified to obtain, the franchise. Sir, I am very anxious to explain my views upon this point, because I felt that anything which we might state upon this question is liable to be misconstrued, and that the motives that have induced us to take the course we have adopted are liable to be misrepresented. I do not think that we have had a word said against us of which we have any right to complain. We were perfectly aware, when we undertook the task of dealing with the Reform question, that we were exposing ourselves to taunts and to insinuations which it is not pleasant to sit still and listen to. For my own part, when I had once made up my mind to deal with the Reform question, I determined to harden my heart and to close my ears against all taunts, and against all insinuations which I did not feel in my own conscience to be justified. I felt that if I could not justify to myself the course proposed to be followed it would be my duty to abandon the position I held. But, endeavouring to look at the matter as fairly as I can, endeavouring to divest myself of all personal considerations, I am convinced, as far as I am able to form a judgment, that I am in no degree improperly departing from the opinions I expressed last year. Nor do I feel embarrassed respecting any expression taken in its fair sense, and viewed in connection with other parts of the speech, I then made. Last year I expressed very much the same opinions that I have now uttered. I stated last year that I thought the introduction of a Reform Bill was unnecessary. Upon that point I admit that I have changed my opinion. I admit that last year I formed an erroneous judgment, although I at the same time contend that public opinion is fairly represented in this House as at present constituted. I said last year, and I repeat now, that I will not consent to an indiscriminate lowering of the £10 rental franchise which forms the present basis of the borough franchise. Hon. Gentlemen say that by proposing to extend the franchise to rated householders 1306 we are reducing the franchise to something which they are pleased to call household suffrage. Now I contend that there could be no more inaccurate description of our scheme than that. It is perfectly true that if we were to strike out the latter part of the clause which imposes the restrictions of personal ratepaying and residence, we should be creating household suffrage. But you might as well say we are creating manhood suffrage; because if you struck out the restriction of having money in a savings bank from the savings bank franchise you would be creating manhood suffrage. We regard the conditions of personal ratepaying and of residence as being vital to our scheme, and I, for one, could be no party to passing the clause unless it included those restrictions. The challenge of the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Coleridge) was on the Main Question, and we should have been perfectly disgraced if we could have accepted such an Instruction as that. We are perfectly prepared to consider with hon. Gentlemen opposite what are the terms on which the ratepaying franchise ought to be given; but if it is to be a ratepaying franchise at all it must have within it the element of personal payment of rates. That condition is essential, and from it it is not possible for us to swerve. I do not know in what form we are discussing this question. It seems to me that in his anxiety to deliver the speech he had prepared the hon. Member (Mr. Osborne) has been getting up a discussion after the proper time. He appeared to me to be like the soldier who fired off his gun after the review was over, not having had an opportunity of firing it off at the time, or who, having had an opportunity of doing so, failed to take advantage of it. We came down here prepared to justify the principle of our Bill, but we find that the "Instruction" which was to have been moved has been withdrawn. No Amendment is proposed to the Motion that you, Sir, leave the Chair, and during the discussion which has taken place this evening the principles of the Bill have not been challenged. We are prepared at any time to justify those principles. There is nothing in the Bill of which the Conservative party, as Conservatives, need be ashamed, and it is a Bill which, if we are fortunate enough to pass, will tend to the satisfaction of the country and to the public advantage.
§ MR. ALLEN
I think it very important that it should go forth to the country 1307 that the right hon. Baronet who has just sat down, in the course of the speech he has just made in favour of the Reform Bill introduced by the Government, of which he is a most distinguished Member, has made use of the very remarkable expression, "he would never consent to any general lowering of the borough franchise." [Sir STAFFORD NORTHCOTE: I said of the rental franchise.] I thank the right hon. Baronet for correcting me, but I do not really think his correction makes much difference; but I do think his expression a most remarkable one, because it clearly shows what Her Majesty's Ministers think of the effect which will be produced in the borough franchise by their own Bill. Now, I confess that I am one of those who think that the Government Reform Bill is so objectionable in principle, that I believe the more manly and straightforward course for the Liberal party to have adopted would have been to have rejected it on the second reading; and I fear there is now great danger of the Liberal party in the House becoming divided, and losing that power which united action alone can secure to them. Now my objection to this Bill is, that the borough franchise it proposes to create is based on the personal payment of rates, a principle which I consider open to three fatal objections. My first objection to it is, that there will be no uniformity in the borough franchise, which it will create; but in one borough it will mean one thing, and in another borough something totally different. My second objection to it is, that it will make the borough franchise entirely dependent on the accident of whether the Small Tenements Acts, or other local rating Acts are in force or not; Acts which were never intended to have anything to do with the question of the franchise; and my third objection to it is, that it will be in the power of the local authorities of every borough, by putting into force the provisions of the Small Tenements Acts, or any other local rating Acts, or not, to raise or to lower the franchise at their pleasure. Now, these are the objections which I think may fairly be taken to the principle of this Bill. Now, to show the House how this Bill will operate in the different boroughs, I will take the case of the seven boroughs which are situated in the county in which I reside. In the borough of Stoke this Bill will create household suffrage, and add 15,000 electors to 3,400 on the register. In the 1308 borough of Newcastle-under-Lyne, which I have the honour to represent, it will also create household suffrage, and add about 1,800 new electors to the existing constituency. In the borough of Lichfield, on the other hand, it will only add three to the existing constituency of 764, and will exclude 945 householders. In the borough of Stafford, the present constituency is about 1,500, and to this it will add 1,555 householders, and exclude 114. In the borough of Wolverhampton the present constituency is 4,830, to which it will add 3,132, while it will exclude 18,369 householders. In Walsall it will add 739 to 1,296 existing electors, and will exclude 5,302; while, again, in Tamworth, where the present constituency is 532, it will add 495 to it, and will exclude 822 householders. Now this is a specimen of the inequalities which this franchise, based on the personal payment of rates, will create in the boroughs in a single county. But to take a broader view of the matter, how will it affect the country at large? In twenty-nine boroughs, in which neither the small Tenements Act, nor any other local rating Acts are in force, it will create household suffrage pure and simple, and will vastly increase the existing constituencies. In fifty-seven boroughs in which the Small Tenements Act is in force, by which owners instead of occupiers are rated for houses of £6 rateable value, it will establish a £6 rating franchise. In ninety-nine boroughs, in which the Small Tenements Act is in force in some parishes, and not in others, it will establish different franchises in the same borough. While in twenty-one boroughs, in which local Acts are in force by which owners are rated instead of occupiers at a rental of £10, it will actually disfranchise existing electors, and these twenty-one boroughs are, for the most part, the most important and populous in the kingdom. Now what possible argument can be used for basing the borough franchise on a principle which will produce such startling differences in the franchise in different boroughs, on what possible principle can you defend giving 15,000 new electors to the borough of Stoke-upon-Trent; while you only give fourteen new voters to the borough of Brighton. The fatal defect in this new borough franchise is, that it will be entirely destitute of the element of uniformity, and while in some boroughs it will add large numbers to the existing constituencies, in other boroughs of equal size and importance, it 1309 will scarcely add any at all. I fully grant that it is of vast importance that this question should be settled; but the House must remember that it is not the mere passing of a Reform Bill which will settle this question, but the passing of such a fair, just, and equitable measure as will give satisfaction to the people of this country. In its present shape, I have no hesitation in saying that I believe this a most unsatisfactory measure; but as I presume that it is now decided that we are to go into Committee upon it without a division, I sincerely trust that Her Majesty's Ministers may consent to such alterations and improvements being made in Committee on their Bill, as may make it at last such a fair and just measure, as it may be worthy of the Imperial Parliament to offer to the people of this great country.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
thought it was a matter of simple decency to accept the Motion for the adjournment of the debate. They all came down to the House that afternoon in the expectation that there would be a long discussion before the Motion for going into Committee was decided; but the first question collapsed, and other questions were got rid of by a dexterous stratagem on the part of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield, and the consequence was that they were going to be at once launched into Committee on the Reform Bill. The House had been entrapped into its present position by a species of thimble-rig playing with the notice paper; and now, after the candid but extraordinary statement of the right hon. Baronet, it was surely right that it should have some opportunity of calm reflection. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Bill was not one of household suffrage, and that it was scarcely even one of substantial reform; but that it was merely a string of epithets and adjectives bearing somehow upon the Bill of 1832, and that even the vaunted personal rating suffrage was nothing more than one of the fancy franchises. After this, the latest and strangest exposition he had heard of this ambiguous Bill, he hoped that Her Majesty's Government would allow the debate to stand over till Thursday. The House ought not to be forced into an immediate discussion in Committee, and he appealed to the Treasury Bench to consent to the adjournment, a resistance to which would give rise to evil remarks, and so to allow hon. Members to go home and ponder over what had occurred.
§ MR. LOWE
Sir, I was very much struck with the speech made by the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for India, because it was couched in language so new and strange to me, that I could scarcely believe it proceeded from a Gentleman whose speech on the same subject I heard last year. The right hon. Baronet appeared to me to say—and if I misunderstood him I hope he will correct me—that if the Bill of the present Government contemplated lowering the franchise, he would have nothing to do with it. ["No!"] At all events, so I understood him. He went on to argue that we retain the rating franchise and in so doing we retain everything. We allow men desirous of possessing the franchise to put themselves on the register, but beyond that we retain matters as they are, and I understood the right hon. Baronet to say that if that were not the case, he would be no party to the measure. He treated the notion of this Bill tending in any way to household suffrage with the greatest contempt; and, as I understood him, he said the question was as remote from household suffrage as it was before. That the Government Bill did not only not amount to household suffrage, in which he is perfectly right—but that it did not approximate to it. Hear what he said last year, and wonder what men can say at one time and what they can say at another. I am quoting from Hansard, May 30, 1866, in which I find the following speech of the right hon. Baronet:—He did not intend to go the length of saying that it was desirable to extend the franchise down to household suffrage; bat he would agree that if it were the intention of the House to extend the franchise by going below the £10 limit for boroughs—(Of which he has not said one word to-night)—There was no point whatever short of household suffrage at which they could consistently stop."—[3 Hansard, clxxxiii. 1534.]The right hon. Baronet is now a party to a Bill which does away with the £10 limit, and which does away with any figure at all, and yet he argues that if you adopt it, you will not have made the slightest approximation to household suffrage. But there is more of this speech. He says—Sooner or later under such circumstances—That is, circumstances of taking a £9 franchise even—They must come down to household suffrage, 1311 and he was prepared to say that if that were the point to which they must go, he was just as willing it should take place at once as that it should take place at a later date."—[3 Hansard, clxxxiii. 1534.]He therefore last year believed that any lowering of the franchise must inevitably lead to household suffrage, and that household suffrage is preferable to any intermediate change, such, for instance, as that contemplated by the Bill of the present Government. The right hon. Gentleman says that no language has been employed towards the Government of which they had a right to complain. I should like to know, if hon. Gentlemen make such speeches as that one year and then in another year make such a speech as the one we have heard to-night, what language can we use within the bounds of Parliamentary decorum of which they have any right to complain? I have not been willing to embarrass this discussion with retrospects; but if right hon. Gentlemen will come forward and challenge us in this manner, it is quite impossible to forbear. It is quite true that every Gentleman is the judge of his own honour; that he carries within him a secret tribunal by whose decision he must stand or fall; and the right hon. Gentleman may be acquitted by that tribunal. But it is also true that no upright Judge allows his decision to be affected by a bribe, and when right hon. Gentlemen change in this extraordinary manner, that change ought not to be accompanied by office and preferment. It is painful to say these things; but when right hon. Gentlemen, rising from grade to grade in the public service, appeal to their conscience, it is right they should be told that they do not appeal to an unbiased and unprejudiced judge. So much for the right hon. Gentleman. I have now a word or two to say—I did not mean to speak, but as it seems we have nothing very particular to do to-night, I may be allowed to offer a few remarks—about the Bill under our consideration. This Bill has a double aspect, and that is the dexterity and mischief of it. If looked at by the light of what it will immediately effect, it is not a large measure of enfranchisement, or one that even a timid man need fear. But if we look upon it in its potentiality, keeping in view that to which it may lead, it is a measure of the very largest nature. It is by presenting those two aspects that the effect is produced of causing one side to regard it as a sweeping and the other as a moderate 1312 scheme of Reform. If the Bill were to stand where it is, and bore in it the elements of permanence, then it would be a Bill which, I at once admit, a Conservative Government need not be ashamed of proposing. But how does the matter stand? We must not only consider what is actually done, but we must not lose sight of what must inevitably follow. You broadly lay down that every man who lives in a house for which the rates are paid by any one is entitled to a vote if he only chooses to take the trouble to get it. But you say that you require the conditions of personal rating, and that is the mode in which you force him to assert his right. You, in the first place, distinctly say that the franchise is to belong to such a man of right, but then you impose upon him a burden, and by the last clauses which have been drawn up by the Chancellor of the Exchequer he is to be subjected to a fine before he can get it. You throw artificial obstructions in his way, and how long, let me ask you, do you think those artificial obstructions will last? How long do you imagine that men will bear to be told that the franchise is their right if they wish to have it, and not at all a matter of selection or fitness, and that they are the judges whether they are to have it, and yet submit to the pecuniary fines which you set up as a barrier to its possession? Do you believe that the state of things which will be produced by the passing of a measure such as this is likely to be permanent? How long will it be before the class you are thus tampering with will convert that option which you give them into a right and compel you to place them upon the register? The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in answer to a deputation the other day, laid down as the principle of a Reform Bill that every man who earnestly and eagerly desired the franchise was entitled to its possession. He might just as well have said that the right of property was that any one who earnestly and eagerly desired to take my purse ought to have it. The true principle—if we have not lost sight of all principle—of the franchise is that a man ought not to have it unless he is fit to exercise it, and that fitness certainly does not consist in the eagerness with which he may desire it. There are many reasons why a man may desire to have a vote. He might wish for it, for instance, because he thought he might make a good thing of it, because he sees the money is going at elections. The Chancellor of the Exchequer might 1313 deem that a reason why he should give it to him, although everybody else would be inclined to hold the contrary opinion. That is the Conservative principle of this Bill. The only thing to ascertain is, not whether a man possesses property or intelligence, but simply whether he lives in a house and is earnestly desirous of obtaining the franchise. I know of no more unsound or more unsafe principle. It is easy to create a desire where it does not exist, and to take away the condition, so that the desire of a person for the franchise will become the desire of others who wish to corrupt him, and the door will be opened to every species of evil. The principles involved in this Bill, however, would seem to be to some hon. Gentlemen so plainly and manifestly sound that they do not look upon them as worthy of preliminary discussion. The second reading goes as a matter of course, and the Committee follows without even that consideration which awaits the most ordinary measures which are brought under our notice. I think we are under a great obligation to the hon. Member (Mr. Osborne) for the courage he has displayed this evening in resisting this mode of proceeding. He has, in my opinion, done a public service by the way in which he has drawn attention to the matter. The position in which we find ourselves is one which no man, whatever his political opinions, who loves his country or who reveres her Constitution can look upon without dread. We are about to go into Committee upon a Bill in reference to which the only point upon which we are agreed is that in its present shape it ought not to pass. We are going into Committee, too, under the Leadership of a Gentleman who does not command a majority of the House or the unanimous support of his own party. In short, entering without pilot, chart, or compass into this vast and stormy ocean of Reform. The grounds on which I objected, and successfully objected, to the Resolutions of the right hon. Gentleman—namely, that they took the question out of the hands of the Government and placed it in the hands of the House—apply now. As things are at present, the Government have not the direction of their own measure. The House is to be called upon to frame a Bill, and the House knows nothing except that the Leader, neither on one side or the other, seems to have any command over his own party. To this lottery, to this chance-medley, it is that we are about to 1314 trust the Constitution of this country. I am not to-night arguing in favour of principles which it is well known I hold. I am treading on ground which I occupy in common with almost every Gentleman whom I see around me. If you proceed in this way, can you, I ask, hope for anything but disgrace and failure? Not necessarily failure in passing this Bill—but failure worse than any interregnum or difficulty which may ensue as a consequence of its not passing? I hope, then, that others will follow the example of the hon. Member (Mr. Osborne), and that we shall have a little discussion on this question. The public will then know that the Conservative party have—whatever the right hon. Baronet (Sir Stafford Northcote) may say—advanced beyond those who sit on these Benches in bidding for the support of Democracy, Not so much by what they actually do as by that to which they open the door, and which must be the inevitable consequence of the course they are pursuing. It astonishes me to see a deputation of gentlemen coming up from the country to congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the Conservative measure he has introduced, when they must know that—but for the small matter of personal payment of rates—it means household suffrage pure and simple. What a frail bulwark to rely upon to protect the Constitution of this country against the inroads of democracy. If it could be made clear to the public how this question stands; if it could be shown to them that the Conservative leaders are drawing those who have not hitherto been desirous of change into the support of a measure which places the Liberal party in the dilemma of assenting to a course which they know to be wrong and pernicious, rather than allow themselves to be beaten in the race for popular favour; much good would be accomplished. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite are about to carry out a policy which has not the slightest connection with that which they last year avowed and acknowledged. I should be sorry to be concerned in anything of the kind. It was not because the £7 rental franchise of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) did not, in our opinion, go low enough, that I and others on this side of the House lent our aid to displace the Government. It was because we looked upon it as a dangerous and hazardous experiment. That was the language which was held in private by those very Gentlemen who now seem to think that the late Government 1315 did not go far enough, who do away with the figure altogether, and repose on the principle of a rating franchise. Never was there tergiversation so complete as that which is now displayed by those who last year acted as I have said, and who yet have to-night the assurance to come forward and hold such language as that to which we have listened. Such conduct may fail or not; it may lead to the retention or the loss of office; but it merits alike the contempt of all honest men and the execration of posterity.
§ MR. MONTAGU CHAMBERS
said, that notwithstanding his admiration for the ability of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe), he could not help saying that his object appeared to be to obstruct and impede all attempts at Reform. In every speech made by the right hon. Gentleman there was to be detected a considerable amount of false logic. What did the right hon. Gentleman mean by those speeches? Last year, when the late Government attempted to bring in a Reform Bill, the right hon. Gentleman did all he could to oppose and defeat it. In the present year, when the succeeding Government endeavoured to pass a measure of Reform, the right hon. Gentleman again met it with cavilling objections. The right hon. Gentleman charged the Members of the present Government with enunciating a principle which they last year repudiated. He (Mr. Montagu Chambers) did not care whether that were so or not. The community did not care. They wanted a Reform Bill, and it was of no importance to them whether it came from the present or any other Government. His notion was that they might get it now. If the House should go into Committee upon this Bill he was determined to act upon this principle—to accept of everything that was favourable to a settlement of this question of Reform; but he was not so sanguine as to imagine that this measure would be a final settlement. Therefore, his notion was that they should get as much as they could, and if it did not satisfy the community, they could go farther until they were satisfied. That, no doubt, was an unpopular statement for some hon. Members, but the impression out of doors was that complete Reform could only be accomplished by degrees. Lawyers and politicians appeared to labour under a mistake with regard to what was the meaning of household suffrage. He found from historical and legal research that household 1316 suffrage had always been accompanied with the payment of local rates. The voter by the old "scot and lot"—which was equivalent to household suffrage—had to pay parish or church rates. Their ancestors knew very little of household suffrage pure and simple. Therefore, when household suffrage was proposed as one of the leading principles of a new Reform Bill, every one acquainted with the subject said it must be accompanied with the payment of rates of one kind or another. Again, potwallopers—every man who boiled his own pot, or was able to find food and firing—in ancient times were no more nor less than lodgers, and they had votes. These were old principles, and they were going back to them. He himself was in favour of a rental franchise, and whether by this Bill or not, the time would come when they must adopt it. The arguments on both sides tended to that, and they already showed the difficulties and inconsistencies that must arise in endeavouring to establish a fair franchise by rating and payment of rates. His test of fitness would be a year's residence and a year's payment of rent. The compound-householder pays the rates of his house in the shape of rent, and it mattered not whether they were paid by him or his landlord. His landlord was his rate collector. The tenant who resided in a house and paid his rates through his landlord was a far more respectable and better man than the man who would have his rates paid for him by an election agent. That was the evil of this Bill. It was the interest of all true Reformers to assist the Chancellor of the Exchequer in carrying a real Reform Bill; but the proposed manner of putting a man on the register was a complicated piece of business, and could not be approved of. They should test a man by rental and occupation. Before many years they would have to adopt residential household suffrage, the payment of rent being the test of a man's respectability, and if the Government would adopt rental in Committee instead of rating, a large number of true Reformers would support them. He cared not which side produced a Reform Bill. If it was a good Bill he and many others on the opposition side would support it. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe) was sometimes a good logician and at other times a bad one; but, unfortunately, his logic dazzled a great many who did not understand it, and there was hardly one Mem- 1317 ber in that House who really knew what the right hon. Gentleman meant by the speech he had just delivered. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman last year which had been so much admired was a beautiful sort of University exercise; but there was not a Member in the House who could say what it meant. The Conservative party cheered the right hon. Gentleman last Session, believing that he was assisting them; but he had now turned round, and had said all he could against them. He (Mr. Montagu Chambers) should support the Motion for going into Committee. He was well satisfied at the result of the consultation that occurred before they met that evening. At the end of the proposed Instruction there was something very equivocal to true Reformers. They thought it restrictive. They had carried a point very useful as an Instruction, and he hoped when they went into Committee on it they would carry a Reform Bill that would be suitable to the wants of the country.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned,"—(Mr. Gorst,) put, and negatived.
§ Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, he understood it was not intended by the Government to proceed with the Bill in Committee to-night?
§ MR. GATHORNE HARDY
said, that was the understanding. He moved that the Chairman report Progress, and ask leave to sit again on Thursday next.
§ House resumed.
§ Committee report Progress, to sit again upon Thursday.