HC Deb 26 February 1867 vol 185 cc1021-8

said: Mr. Speaker—I think it would be convenient to the House that I should take the earliest opportunity with respect to the subject of discussion yesterday of stating the course which the Government proposes to pursue with regard to that matter. The great object we had in view in bringing forward the Resolutions which were the subject of yesterday's discussion was really to secure for the propositions, which we hoped in a legislative form to introduce to the House, a fair and candid consideration. Now, it is impossible to conceal from myself, from the many observations that have been made by Gentlemen of authority in this House, and particularly the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that there is, if not a formal, yet, I would venture to say, a moral understanding and engagement that any Bill which the Government may bring forward on the subject of Parliamentary Reform shall receive a fair and candid hearing. Indeed, the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets the other night, immediately followed by the right hon. Gentleman, seemed to enter into an engagement that the second reading of the Bill would meet with no difficulty. [Murmurs, and "Hear, hear!"] I do not wish to put a severe interpretation upon anything which has been said by Gentlemen in the course of our debates; but, from the spirit of courtesy that has been exhibited by the House, I think it right to take the earliest opportunity of saying that Her Majesty's Government, considering all that occurred in the House yesterday, and with a feeling on their part still that their mode of procedure would be extremely advantageous for the advancement of the question, and every day more and more convinces them of the propriety of the course they took. I say Her Majesty's Government are of opinion that they should best promote the course of public business and their own object in dealing with this question in not asking the House to proceed any further with the consideration of those Resolutions, but to allow me, on the earliest practical opportunity, to introduce a Bill. [An hon. MEMBER: When?] Of course, it is impossible exactly to fix a day. ["Oh, oh!"] The Reform Bill is not like a Road Bill. Considerable preparation will be necessary; but I should really think that probably in a week's time—["Oh!" and "Hear, hear!"] I will not make a formal engagement, but my own opinion is that on Thursday week at furthest I shall have the honour, with your permission, of introducing a Reform Bill to this House. [For the Resolutions see Contents February 11 and Appendix.]


Sir, the right hon. Gentleman having referred to me upon a matter that is of considerable difficulty and importance, I find it necessary to follow the statement he has made, out of the usual order of business, although I do not say out of the discretion which he may be entitled to use under the circumstances—I find it necessary to follow that statement by a very few words, and lest any difficulty may arise on the question of Order, I think this is an occasion on account of the public interest attaching to the question on which I may properly conclude with a formal Motion for the adjournment, of the House. As the right hon. Gentleman has made known to the House the intentions of the Government, I cannot avoid saying that great trouble would have been saved if he had announced that intention at the time when the whole reasons for the course, which he is now prepared to take, were placed in his possession by my hon. Friend the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) and by others who followed on that occasion. I am bound also to state to the right hon. Gentleman what, perhaps, he is not aware of, that, some minutes before the announcement he made to the House, I had myself placed in the hands of the Clerk a Motion to this effect, as an Amendment to the Motion that you, Sir, do leave the Chair on Thursday next in order to go into Committee— That Her Majesty's Government, having informed the House of the principal provisions of the Bill which they propose to introduce for an Amendment of the Representation of the People in Parliament, it is the opinion of the House that, under present circumstances, a discussion of the Resolutions now before it must tend to delay the practical consideration of the question, and that it will be for the public advantage that the plan of Her Majesty's Government should be submitted to the House in a definite form. That Motion does not go so far as the right hon. Gentleman has gone; because, if carried, it would have left it open to Her Majesty's Government to take their choice between the re-construction of their Resolutions and the introduction of a Bill. But I do not hesitate to express my opinion that the course which the right hon. Gentleman has now announced, of the immediate introduction of a Bill, is the course most advantageous to the interests of the subject. Further, I will venture to say with reference to a momentary expression of impatience when the right hon. hon. Gentleman spoke of the necessary delay, that the delay, whatever it may be, is a delay necessarily inherent in the mode of proceeding which has been adopted, and therefore is a delay for which the right hon. Gentleman cannot be liable to any blame on the present occasion. It is necessary that a certain time should be expended in the consideration of the details of the Bill, and the right hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, take care that such time shall not extend beyond what is absolutely necessary. I wish to cause no misapprehension to the right hon. Gentleman or anybody else with reference to the other important topic to which he adverted when he said that he had obtained from my hon. Friend the Member for the Tower Hamlets and myself something like an engagement that no opposition would be offered to the second reading of a Bill if introduced by Her Majesty's Government. With respect to that point, I must say that anything which tends to compromise or limit the discretion of Members of Parliament in any matter of proceeding is too important to be left a subject of misconception of any kind. I will therefore recall to the mind of the right hon. Gentleman exactly what took place. The question raised in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for the Tower Hamlets, and in the remarks which I ventured to make, was not the question of opposition to the second reading of any Bill introduced by Her Majesty's Government in the usual and ordinary manner; but it was a question whether a particular point in some portion of that Bill was to be selected and embodied in a Motion, and then made the means and occasion of opposition to the second reading of the Bill. That was the immediate question in discussion, and I am desirous of not being misunderstood. I state this in vindication of my own liberty of action, and that of every Gentleman on this side of the House who could be presumed, in the slightest degree, to be interested or concerned in any remarks that might have fallen from the hon. Member free the Tower Hamlets and myself. It is our duty to preserve our discretion free and unfettered as to the Bill of Her Majesty's Government when presented to us—in as much as it must necessarily come before us in a form far more developed than it could possibly have been in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. It will be our duty, as Members of Parliament, in a matter of so much importance, deliberately and advisedly to make up our minds whether we can consent to the second reading of the Bill or not. Thus far, however, I will go. I will express a confident hope, and further, a very earnest and sincere desire, that we may find that Bill to be such that we cannot only assent to it, but even promote and expedite its passage through its earlier stages, so that if it be conducive to the public interest, we may join issue with Her Majesty's Government on those subjects, be they many or few—and that is a point upon which at the present moment I cannot give an opinion—upon which we may, unfortunately, be compelled to differ from the conclusions to which Her Majesty's Government may have come. For that purpose the Committee would evidently be the place. I admit that there are many circumstances in which, when great differences of opinion prevail and numerous and important Amendments are likely to be proposed, so as, if accepted, to be calculated to give an entirely different character to the Bill, it is often convenient that, without waiting for the Committee, issue should be joined on the second reading. But that is a question on which entire liberty of action should be reserved to us all. I shall be glad, however, if we arrive at a conclusion that the second reading may be supported, and that our differences may be brought to issue on the discussion of clauses in Committee.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Gladstone.)


As the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer is in the mood for receiving advice from this House, I rise for the purpose of making a suggestion which some Gentlemen on this side may disapprove, and to which many Gentlemen opposite may think it is not in their power to accede. Still, I believe no wiser suggestion in favour of efficient Parliamentary proceeding in a great question was ever offered to the House. I wish to recommend to the righthon. Gentleman to consider whether the advice which I gave to the Government of Earl Russell a little more than a year ago would not be wise advice for him to take—that is, to introduce his Franchise Bill by itself. I promise hon. Gentlemen opposite that if the right hon. Gentleman will do so, I will not read to them any portion of the speech made by the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley) last year. I make the suggestion with perfect honesty and sincerity, believing that it would be greatly to the interest of Parliament, and also that it is the duty of the right hon. Gentleman to take that course. What is it that you want particularly? Apart from the question of what is good in Parliamentary Reform for the whole nation, and in which every class may be said to be equally interested, you have this other special thing that you want. You want to remove an acknowledged grievance on the part of the excluded working classes. Suppose that the question of seats is not meddled with this Session, or next Session, or even the Session after that, yet we may all be conscious that it is a question that will sometime have to be dealt with. But it is not a question that creates differences between one great class and another. No class has any special grievance with respect to that particular evil in our representation. But the other question, that which refers to the exclusion—and notwithstanding the figures on the table, practically the almost total exclusion of the working classes—is a very different question; and I venture to say that every day that it is left unsettled it is charged with evil to all classes in the country. Take the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman as he sketched it last night. The universal feeling in the House, I think, is, that the plan on which he proposes to deal with the question of the re-distribution of seats is very incomplete and very unsatisfactory. It is as bad, at any rate, as the plan which was offered to us last year. Whether it is worse or not, I will not undertake to say. It is so bad, that I am quite sure that any time which the House might expend upon it, with a view to make a Bill of it as it is, would be time wasted, and it is one of those questions which the House would find the greatest possible difficulty in altering either in the Resolutions, which have been withdrawn, if it had been in- cluded in these Resolutions, or in the Bill which is to be submitted to the House. In fact, I do not know how we could, wishing to improve a Bill, really make anything useful out of the re-distribution plan which the Government has submitted to the House. Why should we not take the course of dealing with the franchise first? There were quotations made last year from what pretended to be a speech of mine, in which I said that if the franchise were extended, Parliament would be more popular—I hope it would—and that there would be a better leverage afterwards to deal with the questions of the little boroughs. Does not the right hon. Gentleman at this moment wish he had some leverage by which he could deal with those little boroughs? Are there not now in this House hon. Gentlemen who, if they sat for other constituencies, would wish the Parliamentary representation of such little boroughs exterminated? We have all an interest in getting rid of the representation of those little boroughs, and distributing the Members, whether amongst counties or large boroughs, at least amongst free and independent populations of the country. Such representation is bad for the Members of the House, and it is corrupting and evil to the little boroughs themselves. But you find every time when a Bill is brought in on the suffrage, as was done last year, and as is to be done this, it is clogged with this additional difficulty. When you have the chance of settling that paramount question of uniting the non-voting class with the present voting class, you have not the common sense to do that which is most wanted, which is the work of the hour and lies in your way. Why not leave for a subsequent Session—for two or three, or even half-a-dozen Sessions, or till after a General Election if you like—I am not at all particular as to time—the other question. I say, in the name of all that is patriotic, you ought to make up your mind to settle this question of the franchise without reference to the question of the re-distribution of seats. I have only noticed what I said in a public speech, for I had no communication with Lord Russell or the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire. I should have said it if this Government had been in power, and I say it now because I am satisfied it is the wisest course to pursue in this matter. The right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues will find their course infinitely smoothed by adopting the advice which I give them in all frankness. If he will make a change now—and he may do so with the utmost consistency, considering the many changes that at the present moment are said to be taking place—ho may bring in a Bill in such a shape that there will be no disposition on this side of the House to contest the second reading; and in Committee there would be so few points to settle, that some hope might be entertained of its passing the House. But as to the Seats Bill, it is so unsatisfactory, so incomplete, so ridiculous for all purposes, that by bringing it forward at the same time you would be only clogging a matter which is absolutely necessary and may be done, with a thing that is not so necessary and cannot be done. I say, therefore, that to deal with the two together is not a statesman-like mode of dealing with this question. I have relieved my conscience by making this statement. The right hon. Gentleman will believe me that I give the advice from an honest wish and conviction that as we are in a difficulty on this question, every man should, if he can, help to smooth the way out of it, and enable us to do something satisfactory to the great body of the people. The right hon. Gentleman having received so much courtesy and so many kind offers from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, I have shown him this courtesy and made him this offer. After the many difficulties which hon. Gentlemen opposite have got into since the meeting of Parliament, I am not quite sure that they may not take a little advice from this side of the House, and I believe that what I have suggested will smooth their course as much as any advice that has been hitherto given them. The right hon. Gentleman, I hope, will consider it between this and next Thursday, for it is quite clear that if he cannot bring the whole Bill in next Thursday, he will be able to bring half of it in, and we may have a fairer and better Franchise Bill if he would devote his whole attention to that particular branch of the subject.


Sir, the hon. Member for Birmingham having, on former occasions, assumed a monopoly of honesty on this question of Reform, I am not surprised that on this occasion he should go a step farther and claim a monopoly of wisdom. He knows that he has not the slightest chance of being supported by the great body of Gen- tlemen who sit on his own side of the House; but he is nevertheless so persuaded of the wisdom of the course suggested, that he does not hesitate to recommend it to my right hon. Friend. It is not, however, new advice. It is advice which a former Government adopted. Strange to say, the hon. Gentleman forgot to tell us the result of that advice. I should like to know Earl Russell's opinion of the advice which was given to him. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman, before we adopt his recommendation, will allow us to ascertain whether Earl Russell is satisfied of the wisdom of the advice on which he acted last year. The hon. Gentleman went on, in a mode which is rather inconsistent with the speedy despatch of public business, to discuss at considerable length the proposals of Her Majesty's Government with respect to the re-distribution of seats. I will not on this occasion follow so very inconvenient an example. I will only say we are of opinion that our scheme is one which can be sustained by argument when the proper time comes. It does not appear to Her Majesty's Government that the course which the hon. Gentleman suggests is more likely to be successful now than it was last year. I hope, however, the hon. Gentleman will not think that we are receiving his advice in any other spirit than that in which he offered it.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.