§ (Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Walpole, Secretary Lord Stanley.)
§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ VISCOUNT CRANBORNE
One of the reasons why I take on myself the liberty to address the House in the first instance upon the present occasion is because the hon. Gentleman the Secretary of the Treasury—who was good enough to send me a précis of his wishes with reference to tonight's debate—has intimated that certain hon. Gentlemen intend to press this question to a division. As I am one of those who have uniformly opposed this Bill, I think that perhaps it may be a matter of courtesy to the House, and to Members who may be kept from more agreeable occupations to attend here for a division, to know that, as far as I am concerned, I know of no such intention, and, seeing that the great preponderance of opinion in this House is undoubtedly in favour of our passing this Bill without delay, for my own part I certainly shall not press the House to divide upon the question whether the Bill shall be read a third time; I hope that in so saying I shall not for one moment be supposed to shrink from the opposition which I have offered to this Bill, but that it will be understood that I simply wish to consult the convenience of the House. But though I think that no division is desirable at this stage of the measure, seeing that the House in its past debates seems to have fully made up its mind as to the course it will pursue, I do not think that this stage should be passed without discussion. We are now at the third reading of this Bill. It is impossible to mention those words without feeling how enormously the Bill has changed since it passed its second reading. In no 1527 sense is it the same Bill. When it passed its second reading it bristled with precautions and guarantees and securities. Now that we have got to the third reading all those precautions, guarantees, and securities have disappeared. The hon. Member for Northamptonshire, when it was moved that the Bill should be printed, proposed that beside the Bill as it now stands should be printed a copy of the Bill as it was originally introduced. Besides those two I should like to see yet another document, and that is, the demands which were made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire on the occasion of the second reading of the Bill. My right hon. and gallant Friend near me (General Peel) said that this was a compound Bill, and that he did not know to whose authorship it was due. I cannot help thinking that if he had referred to the record I have just mentioned—if he had taken the original scheme of the Government, and had corrected it by the demands of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, he would have with tolerable exactness the Bill as it now stands. I mention this because I see with enormous astonishment that the passing of this Bill is spoken of as a Conservative triumph. Now, it is desirable that the paternity of all the strange objects that come into the world should be properly established; and I wish to know whether this Bill, as is generally supposed, is exclusively the offspring of the Government, or whether the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire has not had something to do with it? If he has, it follows as an indisputable axiom that it cannot be a Conservative triumph. Now, I heard the demands which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire made on the second reading of the Bill; most of the Members on this side of the House who heard the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman on that occasion thought that it was imperious in its tone, and I do not deny that there was a stringency in the language employed, which could only have been justified by the character of those to whom it was addressed. Imperious language can only be justified by the obsequiousness with which it is obeyed. Now, I have sketched lightly the demands made on that occasion by the right hon. Gentleman. They are ten in number:—First, he demanded the lodger franchise. Well, the lodger franchise has been given. Secondly, and this is the only doubtful one, provisions to 1528 prevent traffic in votes. Such provisions, however, are to be contained in another Bill, about the probable success of which I know nothing. My impression is that traffic in votes will be one of the results of this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman next demanded the abolition of obnoxious distinctions between compounders and non-compounders. Not only have those obnoxious distinctions been abolished, but all distinctions whatever have disappeared. The fourth demand of the right hon. Gentleman was that the taxing franchise should be omitted. It has been omitted. Fifthly, that the dual vote should be omitted. It has been omitted. Sixthly, that the re-distribution of seats must be considerably enlarged. It has been enlarged full 50 per cent. Seventhly, that the county franchise must be reduced. It has been reduced to something like the point at which it stood in the proposal of last year. Eighthly, that the voting papers must be omitted. To my extreme regret, the voting papers have been omitted. The last two demands were that the educational and savings banks' franchises should be omitted. These two franchises have been omitted. ["Question!"] Why, what, Sir, is the question but this? Remember that the history of this Bill is quite peculiar: I venture to say that there is no man in this House of Commons who can remember any Bill being treated in the way that this Bill has been dealt with. No man in this House of Commons can remember a Government who have introduced a Bill of this importance, and who have yielded in Committee Amendments so vitally altering the whole constitution and principle of the Bill as has been done in the present instance. I think, therefore, it is but fair on the third reading of this Bill, when it appears before us for the last time in a full House, that we should be allowed to trace the changes to their sources that have been made in it. I venture to impress this upon the House, because I have heard it said that this Bill is a Conservative triumph. If it be a Conservative triumph to have adopted the principles of your most determined adversary, who has just come into the House—the hon. Member for Birmingham; if it be a Conservative triumph to have introduced a Bill guarded with precautions and securities, and to have abandoned every one of those precautions and securities at the bidding of your opponents, then in the whole course of your annals I will venture to say the Conservative 1529 party has won no triumph so signal as this. Now, what is the real meaning of the Bill which now presents to us a form so altered since its first introduction? That it is a Bill of immense importance we all know, and that its vast importance has been conferred upon it in the course of its passage through Committee, and yet, as far as I know, we have received from no Minister of the Crown, from no advocate of the Bill, any account of the reasons and the motives which have led to the introduction of this momentous change; everything that has been done, has been done in something like a panic. The debates have been carried on, not here, but in the lobbies behind. The persuasions by which Members have been induced to agree to a measure which often contradicts all their previous resolutions have not been used in the open light of day. We had some revelation of their character in the case of the Motion of the hon. Member for Oldham, and I think we might have had some revelations, not very different in character, with respect to the Resolution, notified, but never introduced, of the noble Lord the Member for Chester. But be that as it may, these debates have been carried on in the lobby of the House. We have had no account in the House of the reasons which induced the Government to make these portentous changes. From the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire, indeed, we have had a reason for the conduct of his Friends which he would, I think, have scorned to urge on his own account. As far as he himself is concerned, the right hon. Gentleman said beforehand that if a change were made, that change must be household suffrage. But for his friends his excuse is that the pot was boiling over—a somewhat ignoble reason it must be confessed. I would suggest that if the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends were so afraid of the pot boiling over it would have been wiser on their part to have refrained from lighting the fire. But that argument will never be forgotten, and that it should be the solitary reason advanced in support of the Government, that has been urged, amounts to a political event. It tolls us what is the policy by which the Conservative party is likely to be guided in the future—that so long as the pot does not boil they will adhere to every opinion they have expressed with a firmness to which some have even given the name of obstinacy; but the moment there is any appearance of the pot boiling over 1530 they will rush to a change. They thus somewhat resemble the men who are bold when no danger is present, but who at the first threat of battle throw their standard into the mud and seek safety in flight. I think that another illustration of the panic under which this measure has been undertaken is to be found in the fact that we have had no account of the end to which it is likely to lead. No one seems to be agreed as to the results of the tremendous revolution we are making. We are making it absolutely in the dark. You take no trouble to ascertain what these classes are to whom you are giving this power. You know something of them in the trades unions. If you like the way in which the trades unions do their work you will look with sanguine hopes upon the future of this country. You have seen something of them in the conduct of the old freemen, and if you are pleased with that conduct you can look forward with sanguine views to the future of this country. But, except with regard to the freemen and the trades unions, you have absolutely no knowledge whatever of this class beyond what is included in the knowledge that they are Englishmen, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer says, and flesh and blood, as said by the right hon. Gentlemen opposite. It seems to me that every one who tries to prophesy with respect to this franchise tries to prove that the course you are taking will not have its natural effect. If you gave to 100 men of one class power to outvote fifty of another class, you would naturally conclude, were it a matter in which you had no concern, that the fifty would have no chance whatever. You cannot deny that that would be the natural result. But we hear on all sides that there are peculiar circumstances in this case, and that the influence of rank and position will so modify the natural desires of everybody to get what they can, that the 100 will allow themselves to be guided by the fifty who happen to have a Lord at their head. I myself do not believe in that influence of wealth and rank. I believe it will operate in quiet times and on ordinary questions. I believe it is very likely that for ordinary purposes you will find members of the upper and middle classes returned to this House, and that where no pressure exists they will be governed by the feelings of the classes to which they belong; but if ever any crisis arises—if there is any stress which draws men into violent action, I believe that then you will find that the upper and middle 1531 classes will no longer vote for the class to which they belong, and that those who are elected will care more for their seats than for their class. Why, Sir, there is nothing which is more remarkable in history than the instinct with which the lower classes have always selected, or tried to select, for the purposes which they desire to carry out, members of the very classes against whom they were acting. Depend upon it, if any storm arises, if there is any question of labour against capital, any question of occupation against property, it will be no protection to you that you may have men who belong to the class of proprietors or the class of capitalists in this House; it will be no more protection to you than it was to Louis Seize that a Philippe Egalité was found among the French Revolutionists. You will see, what has been seen a hundred times, that men will rather vote against their class than peril their own position with their constituents, and will care too much for their own political future to fly in the face of those who elect them. What I believe is, that the Members of Parliament who will be returned under this Bill will be wealthy men with Conservative instincts, and steeped to the lips in Radical pledges. We know from the example of this Session how much Conservative instincts will avail with men who are acting under the fear that they will lose their seats. These defences are admirable when there is no attack; they are strong when there is no storm to blow them down. But there is no delusion more fatal than the expectation that a representative belonging to a particular class will not carry out, when firmly and violently demanded of him, the wishes of his constituents. I make these observations because I desire that my own opinions on this subject should not be misunderstood. I know I shall be met by expressions of trust in the people of England; and, in the condition in which we are, I can only reply, that I most earnestly hope that that trust may be justified, and that as far as I am concerned, and as far as every good citizen is concerned, our efforts should in future be directed only to try that it should be justified. But what is the effect of this Bill? The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day indulged in some fancy statistics; he said that only 300,000 or 350,000 voters would be added to the constituency by the Bill. Well, it is better to trust these things to gross numbers when you know 1532 not the actual numbers. The gross number of voters that will be added by this Bill are, in respect to the occupation franchise, somewhere about 740,000, and, reckoning the lodger franchise, we may say that 800,000 will be the gross numbers added by this Bill. They are added precisely upon the same terms as the existing constituency, which I think is 630,000. Of that 630,000 140,000 are working men; so that the practical result of this Bill will be, that—speaking in round numbers, there will be 1,000,000 of working men against 500,000 belonging to the other classes. Of course, there remain the deductions, upon which you may exercise your imagination as you please. We have rushed so headlong into this matter that we have taken no trouble whatever to get at these figures. The security, the restriction, is the payment of rates. We have taken no trouble to ascertain how many pay rates and how many do not. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is, of course, at liberty to exercise his imagination on this point. He has said the deduction is about 60 per cent; and I feel grateful to him that he did not say 70, or 80, or 90 per cent. There are no statistics at all before us on this point. But bearing in mind that the conditions for both sets of electors are precisely the same, and that there will be 1,000,000 voters of the working class, as against 500,000—I speak in round numbers—of the classes above them, there can be no question that the working classes will be the enormous majority of the constituencies of the country. Well, now upon a great number of matters this may lead to no harm. Upon all questions of foreign policy and of general policy I see no reason to believe that the working classes will come to any other conclusion but what all other sober and reasonable Englishmen come to. But if ever you come to a question between class and class—if ever you come to a question where the interests of one class are, or seem to be, pitted against those of another, you will find that all those securities of rank, wealth, and influence in which you trust are mere feathers in the balance against the solid interest and the real genuine passions of mankind; and you will see that they will use the weapon which you are now putting unreservedly in their hands with a perfect belief that they are in the right, and that they are not in the least diminishing their title to the respect of their countrymen. And yet you will find 1533 that your own interests, the interests which you desire to preserve, and, I may add, the interests of enlightenment and of progress, will suffer fatally from the power you have given. In these matters, you must, as I have said, trust for the future in the working classes. If they fulfil your expectations I will join, and more than join, in all the eulogies which you have passed upon them, because they will do that which no class armed with power has hitherto done in the history of the world. If you will look at history you will find that wherever any class have had the supreme control of the legislative power—the noblesse of France, the magnates of Hungary, and I am afraid I must say that the same thing holds good of the nobility of England in early times—they have always been liable to the temptation to exercise that power for their own interests, and they have generally yielded to it. If the working men of England are superior to that temptation now that you are placing supreme power in their hands, I admit that their greatest admirers and friends not only do not over-estimate but that they enormously under-rate the virtues to be attributed to them. They will stand alone among the classes which history records as having had the power of bettering their own interests by legislation, and who yet abstained from doing so, out of deference to the views and feelings of the small minority associated with them in the representation of the Kingdom. Well, I feel obliged to the House for listening so patiently to me, occupying as I do, something like the position of champion of a forlorn cause, while I utter on this last occasion on which it is possible to do so these protests against the legislation that you are adopting. But now I must pass to a point with respect to which it is yet possible you may do something, and on which I hope I shall command adhesion of hon. Gentlemen more than I can hope to do in protesting against the principle of this Bill. I think that when the historian of the future comes to review what has passed in the last fifteen years he will say that a more remarkable exhibition has never been witnessed on the part of public men. The campaign which we are now concluding, the battle which you (the Opposition) have now won, was begun in the year 1852, when Lord Derby declared himself the bulwark against the advance of democracy. From that time forward his party took their tone, on all occasions, 1534 from their Leader's declaration. It was the natural attitude which they should assume, the consistent course which they should pursue on every occasion, that they should struggle to resist any further encroachments upon the limits prescribed by the Act of 1832. In the year 1859, after resisting time after time the proposals of the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Baines) and other hon. Members, they brought forward a Bill with the avowed intention of withstanding any further inroad upon the borough constituency. In the year 1860 they strenuously opposed the proposal of Lord Palmerston to the same effect. And so it went on; and this is the end of it—this is the ignominious conclusion—that Lord Derby's Government, the Tory Government—the Government of those Statesmen who prompted and encouraged that steadfast resistance—should in the end have proposed a change far more sweeping and extensive than any man had before submitted to the House of Commons. Of all the strange and mysterious marvels which we have seen in the course of the present Session, the one which has been to me the most strange is that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer should have in this House and elsewhere denied that he and his party have changed their opinions. Why, Sir, when I remember last year—I see opposite the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne, who can bear me out—when I remember what we all consulted together about last year, what we all desired together to do, what we were urged to do by our Leaders, what was the watchword between man and man, and when we all met together what was the common object which we all agreed in promoting, I am surprised that, after so short an interval of time has elapsed, they venture to say they have not changed their opinions. I can only say that I was closely acquainted with all the movements of last year, and I heard all the exhortations which were addressed to us. I heard all the principles that were laid down in urging us to action, and when such a statement is made I feel bound in my own defence to relieve myself from the charge of seeming factiousness, by making this statement, that never, from the beginning to the end of this campaign, was a word hinted that could lead us to believe that Lord Derby and the Conservative Leaders would have brought in a measure more extreme in the way of enfranchisement than the right hon. 1535 Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire. If, as he seems sometimes to have intimated, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had any such scheme in his breast, I can only say that he covered it with an impenetrable veil—with a silence that was undoubtedly most judicious, because if the least hint had escaped him of what he intended to do he never would have gained, on the 18th of June, that majority which placed him in power. I wish to place these things beyond mere assertion, and I have one or two quotations which I will read if the House will permit me. The hon. Member for Leeds will remember how vigorously in 1865 we opposed his Bill—the brilliant speeches that were delivered on his own side for it, and also the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in opposition to it. That was only a £6 rental Bill, and this is what was said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on that occasion. This speech was delivered just before an election, at a time when statesmen are extraordinarily careful that their words shall truly represent the opinions they desire to sustain, and the character in which they wish to appear before the country—All that has occurred, all that I have observed, all the results of my reflections, lead me to this more and more, that the principle upon which the constituencies of this country should be increased is one not of radical, but I would say of lateral reform."—[3 Hansard, clxxviii. 1702.][An hon. MEMBER: Vertical.] I believe "vertical" was the term used by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but in Hansard it now stands as "Radical." I have a shrewd suspicion that there was an alteration. The right hon. Gentleman went on—Although we did, in 1859, to a certain extent, agree to some modification of the £10 franchise, yet I confess that my present opinion is opposed, as it originally was, to any course of the kind. …. Between the scheme we brought forward and the measure brought forward by the hon. Member for Leeds, and the inevitable conclusion which its principal supporters acknowledge it must lead to, it is a question between an aristocratic Government in the proper sense of the term—that is, a Government by the best men of all classes—and a democracy. I doubt very much whether a democracy is a Government that would suit this country; and it is just as well that the House, when coming to a vote on this question, should really consider if that be the issue, and it is the real issue, between retaining the present Constitution—not the present constituent body—but between the present Constitution and a democracy—it is just as well for the House to recollect that the stake is not mean—that what is at issue is of some price."—[3 Hansard, clxxviii. 1702–3.]1536 And then followed one of the most brilliant passages ever delivered by a Parliamentary orator, in which the right hon. Gentleman compared England with America and France, and showed that those countries after convulsions could begin again, but that England never could, and he ended thus—Under these circumstances, I hope the House, when the question before us is one impeaching the character of our Constitution, will hesitate—that it will sanction no step that has a tendency to democracy."—[3 Hansard, clxxviii. 1704.]This is a matter which affects me in some degree, because in a late debate I ventured to mention something of the dangers of democracy; I was treated with contempt, and told that even in the extension of the suffrage to household franchise, there was no danger from democracy. It was not in this House, but before another assembly, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer declared in the most positive terms that this country does not possess the elements of a democracy, and this is the right hon. Gentleman who has not changed his opinions! It is not merely the right hon. Gentleman, but all the Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench who are pretty much in the same boat; I have here an extract from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department. He said—With regard to the suffrage in the boroughs, I object to a simple uniform lowering of the franchise to £7 throughout the country in the manner proposed by this Bill. In one place it will create large unwieldy constituencies, and in another it will swamp the existing constituencies by entirely new elements. It will give to the working classes, who have now an enormous influence beyond their own body, and especially over the small shopkeepers, an undue preponderance of political power."—[3 Hansard, clxxxii. 1748.]I should like to know what this Bill will do? Well, there are other Gentlemen who are Members of the Government who expressed opinions on this subject. It is not necessary to go to last year; so rapid have been our changes that we need only go back to last spring—three months ago—to get opinions that are absolutely inconsistent with the Bill as it exists at the present moment. The noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said—If the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne, or any of those who sit near him, believe seriously that it is the intention of the Government to bring in a Bill which shall be in accordance with the views which have always been so ably and so consistently advocated by the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright), they are greatly mistaken."—[3 Hansard, clxxxv. 1364.]1537 Then I have what was said by the Secretary of State for India—When hon. Members make objections of this kind—that our franchise is bad because the terms on which it is given are different from those on which the existing franchise is given, it shows that they entirely misunderstand the spirit in which we propose the rating franchise; and they are making an absurd and preposterous allegation when they state that we ought to put the rate-paying voters on the same footing as the £10 householders."—[3 Hansard, clxxxvi. 1303.]I should like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman still entertains the opinion that he stands on the same footing as the £10 householder now. I do not allude to this for the purpose of twitting any man with the change of his opinion. A change of opinion we are all liable to; and I never should think of bringing it by itself as a charge against any man. I may be permitted to say that I should be sorry if I were thought to suggest, for a moment, that there were any secondary or lower motives influencing these right hon. Gentlemen. I believe they have been actuated by the purest and most patriotic considerations; but of all the mysteries of this inscrutable Session, I cannot understand what the sophistry has been which has persuaded them to take the course they have pursued. My object in bringing these changes before the House has been rather to appeal to hon. Gentlemen to desist, for a moment, from that worship of mere success which, it seems to me, I have traced in recent debates. After all, you must remember it is not a mere matter to laugh at; but these things lie at the root and base of your Parliamentary power, and such a thing as this has never before happened in your Parliamentary history. I hear people cite the case of Sir Robert Peel; Sir, the case of Sir Robert Peel was as different from this as light is from darkness. Sir Robert Peel was menaced by no hostile majority; he broke up an assured majority; he did not continue in office by his own will; he resigned office in the hope that his adversaries would undertake the Government, and it was only when he thought there was an appearance that the country would be left without a Government, that he consented to carry out views in opposition to those he had before held. If Sir Robert Peel, had, for five years, urged all his adherents to take the strongest views in opposition to Free Trade—if, up to the very latest year, he had supported those views to the utmost—[An hon. MEMBER: He did.]—and if, having 1538 done that, he had taken office, and had found, when he did so, that, unless he gave up all his Protectionist views, and introduced Free Trade opinions far stronger than any that had been alleged against him, he must lose office—if, under these circumstances, he had brought in a Free Trade Bill, and had surrounded it with securities—if, under the pressure of his opponents, he had sacrificed those securities one by one—and if, at the end, he had brought in the very strongest measure ever suggested in Parliament, and carried it through the House—if, I say, you could cite such a precedent as that from the life of Sir Robert Peel, then, and not till then, would you be entitled to quote his example as a justification of what has been done by this Government. Sir, this seems to me, apart entirely from the merits of the question, a very serious matter. After all, our theory of Government is not that a certain number of Statesmen should place themselves in office and do whatever the House of Commons bids them. Our theory of Government is, that on each side of the House, there should be men supporting definite opinions, and that what they have supported in opposition they should adhere to in office; and that every one should know, from the fact of their being in office, that those particular opinions will be supported. If you reverse that, and declare that, no matter what a man has supported in opposition, the moment he gets into office it shall be open to him to reverse and repudiate it all, you practically destroy the whole basis on which our form of Government rests, and you make the House of Commons a mere scrambling place for office. You practically banish all honourable men from the political arena, and you will find, in the long run, that the time will come when your Statesmen will become nothing but political adventurers; and that professions of opinion will be looked upon only as so many political manœuvres for the purpose of attaining office. In using this language, I naturally speak with much regret. The Conservative party, whose opinions have had my most sincere approval, have, to my mind, dealt themselves a fatal blow by the course which they have adopted. This question will not always occupy our attention. Other questions will arise; other institutions will have to be defended, and, no doubt, Conservative Members will go down to their constituents and profess the strongest sentiments in support of those institutions. But they 1539 will meet men who will say to them, "Oh, yes; we understand all that. We are aware that, so long as you are in opposition, you will defend those institutions stoutly; but we also know, if past history be any guide to us, that the very moment you get into office you will propose measures to abolish them, more extreme than any the most violent of your opponents have suggested." I, for one, deeply regret that the Conservative party should have committed themselves to such a course; I regret that I should be precluded from following any line of policy which they may pursue. Against that course, however, on which they have now entered I deem it my duty to protest, because I wish, whatever may happen in the future, to record my own deep and strong feeling on this subject. I desire to protest, in the most earnest language which I am capable of using, against the political morality on which the manœuvres of this year have been based. If you borrow your political ethics from the ethics of the political adventurer, you may depend upon it the whole of your representative institutions will crumble beneath your feet. It is only because of that mutual trust in each other by which we ought to be animated—it is only because we believe that expressions and convictions expressed, and promises made, will be followed by deeds, that we are enabled to carry on this party Government which has led this country to so high a pitch of greatness. I entreat hon. Gentlemen opposite not to believe that my feelings on this subject are dictated simply by my hostility to this particular measure, though I object to it most strongly, as the House is aware. But, even if I took a contrary view—if I deemed it to be most advantageous, I still should deeply regret that the position of the Executive should have been so degraded as it has been in the present Session; I should deeply regret to find that the House of Commons has applauded a policy of legerdemain; and I should, above all things, regret that this great gift to the people—if gift you think it—should have been purchased at the cost of a political betrayal which has no parallel in our Parliamentary annals, which strikes at the root of all that mutual confidence which is the very soul of our party Government, and on which only the strength and freedom of our representative institutions can be sustained.
§ MR. LOWE
Before we busy ourselves much in allocating the amount of credit to 1540 be bestowed in connection with this measure, I think it worth while to invite the House to consider whether any credit at all is due for it to anyone. I have no doubt that when many an hon. Member in the weariness of his heart hails the point in the progress of this Bill at which we have arrived — not because of any particular affection which he bears to the measure itself, but because of his deliverance from a most intolerable and all-pervading nuisance—he imagines that he is about to enjoy a period of quietness, when the wicked will cease from troubling and the weary be at rest. What I wish to ask the House to consider, however, is that we are now closing an era of permanent stability and mutual confidence such as—although it has existed in this country for the last 200 years—has never existed in any country before, and that we are about, on this momentous occasion, to enter upon a new era, when the bag which holds the winds will be untied, and we shall be surrounded by a perpetual whirl of change, alteration, innovation, and revolution. I want to point out to the House that the authorship of this Bill, for which rival candidates make their appearance in the lists, is a disgrace to be avoided, and not an honour to be sought. How do I establish that view? This Bill is really founded on a principle. In saying that, I do not wish to be understood as for a moment imagining that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer ever professed to found it on any principle. As far as I have been able to gather, he has made no such profession. But if you act on a principle—although you do not avow that you do so—and make it evident that it is the ruling guide of your conduct, and that it is a matter of great importance, you are as effectually seeking to establish that principle as if you were to declare it to be the foundation of your action from morning till night. What, then, is the principle on which this Bill is based? The principle on which the right hon. Gentleman has acted is that on which all democracies are established. It is the principle of a right existing in the individual as opposed to general expediency. It is the principle of numbers as against wealth and intellect. It is the principle, in short, which is contended for, and always will be contended for, by those who devote themselves to the advocacy of popular rights—the principle of equality. This Bill, so far as it has any principle at 1541 all, is founded on the principle of equality. It regards all citizens, however different they may be in other respects, as in the main alike, and founds upon that view the future constituency of this country in direct opposition to the old constituency which it replaces. Now, if the Government have based their Bill, or the greater part of it—which is the portion relating to the borough franchise—on this principle, they ought, I contend, at least to be consistent, and if they did not mean to inaugurate a period of turmoil, tumult and conflict, to have rendered their measure homogeneous, and taken the steps necessary to make it work well and the people contented. Have they done so? Let us just examine very cursorily a few points connected with the Bill. We are in the first place told that there is to be no "hard and fast line," and every limitation to the borough franchise has been refused; but in the face of that we have a proposal which fixes the county franchise at £12, and places the county electors side by side with those in boroughs, where the working man in receipt of an amount of wages not greater than that of the lowest agricultural labourer will be entitled to vote. You have taught the people that the principle on which your Bill is founded is that of equality, and yet this is the way in which you carry your principle into operation. Who does not see that the necessary result of such a mode of proceeding must be that the inhabitants of counties whom you exclude from the franchise, will not rest satisfied under that exclusion, and that you are in this way sowing the seeds of a discontent and agitation which will not terminate until the county and borough franchises are placed on the same level? It is in vain to appeal on this occasion to what has hitherto taken place. Up to this time we have had inequalities and anomalies existing in this country, and the object has been not to frame a form of Government under which political power should be most equally divided, but a form of Government which should confer the greatest amount of benefit on the community at large. If we were satisfied with the results of our efforts in that direction, we should not have cared to look too narrowly into the existence of anomalies in our institutions. The contrary principle is, however, set up by this Bill, and, being set up, is infringed by its own provisions, thus leaving the door open to further innovation and increased confusion. You have a second 1542 instance of the inconsistency of which I am speaking in the case of the lodger. You have said that there shall be no "hard and fast line," and you give a vote to a man who pays £10 a year for his lodgings; but do you imagine that the respectable artizan who happens to pay less than that amount will sit still under the inequality to which you propose to subject him? The fact is, that you are opening the door for another flood of agitation in that direction. Then comes a third point. So eager are you for equality that the poor and the rich are to be rendered by this Bill all of equal weight in the State. You have done away with every notion of personal fitness beyond this—that persons who are excused on the ground of poverty from bearing their share of the public burdens are not to possess the franchise; and having gone thus far you have coupled the first part of your Bill with a scheme of re-distribution of seats, which will render the voting power of the elector in one part of the country as different as possible from that of the voter residing in a different locality. You say, for instance, that in Glasgow and Liverpool, and other large towns he shall exercise one sixty-thousandth part of the electoral power, whereas in some of the small boroughs the proportion will be the seven or eight-hundredth part. Do you think that it is an inequality to which people will submit now that you have disregarded every principle of expediency and taught them to look to equality as their right instead? I maintain, then, that within the bosom of this Bill itself is contained the germs of endless agitation; and that so far from entering on a period of peace and quietness, we are approaching a period of turmoil and of change. And this is not all, for the right hon. Gentleman has so provided that when the question of the boundaries comes before us, the whole of this subject of the re-distribution of seats will again have to be discussed, for, while this Bill is of a most sweeping character as regards the franchise but little has been done in the matter of re-distribution, and even that little has been forced upon the acceptance of the House. I myself persisted in forcing this question upon them, because I had no idea of treating this matter in that way. My principle was to leave the borough franchise pretty much as it is. If you are to make concessions to democracy in one respect, how ridiculous to suppose that you can resist it in another! How absurd to think you can do these things, and yet 1543 retain the small boroughs, as the Government has succeeded in doing! I do not shrink from saying that small boroughs had their uses and advantages in adapting the House of Commons to the exigencies of the Executive Government, but those uses will disappear when you inundate the small boroughs with voters so poor that, unless they are endowed with superhuman virtue, it will be impossible for them to resist bribery. You make them the helots of the Constitution. You have placed the small boroughs in a position to exhibit all the grossest tendencies to representative corruption, and have provided, by the defects which you have introduced through the creation of these very large classes of electors, that one day or other they will be swept away in some further democratic change. And it is for the merit of this beautiful piece of workmanship that right hon. Gentlemen are contending! In such a competition happy the man who fails? This principle of equality which you have taken to worship, is a very jealous power; she cannot be worshipped by halves, and like the Turk in this respect, she brooks no rival near the throne. When you get a democratic basis for your institutions, you must remember that you cannot look at that alone, but you must look at it in reference to all your other institutions. When you have once taught the people to entertain the notion of the individual rights of every citizen to share in the Government, and the doctrine of popular supremacy, you impose on yourselves the task of re-modelling the whole of your institutions, in reference to the principles that you have set up. You now argue the question of denominational education, and the opening of University privileges to Dissenters; but by the course you have taken you will bring agencies into force which will make all these questions disappear like dust before the wind. Hon. Gentlemen do not see that. They think "to-morrow shall be as to-day, and much more abundant." You must look these matters in the face, for it is useless to suppose that, founding your institutions on democracy, you can go on legislating with a deference to established privileges and the rights of property. You compel those who are the most opposed to this change, who view it with great dread, myself amongst the number, who apprehend from it the worst consequences—you compel us, I say—from the necessity we must feel to do the best for our 1544 country in the great peril to which you have brought us—to adopt principles which, while our Constitution remained as it was, we should have shrunk from. I feel like nothing so much as Clovis, when he was baptized by the Bishop, who said to him—"Adora quod combusisti combure quod adorasti." Almost every principle which to my mind has commended itself as being founded on wisdom and experience, and as tending to the good of the nation at large, I shall be called upon by the hard necessity imposed on me by the Bill to abandon, and every principle which I dislike I shall be compelled to adopt. It has been our habit to consider that there was no better way of showing our love to our country and our respect for its institutions than by doing all in our power to increase the power and privileges of this House. We may have carried the feeling to excess; for now, in the time of trial, how painfully are we reminded of the differences between ourselves and other democratic legislatures? Where is the democratic legislature which enjoys the powers of the British House of Commons? Our plan has been to elect a Legislature by persons whom we could trust, persons who gave some pledge to the country that they were fit to exercise the trust; and, having done so, we trusted nobly generously, and entirely. Other countries have proceeded on a different plan. They have adopted the plan of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and they have started, not from the principle that you ought to put the franchise in the hands of persons fit to exercise it, but on the plan of individual right; and, having done so, their whole subsequent labours had been to endeavour to tame the monster they had created, by subdividing power, strengthening the executive, and making it a rival, and by various other devices of that kind. In order to make this new Constitution of yours work at all there is one thing we shall clearly have to do. There is no use in blinking the matter at all. You cannot trust the whole complicated force of this country to a single chamber. You cannot trust to a majority elected by men just above the status of paupers. The experiment has been tried; it has answered nowhere; it has failed in America, and it will not answer here. You will require a moderating and counterbalancing force, as in America. Where does that force exist? Is the House of Lords, as at present 1545 constituted, any real check, even under the existing state of things, to a violent popular assembly? But what will it be under the state of things that is coming? That assembly will be almost utterly useless against a democratic Chamber, and the question to be considered by every man who loves his country, even by the pink of Conservatives who have brought in the present Bill—will be how to create in some a degree a counterbalance to the violence of the democratic Chamber you are creating, and, as the democratic principle brooks no rival, this can only be effected by establishing a second elected Chamber. Yo do not believe this now, but you will believe it by-and-bye. This is language you drive me to use, and language which your own measures will render familiar to you. Those things which you now regard as dreams will force themselves upon you with all the energy of stern reality. Consider also another thing. Such is the envious spirit of democracy that the democratic Chamber itself would become an object of jealousy after a time to those people who elected it; and who would say it represented the country when it was elected, but that in course of time it had lost the character it received from contact with the electors. Here, again, you will be obliged to follow the example of America and shorten the period for which Parliament is elected. But do you believe that a body so constituted and sitting for a shorter period will be able to discharge the duties of maintaining or displacing the Government of this great empire? If not, you must do as they do in America, and must come to consider the question of having a Prime Minister holding office under some other tenure than at present. The only plan for effecting this object would be to obtain a Prime Minister by popular election, and allow him to appoint his Cabinet without being responsible to this House. Then, again, there would be a tendency to subdivide the legislative power by creating local bodies, without which the American Government could not go on. This would arise, not from any mad love of innovation, but because your conduct has made it necessary. You have forced on us institutions which cannot be carried on in any other way. The example of America will no longer be a warning and a terror, for it will become of necessity our model, and we shall act wisely to imitate it under these circumstances. The Americans know the mischief of their own system. Every educated American will 1546 tell you that the election of their Judges is a great evil, and that they do not get nearly as good Judges as they would if nominated for life by a responsible Ministry. But as power is given to the democratic majority, that majority does not allow itself to be over-ridden, not even by the Courts of Law; and we shall have as Judges, not those who adhere to the letter of the law, but those who join in the popular sentiment. Then with regard to the army. The system of purchase will be abolished. What will be substituted for it? A seniority of service, or a system of appointments by merit, or, as the latter was sometimes called, a system of appointments by job? In accordance with the democratic principle the army would demand to elect their own officers, and there would be endless change in the Constitution arising out of the present Bill, which, so far from being an end to our evils, is only the first step to them. I should like to say one word in my own defence. I have been charged—nothing is more disagreeable to me than to be so charged—with having myself had a good deal to do with occasioning the passing of this Bill. But let me ask if that is so? Last year I opposed the Bill of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Lancashire on several grounds — mainly on this ground: I said the élite of the working classes you are so fond of, are members of trades unions, and I read to you from an extract what has become more familiar to us all since. I showed to you that those trades unions were founded on principles of the most grinding tyranny not so much against masters as against each other. I said they had power over each other that we little dreamt of—a power the hon. Member for Birmingham exhorted that they should use for political purposes; and it was only necessary that you should give them the franchise, to make those trades unions the most dangerous political agencies that could be conceived; because they were in the hands, not of individual members, but of designing men, able to launch them in solid mass against the institutions of the country. Did I speak the words of foolishness then? Have events shown that I was wrong? You have had an inquiry, evidence has been given, facts have come out, and we shall have a great deal more on this tremendous subject. If the House had had those revelations then before them, would my right hon. Friend have put his Bill forward on the ground that it was favour- 1547 able to the élite of the working classes? Then there was another ground. I said, "You begin this sort of thing, but you will not be able to stop." I called two witnesses. First, I called the Member for South Lancashire — he tried the £5 rating; would he be able to stop at that? He did not venture to try it; he tried a portion of it, but very wisely gave it up altogether. There was another witness—the hon. Member for Birmingham. What does he say on the subject? He had been agitating the country for household suffrage—but not meaning—as we now see by his conduct this Session, to get it. In two senses he has got it. The leader of the movement has been himself already outstripped, and he shrinks back like Don Giovanni, which I am told is the Italian for John. Don Giovanni asked the statue of the Commendatore to supper because he had no idea that his invitation would be accepted; but the statue did come, and said to him, "Giovanni, you asked me to supper, and I have come." That is exactly the position in which the hon. Member for Birmingham finds himself, and I suppose he will now get up and tell us that nothing is so ridiculous as to suppose that we cannot limit these things; and that when revolution has set in we had better go home and do the best we can to live in peace and quietness. I disapproved from the bottom of my heart of the change that was proposed last year, and I resisted it with a perfect knowledge that he who resists an attack of any kind runs the chance of sustaining much more injury than if he yields. But are we to turn cowards, and give up our opinions, because we may be overborne and trampled down, not by reason and argument—for them I do not dread — but by brute force and treachery? Was Athens to yield up everything after the battle of Chæronea? Was England wrong when she fought the battle of Hastings, although she lost her king, her nobility, and her gentry, and was left prostrate and unable to demand terms from the Norman conqueror? Is it come to this—that the spirit of England is so low that a man is to be censured and carped at because he does not surrender at the first attack, before he sees whether that attack will be successful?—Cur indecores in limine primoDeficimus? cur ante tubam tremor occupat artus?It is time enough to run away when we are beaten. But that is not all. If I 1548 was not deceived, I must have been a prophet—a character to which I have no claims — for how was it possible that I, who was daily in confidential communication with the right hon. Gentlemen opposite, when they held widely different opinions, could ever have believed that after their declarations last year, and after their condescending to accept from us help they could not have done without, they would have done what they have done. Was it in human foresight to have imagined such a thing? Let us look a little further. Was it to be conceived that right hon. Gentlemen, who had given no indications of the extreme facility of changing their opinions, and lending themselves to the arts of treachery, would, for the sake of keeping a few of them in office for a short time, and giving some small patronage to half-a-dozen lawyers, have been prepared to sacrifice all the principles, all the convictions, and all the traditions of their lives, while others were prepared to turn round on their order, and on the institutions of the country, merely for the purpose of sitting behind those right hon. Gentlemen and hearing, with the knowledge that it is all true, language such as that the noble Lord (Viscount Cranborne) has used tonight?—Egregiam sanè laudem et spolia ampla refertis.You are well rewarded. How was I to foresee that the middle classes which, to the great benefit of the country, have been intrusted with the electoral power would so tamely and miserably give it up and allow it to be transferred to the poorer classes? How was I to foresee that the right hon. Gentleman, with a body-guard of ducal families, would come forward to overthrow the moderate system under which we live; and yet, unless I had foreseen all this, I am not in any sense guilty; because if right hon. Gentlemen had been true to what they said and pledged themselves to last year, we should never have seen what we have—not only a union of the two extremes of society, the highest and the lowest, but the union of the two parties for the same purpose, both hating and detesting each other—the one tied by pledges, the other by party alliances. Therefore, I say no one has a right to reproach me if I stood alone. The disgrace is not on me, but on those who, believing what I say, never ventured to say one word on the subject. One word I should like to say on the subject of education. I have been one who thought that 1549 our institutions in that respect were as efficient as they could well be. I shrink from the notion of forcing education on people. It seemed more in accordance with our institutions to allow the thing to work and freely to supplement the system. That whole question has now completely changed. All the opinions I held on that subject are scattered to the winds by this measure of the Government. Sir, it appears to me that before we had intrusted the masses—the great bulk of whom are uneducated—with the whole power of this country we should have taught them a little more how to use it, and not having done so, this rash and abrupt measure having been forced upon them, the only thing we can do is as far as possible to remedy the evil by the most universal measures of education that can be devised. I believe it will be absolutely necessary that you should prevail on our future masters to learn their letters. It will not be unworthy of a Conservative Government, at any rate, to do what can be done in that direction. I was opposed to centralization, I am ready to accept centralization; I was opposed to an education rate, I am ready now to accept it; I objected to inspection, I am now willing to create crowds of inspectors. This question is no longer a religious question, it has become a political one. It is indeed the question of questions; it has become paramount to every other question that has been brought before us. From the moment that you intrust the masses with power their education becomes an absolute necessity, and our system of education, which—though not perfect, is far superior to the much-vaunted system that prevails in America or any nation on the Continent, as one system can be to another—must give way to a national system. But we shall have to destroy it; it is not quality but quantity we shall require, although we shall thereby be doing a great injustice to those who have so warmly embarked their energies in the cause. You have placed the government in the hands of the masses, and you must therefore give them education. You must take education up the very first question, and you must press it on without delay for the peace of the country. Sir, I was looking to-day at the head of the lion which was sculptured in Greece during her last agony after the battle of Chæronea, to commemorate that event, and I admired the power and the spirit which portrayed in the face of that noble beast 1550 the rage, the disappointment, and the scorn of a perishing nation and of a downtrodden civilization, and I said to myself, "O for an orator, O for an historian, O for a poet, who would do the same thing for us!" We also have had our battle of Chæronea; we too have had our dishonest victory. That England, that was wont to conquer other nations, has now gained a shameful victory over herself; and oh! that a man would rise in order that he might set forth in words that could not die, the shame, the rage, the scorn, the indignation, and the despair with which this measure is viewed by every cultivated Englishman who is not a slave to the trammels of party, or who is not dazzled by the glare of a temporary and ignoble success!
I am not about to attempt any answer to the very alarming speech we have just heard; and I should not have taken any part in this debate but for a habit of the right hon. Gentleman, from which he does not appear able to free himself. It appears to me that the extraordinary acuteness with which he is gifted, and the spirit of fairness which on some occasions he can show, entirely desert him when he comes to treat of any opinions which I hold, or of anything which I may have said here or elsewhere. I understand him now to tell the House that I am in this situation—that I am in some degree of consternation because the Conservative party have advanced to a point that I think extremely dangerous, and to which I myself would not have gone. Now, the right hon. Gentleman must know—every hon. Member in this House who pays any attention whatever to political affairs must know—that for many years past—in fact, from the very first time that I ever spoke in public, either in the country or in this House—I have always laid down distinctly and unequivocally this proposition, that the permanent foundation for the borough franchise ought to be sought in the householders. I recollect that when Mr. Hume brought this subject before the House twenty years ago, I was one of those who met with him and others to prepare the Resolutions which he submitted to the House. I wrote the Resolutions out with my own hand, and these Resolutions included the proposition for household suffrage. Further than this, the Bill which I prepared in 1859 — which was not brought before the House because the Government of Lord Derby, which had 1551 then but lately come into office, proposed to bring in a Bill of their own upon the subject, and I did not, of course, desire to introduce my Bill in competition with theirs—contained also household suffrage, and I have already explained to the House that the right hon. Gentleman has, as I think wisely, though without the acknowledgement which would have been fair, taken my clause, and has put it into his Bill, and it cannot be supposed, therefore, for an instant that I could find fault with it. In the course of the discussions which have taken place upon the subject, I have said that, in deference to the opinions of many persons, and because I believed that there was a class of householders in this country who were so dependent, and I am sorry to say so ignorant, that it was not likely that they would be independent electors, or would give strength to any constituency, it would be desirable to draw a line, and I believe that the line I proposed was houses that were rented at £4 or £3 per annum. That, however, is perfectly consistent with what I have said before. I say now what I have said all along, that the permanent foundation of the borough franchise should be the household suffrage. I do not complain of the passing of this Bill, or of the House having adopted it in its entirety; but I have said that, looking at the prevailing opinion of powerful classes in this country who regarded such a step with fear and alarm, and also to the fact, lamentable undoubtedly, but which no man can deny, that there is a class, which I hope is constantly decreasing, to whom the extension of the franchise at present can possibly be of no advantage either to themselves or to the country, I should for the present have been willing to consent to some proposition which fell short of household suffrage pure and simple. With that view, I supported, as strongly as I could, the proposition introduced by Lord John Russell during the Government of Lord Palmerston in 1860, for a £6 rental franchise. Last year it is true that I did all that I could by private representation to the Government of Lord Russell to persuade them not to introduce a higher suffrage than that contained in the Bill of 1860; but when the £7 franchise was introduced by the right hon. Gentleman on that Bench I supported it, as being a valuable and a rational step in the direction, if you like, to the gradual extension of power to the great body of the people—power which I undertake to say cannot 1552 and could not be much longer withheld from them. When we are discussing questions of this nature before a public audience in any part of the country, clearly the man who speaks to a great audience must have something in the shape of a definite principle to lay before them, and by discussing principles and questions in that manner you, of course, explain your views and teach that which you wish the people to learn; but when we come to this House, sitting here even as an unofficial Member, as I do, still more sitting on that Bench which is occupied by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, it is our duty to take into consideration all the opinions and, if you like, all the prevailing fears, and to some extent the ignorance—for fear often comes from ignorance—which is to be found throughout the country. In presenting a distinct measure of this kind to Parliament a Government is, of course, at liberty to make concessions here and there, and to offer to the House such a general settlement of the question as, in their opinion, will meet with the general acceptance and assent of the nation. Therefore it is that whenever what I believed to be a large measure likely to meet the general sympathy and wishes, even although it might not be so large as that now before the House, came before me, I always gave it my honest and cordial support. Had the Government of Lord Derby proposed this Session the very same franchise as was proposed by Lord Palmerston's Government—namely, £10 in counties and £6 in boroughs—I should have given it all the support in my power; but that would not have altered my opinion that the ultimate point of the borough franchise before any very long period had elapsed would be household suffrage—a point to which the right hon. Gentleman has chosen to ask the House to come at once. I am one of those persons who have been subject to every kind of—what shall I say?—abuse; that is a very mild word indeed. I have been charged with wishing to urge Parliament and the country to adopt measures of a very perilous character. I believe, when somebody wished to say something very terrible about me, I was accused of endeavouring to Americanize our institutions. But I have no wish to go very far or very fast. My own impression is that, in the political changes which are inevitable in our time in all countries, and which certainly are as inevitable in this as in any other country, it 1553 is an advantage to the country that these great changes should be made rather by steps than all at once, especially when there is a large class in the country who have a terror of what you are doing, and who do not go cordially with the changes you would promote. That is the principle upon which I have always acted. I have never condemned Governments and Ministers because they did not go so far as they might have done, and whenever a Government upheld an honest and a sound principle I have always been willing to give them my support in every step that they should make in that direction, and to make every allowance for the great difficulties which every Government has had to encounter, that has endeavoured to make any step at all. Under these circumstances, I shall be glad if this measure passes without a division. I, for one, shall certainly not move the House to go to a division upon it; and when it has passed, perhaps, it may be found that going at once to household suffrage has been wiser than any lesser step would have been. My own impression is that throughout the country there is a general assent given to the clause placing the borough franchise upon the foundation of household suffrage by all those who form what is called the Liberal party; and, as far as I have been able to learn, by a very large portion of the Conservative party, who have divested themselves of their fears; and, that generally the clause has met with an amount of acceptance which a very short time ago no one could have expected for a principle which I think so admirable. There are some points upon which I agree with the right hon. Member for Calne. I agree with him that there are some parts of this Bill which cannot remain as they are for long. There is no doubt whatever, that it is a very unpleasant thing for people living—as I think I illustrated the other day by the case of Doncaster, where a man living in the town cannot have a vote unless he occupies a house or land of £16 or £20 a year rental, while at no great distance an agricultural labourer, who does not receive more than 10s. or 12s. a week, will have a vote for the borough or little county of East Retford. That is an anomaly which the Member for Calne does not much admire, and which cannot be long continued. I cannot help admiring the conduct of the right hon. Member for Calne in respect to the redistribution of seats. Representing, as he does, one of the smallest boroughs in the 1554 country, he has never made any defence of its right to return him to Parliament, and I think he would be willing to get rid of a large number of those small boroughs whose Members cannot in any sense whatever be said to represent the people of this country. Forty such seats have been placed at your disposal. In 1859, I proposed to disfranchise all boroughs with a population of less than 8,000, and to deprive of one Member all boroughs of between 8,000 and 16,000 which returned two Members to Parliament. And when I distributed the Members so obtained, I so allotted them that, in accordance with the populations, every part of the country should, as nearly as possible, have its fair proportion of representatives, with the exception of the county in which the metropolis is situate, Lancashire, and the West Riding of Yorkshire. If such a measure had now been proposed, we should not, I think, either in our own or our children's lifetime, have found any necessity for any fresh proposal. I rise, Sir, for the purpose of saying that the right hon. Gentleman has done me, and not for the first time, great injustice in the observations he has made. There is no foundation for the version of my opinions he has chosen to give. I have been consistent in this matter from first to last, even when I have been willing to make concessions in deference to opinions which we are bound to regard. I am delighted that Parliament by so large a majority should come to believe that it is wise and safe to trust the franchise so extensively to our countrymen. The noble Lord, from whom I differ so much as regards this Bill, has expressed a hope with, I believe, as much sincerity as I now do, that the people trusted with so much political power—trusted too with political power at a time when it might possibly have been withheld, though I do not think that it would have been altogether safe to have tried it—will so use their power that these walls in all future time may never enclose any Parliament less worthy of a great nation than the Parliament which is now assembled.
§ MR. GRAVES
said, he would not have risen so early in the debate if he did not think it was an act of justice to Her Majesty's Ministers, who had borne the heat and burden of this great measure, to speak out frankly and boldly the opinion he entertained on this question. He was induced to do so also in consequence of the taunts which had been thrown out against 1555 that side of the House by the right hon. Member for Calne, who alluded, not in the most polite terms, to the infamy with which they had covered themselves. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman on what ground had he formed his opinion of the tendency of this Bill? On what ground did he believe that it would tend to democracy and revolution? Had that right hon. Gentleman himself done anything to lead them to place confidence in his statements? The right hon. Gentleman had been opposed to all progress not only during the present, but during the previous Session. The right hon. Gentleman had, indeed, informed them what he hated, but had not told them what he loved, and there might be more reasonable ground for placing reliance in the predictions which the right hon. Gentleman had made, were it not for the fact that his speech of this evening was a repetition almost word for word, of the speeches which he had delivered on former occasions. The right hon. Gentleman had used the same expressions of alarm and fear when it was proposed by the Bill of last Session to admit 125,000 to the franchise, and he now repeated those expressions upon a Bill which, for his part, he believed to be perfectly safe, sound, and constitutional. The right hon. Gentleman had gone back to the days of Greece; and coming down to later times he had referred to the battle of Hastings; but he wished the hon. Gentleman had referred to the Act of 1832, and informed them what England would have done if that Bill had not been passed. He agreed with the hon. Member for Birmingham, when the hon. Member said that the time had come when it was necessary that a Reform Bill should be passed, and he believed, moreover, that the Bill of Her Majesty's Ministers was the best Bill that could be proposed. The right hon. Member for Calne had compared the lowering of the franchise to an avalanche, the force of whose descent it was impossible to arrest. In that comparison he quite agreed, for he fully believed that after leaving the £10 limit there was no principle at which they could stop until they came, as they had done in this case, to household suffrage guarded by payment of rates. It had often been asserted that hon. Members on that side of the House had been gradually led and guided in the direction of this Bill, but in reality they had taken the course they had done by instinct. Right or wrong they had adopted that course from the conviction that it was the only settlement on which 1556 they could find a safe resting place. He might tell the House that the Conservatives of Liverpool and the Liberals of Liverpool, numbering some half a million of people, had as far as he had been able to ascertain their opinions, given their assent to the measure proposed by Her Majesty's Government. This fact he believed to be a fair set-off against the representations made by the right hon. Member for Calne. He was aware however that this was a question to be decided by reason and not by authority. Though the franchise had he believed been settled on a sound and safe basis, the Government might with advantage have gone a little further in reference to the re-distribution of seats, so that the whole question of Reform might have been settled for many years to come. He could understand however, the difficulties in the way of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which prevented him from going so far as he himself would have wished to do, and he was grateful to Her Majesty's Ministers for the last act they had done in conceding additional Members to the great centres of population, a concession which he believed would go far to allay discontent. He would ask what section of the country did the right hon. Member for Calne represent there that evening? When were any Petitions sent in by the country in confirmation of the views to which that right hon. Gentleman had given expression? And on the other hand was he not entitled to point to the number of Petitions which had been presented to the House in favour of this Bill as a proof that the fears and alarm expressed by the right hon. Member for Calne emanated solely from his own mind, and in no way whatever echoed the feelings of any considerable portion of his countrymen? He offered his meed of praise and gratitude to Her Majesty's Ministers for the manner in which they had led Parliament through so arduous and difficult a Session. At the commencement of the Session, in seconding the Address, he ventured to prognosticate that the Ministers would deal with Reform, not in a niggardly spirit, but boldly and comprehensively, and they had justified his prediction. On behalf of a constituency of on inconsiderable magnitude, he offered his thanks to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Her Majesty's Ministers for so nobly, generously and trustfully fulfilling the pledge they had given at the commencement of the Session.
said, that hon. Gentlemen had that night addressed the House as if they were assisting at a funeral instead of passing a measure through Parliament. He did not think it well that it should go forth to the country that the noble Lord and the right hon. Gentleman (Viscount Cranborne and Mr. Lowe) represented the opinions of any considerable number of the Members of that House, and as no one had risen to protest against the language of these Gentlemen, he thought that it was better that the duty should be performed even by so humble a Member as himself than that it should not be performed at all. He believed that the vast majority of the Members of that House looked upon the Bill with the same feeling of confidence and satisfaction with which it was viewed by the rest of the country. He hoped the measure might lead to compulsory education, and that the House and the country might be induced to pass such a measure with rapidity. He could in no way share the prognostications of evil so lavishly indulged in, and trusted that the new Parliament would furnish a complete contradiction to the results which the noble Lord and the right hon. Gentleman had foretold.
§ MR. GORST
said, that if a Motion against the third reading of the Bill was made and persevered in, he would vote for it. The Conservative party had last year opposed the Bill of the Liberal Ministry on principle—perhaps an erroneous one, but at least a genuine one, intelligible to their opponents as well as to themselves; and they had expected the Government Reform Bill to be in accordance with that principle. In the Queen's speech Her Majesty had from the Throne expressed Her hope that our deliberations would end in the adoption of a measure which, "without unduly disturbing the balance of political power," would fairly extend the franchise. Again, one of the Resolutions said that—It was contrary to the Constitution of this Realm to give to any one class or interest a predominating power over the rest of the community.And in another Resolution which hon. Gentlemen now find it convenient to forget, we were told that—The principle of Plurality of Votes, if adopted by Parliament, would facilitate the settlement of the Borough Franchise on an extensive basis.Had these Resolutions been adhered to; had the balance of power been kept undisturbed; was no class made predominant; 1558 did the Bill give the dual votes? If the Resolutions had not been adhered to, it was not the fault of the independent supporters of Government. They knew that there was a majority on the opposite Benches, and they were ready to make every reasonable concession their Leaders desired. In that spirit and temper he (Mr. Gorst) had gone into Committee, and on almost every occasion voted in favour of the Bill. A shock was given to their confidence by the introduction of the first Bill; but confidence was partially restored when the Government recurred to their original policy. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer was reticent, they believed it was to conceal his policy not from his friends, but from his foes. If the Government made concessions, they thought that, while it was necessary to yield on a few points, all the great Conservative features would be preserved; and they, therefore, supported the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in order to enable him to cope with hostile factions; but, now that the Bill had come out of Committee they would simply be fools if they shut their eyes to the real nature of the measure. The measure was one which greatly disturbed the balance of political power, and gave to one class in the country a preponderating power over the rest, because in all the boroughs the taxpayers would be in a minority, and the non-taxpayers in a majority. It was a measure which would not only disturb the present balance of political power, but imperil the political future. He felt perplexed when told that the Conservatives had not changed in their opinions on this question. For his part he could not join in the rejoicings of the Conservative party over a Bill which realized the long cherished convictions of the hon. Member for Birmingham. He might have held his tongue on the subject, but he thought it manlier to speak out, though he knew he could have changed his coat in silence with the crowd. Without a decent interval in which to change his opinions he could not support the Bill further; if there were an opportunity of voting against it he would do so, and he believed that a section of the Conservative party would vote for it only because they believed it must pass. For his own part, he did not believe that a great Conservative Parliament would be returned under this Bill. On the contrary, he believed that the Conservatives who went to the country clad in the false cloak of Liberalism would be 1559 certainly rejected by the people. He advised Members of the Conservative party, when they went to the country, not to appear before constituencies as sham Liberals but in their real Conservative garbs, for much as the boroughs might love Liberalism they loved honesty still more.
I do not agree with the gloomy predictions of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Gorst). I rejoice in the passage of a measure conferring household suffrage. The hon. Member for Cambridge, like the right hon. Member for Calne, seems to dread the consequences that will ensue if this Bill become law. I have no such dread. I have been an advocate of household suffrage all my life, and that is not a short one, and it is a source of satisfaction to me to see the principles I have always maintained about to become law. Remembering the fate of the Reform Bill of last Session, I am free to confess that I did not expect to see the suffrage extended to all householders and lodgers this year, but the extension having come I have only one feeling to give expression to, and that is of thankfulness and pleasure. I do not stop to inquire how the change has been effected I am only too glad it has come, to criticize the process of conversion that has taken place. It has been said by the noble Lord opposite (Viscount Cranborne) that no measure of such magnitude has ever been proposed in this House before. The noble Lord, I think, is in error on that point. I beg to remind him that the late Lord Durham, then Mr. Lambton, in the year 1821, brought in a Bill based on identically the same principles as that of the Government. By Lord Durham's Bill it was proposed to give a vote to every man who had paid his parochial rates, and such direct taxes as were due from him. In introducing the Bill Lord Durham said, that being only a young man he should have hesitated to have propounded a measure of such magnitude, had the principle on which it was based not been discussed and defended in the House of Commons on several occasions, by men of authority and distinction, as being in accordance with the principles of the Constitution of the country. The late Lord Grey, in 1797, distinctly advocated household suffrage for boroughs. The principle was also warmly supported by Mr. Fox, Major Cartwright, and other early Parliamentary Reformers. Even Mr. Pitt at one time supported household suffrage. The noble Member for 1560 Stamford was therefore incorrect in saying that the advocacy of household suffrage was new in that House. In giving their assent to this Bill they were doing nothing more than putting into practical operation those Liberal constitutional principles that for more than three quarters of a century had been advocated and enforced by some of the ablest and most illustrious statesmen that the country had ever produced. I have none of the fears that seem to trouble the right hon. Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe) and the few who think with him. There is nothing in this measure that need alarm the most timid of its opponents. The country will not be ruined by the passing of this Bill. In conferring the franchise on the working classes, we will extend to them a power which they will esteem as a boon, and will exercise with care, judgment, and honesty. It is said that the Bill goes beyond the measure introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, last Session. That is quite true. But in proposing their Bill last year the late Government were actuated, not so much by what they as individual Members thought was abstractedly right, or what the people were justly entitled to, but rather what they thought the House would pass. That was the principle, too, by which the hon. Member for Birmingham had been guided. The hon. Member did not think there was a sufficient number of supporters of the principle of household suffrage in the House to carry it, and, thinking that, he had been content to take a smaller measure. I am glad that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has had the courage to support a measure founded on so sound and just a basis, and I congratulate him on the success of his efforts. I believe the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman will practically settle the suffrage question in boroughs; at least I do not think I will live to see any successful attempt made to carry it further. It is a point at which the country will be glad to rest, and that, I think, is an advantage. Fixing the suffrage on a figure—either of rating or rental—or on any hard and fast line, would have only been to defer the question to some future and early day, when it would certainly have been re-opened. Now, however, the borough franchise would rest, and Parliament, relieved from the discussions on this constitutional question, could give increased energy and attention to the consideration of those great political 1561 and social questions which were pressing for solution, and the settlement of which would confer great benefits on the country.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
Sir, I do not rise at this supreme and solemn moment to handle any party question, nor will I at all indulge in party feeling, although there is no one who would be more justified than I should be in speaking in such a strain. It has been, perhaps, my misfortune—certainly it has not been for my personal interest—that I have never been a good party man, but have always cherished my personal independence. Never until the present Parliament, have I put myself in harness, since the day that I ceased to serve under that great man, Sir Robert Peel, to whom, as I shall never cease to regret, I shared in doing wrong some twenty-one years ago. At the last General Election, however, dreading the advance of democracy, I accepted the Leadership of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, in spite of personal friendship for Members of the once Peelite party, especially for my right hon. Friend the Member for South Lancashire, and I have reaped my reward. I took suit and service under the Conservative Leader because I dreaded the onward march of democracy, and to-night I find myself assisting at the third reading, under Conservative patronage, of the most democratic Reform Bill ever brought in. Looking at the Bill as virtually an accomplished fact, I desire to point out some of the most glaring defects in the hope that they may be amended next Session, when we must discuss the Boundaries Bill. Everything which has taken place since the first introduction of the measure has more and more clearly shown the radical error which the Government have committed in beginning at the wrong end and taking the question of the franchise first, next going on to the re-distribution of seats, and lastly, leaving the boundaries over till next year. Statesmanship and good sense ought to have prompted them first to have settled the boundaries, thereby mapping out the claims of those places which they propose to enfranchise, and the position of those they contemplate to disfranchise, wholly or in part. This investigation would have naturally led up to the settlement of the distribution of seats, and when that was arranged, the franchise would have shaped itself. In this charge I include both sides. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Lancashire was guilty of the same inversion last 1562 year, and now the present Government, instead of profiting by his example to amend their ways, has fallen into the same mistake. I find myself drifting at once into the question of the borough franchise, and the borough boundaries; and I may as well note that every successive Reform Bill has had the same characteristic, that in spite of the greater area and greater population of the country, the main struggle has ever been over the borough franchise. This circumstance is true to the experience of all history. Towns have, as a rule, been always enfranchised, because in them existed a more concentrated public opinion, with better marked and more specific interests than could be found in the wider and more sparsely populated districts of the country. Activity and intellect are brought to a focus in cities, and the political history of free nations has accordingly nearly always been the record of governing towns, whether Athens or Republican Rome, or the Italian city-commonwealths in the Middle Ages. I may then safely assume that the question of the boroughs of England cannot escape from the general law of progress, and that the merit and stability of any scheme of Reform must very greatly depend on the treatment which the boroughs have received. I accept the phrase dropped by my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Goldsmid), and I treat the present debate as the funeral of a past state of things. So viewing it, I desire to regard the question apart from any party considerations; and I contend that, in the interests of a satisfactory settlement, the Government, having resolved to widen the franchise, should first have taken measures to have had the boundaries of the constituencies defined and approved, seeing that upon them must, in reality, rest the permanence of the structure. Any timidity, in dealing with this consideration, shows that those who are responsible for the change are still unconscious of the magnitude of their own workmanship. It shows that they do not yet appreciate that the old spirit of feudality on which the system of our ancient and unreformed Parliament was based, and which had in no inconsiderable degree survived the changes of 1832, is by the present measure swept away; and, therefore, that the question of representation must be taken in hand from the beginning, and treated on considerations of present fact and present exigency. The Government, I need hardly repeat, when 1563 it brought in this Bill, omitted to profit by the failure of its predecessors, in its craving to bid still higher for public favour by at once proposing a large and reckless reduction of the franchise, and letting slip the settlement of the grave questions which rise out of the distribution of seats. The re-distribution scheme, which they originally proposed, was received with unanimous disapprobation from its ridiculous inefficiency. But after having taken the fatal step of blindly degrading the franchise, the Government found themselves placed in the unexpectedly lucky position of being able to repair their second fault, on the success of the Motion of the hon. Member for Wick, which by taking away the second seat under 10,000 population, gave them the opportunity of reviewing their policy and of re-casting their Bill. It is true that this Resolution, taken literally, only proposed to extend the number of available seats by fifteen; but it pointed further than its mere words, and it might have been accepted in the spirit and not in the letter, for in the spirit it was the forecast of a broad and wise system of re-distribution. Instead, however, of profiting by the occasion, and prompted, I fear, by calculations of lucky electioneering combinations, the Chancellor of the Exchequer dryly availed himself of nothing more than the seats directly extinguished. At the same time, he cut off, as far as he could, the chances of further and wider consideration by framing the clause which vested the Boundary Commissioners with power in all instances to extend, and in none to retrench, the limits of existing boroughs. In this provision lies the sting. The letter of the Motion of the hon. Member for Wick affirms the principle that no borough with less than 10,000 inhabitants shall return more than one Member; but its spirit would naturally lead us on to the further demand that the composition of existing boroughs should be analysed, and that, if it can be shown that the real borough—I mean the town itself, with a moderate curtilage—falls below the prescribed population, then that the borough representation shall be retrenched accordingly. This consideration is really as grave a one as many questions on which former Governments have staked their existence, and yet during these debates it has been wholly slurred over. I am, of course, talking of those represented districts, the agricultural or village boroughs, which have been well termed "sham counties." The general idea is, that only about 1564 five such mock counties exist. No doubt there is an especial list of five of inordinate dimensions, but there are a good many more which partake of the like character, and my contention is that the Boundary Commissioners, almost without an option of their own, and by the very terms of their Commission, will be compelled still further to swell the number of such anomalous boroughs, as well as to enlarge the areas of the existing examples. If you look at the clause which names the Commission, you will see that they are empowered to recommend the enlargement of existing boroughs, while the Bill is intentionally silent as to any retrenchment of area. With such an appointment their task will be to prop up and strengthen those small constituencies whose real use in this body politic is rapidly vanishing away. Well, then, will not the Commissioners have every inducement, from motives alike of kindness and of the rigorous fulfilment of their delegation—almost, indeed, an obligation — to make out the best case for these small constituencies by throwing in larger adjacent sweeps of agricultural land, and so to swell the cypher of their electors?
I believe that we have never really given to ourselves the true character of, or adequately grasped the gigantic anomaly involved in, these composite boroughs. It follows that we have never tested the leverage which their unreasonable retention will afford for dangerous future agitation. The raison d'être of a borough consists, as I have stated, in its possessing a concentrated and individualized public opinion; but where, I ask, is the public opinion which you can find in those tracts of arable and woodland and sheep-walks, dotted over with labourers' cottages, which you dignify with the privilege of boroughs? What is the political train of the constituency which, subject to your new degraded suffrage, you will invest with the power of creating legislators? It will be found in the minds of a lot of rustics who follow the plough—good, honest fellows, no doubt, in their own way, and for their own work—in some gamekeepers; in the poachers whom those gamekeepers are kept to look after; in the village ratcatcher; and in mine host of the "Wheat-sheaf." This is the public opinion for which you propose to defraud St. Helens of the Member with whom you promised to endow it. It is for boroughs like these that you haggled over giving a third 1565 Member apiece to our four greatest provincial towns. If Manchester is, as it deserves, to have its third Member, he ought to be taken from one of these mock boroughs, and not from some populous and growing place to which you promised the gift which you now withdraw. But I have not come to the end of the anomalies which your measure will produce in these places. You might have done something to amend their constituencies if you had adopted the proposal of the hon. and gallant Member for Lichfield, and given to freeholders the vote in the boroughs where they dwelt; but you refused to listen to him. The result, accordingly, is, that while every ratcatcher, gamekeeper and poacher, who can get his rates advanced by his landlord, or by the election agent, who holds the brief of the Carlton or the Reform Club, the freeholders, without exception, whether they be the independent possessors of some small patrimony, or the well-acred lords of the soil, and opulent leaders of local opinion, will be alike disfranchised within the boroughs where they dwell, and whence they draw their incomes, and be relegated to the wide indeterminate county. The cause of this dislocation is the condemnation of the principle. Briefly stated it is that the tie which binds the freeholders to that special soil, the reason they have for living within the borough, and the attachment which keeps them to the spot, are of a superior and more permanent and complete character than those which operate upon the men who will get the suffrage within the place—it is that they, the unenfranchised, are the full owners of their own homes, while the voters are only sojourners. Can absurdity go further than to let the little shopkeeper vote, and to refuse the proprietors of the soil—the squire and the rector? It is not so much a truth as a truism; in support of which I challenge the assent of the most advanced Liberal, not less than of the stoutest Tory now present, that there is some degree of legitimate influence attaching to property and intelligence; yet, by your legislation, you strip the chief property and highest intelligence within those boroughs of all legitimate and open power; you reduce them, as far as the suffrage goes, to nonentity. Can you, then, deny that you thereby invite and incite property and intelligence to right themselves by exercising an illegitimate influence? But do not flatter yourselves that this influence, illegitimate or not, of the landed interest 1566 will be sure to prevail, and that the chief landholders will continue to hold down these sham boroughs under their grasp. A new influence will come into play and bid fair to drive them out of the field—that of the speculative and political builder. The way in which this new power will work is very simple. The franchise is given to every householder who lives within the borough and pays rates. It may be that the genuine landowners will take good care to concentrate all the labour of the borough within borough limits. But beyond and around each borough ranges the residuary and homogeneous county, and any enterprising owner or lessee of ten or twenty acres, if near the border, can with a little capital carry out a speculation at once lucrative in its mere first returns, and leading to the further enjoyment and profit of tangible and convertible political influence. This speculator has but to study the state of the labour market in the parishes beyond the borough limits (supposing even that the borough is fully served, which may not be the case), and then by the easy process of covering his piece of land with a town of cottages, rather better and more comfortable, but yet a little cheaper (investing as he will do in the election) than any which the existing villages contain, he will attract to himself and hold in hand the labour, not it may be of the very borough itself, but of the adjacent county. Then, although this labour will be, theoretically, by your Bill, an independent, if not a diverse, interest, he will at his own pleasure (himself all along remaining disfranchised as being only a freeholder), put upon the register his cottage tenants as men who sleep though they may not work within the borough. Thus easily will the jobber in houses hold the key of a Parliamentary representation; and, as of course he will treat with the readiest bidder, the ambitious London millionnaire, and not the lord of the manor, will enjoy the unlocking.
Have hon. Members ever looked at a map of England, and studied the anomaly of these rustic boroughs in its full physical proportion? There is enough to surprise them, if they are not case-hardened, when they do. I do not now desire to drag forward any names; but I may mention that in one case an ancient and eminent city is almost enveloped in the wide area of an indeterminate rustic borough, deriving its name from a decayed village. Again, we have all of us, in our younger days, been struck 1567 or amused at the spectacle of the Republic of San Marino enveloped within the States of the Church, or of the Canton of Appenzell in that of St. Gall. Well, the same phenomenon exhibits itself among our country boroughs. One of them, itself of considerable area, entitled to rank as "a sham county," is absolutely embedded in another vastly more enormous one. In a third instance the abnormal composition of a borough of wide acreage resembles nothing in the world except the Scotch county of Cromarty or a German dukedom, for it is absolutely broken up into six separate portions, dotted about the containing county. Such gross cases are, we shall probably hear, but few in number; but, under the Bill, a roving Boundary Commission is to be sent out to inquire into and to advise upon the extension of the boundaries of existing boroughs, but with no instructions in any case to take steps for their retrenchment. Being so sent out, with the Reform Bill and its Schedules as their guide, they will naturally endeavour to prop up the existing boroughs as best they can, by throwing in agricultural parishes and districts, with the single intention of showing a colourable amount of population. I should be sorry to see our old and varied system of counties and boroughs replaced by uniform electoral districts; but if there is anything which is more likely than another to lead to such a change, it is those rustic boroughs which are, in all but political incidents, utterly undistinguishable from the county districts, which surround them. The difference is only that they will possess a much worse and more sordid constituency — a constituency which ejects its gentlemen and admits every peasant who is just able to clear the union — a constituency whose caducity downwards exposes to invidious contrast the "hard and fast" line of the £12 rating, on which the county rests. Can any one suppose that the country bumpkin, who sees that his equally pauper brother, because he lives across the sky line of a borough, possesses and makes his market of a vote, will not do his best to break down that "hard and fast" line and win for himself a similar advantage? Some Conservatives, I believe, would not be sorry to see this change introduced, and the peasant householder enfranchised in the counties. There is a school of Conservatism which has persuaded itself that, because the English peasant, defectively educated as he still unhappily is, and subservient 1568 from the total absence of political power, or of even any notion of ever obtaining or using it—I might say ignorant of the very idea—would, under the contingency of having power thrust upon him, continue the humble and subservient supporter of the landowner. This, to my mind, is a fatal error. There is no such dangerous delusion as to trust to ignorance and poverty, and build upon subservience. The French noblesse, before the Revolution, made the same mistake. They called the peasant Jacques Bonhomme—namely, "good easy-going fellow," as the name implies; and when the old regime had crumbled away, they thought to be still saved by the sudden enfranchisement of their former dependents. But they soon learned to repent of their folly at the guillotine. A peasant labour union must by the nature of things be more foolish and mischievous than a trades union, because the men who compose it will be more ignorant.
What I should practically propose to do with these country boroughs would be to empower the Boundary Commissioners to measure out in every direction the extreme boundaries of that which would reasonably be considered the actual town—the kernel, as it were, of the borough, which gave to it its name and identity—and then again set out an area of two or three (for I wish to be liberal) miles round those boundaries. Then if this area happens to come out with more than 10,000 inhabitants let it keep its two Members; otherwise, let it be relieved of one, and in any case let this restricted area form the borough of the future. It may be objected that—as we have so often been told—this is not a disfranchising Bill. Whatever that objection is worth, I will meet it at once by proposing that all the existing registered £10 householders within the cut-off portions of the boroughs shall, for their own personal terms of tenure, so long as that tenure is of £10 value, have votes for the county, even though their occupancy may not be rated at £12. With such a concession no one could truthfully reproach the scheme with being one of a disfranchising nature. As it is, the miserable plan of re-distribution with which we are favoured by the Government will be one of the first matters with which the Reformed Parliament will find itself compelled to deal: one of the first grievances which the agitators for manhood suffrage whom this Bill will enfief, will use as their leverage, and force their nominated 1569 Parliament to take in hand. For my part I do not want them to have a good grievance; and so I desire now, while we are still unreformed, and still possess the ability, to take it into serious consideration, and settle it, as we can do next Session, when the Boundaries Bill comes before us. I do not myself believe that many of the present Members will find themselves in the new House, nor do I believe that the first Reformed Parliament will be a long-lived one. It will soon break up from its own crudeness and inexperience. But when the second Reformed Parliament, called upon some hard popular issue, meets about 1870, then this question of the distribution of seats will, if not previously disposed of, become one of vast and perilous magnitude. Desirous not to give the democracy so good a pretext, I call upon the old Parliament of England to muster courage and face the question.
Before I sit down I must touch upon another characteristic of the Bill, and enter my protest against the inadequate machinery provided in it for the working of elections. We are still living in the dregs of that ancient system of electioneering in which a contest might, like the famous Westminster one, last for months. But we forget not only the general improvement of non-electioneering morals since that time, but also the fact that, with the then existing system of nomination boroughs, the end of such contests was not the issue of a seat in this House or the exclusion from Parliament, but a challenge to public opinion, tried at the bar of some great constituency. Both candidates on that occasion had taken the precaution of previously making their own Membership sure. In this aspect of the matter the prominent part played in such borough contests by the non-resident freemen who came up to vote from the ends of the land carried a meaning very different from its primâ facie aspect, and one far from incapable of a good defence. The election was, in fact, an all-England contest, fought, let us say, in Westminster; and the voters were that phalanx of non-resident freemen in all stations of life (very different from the residuum of so-called "freemen" still existing in some boroughs) who formed a sort of rough-and-ready personal representation of the whole people. Assuredly the Reform Bill of 1832 in limiting elections to two and by subsequent Acts to one day has wrought a vast change for the better; yet there is much still to 1570 be done in bringing the machinery of contests into keeping with present ideas. The Government and the House, with this fair opportunity before them, have neglected to do the work; and so, unless some more stringent regulations are made next year, we shall enter upon our inheritance of a wide and untried franchise with the delicate and worn-out machinery which, as experience shows, has proved inadequate even for our actually more manageable system. There can be but one result from this laches, that electioneering freedom will soon degenerate into democratic license. Some ameliorations have, no doubt, been effected; but they only show the greatness of the work and the timidity of the workers. We have cut short the conveyance of voters in boroughs; while with peculiar vacillation we have shrunk from instituting parochial polling in our counties, and so left the expense existing where it was most costly; while to crown the absurdity, we have in this respect created a special privilege for the five most notorious sham counties. We have disfranchised agents and canvassers; but, though we have done very little towards multiplying polling-places, we tolerate committee-rooms in public-houses, in all the evil amplitude of that most obnoxious system. With purity on our lips we have not even dared to meddle with those freemen whom we all know to be the ringleaders of Parliamentary corruption. So that approaching, as we may expect to do, our new constituencies with the old and palpably inefficient machinery of a discarded constitution, we can, as men of sense, expect to see nothing better than the return and development, on a scale commensurate with the figures of the new electoral roll, of all the old, bad, falsely jovial system of electioneering, both in its turbulence and in its corruption. There is no one, I hope, who looks forward to the immoral Saturnalia as an indirect method of Conservative influence. The Bill is now almost an accomplished fact, and I fear that demagogues, taking advantage of the inevitable accidents which follow sudden changes, and marking the ostentatious deficiencies of the electoral and Parliamentary machinery, will find the inadequacy of that scheme of re-distribution which we have been compelled to accept, a ready means—because unanswerable in theory—of stirring up fresh agitation, and thereby bringing about a further deterioration of our representative system.
§ MR. HENRY SEYMOUR
said, he was one of those to whom in some degree was due the credit of the Bill having passed so far, and he was perfectly prepared to encounter any obloquy which might be supposed to attach to him in consequence. He had supported the Bill among other reasons, because he was desirous that the turmoil of a General Election, an autumn agitation, and the inconvenience attendant on the discussion of a new Reform Bill next year should be avoided. He had supported throughout the Bill of the late Government also, and regretted it did not pass; but he did not blame those who now sat on the Ministerial Benches for its want of success. It did not pass mainly because of the extraordinary opposition which had been offered to it by the right hon. Member for Calne, and the terrific speeches in which he had depicted the future in store for this country in the event of its becoming law. It was impossible to listen to those speeches without perceiving that at the beginning of last Session there existed a certain amount of rivalry between the right hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for South Lancashire. When he looked to the antecedents of the right hon. Member for Calne he could not help feeling astonished at the course he had taken in opposition to Reform. He remembered—having enjoyed the right hon. Gentleman's friendship for a great number of years—that he had, as a Member of a Liberal Government, voted on several occasions for a more democratic measure than that of last year. His conversion had been sudden, and although the right hon. Gentleman had given the House many reasons against the Bill, he had not favoured them with any reasons for his own conversion. Gentlemen of great ability had pictured the gloomy future, which would be the result of the present Bill; but was this Bill, which they had passed through that House, in opposition to the hon. Member for Birmingham and the right hon. Member for South Lancashire, a measure which, after all, they need be so much ashamed of? In boroughs the franchise was extended, and in a manner which he thought a great improvement upon the hard and fast line of last year. The county franchise was also greatly extended. The blot of the Bill was that it disfranchised so few small boroughs, but he hoped that next year this blot would be removed. The larger boroughs had been admitted to a larger share of the representation. He 1572 rejoiced that such a Bill was likely to become law, and he could not share in the prognostications of evil of which they had heard so much. In Italy, which had only recently enjoyed free institutions, the franchise was as low as in this Bill, and yet the most moderate, most respectable, and most reliable men had been sent to the Italian Parliament. There was universal suffrage in France, and almost universal suffrage in Prussia, and when this was the case in the principal countries in Europe how could England have remained where she was; and could her people have been debarred of that share of political power which had been enjoyed by almost every other nation? The question was sometimes raised—had the present Government a right to carry this Bill? There were ties beyond party, and he was not sent to that House to follow a party when a better course could be taken than that pointed out by his Leaders. In such a case the question became one between himself and his constituents. He felt for the Leaders of his party the utmost respect; but if they took a course which he thought was opposed to the national interests, he would rather resign his seat than follow them into the Lobby. He held that the labour and credit of passing this Reform Bill were the property of no man. The Liberal party had the opportunity of passing such a measure with ease, and they were wrong in going out upon such a question as rating against rental. There was a great deal of agitation during the recess, and the Bill of the present year was brought before Parliament with a declaration that the Government would submit to any Amendments in it. The hon. Member for Birmingham said he never knew a Bill of this kind to be amended in Committee; but the House had seen what could be done when the Opposition formed a large majority. The national welfare had suffered from the weakness and nepotism of the Russell Government, and then Lord Derby's Government came in in 1852. The language held at that time was, "Don't let them get warm in their seats. If we let them get hold of the Treasury Bench we shall not soon get them out of office." He thought that those tactics were clever, but not wise, for there were constant differences between the Members of the Coalition Government which succeeded, and they involved the country in the Crimean war, which might have been avoided. In 1858 Lord Derby's Government again came into 1573 office, and by the same clever but unwise tactics they were almost instantly turned out of office. The House might have passed the Reform Bill of that Government which might have been amended in Committee, like the present Bill. It was hardly possible at the time for a Liberal Member to raise his voice in favour of that Bill. He was allowed to attend the meetings held at his Leader's, but not to express his opinions, and he for one did not wish to attend any more of those meetings. He held that the Liberal party were wrong in not having given the Conservatives a fair chance and fair play on both those occasions, and he believed they would have held better together if that policy had been followed. When the Conservative Government came in for a third time, he determined that he for one would not be again led into this trick; and when the time came, and there were symptoms that something was preparing, he should have raised his voice, but the result happily was it was only necessary to vote, and take a silent share in what went on. He admired the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) at the beginning of the Session, when he held such moderate language; but he afterwards changed his tone, and he then took the liberty of differing from the right hon. Gentleman. But what was the language he heard all around him below the Opposition gangway? It was that on public grounds hon. Members would rather see the Bill passed, but that an attempt would be made to overthrow the Government, and that the Liberals would be forced into a party move before Easter. When, however, the Resolution of the hon. and learned Member for Exeter was prepared, a certain number of Liberal Members humbly protested, and deferentially intimated to the right hon. Member for South Lancashire that they could not follow him in the course on which he was about to enter. The right hon. Gentleman saw the justice of their representations, the Resolution was not pressed, and the result was the Bill as it was now before the House. For good or evil here it was, and had it not been for the course adopted on that occasion by that section of the Liberal Members the country would now probably have been in the turmoil of a general election, to be followed by an agitation in the autumn, and perhaps, by the same game being played by the Gentlemen on the front Bench on both sides, until some catastrophe 1574 or revolution occurred. These were the grounds on which he had conscientiously acted; and he felt that he had acted as a true Liberal, as one who wished for moderate progress, and who wished to see the institutions of the country amended and not revolutionized.
§ MR. BARROW
said, that the Bill contained too many anomalies and inequalities to have any chance of permanency. He thought variety of franchises, such as existed before the Act of 1832, was the best way to secure the due representation of all opinions, and he objected to this Bill because it gave a preponderance to the occupying class, to the prejudice of those who had a permanent interest in the prosperity of the country. Agricultural labourers had hitherto been able by frugality and industry to acquire a freehold, and thus obtain a vote; but the reduction of the qualification for occupiers would remove the inducement for them to do so. If the opportunity were afforded him he should record his vote against the Bill.
§ LORD ELCHO
I have hitherto during the passage of this Bill abstained from trespassing on the indulgence of the House, because it appeared to me that, after fourteen or fifteen years' discussion, the time for action had come, and that it was desirable that we should settle the question this Session. This evening, however, has been devoted to personal explanations and to Parliamentary condolences and prophecies; and I am desirous, therefore, of taking the opportunity to offer a few remarks in respect to the course I have adopted. Last year I happened to be walking in Hyde Park, a few days before the Amendment of my noble Friend (Earl Grosvenor) came on for discussion, and a Member of the present Cabinet asked me what was likely to be the result. I said I did not know, but, from what I heard, there seemed a great probability of the Government being in a minority. "What then!" he asked. I replied that I did not pretend to prophesy, but my impression was that Lord Derby would come into power, and that, as the Conservative Party repealed Roman Catholic disabilities, and repealed the Corn Laws, and established Free trade, he might, with the assistance of independent Liberal Members, be able to settle the long-vexed question of Reform. That prediction is very near its fulfilment. As the conduct of independent Members has been much criticized, I wish to say something on the subject, for though I do not 1575 profess to speak for others, the justification of his conduct given by one independent Member may be a clue to the conduct of others. Now, there are two classes of independent Members on this side of the House. There are those who may be termed advanced Liberals, whose conduct requires no explanation, as it is very natural that they should vote for a measure which contains in it the principle of household suffrage. There are also moderate Liberals, and in that category I enrol myself. People out of doors ask, "What do you moderate Liberals say to this Bill? Do not you regret the course you took last year?" Now, my answer is, that I do not regret it. I have not changed the opinions which I have held on this subject since I have had the honour of a seat in this House. I have always thought that the most judicious and prudent way of dealing with the question was that proposed by Lord Derby's Government in 1859 — namely, by extending the franchise laterally, without lowering it. I am not opposed to Reform, far from it; I believe this question requires settlement, but my conviction is that it would be best settled by a lateral, and not by a vertical extension of the suffrage. We must, however, deal with it as practical men, and I would appeal to the noble Lord (Viscount Cranborne) or to my right hon. Friend (Mr. Lowe) whether, after the Government had this Session adopted the principle of lowering the franchise, the position I held was not an untenable one, and whether anything could have been more Quixotic than to have attempted to adhere to it. I urged my right hon. Friend, when he was about to oppose the Government for dealing with the question at all, to endeavour to improve their Bill rather than to turn them out, and I offered to second, if he would propose, a Resolution approving that it was not desirable to lower the suffrage. My right hon. Friend, however, very wisely I think, declined to make such a proposition; find when, therefore, the question was presented to us whether we should try and improve the Bill, or get rid of the Government, I believe the most patriotic course was that which independent Members have followed—to endeavour to settle the question, instead of leaving it for further agitation, to be settled, I do not know how or by whom. I ventured to oppose the Bill of last year, because it was introduced in an unsatisfactory and fragmentary way. It was brought in six weeks after the opening 1576 of the Session, and I could see in it no principle on which we could take our stand. The hon. Member for Birmingham has stated to-night that on account of the residuum, which he dreaded, he was in favour of some middle point between the present £10 line and household suffrage, yet he felt that household suffrage would come very soon. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Lowe) also thought that anything beyond the £10 line would not last. I felt therefore, that if we were to have a Reform Bill it should have some more stable basis than a mere figure, and that I should infinitely prefer a settlement upon some broad basis, such as the present, than upon any temporary expedient of a £6 or £7 franchise. My right hon. Friend, who takes, I think, a most unpractical view of the question, says he opposed the Bill of last year because it enfranchised the élite of the working classes, and that that élite being the leaders of the trades unions, their organization was such that to enfranchise them and them only would be to hand over the government of the country to the unions. He objects, however, to this Bill, because it does not merely enfranchise the élite, but goes further. Now, many persons think that with the view, not of influencing the masses by corruption, but of getting the bonâ fide opinion of working men on political questions, it is desirable to go further than the Bill of last year. I believe that the present Bill is a safer measure, and affords a more secure resting place, if we once withdraw from the £10 line, than anything which has yet been proposed. I do not stand up to defend the Government, or to answer my right hon. Friend who has uttered so many pleasant epithets with respect to the present Bill, and has used in reference to it the terms of treachery, infamy, trickery, shame, indignation, scorn, and despair. These may be said to be pearls of the first water, but I am inclined to think that the water is rather muddy. It has been said that the Bill as first proposed bristled with securities, and that the Government have given way with regard to them. No doubt they have, for the Government were in a minority; but who swept the securities away? It was the right hon. Gentleman who sits on this Bench, and who dreads household suffrage pure and simple and shivers at its very name, for during a great part of the Session he was hard at work trying to dig a trench for a £5 suffrage, and why? because he dreaded household 1577 suffrage. ["No, no!"] For what reason then? [An hon. MEMBER: To assist Lord Grosvenor.] I like that! My noble Friend opposite, who has the quality of being a pessimist as regards human nature referred to the fact of the Motion of the noble Lord the Member for Chester not being brought forward, and said that the Bill was changed in the Lobbies out of the House. He seemed to imply that some secret arrangement had been made between the noble Member for Chester and the Government, and that consequently the Motion was not brought forward. I am surprised at my noble Friend making that statement, because the House knows that no sooner was the Motion on the Paper than the late Chancellor of the Exchequer stepped forward with a similar Motion, though it was with the greatest difficulty that one could reconcile its terms with the rules of Lindley Murray. It is not for me to defend the Government, who are well able to defend themselves; but when we hear so much about the concessions made by the present Government, I wish the House to recall to mind what took place last Session, and compare it with what has occurred during the present Session. With regard to the Bill of 1867, Resolutions were first proposed; subsequently they were withdrawn, and a Bill was substituted. That substituted Bill was subsequently withdrawn, and the Bill now so near passing was brought in. The securities have disappeared with the exception of the rate-paying clause. On the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer I find a general readiness to meet the views of the House, and an anxious desire to pass the Bill. On the second reading of the Bill the right hon. Gentleman concluded his speech with these remarkable words "Pass the Bill; then change the Ministry if you like." Now, I turn to the year 1866, and I find that a Reform Bill was introduced only six weeks after the opening of the Session. This great haste arose from the fear that the people might say that the Government were not ready to deal with the question, and then we were told afterwards that we had only twelve days to pass the Bill in. Then, when objection was taken to the Bill as being only a Suffrage Bill, a promise was made that the views of the Government on re-distribution would be laid before Parliament. That was not considered satisfactory, and then a Bill on re-distribution was promised, but it was only to be laid on the table and was not to be proceeded 1578 with. This course was not deemed satisfactory by the House, and then it was proposed that the re-distribution Bill should be proceeded with, but separately from the Suffrage Bill. In this state of things the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock threatened a Motion on the subject, and then the two Bills were incorporated in one. That was the course pursued by the last Government, and there was on their part a general resistance of concession, refusal of information, a perpetual recourse to shifts and breaking down of bridges. The conduct of the independent Members who opposed the Bill of last year, and who support the present Bill, has been very much criticized. I might use a stronger expression; I might say that as long as we were supposed to be weak we were ridiculed, and as soon as we were found to be strong we were abused. The Daily Telegraph stated that we were opposing the Christian views expounded by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer; meaning that we were heathens. One of the hon. Members for Southwark denounced us as traitors, because we did not blindly follow the lead of the light hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire. The expression had the effect of stinging some hon. Gentlemen, but it did not sting me, for I owe no allegiance to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire. I was nut elected at the last election as a follower of the right hon. Gentleman, but as a follower of Lord Palmerston; and I told some hon. Gentlemen that it was not worth while to take any notice of the language of the hon. Member for Southwark, but that the best thing to do was to vote steadily for the Reform Bill and keep in the present Government. The hon. Member for Birmingham made a speech at Glasgow in which he declared that I was not worthy of a seat in the House of Commons in consequence of my conduct on the question of Reform, and expressed his astonishment that any intelligent Scotch farmer could be found to vote in favour of my return as a Member of Parliament. I did not object to this attack, because it did me a great deal of good, inasmuch as a paper in my county, which was not generally very complimentary to me, repudiated the interference of the hon. Member for Birmingham. Neither I myself nor any other Member of this House could take any harm from such a speech; and if the hon. Member for Birmingham were present— 1579 [Mr. STUART MILL: He has spoken.]—But that is no reason why he should go away. He has rather a habit of speaking and then leaving the House; but I would say to his face what I must now say in his absence—he has rather a habit of abusing Members of this House. We all recollect a speech he made in which he said that he would engage any day at noon to place a man at Temple Bar, who should seize hold of the first 658 full-grown men, and the odds were they would be, if not better, as good Members of Parliament as those I have now the honour of addressing. The remarks frequently indulged in by the hon. Member for Birmingham reminds me of what an old Scotch cook in my family used to say of the other servants "They are a' fules except me." There was another speech to which I should wish to refer. I was requested at the time to bring it formally forward before the House, but I did not think it worthy of more than incidental notice. The speech to which I refer was made at a Reform demonstration held at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, on Friday evening, the 22nd of June, 1866, Mr. George Wilson presiding—Mr. Benjamin Whitworth, M.P. for Drogheda (according to the London Standard), in seconding the resolution, said that last Tuesday morning, when the result of the division was announced in the House of Commons, he was one of those who called out 'Dissolve,' and he was glad to find that Manchester gave a key-note which had been echoed throughout the country, and he hoped would lead to a number of the Adullamites being sent to the right-about. The Government had won the hearts of the Irish people during this Session by its action on the Church question and on the great question of tenant-right, and every Irishman would do his utmost to keep the present Government in power, and to keep out those who would back up the tyrants of Europe. He believed that if a dissolution took place a £6 borough and a £10 county franchise would be carried, and the Tories would have given another instance of their stupidity in rejecting so reasonable and Conservative a measure. He had seen Mr. Gladstone badgered night after night by a set of blackguards—he could call them nothing else—and he might even call them drunken blackguards, for all the disturbances in the House took place after dinner.We have heard a great deal this Session about co-operating with the Government, but when such language is used towards Gentlemen who are only exercising their right and performing their duty—being sent here not as delegates but to exercise their judgment in the best way they can on the great questions brought before them—when such attempts are made to coerce their opinions, I am forcibly reminded of 1580 the trades unions. What is this but "rattening?" Indeed since the Sheffield disclosures, I am almost tempted to look if there be not a can of powder placed under this Bench; and begin to suppose it is in consequence of a similar apprehension that my right hon. Friend the Member for Calne has transferred his person to the other side of the gangway. But, be that as it may, the position in which we now stand is this, that, in consequence of the action of independent Members, this Bill is now about to leave this House and will probably pass the other branch of the Legislature. What its effect may be no one can predict. I think you must admit that some measure could not be avoided. Those very Members who have opposed the present Bill so strenuously have failed to point out how the question could more satisfactorily be dealt with—they all failed to show how a safe resting-place could be found between £10 and household suffrage. The Bill was inevitable. Possible evils may arise; but I confess I am willing to accept this measure frankly, and in a kindly spirit towards that class of the people who are about to be enfranchised. I have never been one of the courtiers of the working man—for the working men have their courtiers; but it is not those who have the working men most on their lips that are the readiest to do them service. Although I have never said that the working men are the fittest repository for the suffrage, and would make the best ruling class, I have still endeavoured to the best of my ability to promote any measure that I thought would benefit them. I have recently been engaged on one which has brought me much in contact with them. As I have already stated, I think that in any measure of Parliamentary Reform you should endeavour to have a fair representation of all classes of the people, and I think upon the whole this is a fair settlement of the question. I believe that it was impossible to retain the £10 line—as a great many Conservatives had on the hustings pledged themselves against it, and the Opposition side of the House would almost as one man have voted against its preservation. Working men are as open to reason as any other class; and if the upper classes will in their sphere do their duty, and exercise their moral influence over the people, they will find them much more reasonable than some suppose them to be. I accept this Bill, as I have said, in a frank and kindly spirit, and pray that 1581 the result of the work in which we have been engaged may be not only to broaden, but to strengthen the foundation of our liberties, and at the same time add to the happiness, prosperity, and power of the nation.
§ MR. OSBORNE
I never in my life, Sir, have been more puzzled than on the present occasion after listening to the speech of my noble Friend. I do not exactly understand whether that speech was in defence of the Ministry, of his own proceedings, or an attack on my right hon. Friend the Member for South Lancashire. He has talked of himself as being an independent Member; I do not deny his independence, but I question his belonging to the Liberal party, and therefore I deny his right to speak in the name of Gentlemen on this side of the House. [Lord ELCHO: I did not.] Well, Sir, I think the word "we" ran with the word "I" throughout his speech, but I do not believe there are twenty men on this side of the House who coincide with the noble Lord. The noble Lord says he accepts this Bill, but I very much doubt if he will be inclined to honour it when it becomes due. That Bill has been attended by the breaking up, not only of political confidence, but of parties in this House. It has been attended with the breaking up of the great party on the opposite side of the House. ["No, no!"] Well, you are apparently of one mind, but at the next General Election you will find yourselves broken up. But there is another party which has been broken up. It is said, every dog has his day. The noble Lord has had his Day, and has paid for it. But that party which was said to be the nucleus of a new Conservative party—the party which was designated the party of the Cave—what has become of it? It did its work, we are told—and a pretty work it was. For what was it? Bankruptcy as regards the Day newspaper; bankruptcy as regards the party. Well, Sir, what has happened to that party which was to have been built up? Like another great edifice which was to have been built up—the Tower of Babel—there is confusion of tongues among the builders, and they have been dispersed over the face of the earth. The noble Lord sits there (below the gangway) and the great leader and prophet of the party (Mr. Lowe) sits here (pointing to the front Opposition bench), and is attacked by the noble Lord. That Cave is no longer the Cave of Adullam, but the Cave of Trophonius, whose 1582 melancholy prophecies we have heard tonight—prophecies in which I put no faith, and which the House has received with equal admiration and unbelief. And now we are told that this Cave has done its work. What work has it done? Why, last year it opposed a moderate Reform Bill. I believe my noble Friend calls himself a moderate man. Well, he is "a moderate man;" but in what does his moderation consist? His moderation consists in having thrown out the Bill of last year, which was a safe, gradual extension of the franchise, and in now having come toward with bold voice, but I think with half-hearted feelings, and given his support to a measure which is no lateral extension of the suffrage, but that degradation of it which hon. Gentlemen opposite have so long and so loudly denounced. Let us have no more hypocrisy on this subject. We know what those Gentlemen of the Cave are. We know what that "unerring instinct" is by which they have been guided—an instinct to turn out the late Government and put the noble Lord's secret Friends in their place. I for one, however I may have supported this Bill, regret that the Government of the day have abdicated their proper functions. When my noble Friend talks of the right hon. Member for South Lancashire as having been the means of throwing over all the securities that were to be given us, let me ask, if he did throw over those securities, what was the plain duty of the Government? It was to throw over a Bill which they could not sanction, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire did in similar circumstances, and resign office. ["Hear, hear!" and "Oh!"] I take it that was the plain constitutional duty of the Government, and not even the noble Lord can contradict that. Now, I regret, and always have regretted, that this Bill was based upon rating in preference to rental. We heard no reason for abandoning the principle of the Bill of 1832, which based the franchise upon rental, unless it be that it was by the "unerring instinct" of certain Gentlemen that we were led to substitute rating. Now, what was this "unerring instinct?" We have heard to-night that it was "instinct"—as opposed to reason—which led us to this Bill. Why this "unerring instinct" was the simple wish of eleven Gentlemen, all of different politics, to get rid of the Bill—Gentlemen who had no personal preference for rating as opposed to rental, 1583 but they disliked the Bill of last year and so they threw it out. Now, whatever may be said by the noble Lord, I think it doubtful whether this Parliament or the Government will gain any credit from the country for the way this Bill has been introduced or passed. Why, Sir, the most cogent argument for the reform of this House has been the conduct of this House. What can it be called but conduct vacillating in the extreme to have thrown out a Bill last year because it was too great, and this year to pass one which is twice as great. This House is condemned by its conduct on the Bill, and whatever may turn out I do not think we shall ever get a worse Parliament than the present. We have heard something to-night about the paternity of this Bill. There is no doubt who is its father. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is no doubt its putative father, but he is not the real father. This offspring is a stolen child; the right hon. Gentleman has stolen it, and then, as the School for Scandal has it, he has treated it as the gipsies do stolen children,—he has disfigured it to make it pass for his own. But the real author of this Bill is an hon. Gentleman who sits below me—the hon. Member for Birmingham. I have got a draught of his Bill of 1858, and in that Bill there is this mischievous proposal of household suffrage based upon rating. It is the hon. Gentleman who is the real father of it—he ought to be a right hon. Gentleman and be sitting cheek by jowl with the putative father of the Bill, and why he is not, I do not know. It is all very well to speak of this as a Conservative measure. Why, Sir, the hands that brought in the Bill are the hands of Lord Derby, but the voice was the voice of John Bright. Now, that must be a great consolation to all the Gentlemen on those Benches who for years have been denouncing the hon. Member for Birmingham, and accusing him of Americanizing our institutions — for "Americanizing" was the word. The right hon. Gentleman on the Treasury Bench and his Colleagues are Americanizers, for they share with the hon. Member for Birmingham in the merit of the measure; and the Conservative party are nothing more than votaries and supporters of the hon. Member for Birmingham. There must be some reason for this sudden gyration of opinion. I think the phenomenon may be easily explained. I believe it may be ascribed not so much to change of political principles as to Parliamentary 1584 tactics. The Conservative party were worn out; they found they had no chance of office, but they had among them a grand master spirit. Now, whatever may be said by Gentlemen in this House, I am not the man that will ever say anything in disparagement of one of the greatest geniuses that this country has seen. Sir, he has proved himself a great genius. He has converted the most aristocratic Cabinet the country ever saw, and not only has he done that, but he has converted all those country Gentlemen who are known to be singularly obstinate and obtuse. Well, that is an enormous conversion. I doubt whether, since the time of St. Augustine, who converted illiterate barbarians, a missionary had ever such success. But what has induced the great Conservative party to rush at once into household suffrage? I think it may be explained in this way. The right hon. Gentleman, whatever his speeches in this House may have been, has always been consistent in his works, and in them he has maintained that the true allies of the nobility and gentry are not the intelligent artizans or the educated middle classes, but that residuum of whose blissful ignorance we have heard so much, and about whom we know so little. I can bring passage after passage from the right hon. Gentleman's works to prove what I say, and I was surprised tonight that the right hon. Member for Calne did not seem to know it. If ever he had read the works of the right hon. Gentleman, he might have known that he was drawing on his party little by little, and now, with that great success which attends all his efforts — because he is one of those men who can control himself, and therefore can control his party — he has brought them to support a measure of democratic Reform. I hear an hon. Gentleman who represents a small borough express dissent, but I should like to hear him explain how he expects Conservative views to be forwarded by the enactment of household suffrage. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has had enormous success, and there are people who bow down to success. How is his Cabinet composed? Why, Sir, since that celebrated Cabinet of Pelham, which contained eight Dukes, five Earls, and only one Commoner, there never has been a Cabinet composed of such aristocratic and Conservative materials. I must say if we were ever to expect Conservative measures from any Government it should be from one in which there 1585 are five Dukes in the Cabinet and two out of it, and Dukes, too, of a singularly Conservative turn. But what has been their course? These Dukes, who both in their counties and in the House of Lords have always resisted any extension of the suffrage, suddenly turn round one fine morning and support a Bill for giving household suffrage. Well, Sir, there is consolation to me as an humble man in that, for it proves that great Peers and great Dukes, however insensible to reason they may be in opposition, are very much like other men when they get into office. And it proves, moreover, that these Dukes, like gold fish, when caught and confined in the Cabinet vase, can alter their colours and also their condition. No, Sir, however we may welcome this Bill, there is one evil which lies at its roots—namely, the way in which it has been introduced, and the manner in which it has been passed. The noble Lord may say what he will—he may worship success, but I do not think the common sense of the country will receive with much confidence a Bill at the hands of men who, having been throughout their lives constantly opposed to Reform, suddenly become converts when in office, and introduce a democratic Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has a right to felicitate himself upon the progress of this Bill. He has proved himself to be the master of the situation, and he can say with the Roman Consul, "Alone I did it," because he has done it alone. Now, let us take a bird's eye view of his Colleagues. What have they done? It is curious and quite touching to witness the demure but expressive silence which they have maintained with regard to this measure. Why, with the exception of the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford, there is scarcely one on that Bench who has taken part in this discussion, and I do not think that it can be said even of that right hon. Gentleman that he has covered himself with glory. Let us see what some right hon. Gentlemen in the Cabinet said on the hustings. I have here some little extracts from their speeches to their constituents. I will not take the small fry. The key note of all these speeches was this, "We opposed Mr. Gladstone's Bill because it would have swamped the existing constituencies." There are two right hon. Gentlemen who have taken no part in this debate at any time; what did they say to their constituents? Well, here we have the right hon. Gentleman 1586 (Sir John Pakington) who in a speech to a confiding few at Droitwich, whilst giving his consent to an extension of the franchise, expressed his determination never to assent to a democratic measure, or to assimilate the institutions of the country in any way to a Republican model. Why has the right hon. Baronet not got up to defend the Bill—why has he allowed the whole work to fail upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Again, the noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland, in addressing his constituents in July, 1866, said that he opposed Mr. Gladstone's Bill because it went too far; I should like to know what is his present opinion upon the subject of Reform. Then there is another noble Lord whom we all respect—I mean the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn. He has maintained the most expressive silence upon this Bill, and I cannot help thinking that he has consented to it with great misgivings, because, what did he say on his election in July, 1866? His language is very curious, as showing what his idea was with regard to household suffrage at that time. He said that the measure of the late Government went further as regarded the franchise than the House was prepared to follow—that it was not possible to carry such a large extension of the franchise; but that if Mr. Gladstone's Cabinet had brought in a Bill reducing the county franchise to £20, and the borough franchise to £8, such a compromise would have been accepted by the great majority of the Conservative party. How, therefore, can those right hon. Gentlemen after pronouncing such speeches on the hustings come down here and expect that we should give them any credit for anything else than a desire to remain on the Treasury Bench? We are told to let "bygones be bygones," and to accept with gratitude what the Bill has given us. I feel no gratitude whatever, for I feel no confidence. It is true I do not share in the prognostications of violent change as the result of this Bill that have been uttered; but what I do believe in is a larger expenditure on the part of the candidate and a greater consumption of beer on the part of the voter. But as for telling what will happen to the constitution of this House in consequence of this Bill, except that wealth will have a greater power in it, it is impossible to predict anything of the kind. One change we must have, however, instead of our cry being "Register, register," henceforth it will be "Education, education;" for, depend upon 1587 it, you cannot Americanize our franchise, without borrowing other things from that country, and one of those things must be the education of our people. And I can say this much, that had we known the fact brought to light by Commissions of the moral obliquity existing in some parts of the country some time since, I doubt whether we, ardent Reformers as we are, should have been passing the third reading of this Bill which gives this wide suffrage. But, having gone so far, and having committed ourselves to this extent, it is impossible for us to retract; we must go on, and our only safeguard for the future will consist not in securities and restrictions, but in the education of the people.
§ MR. SANDFORD
said, that the noble Lord opposite (Lord Elcho) seemed to have attacked everybody in the House, from whatever side he spoke. He attacked the hon. Member for Southwark, and the noble Lord the Member for Stamford, and the hon. Member for Nottingham. The only persons he excepted were the Members of the Government and himself. He set himself up for a prophet, and endeavoured to prove it by quoting prophecies of his own. He acknowledged that he could not say a word as to the probable result of the Bill, and yet he was the only person who had risen to support the views of the Government. He agreed with the statement of the hon. Gentleman opposite, that the silence of the Treasury Bench generally on this question had been most ominous—but the House had at least been favoured with the views of two Members of the Government. These were the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his ancillary Member of the Cabinet, the present Secretary for the Home Department, the Member for the University of Oxford. Speaking in the earlier part of the Session that right hon. Gentleman told the House that the Bill was founded on the Resolutions. Now, he dare say that most of the Members had by this time quite forgotten the Resolutions, but for his part he had not; and he would take this opportunity of reminding hon. Members of the third Resolution, on which the Government had at the time laid great stress. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford prided himself on his conscientious and consistent Conservatism. How had the third Resolution been preserved? He would refresh his memory in respect to that Resolution, for he certainly must have forgotten it. That Resolution was to the 1588 effect that, while it was desirable that a more direct representation should be given to the labouring classes, it was contrary to the Constitution of this Realm to give to any one class or interest the predominant power over the rest of the community. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford how that Resolution had been preserved? But that right hon. Gentleman did not stop there. Speaking of the Bill on the 20th of March, those fatal Ides of March, the right hon. Gentleman used this language—I think that, upon the figures as they stand, and as they have been reviewed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, coupled with the cheeks introduced in the Bill, the measure is a perfectly safe one. If it differs in different boroughs, I can only say that one of the chief arguments adopted last year, on both sides of the House, against the right hon. Gentleman's measure, was that there was a disgusting monotony in all boroughs,"—[3 Hansard, clxxxvi. 515.]He went on to say how excellent the measure was with the Small Tenements Act in existence, because it preserved the principle of self-election. What had become of that principle now? Nor was this language confined to the Member for the University of Oxford; it was repeated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for that right hon. Gentleman, in his opening speech, said he regretted the ancient suffrages of the country. But they all know that the ancient suffrages of the country depended on their variety, and when the right hon. Gentleman was reproached with the variety which the suffrage of the Small Tenements Act would create, the right hon. Gentleman consistently rose in his place and defended that variety of suffrage, because he said that it would relieve the uniformity which had been so often urged with fatal effect. He (Mr. Sandford) would ask the right hon. Gentleman what had now become of the variety of the suffrage? It appeared to him that they had substituted the uniformity of a household suffrage for the uniformity of a £10 rental. The Member for the University of Oxford also said that the Bill was founded on the great principle of residential rating suffrage, but since then the lodger franchise had been introduced, which was completely destructive of that principle of rate-paying suffrage, and had made the demand for manhood suffrage logical and irresistible. No Gentleman in that House was more desirous than he was for allowing to the working classes a large share in the representation; and, in fact, he advocated the 1589 principle when it was not quite so fashionable as it was at present in that House, because he had always felt that the objection of the hon. Member for Westminster to the present distribution of political power was a fatal one when he stated that although the working classes possessed 28 per cent of the representation they must always be in a perpetual minority. But he would contrast the justice of that complaint with the injustice of the remedy proposed. The power which one class possessed over the rest of the community would simply change hands, and the other classes of the community would be placed in precisely the same position as the Member for Westminster complained the working classes were now in. They would soon find how desirable it would be to give to the minority some protection. At present in Scotland there was a large Conservative minority, but not a single Conservative Member. That was not a fair representation of the country. And in like manner in New England there was a large democratic minority, but not a single democratic legislator. That showed the necessity which there was for giving the minority some protection. One great reason why he thought it desirable to give the working classes a greater share in the representation was because he considered that the great vice of England at the present day was its flunkeyism. It prevailed extensively among the middle classes, nor were the higher free from it, for there was an undoubted admiration of Dukes amongst them. At the same time he did not wish the working classes to receive more than their fair share of justice. But what had the Government done? They had given up the diversity of representation in every instance. They had given up dual voting and the Small Tenements Act; in fact, they had successively surrendered every principle which was laid down as a safeguard, and the mode of their surrender had been characterized by the term "dexterity." He confessed himself that that was not a word which he should have applied to such a policy. Nothing was easier than for a Minister upon the slightest pretext to abandon every principle for which his party contended if his object was simply to retain office. The only question with such a Minister was, whether he was willing to pay the price. For himself, he (Mr. Sandford) did not believe that a temporary triumph or a temporary retention of office was worth the purchase, 1590 if that price was the utter abnegation of all political principle and honour.
§ MR. DOULTON
said, that, if anything were wanting to show that this might be accepted as a Liberal measure, it would be supplied by the fact that those Members who had most consistently and persistently opposed all Reform were opposed to this Bill. The noble Lord the Member for Stamford had made a statement which appeared to him to be totally void of foundation. That statement was that the hon. Member for Birmingham and the right hon. Member for South Lancashire, with those who had supported them on this question, were entitled to some of the credit attaching to the position to which this Reform Bill had arrived. He had never heard anything more fallacious in that House. It was, indeed, true that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, at the commencement of the Session, stated—if not in words, at least, in meaning—that his policy on this question was to be a policy of peace, forbearance, and, if necessary, of compromise, in order to arrive at a settlement of the question. Undoubtedly, up to a certain period, that policy was maintained; but only just so long as the Government appeared to be in a precarious position. But, the moment it became evident that they were not only willing but able to grapple with Reform, and were intent upon passing a really large measure, the right hon. Gentleman's policy of peace was exchanged for a policy of war. That policy was maintained till some weeks back, when, by the aid of the independent Members, the Bill seemed certain to be carried; and then the right hon. Gentleman found that it was a good Bill, and deserved support. Upon the second reading the right hon. Gentleman advised the House to reject the Bill, and that advice was acquiesced in by the hon. Member for Birmingham. When the good sense of a majority of the House led to the withdrawal of that proposal, an "Instruction," prepared, as he understood, by the right hon. Gentleman himself, was placed in the hands of an hon. and learned Member (Mr. Coleridge), supposed to be one of the most eloquent advocates of any question in that House, and this, if carried, would have been tantamount, not only to a defeat of the Bill, but to the overthrow of the Government. The resources of the right hon. Gentleman were not, however, even then exhausted. The House would recollect the letter which the right hon. 1591 Member for South Lancashire sent to the hon. Member for the City (Mr. Crawford.) That letter was not sent without a purpose; but it failed to produce the effect it was intended to produce. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen sitting on these (the Opposition) Benches still endeavoured not to improve the Bill, but to defeat the Government. They used unworthy taunts towards the Government—taunts which had been repeated to-night—and placed every possible difficulty in their way. When these tactics failed, abuse and calumny were thrown, at Reform League meetings and elsewhere, upon the few independent Liberals who had dared to advocate the Bill. That was the ground taken by the hon. Member for Birmingham, and the Reform League, and the National Reform Union. When the National Reform Union was resuscitated, mainly by the hon. Member for Birmingham, it appeared probable that there would be a disagreement between that and the Reform League—one advocating household, and the other universal, suffrage; but they met upon a common ground upon which they could agree, which was to seek not to improve the Bill, but to throw out the Ministry. All these plans having failed, hon. Gentlemen who had assailed both the Bill and the Government next took credit for the position in which the Bill was placed. He believed that credit was mainly due to the tact and ability shown by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and not least of all to the temper of the right hon. Gentleman in dealing with the provocations of a most extraordinary character which he received from that (the Opposition) side of the House. He had heard a good deal this Session about the sacrifices and humiliations which men were willing to make in order to retain office; but he thought that nothing could exceed the sacrifices and humiliations which men were willing to undergo in order to regain office. He believed, too, that credit was due to those few hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Benches in his own neighbourhood, who had adhered to the measure through good report, and through evil report, and who, throwing aside all party ties, had determined to support the Government in passing the Bill through the House, because they believed it to be a measure honest in its intentions, and, as he believed had been shown, just in its results. But it was said that the Bill, in its present shape, was the Bill of the House, and not of the Government. 1592 That was precisely the form which the Government, from the first, said they wished it should assume. When the Bill was introduced to the House it was said that, as the question of Reform had baffled all the attempts of parties to arrive at a settlement, it must be settled by the House itself. The principle of the Government Bill, however, he maintained to be in the measure yet, and the House had only done what it was invited to do by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire had admitted to be necessary. No doubt those who were opposed to the Bill, and desired its rejection, were dissatisfied with the mode of proceeding; but, supposing their wishes had been successful, what would have been the result? The former Bill introduced by Lord Derby was rejected; and, when a Liberal Ministry came into power, Reform was shelved for a number of years—so shelved, not because they loved Reform less, but because they loved their places more. Such would have been the result in this instance had their desires been realized. The one unpardonable thing, however, urged against those who had acted as he had done was their faithlessness to their party. That charge was made by those who had attained the position they held by constantly opposing the Liberal party. The hon. Member for Southwark for instance, (Mr. Layard), in the speech which he delivered at Bermondsey—a speech rendered memorable by a little incident that occurred subsequently in the House, stigmatized certain hon. Members as "traitors," and hoped that the electors of Lambeth and Marylebone and some other places, would not consent to be represented by men who had been faithless to their party. With what face or what grace could the hon. Gentleman have said that? The hon. Gentleman subsequently said—in the House but not to his constituents—that he used the word "traitors" in joke. For his part, he must say that he had never regarded the hon. Gentleman as a joking man, but had always looked upon his utterances as being intended seriously. But with what grace could the hon. Gentleman make the charge of faithlessness to party? No one had for a number of years more consistently opposed the Liberal party than the hon. Member for Southwark, and that opposition continued until the hon. Gentleman received a reward in the shape of a seat in the front Benches, and from that time 1593 until the present moment he was perfectly willing to admit that the hon. Member had been an obedient—a very obedient—Member of the Liberal party. There were other Gentlemen who occupied the front Benches while the last Ministry was in power who were open to the same charge. Some hon. Gentleman behind him, too, had equally opposed the Liberal party. He could remember, for instance, that when he first came into the House some four or five years ago, there was scarcely a Liberal measure proposed by the Government of Lord Palmerston which was not resisted by the hon. Member for Birmingham. [Mr. BRIGHT here made a gesture of dissent.] He would take care to be prepared on a future occasion to justify what he had said by a reference to Hansard. The Bill, however, was now an accomplished fact. He did not share in any way in the misgivings of the hon. Member for Birmingham. He listened to the speech of the hon. Member that evening, and he also heard the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, and it seemed to him that the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Birmingham were the only two Members who were afraid of this Bill. For himself, he entertained no such alarm, and he believed that the course which would be taken by the House that evening would tend to the glory of the country and the honour of every one connected with it.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, the hon. Member for Nottingham, whom he hoped he might call his hon. Friend—[Mr. OSBORNE: Oh, certainly.]—had compared the Chancellor of the Exchequer to St. Augustine, and he supposed the hon. Gentleman meant to compare the right hon. Gentleman to the St. Augustine who came from Rome to England. There were two saints of that name; the St. Augustine who came to England, was a monk sent to this country by the Pope, who had, while endeavouring to establish the power of the Papacy, been accessory to putting to death some hundreds of Welsh priests, because they refused to conform to the Papal mandate. He (Mr. Newdegate) understood there was a Member for Wales near him who was positively this evening shivering in his shoes. The other St. Augustine was an African bishop, a sound theologian, in most respects, a good Protestant, of whom some Cardinals would, no doubt, say——Hic niger est hunc tu romane caveto.1594 The reason that he (Mr. Newdegate) had for some years advocated a Reform of Parliament was because for years he had seen hon. Members sanctioning vast changes in the Constitution of this country. In 1845 Protestant feeling had been outraged by the establishment of Maynooth; then the measures of what was called Free Trade were carried so far as to threaten, if they had not actually caused, the repudiation of the principle of nationality, and even the Christian character of that assembly had been well nigh destroyed by the admission of Jews — changes which had all received the sanction of the hon. Member for Birmingham. Why was the hon. Member for Birmingham desirous of reforming a Parliament which had done its work so well? He had at times stood alone in defence of the institutions which these measures infringed. His conclusion, fortified by measures which passed that House, and, in some instances, the other House too, was that they would have a revolution before they had a Reform Bill, and he thought that if they were to have a revolution, it would be better to have it in due order, after and not before the Reform Bill. He thought that the changes which would be sure to ensue, had better be the act of the people themselves. He honoured the consistency of the noble Lord the Member for Stamford, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne, and other Members who went with them into a certain Cave. He wished to remark that no such franchise as the household suffrage had ever yet existed under the Constitution of this country. Circumstances had, however, led to the introduction of that franchise; and, although he was not disposed to under-estimate the importance of the change which this Bill would effect, he had no want of confidence in his countrymen, and he therefore trusted that the result would be advantageous. It was true, as had been said by the hon. Member for Birmingham, that the redistribution of seats was not in proportion to the change which had taken place in the suffrage. Having accepted the numerical principle as applied to property and population in 1832, and having proceeded upon it now in the establishment of the new franchise by household suffrage; the Bill suddenly stopped short of doing justice to the majority of the people by increasing their direct representation in that House; for although the representation of the 1595 county population had been somewhat increased, still, after that increase had been made, eighteen seats were yet wanting to make the direct representation of the majority of the people who were resident in the counties equal to two-thirds of the representation of the minority who were resident in the boroughs. He trusted that that disproportion would be considered elsewhere. It was totally unfair and unjust; it could not stand consistently with the principles on which the Bill was, in other respects, founded. It was to save the small boroughs which were condemned, but which would become still more ridiculous when household suffrage was extended to Arundel and such places, that this acknowledged injustice to the majority of the people was continued. The Conservative Bill of 1859, notwithstanding the attempt to avoid any extension of the borough suffrage, might have passed if it had proposed a just re-distribution of seats. Now, the Government had been forced into a measure of household suffrage for the boroughs which was much more extensive than they originally intended, and even more extensive than the Liberal party intended, merely by their obstinate determination to preserve the gross anomaly, which the very small boroughs represented. This obstinate adherence to the maintenance of those small boroughs, for purposes which they no longer answered, since, will but few, though honourable, exceptions, they no longer returned distinguished politicians, had carried the House further in the reduction of the franchise than they ever intended to go.
§ LORD EUSTACE CECIL
, in the absence of any discussion on the second reading of the Bill, had not had an opportunity of expressing his opinions upon it, and, as an independent Member of the late Conservative party, he was bound to register his protest against a measure he could neither approve nor prevent passing. He cordially agreed with what had fallen from the right hon. Member for Calne. The Bill would perpetuate bribery and lead to an extension of the influence of wealth, and eventually lead to manhood suffrage and electoral districts. He had been unable to find any Conservative proposition whatever in the Bill. All the safeguards which had been so pompously promised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer had entirely vanished into empty talk. He could not see the smallest prospect of permanence 1596 in the Bill. Neither counties nor large towns would be sufficiently represented, and agitation would finish only to recommence. The lodger franchise must inevitably lead to a renewed agitation in favour of manhood suffrage. The retention of small boroughs and the refusal to give an extra Member to large towns must lead to a revival of agitation in favour of a re-distribution of seats. Looking at the Bill as a whole from the first moment of its existence down till the present time, he was tempted to quote the following passage:—"Thou art not thyself, for thou existest upon many thousand grains of sand which issue out of dust." So far as the Government was concerned, the Bill had no existence at all. It was not the work of the Ministry; it was the patchwork of the House of Commons. There was one crumb of comfort—honest and consistent politicians on both sides of the House had spoken the truth. In that small band he gloried to enrol himself, conscious that he had been faithful to those principles for which he was elected.
§ MR. LAING
said, he feared that after the telling burst of eloquence they had been favoured with early in the evening, the House was hardly in a mood to listen to a few words of rather flat common sense. He should not take up much time, but he was anxious, as one of the independent Members who had assisted in passing this Bill, to show that he was not deserving of all the scorn and invective which had been indulged in by certain hon. Members of excited imagination. After years of fruitless agitation and discussion, a great settlement of a great constitutional question was passing the House supported by such a majority that a division against it on the third reading was hopeless. They had also the authority of the hon. Member for Birmingham for saving that it met with as large an acceptance throughout the country as any measure within his recollection that had ever been introduced in that House. It seemed strange that, at the final passing of it, instead of hearing from the Leaders of the House a comprehensive retrospect of the past, and a large and statesmanlike prescience for the future, this great measure should leave them amid a chorus of personal recriminations. He would not refer to those ardent Reformers who, like the hon. Member for Nottingham when they received from the hands of the Government opposite a boon they ought to accept gladly if they were sincere in their 1597 professions, had nothing but the language of invective and scorn to deal out towards a measure which ought to satisfy their dearest aspirations. The hon. Member for Nottingham had acquired a great reputation for well-timed, pleasant jokes, and it seemed as if he wished to show what capital for jesting could be made out of political principles. He (Mr. Laing) had listened with disappointment to the noble Lord the Member for Stamford, who often rose into the higher and more serene regions of statesmanship, where anything like personal feeling entirely disappeared. Before objecting in the strong and pointed language he had done to this measure, emanating from the Government of his own side, the noble Lord ought to have recollected that he was for six months and more a Member of a Cabinet which was not formed on the principle of "no surrender," was not formed on the principle of making a stop at a £10 franchise unless it went in a lateral direction, which brought in Resolutions proposing a large reduction of the franchise, and when they miscarried brought in the Ten Minutes Bill, which proposed a great reduction of the franchise based upon the hard and fast line of a £6 rating. When it failed the noble Lord resigned, leaving the Government in a situation where there was no alternative but either to throw everything into confusion by giving up office, or else to accept the inevitable, like practical men, and, in concert with the House, to modify and mould a Bill into such a shape that if passed it would give satisfaction to the country. It was not for him to justify the course of the Government; he rather wished to state what he believed to be the justification of the course which he for one had taken, not as an advanced or ardent Reformer, which he did not profess to have been, but as a moderate Liberal; he wished to justify the course he had adopted in co-operating in the passing of a measure which went fully the length of all that was proposed by the hon. Member for Birmingham. When the question of Reform was originally mooted last Session he felt strongly the advantages which had resulted from political power being vested in the middle classes of the country, as it was by the Act of 1832. He believed that political history could not show more beneficial results than had been brought about during those thirty-five years. He simply stated his opinion, and he would challenge any 1598 one to show that the system instituted by the first Reform Bill had not worked well. For his own part, he at first felt very great misgivings in respect to disturbing a system which practically was working well. Further, he would confess that if the lamented Lord Palmerston had been spared to us ten years longer he should have been well content to let that period pass by without re-opening the question of Reform, though he was always aware that the re-opening of it was a mere question of time. If it were an axiom that knowledge is power, surely it followed that as knowledge is diffused more widely political power must be extended along with it? And it was impossible to doubt that knowledge had been, diffused widely among all classes of the community, and with it all those feelings, such as loyalty and attachment to the institutions of the country, which fitted men for the enjoyment of the franchise. The adherence of the working classes to the Volunteer movement was one indication of the progress which had been made. Under these circumstances he saw that the extension of political power was a mere question of time; and when the question was mooted and with high authority, it was idle to suppose that they should exclude it from sight, or, like the ostrich, get rid of it by hiding their heads in the sand. When therefore the question was brought forward last Session he, in common with many moderate Liberals, felt that if it was to be raised at all a settlement ought to be aimed at which would be permanent for a considerable term of years, and to attain that end it was necessary to find something like a principle to form the basis of a Bill. A mere arbitary line did not offer a prospect of any such permanence. He felt that they ought to run some risk in a large extension of the suffrage to secure that object, and in household suffrage with rating he saw a principle upon which they might safely rest. The shape in which the Bill now stood upheld the impregnable principle that those who discharged the obligations of citizens should enjoy the rights of citizens. So much, then, as regards the franchise. He accepted the measure with the more cheerfulness because he did not believe in the correctness of the prognostications of dreadful dangers to arise in the future, although it was true he could not shut his eyes to a certain amount of danger which might possibly result from a measure of a democratic character. Still, he had that confidence, in the public spirit and natural 1599 genius of the people and in the worth of the social institutions of the country that he did not believe there would be any great danger. The only other point of importance was that of the redistribution of seats, and he freely admitted that the scheme of re-distribution in the present Bill did not correspond in its magnitude with the question of the franchise. At the same time he thought that the House had, on the whole, arrived at a settlement on which they might take their stand, at least for a short time to come. On the whole he thought that the Liberal Members who had supported the Bill had pursued a most patriotic course, as they had helped to pass a measure which, in his judgment, would give satisfaction to the country.
§ MR. SELWIN-IBBETSON
said, that ever since his election he had strongly and consistently advocated a large extension of the franchise, because in his opinion the extension of education and the increase of population had made it a necessity. He was therefore rather awkwardly situated, because if his constituents held the same views as his noble Colleague (Lord Eustace Cecil), they, of course, could not approve his opinions, inasmuch as he had supported the Government all through.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, Sir, the debate of this evening commenced with what may be described as two very violent speeches — that is, speeches very abusive of the measure before the House, and very abusive of the Ministers who have introduced it. I am more anxious to vindicate the measure than to defend the Government. But it necessarily happens in questions of this character, which have occupied the attention of Parliament for a long term of years, that it is practically impossible to distinguish the measure from the Ministry in any observations upon it. So much depends upon personal character and engagements, and upon the necessity of the time and the temper of the country, when a Minister is called upon definitively to act, that it is perhaps impossible to separate in the remarks which I have to offer to the House a consideration of the conduct of the Government from the nature of the Bill which we now ask leave to read a third time. It is very easy for the noble Lord the Member for Stamford, while he treats of a question which has occupied the attention of Parliament for more than 1600 fifteen years, to quote some ambiguous expression which was used early in that period of fifteen years by Lord Derby, and then to cite some small passage in a speech made by myself in the year 1866. But I think that hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House will admit that to arrive at a just judgment of the conduct of public men and of the character of the measures they propose, it is necessary to take larger and fuller views. Measures of this importance, and the conduct of those who may recommend them, are not to be decided by the quotation of a speech made in 1852 or of remarks made in 1866.
Now, Sir, I accept the challenge made by the noble Lord. I will take that very term which he has himself fixed upon as the test of our conduct and of our policy. I will throw my vision back over those fifteen years—to that very term of 1852 when we were called upon to undertake the responsibility of administration. The question of Parliamentary Reform was becoming very rife in 1849 and 1850 and 1851. If I recollect right, it occupied the attention of Parliament when it first met in 1852, when we were sitting in opposition, and therefore when we acceded to office, and to office for the first time, in the year 1852, although the question was not one which upon reflection men who were responsible for the conduct of affairs would have deemed necessary to treat, yet it was one upon which it was absolutely necessary that a Cabinet should have some definite conclusions, and one upon which it was quite certain the moment they acceded to office they would be called to express their opinion. It happened in that wise, for I think that within a month after we acceded to office, Mr. Hume brought forward, as he was accustomed to do, the whole question of Parliamentary Reform, in a very comprehensive manner—referring not only to the franchise, but to the redistribution of seats, and many other matters connected with it. The Cabinet had to meet and decide upon the spirit in which they would encounter the Motion of Mr. Hume, and I was the organ to express their opinions on the subject. The opinions which I expressed upon that occasion from this very place were such as do not justify the remarks of the noble Lord and the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman. They may not be fresh in the recollection of the House, but I will say only that upon that occasion, with the full authority of a unanimous Cabinet, expressing 1601 the opinion of Lord Derby's Government with regard to the question of Parliamentary Reform, I expressed our opinion that if that subject were again opened—and its immediate re-opening we deprecated—the fault which had been committed in 1832 in neglecting to give a due share of the representation to the working classes ought to be remedied. That was in the year 1852, when, with the full authority of the Cabinet, I said that no measure of Parliamentary Reform could be deemed satisfactory which did not remedy the great fault of the settlement of 1832, and I then contended, as I have since, that before the settlement of 1832; franchises existed which were peculiar to the working classes, and that although the precise character of those franchises could not, perhaps, have been entirely defended, they should certainly not have been destroyed without the invention of fresh franchises more adapted to the times in which we live and to the requirements of the classes concerned. Therefore it is quite clear that in 1852 our opinions upon the subject of Parliamentary Reform—for many of the Members of that Cabinet are Members of the present—were such that the expressions of the right hon. Gentleman opposite and the noble Lord cannot for a moment be justified.
And what, Sir, occurred afterwards? When we were in opposition during several years this question was constantly brought under the consideration of Parliament, and it continued to be patronized and encouraged by the then Ministers of the Crown, who yet would not deal with it until the very last year of their existence as a Cabinet; and then, after an official life of some six or seven years, they did introduce the subject to the consideration of Parliament, and left a Bill upon the table when they resigned their Seals of Office. It therefore became necessary for us in 1858 to consider the subject, and we did not conceal from ourselves for a moment the difficulties in treating it that we should have to encounter. But such was the situation of the question, such the state of the country with regard to it, such even the private counsel and encouragement of the most influential of our predecessors in office, that we engaged to consider the question and to bring forward some measure which we hoped might remove the difficulties that stood in the way of general legislation, and so disembarrass political life. We had then to consider 1602 the great question of the borough franchise. It was proposed upon that occasion in the Cabinet of Lord Derby that the borough franchise should be founded upon the principle of household suffrage. It is very true that that proposition was not adopted, but it was not opposed, so far as I can charge my memory, on any political ground; it was not adopted by many Members of the Cabinet, because they believed that if a scheme of that kind were brought forward it would receive no support generally speaking in the country. That opinion of Lord Derby's Government I may say was ultimately formed on no mean knowledge; elaborate machinery was had recourse to in order to obtain the information necessary to form an accurate opinion on the subject, and the general tenor of the information which reached us certainly forced us to the conclusion that there was an insuperable objection on the part of the constituencies at that time against any reduction of the borough franchise whatever. That that was a true conclusion; and that the information which led to that conclusion was correct there can be no doubt; for although we were forced to quit office by a Resolution declaring that a reduction of the borough franchise was expedient, those who succeeded us failed in carrying any measure of that kind, and remained in office for years without at all departing from their inaction.
But there is another feature in the policy of the Government of 1859 with regard to this question which I have a right to refer to, and, indeed, am bound to refer to, in vindication of the conduct of that Government. Whatever difference of opinion might have existed in the Cabinet of Lord Derby in 1859 on the question of establishing the borough franchise on the principle of rated household suffrage, there was no difference upon one point; the Cabinet was unanimous, after the utmost deliberation and with the advantage of very large information upon the subject, that if we attempted to reduce the borough qualification which then existed we must have recourse to household suffrage whatever might be the condition. Upon that conclusion we acted, and I am at a loss to discover in the conduct of public men who have acted in the way I have described any foundation for the somewhat frantic attacks which have been made upon us by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and for the bitter, though more 1603 temperately expressed, criticisms of the noble Lord the Member for Stamford. As probably the majority of the present House sat in the late Parliament, the House is well acquainted with the fortunes of the question of Parliamentary Reform during the years which followed the retirement of Lord Derby in 1859. The question was unsuccessfully treated by the most powerful and popular Minister this country has possessed for many years—by one, indeed, who at various times after 1859 apparently occupied a commanding position with reference to any question with which he proposed to deal; and it has so happened that every leading Statesman of the day, every Party representing any important section of power and opinion in the country, who approached this subject, have all of them equally failed. Lord Russell failed, Lord Aberdeen failed, Lord Palmerston failed, Lord Derby failed, and we were called upon to re-consider the question when we came into office after a fresh failure by Lord Russell.
It is said that we have brought forward a measure stronger than the one we opposed. If that be the case, it is no argument against our measure if it be one adapted to the requirements of the time. But, Sir, we who believe that there should be no reduction of the borough franchise other than what we propose, because there can be no sound resting place between it and the present qualification, were perfectly justified in hesitating to accept a reduction of the franchise which might have disturbed the machinery of the State, and have resulted in consequences far more perilous than we believe can ensue from the measure we ask you to adopt. There had beer for a considerable time a much-favoured plan before the public; and the object, or rather, I should say, the consequence, of this plan, which may be described as a moderate reduction of the borough franchise, was the enfranchisement of a certain and favoured portion of the working classes, who are always treated in this House and everywhere else publicly in terms of great eulogium, who are—Fed by soft dedication all day long,and assured that they are very much superior to every other portion of the working classes. These were to be invested with the franchise on the implied condition that they were to form a certain Prætorian guard, and prevent every other portion of the working classes of this country from 1604 acquiring the privilege, and thus those other portions would be shut out from what is called the pale of the Constitution. This proposal, in different shapes and different degrees, was constantly before Parliament. We were greatly opposed to it since we believed it was a dangerous policy, and we saw greater peril to the institutions of the country in admitting a small and favoured section of that kind into the political arena than in appealing to the sympathies of the great body of the people. The working classes will now probably have a more extensive sympathy with our political institutions, which, if they are in a healthy state, ought to enlist popular feeling, because they should be embodiments of the popular requirements of the country. It appeared to us that if this great change were made in the constituent body, there would be a better chance of arriving at the more patriotic and national feelings of the country than by admitting only a favoured section, who, in consideration of the manner in which they were treated, and the spirit in which they were addressed, together with the peculiar qualities which were ascribed to them, would regard themselves as marked out, as it were, from the rest of their brethren and the country, and as raised up to be critics rather than supporters of the Constitution. These were our views, and we retain the conviction that guided us in 1859, and from which, if we have deviated, it was only for a moment, and because we thought that on this question it was impossible to come to any solution except in the spirit of compromise and mutual concession. We still adhered to the policy of 1859, and believed if you reduced the borough qualification—and some reduction was now inevitable—there was no resting place until you came to a rating household suffrage.
Well, Sir, under these circumstances, we acceded to power last year, and we found it was absolutely necessary to deal with this question; we came into power unpledged; and I have heard with some astonishment reproaches in regard to our change of opinion. I am not here to defend, to vindicate, or even to mitigate every expression I may have used on this subject during the course of many years; but I can appeal to the general tenour of the policy we have recommended. I have always said that the question of Parliamentary Reform was one which it was quite open to the Conserva- 1605 tive party to deal with. I have said so in this House, and on the hustings, in the presence of my countrymen, a hundred times. I have always said, and I say so now, that when you come to a settlement of this question, you cannot be bound to any particular scheme, as if you were settling the duties on sugar; but dealing with the question on great constitutional principles, and which I hope to show have not been deviated from, you must deal with it also with a due regard to the spirit of the time and the requirements of the country. I will not dwell upon the excitement which then prevailed in the country; for I can say moat sincerely that without treating that excitement with contempt, or in any spirit analogous to contempt, we considered this question only with reference to the fair requirements of the country. But having to deal with this question, and being in office with a large majority against us, and knowing that Ministers of all colours of party and politics, with great majorities, had failed to deal with it successfully, and believing that another failure would be fatal not merely to the Conservative party, but most dangerous to the country, we resolved to settle it if we could. Having accepted office unpledged, what was the course we adopted? Believing that it was a matter of the first State necessity that the question should be settled—knowing the majority was against us, and knowing the difficulties we had to deal with, being in a minority, and that even with a majority, our predecessors had not succeeded—after due deliberation, we were of opinion that the only mode of arriving at a settlement was to take the House into council with us, and by our united efforts, and the frank communication of ideas, to attain a satisfactory solution. I am in the recollection of the House, and I ask whether that is not a faithful account of the situation? It was in harmony with these views that I placed Resolutions on the table. It is very true that at that time — in the month of March or February it may be—you derided those Resolutions and ridiculed the appeal; but reflection proved the policy was just, and you have adopted it. We have pursued the course which we felt to be the only one to bring this question to a happy termination, and jour own good sense, on reflection, has convinced you that the original sneers were not well-founded. You have all co-operated with us, and it is by 1606 that frank and cordial co-operation that we have arrived at the third reading.
The noble Lord the Member for Stamford says that the Bill is no longer our Bill—that it has been enormously changed in consequence of our having accepted the ten conditions of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, which he also informed the House the right hon. Gentleman had so imperiously dictated. At the time there was some complaint of the imperious dictation of the right hon. Gentleman; but it did not come from me; I can pardon those in opposition who are inclined to be imperious, but I have no fault to find with the conditions that the right hon. Gentleman insisted upon, and which the noble Lord says I obsequiously observed. What were those conditions? Let me recall them to the House. In the first place, the right hon. Gentleman insisted—imperiously insisted—that the dual vote should be given up. He declared his implacable hostility to the dual vote, and the noble Lord says the dual vote was thereupon given up. It so happened, however, that the dual vote was given up one fortnight before those conditions were so imperiously insisted on by the right hon. Gentleman, and it was given up in consequence of the unanimous reprobation of that political device by the Conservative party. Not a single Gentleman on our side of the House was in favour of it. That opinion was expressed in writing and in this House by the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire; and I will not say in consequence of his imperious dictation, but because he expressed the unanimous feeling of our Friends, we took the earliest opportunity of signifying that the dual vote should not be insisted on. Then the noble Lord says we gave up one of the bristling securities of the Bill—that of the two years' residence. Well, we did not give up that obsequiously, because we divided the House upon it, and were defeated by a large majority. Some of our Friends voted against us, a great many left the House, and the rest supported us under protest; so that we had no very great Conservative encouragement to stand up for these securities that we are told bristled round our measure. I think the noble Lord and the right hon. Gentleman have mistaken the character and spirit of the Conservative party when they describe the Government as leading the party, when, as I believe, the party on this question has always been in 1607 advance of the Government. There is not a security that we have proposed that has not been objected to by the Conservative party. I would recall to the recollection of the House a celebrated meeting which took place in halls supposed to be devoted to the conservation of the institutions of the country, at which resolutions were absolutely passed. [Mr. SANDFORD: No, no!] Well, passed with very little opposition. [Mr. SANDFORD: No, no!] Well, were they not passed at all? ["No!"] Then am I to understand that the assembly broke up in confusion with an unanimous reprobation of the policy of Her Majesty's Government on this particular point of securities?
What was the next important condition imperiously dictated and obsequiously accepted? It was the great reduction of the county franchise. Now, what happened about the county franchise? We proposed a £15 rating franchise. An hon. Gentleman opposite proposed £10. I was prepared to vindicate the policy of the Government, A meeting of country gentlemen then took place, at which resolutions were certainly passed, because they were forwarded to me. The Government were entreated by that meeting to accept the county franchise at a lower rate than we proposed. Is not this increased evidence that instead of hurrying the party into this abyss of danger it was with very great difficulty that we could keep them back?
Then comes the great case of the compound-householder, and the noble Lord said that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) declared that there should be no difference between the compounder and non-compounder, and that I immediately and obsequiously gave that point up. But there is some very great mistake here. It is very true that the right hon. Gentleman did object to the plans which we originally proposed with respect to the compounder, but when these terrible conditions were so imperiously dictated, the right hon. Gentleman did not want the existing arrangements of this Bill to be adopted, but wished us to adopt the line of a £5 rating, which, in our opinion, would have entirely emasculated the Bill, and destroyed its principle. I have gone through the principal points referred to, because, to make up the ten conditions, the noble Lord was obliged to go to the fancy franchises. We gave up the fancy franchises, because the lodger franchise had been accepted by the House, and it was quite unnecessary to have the fancy 1608 franchises when the lodger franchise was adopted. Was there any great deviation of principle or anything astounding in our accepting the lodger franchise which was one of the propositions contained in the Bill we ourselves brought forward in 1859? Therefore I think I have shown the noble Lord that for that portentous statement of his, which seemed so to alarm the House, how this Bill had been enormously changed through the imperious dictation of the right hon. Member for South Lancashire and my obsequious yielding, there is very little foundation. And when I find that on the measure which I am now asking you to read the third time there were twenty-six considerable divisions, in eighteen of which the right hon. Member for South Lancashire voted against the Government, I fail to discover any evidence of that successful though imperious dictation of which we have heard so much. And, Sir, I think it cannot be said that this was a measure which bristled with securities and precautions that have been given up at the bidding of our opponents. That a great many of them have been given up I shall not deny; but they have been given up not always or in the greatest degree at the bidding of our opponents, and some of them have been given up to the general feeling of the House.
Now, Sir, the noble Lord says that by yielding to these ten severe conditions I have virtually altered the whole character of the Bill. Now, is that true? Is the whole character of the Bill altered? I contend, on the contrary, that the Bill, though adapted of course to the requirements of the year in which we are legislating, is at the same time in harmony with the general policy which we have always maintained. [Laughter from the Opposition.] This is a question that cannot be settled by a jeer or a laugh, but by facts, and by facts and results which many of you deprecate and deplore at this moment, and in consequence of which you tell us that you mean to re-open the agitation—a thing which I defy you to do. I begin with what the hon. Gentleman who smiles so serenely may regard as the most difficult question for us—namely, that of the borough franchise—and I say that if we could not maintain the £10 borough franchise, which Members of the Liberal party seem now so much to deplore, but which they opposed in 1859, it was perfectly in harmony with the general expression of our opinions, and certainly with our policy as a party, that we should 1609 accept such a franchise as we are now recommending to you by this Bill. You declined, the House of Commons declined, and especially the Liberal party declined, to take their stand upon the £10 franchise. You will not deny that; you will not carp at that. Well, but has there been no question since that time between the £10 franchise, upon the merits of which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne is always dilating, saying it has existed—as he told us to-night in a kind of rhetorical crescendo which becomes more and more suprising—for at least 200 years; has there, I say, been no question since the Government of 1859 between retaining that £10 borough franchise and accepting household suffrage? Have you not had the alternative offered of a multitude of schemes? Have you not heard of a franchise to be fixed at £8, £7, £6, and all sorts of pounds? The question therefore for us practically to consider was—whether we were to accept this settlement of the borough franchise, we will say at £5, or whether we should adhere to the conviction at which we had arrived in 1859—namely, that if you reduced the qualification there was no safe resting place until you came to a household rating franchise? The noble Lord says that immense dangers are to arise to this country because we have departed from the £10 franchise. [Viscount CRANBORNE: No!] Well, it was something like that, or because you have reduced the franchise. The noble Lord is candid enough to see that if you had reduced it after what occurred in 1859, as you ought according to your pledges to have done, you would have had to reduce it again by this time. It is not likely that such a settlement of the difficulty would have been so statesmanlike that you could have allayed discontent or satisfied any great political demands by reducing the electoral qualification by 40s. or so. Then the question would arise—is there a greater danger from the number who would be admitted by a rating household franchise than from admitting the hundreds of thousands—the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire calculated them at 300,000—who would come in under a £5 franchise? I think that the danger would be less, that the feeling of the larger number would be more national, than by only admitting what I call the Prætorian guard, a sort of class set aside, invested with peculiar privileges looking with suspicion on their superiors, 1610 and with disdain on those beneath them, with no friendly feelings towards the institutions of their country and with great confidence in themselves. I think you would have a better chance of touching the popular heart, of evoking the national sentiment, by embracing the great body of those men who occupy houses and fulfil the duties of citizenship by the payment of rates, than by the more limited and in our opinion, more dangerous proposal. So much for the franchise. I say that if we could not carry out our policy of 1859, the logical conclusion was that in settling the question we should make the proposition which you, after due consideration, have accepted, and which I hope you will to night pass.
Let us look at the other divisions of the subject. I will not test by little points the question of whether we have carried substantially the policy which we recommended. I say look to the distribution of seats. I am perfectly satisfied on the part of Her Majesty's Government with the distribution of seats which the House in its wisdom has sanctioned. I think it is a wise and prudent distribution of seats. I believe that upon reflection, it will satisfy the country. It has been modified in one instance, to a certain degree, in favour of views which in principle we do not approve; but we have succeeded in limiting the application of that principle; and, on the whole, the policy which is embodied in the distribution of seats that, by reading this Bill a third time, I hope you are going to adopt, is the policy of re-distribution which on the part of the Conservative party I have now for nearly twenty years impressed on this House. And what is that policy? That you should completely disfranchise no single place; that it would be most unwise, without necessity to disfranchise any centre of representation; that you should take the smaller boroughs with two Members each and find the degree of representation which you wanted to supply in their surplus and superfluity of representation. You have acted upon that principle. But, above all, year after year I have endeavoured to impression this House the absolute necessity of your doing justice to those vast, I may almost say, unrepresented millions, but certainly most inadequately represented millions, who are congregated in your counties. You may depreciate what you have agreed to; but, in my opinion you have agreed to a very great measure. At any rate, it is the first, and it is a very considerable attempt to do justice in regard to the 1611 representation of the counties. Then, although I am the last person in any way to under-rate the value of the assistance which Her Majesty's Government have received from the House in the management of this measure—although I believe there is no other example in the annuls of Parliament when there has been such a fair interchange of ideas between the two sides of the House, and when, notwithstanding some bitter words and burning sentiments which we have occasionally listened to—and especially to-night — there has been, on the whole, a greater absence of party feeling and party management than has ever been exhibited in the conduct of a great measure—although, personally, I am deeply grateful to many hon. Gentlemen opposite for the advice and aid I have received from them, yet I am bound to say that in the carrying of this measure with all that assistance, and with an unaffected desire on our part to defer to the wishes of the House where-ever possible, I do think the Bill embodies the chief principles of the policy that we have professed, and which we have always advocated. ["Oh!"]
Well, but there is a right hon. Gentleman who has to-night told us that he is no prophet, but who for half an hour indulged in a series of the most doleful vaticinations that were ever listened to. He says that everything is ruined, and he begins with the House of Lords. Such a singular catalogue of political catastrophes, and such a programme of the injurious consequences of this legislation was never heard of. The right hon. Gentleman says, "There is the House of Lords; it is not of the slightest use now; and what do you think will happen to it when this Bill passes?" That was his argument. Well, my opinion is, if the House of Lords is at present in the position which the right hon. Gentleman describes—and I am far from admitting it—then the passing of this Bill can do the House of Lords no harm, and it is very likely may do it a great deal of good. I think the increase of sympathy between the great body of the people and their natural leaders will be more likely to incite the House of Lords to action and to increased efforts to deserve and secure the gratitude and good-feeling of the nation. "But," says the right hon. Gentleman, "what is most terrible about the business of carrying this Bill is the treachery by which it has been accomplished." What I want to know from the right hon. Gentleman is, when did the 1612 treachery begin? The right hon. Gentleman thinks that a measure of Parliamentary Reform is an act of treachery, in consequence of what took place last year, when those who now bring it forward were in frequent council and co-operation with those who then and now oppose it. I can only say, for myself, that I hear of these mysterious councils for the first time. But if a compact was entered into last year, when we were in opposition, that no measure of Parliamentary Reform should pass, or any proposal with that object be made by us, if such a proposal is an act of treason, then the noble Lord the Member for Stamford and his friends are as guilty of treachery as we who sit on these Benches. Really I should have supposed that the right hon. Gentleman would have weighed his words a little more; that when he talks of treachery he would have tried to define what he means, and that he would have drawn some hard and straight line to tell us where this treachery commenced. The right hon. Gentleman, however, throws no light on the subject. He made a speech to-night, which reminded me of the production of some inspired schoolboy, all about the battles of Chæronea and of Hastings. I think he said that the people of England should be educated, but that the quality of the education was a matter of no consequence as compared with the quantity. Now, the right hon. Gentleman seems to be in doubt as to what may be his lot in the new Parliament, and what I should recommend him to be—if he will permit me to give him advice—is the schoolmaster abroad. I should think that with his great power of classical and historical illustration the right hon. Gentleman might soon be able to clear the minds of the new constituency of all "perilous stuff," and thus render them as soundly Conservative as he himself could desire. I must, however, remind the right hon. Gentlemen when he tells us of the victims at Chæronea to whom he likens himself, that they died for their country, and died expressing their proud exultation that their blood should be shod in so sacred a cause. But this victim of Chæronea takes the earliest opportunity, not of expressing his glory in his achievements and his sacrifice, but of absolutely announcing the conditions on which he is ready to join with those who have brought upon him so disgraceful a discomfiture. He has laid before us a programme to-night of all the revolutionary measures which he detests, but which in consequence 1613 of the passing of this Bill he is now prepared to adopt. The right hon. Gentleman concluded his attack upon us by accusing us of treachery, and by informing us that he is going to support all those measures which he has hitherto opposed in this House—though I believe he advocated them elsewhere—and that he will recur, I suppose, to those Australian politics which rendered him first so famous. The right hon. Gentleman told us that in the course we are pursuing there is infamy. The expression is strong; but I never quarrel with that sort of thing, nor do I like on that account to disturb an hon. Gentleman in his speech, particularly when he happens to be approaching his peroration. Our conduct, however, according to him, is infamous—that is his statement—because in office we are supporting measures of Parliamentary Reform which we disapprove, and to which we have hitherto been opposed. Well, if we disapprove the Bill which we are recommending the House to accept and sanction to-night, our conduct certainly would be objectionable. If we, from the bottom of our hearts do not believe that the measure which we are now requesting you to pass is on the whole the wisest and best that could be passed under the circumstances I would even admit that our conduct was infamous. But I want to know what the right hon. Gentleman thinks of his own conduct when, having assisted in turning out the Government of Lord Derby in 1859, because they would not reduce the borough franchise—he, if I am not much mistaken, having been one of the most active managers in that intrigue—the right hon. Gentleman accepted office in 1860 under the Government of Lord Palmerston, who, of course, brought forward a measure of Parliamentary Reform which it would appear the right hon. Gentleman also disapproved, and more than disapproved, inasmuch as, although a Member of the Government, he privately and successfully solicited his political opponents to defeat. And yet this is the right hon. Gentleman who talks of infamy! Sir, the prognostications of evil uttered by the noble Lord I can respect, because I know that they are sincere—the warnings and the prophecies of the right hon. Gentleman I treat in another spirit. For my part, I do not believe that the country is in danger. I think England is safe in the race of men who inhabit her; that she is safe in something much more precious than her accumulated capital—her accumulated experience; 1614 she is safe in her national character, in her fame, in the tradition of a thousand years, and in that glorious future which I believe awaits her.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time; verbal Amendment made.
§ Bill passed,