§ Order for Committee read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ MR. HIBBERT
I wish to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer a question with reference to the Amendment of which I have given notice upon the 3rd clause of the Reform Bill, which refers to the rights of compound-householders. My proposition is to give to the compound-householders every facility to acquire votes by enabling them to place their names upon the register on paying or tendering the amount of the composition rate upon their houses. I wish to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether the Government are prepared to accede to that proposition? The course I shall take with regard to the Reform Bill will be very materially influenced by the answer which the right hon. Gentleman may give to my question.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I think the hon. Gentleman must see that it would be exceedingly inconvenient for me to give an immediate answer to the question he has put to me. I myself have placed several Amendments upon the paper with regard to the rights of compound-householders. The question in connection with the compound-householders is one of great difficulty; but, at the same time, it is one for fair discussion. If hon. Gentlemen wish to bring forward any propositions upon this point, I shall be very happy to hear any suggestions that may be made, and as long as those propositions are consistent with the principles of the measure we have brought forward—namely, the principles of personal payment of rates and of adequate residence—I shall 1487 listen to them with very great attention. The right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) the other night indicated some views upon this subject, which, coming from such a quarter, will command my utmost attention. The hon. Gentleman, however, will perceive that, at the present moment, it is quite impossible for me to give any definite answer to the question he has put to me. The subject is one which is well worthy of discussion; and as long as they are not inconsistent with the principles to which I have referred as being vital to the Bill, any suggestions that may be made with regard to compound-householders will be fairly considered by us.
I rise, Sir, to put a question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and, to put myself in order, I intend to conclude my observations by moving the adjournment of the House. We all know that there is a general feeling on both sides of the House that this question of Reform should be settled, and that we should not only pass a Reform Bill during the present Session, but that we should pass a Reform Bill which will have every probability of being a lasting one. And I understand there is a feeling, shared by Members on both sides of the House, that in order to arrive at such a settlement it would be advisable that the further progress of the Reform Bill should be postponed until after the Easter holydays. ["No, no!"] There are two sets of Amendments affecting the Bill upon the Notice Paper—those of the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill), and those which are proposed by the right hon. Member for South Lancashire (Mr. Gladstone)—which involve points which will give rise to very considerable discussion. If hon. Members who have Motions on the paper for to-morrow will not give way, the practical result will be that we shall only have to-night in which to discuss this great question. I therefore appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to say whether he thinks that we are likely to arrive at a satisfactory settlement of this question after a debate of one night only, and whether he does not think it would be better to adjourn the further progress of the Bill until after the Easter recess. [Renewed cries of "No, no!"] I believe that if the consideration of the question were postponed for a short time, there would be much greater likelihood of some arrangement being arrived at during the recess. The notices given are extremely numerous, and 1488 if time were given some satisfactory compromise might be arrived at. I therefore appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to postpone the further progress of the Bill until after the Easter recess.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Earl Grosvenor.)
§ COLONEL WILSON PATTEN
I am not aware what the feeling of the House is generally; but, in corroboration of the remark of the noble Lord, I do know certainly that some hon. Members do not think that it would be desirable to enter into a discussion of the Reform Bill in Committee at the present time. The noble Lord who has just sat down has said justly that the greatest possible anxiety is demonstrated on both sides of the House to arrive at a satisfactory settlement of this question, and I do think that no obstacle of any trifling kind should be allowed to come in the way of that settlement. But I think it would be a great chance that it would become a very great obstacle to this settlement, if we should commence the debate and not be able to finish any branch of it before the holydays. I have no feeling myself upon the matter; but I know that many hon. Members are sincerely anxious to give every opportunity for the two sides of the House to come together upon one or two questions which are not very difficult of adjustment, and I think that there would be much greater facility for carrying out this desire if we postponed the debate.
§ MR. AYRTON
I think that it is quite impossible for the right hon. Gentleman opposite (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) to misunderstand the feeling with which this side of the House is actuated, for that feeling has been expressed in a very distinct and audible manner that we ought at once to proceed. If there be any wish in the House not to proceed, undoubtedly the right hon. Gentleman must feel that if silence gives consent the question raised by the noble Lord (Earl Grosvenor) has created great indisposition in hon. Gentlemen opposite to proceed; but I fully believe that that feeling is not shared by those who sit here, and who have shown, from the commencement, an anxious desire to have this question settled as soon as possible. It has been suggested that if we do nothing at all we shall contribute much to a settlement; but I myself cannot conceive anything so likely to settle the 1489 question as a good practical debate in this House. The question of Reform cannot arrive at a settlement until it has been discussed with a view of arriving at a conclusion upon the main points to be secured; and I am convinced that nothing will so much contribute to a settlement as that we should discuss and decide upon the question raised by the Amendment of the right hon. Member for South Lancashire. I am quite sure that the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill) will not ask us previously to discuss the Motion which he intends to submit, and that he will not interpose his Amendment so that we cannot proceed to discuss the right hon, Gentleman's Amendment. But there are also very strong reasons why we should proceed at once; for if we adjourn for the holydays without doing so the Session will have half expired before we resume; and is it to go forth to the country that this period has been arrived at without one single point in the Reform Bill having been disposed of or even debated seriously? I believe that nothing could be so disastrous as the knowledge that half the Session had expired without our having taken any earnest step in the progress of this great subject. I think that it would be most unfortunate if we should separate without the people having the moral assurance that Parliament intends to proceed with the question of Reform. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer accedes to the proposition of the noble Lord it will raise but one feeling throughout the country—that we had only entered on this question for the purpose of burking it. I hope that the Government will fulfill the engagements repeatedly made, that they would proceed as early as possible to the solution of the question. I need not remind the right hon. Gentleman of his promise to proceed de die in diem; and are we to be told that there is anything very serious to-morrow to prevent us proceeding? I should like to know what it is; it is one of those shadows that are thrown up occasionally when the House wishes to do nothing. The question to-night is one of a narrow character, and I believe we can come to a conclusion upon it. If hon. Gentlemen opposite should be determined to prolong the debate I believe that we can go on with it to-morrow, and can then sit until we come to a conclusion. If hon. Members are really desirous to redeem the character of the House in the eyes of 1490 the country, there ought to be no separation for the holydays until the Amendment of the right hon. Member for South Lancashire has been disposed of.
§ MR. BAILLIE COCHRANE
I think that I ought not to be misunderstood. The noble Lord (Earl Grosvenor) has referred to those Gentlemen who have Notices on the paper, and to-morrow I stand first with a Notice in reference to despatches which have passed between the British Government and the Spanish Government. The House will do me the justice to say that during the long period that I have been a Member I have never once interposed against the wish of the House on any one occasion. But I must say this—the hon. Member (Mr. Ayrton) has said that ill-feeling will arise in the country if we do not come to a decision in reference to the Reform Bill before the House breaks up; but I consider that it would be most unfortunate if a question so important as that which will be raised on my Motion should not be fairly and fully discussed previous to the holydays. ["Oh, oh!"] Some hon. Gentlemen may differ with me; but I entertain that opinion so fully that I must proceed with it. Will the House do me the justice to see that I put the Notice upon the paper a week ago, and before there was any notion that the question of Reform would come before us in this form? I think it most important that the House should support the Government by expressing its opinion upon this important question before the holydays; and I must therefore state in answer to the hon. Member, but with the greatest respect to the House, that I must firmly decline to give way.
It appears to me, I confess, that my noble Friend the Member for Chester (Earl Grosvenor) has made a proposition which, though well-intentioned, is not well-timed. Let us consider how the matter stands. We are now appreaching the middle of April; and if this adjournment be agreed to, three months of those of the Session will have expired before we shall be able to resume this question. There is a universal sense of the necessity of despatch. On account of that necessity of despatch ordinary modes of procedure have been departed from; and if my noble Friend's proposition is acceded to, three months will have passed before the first practical step has been achieved. I trust we may be allowed to proceed at once. My noble Friend urges impediments; but only one question, as far as I know, stands 1491 upon the paper before the subject of personal rating, and with regard to that question I believe I am right in saying that my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill), though very anxious to enter upon the discussion of the Amendment of which he has given notice, is not unwilling to postpone its consideration, if he finds such a postponement to be the wish of the House. With regard to the question of proceeding to-morrow, I understand that a noble Friend of mine who in "another place" expressed his wish to enter upon a discussion of our relations with Spain was formally requested by the Government, and no doubt with reason, to postpone his Motion. The noble Lord the Foreign Secretary has also answered several questions; and from those answers, undoubtedly, the inference would arise—and I have no further knowledge on the subject myself—that Her Majesty's Government are not prepared to enter into such a discussion, and do not consider that it would be advantageous to the public service. My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Baillie Cochrane) will scarcely be determined to force on such a discussion irrespective of the views of the Government on matters with regard to its policy and prudence? If, however, my hon. Friend is determined to force on such a discussion, he will, I think, find that he has a difficult task in hand. But I am bound to say that it depends upon the decision of the House whether to proceed with the discussion of the Reform question; because the law of adjournment on the Friday, nine days before Easter, is not an irremovable impediment. The question is whether the impression is or is not to be conveyed to the minds of the people of this country that the House is in earnest upon this subject. Ready as we are, after many delays and after many changes, to enter upon the discussion of a point which goes, as we know, almost to the heart of the most important portion of the Bill, it appears to me that the House will subject itself to very grave and serious imputations if we allow this matter to stand over in preference to sacrificing a day, or even two or three days, at our own personal inconvenience. We ought not therefore to postpone for about three weeks that which the public believe has already been too long postponed.
§ MR. CLAY
I do not altogether agree either with what has been proposed by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets 1492 (Mr. Ayrton) nor with the course recommended by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire; but I think that it would be very undesirable that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer should not, under any circumstances, be allowed to proceed with the Bribery Bill to-night. Upon the intimation which he gave, and considering the Bribery Bill to be part and parcel of the work of Reform—and although a separate Bill, it was originally part of the Reform Bill—I should think that we should be showing our earnestness by taking the second reading of that Bill to-night. It was in our hands this morning; and it is a very short Bill, and an extremely intelligible one; and I have read it through, and came perfectly prepared to discuss the second reading to-night. I have mentioned this because there are disquieting rumours in the air of a dissolution; and very many Gentlemen consider that this would be a very bad time for a dissolution, for reasons drawn as much from foreign as from home policy. I have not as yet heard of a good time for this particular result; but, however that may be, I should look upon it as little less than a national misfortune to send us to the country without having first passed a stringent Act for the more effectual suppression of bribery and corruption; and with that impression I earnestly entreat the Chancellor of the Exchequer to urge forward as speedily as possible some measure that would have the effect of protecting the voter in the exercise of the franchise.
§ MR. J. STUART MILL
Sir, I confess I attach the highest importance to the Amendment which stands on the paper in my name. Nevertheless, I shall waive my right to proceed with it now, entertaining as I do a confident hope that the House, on both sides of which that proposition has most distinguished supporters and sympathizers, will with one consent allow me at some early period an opportunity for a full discussion upon a proposal which I can assure hon. Gentlemen is a most serious one, and is becoming every day more serious from the number as well as the quality of its supporters. I should not for a moment think of interposing this Motion in the way of anything so important as the Amendment of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Lancashire, upon which the House is desirous, no doubt, of coming to a decisive judgment before we either adjourn or are dissolved. I am sure that 1493 the House is not so eager for its own amusement as not to be willing, if necessary, to sit through a part of next week. To think that the House would rather leave the question as it is than submit to this minute sacrifice of its pleasure or recreation would be so disgraceful to its character, that I cannot think of entertaining so uncourteous a supposition.
Sir, I think the point we ought to apply ourselves to is, whether the Motion of the noble Lord will or will not help us forward in settling this great question. We must consider the position in which we have been placed during the last four or five days. In the beginning of the week a Motion was before the House at the instance of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Exeter (Mr. Coleridge), which would have raised the definite issue by which the House would have decided whether it meant to deal with this great and difficult subject by means of a household suffrage, with a fixed limit, without saying what that limit was, or by the plan of the Government having no limit. Now, whether we take the one or the other of these plans, both sides of the House must lend their assistance to work it out in a manner the most satisfactory to the country. I do not think any one can controvert that proposition. That proposition of the hon. and learned Member for Exeter was, however, suddenly withdrawn from us. Whatever the issue might have been upon it, we could have ascertained the feeling of the House upon which principle, if I may say so, we were to proceed. But that is not all; the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire has varied his Amendments as to their position and character so much from day to day, that we are not able to consider or know what are actually the issues we are invited to try. But that is not all. No man can say, now that this particular point is to be submitted to us by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire—the hon. Member for Westminster having, as I understand, withdrawn his Amendment—what bearing this issue of the question as to the payment of the personal rates will have upon the one plan or the other. Therefore, if we occupy the whole of this night, and perhaps have an adjourned debate, shall we be really making any progress? I put this fairly to hon. Members on either side of the House. The noble Lord said truly that in the recess compromises might take place—or, 1494 if that is not a proper word, an interchange of opinions. But, more than that—it may be that some proposal or some Amendment may be first raised which shall enable the House to decide whether we ought to go upon the principle of a fixed limit, or whether we are to go upon the plan of the Government—because until that point is decided, I do not see how we are to help each other in adjusting the different clauses of the Bill upon that particular question. That is the difficulty I feel as to proceeding with the discussion of the Bill to-night. I believe that we shall have a considerable debate which will probably lead to no division; I therefore do not think we shall be gaining ground. I do not believe there is any man in this House, upon whichever side he sits, who has a stronger feeling than I have of the necessity, if possible, of settling this question. I do not believe there is any man in this House who has a stronger opinion than I have of the great necessity which exists for an enlargement of the electoral franchise. But I believe it must be done, and can only be done, by a distinct understanding that the House should settle in the first instance what is the principle they mean to stand upon—whether it be a fixed limit or not—because upon the decision on those two points must depend the opinion that is to be given on all those other Amendments which stand upon the paper. Otherwise we shall have cross debates, and cross voting perhaps, upon particular points in respect to which men will not know exactly what they are about. That is the feeling I have upon the question submitted to us, and, so far as my voice goes, I shall support the adjournment.
§ MR. OSBORNE
The House has become so accustomed to these surprises—to this perpetual springing of mines—I verily believe the whole of the ground below the gangway here is mined—I hope that our position will be well understood before we engage ourselves in considering whether we shall again stultify ourselves by following the noble Lord. I can well understand the right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues on the other side of the House, who are, I believe, in collusion with the noble Lord. But what do we owe to the noble Lord that we should adopt his suggestion? The noble Lord last year helped to throw out the Government Bill; the noble Lord, doubtless under the rose, wishes, by compromises with his Friends on the other side of the House, to make 1495 this as mild a Bill as he possibly can. I implore the House not to appear before the country in the disgraceful position they would occupy if they listen to the insidious proposition of the noble Lord backed by the two hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House, What is the meaning of a compromise? Have we not read in the papers of the last two days that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, flushed with the converts he has made upon this side of the House, has declared that he will accept none of your Amendments? We all know that since the right hon. Gentleman has chosen deliberately to put that letter to his supporters in the papers, he is not likely to withdraw from it; and I will not do him the injustice to think, even though he be earwigged by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire during the recess, that he will depart from that which he has laid down. Sir, there is no chance of a compromise, and I hope this question will be fairly fought out, and that we shall win over the false Reformers. Those who are real Reformers still wish to push this Bill forward a stage by discussing it to-night; those who are represented by The Day newspayer will wish to put off the question until after Easter, until what they call "a more convenient season." I implore all those who represent constituencies, and who wish to stand well with those constituencies [Laughter], to insist on the immediate consideration of the Bill. I can imagine that those hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House, with their small laughs, have no constituency. Do not forget that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has told his supporters that he will abandon his Bill if any improvement is made in it. ["No, no!"] I can well understand the wish of certain hon. Members to gain time—to put off as far as possible the evil day—but I do not understand any man professing to call himself a Reformer voting with the noble Lord (Earl Grosvenor), the man who has done more than any person in the House to cut off all idea of Reform.
§ LORD ELCHO
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down says he can understand why my noble Friend wishes to postpone the question of Reform. I think I can equally well understand why the hon. Gentleman and his friends wishes to force this question on. Notice of an Instruction was given the other day which was undoubtedly intended to produce one of two effects—either to force the Government to 1496 eat their leek, if I may say so, or to transfer Gentlemen who sit on the front Benches on this side of the House to the front Benches on the other. I am one of those who last year endeavoured with my noble Friend ["Hear, hear!"]—I am not ashamed to own that I endeavoured with my noble Friend to prevent the Government measure passing. I never attempted to disguise the fact; I spoke as openly last year as I believe I always do. I helped to secure the rejection of that Bill because I did not think it was founded upon sound principles, or was likely to effect a settlement of the question; and I objected also to the way in which it was attempted to force that Bill down our throats whether we liked it or not. As a Member of Parliament, I objected to that. But if I was anxious last year that the Bill should not pass, I am equally anxious this year that the question should be settled. I have never been opposed to Reform. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Gentlemen may groan; but I invite them to look through the pages of Hansard, and point out one single passage in any speech of mine that says I am opposed to Reform. [Cheers.] I voted for the Bill of 1859. But these are personal matters, and I set them aside. I repeat I am anxious to see this question settled in the present Session of Parliament, and I am further anxious to see it settled without a change of Government. If possible, I am anxious to see it settled without a dissolution, because I believe it would be prejudicial to the best interests of this country that we should have a dissolution with this question of Reform unsettled. My noble Friend the Member for Chester, I know, shares in these views—or rather I share in his. And he has had the manliness to come forward this evening and to state that he believes this settlement is more likely to be effected by the course which he suggests than by forcing on this discussion as the right hon. Gentleman opposite is so anxious to do. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) shrank from the word "compromise." I do not shrink from it—I know it is unpalatable to those Gentlemen opposite who wish to drive headlong they know not whither—but I do not shrink from boldly standing up here and stating that I am in favour of a compromise on this question. I am convinced of this—and I do not say it without good ground—that if this question be not brought on for discussion to-night, but be postponed 1497 till after Easter, we are likely to gain a compromise which will lead to a settlement of this question. By forcing on this question you may succeed in making both sides of this House change places—you may possibly succeed in compelling a dissolution: but when you have attained that end, what then? You will have a united party opposite to you—you (the Opposition) are not a united party; and no one knows better than the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) that you cannot pass a Reform Bill through this House unless it be based upon a compromise, in which both sides, to a certain extent, give up their own opinions. ["No!"] You may say "No!" but what I say is true; and there is not a man who hears me that does not know it to be true. What I say will be supported and backed out of doors. Public opinion wishes to see this question settled without reference to party or personal considerations; it wishes that there should be give and take between us; that more of public and less of party spirit should be exhibited. I say it decidedly and avowedly that no Reform Bill can be settled without a compromise. I do not shrink from that. I believe that compromise can be best effected by the course suggested by my noble Friend, and I think the public are greatly indebted to him for the courage and manliness he has exhibited in making the proposal.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) has discussed this question, as his habit is, in a fair, practical, and sensible manner. He thought that we should lose no time by postponing the debate until after the recess; and that, as to-morrow night would probably be given up to something else, it would be injurious to commence a discussion this evening. If we were to rise to-morrow night for the recess, and if we were now about to discuss the question of the second reading, I think there would be something to be said on behalf of this view; because on the second reading the principles of the whole Bill should be discussed, and I should say that a week would be as little time as the House would require for the discussion. But that is not the position we are in. We are really in the position of being about to discuss what I should call the pivot of the Bill—the point on which the most important matter—namely, the borough franchise—turns. We are not about to discuss that one point for the first time, because on every occa- 1498 sion when the Bill has been discussed at all so far, almost the whole of the speeches have been directed to that point. Therefore, the House on both sides will come to the consideration of it with minds very much prepared to thoroughly understand the position and debate it. I have a strong opinion that one night, or perhaps two nights, will be sufficient for the settlement of that point. The noble Lord talks a good deal about compromise during the recess. But when we are all away home who is to do the compromise? Is the noble Lord the Member for Chester to stay in London, and cook a new dish that would suit every one's palate? [Earl GROSVENOR interposed a few words which were not heard.] Am I to understand the thing is to be settled in the recess, and that when we meet again here we shall find something we can all sit down to with good appetites and entire approbation? I do not believe in that. If there is to be any compromise or any settlement, it must be done aboveboard, and—more than that even—it must be done in the full eye of the whole country. I maintain it would be a great advantage to the country if we could have two nights' discussion upon this one important point before the recess, in order that during the recess, when, as is well known, a great number of public meetings are about to be held, we should have the opinion of those public meetings, if they choose to express it, with regard to this most important matter which is before us. The hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Clay) has spoken of a dissolution. I observe, Sir, that the hon. Member generally manages on these occasions to say something which is likely to be very serviceable to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Well, we have heard a threat of dissolution before. But last year, if such a thing had been hinted at for a moment, we should have been told that it was unconstitutional and unjustifiable to threaten the House of Commons. The hon. Member talked also about bribery. Why, Sir, it is the corruption of this House, the costliness of these seats—it is that £1,000,000 which it has cost to bring 600 gentlemen here—it is that which makes a dissolution difficult, and prevents that appeal to the country which it probably may be necessary to have before this question can be fairly settled. But I maintain that now, when we are going for three weeks to our homes, when this matter will be discussed in every town and village and almost in every house, it is of the utmost importance that this 1499 one particular question—the very heart of the Bill, that which makes it either worthy of acceptance by the people, or below contempt, as a measure of Reform—I say it is of the first importance that we should now have one, or even two nights' debate upon it, if not that we may comprehend it better, yet that the millions on whose behalf and at whose demand the Bill is offered to the House may understand what are their true interests in regard to it, and may express that opinion in a way which may help the House after the recess to a final determination on all the great points of it. I trust the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is said by his friends never to be wanting in courage, will be ready to go on with the discussion from day to day. He implored the House six weeks ago, in language such as almost to excite our commiseration, to come and take counsel with him and his Colleagues; and yet I find that on every occasion when the House presumes to give him the smallest advice upon this Bill, he seems to shrink from what it has to say—as if there was some great difficulty in his path, and he was afraid he could not accept the advice we were about to give him. I hope that he will not give his support to the proposition for adjournment; but that he will come manfully to the discussion of the principle in which I presume he believes, from the earnestness with which he discusses it. Let the House discuss it. Let the country understand it. Let us find at last what shall be the true principle on which the borough franchise should be based.
§ MR. WHITBREAD
I am not in the habit of addressing the House at any great length, and I should not have addressed it now did I not entertain a strong feeling on the question before the House. I am one of those who, rightly or wrongly, have clung to the hope that this question might be settled by the Government now in office—and for two reasons. First, that having after a fair trial last year failed ourselves in settling the question, we were bound to give hon. Gentlemen opposite the fairest and fullest trial, to exhaust forbearance, and to be ready to sacrifice anything but great points of principle; and secondly, looking to the differences which exist among the Liberal party, which no man but a madman can fail to recognise, I have thought it was likely that we might get a more liberal measure from the present Government than if the House again 1500 changed sides. I confess that I clung to that hope, and I cling to it now; but if the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer is so unwise as to allow himself to be persuaded by the noble Lord into postponing this question to-night, the last shred of hope I have will be gone, and I, for one, see it will be impossible to arrive at a solution of the question without changing the sides of the House. Now, Sir, I am not one of those who think it is necessary to come to a hurried and agitated decision to-night—indeed, I do not care if we do not come to a decision before the adjournment of the House—but what I want is, that some of those broad points about which there is difference of opinion should be elicited in discussion, and be put before the country for their consideration during the recess. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) has made a wise and temperate suggestion on that question. I should like exceedingly that the constituencies of hon. Gentlemen opposite should have an opportunity of considering what the point is upon which they are taking their stand in reference to personal rating. I know that many men in the country attach great importance to the payment of rates before voting; but I do not believe that outside the House they attach any great importance to the question of whether the landlord or the tenant pays them; and it is only by a discussion of the question that there is any hope of our coming to an agreement on the point. Hon. Gentlemen opposite must be prepared to give as well as accept concessions. We want it to be fairly put before the country whether the Government are prepared to say that a man who rents below £10 per annum shall be placed in a worse position than the man above it. It is of great advantage to decide that, because I am still desirous and anxious to settle this question, if possible, by the present Government. I appeal to the noble Lord to withdraw this Amendment; for I hope it will not go to the country that any one on this side of the House had pressed a Motion to postpone this Bill, of which I am sure it will disapprove. I believe in the opinion of hon. Gentlemen on this side that we ought to go on from day to day as long as we can.
§ SIR RAINALD KNIGHTLEY
, amid cries of "Divide," which had now become continuous, said, that the proposition of 1501 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire might mean household suffrage to its fullest extent or it might mean quite a different thing. If therefore they came to a decision on it to-night, the whole country would remain for a fortnight in doubt as to what the House of Commons really meant.
§ MR. HUBBARD
Mr. Speaker— Sir, I have on the notice-list for to-morrow a Motion touching the Education of the People; but I willingly postpone it in deference to the desire of the House to proceed with the still more important question—the Representation of the People. I take this opportunity of suggesting to the hon. Member for Honiton, whose Motion for Correspondence touching the cases of the Tornado and Queen Victoria stands first on the list for to-morrow, that he should postpone his Motion, if only upon the ground of the inexpediency of raising a public discussion on our relations with the Spanish Government as affected by their treatment of those two vessels. The Spanish people are brave, sensitive, and punctilious on points of honour; and the adjustment of any differences with them would be rather obstructed than advanced by an exciting discussion in this House. I therefore advise him rather to delay his discussion and permit the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs to bring to a satisfactory conclusion the correspondence which he has conducted with so much firmness and courtesy.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, the hon. Member for Birmingham had said that there would be numerous meetings in the country during the recess, and he was anxious that the House should come to a decision on this question before those meetings took place. Now, I think the noble Lord who has proposed the adjournment—seeing that it is totally impossible for us to discuss continuously during the recess—has done that which is most desirable according to the hon. Gentleman's view, inasmuch as I think it is more desirable that we should know the opinions and feelings of those meetings than that they should have the opportunity of advising us. My opinion is, that it is impossible to settle this question in one night's debate. The House may proceed to debate it; in debating it it is doing its duty; but as to the possibility of any arrangement being come to of the nature of which the House are not yet aware, I confess I have not seen any evidence of it. I think the House would do 1502 wisely to postpone this question; but I do think that the noble Lord in making the proposition should have shown us something. If therefore thing more of the grounds on which he did so. I am not one of those who are prepared to swallow the whole Bill; and I take this opportunity of giving notice that before the House proceeds to the second portion of the Bill—that which relates to the redistribution of seats—I will call the attention of the House to the fact that the Bill of the late Government conferred a greater measure of direct representation to the majority of the people in this country resident in the counties than this Bill of the present Government. I have watched to see if any hon. Gentleman would try and touch this great question, that the majority of the English people have not more than one-sixth of representation. ["Order!"] I beg the pardon of the House for travelling out of the immediate question before it, but I have given my notice. I can only say if the noble Lord really believes on sufficient grounds that a clear understanding will be the result of his Motion, I will support him; for I agree with Lord Grey that on this matter there should be no haste and no precipitation.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
wished to ask the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary, whether it was with his concurrence the hon. Member for Honiton(Mr. Baillie Cochrane) was to make his Motion to-morrow on the Motion for the Adjournment. It must be know to the noble Lord that a Colleague of his in "another place" asked a noble Marquess (the Marquess of Clanricarde) to postpone a Motion of a precisely similar character to that of the hon. Member for Honiton, on the ground that he could not discuss the case of the Tornado without going into that of the Victoria, and that to discuss the case of the latter ship would be prejudicial to the public interests.
I have had some verbal and private communication with my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton, and when the hon. Gentleman first expressed his intention of brining his Motion forward I used every argument in my power to dissuade him from so doing. But my hon. Friend told me he thought he could deal with the subject in such a manner as not to interfere with the prospects of a satisfactory settlement; and he further said there were many other Member of that House who took a strong interest in the question, and who thought the House ought not to separate for the Easter recess with- 1503 out some discussion on it. For myself, I may observe that I have laid before the House of Commons every paper on the subject in my possession. I have kept nothing back; and I have really nothing additional to state to the House. Under these circumstances it is clear that if my hon. Friend brings forward his Motion, he cannot, in any reply I may make, give hon. Members any farther information. But, having laid all the papers in my possession on the table of the House, and thereby challenged criticism upon the course which I have taken, as set forth in these papers, I could not go further than to say that, on the whole, I should prefer that my hon. Friend did not bring the subject on at present.
§ SIR ROUNDELL PALMER
I have studied the whole of the papers on this subject very carefully, and I declare to the House they present matters of great importance which must come before us in proper season; but I would not on my own responsibility come down to the House and say what I think of them, having regard to the actual state of circumstances in regard to the relations between this country and Spain.
§ MR. DILLWYN
gathered from the speeches delivered that evening, including the speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, that the House thought an adjournment of the debate in Committee on the Reform Bill would be desirable. ["No, no!"] Certainly he understood hon. Members to wish that there should be an adjournment after a full discussion. He could only say that he was in favour of moderate counsels, rather than excited speeches.
§ MR. DAVENPORT BROMLEY
wished to ask, whether it might not be possible to come to an understanding that the debate was to go on, but that they were to come to no decision on the Amendment to-night?
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
The appeal to me which the noble Lord (Earl Grosvenor) has made is one of that class which, on the part of the Minister, should, I know, be received with a certain degree of sustained silence, because every one must feel that it really is a matter to be decided by the wish of the House, and not by that of any Gentleman sitting on the Treasury Bench. Now, my own opinion is that it is expedient that we should proceed with the discussion of the Bill; but, at the same time, I feel and understand the reason which induced the noble Lord to make the appeal. I do not 1504 think that this question has been adequately discussed; but I do not see that there is any reason why, now that we have gone into Committee on a previous occasion, we should lose the opportunity at present before us. Whatever may be the better course, I feel that the course which the House should decide on under these circumstances is always to consult the feeling of the majority of the House, and I believe the feeling of the majority is that, whatever may be the result, we ought to proceed with the discussion to-night. I would now have sat down had it not been for some observations which have been unnecessarily made by some hon. Gentlemen, and particularly by that sincere Reformer the hon. Member for Nottingham (Mr. Osborne). That sincere Reformer has accused the noble Lord the Member for Chester of being in collusion with myself. I thought a few nights ago that the sincere Reformer was in collusion with Her Majesty's Ministers, for he was a very ardent supporter of ours; and now, with a celerity of transformation which, I confess, somewhat astonishes me, it certainly seems curious, after the course he has taken in discussing this measure, he should be so free in his imputations on other Gentlemen. The hon. Gentleman—this sincere Reformer—very boldly and unequivocally announced to the House three times to-night that I had declared I would not listen to any Amendment which might be proposed to the Bill in this House. That is a statement which, on impartial investigation, will be found to have no foundation in fact. I have from the first said that this measure of ours—if once permitted to go into Committee—was one only to be carried by the general consent of the House, and by the assistance derived from hon. Gentlemen on both sides. I have always invited that assistance and that cordial co-operation, and have promised a reciprocity of feeling and conduct on the part of the Government. It is very true, as the hon. Member for Nottingham has stated, that I expressed—[Mr. OSBORNE Hear!]—I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is so attentive, and, I assure him, I feel his attention as a distinction—it is very true that I expressed in my communication to my friends that I should certainly—if the changes proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire were sanctioned by the House—deem that they were fatal to the measure the Government have introduced; and for the very good reason that they really are not 1505 Amendments, but propositions contrary to those which we have brought forward. They are not Amendments to our measure, but constitute a supersession of it. Therefore, it was necessary that there should be a clear understanding on that head; I said that after the Bill had been read a second time, and its principle had been accepted, and we were in Committee, we would be ready to consider Amendments which might be brought forward for the improvement of the measure; but when, upon the Bill going into Committee, notice is given of a series of Amendments which entirely change the character of the measure and alter its principles, then the most convenient course is that we should at once declare that we do not recognise those falsely-called Amendments as subjects which ought to be brought forward in Committee. I only wished it to be understood that the propositions of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire are looked on by the Government really as a proposition of a counter Bill. With this view and feeling, I thought it necessary that I should at once state the manner in which we regarded them, and the effect which we considered those propositions, if carried, would have on our measure. With that exception, I am not aware that I have shown any indisposition to receive advice or to listen to any suggestion from hon. Gentlemen opposite, for I feel sure that it is only by mutual concession that there is any prospect of bringing this question to a happy termination.
In deference to the feeling of the House I will withdraw my Motion. With regard to the expression of the "sincere Reformer," the Member for Nottingham—
§ MR. SPEAKER
The rule with regard to Motions for Adjournment of the House is this:—If the Motion for the Adjournment is made while another Motion is before the House, and during the progress of the debate, there is no reply. But if the Motion of adjournment is a substantive Motion, the right to reply has been admitted.
I can assure the House that in proposing my Motion I had not the least desire to cause any delay in the progress of the measure of Reform. "Delays," it is said, "are sometimes dangerous;" but in this particular case I 1506 think a little delay would be safe. As the House is of the contrary opinion, I defer to that opinion and will withdraw the Motion for postponement. Withregard to the expressions I was about to refer to when the "sincere Reformer" (the Member for Nottingham) interposed, I will simply say that I will take the first opportunity of answering his assertions.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ On Question, "That the Preamble be postponed,"
§ MR. DARBY GRIFFITH
said, he quite concurred in the remark that had been made, that the Bill had not received that discussion which its importance demanded during its progress through the preliminary stages. Owing to accidental circumstances three different opportunities for discussion fell through; and the Bill passed into Committee almost without discussion, and the House found itself on the top of an inclined plane which led directly to the pit of democracy. It was startling to think that the same House of Commons which was last year so cautious should this year have become so utterly reckless. Last year a £7 rating was almost thought to be excessive; but when the present Government had to consider the question of Reform in the autumn, and to decide what was to constitute the suitableness of a man to enjoy the possession of the franchise, they arrived at the conclusion that the personal payment of rates was a sufficient guarantee. The attempt had since been made to discover a principle and a resting ground in this; but when they came to try it on its details, there was ample reason to doubt whether in truth any reliable principle was involved in the plan. The position of the compound-householder, under the Bill, could scarcely be said to be in harmony with any principle; and what ought not to be forgotten was the opportunities which his position would open to the influences of bribery and corruption. Suppose that a candidate set about to canvass a borough in anticipation of a General Election. He would find numbers of compound-householders who would say to him that they were too poor to be at the expense of placing themselves upon the register; but that if he would pay this 1507 expense for them, and recoup them the difference between the amount of the rates they would have to pay and the amount of the composition the landlord paid, they would be willing to exercise in his favour the franchise which they had acquired by his influence. Well, the candidate would be in a painful dilemma; either he must lose a number of votes, or he must lay himself open to the imputation of corruption and undue influence. It was well known that, even at present, many Members of the House were expected to contribute to the expense of keeping up the municipal franchise in the boroughs they sat for; and he believed that an hon. Gentleman was about to resign his seat on account of the increasing heaviness of this annual charge. But these points and others of equal importance had never yet been considered by the House, or by the country; and he maintained that it would be well that they should have the opportunity of consulting their constituents, who were principally interested, upon them during the Easter recess, before committing themselves to the contest that must arise upon the Amendments of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. Another reason in favour of delay was that there was great uncertainty as to the prospects of a dissolution; and he should be glad to know—and he thought it important that it should be stated—what was the exact meaning of the circular issued to his supporters by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House—whether it meant that a dissolution would take place in the event of the success of the Amendments of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, or whether it was only intended as an expression of the personal opinion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. This was a serious question. As the case now stood they might all be sent to the right about at a moment's notice. They were about to go into Committee upon a measure that must change the character of the Constitution to an incalculable degree, and he felt very strongly that this serious step had not been preceded by any adequate discussion upon the principle of the measure. But that discussion had been burked, or, he might say truncated, and the House had been deprived of the advantage of hearing the opinions of many hon. Members to whom they would have been glad to listen. The noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, for instance, was a statesman to whom they all looked 1508 with great confidence and respect. That noble Lord had said that this Bill would not be a Democratic measure, and it would be no doubt a great satisfaction to the House to hear from the noble Lord his reasons for entertaining that opinion. He thought they now required the recess calmly to consider the scheme of Reform, and they ought not to allow themselves to be hurried into a precipitate conclusion. Some hon. Gentlemen talked as if there was only one issue before them, and as if this House were divided into two hostile camps. But it was preposterous to imagine that. There were, at least, five parties in the House. There were the two extremes, the moderates on each side, and the centre, and yet it was expected that 600 Gentlemen selected from the whole country for their ability to exercise a calm and correct judgment on this matter were to move like so many soldiers by the sound of a trumpet, and to render an obedience to their leaders which was positively slavish and degrading. [Cries of "Agree!"] The natural impatience of the House on this point, as manifested by the interruptions to which he was at this moment subjected, furnished him with an illustration which was quite germane to the matter. The argument most commonly made use of here was what he might call an argamentum ad desperationem. Everybody said that something must be done; they were all tired of the question, and therefore they were prepared to take the first measure that was offered to them. It was well known that Members were brought there under great moral compulsion, and that on great party divisions Members were induced to vote, not by the ordinary party inducements, but by others that were not quite so legitimate. It was only the other day that there had been a serious split in the party opposite; but they were now given to understand that the wanderers had returned to the fold, and that they were ready to do penance for their backsliding. As they seemed now as anxious for a division as they were formerly averse to it, he presumed they were now better drilled than they were before. He was very certain that the country did not understand the distinctions that had so lately been set up respecting compound-householders. In many parts of the country they did not know what a compound-householder was. It was a mere jargon of debate that was bandied about from side 1509 to side. Then with respect to the Bill—it was represented to the other side as a Liberal measure, and that though it might be Conservative in esse, it would prove to be Liberal in posse. He believed that was true, and that before many years were over there would not be a compound-householder in a borough but by hook or by crook he would obtain the suffrage. But to that side of the House it was represented as strongly Conservative. It had all sorts of cheek—there was the dual check, the personal rating check, and the residence check; but they were all in the course of vaunting. He contended that if they came down to household suffrage pure and simple, it would be better to adopt the municipal franchise at once. Should the checks which had been proposed by the Government not be accepted as part of their Bill, the franchise given by the Government measure would differ from the municipal franchise merely in respect of the latter requiring three years and the former two years' residence. If such a result were probable the better course would be to accept the municipal franchise.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
§ Clause 3 (Occupation Franchise for Voters in Boroughs).
Sir, as my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill) was good enough at an early period of the evening to state his willingness to waive the moving of his Amendment until a later stage of the Bill, I need not go through the formality of making a fresh appeal to him. Before I state the purpose and object of the Amendment I am about to move, I wish, on account of the mingled difficulty and dryness of the subject, to observe pointedly to hon. Members that there are two very important questions connected with rating that are not in the slightest degree involved in the statement I have to make. The question we discussed last year, and which became decisive of the fate of the late Government—namely, whether the franchise should be measured by rateable value, or by clear annual value, is not now before us. Another question of very considerable importance is likewise wholly apart from the vote which I shall invite the Committee to give—I mean the question of payment of rates. The question whether the voter who is liable to the payment of rates personally shall have paid his rates before he is authorized to claim to 1510 be put upon the register, and the question whether the voter who pays his rates through the medium of his rent to his landlord shall likewise have had those rates paid by the landlord or, in default of the landlord by himself, before he is entitled to be put upon the register, are questions of considerable moment, which I do not in the slightest degree intend now to raise. My own personal opinion is that which was expressed by the Bill of last year; but I own that the question of the payment of rates is a question upon which any Member would incur great responsibility if, for the sake of it, he rejected a Reform Bill which was in other respects satisfactory. My Amendment upon the 3rd clause involves nothing touching that portion of the clause which requires the payment of rates. This Amendment, as has been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is the first of a series which is intended to give effect to the views which I glanced at on the opening of the debate when the Bill was presented to the House, and which I more fully explained on the second reading of the Bill. They are not, indeed, complete, even as they stand upon the Votes, because any proposal to relieve from liability the smaller occupier is a matter in respect of which it would obviously have been impossible to deal with in a clause which relates to enfranchisement. It would require more than one clause, drawn with considerable care, and involving a considerable amount of collateral and subsidiary provisions, to deal with that question, and I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Coleridge) will fulfil his intention of presenting clauses with a view of giving effect to a plan of that nature. My Amendments form a whole, and appear to constitute a mode of procedure which, I believe, would be satisfactory to the feelings, and would correspond with the widelyspread and deeply entertained convictions of this House. But in asking the Committee to concur in any one of the Amendments, I certainly cannot adopt the lofty language of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who says that they relate to the vital question of residence, and that if any one of them be adopted it will be impossible for the Government to proceed with the Bill. I have no authority to present these Amendments to the House. I may have my own opinion as to their connection with and adherents 1511 to the plan; but I have no power and no inclination to bind any other person—they are entire and consistent in themselves, and unless I very much mistake, can stand on their own merits.
Now, Sir, so much has been said on so many occasions about our position with regard to this subject that I will state to the House what I regard that position to be. The paramount object we have before us is to pass a good Reform Bill, the secondary but still important objects are to pass that Reform Bill during the present year, and to pass it, if we can, by the aid of the present Government. I am not, however, prepared to sacrifice the paramount object to those of secondary importance. We should, in my opinion, commit a vital mistake if, because we have been laggard in former years, we should, I will not say hastily, but with insufficient care, piece together the clauses of a Reform Bill, and send forth to the country that which, while it professes to be a settlement, can only lead to new and fiercer agitation. Subject to the goodness of the Reform Bill, there is scarcely any sacrifice of time, feeling, or opinion compatible with higher principles that we ought not to be prepared to make in order to dispose permanently of this question.
Now, with respect to the Motion to which I am about to ask the House to agree, I must take leave to observe that up to Saturday last I had not the slightest reason to suppose that even the Motion I now make, and much less the innocent little proposal with regard to the two years' residence ["Oh, oh!"] would have been received as they have been by Her Majesty's Government. When I say "little," though it was not large in itself it was large in principle. Why, what happened on the second reading? Most certainly the objection to personal rating was not blinked. I myself detained the House for some time on the subject, and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer) followed me in a speech on the same subject, of which I will say nothing more than that it was worthy of his name, his character, and his talents. My hon. and learned Friend confined himself exclusively to this subject. He presented it in the clearest form to the eye and mind of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman, however, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his speech of that night, did not hold the high and imperious language which he does now. To that 1512 speech of my hon. and learned Friend, his sole reply, couched in five words, was "Get out of Nisi Prius." By passing by in that manner what he now says is the gist and upshot of his Bill, the right hon. Gentleman raised the impression that he was willing to act with us; but when he told us that he was prepared to enter into the consideration of this important portion of such Bill the terms are of little value, unless they are interpreted in a liberal spirit. If we cannot have the aid of the Government with respect to this matter of personal rating, I deeply regret it. I think we have shown on this side of the House, by the conduct we have pursued up to the present week, that we are entitled to the credit of having acted with sincerity. I should deeply regret the loss of the aid of the Government, and that they should fasten themselves—if they ultimately do so—to a proposition and scheme so unhappy in its whole conception as this of personal rating. Still, the withdrawal of that aid cannot affect the paramount duty of the House; because, if we send forth a Bill with safeguards and limits we are answerable for the character of those safeguards and limits, and are bound to see that they are not constituted of flimsy and untrustworthy materials, utterly unworthy of the House of Commons. Now, when I look at the propositions of the Government with respect to the borough franchise—and for the present I will look no further—I find that its most prominent characteristics are an extreme narrowness of immediate enfranchisement, and the setting up of certain barriers, to which barriers we are invited to trust for excluding a great mass of householders below the limit of £10. These are the two prominent features of the plan. Now, let us look at the figures in order that I may make good what I say. As the figures stand in the Return which bears the name of the hon. Gentleman the Secretary of the Treasury, the number of direct ratepaying householders who would be entitled to the advantages of this Act would be 246,000, and, I think I understand, according to the computation of the Government, 50 per cent of that number, or 123,000, may be expected to get upon the register. I think that deduction of 50 per cent is not an undue deduction. The figures again show that there are 476,000 compound-householders who would be qualified under this Act, and according to the same computation that number would be 1513 reduced to 238,000 votes. But these figures are not correct, though their incorrectness is not owing to any fault on the part of the Government or of those engaged in their preparation. This incorrectness is due to the fact that in the first of those figures—the total of supposed ratepaying householders—there are comprised a very considerable number of persons who are not compounders under the Small Tenements Act, but who have their rates paid for them by arrangement between the parish officers and the owners. In Liverpool last year no less than 7,000 or 8,000—indeed, I believe a greater number—are affected by this mistake, and its results are in the same manner to be found in other towns, with whose names I will not weary the House. The consequence is, that the number who are to be admitted as ratepaying-householders will be still further reduced, and we shall in proportion have to add to the number of the compound-householders. As these figures stand it would appear that about two-thirds of the householders below the limit of £10 are, in the larger sense of the term, compound-householders—that is to say, they do not pay their own rates, but pay them in the shape of rent. With regard, then, to the persons who are to be immediately admitted to the exercise of the franchise, if you take the numbers at about 200,000 or 210,000, which will place upon the register about 100,000 voters, I confess I do not expect that any plan which contemplates as its proper or normal result the enfranchisement of that number of persons is likely to give the slightest satisfaction to the country, or will be accepted by those who earnestly and sincerely wish for Reform. But when I look beyond that point, I find the real gist of the question lies in the method in which we are to deal with the compound-householders. Insufficient enfranchisement in the immediate operation of the Bill is the first objection I take to the plan of Her Majesty's Government. It is absolutely necessary that we should find the means of enlarging that enfranchisement. And here I may venture to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe), who has proved himself one of the stoutest and most consistent opponents of Reform in this House, and ask him whether it is proper to deal with the question on a plan so minute as that in which it is proposed by the Government to give direct enfranchise- 1514 meat. Why, Sir, I presume that he would say if this subject is to be dealt with at all, it must be dealt with in a manner which will make any measure that may be passed likely to prove lasting. Such a proposition, however, as that made by Her Majesty's Government could not last. It would merely be the earnest of what is to come and the incentive to further agitation. The limiting principle of the Government is what they call personal rating, apart from the question of payment of rates on the qualifying tenement. The question is whether the rating shall be laid on the man himself. The principle of this Bill is personal rating, and that this is the old constitutional principle of English representation. If we go back we shall find a vast number of other usages which prevailed in former times, and which have been wholly superseded in consequence of the improved machinery of Government. In former times, no doubt, there was no such thing as a local system which placed the owner between the occupier and the authorities who received rates; and it is not the truth that this supposed constitutional system formed the basis of our whole representative system; on the contrary, it was only in the scot and lot boroughs that that system can be said to have fully prevailed in number. These scot and lot boroughs were, I think, about forty-six or forty-eight, which is somewhat less than the whole number of boroughs, which is, I think, 214. There were other boroughs where the voters were burgesses, or had the burgage tenure, where, undoubtedly, they were ratepayers, but the foundations of their votes were not laid in the rating; and with respect to other voters there was no personal rating whatever in any manner connected with the franchise. The freeman is not necessarily a personal ratepayer; the freeman in many instances is non-resident; and as to one half of the boroughs of the country, it is not a fact—I apprehend I shall not be contradicted—that ratepaying was originally or at any period known as the basis of the franchise. I admit to you that in many boroughs it was; and what then? Is that a reason for rejecting all the lights and all the profit of experience? Modern usage and the wants of society have found that it was convenient, and in many cases necessary, to make a change in the law. So difficult was it found in many large towns to collect rates in small sums from small holders where the population was gathered to- 1515 gether in great masses, that there sprung up in the best and most English of all methods—that is, spontaneously and locally—a system under which the landlord paid the rates and charged them to the occupier in levying his rents. Well, then, can this proposition be denied—that the man who pays his rates with his rent to his landlord as a compound-householder as truly pays rates as the man who pays them personally? Do not let us flinch from the trial of this principle. It is disputed by political economists whether the ultimate incidence of rates is upon the occupier or upon the owner. I have my opinion upon that question. I will not, however, discuss it now; but I will say that whether it be upon the owner or the occupier the ultimate incidence is precisely the same in the case where the occupier pays the rate as in the compound-householder—I hold that to be an undeniable principle of political economy—and if I were to give a descriptive definition of the Small Tenements Act, I would call it, as well as the many other similar local Acts, Acts for obtaining the payment of rates from persons from whom they could not previously be obtained, by substituting a new and secure process for a process that was slow, costly, troublesome, and vexatious. Thus we became acquainted with the class of compound-householders, and the measure was calculated to relieve the parochial officers from much trouble. But this compound-householder system, which is, in point of fact, a great improvement of modern times, a great legislative social and economical Reform, comes out in the Bill of Her Majesty's Government as something approaching to a note of moral inferiority. Was there ever such a paradox propounded in Parliament? Will any man tell me that you can draw a distinction as to the moral character of any two places, because one has adopted the Small Tenements Act and the other has not? Yet in the one case we are told, with great laudation, that virtue prevails, duties are performed, and men are worthy of the franchise; in the other, the citizens are inferior in character, and, unfortunately, corrupt; they are given to cheating their creditors and getting drunk. This is the character we have given to us of the compound-householder. But the compound-householder has no choice in the matter. He goes, as we go, where his occasions call him; he goes where his duties or his professions requires him to go. Do you think a father of a family will 1516 perform his duty to his wife and children if, instead of going straight to the town where he could find the best market for his labour, he was to inquire whether the Small Tenements Act operated in that town, and, if it did, to avoid it as he would the plague? What is the meaning of this doctrine of testing by compound-householding? I contend, and I challenge contradiction, that the individual man is not in any respect measured by it. When the local Act is obtained, or the Small Tenements Act is adopted, they are accepted under the overpowering influence of property and parochial authority; the compound-householder himself has nothing to do with it; he is not a compound-householder by his own act or choice; and therefore it is preposterous to attempt to use that condition as a criterion of character, and as an occasion for creating a distinction between men of the same class. How has this principle of compound-householdiug been received in the country? It is one of the most remarkable instances of rapid extension of a new system that I know of. Under the form of overpowering reasons of convenience and local benefit the Small Tenements Act has been adopted in about 5,000 parishes in this country, and the only reason that checks its further progress is found in the feeling of the landlord that the reduction on the full rate, 25 per cent, is insufficient, and because the small householders are jealous, and I think justly and laudably jealous, of their right to be acknowledged as payers of rates. But, notwithstanding that these impediments stand in the way, I believe that the Act, which is not more than sixteen or eighteen years old, has been adopted by 5,000 vestries. In how many has it been abandoned? We have heard now and then of a stray parish, amounting to something like one in 1,000. Thus public convenience has declared in favour of the Small Tenements Act; the system rests on the ground of convenience, and has no connection whatever with the character of persons; and can you, since it forms no test of character, say to 500,000 of your fellow-countrymen, "I will pass an Act which shall enfranchise 100,000 or 110,000 men of your class and condition of life as yourselves—persons not differing from you in any circumstances of education or independence, and I will refuse to you that which I give to them on account of your being compound-householders; and, having passed that Act, I shall expect 1517 you to be perfectly quiet and contented, and say I have settled the question of Parliamentary Reform?" In the course of the last debate the hon. and learned Solicitor General and the President of the Poor Law Board, who followed me, made no reply to the astonishing figures which I fairly selected from the catalogue of towns, showing the ludicrous inequality of this method of proceeding. Some of those figures are fresh in the recollection of hon. Members. The hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. White) is in the predicament of having fourteen persons out of his 100,000 qualified by the liberal and comprehensive measure of the Government, and I rather think there was one large town where a single unit was qualified by the Bill. If that unit was the gross number qualified, it would be very difficult to say what would be the net result. I have spoken of the inequalities between different towns; let us look for a moment at the inequality which would exist among persons of a similar class in the same town; let us look at the elements of trouble, confusion, strife, and disturbance this principle, forsooth, of personal rating is going to carry throughout the boroughs of the country. When we find that one-half of the boroughs of the country are partly wider the Small Tenements Act and partly not, this becomes a very serious question. Let us, then, see how the Government Bill would operate in some of those boroughs. The Bill would take from those parishes which have the majority of the population the chief power in determining an election, because they are under the Small Tenements Act, and hand over that power to a minority of the populations of the same town, because the Small Tenements Act does not operate in that portion of the town where the minority lives. Is that the way in which we are to seek a solid and permanent settlement of the question? I will give three or four instances. The great town of Bristol is very evenly divided. But the 78,000 persons living in the portion which is under the Small Tenements Act yield only 5,493 persons qualified to become electors, while the 76,000 persons living in parishes not under the Small Tenements Act yield 10,431 persons so qualified. Half the population of Bristol, therefore, living in parishes not under the Small Tenements Act will be invested with exactly double the electoral power possessed by those in parishes governed by its provisions. Is that the way 1518 to give contentment? is there not something strange, something almost ludicrous, in calling this "legislation," in sending an Act of Parliament like this into towns and parishes to establish inequalities which are entirely new and perfectly capricious, and then expecting these inequalities, the fresh creation of our own brains, to be accepted by the people of this country as if they were surrounded with the venerable halo of ancient usage, or as if they presented those advantages of diversity of system which men undoubtedly are sometimes contented to enjoy, even at the expense of anomaly, when they are handed down to us from many generations? In Grantham the open parishes have 3,926 inhabitants, qualifying 773 persons to vote; the close parishes have 7,915 inhabitants, or double the number; but only 688 persons are qualified to vote. In Leeds the open parishes have a population of 35,561, qualifying 7,358 persons to vote; the close parishes have a population of 171,604, but of these only 9,200 would have votes. So that one-sixth of the population of Leeds has four-ninths of the voting power of that town. These figures, of course, are only to be taken by approximation; because the Return laid on the table does not give the number of male occupiers in each town, and we are, therefore, obliged to make a computation from the number of inhabited houses, after the ordinary average deduction. The figures, however, must be nearly accurate. The next case is that of the town of Pontefract. I do not know how my hon. Friend the representative of that town (Mr. Childers) likes the figures, but here they are. The open parishes contains a population of 5,486, qualifying 723 persons to vote; the close parishes, with a population of 6,250, would only qualify 447 persons to vote. A minority of the population, consequently, would possess two-thirds of the voting power. You may go through the process of writing down something on a piece of paper or parchment and calling it a law, but it can never attract the respect due to law when its operation would be partial, capricious, unfair to such an extent as this. And these inequalities are to be securities of the Constitution, guarantees against democracy; are to be the firm, solid, well-built walls, which are to stem the tide of agitation! This strange emanation of some ingenious mind, fanciful as if displayed upon the stage, but wholly alien from the spirit and history of British legislation, and for which 1519 there is nothing approaching to a precedent in the annals of this House, is to supply the new governing power of the nation. Shoreham is the only other town to which I will refer. In the open parishes there are 13,346 persons, of whom 2,244 are qualified to vote. A population of 19,276 in the close parishes will only qualify 1,455. The Solicitor General will perhaps say, let these parishes cure the evil by throwing out the Small Tenements Act, or by bringing in its operation, as the case may be. But I object altogether to making our political measures a means of interference with the social and economic arrangements of the people. Whether the Small Tenements Act is or is not to be put in operation in a particular borough ought to be decided by considerations of local convenience or advantage, and not by the sentiments of political partisans, who may wish to obtain influence or power for the quarter in which they themselves reside. Irrespective of those still graver and more conclusive objections for which the Amendments of the right hon. Gentleman offer no remedy whatever, the legislation which he insists that we shall adopt, and declares that if rejected it will be fatal to his plan of the borough franchise, has this serious drawback, that the constituencies all over the country will depend on the will of the local authorities, assembled in their vestries and corporations, and not on the will of the Imperial Parliament. I must own it appears to me these are considerations of very great weight, and I wish it were in my power adequately to explain to the House the real social working of these changes. I may be allowed to say that I think much prejudice exists upon this subject at the opposite side of the House, and I will state how I think that prejudice has arisen. Many hon. Gentlemen opposite are familiar with the law of ratepaying in the country and in the open parishes of the country. Now in the country I am by no means prepared to assert that readiness to pay rates may not be a very good test of a man's character in other respects; but in the towns, where these arrangements of compound-householding are adopted wholesale, the principle affects, not the individuals but the parishes themselves; and to visit the individuals with penal consequences for not paying rates by excluding them from the franchise, or by erecting barriers which it is in our power to remove, is a course founded neither in policy 1520 nor in justice. There are many persons who still think that there is something which degrades the workman in becoming a compound-householder. May I be allowed to point out that there are many good and valid reasons affecting persons in that position in life which may tend powerfully to make the workman prefer to be a compound-householder to being a ratepaying-householder; and further, which may make a skilled workman of high character, intelligence, and industry wish rather to be a lodger than either a ratepaying or a compound-householder? It is the view of the workman to simplify the transactions connected with his affairs. The workman receives his income weekly; what more convenient to the workman than that he should pay weekly the whole charge connected with his house? You think you have got another test of character in residence. Ah, Sir, little do the gentlemen know of the necessity incumbent on the workman to follow his work; little do they know the cruel infliction laid upon the working man when he has to walk two, three, or four miles each morning before he begins his work, and again in the evening the same distance before he rests from his labour. A workman wishing to be near his work often has occasion to change his abode. What can be more inconvenient to a man who so changes his abode than to be perplexed with small questions as to the amount of rates due upon his house, to be compelled to sacrifiee time—time being to him money—in order to find out what is due, and what amount the incoming tenant has to pay. And how are they to ascertain this? Are they to employ lawyers to divide their respective proportions of the rate? No, Sir, these are matters which to us are very light; they come in the solicitor's bills, and are disposed of; but to them they are very serious indeed. I have said that to the working man having occasion frequently to change his abode, the position of a compound-householder is greatly preferable to that of the ratepaying-householder, and that he often prefers to be a lodger. And reasonably so. In this metropolis, this great home and hive of lodgers, a working man cannot be a householder in the simple sense. He must either be a lodger or a lodging-house keeper. The workman householder, who occupies a house for himself, his wife, and family, hardly exists, as a class, in London. If a man takes a house, he must 1521 undertake the position of a lodging-housekeeper. Cannot you conceive that a most intelligent working man, desirous to devote his whole energies to his trade, is often very reluctant to hamper himself with the business of a lodging-house keeper, and therefore becomes a lodger? In mentioning the case of the lodger I may make an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman on a point, which stands in most intimate relation to the one I myself have introduced. It has been said by everybody, uncontradicted, as far as I have heard, by him, and therefore I may suppose he will redeem his pledge—that he has conceded the lodger franchise. If he has conceded that point, what becomes of the principle of personal rating?
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I never conceded the lodger franchise. I said that I would consider any fair and proper proposal on the point. But neither the right hon. Gentleman himself nor anybody else has made such a proposal.
The right hon. Gentleman has contradicted me upon a matter as to which I gave him no occasion. I might, indeed, have said that the right hon. Gentleman, when he proceeded to deal with the lodger franchise, became heroic in his style, and said—"What! Suspect me of indifference or hostility to the lodger franchise? Why, I am the father of it!" We shall see now what kind of paternal tenderness the right hon. Gentleman exhibits towards his offspring. What I said was that the right hon. Gentleman had permitted that statement to be circulated everywhere, without contradiction or qualification of any kind. He must have been aware that it was spread through the press all over the country, greatly to his advantage. Everywhere it has been said, "Oh, don't talk of the lodger franchise, we all know that it is conceded." What I want to know is this—is it conceded or is it not? If the lodger franchise is conceded, I rejoice at it; but if it is conceded, I want to know what becomes of your principle of personal rating. Do you mean to say that in every parish in London there is to be a new survey, and that not only every house, but every floor of every house is to be rated? I think not. But if not, you cannot have a lodger franchise and the principle of personal rating. The right hon. Gentleman must come to some means such as those proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury (Mr. 1522 M'Cullagh Torrens), and I think some other hon. Gentleman; but it is clear that the lodger class cannot cone into the electoral body by the right of personal rating. What becomes, then, of the principle of personal rating in the borough franchise? The importance of this point cannot be overstated; for this Bill has been described in peculiar terms within the last few days by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India (Sir Stafford Northcote). My right hon. Friend says, "Do not accuse me of inconsistency. We do not propose to lower the franchise. All we do is to create certain species of franchise, some above the line and some below the line where it is at present placed by law; but as to lowering the franchise I am much opposed to that as ever. If I were not I would be in the white sheet." Does my right hon. Friend forget that poor Bill which out of compassion—for did not like it much—I once or twice tried to express some regret for—I mean the Bill with the £6 franchise? Did that lower the franchise? I should not wish to see my right hon. Friend in "the white sheet," for I do not think it would became him; but when the £6 Bill was the proposition of the Government, he must have been in that garment though he is out lowered. That is the declaration which the Secretary of State for India made in presence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Let the country of the whether it be so or not. The franchise is not lowered; but special franchises are to be given. Let my right hon. Friend the Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe) rejoice, for there is one man at least entirely with him—there is one other man entirely opposed to Reform in the only sense in which the people understand it, and the only sense in which they care a pin about it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has printed certain new clauses; and from these I think it clearly appears that when myself and my hon. and learned Friend (Sir Roundell Palmer) contended that on the compound-householder below £10 this Bill would inflict a fine, we used no rhetorical figure, but kept within the bounds of strict and literal justice. Those clauses—or, I believe I should say, the clause, for there is only one clause, though it is composed of several sections—this clause considerably mitigates the difficulties. It requires the compound-householder to pay up the full rate assessed upon his house on his first application, 1523 and having once done that the compound-householder becomes a ratepaying-householder. Is that the principle on which the Government propose to stand? What has the right hon. Gentleman said to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert)? The right hon. Gentleman cannot endure any portion of the Amendments proposed by me—he holds them all to be intolerable; they must stop the Bill, and they must entail all those public calamities and disasters which have been so skilfully shadowed forth by the right hon. Gentleman and his satellites, and which have been made use of to act on the public mind. Well, Sir, I was saying—[The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: The satellites,] but as the right hon. Gentleman appears so taken with the expression, I will perhaps come back to it by-and-bye. I have done with the satellites for the present. With regard to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Oldham, the Chancellor of the Exchequer seems not to have made up his mind whether to assent to it or not. He is ready to come to some conciliatory arrangement which may be satisfactory to both parties. But the meaning of the proposal of my hon. Friend cannot be mistaken for a moment. His meaning, as regards personal rating, is exactly the same as mine; he wants to place the compound-householder substantially and for every purpose connected with the franchise on exactly the same footing as the ratepaying-householder. He wants that no arbitrary rule as regards the personal payment of rates shall stand in the way of the compound-householder; he objects to allow any arbitrary barriers raised by Parliament to stand between a man who is declared worthy of the franchise and his enjoyment of the franchise; so that if the right hon. Gentleman holds my proposal to be so objectionable he will find a rather formidable opponent in the Member for Oldham. My hon. Friend is not the person to be put off with soft words. He objects to personal rating as a barrier; and therefore his object is the same as mine, which the right hon. Gentleman has declared—but I trust not irrevocably declared—to be wholly inconsistent with his views. Now, I object altogether to the clause of the right hon. Gentleman. I admit that he gets rid of certain difficulties; because I think it would be more difficult to employ the registration agent to convert the great mass of compound-householders into ratepaying-householders than to act on the principle of the 1524 clause. But the right hon. Gentleman says to the compound-householder, "I have no spite or malevolence whatever towards you; I am willing you should vote; but, in order that you may vote, you must cease to be a compound-householder." Why, three-fourths of the householders under £10 are in the position of compound-householders for economical and social reasons; and when the right hon. Gentleman says to them, "You shall have the franchise, but you must cease to be compound-householders," I ask him why are we to inflict a punishment on those persons as the price of the franchise? How should we like to endure that? Has the right hon. Gentleman considered what will be the effect of this class legislation—this imposing a fine and where not a fine, difficulty, and loss of time, which is loss of money—has he considered what will be the effect of such legislation on our humbler fellow-subjects? We should not endure it for a moment. Why should this punishment be inflicted? I say if Parliament wants to limit the franchise, let it limit the franchise openly and manfully. Let it not send forth a two-faced Bill, with a face of Toryism on one side and a face of Democracy on the other, and vainly hope and expect that we can induce believers at one point of the compass to worship one of the masks and believers at the other point of the compass to bow down to the other mask. It appears to me that such a measure is not worthy of being proposed by the Government; but if, unfortunately, the Government do propose it, the very best course for them to take is to amend their proposition while there is yet time. Of this, at least, I am certain—that such a principle is not one worthy of being entertained by Parliament. It is our duty, even at this the eleventh hour of our Reform discussion, to object to such a proposal. If you think it expedient that there should be an unlimited franchise, let it be unlimited. If, on the other hand, you think it ought to be limited—and I have expressed my opinion upon that point—say so and leave it to the people to judge—as they always do judge—fairly and candidly our actions; but do not let us adopt provisions which convert a boon into an offence from the nature of the conditions by which it is accompanied. Do not let us inflict a wrong on any portion of the community, which wrong will inevitably be avenged on the community at large, in the shape of trouble, strife, and controversy, and in the shape of 1525 renewed and continued agitation—agitation which will begin from the day which sees such a law placed on the statute book, and never cease till the last vestige of such senseless legislation becomes a relic of the past. I now beg to move in Clause 3, page 2, lines 3 and 4, after "and 2," to insert, "whether he in person, or his landlord, be rated to the relief of the poor."
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
Sir, any one who heard the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, and the Amendment with which he concluded, would suppose that, up to the present moment, there was no Act of Parliament in existence under which persons are obliged to be rated to the relief of the poor in order that they may obtain the electoral franchise. Any one who heard the right hon. Gentleman's speech would suppose that up to this time no one need be rated for the purpose of enjoying the franchise; and that by this Bill the Government propose some new law which will make the obtaining of the franchise more difficult, while the measure is one purporting to extend the franchise. A greater mistake cannot possibly exist. The right hon. Gentleman, in a speech delivered, not with reference to this particular Amendment, but a speech intended to be read out of doors with reference to some new Bill of his own, says, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has stated there are vital principles in the Bill, but that they will be abandoned, and that a measure, of which he has now given us the first instalment, is to be brought in by way of amendment, and carried by gentle, and, if necessary, by strong pressure. That, it seems, is what is to be done for the purpose of getting rid of this Bill. Now, the condition that an occupier is to be rated personally and pay his rates is no new principle in connection with the franchise, and I could hardly have believed that the right hon. Gentleman would have represented it as the semblance of a grievance; for is it a new proposal? Why, the right hon. Gentleman admits that prior to the Reform Bill of 1832 there were forty-eight boroughs in which the right to vote was conferred by paying scot and lot—that is, by being personally rated and paying the rates; and the Reform Act, following that old-established principle, enacted not what the right hon. Gentleman proposes—the payment of rent simply—but that the occupier should not only be rated, but 1526 should pay the rates in order to obtain the right to vote at the election of Members of Parliament; and, in addition, the 27th section requires him to have occupied the house for one year, to have been rated, and to have paid all the poor rates and assessed taxes due upon his occupation. And yet it is now said to be a new principle that a person should be excluded from the franchise unless he pays his rates. Then, as to the compound-householders, I shall not follow the right hon. Gentleman into other parts of the present measure, but at once proceed to the history of this compound rating. Let us see what legislation has taken place with regard to them. In 1819 Sturges Bourne's Act passed, the first Act, as far as I am aware, which enacted that the landlord should, with the consent of the vestry, be rated in the case of houses of between £6 and £20 annual value. The operation of that Act was expressly excluded from those boroughs in which there were scot and lot voters. Those voters consequently retained the suffrage until the Reform Act of 1832, when Parliament laid down the principle that no man should enjoy the electoral franchise unless he was not only rated but paid the rates. As therefore, up to the present time, the payment of rates is necessary, except in certain cases, for the exercise of the franchise, I cannot see how the right hon. Gentleman can complain of our proposal, which puts the new voters on precisely the same footing as those enfranchised by the Act of 1832. It must be borne in mind that neither Sturges Bourne's Act nor the Small Tenements Act contemplated the slightest interference with the electoral franchise; and if the principle that the rate and the vote should go together be correct, the existence of those Acts is a mere accidental obstacle, which may be overcome without disturbing that principle. Now, what do we propose? We do not think it right that a man who merely rents a house should be entitled to vote, if the landlord is found on the rate book, and actually pays the rate; but we provide machinery by which a compound-householder, whether below or above £6, is enabled to get upon the rate and so acquire the franchise. We propose to place them in the same position as those above them—the £10 householders—are placed by the Reform Act of 1862. These compound Acts, of which we have heard so much, it is hardly necessary I should remind the Committee, never contemplated 1527 when they were passed to interfere in the least degree with the franchise. If therefore the principle be correct that a man who is rated and pays his rates has a right to vote, it is no argument to say that the Compound Householders Act, a mere accidental obstacle, should come in the way of carrying out that principle; and if it is overcome the person who has a right to of the rates, and without the slightest vote cannot complain. The Small Tenements Act has, in fact, nothing whatever to do with the question before the Committee, because we provide a machinery whereby a person who shall have the right to vote is enabled to get on the rate and exercise the electoral franchise; but if he does not comply with the old and well-established test of being rated and paying his rates, he will not have the franchise. The argument adduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire would lead to the inference that we were introducing a new principle instead of an oldestablished principle of the English Constitution, which was adopted by the Act of 1832, and which, if adopted now, will put the occupier under £10 per annum in the same position as the occupier above that sum. I will not now discuss the proposed clauses to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, and which he admitted met his objections to a considerable extent, for we shall arrive at them in due time; but I will confine myself to the Amendment which he has moved, and which proposes that, whether the landlord or the occupier be rated and pays the rates, the latter shall have a vote. That Amendment is clearly in opposition to the Act of 1832; and if it is right that the £10 householder shall be rated, I am at a loss to conceive why the £6 householder should not be subject to the same condition. As to the calculations which the right hon. Gentleman went into the other night at so much length, they may be disposed of in one word. The right hon. Gentleman stated that 420,000 persons would be excluded from the franchise by the test that we propose; but the fact is that there is not one of those 420,000 who may not enjoy the franchise by putting his name upon the rate, through the easy process provided by this Bill, and by then paying the rates to which he is assessed. If he does that he may enjoy the franchise as freely as those who are now enjoying it. The case which the right hon. Gentleman has attempted to make out for rating the landlord instead 1528 of the occupier is founded on the Small Tenements Act. Now, that Act is in operation in certain boroughs and not in operation in others; it being open to the vestry to decide whether or not the owners shall be rated instead of the occupiers. But what is the object of that Act? Why, it was passed to facilitate the collection of the rates, and without the slightest reference to the electoral franchise. And how does it operate? The overseer does not ascertain whether a particular occupier is respectable and likely to pay the rates; but the Act, if adopted at all, is adopted for the whole parish, and all houses under £6 are rated to the landlords. How do we deal with that Act? We alter it to this extent—that any person living in a house for which the rates are paid by the landlord, and desiring to exercise the electoral franchise, may come forward and say that he is willing to take what is given him under this Bill upon the terms on which it is given, and thus may obtain a vote. And we do so on these grounds—that persons who are likely to accept our terms are also likely to be men, not of migratory habits, but men of stability, residents in a place, and ready to take their share of the parochial burdens. Such men may take the enfranchisement provided for them by this Bill; but those who do not choose to comply with the terms we offer may not. Now, is there any hardship in that? I do not intend to follow the right hon. Gentleman in his somewhat diffuse speech—for he argued five or six questions ahead of that which is before the Committee. I will not stop here to discuss with the right lion. Gentleman whether a lodger franchise is to be granted or not, or to enter upon the various other questions which he raised. Looking to the number of Amendments on the paper, I must confine myself to the question before the Committee—namely, whether the franchise is to be given to a man whose rates are paid by his landlord—whether you are to do away with the principle of the Reform Act of 1832, and of the Municipal Corporation Act of 1836, which was passed exactly on the same principle; or whether you are to have, as regards the electoral franchise for the boroughs, those who are now to be placed on the list of voters, placed there on the same terms, as far as regards their liability to payment of rates, as those who claim under the 27th section of the Reform Act. I will now call attention for a moment to 1529 the Small Tenements Act. The effect of that Act and of another passed in 1858 was to cast upon the boroughs, as far as municipal elections are concerned, a very large body of new electors, and the question arose as to whether an alteration in those Acts might not be beneficially made. Upon this question of personal rating and payment of rates I do beg the attention of the Committee to the Report of the Select Committee of the Lords in 1859, on the occasion of Lord Derby's Reform Bill. That Report has been laid upon the table of this House, and I may therefore refer to it. It is immaterial to my purpose to consider the question as to what was the state of things in 1832 as regards compound-householders, to which I addressed myself the other night. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer) and I were at issue as to the practical effect of the composition of the rate with regard to the electoral franchise; I had the good fortune, however, to find that the view which I took was adopted by the hon. Member for Birmingham, who entirely concurred with me as to the construction of the Act. But we all know the effect that was produced by the operation of the Small Tenements Act—namely, that a large number of occupiers voted although the landlord paid the rates at municipal elections. The question arose whether a man who was not rated and did not pay his rates ought to be allowed to vote at municipal elections. Tire question was gone into at great length by the Committee of the House of Lords, and I beg to call the attention of hon. Members to what was their opinion on the subject. At page 4 of the Report the Committee comment at considerable length upon the character and condition of the new class of voters. I am not going now to argue whether or not a hard line should be drawn below which no one should vote. I am now only anxious to show what was the effect of the Act as far as a certain class of persons are concerned. After referring to a class of migratory occupiers, the Report proceeds—There is a class of electors of a different stamp, who now vote under the Small Tenements Act. A higher order of artizans often quite as intelligent and independent as the small shopkeepers generally occupy tenements, the rates of which are paid by the landlord, and anything depriving them of the right to vote would be undesirable,1530 An alteration was accordingly suggested in many respects the same as that proposed in this Bill. The Committee say—The Committee are of opinion that as a test of fitness for municipal affairs as well as a security against corrupt and fraudulent practices actual, direct, and continuous payment of rates should be an indispensable condition of the municipal franchise.That is what we find to be the opinion of the Lords' Committee of 1859—that in order to winnow away a certain number of electors who were not fit to exercise the right of voting, we should allow those who were willing to be placed on the rate book and paid their rates to have votes; and to exclude the rest. That is what we propose to do now. I have adverted to what has been the course of actual legislation. Now, let me call attention to what has been attempted in what I may call abortive legislation. I have already said that a part, and no small part, of the right hon. Gentleman's speech went to show that it was wrong that the franchise should depend upon a man's being rated and on the payment of rates, and he contends that a man has as much right—whether the right hon. Gentleman means a birthright or a moral right, or what other right I do not know—but, at all events, he contends that it is just and consistent with our legislation and practice that he should have the franchise granted to him whether he pays rates or not. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman did not say that any other proposition was "preposterous"—at all events, he contended that it was utterly absurd, and that the House ought to reject it. Well, there were four Bills submitted to the House, in 1852, 1854, 1859, and 1860. I believe the right hon. Gentleman who has told us to-night that the principle of rating is so utterly absurd and ridiculous, had an important share in framing some of the measures produced in those years. I have looked into those Bills to see what was done in each, not dreaming, however, that it was possible that anything like what we now propose could be found in them. The first was the Bill of 1852; and I believe it will be found that it was made necessary then to pay the rates for the purpose of obtaining the extended franchise proposed in the Bill. I come now to the Bill of 1854; and, having heard so much about inequality and the great device of making the occupier be rated and pay his rates, I 1531 beg to call attention to Clause 18 of that measure, which I assume the right hon. Gentleman assisted in manufacturing. I find there that, though lowering the franchise in certain cases, the Bill proposes to leave the £10 householder as he was before—to extend the franchise to occupiers of the yearly annual value of £6, but insisting as a test on a residence of two years, and, moreover, that the occupier should be rated during the time of such residence to all rates for the relief of the poor of the parish or township to which he belonged. Such was the Bill of 1854 in which this ridiculous, "preposterous" principle of rating was upheld! I am going to pass over the Bill of 1859, with which the right hon. Gentleman had nothing to do, and I come to the Bill of 1860. When that Bill was prepared I suppose the right hon. Gentleman was quite as prominent a member of the Government, and took as active a part in framing it, as he did the Bills of any previous time. Well, I find in a clause of the Bill of 1860 that the occupier of premises within any city or borough of the clear annual value of £6 and rated to the relief of the poor should be entitled to a vote. Was it "preposterous" that under this Bill of 1860 a man was to be excluded unless he was rated in respect of occupation, and that he was to have a vote precisely upon the same terms as the votes now conferred upon persons who occupy premises of the yearly value of £10? I am not discussing questions which are not involved in the first Amendment; but the right hon. Gentleman, in making a speech, which will no doubt produce a proper effect throughout the country during the recess, mixed these and other matters up; and, forgetting a promise he had made, entered into the whole question whether his new suggested Reform Bill is better than that of the Government, and whether the clause he proposes is better than that submitted by the Government. We have, then, in 1860, the determination of the Government, of which the right hon. Gentleman was a prominent Member, that there should be rating of the occupier and payment of rates and assessed taxes as the condition of exercising the franchise, lowered as it was proposed to be to £6. That was the "preposterous" state of things in 1860. I am not referring to all the Amendments which have been placed upon the paper; I am on the single question—is it consistent with former prin- 1532 ciples, with former legislation, with the former workings of the mind of the right hon. Gentleman himself, that the landlord is to be rated and to pay the rates, and that, nevertheless, the occupier is to exercise the franchise? Down to the year 1860, so far as I can judge, this new light had never broken upon the right hon. Gentleman. For so many years the treatment of the compound-householders by the Legislature has been intolerable. If he has paid his rates he has got no recoupment from his landlord; yet no helping hand has been extended to him in the Bills of the right hon. Gentleman who now pleads the woes and wrongs of the compound-householder; but now, for some reason, it is discovered that gross inequality and wickedness are attempted to be practised in saying that he is not to be enfranchised unless he pays his rate. What an extraordinary thing it is that this should only now have occurred to the right hon. Gentleman! How was it that in 1860 it never occurred to him? So it is; all this never occurred to him before; but now, in 1867, it does, when he is anxious to pass the Government Reform Bill, and will do everything he possibly can to facilitate its passage through Parliament! He does this by putting a "gentle pressure" upon the Government to withdraw their clauses and promote others which he will bring forward, and by finding out, for the first time, what had never been discovered by any other human being, that there is some intolerable hardship in rating the occupier, although in his own Bills he has made it one essential provision that not the landlord but the occupier should be rated. I am sorry to have had to discuss at such great length so very dry, and perhaps difficult, a subject. We have seen what the law is with respect to these compound-householders. Now, looking at what has been done before the Reform Act and since, and in the Bills to which the right hon. Gentleman has been a party, I ask whether the alteration in the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman now proposes is a just and fair one? When you are granting a large measure of enfranchisement to persons living in houses of the lowest rental, is it not right and proper to require that they should be rated to the relief of the poor and pay their rates, rather than that they should pay something extra in the shape of rent to the landlord? With regard to the alleged inequalities and the abstract question by whom the rates of the compound-house- 1533 holders are paid, let us look at the facts. There is a contract between the landlord and the tenant, and the latter pays so much a week. Does the amount vary from time to time as the poor rates rise or fall? I apprehend not. It is a fixed sum; but the amount of the composition changes according to the exigencies of the parish. Although the sum paid as rent includes the rate, I deny altogether that the rate is paid in the rent in the sense in which the term "payment of rate" is ordinarily used. Without going any further into the question, I say that, in proposing that the occupier shall have a vote upon being rated and paying the rate, and that every facility shall be given him to get upon the rate book and to pay the rate, notwithstanding any obstruction offered by the landlord, the Government have adopted an old-established principle, and not, as the right hon. Gentleman would lead the House to suppose, an altogether new one, which is too "preposterous" to be acted upon.
§ No hon. Member rising to address the House—
§ SIR EDWARD BULLER
said, he was greatly surprised at the indisposition evinced to discuss adequately the provisions of the Bill. He had anxiously examined the whole question, and he had arrived at the conclusion that here was an attempt to reduce to nothing a great measure, not by clauses in the Bill, but by a reference to Acts of Parliament which were entirely alien to its object, and which had been passed entirely without reference to the question of the franchise. An important question might be asked. Where were we? We had been travelling at a railway pace under the dangerous guidance of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (the Chancellor of the Exchequer). What was really the great principle of the Bill? And what was there to prevent that right hon. Gentleman from accepting the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire? The Chancellor of the Exchequer said the principle of the Bill was personal rating. He denied it, There would be many occupiers of houses, shops, and warehouses who were rated, and paid their rates, and yet were without votes. Still further would this principle of personal rating be abandoned if the lodger franchise were adopted. He had taken a course which the press had called both immoral and pusillanimous. He had been anxious that the Government should have the fullest 1534 opportunity of laying their measure before the House; and looking to the language of a noble Earl in "another place"—looking also at the language of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer—having regard to the existing differences of opinion, and being anxious to settle the question he maintained that he had a right to say that the Government had agreed to submit themselves to the opinion of the House of Commons. For what was the language of the noble Earl at the head of the Government? He said the course of the Government was purely tentative. Well, what was the meaning of "tentative?" Why this—that in a question of great difficulty, they threw themselves on the wisdom of Parliament, and called on Parliament to determine what should be the conditions under which the Bill should be passed. He (Sir Edward Buller) asserted that the principle of the Bill was household suffrage. It was household suffrage, subject to such conditions as the wisdom of Parliament might impose. And the fact that it was so, only proved the truth of the adage that "reality was stranger than fiction." If twelve months ago any prophet had foretold that a time would arrive when a Conservative Government would bring forward a Reform Bill based on household suffrage—if any person, donning the garb of prophecy, had ventured to address the hon. Member for Birmingham and said, "If you look for the success of household suffrage and the dawn of your principles you must look to the Conservative quarter of the horizon"— any one venturing so to prophecy would have been ridiculed and scouted, as having no attribute of a prophet, but insanity, In the language of the Cumæan sybil—Via prima salutis, Quod minimè reds, Graiâ pandetur ab urbe.He could not understand why the Government, who had invited the House to assist them in introducing limitations into the Bill, should now say that this question of personal rating was one of such vital importance that it could not be abandoned. Having used the small influence which he possessed as a Parliamentary unit to procure the consideration of the Bill, he felt exceedingly disappointed now with this decision. After the declarations of the Government, he thought the proper course for them to have adopted would have been to have stated that while they approved of the plan of personal rating they were willing to abandon it if the sense of the House was 1535 against it. That they had failed to do this was a great disappointment to him and to every hon. Gentleman who desired the progress of the measure. It was not the declarations of the Government, but their actions, which induced the belief that they were prepared to adopt Amendments to the measure. The dual voting had been abandoned. ["Question!"]
rose to order. He considered that the hon. Baronet was out of order in referring to the principle of dual voting, which had no reference to the clause under discussion.
said, that the clause opened up the whole question of the borough franchise, and it was open to any hon. Member, in discussing it, to compare the different plans that had been introduced.
§ SIR EDWARD BULLER
The scheme of the Government had been properly characterized as a double-faced scheme, having one Conservative and one Liberal aspect, and appealing on different and conflicting grounds to the support of both sides of the House. Some of the Members of the present Government were remarkable for their literary lore; now it appeared to him that they had now set up a Pagan divinity, had done him into modern English, and had presented him to the House in the shape of a Reform Bill. This idol, with its two faces, had, however, met with sorry treatment at the hands of its worshippers. The duality of its faces had been destroyed—they had knocked out both its eyes, and he was inclined to think that, before they had done with it, there would be hardly one of its Conservative features that would not be so maimed and battered as to be altogether past recognition. He would not travel over the ground so well occupied by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire; but he considered that one of the principal objections to the measure was that the compound-householders could not get upon the register without an additional payment over and above the rates that were due, and that this payment afforded an opening for an enormous amount of corruption. The electioneering agent would place upon the register the poorest and least independent among the whole constituency, so that the very men whom the House most wished to exclude would be admitted, while those whom they most wished to admit would be excluded. The barriers raised by the Bill were, in his opinion, utterly insufficient. The fancy franchises were quite valueless to counteract 1536 the democratic portions of the Bill, and on every ground he felt constrained to support the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire.
could not agree with the hon. Baronet who had last addressed the House in thinking that the Bill was very wide in its scope. If he were of that opinion, he should regard it much more favourably than he did at present. No one would gainsay the truth of the assertion that the task of satisfactorily settling the question of Parliamentary Reform was one of extraordinary difficulty, and had led to repeated failures; and some hon. Gentlemen might, perhaps, shelter themselves behind such an admission from the reproaches to which their own repeated failures had exposed them. Now, he was disposed to inquire whether those failures were to be ascribed to something inherent in the question of Reform—something complex and inscrutable, with which the human mind could scarcely grapple—or whether they were not the result of the manner in which the subject had been approached? If the former assumption were correct, failure could be easily accounted for; but if the latter were the true cause, the House would certainly bring upon itself the well-merited contempt of the country, and would forfeit the confidence reposed in them. He believed that the people of this country had endeavoured to ascertain why it was that the question of Reform had made so little progress; that they had mastered the subject, and had arrived at a conclusion upon it. For his own part he had always held the opinion that this was in reality a question of the simplest character, and that there was only one way of settling it, although be confessed that the events of the last and the present Session had so perplexed him that at times he found it required no ordinary effort to retain his original belief. He acknowledged that after listening to the speeches of the hon. Gentlemen opposite, and more especially to those of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he had frequently left the House much oppressed with what appeared to him to be a manifest want of comprehension, and with very exalted notions respecting the powers of the right hon. Gentleman; and he had sometimes fallen—though only for the moment—into the not uncommon error of imagining that wise men were seldom, if ever, understood by plain mortals, and that to be unintelligible was one of the most certain indications of wisdom, He 1537 had only recovered his equanimity on discovering that he was not singular in his inability to comprehend the meaning of the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends. It was a matter of congratulation that the Reform discussions this Session had been greatly facilitated by the circumstance that no one thought of maintaining that the people of these kingdoms did not want Parliamentary Reform. That they did want it was recognised by all—even by hon. Gentlemen opposite, who had refused to recognise it long after it had become perfectly clear to everybody except themselves. At the present crisis, however, it was important to recollect the obstinacy of hon. Gentlemen opposite last year upon this point; and, bearing that in mind, it was obviously necessary to receive their proposals with caution and reserve. The Tory party had, in defiance of the most overwhelming evidence, persisted in denying that the country was in favour of Reform; and they had done this not from incapacity to judge of the wishes of the country, but because they themselves were opposed to Reform. After persevering in that course as long as they could do so without endangering the public peace, they turned rotund and announced that they had discovered the true solution of the question. They had contrived to get into office; and then, acting in consequence of pressure to which they must either succumb or sacrifice their places, they had brought in a Bill. Let not hon. Gentlemen opposite, however, suppose that he even insinuated that they had abandoned their hostility to Reform. On the contrary, he gave them credit for the most remarkable consistency on this point, and for an unalterable determination to defeat the objects of those who are Reformers in the sense in which the words were understood by an overwhelming majority of the people of these kingdoms. It was most important at the present crisis to keep in view the fact, now that the Tory party had brought in what was termed a Reform Bill, that there was no more agreement between them and the Liberal party, or the country generally, as to the principles which ought to govern the settlement of time question than there had been at any former period. In proof of this statement he needed only to refer to the present measure, by the leading principles of which—namely, the personal payment of rates, the two years' residential qualification, and the provision for voting papers, or, in other words, by every provision which 1538 made the measure something worse than valueless as a Reform Bill—the Government were determined to stand. In his opinion the question of Parliamentary Reform was one of the simplest character. When the working classes—that was to say, the great mass of the people in town and country—asked for Parliamentary Reform it was well understood that they were asking for an extension of the franchise. In their judgment the extension of the suffrage was the very essence of Reform. The question, then, was how the House should meet that demand on the part of the working classes. The parties in the House at that moment might be divided into those who advocated a limited extension of the suffrage because they could not help it, and those who advocated a wide extension on principle. The Bill before the House rendered it plain that those who were in favour of restrictions were represented by the Gentlemen sitting on the Treasury Bench; and the dangers and difficulties which encumbered the question of Reform were solely attributable to what appeared to be the insuperable objection of hon. Gentlemen opposite to sanction such an extension of the franchise as would be accepted even as a temporary settlement of the question. The lateral and fancy franchises, the checks and counterpoises, the philosophical theories about the franchise being a trust, and about the excellence of the British Constitution, depending on the incongruity of the electoral system, had all been schemes invented to prevent the House arriving at a simple issue in respect to this subject. The party opposite objected on principle to any suffrage which might have the effect of opening for a considerable number of working men a straight and smooth passage to the polling-booth. He was, however, certain that no dexterity, however great, could check the onward march of Reform; and it would be unbecoming the dignity of Parliament to accept a Bill which, besides being of an ambiguous and doubtful character, amounted to an evasion of a simple and righteous demand—even if the Reformers in that House should fancy that by some ulterior process, which would, however, entangle them in fresh complications, they might be able to turn the tables on their opponents, and get the better of them by the exercise of superior cunning. The first thing that those who undertook to settle the question of Reform 1539 had to do was to establish a character for sincerity and plain dealing. There was only one way of settling the Reform question, and that was by extending the franchise; and though there might be diversity of opinion as to the form and degree of the extension, there existed great unanimity on the point that the extension should be considerable, and that the creation of votes should not be left to any chance agency whatever. According to the plan of the Government, every man who lived in a house should exercise the right of voting if he personally paid his rates. There were multitudes of persons living in houses under a certain value who debarred from the right of voting, and were most deeply interested in the settlement of this question of Reform. These were the very persons to whom the Chancellor of the Exchequer affected to offer the franchise, though he proposed as necessary for its attainment a condition almost impossible to be complied with; for in the case of the municipal franchise the direct payment of rates had proved almost a complete barrier against obtaining the franchise. He could not understand how any one favourable to such a liberal extension of the franchise as was necessary for the settlement of the Reform question could sanction a Bill like the present. He thought that in no case should the personal payment of rates be necessary; and therefore he should vote for the Amendment, believing it to be essential to the further progress of Reform, believing it to be proposed in a spirit of sincerity and wisdom, and hoping that it might prove the fortunate means of bringing together the friends of Reform, who, unless he was greatly deceived, formed the majority of that House.
§ MR. KENDALL
said, that as regarded this question of Reform, he was desirous to place on record his justification for the step he was about to take. So far as his individual opinions went, he was very sorry when he heard that the Government had thought it necessary to bring in a Reform Bill. In 1859, when a Reform Bill was brought forward by a Conservative Government, he opposed it, for he thought it came badly from them. That Government lost office, and was succeeded by one under the Premiership of Lord Palmerston; and when he (Mr. Kendall) looked round the House and saw Lord Palmerston, he used to think that the noble Lord was the best Conservative in the House—that he was 1540 the only man who knew how to manage the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright). He knew how to thwart him—and hence the hon. Member for Birmingham entertained for him as much hatred as one man could harbour towards another. Before the noble Lord died, a coalition had taken place between the right hon. Member for South Lancashire and the hon. Member for Birmingham—a very powerful combination he was quite ready to admit; but as so long as the noble Lord lived it was unsuccessful. But no sooner was the noble Lord lost io the country than the question of Reform assumed another phase, and the Bill of last year was the consequence. The real author of that Bill, as of the present Bill, was the hon. Member for Birmingham. But for that coalition there would have been no Reform Bill—no Reform League—no meeting in Hyde Park, or in Trafalgar Square. The Bill of last year was lost, and a new state of circumstances had arisen, and he (Mr. Kendall) found himself placed in a situation of some embarrassment. He could not shut his eyes to the fact that there were very many sensible, hard-headed, unyielding Conservatives who were of a different opinion now from that which they had expressed when they saw that there was no desire for Reform. Things were very different now, they argued; and as there was a deeprooted feeling of discontent planted in the minds of men, it was desirable that a large measure of Reform should be introduced by Her Majesty's Ministers, whose motives should be above suspicion. The Government introduced a large measure of Reform. Then it became necessary for him to ask himself, "What shall I do?" He held very strong Conservative opinions. When he met his constituents, who were a very independent body of men, three or four months ago, he told them that he earnestly hoped that the Government would not bring in a Reform Bill, and that they would not take the speeches delivered at the meetings that had been held represented the opinions of a large proportion of the people; but he added, that if the Government should in their discretion determine to bring in a Reform Bill, they would find that he had changed his opinions, at least that he had supported the Government. He (Mr. Kendall) had been anxious to test whether all the appeals that had been made to the people and for the people were genuine or not. He had heard the other evening that the hon. Member for Birming- 1541 ham and the right hon. Member for South Lancashire, at a meeting held in the house of the latter, had tried to strangle the Bill before it got to the second reading; and from the same quarter he had heard phrases which struck him as peculiar, such as an "unskilled peasantry," the "substrata," and shortly afterwards the "residuum." He should like to know what some of the lower orders would think when they heard of such terms being applied to them by Members of Parliament? He had associated during the last forty years with all classes of his countrymen, and his honest belief was that household suffrage would bring in a large number of men, honest, simple-minded (using the word in the best sense), who in disposing of their votes would look to men of respectability and character, and would vote for them in preference to excitable men. But this did not suit hon. Gentlemen opposite. He protested against the franchise being dealt with as if it were to be put up to a Dutch auction. He did not think that such a course was dignified. There was this thing to be said for household suffrage—that it presented something simple and intelligible, and that could not easily be mystified. In large towns a workman, who was a good workman, need not to seek for work, for he was known, and respected, and employed; and therefore the argument of the right hon. Gentleman as to such a man having frequently to change his residence in order to follow his work was futile. He was satisfied that the whole question of Reform had been brought about by agitation in the country; but still, if Her Majesty's Ministers thought that they ought to give the franchise to the working classes, he thought that they ought to go to some good resting-point; and, in his opinion, the resting-point which they had chosen was a very good one. He understood this point to be household suffrage, accompanied by residence and payment of rates. He hoped that the Government would stick to their colours so far as the main points of the Bill were concerned, and that they would rather go to the country than be driven into adopting any course which they did not think was a right one. At the same time, he hoped that they would be ready to cede points which did not involve any principle; and he was sure if they acted in this way that they might either carry their measure, or, in the event of defeat, appeal with success to the country.
§ SIR WILLIAM HEATHCOTE
said, it was absolutely necessary, in dealing with the Amendment now under consideration, that it should not be regarded as an isolated proposal for dispensing with the personal payment of rates, but as combined with the subsequent Amendment, by which no householder below £5 a year of rateable value should be admitted to vote at all. The two modes of extending the suffrage, which were offered on the Opposite sides of the House, must be considered each as a whole. The Government proposed household suffrage absolutely unlimited by any test of value, but subject to the conditions that the house should be rated and the rates thereon paid by the occupier. His right hon. Friend the Member for South Lancashire (Mr. Gladstone), on the other hand, proposed that the suffrage should be given to such householders only as were rated at £5 a year and upwards, but that the payment of the rates thereon should equally qualify the voter, whether it was made by the landlord or the occupier. In the whole course of along Parliamentary experience he had never felt himself in a more unsatisfactory position; because he could give an unqualified approval to neither of the two alternatives. He nevertheless felt bound to deal with them in the best way he could, for he concurred in the opinion, so generally expressed, that it was most desirable that the question of Reform should be settled during the present Session. He did not profess to be a believer in Reform in the sense of believing that of the varied and sometimes conflicting forces which gave impulse to the great and complicated machine of English Government, it was the popular portion which most required to be strengthened at the time; nor in the sense of believing that any Reform which they were likely to pass would produce, or have any tendency to produce, improvement in the composition or quality of that House, or in the thoughtfulness, wisdom, and impartiality of its legislation—still less that it would tend towards greater sagacity and self-control in defining clearly, and maintaining steadily, the limits between due watchfulness over the Executive Government, and that usurpation, to which popular assemblies are prone, of arrogating to themselves Executive functions. But he still recognised the position in which he found the country; and, as a practical man, be admitted the pressure of facts. He saw the position into which Parliament and the 1543 country had been brought, and he was ready to accept the remedy to which eminent men on both sides of the House had committed themselves—that of Parliamentary Reform. This being so, when be said that he would accept Reform as the remedy, he intended to do so frankly and fairly. He did not desire to go very far or very fast on what he thought a doubtful road, and he did especially desire to make the resting-place, wherever they stopped, a safe one; but, with this consideration in view, and even especially on account of it, he wished that whatever was given, should be given without grudging, and not in a manner which might suggest a doubt whether they were pretending to give what was, in fact, withheld; and, above all, he was unwilling to incur the risk of introducing provisions by way of safeguard, which were charged with elements of discord and irritation, and would contain in them, from the very beginning, the seeds of their own dissolution. Approaching this subject in this frame of mind, he was not satisfied with the Bill of the Government, which, with reference to the borough franchise especially—that franchise being for the purpose of the present discussion, in effect the Bill—failed to satisfy the conditions which he had laid down. It seemed to him that, with remarkable infelicity, it combined faults which apparently were inconsistent with each other; but they were not such as to neutralize each other and to produce some middle term, but such as would develop their own mischiefs independently, but not without mutual aggravation. He was in dread of this Bill, because it was grudging, and because it was lavish; because it was timid, and because it was rash; because it irritated by capricious and unnecessary restrictions, and because, at the same time, it put weapons into the hands of the very men whom it irritated, and tempted them to sweep away the restrictions, and probably, in the heat of contest, a great deal more. The suffrage which this Bill professed to confer was household suffrage absolutely unlimited, and descending to the meanest cabin which could be used as a human habitation, subject only to a certain condition as to rates. But this condition had no reference to the amount of rates as a test of value, but only to a question wholly collateral and governed by considerations of social convenience—namely, the question whether the occupier paying the rates, as he must, in one form 1544 or the other, did, in fact, pay them in the shape of rent to his landlord, or directly to the parish collector. The answer to this question would depend on no uniform rule, but sometimes on local Acts of Parliament, and more often on the special and varying circumstances of each borough, and of every separate parish within it, and on the judgment, or it might be the caprice, or the political bias of each parish vestry, adopting, rejecting, and adopting again, as they might thick fit, the provisions of the Small Tenements Act, and thus in neighbouring boroughs, and even in adjoining parishes of the same borough, there would be men of equal position unequally treated in this respect. Norwould this inequality be ordinarily corrected by enabling the householder whose rates were paid by the landlord —the compound-householder as he was called—to claim to be himself rated, and thereby to acquire a vote. He would claim under disadvantage, and even under the direct pecuniary penalty of having to pay more than the amount of the composition, which alone could be recovered from the landlord, without in turn fining him. The end of all this would be that, except under special stimulus, the numbers claiming would not be great; but when passions were excited, or corruption was at work, it would be easy to flood the register with voters, who, whatever else they might do, would combine as one man to get rid of all restrictions which depended on rating. Probably two years would not elapse before this Reform of the Conservative party would be found to have ended in household suffrage pure and unlimited, and wholly unconnected with rating in any form. He could not therefore support the proposal of the Government in its present form; but must look for some amendment of it. There was in the House a prevalent opinion, in which he did not altogether concur, that the Government. Bill should be accepted as the instrument by which Reform was to be effected, and that even those who most disapproved of its provisions should endeavour rather to remodel them, titan to reject the Bill and begin de novo. He doubted whether this had been wise; whether time had not been lost; and whether, in dealing in Committee with fragmentary and partial Amendments of which the mutual connection was not always clear, we might not drift into legislation less clear and less consistent than if the original conception and the ultimate development of the measure had pro- 1545 ceeded from the same mind and had been governed on the same principles; and he was quite sure that even if the second reading was allowed to pass, it would have been very advantageous if at a subsequent stage; but still, before the discussion was reduced to one of mere clauses in Committee, the subject of the borough franchise could have been presented to the House as a whole. For that reason he should have been glad if his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Coleridge) had moved the Instruction of which notice had been given. Having gone into Committee, however, hon. Members must make the best of their position. He could not himself expect to obtain such an enactment as he should entirely approve; but in the proposals of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone), taken together as a whole, he saw something more hopeful than in that of the Government—a definite point below which there should be no rating of the occupier, and no voting for hint under any circumstances, would be at least intelligible—not capable of capricious virriation, and not establishing a perpetual blister of irritation; while it would remove the most dangerous part of the new voters. The removal of the necessity for personal payment of rates above that limit would be the removal of a security of which the importance was, in his opinion, greatly exaggerated, and even in the most favourable circumstances, where compound-householders existed, it was the source of serious evil. He thought the £5 annual rating limit would be likely to endure for many years; but he saw nothing in the proposition of the Government which would prevent its being assailed with success next year. It was impossible for him, holding as he did these views, to hesitate a moment as to the way he should vote. He regretted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should have stated that it was impossible for the Government to accept the proposal of time right hon. Member for South Lancashire on the ground that it was inconsistent with the principle of the Bill. There were two ways in which a Government might deal with questions of this nature. Thus, a strong Government which had long considered a certain subject might bind up its existence with a certain definite point, and consider an adverse vote as a Vote of Want of Confidence. But when a Government was confessedly in a minority, having assumed the Government under very difficult circumstances, 1546 and having brought forward a Reform Bill, with respect to which, its manipulation and ultimate form, they had avowedly called the House of Commons into counsel, it would be no disgrace to them if they had declined to pin their existence upon the fate of one or two of the provisions of that Bill. Such a course was unnecessary, and was not required by their honour. But he must confess, with all the regard he felt for the Government, he could not allow himself to be affected, so far as his vote was concerned, by the consequences of a defeat which had been held out by the Government. Amongst all the claims which the Members of the Administration had to his confidence, he certainly should not put in the most prominent place the manner in which they were endeavouring to deal with the question of Reform.
§ MR. HIBBERT
said, he was sure the House would grant him a few minutes of their attention whilst he stated the object of the Amendment which he had placed upon time paper. He confessed he should have been released from a position of great difficulty if the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had given him a definite answer to the question he had put to him in the earlier part of the evening. He must say he felt some difficulty in voting against the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire while those restrictions in respect to the compound-householders were allowed to remain in the Bill. If the answer of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to his question had been in the affirmative, he should unhesitatingly have voted against the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, because he decidedly objected to the restrictions which a portion of that Amendment would impose upon all those who were rated under £5. A great deal had been said about the disfranchisement of certain classes under the Government Bill; but he thought that a much greater disfranchisement was proposed by the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire. If facilities were given to the compound-householders to get their names upon the register in the way it had been suggested, he believed that a great number would be added to time constituency; whereas, if the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire were accepted, no householder rated below the him of £5 could by any possibility obtain 1547 a place upon the register. He therefore looked upon the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman as a disfranchising clause. The first Amendment placed hon. Members in a position of great difficulty, because, if carried, it would seriously interfere with the principles of the Bill, and would therefore endanger its passing. What had been the history of rating as regarded,£10 occupiers under the Act of 1832? By that Act every voter was required to pay the rates due in April before July; but by another Act he was only required to pay the rates due up to the previous January. The Reform Act of 1832 also contained a clause which enacted that, where the owner was rated and paid the poor rates, the occupier should be entitled to have his name placed upon the register upon paying or tendering the full amount of his rates; and thus he had to pay his rates twice over, which was a serious hardship. Then came the Compounders Act, which enabled compound-householders to have their names placed once for all upon the register by paying the amount of the compound-rates, instead of, as formerly, the full rate; and this was a point that he trusted the Government would concede in reference to the present Bill. He did not desire to interfere with the wish of the Government in respect to personal rating. What he wanted was to avoid putting the compound-householder in the position of paying a fine. When paying his rent he also in effect paid his rate. If therefore he was called to pay the rate in order to qualify himself for the suffrage, they would really be calling on him to pay the rate twice over. If they took away the fine they were imposing, and said that the compound-householder should only be compelled to pay a compound rate, the Government would be doing away with a great grievance in regard to the compounder, and allow him to obtain the franchise easily and without those restrictions which were so objectionable. In the new clause respecting compound-householders it was proposed, when the overseer received the claim, that he should insert the name of the occupier on the rate hook; the overseer then would give notice to the owner that the occupier had claimed; and thenceforth the owner would be discharged from his liability. It was further set forth that the occupier should be enabled to deduct from his rent the composition rate; while another clause provided that if the occupier did not pay the rate the overseer should 1548 give notice to the owner, who should be again called upon to pay the composition rate. Now, this arrangement was one that would import great difficulty into the question, because there would be, on the one hand, the occupier paying the full rate, and, on the other, the owner paying the composition rate. He was sure that the mode of carrying out the proposal of the Government would be much facilitated if they gave way on this point. In reference to the £5 rating Amendment, he could state that in the borough he represented the Government Bill would qualify 11,000 additional voters, of whom practically not more than 7,000 or 8,000 would come upon the register; but if the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire were carried, the effect would be that 5,000 or 6,000 would be disfranchised and no longer qualified to be put on the register. That was the reason why he thought the Bill of the Government so elastic and so expansive; and that though it contained some strong restrictions which ought to be got rid of, yet it would afford a wider base than the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire. On that ground he felt anxious that they should come to some arrangement on the question, and not again make the same mistake they made in 1859—throwing the Bill overboard—and then having another Government bringing in another Bill in the next Session only to be shelved in its turn, thus getting no further on with Reform than they had done years before. The country desired a settlement of the question; and although the Government had not given them so liberal a measure as they would have wished, yet it was one which was capable of expansion, and might be made acceptable to the country.
§ COLONEL BARTTELOT
said, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Oldham, who had just sat down, had put the case before the House in a practical light, which was more than could be said of many of the speakers they had heard that night. He had hoped that the House, or at any rate that the independent Members of the House, had fully determined, if possible, to come to some amicable and just settlement of this important question; though he could not say the speech delivered by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Tralee (The O'Donoghtke) was calculated to effect that object. That hon. Gentleman had said everything be could to 1549 upbraid and abuse hon. Members on the hon. Ministerial side of the House for doing what they believed to be right on this subject, with a view to the peace and happiness of the country. But surely if they had formerly done wrong, and now evinced a disposition to meet the views of our fellow-countrymen who were anxious for Reform, and saw that the time had arrived when an endeavour should be made to settle the question, they ought not to be upbraided for attempting to do that which would tend to produce the peace, happiness, and tranquillity of the country. Many topics had been urged that night which would have been more appropriate on the debate on the second reading. The Question now before the Committee was that of the borough franchise; and with regard to that, he might say that they were all agreed that the franchise ought to be lowered, the only question being how it was to be done. The Government proposed one plan for doing it; the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire another. The right hon. Gentleman proposed an Amendment which, if carried, would overthrow the main proposition of the Government—namely, rating and residence. By that principle he believed the Government and its supporters were determined to abide, though they were willing to give way on other points. They believed that rating and residence were absolutely necessary and essential. To them they intended firmly to adhere; but on other points they were liberally disposed to give way to the opposite side of the House. He hoped that the propositions which had been made by his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, would be found to be just and fair. A great deal had been said about compound-householder, and no doubt it was a very important question. They ranged from £30 in some boroughs to £5 in others. Originally the composition was for houses from £6 to £20 per annum; but by many local acts the amount ranged in various boroughs so high as from £10 £30. Now, he thought the system of compounding was altogether a mistake—that it was bad in principle—unjust in its effect—and ought to be entirely done away with. When the Parochial Assessment Act was passed the right of compounding ought to have been got rid of as being unjust in principle and bad in practice. As was stated on a former occasion by the right 1550 hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, there were upwards of 5,000 compound-householders in Lambeth on the register, while those in Camberwell were not on the register, and therefore had no votes; and he perfectly agreed with the right hon. Gentleman when he said it was unjust to leave it to the local authorities to decide, and it was therefore high time that something should be done to alter the law in that respect. In Lambeth the local rates were excessively high, and as the Committee was aware, the county rate was becoming a very serious matter. He found from a correct Return of the amount of rates collected in Lambeth that there was collected for the poor rate, £92,904, of which £10,616 was for the county rate, and £17,260 for the police rate, making in all £92,904 collected upon the poor rate. He would not take the other rates. Well, how did the system of compounding work in Lambeth? In Lambeth, for house property, 20 per cent is deducted from the rateable value, which reduced a £30 house to £24; and the compound-householder was only rated at one-half that amount; therefore, he was rated at £12 only instead of £24. The consequence of which was that the parish of Lambeth paid the poor rate on that composition, householders over £30 paying the full amount, and compounders paying at the rate of only one-half. Therefore, with regard to the county and the police rates, those rates were paid by the parish over again, because the people compounding had only paid a certain amount of their rate. As everybody knew, the county rate was a fixed sum asked for upon the parish, and, consequently, if these people paid only one-half, the rest was distributed over the whole parish, and the parish had to pay over again what the compound-householder ought to have paid. If they abolished the compounding system there would be no pretext for saying that the smaller occupiers would have to pay a fine if they wished to get the suffrage. It was the same in many other cases; and therefore it was that he said that the compound system was unjust and unfair, and should be abolished altogether. Then, with regard to the Small Tenements Act, which applied to houses of £6 and under, every one who was acquainted with its working must admit that it was a law which benefited the landlord and not the poor man; because every one knew that a man was charged with the full amount of the rates 1551 in his rent. The man, therefore, who came upon the register by this Bill should deduct from his rent the full amount of the rates he had been called upon to pay; and where, then, was the injustice complained of? if they lowered the franchise down to household suffrage they had a right to say, in the words of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Sheffield, that the man who exercised the privilege should be a respectable man and not a wanderer. Calling upon him to pay rates was no injuqice to him, but the payment showed that he was a fit and proper person to exercise the franchise; and if this Bill was carried, it would be a great boon to the country. He hoped his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer would persevere in his course with regard to the rating and residence clause; if be did, and put his horse straight at the fence, his following would be large; but if he swerved, it would be impossible to say what it would be. If he persevered, which he was sure would be the case, be would be followed by a large number, and he would then carry to a successful issue a Bill for which he would deserve the thanks of the House, and for which he was sure the right hon. Gentleman would receive the gratitude of the country.
§ MR. COLERIDGE
thought it would now be admitted that at last they had a clear and intelligible issue to debate and go to a division upon. Whatever might have been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as to the difficulty in understanding the terms of the Instruction which stood on the notice paper on Monday last, but his difficulty was not shared by the Secretary of State for India or the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire, who both said it tendered a distinct and intelligible issue— thought the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer said he could not understand it. At all events, the issue now before them was short, clear and distinct. Everybody could understand what they were going to vote upon that night, and he supposed that every hon. Member had made up his mind pretty well what his vote should be. But he much regretted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should have thought fit to make that the articulus stantis aut cadentis Administrationis; for he must repeat what he had said with perfect sincerity on Monday, that he should regard it as a calamity if this Bill were not passed in some shape that year, and a 1552 great misfortune also if it were not passed by the present Government. He would support the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire not from the slightest desire to change the side of the House on which he sat—["Oh, oh!"] What! Did hon. Gentlemen opposite forget what occurred last year? Were they utterly incredulous as to the possibility of tendering Amendments to the Government without having a factious object in view? They could scarcely, after their own conduct last year, receive such a statement with taunts of incredulity. Why should they taunt him? Was it the recollection of their conduct last year? thought better of hon. Gentlemen, and repeated that those on his (the Opposition) side of the House would support the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire with no desire to cross the floor of the House, but because while they were bound in common honesty and consistency to obtain, if possible, a liberal measure, they were equally bound, in common honesty and consistency, to refuse any measure that did not bear that character. He perfectly agreed with the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) that this subject ought to be dealt with broadly, and not, as he believed the hon. Member expressed it, in any pettifogging spirit. But the hon, and learned Gentleman would also probably agree with him in the opinion that broad views were apt to become shallow unless founded upon something like an intelligent comprehension of the facts of the case, and a complete mastery of the whole of the details. It might, therefore, tend to clear the view of the question if they ascertained fully what objects they desired to achieve by the Bill now before the House, and if they ascertained whether the Bill and the clause, in their unamended shape, would be likely to effect the object they had in view. Now, probably, all desired an extension of the franchise—at all events, hon. Gentlemen sitting near him required a considerable lowering of the franchise. And that for many reasons. First of all, there had grown up since 1832 a great body of the people, whom they on that side of the House believed to be fit to exercise the franchise, and which had not been extended to them; that being so, they said it was not wise, it was not just, and he would take the liberty of saying it was not safe, to insist upon their further exclusion. The 1553 constituents who had sent them to that House as their representatives expected them at least to do something to attain that object. And, while any Bill fulfilling the requirements to which he had alluded ought to pass, no Bill ought to be accepted if it failed to meet these requirements. Now, he ventured to think that as long as the clause they were discussing continued in its unamended form, these requirements were not met. He believed, however, that they would be met if the Amendment proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire were adopted. It was upon these grounds that he accepted these Amendments, believing that they would make the measure satisfactory, and one which the country would readily accept. And it was clear, to his mind at least, that by the present clause in its unamended form, and by the 34th clause, which must be taken in connection with it, that a large number of persons who were entitled to the franchise would still he excluded by the operation of this Bill. Therefore, for the reasons he had given, he said the Bill ought not to pass. A good deal had been said— he was not going to detain the House on the subject—about the operation of those two clauses on those householders who paid their rates in their rent. It was said that they would have to pay a larger sum for rates than they did now if they desired to exercise the franchise, That was a point which lay upon the surface of the Bill. It had been denominated a fine upon the tenant; but that was a merely verbal matter, and he would not detain the House upon it now. The only answers to the statement had been made by the President of the Poor Law Board, his hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Sussex. As far as he could understand their answer, it was that this was no objection, inasmuch as the operation of the Small Tenements Act would be applied to this Bill, and as applied to this Bill, whatever a tenant so paid, he would be entitled to deduct from the payment to his landlord. But, whatever else the Bill did, it could not do that, because that would most distinctly be a fine upon the landlord; because, by the hypothesis the landlord had already compounded for his rates, he already paid them; and to make hint pay over again would certainly be a fine upon hint for that which he had not got but which some 1554 one else had obtained. He thought, however, that the question was one not worth much discussion, inasmuch as it was, after all, merely a verbal one. It was evident that more money would have to be paid by such person, if he desired to vote, than was paid by him before, and that that was the fact was evident from the Report of the House of Lords' Committee, from which his hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General had quoted that evening so that, in point of fact, those clauses would exclude many persons from claiming the franchise to which they were otherwise entitled. He ventured to submit that it was idle to argue that that ought not to be the case, because they knew that, in point of fact, it would be so if this Bill passed. They must deal with men as they found them. Living as they did among the friends of Romulus it was idle to argue questions as if they had to do with the citizens of Plato's Politeia. The answer was merely a verbal one. If by paying the rates men were still excluded who ought to be admitted, the mischief was done which ought not to be done, and ground for future agitation was laid which ought not to be laid—a result which might be avoided, he believed, by the adoption of the Amendment proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, But, further, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer made that the very ground upon which the Bill was recommended to the great Tory party, of which he had told the House last year he was the Leader, and of which this year he was the honoured, trusted, he might almost say the worshipped Minister. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to assure his friends that there was no cause of alarm, that though a rush of new voters might result from the Bill at Stoke-upon Trent and some other large towns, yet, on the whole—taking the whole country—the operation of the safeguards introduced would afford sufficient protection to the party over whose interests the right hon. Gentleman was bound to be especially careful. The right hon. Gentleman might recommend his followers to pass it as a really Conservative measure. That was, however, all very well. Such arguments might be excellent good reasons why hon. Gentlemen opposite should pass the Bill—they might be excellent good reasons why it should recommend itself to their understanding. But they were also excellent good reasons why 1555 Gentlemen on that side of the House should regard the measure as a bad one—why they should refuse to pass it, and in common honesty and consistency refuse to accept such a Bill presented to them by the right hon. Gentleman. But more than that—the exclusion which was to be applied by checks, was necessary to the object of the Bill. If the exclusion was fully carried out the numbers admitted would be ridiculously small; if the principle of inclusion was adopted they would be landed in household suffrage pure and simple. Now to household suffrage pure and simple, he had individually no objection. He viewed such a result without the slightest fear or apprehension, because, on the whole, he thought that intelligence, wealth, education, station, and other social distinctions of that character would exercise their due influence in the country, and would keep us pretty well where we were at present. But though he did not personally object to household suffrage, pure and simple, he thought that such a consummation was not one for which hon. Gentlemen opposite were yet perfectly prepared, and he very much doubted whether it was one for which the country was altogether prepared—reasons why, in his opinion, a progress in that direction ought to be slow and gradual. But, further, he would submit to the House that the combination of rating with the franchise was a bad thing, as it tended to confound two matters which were essentially distinct. Rates were affairs that appertained to parishes, to counties, and to municipalities, while voting was an affair of the State. Persons practically acquainted with the law of rating would agree with him that it would be extremely inconvenient to carry the present system any further. He might perhaps be permitted to mention a matter which had fallen under his observation a few years previously. In one of the largest places in the kingdom there had been a semi-political quarrel which disturbed the peace of the inhabitants and interfered with the prosperity of the town. Both parties agreed to refer their disputes to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford, in whom they had confidence, and he (Mr. Coleridge) acted as assessor in the arbitration, and therefore had none of the feelings of a partizan in the matter. It was proved, and not denied, that it being deemed important to disfranchise a large portion of the population—not the Parlia- 1556 mentary, but the municipal voters—the political party which had the ascendancy made certain regulations about the payment of rates which practically disfranchised about one-half of one of the political parties in the city for two or three years. The time for the payment of the rates, the coin in which the rates were to be paid, and other conditions were made as inconvenient as possible. In vain were checks tendered for payment of the rates. The answer was that there must be personal payment of rates; and the result was that many of the ratepayers did not go to vote, and were practically disfranchised. Any one who had had experience of the working of the Revision Courts must know that under Sir William Clay's Act there must still be a claim, and that this claim once made was valid until some objection was taken to it, and the man's natne was removed from the rate book. The way in which the matter worked in boroughs in which there was anything like political excitement was that the whole thing was done by the Parliamentary agent. And if what they heard was true, he also paid the rates: and if this Bill passed it would become a question whether, the rates being small, the landlord or the candidate should pay them, and being one and not the other, he should for himself prefer that the landlord should pay the rates. He might be told that there was a clause declaring the corrupt payment of rates to be bribery, and providing for the prosecution of parties guilty of these practices. But who was to prosecute? How was it to be done? It would become a dead letter. It was idle by such migratory provisions to think to prevent the corrupt payment of rates. He did not blame the Government: all that they could do they had done: but any one who knew the working of these matters must feel convinced that such a clause would be utterly and entirely inoperative. The Solicitor General had been rather contemptuous towards his right hon. Friend the Member for South Lancashire, and those whom he was pleased to call his satellites or followers, and he referred to certain Reform Bills in which there was not to be found this provision for the payment of rates. Having never had the good fortune to be a Law Officer of the Crown, he did not know whether the Solicitor General was a satellite or a follower; but he thought the hon. and learned Gentleman might have been a little more courteous in 1557 his treatment of his right hon. Friend. The hon. and learned Gentleman could not have read his brief, or else he would have known that although in three or four Bills, the details of which he had brought before the House, there had been no exemption from rates, yet so far back as 1847, Sir De Lacy Evans and other Reformers had put their fingers on this blot, and from 1847 to that hour they had been persistently agitating for the removal of the ratepaying clauses, as not having anything to do with the franchise. This was one of the great objects of the Parliamentary agitation of which Mr. Hume was at the head. The hon. and learned Gentleman might have told the House that from 1847 to the present time the opponents of the removal of the ratepaying clauses on that side of the House were men of whom he desired to speak with respect, but who were bound up with the principle of the Bill of 1832, in which payment of rates had been insisted upon, and therefore in most subsequent Bills the principle was included. His hon. and learned Friend must have known that up to 1832 rateability—namely, liability to pay rates—was a Common Law incidence of the franchise, but that the actual payment of rates was first made a qualification by the Reform Bill of 1832. That qualification had been struggled against from 1847 to last year, when it disappeared from the Reform Bill of that year. Surely the hon. and learned Gentleman ought in common fairness and candour to have mentioned this fact to the Committee, for that Bill did not make the payment of rates any part of the qualification for the franchise. The argument of the hon. and learned Gentleman was in fact nothing but a miserable ad hominem argument. What was still worse in the Bill of the present Government was that it did not appear to him to afford the elements of a settlement of this question. Assuming the correctness of the figures quoted by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) last year, did they suppose they had got in this Bill the elements necessary for a settlement of this question for even five years? He believed that, on the contrary, they were laying the foundation of a most dangerous, because a justly founded, agitation. They were introducing into some parts of the country a principle which they dared not refuse to others: and he would go further, and say that they ought not to refuse it. He did not pretend to be one of those who, on the principles of the rights 1558 of man, held that every one was born a voter. He agreed with the opinions expressed in the work recently published by the right hon. Member for CaInc (Mr. Lowe), that right was the creature of law, and that it could not have any existence antecedent to the law which created it. But did the hon. and learned Gentleman—did any one—deny that there were great moral equities in politics which no prudent and sagacious politician would disregard? Would he say that if the franchise were granted to a great number in one part of the country it could be refused to persons similarly situated in another part? It was to his mind idle; and therefore was plain to him that this Bill could not and ought not to satisfy the country. He might be foolish, but he confessed he viewed with alarm the passing of a Bill of this kind. The people of England had up to the present time conducted themselves with singular forbearance and self-control. He passed by certain stormy and tumultuous meetings:—he did not forget the use of strong, perhaps violent and even unjustifiable, expressions: those things did and would occur in every great political agitation: but, on the whole, the attitude of the people of England had been marked by singular dignity and moderation. It could not be said by hon. Gentlemen opposite that the public had shown no interest in this question of Parliamentary Reform. Both parties now agreed in this—that the Reform question had assumed proportions which rendered the immediate dealing with it a matter of great political necessity. They knew that the House of Commons was at last in earnest in the matter, and he did not think it either wise or safe to disappoint the people. His hon, and learned Friend the Solicitor General, fresh from the study of the statutes of Henry VI., should have taken a corresponding dose of Hume before he told the House with airy gaiety how easy it was to pass a disfranchising Bill without causing an insurrection. If he had studied Hume he would have found that there were such persons as the Earls of Northumberland and Warwick, and Barons of that class, who would have had something to say to a popular uprising—in whose presence the manifestations of popular discontent would not have been tolerated, and who, if he might venture to parody the famous saying of Macaulay, would have refuted a discontented voter by about the sharpest possible argument that could be addressed to a human being. It 1559 behoved the House to remember that when once the flood-gates of popular passion were set wide open, order and reason, and holier things still, were sometimes borne down and swept away by the angry torrent; and that there was the greatest difficulty in stilling the troubled waters. This was not spoken as a threat or anything of the sort; he hoped he knew his duty as a Member of the House better than to menace or threaten, which would not only be utterly discreditable, but most foolish also. There was no safer mode of confirming a high-spirited and honourable man, in his opinion, upon any subject, and of making him shut his ears to argument with reference to it, than by making the question one of personal peril. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer when dealing with this question, accepted the figures for the nonce, told a capital story in a cynical way about Sir James Graham, who once exclaimed, "Let us get out of the region of Nisi Prius." If, however, clever Nisi Prius was to meet one point by point, to travel over the argument and destroy one's facts, and show a man upon his own ground that he was wrong, where was the reason for the sneer of the right hon. Gentleman? But if clever Nisi Prius consisted in evading the point at issue, turning the laugh against one's antagonist with extreme adroitness, so as to keep a delighted audience borne along by a limpid current of eloquence, made up of brilliant epigrams and the fruits of a boundless imagination, then undoubtedly the Chancellor of the Exchequer was the greatest master of Nisi Prius in the House. But, apart from the jests and jokes of the right hon. Gentleman, which were always delightful save to the subject of them, what were his arguments? In the first place, he said there was no principle in numbers. Without discussing what was meant by principle, he (Mr. Coleridge) insisted that in this case numbers were the very essence of the question, because numbers were declared fit for the franchise, and numbers claimed to have it. The numbers so claiming created the importance of the question, and had given it proportions which it had never before assumed; and if a sufficient quantity of the numbers was not dealt with by a Reform Bill the question remained unsettled. The right hon. Gentleman had also said that variety of representation was an excellent good thing, and that barren uniformity in a Reform Bill was bad. He (Mr. Coleridge) 1560 was ready to admit that variety in a Reform Bill was itself a good, and ought not to be given up without a struggle. Possibly if it had come down from antiquity it would be a thing to be much contended for; but he did not believe that could be obtained by the direct enactments of a modern Act of Parliament providing a variety of franchises would be satisfactory, or would be even tolerated. Did any one believe that if there were a large number of persons in one borough admitted to the representation, and a large number of persons in another borough forty miles off excluded by the operation of checks, that those excluded could be pacified by the assurance that variety was a good thing, and that their exclusion insured variety. The House of Commons was not a School of Philosophers but a body of practical men; and, accordingly, he would not pursue so simple an argument as this further. They came to this, then, that the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire was a great improvement on the Bill; because, as his hon. Friend opposite had said, it proposed to give the franchise freely and confidingly, without irritating checks, and without a suggestion that those to whom it gave were unworthy. He hoped, then, most earnestly that the Committee would pass the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman, and that the Government would accept it. Some, indeed, had said that the Government would not accept it; but he (Mr. Coleridge) hoped they were in error in that respect; and his hopes increased when he remembered the course the Government had pursued hitherto. Considering what had occurred from the beginning of the Session, till now, he trusted that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer would, if gently pressed—having accepted so many suggestions—deal with this suggestion also, and accept the Amendment. As for this point being regarded as a substantive feature of the Bill, he could scarcely credit it after seeing the dual vote cast off. The dual vote, one would have thought, was the very essence of the measure. It held a prominent place in the Resolutions now lost in the mists of February. When the Bill was first under discussion the Solicitor General and the President of the Poor Law Board made much of the dual vote, though it was doubtful whether either of them was the stray philosopher. The lodger franchise, too—when that was made a point of, the right 1561 hon. Gentlemen said he was the father of it and would take any proposition for it into his best consideration. Altogether the course the Government had taken showed that if the Amendment now before the House were pressed respectfully, though firmly, the Government would accept it, and amend the Bill accordingly. Acknowledging the dauntless courage of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he insisted that in attempting to pass the Bill as it stood the right hon. Gentleman was attempting an impossibility. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was endeavouring to persuade both sides of the House that the Bill was equally acceptable to each, not only upon points on which both sides agreed, but upon points on which the greatest difference of opinion existed. The right hon. Gentleman insisted that the Bill could not be pronounced at once Tory and democratic—that it gave too much and withheld too much. Yet that was precisely what he (Mr. Coleridge) said; the Bill was Tory in this place and democratic in that; it raised unfounded expectations in one class and did not satisfy reasonable expectations in another; and on both grounds he objected to it. He quite admitted that if a Bill were to pass it could not be one that would satisfy extreme desires at either side of the House. He agreed with hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side, that it must partake of the character of a compromise—both sides must give end take. But to be a settlement satisfactory and honourable to the two great parties, and one which it was equally for their interest to agree upon, the principles which it embodied must be reasonable in themselves and capable of universal application. The measure must be at once Liberal and democratic in its character, it must preserve the just relations of the governors and governed, it must uphold the aristocracy and satisfy the people.
The hon, and learned Gentleman the Member for Exeter asks the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer to accept this Amendment, and by way of inducing him to do so has adopted the somewhat curious course of using against him and those who sit beside him, as taunts, all those points on which he seems willing to yield to the wishes of the House. The hon. and learned Gentleman may consider that a ready way to coax people; but I doubt whether he will find it successful in this 1562 House. He said, in the early part of his speech, that now we have a clear issue—that the Amendment of the right hon. Member for South Lancashire is a clear and definite issue. But if ever there was an Amendment that was less definite, or less capable of being so treated, it is this very proposition. And why do I say that? Because the Amendment is supported, on grounds exactly opposed to each other, by my hon. Friend the Member for the University of Oxford (Sir William Heathcote), and the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Exeter. The hon. Member for Oxford says he will take this Amendment, because there is something else to follow it—a hard and fast limit of the franchise. But if we are to look at this Amendment by itself, with reference to the Bill in our hands, the hon. and learned Member for Exeter says I want an extention of the franchise, and I want a lowering of the franchise; and as this Bill will not give me that I will support this Amendment, because without it the Bill will not be sufficiently extensive, and will not sufficiently lower the franchise. Both, therefore, support the Amendment on grounds exactly opposite. And yet we are told that this Amendment raises a most clear and definite issue. I complained in the early part of the evening that I thought we ought to have the whole Instruction before us. A plain and definite issue as whether the franchise is to be limited by a hard and fast line, or whether it is to be open to all who choose to qualify themselves and comply with certain conditions would thereby have been raised. But that issue is not raised by this Amendment, although it has been argued as if it were so raised. We therefore are placed in this difficulty—the Amendment would be of no consequence one way or the other if a hard and fast limit be imposed:—it will be fatal to the Bill if the measure is to stand as proposed by the Government. Therefore, alter the manner in which it has been debated this evening we are placed in a posion which justifies anyone in saying that the Amendment has been framed evidently with the view of catching votes. All those who want to fix the limit will vote for it, and all those who went to see household suffrage pine and simple without paying rates will vote for it. Therefore, it is calculated to catch votes on both sides. We have been told some rather curious things by the hon. and learned Member for Exeter in the course 1563 of his speech. In speaking of this Bill, he says, "What is the result? Here are persons compounding, and it is a question whether they will go on to pay their rates." Now mind that is a Liberal opinion. The hon. and learned Gentleman in his own mind is in favour of household suffrage pure and simple. And what is his opinion of the persons whom he wants to enfranchise? He says, "These parties will not seek the franchise for themselves," and yet we are told everybody wants the franchise. He next says, "If they are seeking it, who will have to pay for it—the landlords or the candidates?" That is his opinion of the people of this country—a Liberal opinion be it observed. The Liberal opinion is that the people care so little for the franchise that if they seek it they will ask other people to pay for it. These opinions have been stated on the other side of the House, and I was quite astounded to hear them. I cannot understand persons saying with one side of the mouth that the people are anxious to be enfranchised, and ought to be enfranchised, and with the other saying that they will not avail themselves of it unless it is paid for. The hon. and learned Gentleman has said a good deal about rating. He says that the payment of rates has never been practised in this country. I do not believe that the scot and lot voting depended upon Acts of Parliament; I do not exactly know how it came to pass that scot and lot voters were rated, but certainly scot and lot voters were rated and paid the rates. The hon, and learned Member says, also, that it was a common law principle that people should be rated. That I believe to be true. Well, then, a class of gentlemen called Reformers made an Act of Parliament in 1832. And what did they do? They not only confirmed the principle of rating, but, to make the matter plain and simple—for it was useless for a man to be rated unless he paid the rate—they said he should pay. Everybody has accepted that principle. There have been one or two attempts, as the hon. and learned Gentleman has said, to alter that system, but they did not succeed, and it has gone on uninterruptedly until the right hon. Member for South Lancashire omitted the rating in his Bill of last year. So far with respect to the question of rating. A great deal has been said about evasion. The hon. and learned Gentleman says that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Gentlemen on the front Bench have evaded 1564 the questions that were put to them. But is the course taken this evening altogether free from evasion? It would have been better if we had had this definite issue—whether the franchise is to be fixed on a bard and fast line, or whether it is to be an open franchise obtainable on certain conditions. That would have been a question to be argued fairly and with advantage, and when we had decided it we should have been in a definite position. But, instead of that, we have heard a great deal about compound-householders and the inconveniences to which they are subjected. Sometimes it is said they can and will vote; at other times that they cannot and will not. We have had a formidable array of figures from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, showing how many men will be on the rate in certain boroughs and how many will not be on the rate; but he did not condescend to go into the question how many might get on—and that is the real point. Talk of evasion! He evaded that altogether. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is of the same way of thinking as the hon. and learned Member for Exeter as to the wish of the people to get on the lists. He did not touch that question, and left us wholly at sea respecting it. He says, here are a certain number of people who are on the rate and others who are not on the rate; but he did not give any estimate as to the number capable of being placed on the rate. I will not presume to say that it is not an arguable question, whether it is better to fix a definite line or have an open one, like that fixed by the Government. And when you talk of a fixed line what is it? The only figure that has been named is £5. The Small Tenements Act only touches houses at £6. Between the £10 and the £6 all the tenements are rated. So that in comparing the numbers of which so much has been made, account can only be taken of those floating between £5 and £6—for if you fix the hard limit of £5, you entirely shut out all below that amount. And these are the parties—and I hope the Liberal Gentlemen will attend to this—who swell these great numbers to which the right hon. Member for South Lancashire referred. The position of my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University is quite intelligible, and I can understand his arguing as he does, because he does not want an extension of the franchise; but I cannot 1565 understand how these Liberal Gentlemen are agreeing together, and how all these numbers are thrown like pieces of dirt into the water to muddle it so that we cannot see anything clearly. All that is plain is that the plan of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition will absolutely disfranchise all those who are rated below £5, and the numbers between £6 and £5 who may come in, but who do not choose to come in, are what the hon. Member for Birmingham may call the "residuum"—and coining from him I suppose that expression may be used, I therefore do not think that the figures of the right hon. Gentleman are as conclusive as he seemed to think, and as he tried to make the House think. Then, again, a great deal has been said about the so-called unfairness of this House not settling absolutely the matter of the franchise, but leaving it, in some degree, in the hands of the local authorities. But I should like to ask whether a hard £5 limit will not confer as much—yes, and more—power in this respect upon the local authorities? The Small Tenements Act has been described by the right hon. Gentleman opposite as one of the greatest social and economical improvements of the age. But what is the Act? I say that it is a device of Old Nick to oppress the poor. Before that Act the poorest and most helpless portion of the people virtually paid no rates at all—they were not asked to pay them—they were struck off the list. A great many Gentlemen, here or elsewhere, have talked very much of the importance of building suitable houses for the poor; but I maintain that there cannot be a greater hindrance to this than the making the landlord pay the rates for them, instead of leaving them to pay them themselves, if they are able; and if they are not able they ought to be excused. This Small Tenements Act altogether destroys that wise and humane distinction. It makes every one pay rates, however poor he may be; even though he is in receipt of outdoor relief he has to pay all the same—and in proportion as he is poor, and his payment uncertain, in the same proportion does the landlord screw more out of him, to make up for the chance of his not getting paid at all. I wish the Act were swept away altogether, for it oppresses the poor; though I admit that in some cases the personal payment of rates might give rise to some slight personal inconvenience. Well, the hon. and learned Gentleman 1566 opposite has expressed his apprehensions that pranks will be played in arranging the rating under the Bill, for the purpose of disfranchising some people and enfranchising others. The hon. and learned Gentleman has had a larger experience in these matters than I have had: but I am quite sure of this—that pranks of this description can be played with a great deal more ease and success against a line of £5 than in the case of isolated persons scattered here and there under the suffrage proposed in this Bill. In the other case there would be a line to go against, and a good stroke of business might be done. You might put a whole lot below the £5 line by skilful arrangement. The operation would assuredly be easier than it will be under the proposition of the Government Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire has taunted the Chancellor of the Exchequer by asking what became of the principle of personal rating in the case of the lodger franchise? Well, the right hon. Gentleman assumed that this franchise would be introduced, and ought to be introduced, in order that he might argue upon it. That is a very convenient mode of dealing with the question; but, in point of fact, there is an enormous difference between the two cases. The right hon. Gentleman himself, if I remember rightly, in his Bill of last year, while he would have let in the householders at £7, proposed that the lodgers should come in at £10. This was a grand distinction—no less a difference between the figures that were to enfranchise the two classes than one of 50 per cent; and I think, therefore, that it was rather out of place for the right hon. Gentleman to taunt the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the ground that because in the present Bill there was the principle of personal rating for householders. The Chancellor of the Exchequer could not with consistency attach to his scheme a lodger franchise. It could be said with as much truth that the savings bank franchise was inconsistent with that principle; but every one knows that the two things are essentially different. The question of the lodger franchise is a large and open one. I have never expressed an opinion upon it one way or the other; if the right hon. Gentleman really wishes for a lodger franchise is he adopting the most likely means of procuring it when he argues that it is fatal to the principle of the Bill? I have touched upon most of the points 1567 on which I was anxious to speak; but I cannot sit down without making an observation or two on what has fallen from the hon. Member for Tralee (The O'Donoghue). Sir, the hon. Member for Tralee has used strong language on this question; but I think the only answer it is necessary for me to give to him is that which the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gladstone) made last year, when he said that on this question of Reform neither side of the House could say much to the other. I cannot help remembering that till 1866 a Liberal Government sat on the Treasury Bench, with a powerful majority at their back; but the hon. Member for Tralee sat quiet, as far as I know, and never raised his voice or took any course to influence the leaders of his party in respect to Reform. Well, but hon. Members on that side of the House are professed Reformers; they were all Reformers at the hustings; but that is not the case on this side of the House. I have always been in favour of an enlargement of the franchise, and I supported the Bill of 1859, and I am still of the same way of thinking. But I could not support the Bill of last year, for I thought it a bad Bill, and I am in favour of no attempt to settle this question upon the principle of a fixed, arbitrary line. I have asked, here and elsewhere, on what argument it can be proper to give to a man whose rent is £7 the vote which you refuse to him who pays £6 10s? I have asked this publicly and privately, but I have never succeeded in getting an answer—and I do not believe that I ever shall. Nor why a man who pays £5 shall have the franchise while it is refused to the man who only pays £4. There is no resting-place in such a plan. You must descend from one figure to another; you will not be able to stop till everybody—even all that has been called "the residuum" of the population—comes in without any qualification whatever. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire told us last year that his Bill would admit, I think, about 200,000 of the unenfranchised, and (said the right hon. Gentleman) "they will not hurt you." Well, I thought that rather a curious way of put ting the case. I would say if they are good let them all in; if they are not good, —none; and I believe that a fair test of fitness or unfitness is the bearing his share of the burdens of the State. I know of no test so honest, no test so fair. If a man desires to exercise the privileges of citizen- 1568 ship let him bear the burdens of citizenship. If there are particular clauses in the Bill which in consequence of anomalous laws interfere with men who are anxious to obtain the franchise on that condition, let the House amend those clauses so as to give every man the privileges of citizenship who is prepared to bear its burdens. The hon. Member for the University of Oxford says, "Do not profess to give and at the same time not give." There is no profession at all in the matter. The Bill opens the doors to every man willing to avail himself of the offer made to him. How, then, can any one say—what right has any one to say—that the Government are tendering a thing with one hand and taking it back with the other? I believe that the people themselves will understand it. There may be a greater wish among men in some places to avail themselves of the rights of citizenship than there are among persons in other places; but that is not the fault of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire insists very strongly on the migratory character of the people inhabiting the smaller class of houses, and objects to the term of residence fixed by the Bill. It may be argued that any term of residence is necessarily a difficulty and a hardship. No doubt, in some large places there may be that difficulty; but in this country regard has always been paid to local feelings, and a certain term of residence must be required. Whether the term fixed by this Bill is a fair one is a point for discussion; but I cannot think that condition ought to be altogether abrogated, for 10,000 men who may be employed here to-day and there to-morrow ought not to come in and swamp the actual residents in a borough. Local feelings and associations are the very cradle of our institutions, and I should be sorry to see any step taken which would impair them.
I think my right hon. Friend who has just spoken (Mr. Henley) was very appropriately selected to support the Bill of the Government, for there are few Members of the Conservative party who can defend household suffrage without prefacing it with an apology. Eight years ago my right hon. Friend announced in this House that he was prepared to go as far as household suffrage. [Mr. HENLEY: No!] I am sorry if I misrepresent my right hon. Friend; but, at all events, we were informed at that time that such was his view; 1569 and I think we are bound in our present condition to recognise the foresight with which he took up so advanced a position, foreseeing, as no doubt he did, the probability that when next his party came into office they would have to come up to that point. The foresight of the right hon. Gentleman, in taking a very advanced position, at all events, on this question eight years ago must have exposed him to some doubts in his own mind, and his patience in waiting for his party to come up to him must have exposed him to severe trial. He must have felt some despair when he heard us last year urged to resist a Bill which was comparatively mild, on the ground that we were Americanizing our institutions. But his foresight was justified, and it is of no use now to discuss these matters. I sometimes hear the Bill of last year mentioned with a feeling of regret, and, perhaps, of something like penitence; for I feel that if we had accepted that offer, though perhaps I might not have been standing on this side of the House, yet that the prospects of the British Constitution would have been a great deal brighter than they are now. I have no doubt, however, that those who then urged us to resist that Bill had calculated in their own minds the course they intended to adopt. I have no doubt that a Bill such as that which has now been brought before the House was in the minds of the heads of the Conservative party. Owing, however, to what no doubt was our misappointed, and the result is that we now find ourselves committed to a Bill which is in every sense more democratic than that which was introduced last year by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. I am not going to dwell on this subject of democracy; but I rather demur to the line taken by my right hon. Friend in twitting the hon. Baronet the Member for Oxford University, and the hon. and learned Member for Exeter, because they advanced to an attack on this Bill from different quarters. He seemed to think that because one had been educated in a school opposed to Reform, while the other was a strong Reformer, it was impossible that both could with any fairness oppose the same Bill. Now, I protest against the doctrine that in dealing with Reform we have only the question of what is called democracy to consider. Last year I contended earnestly against allowing such an increase of the franchise as would, I thought, disturb the 1570 balance of classes. I have not altered my opinion as to the dangers to be apprehended from such a disturbance; but I will not go over that ground again, for it behoves us to be practical men, dealing with practical questions, and it is useless to argue on behalf of a position which both sides of the House have agreed to abandon. But there are other dangers, and dangers which seem to me equally formidable, in the measure which the Government have proposed, and with those I think my right hon. Friend has not attempted to deal. It has, for instance, been repeatedly stated to-night that the measure gives no promise of permanence. Now, my right hon. Friend says, "Do not fix a hard and fast line, because there will be an ugly rush at that; but have a line that represents some principle. Open the door to every one who is fit to enter." Well, holding that opinion, what does he propose to vote for? Why, for a measure that admits people, not according to any moral qualities which they may display, but according to the fact whether they live on one side or another of a street in Bristol—according to the fact whether a vestry has or has not resolved to apply a certain Act of Parliament. Now the only excuse—I was going to say the only reason—for passing a Reform Bill is that it should stay agitation. But what are you going to do with this Bill? You are going to make the Small Tenements Act a disfranchising Act, and you are going to make it the interest of all who are for enlarging the suffrage to agitate in every parish vestry in order to rescind the Act wherever it is now in operation. It now operated entirely in fifty-eighty boroughs, and it has beem adopted in some parishes in ninety-eight boroughs out of the remainder, so that it is in operation in three-fourths of the boroughs of England. If this Bill is passed that Act will have an enormous disfranchising operation, and you will transfer the Refrom agitation from this floor, where it has troubled you so much, hindered you so much, and produced so much heartburning, to three-fourths of the parishes in the boroughs of this country. Can you say that a measure which has this for its result in one likely to produce peace and quietness in the country? Then look at the effect which the principle of this Bill will have—if you can call it a principle. It will build a great wall of exclusion, shutting out the great majority of those who would be included in a household suffrage. But in this 1571 wall there are two doors. The first door is the power of the vestries with respect to the Small Tenements Act. Just see the effect which that will have on the seats of Members of this House. I see in his place the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Baines). Now, the Bill will about double his constituency to start with; but when it has done that, it will leave more than twice the existing constituency in the condition of compound-householders. Thus the hon. Member will never know from Parliament to Parliament what his constituency is to be. He starts with a present constituency, say of 10,000 electors; but he will never know whether any agitation, or the efforts of any registration association, or any electioneering agent, may not double his constituency and entirely alter its character. I cannot imagine anything more trying to the repose of Members of this House than the knowledge that their constituencies are constantly liable to vary in this manner. It will be like living in a country where earthquakes are frequent, and where it is said the courage of the strongest man is unnerved. The hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. White) will be another victim. He will have only fourteen additional constituents at the first operation of the Bill; but he will be liable at any moment, by the action of any external cause of the kind to which I have referred, to have a large mass of voters thrust into his constituency. Now, surely, the object of a Reform Bill is repose. What you desire is to get rid of agitating and irritating questions which set class against class; but, instead of doing that, this measure, in almost every constituency where it operates at all, will operate to the increase of agitation and unsettlement. But that is not the only point which I have a right to ask my right hon. Friend to consider. In the adjustment of a Reform Bill there is something to be said for the quality of the constituencies. This residuum of which we have heard is not in itself the most valuable part of the community; and whatever we may think of it we must be aware that in education and independence it is considerably behindhand. But what are you going to do with it? The second door is the power of every man to rate himself if he pays a certain sum and takes a certain amount of trouble. Now, you know perfectly well that the mass of the working men of this country will not pay a sum of money regularly to get on the register. Therefore, with regard to this door, for any avoid, and in that way 1572 working man to move of his own impulse, you will not have that which I presume Reformers most desire—the independent, uninfluenced opinion of the working man. The door will be closed as to him; but it will yield easily enough to an association agitating some public question, or else the rich man will for his own purposes force it. There you have the two elements of corruption and passion. If the rich man thinks it worth his while to put all these men on the register, you have given him a cover for corruption. You know very well that when money begins to be paid by the rich man, even if only for the rates, the end of it is corruption. But I do not think that worst part of it. I fear the other action of the Bill much more. What is it that we dread in democracy? What is it that we on this side of the House have been resisting for years? It is not that we dread in ordinary times to take our countrymen into our councils, or to see their feelings and wishes represented in this House. On one-half or three-fourths of the questions that come before us, we know it is as desirable that their opinions should be represented as those of any class in the community. We do not fear the opinions of the lower classes upon the ordinary questions of policy. What we have to fear is that on particular subjects upon which classes are pitted against each other the balance of classes should be disturbed by the overwhelming power of the lower portion of the community, and that then you would have legislation of a kind which no wise man would approve. Well, then, what are you going to do? In ordinary times, when there is no agitation in the country there will be no working men on the register; but let some great question be agitated in which they take a deep interest—say the Maine Liquor Law—the change of indirect for direct taxation, or any great question that will set class against class—and then you will see leagues formed, a vast machinery of agitation organized, money collected; then you will see these compound-householders put in large numbers on the register, and they will carry all before them. Well, you look to political education as the means of averting the dangers which may result. You say that though these men may be occasionally influenced by passion, if they are trusted sufficiently long with the suffrage they will learn by a sense of its responsibility the dangers they have to avoid, and in that way 1573 power may safely be placed in their hands. If you gave it to them freely and fully that might be the case—I do not say that I advocate such a course; my opinions are well known—but you might have that recompense; by the constant exercise of the vote they might at last learn in some degree how to use it, and thus to avoid the temptations by which it is surrounded. But practically by this Bill you decide that they shall only exercise the franchise in troublous and not in quiet times. You say, "No, they shall possess a vote only when it is worth some agitator's while to put them on the register." When they are calm and uncorrupted you refuse to give them facilities for getting on it; but as soon as they are tempted by bribery, or swayed by passion, then you put political power into their hands. I cannot conceive any course more calculated to bring on us the dangers of democracy—a result which Gentlemen on both sides of the House are equally anxious to avoid. It is for these reasons that it appears to me that I am bound to prefer the course recommended by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire to that of Her Majesty's Government, I do not say the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman are such as, if made last year, I should have liked—I do not say that they are proposals which in all respects I approve; but it is because they are pitted against others which seem to me to involve all the evils of democratic measures with none of their which seem pregnant with future irritation, and to give a cover for corruption—it is on that account, and without concealing my regret that we have arrived at such a stage, that I am compelled to make that choice—that I feel bound to vote for the Amendments, for I take them as a whole, which the right hon. Gentleman has placed in your hands.
§ MR. AYRTON
asked, when the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed to resume the Committee? Was he prepared to do so the first thing to-morrow, if Members were agreed to waive their rights?
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
To-morrow is not under my influence; I have reason to believe that Gentlemen who have Motions on the paper for to-morrow will not be indisposed to give way; but I cannot presume to press them.
§ MR. HORSMAN
The right hon. Gentleman has given Notice that to-morrow, at half past four, he will move that the House, at its rising, do adjourn for the Easter holydays. I presume he will not make that Motion until late in the evening, when the debate is finished.
§ MR. EARLE
said, that this question had now for five hours been under discussion upon its merits; but there were some who were anxious that it should not be decided upon its merits. A few days ago everything was concession, conciliation, and candid co-operation. They had now come upon a period of threats, of defiance; and of daily ultimatums. It was true that early in the evening the wind seemed to be veering round to the old quarter; but last Monday, at any rate, they had more than their share of menace, and even the Secretary of State for India, under circumstances somewhat disconcerting, found courage to send them an ultimatum of his own. There had been deputations. The working man had been to Downing Street to see the working man's friends. He doubted, however, whether the argument as to fitness would be strengthened by the interview; because the working man came away deeply impressed with the broad distinction between popular privileges and democratic rights. A dissolution of Parliament had threatened. He wished to know to whom Her Majesty's Government intended to appeal. If they addressed themselves to the Conservative party in the country, were they to say with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that popular privileges were not democratic rights, or with the Secretary for India that household suffrage was a fancy franchise? If a constituency were found to listen to such things, they would schedule it by acclamation. It was said, however, that an appeal was to be made to the Liberal party, and that Gentlemen on the other side were to be outbid by the Government. He, for one, did not believe that such tactics would succeed, or that the Liberal constituencies would desert their old friends. Let them therefore, without any fear of a dissolution, decide the great question before them, which was, whether, be the measure of enfranchisement large, as the Opposition desired, or moderate, as they (the Conservatives) would prefer it—whether its extent should be determined in the old constitutional 1575 way by Queen, Lords, and Commons in Parliament assembled; or whether they should leave it to fluctuate according to the caprice of municipal cabals, by adding to the normal constituency a sort of constituency of reserve, which at any moment might be called under arms by the competition of opulent candidates, the violence of political passions, or the corrupt manœuvres of organized agitation.
§ MR. BAILLIE COCHRANE
said, that in deference to the wish of the House, he would postpone the Motion which stood in his name (on our relations with Spain) for to-morrow evening until Friday, the 1st of May.
The hon. Member for Chatham (Mr. Otway) has given notice of a Motion with reference to the claims arising out of the American civil war. I intended to-morrow to have made to him an appeal, to which, from what I have heard to-day, I believe he would listen favourably, to postpone the Motion for the present, on the ground that negotiations are still going on. We are anxious, I believe, on all sides that these negotiations should be brought to a favourable conclusion, and I believe that a discussion at the present time would not tend to promote it. If the hon. Member be in the House, I would address my appeal to him now; if not, I must repeat it to-morrow afternoon.
said, he had no hesitation in responding to the appeal, and postponing his Motion; which, however, he should feel bound to propose after the Easter recess, if no other Member took up the subject.
§ MR. AYRTON
hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would re-consider the answer he had given, and not proceed with the Motion for Adjournment for the holydays until this discussion was concluded. If the right hon. Gentleman could not take a course so obviously convenient, he hoped the sense of the House would be taken on the matter. It was quite impossible that the House should adjourn before the Motion before the House was brought to a conclusion.
§ MR. BAILLIE COCHRANE
said, he had consented to postpone his Motion only on the understanding that it was the wish of the House to adjourn as usual for the Easter recess.
§ SIR LAWRENCE PALK
said, that as the hon. Member had given way under the apprehension that there was to be no further alteration, if any were made, they 1576 were bound to put him in the position he had yielded.
The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer is justified in saying that the ordinary practice has been to move the Adjournment for the Easter recess at half past four o'clock; but, at the same time, the present circumstances are somewhat peculiar. I apprehend we all feel much indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Baillie Cochrane) for having cleared the ground for the continuance of the discussion on the Bill of the Government. There is a great desire, I believe, in the House that it should be prosecuted to its conclusion. Therefore, it appears to me we are reduced to one of two things—either the Motion for Adjournment should not be taken until later in the evening, or else, if it is taken early, it should be with the understanding on the part of the House that the discussion will be prosecuted to its conclusion. If there is not such an understanding, difficulty will be raised on the Motion for Adjournment.
§ House resumed.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.