THE CHANCELLOR OF THE. EXCHEQUER
Sir, I rise to ask leave to introduce a Bill further to amend the Laws for regulating the Representation of the People in Parliament. Sir, the principles of political representation, and especially as applied to the circumstances of this country, have of late years him so profoundly and so extensively discussed and investigated, that it is scarcely necessary on this occasion that I should advert to thorn. I propose, therefore, to confine my observations to two points. I will endeavour, in the first place, clearly to convey to the House the object of the Government in the Bill which I inn asking leave to introduce; and secondly, I will detail the means by which that purpose, in their opinion, can be accomplished. It will be for the House, first, to decide whether that object is desirable; and secondly, if desirable, whether the means which we propose are adequate; and, in the first place, I would say that our object is not only to maintain, but to strengthen, the character and functions of this House. They are peculiar in any popular assembly; not only rare, but perhaps unexampled in any other which has existed. The House of Commons has combined national representation with the attributes of a Senate. That peculiar union has, in our opinion, been owing to the variety of elements of which it is formed. Its variety of character has given to it its deliberative power, and it owes to its deliberative power its general authority. We wish, I repeat, not only to maintain, but to strengthen that character and those functions; and we believe that, in the present age and under the existing circumstances of the country, the best way to do so is to establish them on a broad popular basis. I know that there are some persons in whose minds the epithet which I have just used may create a feeling of distrust; but I attribute the sentiment of alarm which is associated with it to a misapprehension of its meaning, and to that perplexity of ideas which too often confounds popular privileges with democratic rights. They are not identical: they are not similar. More than that, they are contrary. Popular 7 privileges are consistent with a state of society in which there is great inequality of condition. Democratic rights, on the contrary, demand that there should be equality of condition as the fundamental basis of the society which they regulate. Now, that is, I think, a distinction which ought to be borne in mind by the House in dealing with the provisions of the Bill which I am about to ask leave to introduce. If this Bill be a proposal that Her Majesty shall be enabled to concede to her subjects, with the advice and concurrence of her Parliament, a liberal measure of popular privileges, then there may be many of its provisions which will be regarded as prudent, wise, and essentially constitutional. If, on the other hand, it be looked upon as a measure having for its object to confer democratic rights, then I admit much that it may contain may be viewed in the light of being indefensible and unjust. We do not, however, live—and I trust it will never be the fate of this country to live—under a democracy. The proposition which I am going to make to-night certainly have no tendency in that direction. Generally speaking, I would say that, looking to what has occurred since the Reform Act of 1832 was passed—to the increase of population, the progress of industry, the spread of knowledge, and our ingenuity in the arts—we are of opinion that numbers, thoughts, and feelings have since that time been created which it is desirable should be admitted within the circle of the Constitution. We wish that admission to take place in the spirit of our existing institutions, and with a due deference to the traditions of an ancient State.
In dealing with the question of the distribution of power in such a State—which is really the question before us—I would, in the first place, call the attention of the House to that part of it which is perhaps the most important, and which certainly to the greatest extent commands the interest of the public. I allude to the franchise, and especially that which should prevail in towns. I would ask the House at the outset to consider the principles upon which the occupation franchise in boroughs ought to rest, and upon which it is expedient to base it. In 1832 the borough franchise was founded on the principle of value. Those who paid £10 for the house in which they lived, subject to certain regulations as regards rates and residence, had the borough franchise con- 8 ferred upon them. I believe that franchise may be fairly considered as having been an efficient and satisfactory franchise, and as having in its generation operated with advantage to the country. My own opinion from the commencement has always been that seed was sown in that arrangement which would necessarily in the course of time lead to some disturbance. That is, however, a question of controversy, and I will not indulge in controversy at the present moment. It is, nevertheless, a historic fact that only twenty years after the passing of the great measure of 1832 the principal, or, at least, one of the principal authors of that measure announced in this House that the arrangement which had been entered into, especially with respect to the borough franchise, was no longer satisfactory, and invited us to consider a new arrangement which might command a more complete assent. That is a fact which cannot be denied. The proposition which was made at the period to which I refer in order to allay discontent and meet the requirements of the time by the statesman who, upon the whole, had taken nearly the most prominent part in the passing of the Act of 1832 involved a diminution of the value on which the borough franchise was established. That proposition was received with no satisfaction, and from that period up to the present—and fifteen years have, I think, since elapsed—the question has more or less engaged public attention, and has been taken up by public men who have brought forward various schemes with a view to the solution of the difficulties by which it is surrounded. All these schemes have in their turn proved to be unsatisfactory, and all have been unsuccessful; but every one of them has been distinguished by this characteristic, that the only remedy proposed was a diminution in some form or another, or in some degree or another, of the value on which the borough franchise was based in 1832. The House will easily recall to its recollection the combination of figures which have been submitted to the notice of Parliament on this subject. We had before us £8 and rating or rental; £6 in every form, and we now hear of other figures. No proposition, however, which has as yet been put forward has given satisfaction, because the country, and the House reflecting the feeling of the country, has felt that by none of the changes suggested was a settlement of the question likely to be insured.
9 Last year a Bill was introduced with the same object as that which I have risen to ask for leave to bring in to-night—namely, to amend the Laws for the Representation of the People in Parliament. That Bill was avowedly not founded on a principle; it was avowedly founded, as far as I can understand, on expediency. The right hon. Gentleman who was its powerful advocate in this House seemed to me always distinctly to have laid it down, in the course of his argument on the subject, that it was necessary there should be an admission of the working classes into the constituencies; that in accordance with a figure which he had fixed upon he calculated that a certain portion of them would be admitted; but that if another figure were adopted which he named he thought the number admitted would be excessive, and he therefore recommended the first figure as that which, upon the whole, would, he thought, furnish the best and safest solution of the difficulty. His proposal, therefore, involved no principle. It might have been an appropriate arrangement, but it was essentially an expedient. The House knows what took place during the long discussions in which we were engaged last year. [Ironical cheers from the Opposition.] I infer from that cheer that the House is prepared to recognise the truth of the statement that it was generally felt that the proposal of the late Government afforded no prospect of a satisfactory settlement of this question. A very considerable amount of time was last Session employed in a very unsatisfactory manner, until at length the House took the matter into its own hands, and, in one of the largest divisions which ever took place within these walls, asserted a principle with regard to the borough franchise which was carried by a majority. That principle was that the borough franchise should be founded on rating. The House will admit that the statement I have made is fair and accurate. No one questions for a moment that the Government fully realized the importance of that decision. Of course, if they had not acknowledged its importance, they would not have retired from a position of power; but they felt that the decision at which the. House of Commons had arrived was one opposed to the whole policy which they had pursued during the Session. I do not say that every Gentleman on both sides of the House who contributed to that division—I do not say that everyone in a 10 division which numbered above 600 Members, had narrowly investigated and pursued, to the last consequences, all that must follow from the assertion and adoption of that principle; but it happened, as happens in all popular assemblies, that a great decision was arrived at by the unerring instinct of the House. The House felt that for the last fifteen years this question of the borough franchise had not been treated in a satisfactory manner by any Government which had attempted to deal with it, and that the time had come when some principle should be laid down in a distinct and decided manner for the guidance of those who might have to offer propositions to the House on the subject. I take it for granted that if ever there was a decision of the House of Commons which meant something it was that decision which determined the fate of the Ministry; and if anything ever had the character of authority in this House at all, it was the vote arrived at on that occasion. The House, I assume, meant by the decision it arrived at that the person who was to be intrusted with a vote to elect Members of Parliament should be one with respect to whom there should be some guarantee and security for the regularity of his life and the general trustworthiness of his conduct; and the House thought that the fact of a man being rated to the relief of the poor and being able to pay his rates gave that fair assurance which the State had a right to require. I take it that vote of the House of Commons meant this:—If you are going to invest men with the exercise of public rights, let that great trust be accompanied with the exercise of public duty. I take it for granted that was what the House of Commons meant. It meant that the being rated to the poor and the paying of the rates constituted a fair assurance that the man who fulfilled those conditions was one likely to be characterized by regularity of life and general trustworthiness of conduct. That is a principle which the House thought ought not to be lost sight of, but should be a sine quã non in the settlement of the borough franchise.
In having to consider this question, we accepted as a guide that decision of the House of Commons, placing en it what we deemed to be its real interpretation. We believe that the House has resolved and wishes that the borough suffrage should be bound up and united with the duty of paying rates for the maintenance 11 of the poor, and paying them really—that, in fact, a bonãfide rating franchise is what the House of Commons meant by the Resolution it adopted. Accepting the decision of the House with that interpretation, we had to consider how such a proposition could be united with the principle of value, which hitherto was and still is the law of the country with respect to the borough franchise, and which without exception during all the discussions on the subject for the last fifteen years has been accepted by Parliament. The result of this attempt was not satisfactory. In accepting a real and genuine principle of rating as a basis, we found, the moment we endeavoured to connect it with value, disturbing elements—which promised no prospect of solution, and gave no chance of permanency. Therefore, under these circumstances, in the course of consideration we proposed to ourselves to examine the whole question of occupation in boroughs, and see what would be the effect of the application of the principle of genuine rating without reference to value. Let me call the attention of the House to some figures, which will be in the hands of Members immediately and in greater detail. There are in the boroughs of England and Wales 1,367,000 male householders, of whom there are at present qualified to vote 644,000. There would, therefore, remain unqualified 723,000. In applying the principle of a franchise founded on being rated to the poor, and of personal payment of the rates, we found that out of these 723,000 now disqualified, or rather not qualified, for voting under the existing law, we should at once have had to take away 237,000—that is to say, that beneath the £10 line which now qualifies there are 237,000 persons who are rated to the poor and who pay rates, and who if the law were so changed that value should not be an element would then be qualified to vote for Members of Parliament. Now, if you add these 237,000 persons who are rated to the poor, and who pay their rates, to the 644,000 who are at present qualified, you will find that there would be 881,000 persons, fulfilling the required conditions—that is to say, almost exactly two-thirds of the whole of the householders in the boroughs of England and Wales. There would still remain 486,000, who would not be qualified under these circumstances, because they do not pay rates personally. A great deduction must be made from 12 those 486,000 on account of persons who might claim to pay the rates; but a great amount of those 486,000 persons would still remain without the opportunity of being rated to the poor, because there are certain Acts of Parliament, some of a general and some of a local character, by which the landlord compounds for the rates of his tenants, who, in consequence, are called compound-householders, and most of these are under the operation of the Act with the details of which every Gentleman in the House is familiar—the Small Tenements Act. There are fifty-eight boroughs which are entirely under the operation of that Act, and there are ninety-eight boroughs in which certain parishes only are under the operation of the Act. In considering the settlement of the franchise for boroughs, and the possibility of attempting to establish it, not on the fluctuating principle of value, which is only a question of degree which may vary, and which we might be called on to change from year to year, it is impossible not to take into view the peculiar position of the compound-householders. And the question arises, ought a compound-householder to have a vote? Well, Sir, in our opinion, assuming that the House is of the same opinion, that the foundation of the franchise should be rating and a payment of rates, and that that is adopted by the House, not as a check, as some would say, but, on the contrary, as a qualification, and because it is the best evidence of the trustworthiness of the individual, we have no hesitation in saying ourselves that we do not think that the compound-householder, as a compound-householder, ought to have a vote. But, Sir, we are far from saying that any person who is a compound-householder, from the effects of Acts which have been passed for the convenience of vestries, should be deprived of the opportunity of obtaining and enjoying this right which persons in the same sphere of life may have granted to them, and which, for aught we know, these compound-householders may be equally competent to possess and to exercise. And therefore, Sir, we should have to consider whether it would not be possible, in the case of compound-householders who are deprived of rating for the moment by Acts to which I have referred, either of a general or local character—whether it might not be possible to give them the opportunity of accepting the public duty, and in consequence the public right, which others in the same sphere 13 of life and influenced in their conduct by the same conditions of existence might possess; and, taking this general view of the question, seeing the impossibility of settling it on any principle connected with value, and that it is only by taking the rating principle in its completeness and authenticity that you can get one on which von can rest a perfect settlement, our opinion is, and we shall make that proposition to the House, that we should establish the franchise in the boroughs on this principle, that any man who has occupied a house for two years, and been rated to the relief of the poor and pays his rates—every householder under these conditions should enjoy the borough franchise. By that means the 237,000 persons who are now rated and pay their rates would, of course, be at once qualified. But with regard to the compound-householders, we propose that every facility shall be given to them—that they shall be allowed to enter their names upon the rate book, to fulfil the constitutional condition to which I have adverted, and then they will, of course, succeed to the constitutional right which is connected with it. Sir, if we pursue that course you have your borough franchise fixed upon principle; you know where you are; you know that the power of electing Members of Parliament must be exercised by men who, by their position in life, have shown that they are qualified for its exercise. And meeting the difficulty of compound-householders by the provisions which are in the Bill, and which will give them every facility to claim the exercise of the same right on condition of fulfilling the same duty, the whole of the 723,000 householders in the boroughs of England that are at present not qualified to vote for Members of Parliament will be qualified by the Bill I am asking leave to introduce. Nor will there be a man among them, who, if he deserves the franchise, may not possess it. Now, Sir, I have heard many observations made on this question of the compound-householders; but the arguments, though plausible, amount only to this—those who wish that compound-householders should not qualify themselves for a vote upon the constitutional condition which we propose as the means by which the right should be obtained really, in fact, make one assumption on which all their remarks are founded, and that is this, that the working classes of this country are really so little interested 14 in the possession and exercise of the suffrage that they will not take the slightest trouble in order to avail themselves of it and possess it. Well, that may be the opinion of those who make such observations, but it is not the opinion of Her Majesty's Ministers. We believe that the feeling of the great body of the people on this subject is very different—that it is a feeling very likely to increase in this country, and that the conditions which we have laid down as those which should qualify a householder in a borough for a vote are consistent with the security of society, and are at the same time conditions which would be agreeable to the mind of every industrious man of integrity.
Now, Sir, I may recapitulate to the House for a moment the figures we have to deal with, because such vague assertions are made in the absence of correct statistics of voting and of householders that it is well that the House should bear them in mind. There are, as I have said, 1,367,000 male householders in the boroughs of England, and at the present moment 644,000 of them are qualified.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
They are houses—dwelling-houses. I am referring to the male Occupiers of dwelling - houses. Of the remaining 723,000, if the House accedes to the Bill I have to introduce, 237,000 now rated to the relief of the poor and paying their rates would immediately be qualified to vote; and in the case of the 486,000 who are compound-householders, facilities would be afforded to them, if they chose, of claiming their vote—that is to say, of inserting their names in the rate book, and paying their rates, and thou they also, as a matter of course, will succeed to the enjoyment of the right. Well, Sir, that appears to me to be the only solid foundation upon which you can settle this question of the borough franchise. I have heard nothing which gives me any hope that any ether plan can be offered which involves at the same time the principle that society has a right to ask that the person who exercises the suffrage is not a migratory pauper; and as regards settlement, I can see no satisfactory settlement unless you lay down the principle that every householder who fulfils the constitutional conditions to which I have adverted proves himself one qualified for the 15 possession and exercise of such a trust; unless you take that settlement I can see no chance of this question being ever settled.
Now, Sir, there is a plan which I am told at this moment is popular among certain persons. Indeed, there are a great many plans, both as regards the suffrage, distribution of seats, and other matters, which I have no doubt will come before the consideration of the House, and when they do it will be very much for the advantage of those who introduce them to our notice, for I believe these subjects never can be better understood than after a discussion in the House of Commons. But there is a plan, I am told, popular with some persons, and which is held forth as a more satisfactory settlement of this question than the one I have proposed on the part of the Government, and that is what is called the £5 rating—that the suffrage should be established on a £5 rating. Now, Sir, I must say, having had very much to consider these questions, I know of no Serbonian bog deeper than a £5 rating would prove to be. Just let the House see how it stands. In the present state of the law, as I shall show to the House, if the interpretation we have placed on the great vote of last year be a sound one—and if it be not a sound one it proves the House of Commons was trifling with the question, there really is no such thing as a £5 rating: you let in a very large and very indiscriminate number to the enjoyment of the right without the preliminary performance of duties, and when they are let in you leave a great many behind them, who, because others are let in, immediately cry out to be admitted. Then where is your settlement? There is no more reason why a £5 rating should give a qualification than one of £4. But then I am told that this great difficulty is to be entirely overcome by a violent change to be effected in the law of England. Nominal raters are to be turned into bonã fide £5 raters by the operation of the law, and no Englishman who pays less than that sum is to enjoy the privilege of voting. All below that line are, in fact, to be taken out of the sphere of self-government, and deprived of the opportunity which the humblest now possesses, and would possess under the plan we propose, of performing public duties, and consequently of obtaining public rights. I can imagine no scheme more injurious—I may say more fatal—than a proposi- 16 tion of this kind; and it seems to me that if we were to adopt it manhood suffrage would be the logical and necessary consequence, and that every man who finds that he is in a position in which he may not be permitted to fulfil a constitutional condition which may give him a constitutional right would naturally fall back into the arms of the lowest agitators, and feel that his only chance of ever obtaining the rights of constitutional citizenship would be by a process which has not hitherto been recognised by any authorities in this country.
I have now expressed to the House, as far as the occupation in boroughs is concerned, upon what principle we recommend the borough franchise to be founded. It would make at once 237,000 persons qualified for the suffrage, and would allow all who were not rated before to avail themselves of the right, and so, if they chose, to become electors. But it is said, and it has been said by a very high authority—one for whom I have a great personal regard and respect, although, considering what a high authority he is, I think he sometimes makes, especially with regard to his opponents, very reckless remarks—that the plan of the Government, with which that high authority at the time he said it was really unacquainted, and for which he might have waited, was an assault upon the rights and power of the middle classes. It is certainly not the intention of Her Majesty's Government to introduce a measure which shall make such an assault. Her Majesty's Government are anxious that, on the one hand, the aristocracy, and on the other hand the working classes, shall have their due share in the Parliamentary constitution of the country; but they recognise with sincerity the extreme expediency of the principle that the influence of the middle classes of the country should not be diminished. The Government look to the steady virtues of those classes to exercise a right bias on the constitution of the country, and they believe that the authority which those classes obtained in a great degree under the Act of 1832, has been exercised wisely, worthily, and to the advantage of the country at large. But if there be, by the proposition which I have to make, any chance such as has been intimated by this great authority, why, I think that we meet it by a proposition to institute a franchise founded on a most popular principle, and one of which the middle classes must 17 largely partake—that is, the franchise founded on the payment of direct taxation. We propose that every person in England who pays 20s. a year direct taxation shall possess a vote.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Everybody who pays 20s. annually in direct taxation shall have a vote. Thus we build up the constituency which would establish the franchise in the boroughs upon two great principles—the payment of direct taxation, and the payment of rates. But it has been urged that the enjoyment of this franchise, founded upon the payment of direct taxes, is one which would not be enjoyed as intended in a great degree by the class whose influence, it is said, our proposition may assail; that is to say, that most of them are householders, and therefore they would not enjoy this franchise. Therefore we meet that objection by proposing that a person who pays 20s. direct taxation, and who enjoys the franchise which depends upon the payment of direct taxation, if he is also a householder and pays his rates, may exercise his suffrage in respect of both qualifications.
I wish to ask a question very material to the complete understanding of this subject, and that is, whether a compound-householder not paying his own rates, but paying direct taxes to the requisite amount, will have a vote in respect of the payment of direct taxation?
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
He would, of course, have a vote in respect of the franchise which he enjoys as a payer of direct taxation, and if he chose to pay his rates in addition, then he would have two votes. Now, Sir, before I give to the House a general summary of the result of these franchises upon the borough constituency, there are yet some other franchises with which the House is familiar, but which I again wish to recommend to its consideration. [Mr. ROEBUCK: Will the right hon. Gentleman explain what he means by direct taxation?] I mean the payment of income tax and assessed taxes. But I wish to observe that it will not include the qualification which was so humorously referred to by an hon. Gentleman the other night, because it will not include anything which is paid under licences of any description.
There are other franchises which we also propose. The House is already ac- 18 quainted with them, and although they are not of vast importance, still I think they are founded upon right principles, and I hope the House will candidly consider them. The vote which we wish to found upon the possession of £50 property in the funds or of £50 in savings banks constitutes property qualifications of this character; that is to say, we will give to small holders of personal property the same privileges which the small holders of real property have, and, as a man possessed of a 40s. freehold has a vote, we think that the person who has an equivalent property of a personal character should also have a vote. We think that by this means a vote would be intrusted to a body of persons belonging chiefly to the working classes, who would exercise the privilege to the advantage of the country. Then there is the educational franchise. It has been said that if you introduce a suffrage founded upon the payment of direct taxation that it would supply means for exercising the vote to those persons who otherwise would have it under the educational franchise. To a certain degree there is truth in that; but having taken some pains to investigate what would be the operation of such a franchise, I our bound to say that there are many persons in whose condition the House would be deeply interested, some of whom would not have any opportunity, either as householders—and this would be peculiarly the case in counties—or as payers of direct taxation, of exercising the suffrage, but who are peculiarly qualified to exercise such a trust. Among others, the position of ministers of religion is very remarkable. I am speaking of ministers of all sects. I find men who entirely devote their lives to solace or to elevate the sense of existence are men who under this franchise would exercise, and I think admirably exercise, a certain degree of political influence, but who, either as householders or as payers of income tax especially to the amount of 20s., would certainly be debarred from the franchise. I therefore trust that the House will allow these three franchises to pass.
I do not think that it is our business to act the part of electioneering agents, and to make estimates, always of a most speculative character, of the number of persons who will vote under the plan we propose. That is not our business as Ministers in Parliament. We are to see who, under the laws of this country, are to have the 19 opportunity of acquiring a vote. And allow me to remind the House of the nature of the arguments which are always used by those who are the promoters of increased suffrage. They are always founded upon the number of the population. But the business of the House of Commons in proposing or in passing laws upon this subject is to ascertain as far as possible the number who will be admitted under the particular measure. They are not to estimate a thing which, after all, can only be done in a speculative manner—the number who may be tempted, in consequence of the passing of the Bill, to register their suffrages. Their business is simply to pass those laws which they think will conduce to the welfare or safety of the country. Well, I say that if this Bill be carried there is not a man, whether he be a ratepayer paying a rental of less than £10, or a compound householder, who may not qualify himself if he choose. In the new boroughs to which I will afterwards advert the estimated number of voters will be 68,000. The number of direct tax payers who would probably vote in boroughs will be very considerable. The public departments have no means of offering to the House any recent information upon this subject, and it would probably take months to obtain any. Making due allowance, however, for the increased property and assessed taxes—probably at the rate of 23 per cent—since Mr. Macaulay's Returns were made to the House, I should think that the number who would qualify in boroughs would greatly exceed 200,000. [Mr. GLADSTONE: From direct taxes.] Yes, from direct taxes. The educational franchise would in the boroughs give 35,000 voters, the fundholders' franchise 25,000, and the savings bank franchise 45,000. You would thus have more than 1,000,000 voters who could qualify themselves in the boroughs for the exercise of the franchise. It has been said that they will not choose to avail themselves of that great right. I regret to hear that opinion, but I venture to doubt its correctness. But still, whatever may be our opinion, it is the duty of the House so to deal with this question that those whom they believe to be qualified for the exercise of this privilege shall have that opportunity, and the duty of Parliament ceases when that has been accomplished.
I will now proceed to consider the question of the county franchise. We propose that these new suffrages shall be 20 extended to the counties; but in consequence of the great difference which prevails between counties and boroughs, we do not propose, under any circumstances, that any person should exercise the privilege of voting twice. I now come to the consideration of the amount of the occupation in counties. When I last made some observations to the House upon this subject I stated that Her Majesty's Government thought, on the whole, that the county qualification had better be placed at £20 rating. When. I made that statement I made it with a feeling on the part of the Government that the opinion of the House of Commons ought to be consulted upon the subject, and because, also, they believed that the House had never had the opportunity of arriving at any decided opinion upon the matter. ["Oh!"] The question was really never put fairly before the House. When the hon. Member for Surrey and others came forward with propositions to reduce the occupation for counties to £10, the House was always asked to consider those propositions in an isolated manner. Now, we thought, and I believe that the House has been long of the same opinion, that this question ought to be considered in conjunction with those of analogous character, and ought not to be treated in an isolated manner. They depend upon each other, and I look upon all those attempts to reduce the county franchise as barren of results, and as a proof of the correctness of that opinion I may remark that they have been barren of consequences. No one ever felt that a satisfactory settlement would be likely to result from those debates, Last year there was an opportunity when the Reform Bill was before the House—when the mind of the House was accustomed to consider in all its details and in all its ramifications the principles of Parliamentary representation—there was, I say, at that time a fair opportunity for discussing this question in a satisfactory manner, and for arriving at a satisfactory settlement. But this subject, always unfortunate, was never more unfortunate than on that occasion, because a great party scene and division took place at the beginning of the evening destined for its discussion. It was brought on in a languid House—["Oh,oh!"]—in a very thin House. ["Oh, oh!" and "Hear, hear!"] It was decided, I grant, in a very full House; but it was discussed in an unsatisfactory and feeble manner. ["Oh, oh!"] My opinion is 21 a perfectly impartial one, for I myself took part in the debate. The division was taken in a full House, and the majority was not only a very slight one, but the question was decided upon a principle which the result of the Session showed was not the conviction of the House of Commons. ["Oh, oh!" and cheers.] Well, if the House of Commons meant anything else, it meant that rating should be the principle of the franchise; and I believe that that decision has been received by the country as one of the soundest at which the House of Commons ever arrived. Well, Sir, we should have been glad if the question had been calmly and completely discussed; and, at whatever opinion the House of Commons had arrived, we should have accepted that opinion as a wise and a sound one. In endeavouring, however, to bring forward a complete measure, and as far as we can to offer a definite and definitive position to the consideration of the House, Her Majesty's Government gave much attention to this question of the county occupation franchise; and, on the whole, they believe that the qualification that would be most, advantageous and most satisfactory would be a £15 rating, and that is the amount at which they are determined to fix it. That would qualify 171,000 additional householders for the exercise of the franchise. The savings bank franchise will give 40,000; the fundholders' franchise, 25,000; and the educational franchise, 44,000 voters. A very large number, exceeding 150,000, will vote in virtue of the payment of direct taxes. No doubt many of these would possess double qualifications, but there will still be an addition to the county franchise of upwards of 3;00,000 voters.
I have now occupied the attention of the House with a subject which I am afraid is at no time entertaining, and which, when the conclusions have been to some extent foregone, must possess less attraction than ever; but I have placed before the House, I hope, with some clearness, the proposal of the Government. There is another part of the subject of very great interest, on which, although to-day I am anxious to touch upon nothing but what is necessary, it is requisite that I should make some observations, and that is the distribution of seats. Now, Sir, that is a question that very greatly interests the public mind; and I know there are Members on both sides of the House who 22 take a very deep interest in it. The proposition which I made upon a previous occasion has been described as quite inadequate to the occasion and to the circumstances in which the country is placed; and we have heard that it is an insufficient response to the demands of the public voice. I am perfectly ready to meet those objections, though I have no desire upon en occasion such as this to invite controversy, for I have no doubt there will be opportunities hereafter for entering upon matters of detail. It is said that there should be a much larger scheme of disfranchisement; that at the very least every town of 10,000 inhabitants or less should lose a Member; and some say we should even go further than that. We are also told that a third Member should be given to many places, and thus, by a process of disfranchisement and cumulative votes, at last a perfect representation of the people would be accomplished. We have given that subject the great consideration which it deserves. My own opinion is that the votaries of this new system are not very numerous in the country, and I doubt whether they are very numerous in this House; but its advocates are no doubt in many cases men of distinguished ability and high character, and persons whose opinions upon any public subject will command and demand attention. But whatever may be the number of those persons who advocate three-cornered constituencies and cumulative voting, there is no doubt that a very great noise has been made by them. I am willing to admit that, as far as the articles and the letters in the newspapers are concerned, the question is settled; but I have always observed that those articles and letters—I do not wish to speak slightingly of them, for I have written leading articles for newspapers myself—have one distinguishing characteristic, and that is that they always assume there is only one side of a question; but their writers are wise in their generation, because if they did not act on that assumption nobody at the moment would read their productions. As, then, the question of three-cornered constituencies and cumulative votes has been brought before the consideration of the House, I, and others who are near me, will meet the question frankly and fully. The House will not, I am sure, permit the introduction of any controversial matter upon the present occasion; but it has a right to hear the 23 opinions of the Government upon a question, and therefore I say that, having considered the matter without prejudice, and, having completely and thoroughly tested it at every point and tried it in every quarter, our opinion is that the scheme is erroneous in equity, and would be so in practice. Sir, there are only two courses to follow if you wish to improve the representation of the people by a re-distribution of seats; there is no middle course. You must either create a new electoral map of England, or you must deal practically with the circumstances before you, and follow the line to which I at this moment refer, and which I think the Government has followed. With regard to the proposition that there should be a complete revision of the representative system of the country as far as electoral localities are concerned, if I may be presumed to give advice to the House of Commons, I would say do not make that a question to be settled by a Parliamentary majority, or accepted on the authority of any Ministry whatever. It is a subject too vast and too deep for us to treat of and deal with without preliminary investigation conducted by persons of the highest standing, and character, and experience, and learning in the country. When in possession of the result of their accumulated knowledge and of their mature thought and great experience, a popular assembly might weigh their opinions, and a practical Ministry might embody their Resolutions. There is no other means by which you can deal with this proposition; but if you are not of opinion that the electoral map of England should be re-constructed, then you must proceed prudently and practically; you must inquire what unrepresented places ought, fairly speaking, to be represented, and you ought not to lose the opportunity then offered of giving the teeming multitudes of the counties as far as you can that direct representation which they want, and which indirectly I admit they possess. These are the two practical points which you ought to have before you. There is no medium between dealing with the whole question in a vast and solemn manner by means adequate for the settlement of so great a matter, and the prudent, practical method which I mentioned. Well, Sir, we are not prepared to take the first course, although I do not say it is unworthy of deep and respectful consideration; we therefore propose to follow the second, and 24 we have found towns in this country which we think ought to be represented, and whose representatives would bring fresh vigour to this House. The population of the counties, invigorated and vivified with the new franchises which you are giving it, will demand direct representation in this House, and you ought to move in that direction as far as you can, so that counties may no longer be said to be represented only indirectly by small boroughs. I am of opinion that this may be done without any very serious disturbance of your representative system. Whatever you do, your representation must be fairly distributed over the country; if you give a greater preponderance to one part at the expense of another you create two nations; there will be a want of sympathy and cordiality between the parts, and you will, in fact, be going back to the principles of the Heptarchy. Although I have read the names of the places we propose to enfranchise before, with one exception, I think it becoming to repeat them with the addition of the place that before was wanting. We propose, then, that by the thirty seats that will be obtained by the process of disfranchisement we shall give a representative to Hartlepool, Darlington, Burnley, Staleybridge, St. Helen's, Dewsbury, Barnsley, Middlesborough, Wednesbury, Croydon, Gravesend, and Torquay, and two to the Tower Hamlets. In respect to the counties, we propose to divide North. Lancashire, North Lincolnshire, West Kent, East Surrey, Middlesex, South Staffordshire, and South Devon, and give them two Members each, and, dividing South Lancashire, also, we propose to give it an additional Member. We also propose to give a seat to the London University.
I have placed before the House the principal features of the Bill which I am asking to introduce. The Bill itself will be in the hands of hon. Members to-morrow, and then they will be perfectly well qualified to form an opinion upon the manner in which the principles I have laid down are acted on. I hope that the House will candidly consider this measure. As far as we are concerned, we have spared no pains, no thought, and have not shrunk from what was more important, perhaps, in endeavouring to bring it before the House. I will not advert unnecessarily to the circumstances attending the framing of this measure which has now been brought before the House of Commons, 25 under very great difficulties and at very great sacrifices. I do not wish to disguise that I have felt great chagrin and great mortification in connection with what has taken place; but I believe I have done my duty, and under the circumstances I do not think I could have clone other than I have. In attempting to bring the question to this point we have lost those whose absence from our councils we more than regret; we have had to appeal to a high-spirited party to make what no doubt to some was to a certain extent a sacrifice of principle, much sacrifice of sentiment, and much sacrifice of interest. But we have not appealed in vain, because the Members of that party were animated by the same feeling which influenced us—a sense of duty and conviction; they felt that the time had arrived when this question must be dealt with, and settled extensively and completely. I hope, therefore, the House of Commons will give this measure a fair and candid consideration. We believe it is one which, if adopted in spirit, will settle its long differences; and that it is qualified to meet the requirements of the country. I am told for certain that there are objections against it; but I beg to remind the House of the distinction which we draw between popular privileges and democratic rights. I am told that in this measure there are checks and counterpoises, and that it assumes in this country the existence of classes. If there are checks and counterpoises in our scheme, we live under a Constitution of which we boast that it is a Constitution of checks and counterpoises. If the measure bears some reference to existing classes in this country, why should we conceal from ourselves, or omit from our discussions, the fact that this country is a country of classes, and a country of classes it will ever remain What we desire to do is to give every one who is worthy of it a fair share in the government of the country by means of the elective franchise; but, at the same time, we have been equally anxious to maintain the character of the House, to make propositions in harmony with the circumstances of the country, to prevent a preponderance of any class, and to give a representation to the nation. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for leave to bring in the Bill.
§ Moved, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Representation of the People in England and Wales.—(Mr. Chancellor of time Exchequer.)26
In any words, Mr. Speaker, which may fall from me on this occasion, it will be as far as possible from my intention to impugn or question the assertion of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he has been acting under difficulties, and that he believes he has done his duty. He has been acting under difficulties; and I, for one, would give him full credit when he says he considers he has done his duty. Neither is it my intention in anything that may fall from me to prejudge the question of what course it may seem right in any Member of this House to take, or what course I, myself, may be compelled to take, in reference to the measure of the right hon. Gentleman. I think that till the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman is in our hands—and he has promised that it will be in our hands to-morrow morning—it is impossible to arrive at any conclusion, or to enter fully into the question with such an amount of knowledge as the gravity of the circumstances demand. But, Sir, having said that, I must frankly state that the impression made on my mind by the statement of the right hon Gentleman is, in many respects, a perplexed one, and is not on the whole a pleasing one. We commenced the Session with happy and cheerful anticipations. When the Resolutions of the right hon. Gentleman were produced we waived every question and every difficulty, except only the desire we entertained that a definite meaning should be attached to those Resolutions. When the right hon. Gentleman, acceding very fairly to the general desire expressed by the House, produced the skeleton of a Bill, no difficulty was raised on this side of the House with regard to the principle of that Bill. It never was in print; but the statement which I had the honour to make, and which I know expressed the general feeling on this side of the House, was that from the description given of it by the right hon. Gentleman, I hoped when we saw it in print we might find that—though there might be points—and, perhaps, many and serious points—which should be raised on the provisions of the Bill—yet that those points might fairly be considered in Committee. But though this is the fourth day of our progress—or, if not our progress, of our proceedings—with reference to the Reform question, I am afraid, to use a homely phrase, that the right hon. Gentleman has only "led us still deeper into the wood." I will now endeavour to state 27 the impression which, in one or two respects, the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman proposes to introduce makes on my mind, as far as I understand it, and with due regard to the correction which to-morrow morning will supply. On ordinary occasions, after hearing a statement of this kind from the organ of the Government and the Leader of the House, the course would be to say little; but on the present occasion the circumstances are peculiar. Many of the propositions—the main propositions—of the Bill have obtained so remarkable a publicity, that it has been our duty to apply ourselves, availing ourselves of the information we had obtained, to a consideration of the measure. With the aid of the knowledge we have thus obtained beforehand of the principles of the Bill we have now acquired a more complete—though still an incomplete view of its nature—than we could have had if we had been depending simply on the statement of the Minister. About three days ago a meeting of the more select spirits was held in Downing Street. A portion of the information imparted to that meeting found its way even to us, the mere mob of the House of Commons. ["Oh, oh!"] As my observation is questioned by several hon. Members, I must add to it this remark—that, so far as I know, after an experience of thirty-four years, it is a practice entirely novel for a Minister of the Crown to gather in his house those Members of Parliament who he thinks agree with him, and state to them, days in advance of the House of Commons, the particulars of a great measure which it is his intention to submit to Parliament. I had not intended to make that remark, but I am justified by the circumstances of the case. This is an innovation, and it is an innovation which is not an improvement. I hope, therefore, that there will be much consideration before it is repeated. However much we lacked that advantage, I grant that the privilege accorded to those who assembled in Downing Street was not quite so complete as it might have been, because we likewise had the advantage of a still more singular revelation which had been conveyed two days before to a favoured constituency, which put them and the country in possession, four or five days beforehand, of almost every point of the great and cardinal political measure which was to be submitted to-day to the House of Commons. Thus we have had an opportunity of con- 28 sidering the main provisions of the Bill to some considerable extent; and yet with respect to this most cardinal and vital measure—as I will endeavour to explain—my mind remains up to this moment, after having anxiously endeavoured to catch; every word which fell from the right hon. Gentleman, in a state of obscurity and perplexity. In order to narrow the ground, I pass by those propositions which need, not now be discussed. The right hon. Gentleman in his final measure proposes in counties a £15 rating franchise, forgetful that he had told us his great object was to; proceed on principle, and that every figure was an expedient. I will confess I was amazed and amused at the facility with which the right hon. Gentleman, looking) back at two decisions of the House of Commons in Committee last year, arrived at within a few nights of each other—one, in favour of rating, and the other in favour of rental as a criterion of the value of the house to which the suffrage should be attached—objected to one of these decisions as merely an insignificant accident, but. I accepted the other as the deliberate opinion of Parliament. I shall not dwell upon that point; neither shall I now discuss the right I hon. Gentleman's plan of re-distribution of seats, further than to say that I think it is inadequate to the circumstances of the case, and to the exigencies of the country. The right hon. Gentleman has stated that there are great difficulties in arriving at a sound scheme of re-distribution. I admit the difficulties of the question; but this is, a matter which we may consider hereafter, and which may not unsatisfactorily be dealt with in detail. I stated that as my opinion last Session, when it was in favour of the Government with which I was connected. I still adhere to and stand by it. I pass by also the collateral or by-franchises—the secondary franchises, as they may be called—the 20s. direct taxes franchise, the educational franchise, the £50 fund franchise, and the £50 savings bank franchise—which, by the way, has grown from £30 within the last fortnight. I pass by those franchises with this simple remark:—While I, of course, fully believe in the good faith with which the Chancellor of the Exchequer gives us the results which he expects from those several franchises, I must entirely decline to accept his figures. Without questioning the right hon. Gentle man's good faith, I look upon those figures as wholly erroneous and visionary. To speak frankly, I look upon three-fourths 29 of the enormous number of voters whom he paraded in different regiments—as 20s. direct taxes men, educational franchise men, £50 fund men, and £50 savings bank men, who are not enfranchised by any other means—this is not a question of dual voting—as little more than men in buckram. My objection is to the estimate of the right hon. Gentleman. The principle of those votes is open to a great deal of comment, which need not be entered upon on this occasion. The vital point is the borough franchise, and to that I will confine the remarks which I feel called upon to make. The right hon. Gentleman, after a preface in which he dealt in general terms—and, as I thought, in very unexceptionable terms—chiefly on the subject of the British Constitution, has propounded to ns to-night a theory which, I confess, is to me wholly novel—that the great security of this venerable Constitution, which has so long been the glory of England and the admiration of the world—if I may borrow those words which are ordinarily used in the speeches at every public dinner throughout the country—really depends upon what the right hon. Gentleman calls the principle of rating. And the right hon. Gentleman says that last summer the House of Commons, by its unerring instinct, and without knowing it, established this great principle of rating. And how did it establish it? How did the louse of Commons, then, taking a leap in the dark—to use a phrase much in fashion last year—become so fortunate as to arrive at this blessed result? Why, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman says it was done by adopting the Motion made by my noble Friend the Member for Galway (Lord Dunkellin), the effect of which was that the basis of the franchise was to be found in admitting to the constituencies only men who were rated to the relief of the poor and who paid their rates. These are the two columns of the Constitution, and these two columns were built up on the night when my noble Friend succeeded in defeating the measure of the Government. Well, Sir, I go back to the Motion of my noble Friend the Member for Galway, and I affirm that it had no more to do with either the one or time other of those columns of the Constitution than chalk has to do with cheese. The Motion of the noble Member for Galway simply provided that the pecuniary measure of the franchise should be founded upon rateable value instead of gross estimated rental. It was perfectly 30 indifferent as far as that Motion was concerned, whether a man were rated or not, and whether he paid his rates or not; and under the terms of the Motion of the noble Lord I would undertake to get rid completely of all personal liability to rating and obligation to pay rates. But this is not all. This was distinctly stated in the debate. It was stated by me at the commencement of the debate, and admitted by every speaker who took part in the discussion, and yet the right hon. Gentleman the organ of the Government has now discovered, contrary to the sense of everybody who paid the least attention to the matter in hand, of everybody who had listened to any portion of the speeches delivered that evening—that, in short, the House of Commons was led by an unerring instinct, which it did not understand—which we did not understand—and which at the time, he did not understand—to make the affirmation that rating was the great principle of the British Constitution. ["Hear, hear!" "No, no!"] I should not, however, have dwelt on this matter if it bad had only a retrospective interest; but the truth, Sir, is that this is a very grave question It is a question which involves a great deal of detail, and upon it depends the entire character of the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman he says he is going to enfranchise 237,000 persons who are rated to the relief of the poor and who pay their rates; and he insists upon taking the gross numbers comprised in each class, quite irrespective of the fact that scone whole those numbers include are on the register already, that others whom those numbers include cannot possibly get on the register because they have not resided and paid rates for the requisite time; and that others whom those numbers include are absolutely incapacitated for being placed on the register on account of their being habitually excused from the payment of rates in consequence of their poverty. In perfect defiance of all these plain facts, however, the right bon. Gentleman has tonight shown a great taste and faculty for making an army on paper, and to-night accordingly he marches out into the arena these 237,000 men. Now, these include a very considerable number of freemen. They likewise include a very large number of persons who cannot possibly be registered on the account of the frequency of their migration, and on account of their period of residence being too restricted to qualify them, Without entering at this moment into any details, I will venture to 31 say that of these 237,000 men, in point of fact not as many as 140,000, when you have made the necessary deductions, will be added to the register. And those who recollect the difference between the 644,000 male occupiers now upon the list at a value of £10 and upwards, and the 451,000 householders who are actually upon the register, will at once perceive my meaning. However, the enfranchisement of about 140,000 persons who are occupiers under a £10 rental is the whole certain and immediate effect of the plan of the right hon. Gentleman as long as he keeps on the foundation of what he describes as the British Constitution. But I was astounded when the right hon. Gentleman descended from the pedestal of the Constitution on which he had seated himself and dealt with the case of the compound-householder. He said that the compound-householder was, after all, as good a man as anybody else; he might be competent to enjoy the franchise and to fulfil his duties as a voter; but as the owner of the property by paying the rates has deprived him of the position which he would otherwise hold, we will, says the right hon. Gentleman, give the compound-householder every facility. The right hon. Gentleman then boldly proceeded to place upon his list of enfranchised citizens 486,000 persons who do not pay rates, but who come under the description of compound-householders. But, if that is so, where is this great principle of the British Constitution? What is the use of talking about the value of rating and setting forth doctrines like that which the right hon. Gentleman propounds when he talks of the completeness and authenticity of this principle? when he talks of the duties which ratepayers have to discharge and which less fortunate members of the community do not discharge? What is the use of setting up a principle in order to knock it down again? The right hon. Gentleman frankly says he thinks those persons who are not ratepayers just as much entitled to be enfranchised as those who are. ["No, no!"] Several hon. Gentlemen opposite say "No;" but if they will give me a little time I am coining to their method of construing the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. But I have already followed the right hon. Gentleman through two phases of his speech—the first, in which he described the importance and almost the sanctity of the principle of rating as the basis of the British Constitution; and the second, in which he hu- 32 manely pleaded in defence of the compound-householder, saying that he was as good a man as anybody else, and ought to be placed in as favourable circumstances as anybody else. Now, I will endeavour to make out an approximation to the views of several Gentlemen who do not agree with me as to the proper construction to be put upon the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. Compound-householders are to have every facility for being registered. ["Hear, hear!"] Well, I should say that the only natural meaning of that term is, that as the names of all the compound-householders are for the most part, and ought to be in every case, entered in the ratebook, the obvious meaning of giving them every facility is that when they are in possession of the necessary qualification they ought to be carried on to the register. That is what I call giving every facility to the compound-householders. But what does the right hon. Gentleman call giving every facility to the compound-householders? He said that they must make their claims, that they must insert their names, and that they must pay their rates. ["Hear, hear!"] I am astonished—I am astounded to hear those cheers. Can Gentlemen have considered the meaning of that manifestation? You say that it is his duty to go and pay to the parish officer the rate which he has already paid in his rent. ["No, no!" from the Ministerial Benches.] You do not say it, then; I am very well pleased at that denial—but what is the meaning of giving them these facilities? I am afraid the meaning of them is this perhaps it is that the compound-householder is to be fined in the difference between the rate which the landlord is bound to pay under landlord's assessment and that which constitutes the amount he would have to pay if individually rated, But, whether he does that or not, I know very well that unless the right hon. Gentleman will adopt the simple mode of enfranchising compound-householders which he may read in the Bill of last year, there will be two processes at variance with each other—absolutely as different as black from white—in many towns in the country, and dependent solely on the view which the local authorities take of the matter. Did the right hon. Gentleman in the course of his studies on this subject examine the Returns which have been in his hands for a week? Turn to the borough of Lambeth. The right hon. Gentleman will find in that single parish 5,781 compound occupiers on the 33 Parliamentary register. Let him go on to the parish of St. Giles, Camberwell, and there he will find, at page 152 of the blue book of last year, which I am afraid he has not read as carefully as I have, that 4,921 tenements at and above £10 rental are rated to the owners instead of to the occupiers, and that at present there are only five of such occupiers on the register. And why? Is it because the people of the parish of St. Giles, Camberwell, are sluggish and indifferent about their political privileges, while the people of Lambeth are animated by such a lively fire of patriotism that 5,781 of thorn have been to the overseer and taken pains to have their names inserted on the register? Or is it because the different processes pursued by the local authorities in different parishes have resulted in placing, in one case five compound-occupiers, and in the other case 5,781 upon the register? Am I to be told, at this time of day, after all the stages this question has passed through, after turning it over and over and over again, after parting with three of your Colleagues [Cries of "Oh!" and cheers]—three of the best of your Colleagues, who were not willing to accept the Bill which you now propose—am I to be told that legislation which affects two-thirds of the whole number of persons below £10 about whose enfranchisement there is a question, is to depend on the pure and simple discretion of the parish officer, and that he is to decide who are to be enfranchised and who are not When Gentlemen perceive that such is the operation of the proposed system, they will. I think, readily follow me, at any rate, to this conclusion—that the question is one which it is totally impossible for us to leave to the discretion and command of the parochial authorities. Is the right hon. Gentleman going to take it out of their hands—eh? Does he mean that the names of these 5,000 persons shall be put upon the register in the one parish as in the other? If so, let bins say so. But it is most important with regard to the view we take that we should know—and the right hon. Gentleman's speech throws no light on this subject whatever, because he has not told us whether these men—indeed, I think he has told us the contrary; I think he has told us that they are to go through some process which is, in fact, call it what you like, neither more nor less than a fine on the labouring classes. ["Oh!" "Hear hear!"] If we say, "You, who by arrangement with your 34 landlords, have nothing to do at present with rates but to pay your rents, which include them, are now to go to one parish officer and claim to be rated, then to another parish officer and see whether any rate be due of which you have no knowledge, and if any be due to tender the amount, and then are liable to be told by the parish officer, as persons were told in a noted case in one of the metropolitan boroughs, Now you have made your claim, and as soon as the revising barrister comes in November you may appear and support it'"—if this he the mode which we are to adopt, I tell the right hon. Gentleman that, in my opinion, the mode which he has adopted of applying the principle of rating is a mode that really cannot stand. I do not agree with these who think that the principle of rating is: the great bulwark of the Constitution; but I do agree with those, who think that if you enfranchise all householders you get into very great difficulties—and I do not perceive that the right hon. Gentleman has made the smallest provision to meet these difficulties—at the lower end of the scabs when you come to deal with that class of householder who is usually excused his rates. You then put it in the power of a parish officer, who is a political partizan, and who anticipates that 100 or 500 men are going to vote on the side opposed to his convictions, to allege their poverty and obtain the excuse of their rates, thereby disfranchising these men. There is a cure for that; and what is it? You let in the election agent, who, aware of the politics of the parish officer, and determined not to be behind him, comes with the rates of these 500 men, and in triumph reinstates these bribed and contaminated men. I did expect from the right hon. Gentleman some indications that he had made provision for dealing with this class of cases; but, instead, the right hon. Gentleman went on to make disrespectful remarks upon a plan that is not before the House, a plan for a £5 rating, which he called a Serbouian bog, and which yet, on the only occasion when it was proposed to the House of Commons, in the Bill of Lord Russell, the right hon. Gentleman, if my memory serves me rightly, spoke of not as a Serbonian bog, but in terms of general approbation. The right hon. Gentleman has indicated most guardedly that somebody has got a plan for depriving the persons below a £5 rating of this privilege of paying their rates and so reduc- 35 ing them to a condition of helotism which he thinks is quite intolerable. The right hon. Gentleman does not appear to me to be at all aware of the real history of the laws that have been passed in reference to the personal liability to rating. It is all very well to say that the old principle of the borough franchise was that a man should pay scot and lot. No doubt. But we have contrived to improve, at any rate, the detail of many of our social and economical arrangements; and I take it that in that state of society a very large number of those who paid scot and lot were proprietors of their own houses. But the great mass—almost the entirety of the smaller population of our towns are now tenants, and not proprietors; and for half a century Parliament has been under the conviction that it was much better in the case of those small holdings to deal as to rates with the landlord, and not with the tenant. I am addressing myself to that observation of the right hon. Gentleman, in which he clothed with a kind of mysterious horror the supposition that persons rated below £5 might be relieved from all liability in respect of their rates. But in what light has Parliament regarded this view of the British Constitution? What has it said in the Small Tenements Act?Whereas the collection of Poor Rates and highway Rates assessed upon the Occupiers of Tenements of small annual value is expensive, difficult, and frequently impracticable, it is expedient to make better provision for the rating of such tenements and for the Collection of such Rates, Be it therefore enacted "—that the owner shall be rated instead. This, which is a social reform, the right hon. Gentleman seems to clothe with a kind of horror and dislike, and actually hails the principle as if its application to the small holders of this country were in the nature of a public wrong. I must own that I so far agree with Gentlemen who feel great anxiety on this subject of personal rating, that I should regard it as a fortunate circumstance if the limit of our franchise downwards were to cease at the same point with the personal liability to rates. I think there would be some very great advantages in that arrangement. But is the arrangement you are going to make anything at all like it? I do not mean to say that it is practicable to any very great extent, because I have not the means of obtaining the necessary information; but I believe it is owing entirely to a defect of detail—namely, in the amount of the allowance proposed—that the Small Tenements 36 Act does not run much more generally through the boroughs. If we are sincere—and I believe we are—in desiring something like fixity, every man must contemplate something like this arrangement; but it is precisely this arrangement which the right hon. Gentleman has selected for his severest condemnation. There are two questions which I wish to submit to the House—the first, what the Bill is now; the second, what it would become if it were to pass into Committee. I will take the second question first—What would become of the Bill if it were passed into Committee. I find that there are three safeguards or securities contemplated by the Bill, The first relates to residence, the second to rating, and the third to dual voting—a phrase which the right hon. Gentleman appeared to me, with a very unerring instinct, to eschew as long as ever he could, and, at last, to pass over with a lightness and delicacy of touch for which I shall be forced to substitute very much coarser handling. Let me look at these securities. The right hen, Gentleman has not adopted the term of the municipal franchise, but an intermediate term of two years; that is to say, he substantially adds a twelvemonth to the term now required for the Parliamentary register. I cannot say, for myself, that I attach the smallest value to that provision. It will operate in reducing the franchise among the people of property and of the upper classes not quite so much as among the lower classes if you consider that an advantage. But I presume it is to apply to all equally, or is there to be one law for persons rated above £10 and another for those rated below £10.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
The proposition is the same as in Lord John Russell's Bill, The rights under the existing law will not be interfered with.
I presume so. I think that is quite the right way to do it, if it is to be done. I think it proper to preserve existing rights; but, prospectively, I am accurate in saying that the effect of the residence qualification will be to limit in some degree the number of voters. ["Oh!"] Does not the longer term of residence limit the number of electors? At present, however, I merely wish to enter a protest to the extent that it does so. I now come to a question of rating, and here it appears to me that the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman is fundamentally and essentially wrong. I can understand that you may remedy, in a certain sense, 37 the evils of that proposition by adopting provisions which will completely nullify it. If you will take the names of the 486,000 compound-householders——I use the term as including those under the Small Tenements Act, although it is not perfectly correct in law to do so—and if you provide that all these names are to go direct upon the register, then you admit the whole question; but it would be much better to get rid of the ratepaying distinction at once, and there is no advantage in adopting a circuitous process for its own sake. I wish to point out the fundamentally incurable part of the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman, supposing it is intended to be a reality; if it is intended to be a vision and a dream, then the question must be considered from a different point of view. Supposing it to be a reality, there will be found existing in the country laws and practices of many different descriptions, which have the effect, in different modes, of limiting the principle of personal liability. The first of these modes is the adoption of the Small Tenements Act. The ratepayers of a parish, voting with a very high plurality of votes, can, if they think fit, bring it under the operation of the Act, and thereby disfranchise every man who would enjoy the franchise in a direct manner but for the operation of that Act. Assuming the distinction between rating and non-rating is a reality, the first effect of the introduction of the Act is to remove from the register every man who is within its scope—that is, up to £6 rating. Let us apply this to the borough of Leeds. I do not think it possible for a Reform Bill not to add a considerable number to the constituency in that borough; and I congratulate my hon. Friend (Mr. Baines) near me upon the fact. In the borough there are 14,000 ratepayers at £6 and under. Can it be possible that it shall depend upon the will of a vestry—aye, and not of the vestry considered as a popular body, but upon the will, exclusively I may say, of the propertied classes in the parish—whether these 14,000 people are to be enfranchised, or they are not? Again, where the Small Tenements Act has been adopted, it is in the power of the vestry to disallow and expel it. Is that state of things to form a basis for our legislation? In fact, are we to pass a law with respect to the effect of which we are really in the dark; and whether it will establish household suffrage, or not, whether it will double 38 the constituencies or only add to them 100,000 or 120,000 people, depends upon the will of local councils and local officers? I protest against that method of proceeding. If household suffrage is to be established, let it be established honestly, and do not let us leave the wealthier persons in those constituencies to enfranchise or disfranchise at their pleasure, and with reference to circumstances any of them may think fit, this one class of persons, and the most important class of persons affected by the provisions of the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman. Again, I come hack to my point—is that distinction between rated and non-rated persons to Le a reality or not? If it is not to be a reality, say so, and do away with the distinction and let us get rid of these unnecessary eulogies On that portion of the Constitution. If it is to be a reality, then do not let us leave it dependent upon the simple will of the local authority what the limits of the constituency are to be. Then there are two other most important points—there are the cases of towns for which special local Acts have been obtained, in which the Small Tenements Act is unknown, and in which these local Acts establish the principle of compounding for rates upon a very large scale. I suppose the right hon. Gentleman is aware that these local Acts establish composition for rates upon the assessment of the landlord up to £10, £12, £15, £20, and, in certain cases in London, practically up to £30 value. I asked the right hon. Gentleman whether a compound-householder paying 20s. in direct taxes is to be permitted to enjoy the second vote—that is to say, the direct tax vote—and he said "Yes." Certainly, it would be most absurd that he should not, assuming that the direct tax vote is to become the law of the land; but what can be more absurd than this? We recognise his fitness to be made one of the special class who are to be elected, as it were, keepers of the rest of the community by means of this double vote; but he is to be put in a situation of difficulty in respect to his household vote as compared with a man rated at £3 or £4 in towns where there does not happen to be a local Act. Can anything more ludicrous be conceived? In the borough of Thetford the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman will go to establish very close upon universal suffrage; but it is no borough at all—it is like a great number of other boroughs which the right hon. Gentleman finds of use in drawing fancy compa- 39 risons between the county and the borough representations. It is a village, or, rather, en assembly of villages constituting a rural district. There is a population of 4,200, of whom 829, or one in five, are male occupiers. That proportion is very close upon universal suffrage, and the same proportion throughout England will give a constituency of nearly 4,000,000—which I imagine will entirely close the mouth of Mr. Beales. That is the way the right hon. Gentleman proposes to deal with the borough of Thetford. An immense proportion of the people there are the mere peasantry of the country—and by that I mean they are unskilled labourers. We have now, I am thankful to say, many highly skilled agricultural labourers; they are an increasing proportion, and, undoubtedly, with the augmented use of agricultural machinery, they must become an augmented proportion. The Bill proposes universal suffrage as far as the borough of Thetford is concerned. There are other examples of these village districts, these groups or clusters of villages—such as Wilton and Westbury—and if you enfranchise the peasantry of these groups and clusters of villages you will have—I will not say in Committee on the Bill, but very soon—to consider whether the peasantry in every village shall not be enfranchised, and whether the principle of population, applied as you apply it in certain cases, not to town populations, but to rural village populations is not to be applied universally to the country? I am not one of those who believe the Constitution of the country is dependent upon the suffrage as absolutely as the Earl of Derby, who spoke the other night of an extended suffrage involving the destruction of the British Constitution. I have a great deal more faith in the British Constitution than to believe that it depends upon rating or upon an exact estimate mid the adding of more or less to the constituencies. I believe that we may make many mistakes, and yet the strong good sense and the whole traditions of this country will keep the Constitution on its legs—but that is no reason why we should make mistakes or alter the customary method of our legislation, or why we should establish the new principle of the Bill, as the right hon. Gentleman said the House of Commons did on the Motion of the noble Lord the Member for Galway. Before I accede to a franchise which is close upon universal suffrage—equal to it or to manhood resi- 40 dential suffrage—in those rural districts where there is no Small Tenements Act in operation, I should Lice to ask myself first of all whether I am prepared to endure the application of the principle to all the county constituencies of the country. Nothing can be more preposterous than that you should say to a peasant, or common hodman, or day labourer, earning ls. 6d, or 2s. a day, in a town where there is no composition in force, "You shall have your franchise for nothing and be put on the register without knowing it; "while in great communities such as the vast parishes and boroughs of London, and many other towns of the country, you absolutely fine in time, or money, or both, the compound-householder who, at the same time, is a man whose perfect competence you propose to recompense by putting into his hand this dual vote which is given for the payment of direct taxes. The second of these safeguards, personal rating, as the right hon. Gentleman proposes it, I venture to predict is doomed. It may be possible to make personal rating a condition of the suffrage—the right hon. Gentleman has condemned the plan by which, perhaps, it might be done—but personal rating is a practical condition of the suffrage, while it is regulated partly by pure accident, partly by the will of the local or parochial authority, and partly by the activity of political agents, and through a liberal use of a candidate's purse cannot be embodied in an Act to amend the representation of the people. Then comes the duality of the right hon. Gentleman; and here alone he was moderate in the computation of his numbers. He did not venture upon a higher figure than 200,000, although he left, I admit, a broad margin beyond. The right hon. Gentleman knows very well—he must know—that there must be many more than 200,000 of these dual votes. And here I am bound to make a complaint against Her Majesty's Government. Last year, to the best our ability, we laboured and spent hours and days, with the best aid we could obtain, to throw into the best form we could devise the best information that our opportunities would allow us to obtain, in order to place full information before the House; and yet we were only proposing a homely measure of a character which might easily occur to any person, without digging beneath the surface, and elaborating refined and philosophical systems like that of the right hon. Gentleman. Now, the right hon. Gentleman comes forward with his 41 proposition relating to dual voting—of all new-fangled schemes the most new-fangled—of all innovations the most innovating—and he does not condescend to lay upon the table any computation of the number of the dual votes so to be created—votes which are to be put, I must say, as arms into the hands of one part of the community against the other. The right hon. Gentleman does not condescend to supply, although he has been so long thinking about it—ever since Lord Derby wrote to him in the autumn to say that the question ought to be dealt with, and that with no niggard hand—he has not supplied us with a rag of formation, except his statement that he supposes the number of voters must be much beyond 200,000? How much? Is it 300,000? Is it 400,00? Is it 500,000? No reply. I am bound to say that I do not suffer so much from the want of reply as might be supposed. To this dual vote, from this moment, be the numbers great or small, I, for one, record an implacable hostility. We have used the language of reserve long enough; we would gladly observe it still ["Oh, oh!" and cheers] if the proposition of the Government were such as to make it compatible with the fulfilment of public obligation. But I have enough faith in the British spirit and honour—even of those Gentlemen who gave me that sarcastic cheer—to believe that I should ill indeed study the mode of access to their good graces if, entertaining those opinions, I were to speak of the proposals of the Government in less unmeasured terms. Why, this dual vote is, in the first place, a gigantic engine of fraud. It is an engine of fraud that nothing could control. I do believe that the right hon. Gentleman might, if he had taken pains, have in some degree avoided the pitfall. He might, for instance, have confined the dual vote to payment of the house tax. If he had done so, he would still have been liable to this difficulty—that ninny persons, to serve the purpose of political parties, might come forward and get themselves assessed to the house tax in respect of houses of less than £20 value. He might have proposed that every man should not only pay house tax, but every other payment for poor rates, highway rates, &c., on the same scale, and that would have been a considerable cheek on this kind of corruption. But when the right hon. Gentleman proposes a franchise not only for income tax, but for assessed taxes, I declare, and I will show—and not I alone, 42 but all who take the pains to consider the subject—that the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman is simply equivalent to a proclamation to every man with a purse in his pocket that he may make votes on any scale he pleases for 20s. a year. A man who chooses to dab a little hair powder on his head is liable to pay 23s. a year. A man who chooses to pay the servants' tax may have the vote. A man who chooses to hand about, not the body, but the property of a miserable three-legged jade may qualify 365 persons with a single horse that may not perhaps have cost him £. Then, take the income tax. Well, in a certain borough where 100 votes are important to be bad, that number of persons may sign a requisition to the surveyor of taxes, saying, "You have not assessed us to the income tax?" The surveyor of taxes has no option in the matter—at least, I presume you are not about to put before him the duty of ascertaining whether these persons are liable to be assessed, although it would be quite as rational as some of the propositions of the right hon. Gentleman. Still, it is not included in the present scheme. Well, 100 schedules go to the man who brings the complaint, and who is, of course, the agent of one of the political parties. He fills up the 100 schedules of Schedule D. He writes the words, Turkish Guaranteed Stock," or something of that kind. He has them signed by the parties, the operation is complete, and a vote is made in respect of every one of these schedules. I believe it would be absolutely impossible to prevent wholesale fraud in the manufacture of these votes. But, then, the right hon. Gentleman may say—he is merciless in making the past errors of men suit his present purpose—that we proposed it in 1854. That is quite true; but with what exact provision we coupled the proposition I do not now recollect. It wore in our eyes an appearance then which it still wears in the eyes of the right hon. Gentleman—for he will not suppose I impute to him—as I do not—that he deliberately wishes to bring about this great system of fraud. After we had contemplated it we saw what it would come to, and we did not propose it either in 1860 or 1866. We rejected it then, and it is therefore no wonder that we are ready to criticize it now. But, besides being a gigantic engine of fraud, this dual vote is a good deal more. It is a proclamation of a war of classes. It is 43 the first measure in the war of classes. Talk of the British Constitution! The author of this dual vote is the man who strikes at the British Constitution. That British Constitution rests, and has rested from time immemorial, upon the mutual good-will, respect, and good feeling of the people—upon the equality which they enjoy before the eye of the law—upon the manner in which they meet in their public assemblies as men and citizens, and enjoying equal privileges in that capacity. But the day you place in the hands of the rich man, under the notion of fortifying his position, this weapon to use against his poorer fellow-countrymen—that day you seal the doom of the old British Constitution—that day you sow dissensions that never can abate—that clay you destroy the confidence that unites all classes of the community—that day, if you could pass this law, if you could promulgate it tomorrow as an Act of Parliament in the terms in which the right hon. Gentleman has proposed it, you would light up a flame the most dangerous and formidable that ever menaced the safety of a State. Entertaining, these opinions, there are certain questions still in reserve. I still wait to see the proposals by which this sacred principle of rating is to be applied, and whether it is to be applied in a limited manner, or whether the whole of the 700,000 are to be enfranchised. But I must observe that there is one extraordinary omission in the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman, in an admirable passage, which I promise to look out and quote in some future debate, laid down the principle of the lodger franchise. I am ashamed to tread the ground which has been trodden by the right hon. Gentleman, and I should be sorry to spoil the effect by an imperfect description. But the substance of what he says is that the existence of a class of lodgers is a necessity of our modern civilization, and that you have in your great towns, and especially in London, owing to the extremely high cost of space, and consequently the high rate of rent, a vast multitude of men living as lodgers, who in other towns of the country, in the very same condition, with the same character, capacity, and willingness to pay rates—that being the fourth of the cardinal virtues—are householders; you have those men in London in tens, twenties, and fifties of thousands. And yet those men the right hon. Gentleman passes by, 44 and no provision is made for them, except the provision with regard to the savings banks. I never heard myself that lodgers were a class particularly given to putting their money into the savings bank. If they are, it shows they are very fit for the franchise, and I should like to enfranchise them on that account. But the savings bank franchise will do no more for lodgers than for other men, and, unfortunately, a very small proportion of those who are skilled artizans in London are to be found among the savings banks depositors. What I find, then, is this. I find that the safeguard of long residence—I use the word conventionally—is practically of small account, I find that the safeguard of the liability to pay rates cannot possibly be accepted by this House after it has become aware of the nature and operation of the laws with respect to rating in this country. And I say this, expressly guarding my self against being supposed to undervalue the advantage that may belong to a franchise which terminates at the point where the payment of rates terminates, Well, I presume that these limitations must go; that the dual vote must go; the right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that the dual vote is dead already. The right hon. Gentleman required to muster and pluck up his courage well in order to speak to the House of that; for it certainly was a great effort for a man to propose to the House of Commons that which he must know in his own mind is as completely gone as if it had been a proposal of the times of Lord Strafford and Charles I. Well, then, with the dual franchise gone, there is the lodger franchise coming; and behind the lodger franchise is the broad consequence that must follow, as affecting the county constituencies, of the enfranchisement of the peasantry. That is the form which, in the natural course of things after a long time, perhaps, and not during the present Session, the Bill would assume if it got into Committee. That is a very extensive change; it may be that this measure does not contain provision for it; but, as far as one can at present construe it; it looks as if it would assume that shape. I am convinced that these safeguards must go, and I am confident that a lodger franchise must come in. I do not hesitate to say I think it is generous on the part of the right hon. Gentleman to offer such a measure as I suppose to Gentlemen on this side of the House. Its operation on 45 that scale would, no doubt, be highly favourable to them; and if the object of the right hon. Gentleman be to confer on them increased power, and increased numbers in the boroughs of the country, I do not say it is for them to quarrel with it. But, Sir, there are other interests than the interests of party involved. I have not said a word since we quitted office in defence of the principle on which we proceeded last year; but the right hon. Gentlemen stated that last year we proceeded, not on a principle, but "avowedly on an expedient," He may, indeed, have thought it, and may call it an expedient, but assuredly it was not "avowedly" an expedient. We called it, because we believed it to be, a principle; and our principle was this—the enfranchisement of the skilled labour of the country. We have heard much from the other side aid elsewhere about the value of the principle of selection, and the last testimony to the value of that principle which I saw was a remarkable letter from the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to the Conservative working men of Huddersfield, in which he said that the bust portion of the working classes ought to be admitted to the franchise. Sir, I certainly shall be not a little curious to hear from the noble Lord the reasons which have induced him to come down to this House and offer us a Bill drawn in contempt of the principle he thus recommended—a Bill which utterly excludes all principle of selection, which excludes a vast number of the most skilled and most instructed of our working men, and which, where it admits any of them, admits along with them the poorest, the least instructed, and the most dependent members of the community having regard to the extreme gravity of the case, it would be too touch for the to presume now to decide what would be the practical effect of so large a measure as this Bill if these pretended safeguards—I do not mean to say that the Government do not believe in their sufficiency—but if these fall away, the proposition certainly requires some consideration before I, for one, could make up my mind upon it. With regard to the proposition in its limited form, with this distinction between rating and rental, and the shutting out of men because their houses are compounded for, owing to their residence in particular parishes and towns which have availed themselves of a great social improvement adopted by Parliament with all its might some fifty years ago—to that I am 46 utterly and resolutely opposed. With respect, then, to the plan and proposals of the right hon. Gentleman, I think a more particular knowledge is requisite to enable us to judge in what manner they ought to be dealt with as a whole. To many of diem, and especially to that most important one relating to dual voting, I am inflexibly opposed; and I confess I think it quite impossible, under any circumstances, that any proposal like that, or one conceived in such a spirit, can obtain the sanction of this House.
SIR WILLIAM HEATH
Sir, on the occasion of the introduction of so important a Bill by the Government it is far from my intention to go into any lengthened discussion of the subject, or to presume to give an pinion on many of the questions which it raises. But I feel it quite necessary to say a few words, especially on account of some remarks which have fallen from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman, at the close of his speech, mentioned the difficulties with which he had been surrounded in preparing and bringing forward the measure, and he said at last that he had to bring it before the party with whom he acted, and that, although with great difficulty on the part of many of them on the grounds he had stated, it hail been on the whole accepted. I feel it necessary on my own behalf to guard myself against being supposed to be one of those who have already given any assent to the measure. I must reserve to myself the right when the next stages of the Bill shall have cone to take such course as I may think proper, without reference to any political connections. And I am bound to say that my present impression of the Bill is not favourable. I have endeavoured to look at it from both points of view—from the point of view which I myself, as a Conservative, naturally desire to regard such questions—namely, with a desire to uphold the balance of our Constitution in order and stability. I have endeavoured also to look upon it from the point of view from which hon. Gentlemen opposite may be expected to look at it, and I must confess that it seems to me with a remarkable infelicity to combine objections which have weighted with both sides of the House. Having guarded myself so far, and having claimed for myself the right, on the second reading of the Bill, or whenever any question may arise, to take my own course in the matter, I will not intrude longer on the attention 47 of the House. I will only venture to say that I am not so singular in my opinion as the right hon. Gentleman seems to imagine.
§ SIR GEORGE BOWYER
Sir, I do not intend to lengthen the discussion by following the example set by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, The right hon. Gentleman stated at the commencement of his speech, as I thought very justly, that the time to discuss the details of the Bill will be when it is in the hands of Members, and when they can clearly see what its provisions are. I think that a very judicious course, because it is utterly impossible, even with the ability of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to give a perfectly clear view of so difficult and so complex a matter in the course of his speech, to which we have listened with so much attention. But what did the right hon. Member for South Lancashire do after making that declaration? He made a speech than which, in the whole course of my experience, I never heard anything more ingenious or more telling as a party speech, more captious, more bitter, or more sarcastic. That was the character of his speech. I do not want to go into any details; but I must mention one or two points in his speech in which he illustrated the character of the Bill. He expended all his art of irony on the rating franchise. He denied what the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said with great justice that this House did last Session affirm the principle of rating. [Mr. GLADSTONE: Only in boroughs.] I mean in boroughs. The vote that caused the fall of the late Government involved the rating franchise. And what did the Chancellor of the Exchequer say? He said that the principle was affirmed; but that when they came to the application of that principle, the Government found they could not conjoin it with—and accordingly they carried it out without adding it to a value franchise. That might be a fair question for consideration in Committee. The right hon. Member for South Lancashire spoke rather rashly when he condemned the principle that the men to be intrusted with the franchise are those who bear the public burdens. That is not a new principle. It is a very old principle. If the right hon. Gentleman looked to the proceedings of a Committee—well known to all constitutional writers—presided over by Serjeant Glanville 200 years ago, he would find the different franchises and dif- 48 ferent rights of voting were fully discussed; and that if any one thing came out more clearly than another before that Committee it was that, according to the ancient common law of England, the men who sustained local burdens and paid local taxes were the men who were entitled to the franchise. That is the class of men who serve on juries, filled parish offices of all kinds, and voted for municipal purposes. The right hon. Member for South Lancashire again ridiculed the principle laid down by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the compound-householders are to have means given them of placing their names on the rate book, and of acquiring the franchise which is attached to rating. The right hen, Gentleman says it would depend to a great extent on the parochial officers whether a man should be on the rate book at all, and that the election agent might pay the rate and so bribe the voter who would thus have a vote. But that applied in some degree to the existing law; because a man at present cannot vote unless his rate is paid. We all know what the ratepaying clause is. A man must pay the rate to have a vote; and if the rate is paid by the landlord the tenant does not have a vote. The right hon. Gentleman assumes that the compound-householder would not have the power to be put on the rate book as proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but that is not a fair argument, for the right hon. Gentleman has not yet seen the Bill, and we do not know what provisions it contains for the purpose of enabling the compound-householder to put his name upon the rate book; and yet, without knowing what the fact is, the right hon. Gentleman assumes that this is to be a source of fraud. I ask him to wait until he sees the Bill and finds out what are its provisions. ["Question!"] But I will not go into further details, for I see that hon. Gentlemen behind me do not like them. However, I will promise to go into them at another time, whether hon. Gentlemen like it or not. One strong conviction has forced itself upon my mind during the speech of the right hon. Member for South Lancashire, and that is, that all Reform is impossible. ["No, no!"] I will tell you why. The moment a Reform Bill is brought in by one set of Ministers it is sure to be carped at by the set they have supplanted. They say either that it goes too far, or else that it does not go far enough. It has been thought by most people of late that the Government 49 were going too far in the direction of the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright), and it has been a common thing to hear it said at the clubs and elsewhere, "Why, the Government are going to take the wind out of the sails of Mr. Gladstone." But we now find that the right hon. Member for South Lancashire, instead of approving of the course taken by the Government as promising a great advance in Reform, turns round calmly and tells the Government that they have done nothing. I am not going to cuter now into the question of the duality of votes beyond stating my own conviction that dual voting will not do. When I heard such an ingenious and bitter speech made against Reform, or against a very extensive measure of Reform—a measure so extensive that it alarmed a great number of the Conservative party themselves—and when I saw the great advocate of Reform making such a speech, I must say I came to the conclusion that Reform is impossible. But notwithstanding my objection to the proposal of dual voting, I must admit I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer has acquitted himself with ability of a very difficult task—a task so difficult that I believe it will be impossible to accomplish. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has undertaken to bring in a Bill which will satisfy all parties, and unless it does satisfy all parties, or, at all events, a very large proportion of them, it cannot pass this House of Commons. It has struck me that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in undertaking this, stands very much in the position of a person who, some years ago, advertised all over London that at a particular theatre on a particular night he would get into a quart bottle. Of course, crowds of people went to see so strange a sight; and there they found the man upon the stage, and there they found the quart bottle; but when they called upon him to get into it he said, "Gentlemen, were you such fools as to come here with the expectation that I should perform a sheer impossibility?" Now, it strikes me that we have come here to see the Chancellor of the Exchequer get into a quart bottle, and I must say I am not disappointed to find he cannot do it. I never believed he could. The right hon. Member for South Lancashire, in the course of his speech, said, "We are all of us sincere." Well, I do not know—some of us may be sincere, but I should like to see the sincere man. I should like the man who is sincere to step out 50 before the Mace, for I am sure we should all like to have a good look at him. The fact is, there is but very little sincerity in the whole matter. What have we seen all along? Meetings have been held in different parts of the country, represented in the papers on one side as great successes, and in the papers on the other as failures. I was passing on Saturday through Trafalgar Square when I saw one of these great Reform demonstrations represented in some of the papers of that morning as a great political event. But what was the real fact? I saw 150 people assembled together in the middle of the Square, and Mr. Potter, mounted between two of the British lions, was making a speech to them. The greater part of the people were laughing at him, and I heard a good many people saying, as they looked up at him, "What a damned fool!" Some time previous to that went to the windows of a club house to see what was called "a great Reform demonstration," and I saw a great number of zealous democrats, some of them on horseback, profusely decorated with stars and ribbons, evidently in imitation of the aristocracy. Some were Knights of the Garter; some Knights of the Bath; and of course they presented a magnificent array. One man held a telescope, with which he appeared to be looking at a representation of the moon; but whether or not that was intended to symbolize the presence of a considerable number of lunatics in the procession I cannot say. There was no sincerity there, however. They were all people going out for a day's holiday. And yet it is upon these demonstrations—than which nothing more hollow and absorb can be imagined—that the violent cry for Reform is demanded. I do not myself deny that acre are many unenfranehised persons in this country who might be advantageously intrusted with the franchise; but that is quite another question, which I am ready to consider calmly and dispassionately. But when I find Reform made, as it is, the stalking-horse of party; when I find a determined effort made to get one party out of office and another party in; when I find that the party out of office are zealous for Reform, but not so zealous for Reform as they are zealous to turn out the other party, then I say that Reform wears very much the appearance of a delusion and a sham; and that until people come to look upon it practically, and as men of business, it is impossible to settle it. But 51 people have gone on saying that "the question must he settled," until a great many, though not all, have come to believe it. The real truth is, it is a question which might as well be settled two years hence as now; but when it is settled it must not be approached with any party feeling, but sensibly, as a matter of business, having regard to the interests of the people, and to the admission within the constitution of those persons who ought to be, and who may be, admitted with advantage. There is only one further question upon which I wish to touch, and that is with regard to the redistribution of seats. It seems to have been assumed all along that it is impossible to give representation to all those places which are entitled to it without taking it from those who now have it; but I do not see that myself. I object to the policy which has been adopted on this part of the question of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Because twenty or thirty places require representation, I do not see that you should, therefore, take twenty or thirty Members away from other places. I say nothing of the places disfranchised for bribery—from those places it is quite right to take away their representation in order to give it to others. There is no principle of the Constitution, or of common sense, which restricts the number of the Members of this House. If you want more representation, have additional Members; but do not take away the representation from those places which have it. I am told that there would not be room for any additional Members in this House; but as to that surely we are as bad off now as we possibly can be. I believe that an addition of twenty or thirty Members would produce no perceptible increase of inconvenience in the House; and I hope, therefore, that Her Majesty's Government, if they should think it right—as I believe it is—to give representation to several places which are now unrepresented, will consider the expediency of adding to the number of Members returned to this House.
§ MR. THOMAS BARING
I believe it would be presumptuous upon my part to prolong this discussion; and I shall not attempt to imitate the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire (Mr. Gladstone), who began by stating that he should reserve himself for the second reading of the Bill, and yet, with an imperfect knowledge of what the measure may contain, pronounced an opinion upon it, and pledged himself to oppose it.
The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me. I said I required time to consider what course should be taken with respect to the Bill. I only pledged myself against dual voting.
§ MR. THOMAS BARING
I think this is a very important measure, and one that ought not to be adopted without the most deliberate consideration. I confess that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, while he was anxious to bring that question to a satisfactory settlement, has not left my mind free from doubt—first, whether this would be a settlement at all; and secondly, whether it would be satisfactory. The Government in one of their Resolutions lay down the doctrine that no measure would be satisfactory which would give to any one class or interest a preponderating power over the rest of the community, and that such a preponderance would be opposed to the Constitution. But the figures and statements upon this subject seem to me so doubtful that every one of us would have to grope a little in the dark between this time and the next occasion when the measure comes before the House in determining what course ought to be pursued. But there is one question, I think, which the Government are bound to answer before any further step shall be taken, and that is—to what extent will they adhere to those franchises which are offered as safeguards of the extended suffrage? As I listened to the right hon. Member for South Lancashire, I gathered that there was no chance of those safeguards being adopted. If I understood the right hon. Gentleman aright, he considered that any franchise which would depend upon property would only breed discontent throughout the country; and therefore I may fairly ask the Government, before any further step is taken, expressly to state what portions of those proposals they; regard as integral parts of their measure, what portions they will stand by, and what portions they will be prepared to give up. I wish to see the question settled; but I am sure it can only be settled with great difficulty, as every successive measure brought forward only appears to embitter feeling, to produce disturbance in the country, and to leave the common sense of the people at a loss to decide what any one in this House means, because no two of us seem to agree as to what ought to be done.
§ MR. LOWE
There are a great many Gentlemen in this House who have contemplated this household suffrage with very 53 considerable apprehension, and yet find themselves almost irresistibly attracted towards it, because they believe they find in it a new principle, going lower, perhaps, than they would themselves like to go, but still giving them something that will afford rest and tranquillity after the storms of the last fifteen years—something where they may touch ground—something so low that they cannot fall lower. Now, I wish to submit to these Gentlemen one or two considerations which occur to me for the purpose of showing them that although this is, I admit, a very natural, it is not an accurate view of that which is commonly known under the name of household suffrage, or which, as now before us, may perhaps be more properly called rating suffrage. In the first place, there is no new principle in this household suffrage. Hon. Gentlemen may consider that this sounds like a paradox; but it is an undoubted fact that we have got household suffrage already—that the present borough suffrage is household suffrage, limited to houses of the yearly value of £10; and when you have got household suffrage in a wider sense you have only got the same genus, although perhaps a different species of it. The foundation of the borough franchise is now household suffrage, and it will remain so if this Bill of the Chancellor of the Exchequer should be carried into law. The difference is not in the nature of the thing, but in the kind of safeguard applied to it. The present safeguard is the £10 rental, and the safeguard of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer is a certain amount of residence, whatever that may be, and personal rating to the relief of the poor and personal liability for the payment of the rate. The question we have now to consider is whether the new safeguards supplied by the Chancellor of the Exchequer are superior to the old safeguards. For the moment I waive the question of the actual effect of the measure—I deem it prudent to delay pronouncing any opinion on it until we have had the opportunity of seeing the clauses of the Bill; but what I want hon. Gentlemen to consider, and to consider most carefully, is whether the safeguards that would be afforded by this Bill, or by any Bill of the kind, exceed in validity and trustworthiness the safeguards which we already possess; whether we have really found in this rating suffrage that safe holding—that sure anchoring ground—on which we 54 might rely to hold us fast against the storms of democracy. That is a question which, I think, it is not inopportune to consider at the present moment; and upon that subject I wish to point out to the House as well as to the country the number of things they must assume before they can satisfy themselves that they have got any additional security, or even a security as good as that under the proposed measure. At present the security is a feeble and a frail one; it is merely a figure which may be altered; it is easy to substitute one figure for another. It is said that there is no principle in a figure, but that when we get a rating suffrage we then substitute a principle in place of a figure in respect to the suffrage. Is that so? Look at the first safeguard—personal rating. If that goes, everything is gone. You descend at once simply to household suffrage, or nearly so. Now, what security have you for the continuance of personal rating. With respect to a franchise of a £10 rental or a £6 rental, the people within the franchise are general content, and the people discontented are those who are excluded. But when you establish personal rating as the foundation of the franchise it is those within the suffrage who will feel vexation and annoyance, and be hostile to it; and this will be found to be the case the more especially the lower you go, because the burden of these rates and taxes increases enormously in proportion as you descend to the poorer strata of the population. It is sometimes very difficult for them to find the money at the proper time; their habits are not so regular or business-like as those of the upper classes, and they are liable to make mistakes:—and even when they have the money they are apt not to pay it. Thus a considerable number of persons would be disfranchised by the ratepaying clauses, though in substance they might actually satisfy the demands of the franchise. I am not speaking against the rating franchise; I am only putting before you the reasons which will make the lower strata of society hostile to this particular restriction, and which will lead them to make it their business when a Member comes to his constituency for re-election to pledge him to get these clauses repealed. We have seen a good deal of the £10 voter, but he may be said to be an opulent man compared to a person living in a hovel of the annual value of £4 or £5; and when the `pressure is put by voters of this class the 55 candidates will yield to it. It will be like the pledges given by Members for Reforms, which they hoped they might never be called upon to redeem. That is one very strong reason why this should be considered a loss stable provision than the present security, which depends upon a particular amount of rental. Look at the case practically. See how these provisions are got rid of. The 7th clause of the Small Tenements Act dispenses with the payment of rates altogether, and gives the franchise for municipal purposes to every compound householder. By the Reform Act of 1832 a voter is allowed to come forward and pay his rates; but those ratepaying clauses have been attacked almost from the passing of the Act. And, again, look at the state of opinion upon the subject. The Government brought in a Bill last year lowering the franchise to £7; but in that Bill the ratepaying provisions were abolished, and the then Chancellor of the Exchequer argued most emphatically against the rating principle, and he based his argument not merely on grounds having reference to a £7 franchise, but on the propriety of the proceeding altogether, as any one will see who turns to pages 36–38 of the right hon. Gentle man's speeches. Well, Sir, this is the main security—a security which has been condemned by a great party, by a Government of great ability, and by a Gentleman who has been, and probably will again be, the Leader of a Government in this House. This is the sort of security on which hon. Gentlemen rely, thinking they have touched ground which is perfectly safe, and than which they can go no lower. But let us go a little further. The Government believe—and this is only a specimen of what must be the case with all measures framed on such a reliance—that they will give the opportunity of obtaining the franchise to a vast number of people who will not avail themselves of it, and their measure is conceived in that faith and belief:—I think, indeed—though, of course, I do not expect them to admit it—that nobody would be more disappointed than themselves if their measure should actually have anything like the enfranchising efficacy of which it is apparently capable. The question really turns—and we must look it in the face—on the compound householders. If the compound-householders are to have votes you might as well, as it appears to me, give up your 56 machinery of rating altogether and take the simple occupation of a house, or of anything that can be called a house, as your foundation. If they are not to have votes, why, then, I apprehend, you make a change which, though in some respects different, does not differ very widely from a £6 rating franchise. It is a comparatively small change. It is all-important, therefore, to know which of the two it is to be, and whether under the existing state of the law, or by what is proposed by the right hon. Gentleman, the compound-householder will be kept out or not. Now, how does the law stand on that subject? It stands in this way—that every vestry is permitted to adopt, and is permitted again to repudiate the Small Tenements Act; and under that Act it is compulsory on those who frame the rates to rate the landlord on behalf of the tenant's occupation when that occupation is £6 or under £6. As long, therefore, as that law is enforced the compound-householder is virtually disfranchised—he is practically struck out. That is the way in which the law stands at present; and the Act has been enforced in some boroughs wholly or partially, and in others it is not enforced at all. Well, I want to know what security you have that these classes will remain compound-householders and will remain disfranchised. I am not speaking of what is right or wrong about the matter, for some will think they should be enfranchised, and others will think they should not; but I ask those who rely on this as a safeguard—as something they cannot go below—what security that state of the law gives that compound-householders may not have votes? Why, it is simply as the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) pointed out, a security which depends upon the will of the parish vestry. A parish vestry may, by adopting this Act, disfranchise an enormous number of voters. They may, by repudiating the Act, a majority of two-thirds being required, enfranchise them again, and, without the occupiers having any choice whether they will be enfranchised or not, it will be the duty of the parish officers to place their names on the rate-book. They will become voters without any act whatever of their own, and that having been done the vestry may again change their minds and re-disfranchise them. Of course I am speaking, subject to correction, from what the Bill may show us to-morrow—but that, as far as I could gather from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman 57 the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is the state in which the law will be left by the Bill; that is to say, the House of Commons, setting itself to work to make a vast change in the constitution of this country, delegates the quantum of that change to the varying decisions of parish vestries. Is that, let me ask, a proper state of matters? And here I must use the same argument as I used with regard to the other point—namely, that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Lancashire, in the same speech, and in the same pages as those to which I referred just now, has emphatically denounced the notion of disfranchising the compound householder. He says, and says with truth, that the compound-householder pays the rate indirectly, because he pays it to his landlord, and the landlord, receiving an abatement of one-fourth, pays it over to the collector. It is a mere matter of convenience in the collection, the landlord being made a sort of sub-collector; and my right hon. Friend emphatically condemned the present state of the law, and as far as his Bill touched the question he proposed to abolish it. Again, therefore, I ask, where is your security? Here you have a rule which upon the argument of the Chancellor of the Exchequer is utterly indefensible, on the ground of payment of rates, because it is a mere subterfuge to say that compound-householders do not pay rates; they do pay rates, but in a different way from the ordinary way, and this is done merely for the convenience of those who have to collect them. Nobody will suspect me of wishing to enfranchise them—I think there are other and excellent reasons why they should not have votes; but the reason given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that they do not pay rates, is utterly indefensible. Well, these are your foundations; it is this quicksand—this quagmire—on which hon. Gentlemen have been led to believe, by a little confusion of language and ideas, that they can find rest for the sole of their feet, and that having sunk so far they can sink no further. This, Sir, is what I wished to put before the House. But let me add one word more. References have been made to the municipal franchise. The franchise which the right hon. Gentleman is going to create is not the same as the municipal franchise. It differs in this respect—the municipal franchise is for other things besides houses in which people reside, for it includes ware- 58 houses, shops, and so forth; and it also differs from it in this, that the compound householder possesses as a matter of right a vote in municipal elections. Now, does it not strike hon. Gentlemen—those to whom I am addressing my argument—only a limited section of the House I am; aware—does it not strike them very forcibly that people will be apt to think it very invidious, having gone so far, to have it the same borough' two different franchise: both professing to be based on household suffrage, one for the municipal and the other for the Parliamentary qualification? Do you think that this is the solid granite which you have reached; that this descent to the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman will support you, and that it will not slide off into the lower depth of the municipal franchise—if it even rests there? I think, by the way, it would be more satisfactory—at all events to me, in attempting to grope my way by such light as experience can afford—to have a little information about the working of the municipal franchise. That, however, is beside my argument. The argument I address to hon. Gentlemen is this—that I believe there never was a greater mistake than to suppose that such a proposal as that made tonight, or anything similar to it, really comprises in it any elements of stability or permanence whatever. It is not a point to which you can honestly go by surrendering your individual opinions in the belief that it gives you any security against going lower still. On the contrary, I believe it is more slippery ground than we stand on already, and that whatever may be the demerits of the present system, you are safer to rest on it than on the personal payment of rates and the power which is given to compound-householders. A suggestion was thrown out by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, which appears to me well worthy of the consideration of the House. I cannot say, indeed, that I received it with pleasure: but, circumstanced as we are, it may be well worthy of the consideration of the House whether, instead of going into then, claptrap schemes, by which you give a good deal with one hand and take it away with the other—assuming to give rights in the hope and belief that they will never be exercised—we should not honestly adopt the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion, and see if we cannot frame a measure on the principle which he shadowed forth—that is, of making the franchise reach 59 that point where it is found convenient to collect the rates from the landlord rather than from the tenant. That seemed to me a little ray of light in the midst of all this darkness. Sir, I have one word more to say on a subject which I cannot pass by in silence, and I should like to reiterate the question asked by the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Thomas Baring.) The right hon. Gentleman on the 25th of February proposed to us a Reform Bill, and the Secretary of State for the Home Department was asked whether the Government would resign if they were beaten on any part of it. In reply, the right hon. Gentleman said that they would certainly not submit to a defeat on any vital point, and that what was a vital point they reserved to themselves. Well, Sir, they were not long in putting their resolution to the test, because the next day they withdrew the scheme altogether; and, therefore, I suppose there was no vital point in it at all. But I think that, on the present occasion, it is only fair—fair to their own party especially, to Gentlemen of their own party who really have convictions, and who do not change them from year to year—I think it is only fair to them that some Member of the Government—my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, for instance, who is a connoisseur in vital points—should tell us what are the vital points of this Bill. I should excessively like to know whether duality is a vital point. I think we ought to be informed on that matter; because, though I cannot imagine why it should be so, there may be Gentlemen who might be reconciled to the rating by the notion of duality, and they have a right to know whether it is really a vital point, or whether it is only a tub to the whale, which, having served its purpose, may be dismissed like the scheme of the 25th of February. Whatever comes of the principle of duality, I must assure the House—because, after the line I have taken, and am prepared to take whenever I have an opportunity on this matter, it might be supposed that I was as likely as anybody to be caught with that bait—that I cannot express the repugnance with which I view it. I shall take the liberty—because I do not think we are likely to hear much of this point on the second reading—to make a few observations on it now. It seems to me that anything more invidious could not be devised. I will not, however, dwell on that point, because it has been already noticed by the 60 right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire. It seems, too, to me that the principle of it is eminently unsound. You may quote precedents for it; for instance, the principle of joint-stock companies and other voluntary societies, whose object is to obtain capital. Of course, if you want to get capital into a voluntary concern, you must offer capitalists privileges and advantages to attract them, and no doubt it is a great inducement to capitalists to put money into a company if they are allowed votes in proportion to the amount of their capital; and the object being to realize profits, that is all very reasonable and fair. So in boards whose business is almost entirely confined to the subject of taxation, I think you need not wonder that such a principle should be introduced; and if you were dealing with nothing but taxation, there might be a certain fairness in saying that a man should have a voice in the elector al body according to the quantum of property that he was liable to be taxed for. But it is a most narrow view of this House to consider it only as a taxing body. No doubt that has been the foundation of its power; but this House, in fact, comprehends within itself the Executive Government in all its branches, and the Legislature in all its branches; and, therefore, it is very important that we should clearly distinguish in our minds whether we are such abject worshippers of wealth, and are so inclined to bow down to it, that persons whom we admit to have a right to come into the Constitution, and to exercise the full privileges of citizenship, are to be swamped and overborne by others because they happen to be in more affluent circumstances. I recoil instinctively from such a proposition. I hold that, as a matter of policy, nothing can be worse. I have been, as the House knows well, most unwilling to extend the franchise. I have thought it most unadvisable lightly to yield to the demand for what is called access to all the rights of full citizenship in this country. But when I find that you seek by this Bill to create a sort of bastard plebeian oligarchy, to set up where there is no substantial difference a difference of power, I say you will only irritate people by giving them the franchise with one hand while with the other you set up people to swamp it with double votes. For see the admission you make. Why is this innovation on the Constitution proposed? Why is it that we require "to arm" certain 61 classes, as the right hon. Gentleman said, with greater power than the others? I will tell you. It is because those who do it cannot conceal from themselves that they are doing what they know to be wrong; they are giving franchises in which they have no confidence; they are seeking to take into a share of the government of this country classes whom they do not think fit to partake of it, and therefore they wish to compensate that imprudence—and worse than imprudence—by raising up a sort of sham oligarchy to control and counterbalance it. Now, whatever we do let us do fairly and frankly. I, for one, will be no party to giving power to classes in whom I have no confidence; nor will I associate the giving of power with any shabby expedient to counteract it. Then there is another ground upon which I am opposed to this proposal. I do not know whether it would please those who may have these extra votes. For myself, I should feel it a degradation. It may be that others would not think it so, for people differ in feeling very much; but whatever pleasure it might create in some, it would be more than counterbalanced by the rage it would create in others. It would be more than dishonest—it would be dangerous, from the amount of discontent it would create. Those who have not these double votes will feel themselves treated as inferiors, and will be more discontented than if they were excluded from the franchise altogether. Even those who are most opposed to the present state of things must admit that the franchise was always open to a man. He can raise himself and attain it; within it all were equal; but now you can take advantage of some fortuitous circumstance—such as a man's having been educated at an University, or something of that kind—in order to give him the permanent stamp of superiority, although he may be no better than his neighbour. The consequence will be that you will make the discontent in the lower order of citizens still greater; they will combine with the non electors to take away the invidious distinction, and when they succeed they will give these votes which they will wrest from the newly privileged class to the non-electors as a reward for having aided them. Instead, therefore, of settling, you would unsettle everything again. You would provide a machinery for getting up a further agitation for a further lowering of the franchise, and a further breaking in upon the institutions 62 of the country. We are going now, as I think, to break up a machine which, though not perfect, has on the whole worked exceedingly well. We are going to try a new, dangerous, and, as I would say, desperate experiment. We are going to make an attempt which many persons, whose opinions are not to be despised, think highly dangerous, in pursuit of "that firstborn of things," divine equality. And, having made all those sacrifices to obtain equality, are we at the very moment that it is obtained to destroy and annihilate it by creating a gross inequality of our own? The differences of mankind create inequalities enough, and more than enough. It is the order of Providence that men should be unequal, and it is, in my opinion, the wisdom of a State to make its institutions conform to that order. But to invert that order, to give the lower classes a preponderance over the others, to make the highest inferior to the lowest, and all for the sake of levelling inequality, and then to set to work to create a fresh aristocracy to counterpoise and balance the evil you have done, seems to me an amount of absurdity which I could not have believed any Government capable of. Therefore, it is from no wish to see this country in the hands of an unbridled democracy that I am opposed to the dual vote, but because I believe it would be invidious, ineffectual, and dangerous. These are the remarks which I have had to make; these are the opinions which I was anxious to submit to the House on those points. I beg to impress upon the House that it is my firm conviction that you will not find a resting-place in a rating franchise, and that all you will do by establishing it is to get up a new agitation on the back of the old one.
Sir, after hearing the speeches of right hon. Gentlemen, he would be a daring loan who would think there was any probability of making any progress with this question at all. Considering the difficulties of the subject, it is a very easy thing to pick holes and raise difficulties which it may seem impossible to overcome. But how do we stand in regard to this question? You must look back a little to the past. Last year we were told—and I am sure with great sincerity—that the time had come when a certain number of those who are now excluded ought to be admitted to the franchise; and in the opinion of those who brought forward the measure of last year 63 that might be done with safety. Now, I have always thought with respect to' this question that it was much more important to know what sort of people you were going to admit than how many—that, I confess, was a matter which always weighed strongly on my mind: and when you come to draw an arbitrary line-I do not care whether it be at £6, £5, £7, or £8—you must take all that come within that line, be they good, bad, or indifferent; and in all classes, as we know, good, bad, and indifferent are to be found. Well, I am one of those who think it better, in making a great change like this, to take within the franchise which we are about to establish those who come under the definition of the more steady than of the less steady. I may he wrong, but still I have a notion that, ordinarily speaking, those who pay their way and bear their share of the public burdens come within the category of the more steady. This is no new opinion of mine. I told my constituents the same when I stood on the hustings in 1865, so it cannot be said that I have come to the conclusion hastily. I certainly did think then that the time would come when a very considerable enlargement of the franchise would be necessary, and I believe that it is the safer course to extend it to those who pay their rates. Now, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire has, as it seems to me, almost arrived at the same conclusion; because, if I heard him correctly—and I believe I did—he said it would be desirable that by some means the franchise should be fixed at that limit at which the law for other purposes had fixed the personal payment of rates.
I did not say the particular limit at which the law is now fixed, but if a point could be chosen it would be desirable to do so.
I think there is not much difference. Well, if that be so, should we not see whether the difficulties which attend both the one and the other of these provisions cannot be dispassionately considered and fairly overcome? As to the question of compound-householders, I am by no means blind to the difficulties which beset it; and yet all those difficulties would arise wherever you were to draw an arbitrary line, because, though the Small Tenements Act has fixed the limit at £6, in the local Acts it rises as high as £25 or £30 in different towns. Therefore it is a difficulty every way, but not one which 64 cannot be overcome, if we fairly agree upon the principle, and set our shoulders to the wheel with a determination to overcome it. That principle I understand to be this—that in towns those who bear the burden of the poor rates, whatever be the amount of the tenement, shall have a vote. There are many advantages which I see in a proposition of that sort, not the least of them being that it does not take in all one class down to a hard line. There are steady men below the arbitrary line—men just as worthy of the franchise as the others, though perchance they pay a little less a week. But it is a great advantage that, in matters of this kind, you draw in various classes of the community, and therefore to that part of the Bill I cordially give my assent. I believe the difficulty With regard to compound-householders may, if we act dispassionately, be overcome, with fairness both to one side and the other; and entertaining that belief, I do think that the proposal of the Government is as likely, or more likely, to settle this vexed question of fifteen years' standing than any other which I have seen proposed to the House. I did not intend to say a word on this question to-night; but since I have risen I cannot avoid making one remark on another part of the subject. I think that the amount fixed for the occupation franchise in counties does come very near what I have always held to be a fair boundary of that franchise, and that is the limit at which the house tax is paid. £15 rating is very near to that, after you deduct 25 per cent. I have always thought that a just limit for the county franchise; but so far as this is concerned, if it had been more liberal, I, for one, would have had no objection to it. To one part of the scheme I should not be frank if I did not at once state my difficulty and objection. I have heard no reason which loads me to believe that dual voting is other than unmixed mischief. I never believed for one moment the statement whirls I have heard from both sides of the House, of parties being likely to be swamped by the effect of numbers. I do not believe that those who come on to the franchise will be all of one side. That, would be contrary to all experience. All tradition, all history tells us so. Some go one way and some another. I do not know why they should now do what they never did before. But if any human ingenuity could devise a scheme that would have such an effect, to my mind the system of dual and cumulative voting would. 65 I never heard any real argument in favour of either of them—on the contrary, I believe that the almost inevitable consequence would be to drive the humbler classes to go all on one side, and, if so, the other would have a dirty chance indeed. I think the House will entirely agree in what I think should be the principle of the Bill—namely, payment of rates, which should constitute the ground for the borough franchise—that is the old principle, and with it I entirely agree.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
There is nothing to me more bewildering than a debate about Reform. First of all, we heard that all parties desired that the Reform question should be settled, and then it was said it could only be settled by a liberal admission to the franchise of parties who are now excluded. These points were laid down not to be controverted. Last year the Government of Lord Russell, represented in this House by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, brought in a Reform Bill, and the way they proposed to admit those persons now excluded was by means of a £7 rental qualification. That was not pleasing to this House. They determined that should not pass, and the Government of Lord Russell went out. To them succeeded the Government of Lord Derby; and now comes another plan. The House last year said the qualification should not be rental, but rating; and the Government now, taking advantage of that, say we shall not have any sum to give a right of voting, but we shall take the rating and payment of rates as the qualification for the suffrage. Thereupon up gets the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire and makes a speech, inspired I know not by what sort of spirit, neither can I tell what object he had in making it, except to hurt all and sundry. The right hon. Gentleman, having imported into the discussion all sorts of little petty objections which were only calculated to give pain and to do mischief, proceeded to discuss the Bill, this not being the time when the Bill should be discussed. He went headlong into the Bill; and it is remarkable that his speech was not only disingenuous but it was inconsistent. He began by saying that the Bill was a fraud—that it pretended to let in people while it shut them out. That was the right hon. Gentleman's first proposition. His next proposition was that it let in everybody, and that it would utterly ruin the British Constitution. 66 ["No!"] It may be said that he never said it; but I say that he did say it. Then he went through the Bill step by step, and his first objection was taken to the rating clause. Now, I do not wonder at that, because that was the provision that turned the right hon. Gentleman out of office But, not content with objecting to the rating clause, the right hon. Gentleman misrepresented its effect. Let us see what the rating clause really is, and what is the object that all of us—with the exception, I believe, of the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright)—have in view. Our object is to let into the enjoyment of the franchise that portion of the working classes who by their intelligence, their probity, and character are persons to whom we can confide the interests of the country. That I believe to be the object of every right-minded man in this House. But how did the right hon. Gentleman endeavour to carry that object into effect? Not by letting in everybody, not by letting in the uneducated rabble. "No," the right hon. Gentleman said, "if I reduce the franchise to a £7 rental, I shall obtain just the very class of men we desire to have as voters." That was the way in which he endeavoured to bring in these persons. The attempt was made and failed. Now, the mode in which the right hon. Gentleman opposite attempts to effect the same object is by introducing a rating franchise. And what is the rating franchise? Simply this, that we do not ask what a man pays in the way of rent; all we ask is, Is he rated to the poor? If he is rated to the poor, then the next question is, Does he pay his poor rates? That I believe to be the difference between the methods of the right hon. Gentlemen. It may be that man is rated to the poor, but that the rates may be paid by the landlord; and the law has stated that, for the purposes of the revenue, in certain cases the rate shall be paid by the landlord. Could anything be more absurd than to raise up a phantom objection of this sort, when we know that; when the Bill gets into Committee the thing can be established at once—that by a few words we may render the whole thing so plain that those who run may read. There can be no difficulty or heartburning about the matter. Who can be injured by such a scheme being carried into effect? "Oh!" says the right hon. Gentleman, "you will create heartburnings in those people who don't pay their own rates." Now, did he not do exactly the same thing when he 67 stopped at the £7 rental—did he not, by doing so, create heartburnings in the hearts of those who only paid £6 rental? What possible distinction can the right hon. Gentleman draw between the two cases? But then, why make the objection. Oh, the "why" is very clear—because those Gentlemen sit upon the opposite Benches. The next question is that relating to the residence required by the Bill—a question which appears to me to be an all-important one. If anybody is allowed to vote the day after he comes into a house, you give the franchise to a passing, wandering class of people, in whom you have no confidence, and who are open to every possible mischievous influence; but when you say to the voter, "Before you can vote you must have resided in your house for so long, and thus paid a sort of respect to the requirements of society," you will enfranchise a class of persons in whom you may place the fullest confidence, while you will keep out of the franchise the wandering and passing population. I want, therefore, to know whether there is any difficulty about that point. On the third proposition of the Bill, that relating to duality of voting, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, that it is not only mischievous but utterly impracticable. But when the right hon. Gentleman says that is a proposition fatal to the Bill, I do not agree with him. We can throw out the clause containing that proposition in Committee, and then, I believe, we shall have a very good Bill. But supposing we were to throw out this Bill, I want to know what is to succeed it? Let us follow in our own minds the steps that would be taken. The Bill is thrown out. I will not take Lord Derby's threat of a dissolution for anything. I do not think it a proper observation for him to have made. [An hon. MEMBER: He never made it.] I hope he did not. I will suppose, then, that no dissolution will take place. Well, then, the Government Bill is thrown out, and the Government themselves go out after it, and the right hon. Gentleman comes in. And then what is he going to do? The right hon. Gentleman has tried the £7 franchise and has failed. The household suffrage has been tried and has failed. Is there anything between them? Will the right hon. Gentleman suppose that, after having failed to carry a £7 franchise he will be able to carry a £6 one? Why, we shall then come to a dead standstill; we shall never carry a Bill at all, and the 68 question of Reform will not be determined, and we shall not have admitted to the franchise any of the lower classes of our population. Therefore, our plain and simple course is to discuss this Bill upon the second reading—to read it a second time, to bring it into Committee, make it what it can be made—if necessary, take it out of the hands of the Government:—but, at all events, let us pass the Bill. While this debate is going on the country is in a state of disquietude. The mind of every man is disturbed, and until this question is determined England will know no quiet. It will probably be said "Oh! but we must have some resting-place." But is there any resting-place in human affairs? "Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof." Let us pass what we believe to be the best Bill we can pass at this time, and let us leave it to posterity to settle its own affairs. No Reform Bill you can pass will ever be a stable measure—it will go on from time to time changing as society changes, and as wants, necessities, and intelligence change, so will change with them the laws of this country.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
observed, upon the position in which independent Conservatives who objected to the Government Bill were placed as to their action in regard to it. It was always painful to have to express one's sentiments when truth and honour were on one side, party allegiance on the other. He regretted to say that, in his opinion, they had now reached one of those stages. Appeals were made from the Treasury Bench to the Conservatives on their party duty—he might almost say their political chastity—to support the Bill, and they were bound to ask themselves were these views of their duty sound. They were still more bound to do so after having listened to the able and exhaustive and really Conservative speech of the right hon. Member for South Lancashire that evening. ["Oh, oh!" from the back Conservative Benches.] He repeated his assertion, it was really Conservative; and what wonder? He was himself an old enough Member to recollect when that right hon. Gentleman was the rising hope of the unbroken Conservative party, then under the great leading of Peel. He would not say what the unfortunate differences were which had caused the separation, and by whose management they had been aggravated and made perpetual. Faults, no doubt, there were on Peel's part of manner and policy much to be regretted; but these need not 69 have led to a perpetual breach, they need not have engaged the Conservatives in the unfortunate mistake of resisting the good policy of free trade. But for that mistake, and that management, the Conservative party would have been standing in a very different position that evening. If, then, the right hon. Gentleman would at last come hack to those good views which they had held in common when they were a united and powerful party, led by the great name of Peel—if he said there were a way opened for them to return to those days, ought not any man who loved Conservative principles more than Conservative tactics and dodgery to rejoice? The Bill of last year, comparatively moderate as it was in its provisions, was rejected because the Conservative party were led, by those lose who were placed over them, to believe that it would cause a dangerous disturbance of the influence which property had previously maintained in the country. Were not they deluged with speeches and papers as to the predominance of numbers over property which it would involve? Did not their breakfast-tables groan with clever pamphlets written by Mr. Dudley Baxter, confessedly by inspiration from the governing powers, all harping upon this strain? So Lord Russell was turned out, and the present Government came in, wholly unpledged on the question of Reform, except in the negative way of having voted against every proposition of the other side. However, it chose to bring in its own Reform Bill, and though the House had not as yet seen the Bill of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, they had heard him that night describe to them the provisions of the third or fourth public edition of his measure, the previous editions having it seemed been printed for private circulation amongst a select number of his political Friends. Now, by the proposed Bill of the right hon. Gentleman, the relations of property to representation were entirely thrown aside. They were told that the personal payment of a rate of any amount was quite sufficient to make a man so good a citizen as to entitle him to be intrusted with the franchise. That principle might be right or wrong, but it certainly was not the principle upon which the Conservative party had contended against the Bill of last year, it was not either the principle of that Bill, and still less was it that of the Bill of 1832. Nothing had given him (Mr. Beresford Hope) graver cause to distrust the Chancellor of the Exchequer's scheme than the use he 70 made of the original Reform Bill to support his position. It was idle, on the part of the Minister, to go back to times before the Reform Act, while a measure that required to be bolstered up by the preposterous assertion that the poor had been deprived of the franchise in 1832 could have very few merits of its own on which to depend. The reason which mainly prevailed for passing the Reform Act, was that the old so-called popular franchises by which "potwallopers, freemen, and scot and lot voters" were qualified hail broken down, and had led to the domination of what in another part of the same speech the same debater had not scrupled to call "a heartless oligarchy." These franchises had, in their barbarous rudeness, become wholly unsuited to modern civilization; and, as all moderate and reasonable persona acknowledged, were the fruitful source of manifold corruption. This was the weakest, spot of the old system; yet it was these bad, psuedo-democratic borough which the Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to regret and to be desirous to revive. The Act of 1832, founded on the assertion of middle class intelligence, might not be perfect; but it was a great point of departure in our political history, and was followed by many beneficial measures, many of which the Conservatives supported, and many of which they originated, until at last the great crisis of free trade was reached, when, listening to evil counsels, they unfortunately deserted their great Leader, Had they not clone so the Conservative party would not have been in the plight in which they now found themselves. In 1832 the connection between a certain amount of solvency on the voter's part and the enjoyment of the franchise was established by law, and that principle had hitherto been recognised by every one of the proposed Reform Bills which had been introduced since that date. In all of these the real question was to establish a solvent constituency. The line may or may not have been drawn too low; still, the principle remained. The Bill of the present Government, however, was a sudden, a wanton, and dangerous deviation from that sound principle; and it was not fair for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to call on those who sat on the Ministerial side of the House upon their party allegiance to pass a measure which was framed with such intentions. So far as he could understand the Bill had two intentions: one, the public intention, was to outbid 71 the Liberal party in the market of liberalism—the other, the private intention, was, that the Conservatives should believe in the rotten and fallacious restrictions with which the measure was incumbered, and which the first Parliament elected under the new suffrage would destroy. This was not an honest Bill; it was a Bill with two faces—a Bill that did not explain itself. It might really be a restrictive Bill, and then its effect would be to raise the fiercest passions of the people by pretending to gratify their wants and then snatching away the gift from their very mouth; or, on the other hand, it might carry out all that on its face it was meant to induce Mr. Beales, Mr. Odgers, and Mr. Leicester to believe that it would do, and then it would be nothing less than revolution. Suppose the Bill passed in its broadest and most dangerous form, it would induce either democracy—a system under which property and intelligence had not their due weight, and under which mere numbers and the cravings of those who wanted and had not became predominant—or, what would be still worse, a more base form of plutocratic government than any that we had known hitherto—worse even than the plutocracy which was an element of the system before 1832. The nomination boroughs were not the worst evil of the system which preceded the Reform Act. They might have been reactionary, exclusive, and so on, but there was no bribery about them. Old Sarum and Gatton had not the corruptible elements in them, for the transaction which made the Members was recognised and approved by the customs of society; and although the system was indefensible, their representatives were often men of genius and statesmen. But there were other boroughs which were purchasable by the highest bidder at that time—the boroughs in which the reduced town franchises, of which the Leader of the House is so fond, "potwallopers, freemen, scot and lot, and ancient right voters," and so forth prevailed. So, although Totnes and Reigate, Lancaster and Yarmouth, had taught us that we had not so completely extinguished corruption as we had imagined, that was no reason why we should add to its opportunities by placing the whole body of householders at the disposal of that omnipotent agent of evil, the election attorney. If this measure did not land us in democracy it would land us in all the worst evils of corrupt, dirty, and low electioneering. The 72 machinery of the present Bill by which compound-householders would be able to obtain the franchise, was one that would undoubtedly lead to very extensive corruption. Under such machinery the scot and lot voters would obtain a new vitality, and be shuffled by a political pitchfork into the new constituency. Nothing was easier than an arrangement by which the rates now paid by the landlords could be transferred to the credit of the compound-householders, when their votes could be secured in favour of certain persons. He seriously appealed to the conscience of hon. Members whether they could with their eyes open consent to a measure which would lead to such a result. Let any of them in the privacy of his own heart look back upon the incidents of his own electioneering, and he (Mr. Beresford Hope) ventured to say that none could be quite satisfied with the retrospect. None there was who would not be conscious of things said and done and allowed, which, under other circumstances, he would have shrunk from. That which with the most truthful of men is truth, and with the most honourable is honour, too often changes its name and nature when driven to mingle in elections, and that is connived at which at no other time would even be tolerated. Yet the great advantage of this Conservative Reform Bill, brought in by a Conservative Government, was to extend and perpetuate these evils. The right hon. Gentleman had passed very lightly over his educational franchises; but there was one about which he must say a few words, although it had not been referred to that evening. It was proposed by this Bill to give votes to all persons who had passed the Oxford or Cambridge middle-class examinations. Now, as one who belonged to Cambridge, and who had the highest respect for a real degree, he must say that nothing more preposterous or degrading to the Universities could be conceived. The University degree could only be obtained as the result of prolonged and continuous training, and its possession showed that a man enjoyed a certain social status, and so the enfranchisement; of the genuine graduate was defensible. But how were the certificates of these middle-class examinations obtained? A lot of hobble-dehoys, about eighteen years of age, were brought together in a room and examined for two or three days by a delegated master of arts, and to every one of them who, after being crammed for the occasion 73 by the village schoolmaster, obtained a pass, was to be for the years to come enfranchised by this precious scheme. He might, in after life, fall lower than the lowest; might become tapster, crossing sweeper, or anything else; but he would have the franchise in his pocket, and would be able to exercise it for a consideration. The boroughs and counties would be crowded with the very worst specimens of the poor scholar, who had spent six weeks in acquiring a little learning which he would occupy sixty years in forgetting while selling its results to the briber at every successive election. The number of holders of these middle-class certificates might not be very numerous just now; but once it was known how convenient an avenue it was to the suffrage, might they not trust the industry of election agents to behold the advantages of the Oxford and Cambridge local examinations. He ventured to suggest one more fancy franchise to the consideration of the Government for a class of persons who, by their possession of the qualification which he was going to name, showed an improving mind and a great deal of industry, and above all gave pledges for a lengthened fixity of residence—namely, a suffrage for the ticket-of-leave man. He hoped that by the time the Bill got into Committee the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer would frame a clause to admit the ticket-of-leave man, for that would crown the edifice.
§ MR. BUTLER - JOHNSTONE
said, that however unwilling he might be generally to trespass on the attention of the House, he felt that on a question of so much importance as a Reform of the Representation of the People he could not remain silent. He confessed that the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire bad not filled him with misgiving or alarm on this question; but, on the contrary, they had inspired him with hope, because he thought he saw a way open for the satisfactory settlement of this difficult and vexed question. He cordially agreed in the spirit of the speech that had been delivered by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck), and the man he should best like to see intrusted with the framing of a Reform Bill was the hon. and learned Gentleman. His reason for this was that the hon. and learned 74 Gentleman did not give way to those terrors and fears which were unfortunately entertained on the Ministerial side of the House; and also because the hon. and learned Gentleman was not impressed with any desire to pull down old institutions, which were endearing to Englishmen, and therefore stable, in order to substitute in their stead new-fangled and unstable devices. He thought, too, with the hon. and learned Gentleman, that we need not he over anxious to settle this question from any fear as to the effect of another year's agitation—he had too much confidence in the sound good sense of Englishmen to have any fear on that ground. Tire picture that had been drawn by the hon. Baronet the Member for Dundalk (Sir George Bowyer) showed the common-sense English view of the question. The remarks made by the audience at the meeting in Trafalgar Square, presided over by Mr. Potter, seated between two of the lions of the Nelson Monument, were a good sample of the opinion of the country on the matter. Englishmen did not wish to take the settlement of the question out of the hands of responsible statesmen, but that it should be settled in that House. There was nothing more significant than the conduct of the people during the last six or nine months. When the House was not sitting they got up demonstrations in the country and in the metropolis; but the moment the House met and the question was taken up, to be dealt with by the responsible Ministers of the Crown, these demonstrations collapsed and died a natural death. The people wished to see the question settled, and he was even more anxious to see it settled by the unanimity of leading Members on both sides of the House than that it should be a better or a worse Bill. When he heard that the reported conference between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire had not taken place, he thought it was an unfortunate thing; because in altering the franchise they were, in fact, framing a new constitution, and it was more important that such a Bill should go forth to the country with the seal and imprimatur of the leading statesmen of the country than that it should be a better or a worse Bill. A Bill would be well received in the country just in proportion as it received their assent. He was anxious that a Reform Bill should be carried this Session, be- 75 cause so long as Reform remained unsettled the unity of the country was destroyed; because a feeling existed in the country among a large class of the community that they were unjustly excluded from a share in the Government of the country. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) stated last Session that the artizans in the large manufacturing districts read the American papers and took more interest in the politics of the United States than of their own country, and that he looked upon it as an untoward state of things. And in that he (Mr. Butler-Johnstone) cordially concurred. It was a far greater evil that our mechanics should be careless of the position, and indifferent to the interests, of their country than that they should succeed in getting passed laws with which the present House of Commons disagreed, or that they should run counter to the preconceived ideas of the upper classes, or even somewhat overtax the rich. England, unhappily, was not now so united as she ought to be; but was like those animals which possessed a double organism—two centres and two hearts. The heart and pulse of England did not beat in unison as it ought to do, and would not until this great question was settled, and the sooner the better. If this country was to be engaged in a life and death struggle with any of the nations of the world—if we had to defend our overland route to India—if we had to maintain our passage through Egypt—how should we fare if the whole country was not united? He believed that the difficulties of the recruiting sergeant were, in the last resort, to be traced to the question of Reform—if the question of the representation of the people were once settled, the question of recruiting the army would soon be solved. With a fair representation of the people we might have even a conscription; but we should never have a national army until we have a national suffrage. The question could not, however, be satisfactorily settled until both sides of the House took each other into their confidence; and with that feeling, although the Bill contained many points to which he seriously objected, he thought they might carry a satisfactory measure of Reform. He objected to duality of voting. A Reform Bill was wanted to do away with the inequalities that at present existed, and make the nation as one; but by adopting duality of voting they would create an 76 invidious distinction greater than any inequality which at present marred our representative system. They might call it counterpoise or what they liked; but he was sure neither the country nor the House would accept it, and the Government must throw it over. The House would then be able to adopt the household suffrage with two years' residence, and endeavour to solve the question of the compound-householder—a difficulty which he thought they might soon satisfactorily get rid of. The present Government had, no doubt, committed many errors; but they had not, like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, committed the error of breaking its bridges and burning its boats. The Government were disposed to take the House into their confidence with reference to the Resolutions; and why should they not continue to act in concert with the House on the Bill, and so pass a measure which would be satisfactory to the country? If any check were wanted for household suffrage, it was not to be found in duality of voting, but in the redistribution of seats in such a way as to give to neighbourhoods and districts a common life and consciousness of their own, in which case the voters would elect the best man in the neighbourhood to represent them in Parliament; and that, he thought, would be the best check against a democratic Parliament. There would then be no fear of danger, for there was no country in the world where public men were so much trusted as in England.
said, he only wished to make one remark. He was not about to enter into the question of three-cornered constituencies and cumulative voting; but he wished to say that he found that so many of the most thinking minds of the country were very strongly impressed with the advantages which would arise from this principle, that he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would afford the House an opportunity of discussing its merits. He could not but express discussing hope that the right hon. Gentleman would be brought to perceive the intrinsic merits of such an arrangement. At any rate, it was only a question of what would be the most judicious and convenient mode of allotting the seats at the disposal of the Government. The system had been advocated by some of the most profound reasoners. The hon. Member for Westminster had supported it; and that such an arrangement was not without its instrinsic merits was obvious 77 from the fact that such practical men as Lord Aberdeen and his Colleagues actually introduced a Bill to Parliament to carry it out, and he was assured they never altered their opinion with reference to it.
§ MR. SANDFORD
said, it was recently announced that the Government were about to revert to "their original policy." In accordance with the right hon. Gentleman's original speech, if that meant anything, it pointed to the fact that the Act of 1832 abolished the ancient franchises of the country, and that he was willing to restore them. Well, what was the basis of this Bill proposed to-night. It proposed to substitute another uniform system of suffrage for the uniform £10 value suffrage which now existed. That was not in accordance with the speech originally made. If there was one of the Resolutions recently brought forward on which this Bill was founded—and he, for one, doubted if it was founded on the Resolutions at all—the Resolution which most commended itself to him, and he believed to the majority of the Conservatives, was the third. It was in these terms—That, while it is desirable that a more direct Representation should be given to the Labouring Class, it is contrary to the Constitution of this Realm to give to any one class or interest a predominating power over the rest of the Community.He asked any hon. Gentleman who sat behind the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he asked the right hon. Gentleman himself, how he proposed to carry out the principle of that Resolution In the Bill they had heard explained, there was only one attempt to carry it out, and that was by dual voting. Never had there been made to that House a proposition at once so illusory and so insulting. Why, the right hon. Gentleman himself had laid no facts and figures before the House. He could account fur that. He did not believe that the right hon. Gentleman had got them himself. But he (Mr. Sandford) had taken the trouble of going into the matter and finding what would be the practical working of this measure in his own borough (Maldon). While in that borough this plan would give an addition of several hundred votes to one class, the counteracting principle of dual voting would add about sixty votes to the constituency. He believed that this was a fair example of the effect the Bill would have in a large proportion of the boroughs. But if this proposal was ineffectual as a check it was effectual as an instill, fur by a dual of infelicity the 78 Bill proposed to enfranchise a large number of persons and to insult them. For, at the same moment, the Government told Lazarus that he was in a position to receive the electoral trust, but that it was not fitting he should be put in the same position as Dives, They gave one vote to one man because he was poor; and they gave two votes to another man because he was rich. If the Government chose to introduce this principle of plurality, it should have been done in such a way as to make it an effectual check; but this hybrid measure had the worst features of both systems. It did not protect minorities, and it insulted majorities. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Breitwich had addresssd his constituents on this Bill. Now, it was to be borne in mind that when a Cabinet Minister made a speech at a hustings on the occasion of his being returned without opposition he was very much in the position of a parson preaching a sermon. There was no one to reply to him. He thought that circumstance was very much to be regretted; because if it were otherwise, in both these cases the quality of the article would be very much improved if there was any one present to give an answer. He ventured to say that the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich would not have dared to make that speech in the House of Commons if any one of his retiring Colleagues was there to answer it. What had he said? Why, that his retiring Colleagues had not taken such a liberal view of the question as he had done. Might he take the liberty of asking the right hon. Gentleman what was his meaning of "liberality?" Was it close proximity to Messrs. Beales and Potter? If that was his definition the right hon. Gentleman had a right to consider that liberality was almost entirely concentrated in his own person. He believed the only interruption the right hon. Baronet had received during the delivery of his Droitivich speech was from an individual who exclaimed, "Why, you go further than Bright." [Mr. BRIGHT: No: "You are worse than Bright."] He thanked the hon. Member for correcting hint, and gave the right hon. Member for Droitwich the benefit of it. He begged to ask the right hon. Gentleman, also, whether he held his liberality to be a test of his excellence? What, then, were the principles in the names of which the right hon. Gentleman tools his seat on the Treasury Lunch Was he there as a Liberal? 79 He bad thought that the present Ministry were Conservative; but perhaps he had been mistaken. If the right hon. Gentleman prided himself on being a Liberal, he now begged to congratulate the right hon. Member who sat behind bias (Sir John Pakington) and his Colleagues. The right hon. Gentleman at Droitwich also charged his retiring Colleagues, not only with illiberality, but with precipitation. It was evident that he had received the permission of Her Majesty to disclose Cabinet secrets to the electors of Droitwich; because he was sure that without such permission the right hon. Gentleman would not have made the disclosures he had made there. He therefore begged to ask him how long the Government had had this Reform question under their consideration? He would askhim another question also. When bad this Bill become a definite part of the Ministerial programme? He had every reason to believe that when Parliament met a Reform Bill was not in that programme. It was adopted subsequently to the commencement of the Session. He now asked the right hon. Gentleman to tell him the exact date at which the question of Reform was formally brought under the practical consideration of the Cabinet? He was sure the right hon. Gentleman would speak that night; and it would be very hard if he should not be as communicative to the House of Commons as he had been to the electors of Droitwich. The meeting of the Cabinet which led to the examination of the Bill by the Members of the Government who subsequently retired took place on the 23rd of February. How long before that had this Bill been practically proposed to the Cabinet? He would get an answer. Was it a week? The right hon. Gentleman did not answer. Well, he thought he could inform him. It was a week. [An hon. MEMBER: Ten Minutes.] No; the first Reform Bill took about a week. It was the second which only took ten minutes. This great question, which had been agitating the country and every one in it for months, first received the practical and serious consideration of the Cabinet one week before they assented to it. As he understood, the retiring Members of the Government had given thirty-six hours' consideration to it after the meeting of the Cabinet on the 23rd of February. He begged to ask the right hon. Gentleman how many hours' consideration he had given it? He asked him whether he had ever seen any figures or statistics on the sub- 80 ject up to the Monday on which his three Colleagues refused to assent to it? He ventured to think he did not. He might have had something casually read to him by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but he would be bound to say that he had not had the handling of a fact or figure in it up to the 25th, the day on which the Chancellor of the Exchequer came down and proposed the other Bill. As the right hon. Gentleman had praised this measure as such an excellent and such an honest one, he might remark that there was something to be said on the other side. Its excellence was, of course, a fair subject of discussion, it being a question of opinion; but with respect to its honesty, there was a practical test which might be applied. Supposing the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire had proposed this measure last year, would the Gentlemen who now formed Her Majesty's Government have acceded to it, or would they have opposed it? Perhaps, however, he might be told that he was putting a hypothetical case; but he might remind the House that they had the means of approximating to a correct opinion on this point. When the late Government brought forward their proposal for a £7 rental franchise in boroughs, did the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Droitwich, or the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, propose the present scheme by way of Amendment? He had searched the notice book in vain to find any such Amendment. So much for the honesty of the measure. Twenty years had now elapsed since the Conservative party was first led by their present chiefs—by the Earl of Derby in "another place," and by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire in the House of Commons. Everybody, however, was aware that Lord Derby, like many other Sovereigns, reigned, but did not govern, and we all know who the Mayor of the Palace really is. In the course of the period referred to, the Conservative party had held office three times. On the first two occasions its tenure of office had averaged about twelve months—and, for his part, he did not think that term would be exceeded on the third occasion. How was it that the Conservative party had retained office for so short a time? Because they did not command a majority in the House. And why did they not command a majority in the House? Because 81 they did not command a majority in the country. And why did they not command a majority in the country? Let us be frank. The Conservative party depend for support on the respectable portion of the community. But the Conservative party could not command the respect of that portion of the people unless they assumed a policy that was respectable. To be respectable it must be respected; and they might depend upon it that no Government would ever command the respect of that portion of the community unless it carried out in office the same principles which it had professed in opposition.
§ MR. OSBORNE
I apprehend, Sir, that there are below the gangway some respectable compound-householders, if I may so term them, who are not very well pleased with the course which has been pursued by Her Majesty's Ministers. Now, it appears to me that the question before the House is not the consideration of the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) to his constituency—not the confidential communications which he made to his constituents upon that occasion, but whether we are to read for the first time the Bill which has been propounded to us. Since I have had the honour of a seat in this House I have never seen—have never heard a Bill which was not actually in our hands so discussed and so torn to pieces as this has been. I think that we have, above all things, one great duty to perform. I confess I am a party man; but I am not so much of a party man that I cannot on an occasion like the present elevate myself above mere considerations of party, and give to a subject which is stirring the heart of this country that fair consideration to which it is entitled. What is the use of our having talked about our forbearance if on the first blush of the Bill being introduced we throw cold water on every proposition it contains and if, because we do not agree with particular clauses, we say we will not discuss the Bill? Now, Sir, I have small weight and no following in this House; but there may be people outside the House who may agree in what I am about to say, and if there be any in this House of the same opinion, I would say to them, "Do not imitate the course of the three seceding Cabinet Ministers;" or, to use the language of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Droitwich, "Do nut be too precipitate it, your con- 82 demnation of the Bill." You know not exactly what you are about to condemn; do not therefore be too precipitate, but give the measure a fair consideration. Let this Bill be in our hands, and let it proceed to a second reading. There may be some mistakes in it; but let us remember what a great mistake our own party made on a former occasion. I firmly believe that it is possible to settle this question if we approach it in a fair spirit. I grant that the occasion is tempting to twit right hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House, as has been done by the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Sandford) with his ready wit and facile manner; but, for my part, I shall not twit them for their inconsistency. As a Member of Parliament I have a higher duty to perform. This question of Reform stops the way, and the problem to be solved is how are we to get it out of the way. We cannot pass a Bill on this side of the House; we have tried our hands at it and have failed. Let, therefore, the hon. Gentlemen on the other side try to settle the question. No doubt they have behaved generally ill; but it is no argument to tell me that they brought in a Bill which failed, and that then they brought in this and that. I give them credit for wishing to settle the question. Why, then, should we put the whole business of the country in suspense by evoking a desperate party spirit? The effect of that would be to strangle all chance of passing a Reform Bill. At least, I humbly think so; and I say, whatever we do, let us give this question fair consideration, and, after discussing the principles and the propositions of the Bill, let us proceed to the second reading. I apprehend that no one intends to throw out the Bill on the first reading, although it would almost appear from the speeches of some hon. Gentlemen that they had no desire to see the Bill in print. I confess the Bill contains several things with which I do not agree; but these matters may be corrected in Committee. One great principle which I have voted for—namely, household suffrage—is embodied in that Bill. Now, I take that and will make the best of it; and I think the House will be wrong if they prematurely come to any decision on the subject. I say, go to a second reading. Reverting to what was said by the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. T. Baring), I may express an opinion that the Government ought not to be called upon to state the vital points of the Bill at this early stage, The proper time for that 83 is on the second reading. With regard to the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I shall not go into small details, such as the duality of votes, which, I believe, is already consigned to the tomb of all the Capulets; but I may remark that I did not hear any allusion in that speech to a Bill in which I took part last year, with the hon. Baronet the Member for Northamptonshire (Sir Rainald Knightley), for the prevention of bribery and corruption. If, after the speech of the hon. Member for Maldon, I am not exhibiting unnecessary inquisitiveness, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether that bribery Bill is also embodied in the measure propounded this evening. So much for the Bill itself. I may, however, say that I entertain one great objection to the proposed scheme of re-distribution. I think it possible that by the Bill you are bringing in you may settle the question of the franchise; but I feel very certain that if the re-distribution is as you have announced it to-night it is no settlement of the question at all, and I shall feel myself called upon to move a Resolution, unless some greater changes are made and the re-distribution Bill be altogether separated from the franchise Bill. That is a separate consideration. But, although I may be in a minority, I, for one, will not consent to give a precipitate judgment upon a Bill which I have not seen, because I have some sanguine hope that by mutual give and take on both sides of this House we may pass a Reform Bill during the present Session.
I most cordially re-echo the exhortation of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down that we should give a fair and candid consideration to the Bill which the Government has introduced. I think nothing less is due to those frequent professions of anxiety to settle the question of Reform which have been made by all the Members of this House. But I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman that discussion upon the first reading of a measure is inconsistent with that desire; because if I did so I should be pronouncing upon many Gentlemen in this House, and on myself among others, a severe condemnation. Last year when the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire was introduced, we debated that Bill on the first reading for two nights; and I am bound to say he did not then reproach us on that account with failing to give it a fair and candid consideration. On the contrary, 84 there are great difficulties of principle as well as of detail to settle; and the more we attempt to approach a solution by the exchange of thoughts, the more likely we are to attain that desired end. There is another point on which I confess I am able to agree with the speaker who has just sat down. It is very desirable to give a fair and candid consideration to this Bill; but I think it still more desirable to know what it is that we are giving a fair and candid consideration to. A Bill may be brought in upon two plans. You may either bring in a Bill intending to stand by all its main provisions, and in case those main provisions are not carried through Committee to abandon the Bill. If you do that those who vote for it on the second reading know what they are doing. But you may adopt another plan. You may take the House into your confidence; you may bring in a Bill intending to drop out any provisions to which the House may show its objection; and after all you may adopt whatever Bill comes out of Committee. But if you adopt that course the inevitable result is that you ask those who support you on the second reading to take a leap in the dark. I think the House has a right to know which are the main provisions of the Bill to which the Government attaches importance. The House, I think, has a right to know that in the case of all great Bills; but above all it has a right to know it in the case of a Bill the very plan of which is a system of counterpoise and compensation. Suppose you drop out household suffrage and adopt the dual vote, every Gentleman opposite will agree, I think, that the character of the Bill passed in that shape would be materially changed. On the other hand, if you drop out dual voting and retain the household suffrage, the character of the Bill will be changed as violently in the other direction. We therefore have a right to know the character of the Bill in any discussion that takes place with regard to it. I ask for this information with the more confidence because, from what I know of the character of my right hon. Friends, I feel certain that the: recommendations which have been addressed to them by two or three Members of this House to take any Bill the Committee liked to give them, to allow a personal payment of rates and dual voting to be struck out of the Bill, and to send up household suffrage pure and simple to the House of Lords will meet from them with a firm—I I might 85 almost say indignant refusal. Just think for a moment of the figure they would assume—the aspect they would wear in the eyes of their countrymen, if, after all we did last year, they became the instruments of engrafting household suffrage pure and simple upon the Constitution of this country. A Reform Bill is a very important thing—few more so could come under our discussion; but I venture to think that political morality and the respect in which public men are held by the people of this country are of more importance than any provisions even of a Reform Bill. I would far rather see a very bad Reform Bill passed by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) than a Reform Bill inconsistent with all their traditions, with all their preceding action, with all their professions, and with all the provisions on which they have induced others to vote passed by my right hon. Friends upon these Benches. I hope that in saying this I shall not be misunderstood. I do not wish to insinuate in the slightest degree suspicion of my right hon. Friends; but I heard with something approaching indignation the recommendations of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, who I am sure made them without thinking of the amount of dishonour those recommendations involved, and I am anxious to repel on the part of those whom I respect the very suspicion of such a course of action. I am anxious not to preclude myself from any line of action which hereafter I may feel it right to take. And I am sorry that the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his speech rather seemed to hold out that those who met Lord Derby on Friday last, and did not express disapproval of the Bill, thereby had given their consent to its provisions. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: I did not say that.] Then I am glad I misunderstood my right hon. Friend. I went to that meeting to show my sincere respect for the noble Earl, and to hear the statement which he had to make. But I expressed my disapproval of the principle of that Bill by the very strongest act a public man could take, and therefore I should be very sorry to be held out as having so lightly abandoned my opinion. My objection to this measure is of this nature. It is a household suffrage Bill, practically with two compensations, for I do not say touch of the third or residential clause. I thoroughly approve it; as far as it goes it will do good; but its effects will be very 86 small The two compensations are, first the dual vote, and secondly personal payment of rates. Of these, besides other objections which may be made to it, one I regard as inefficient and ineffectual for its purpose; the other, though most effective—almost too effective—for its purposes, is certain to be swept away. The dual vote labours under this disadvantage. The right hon. Gentleman the 'Member for South Lancashire complained—and I thought with justice, for I have made the same complaint myself—that there was not sufficient information before the House to enable it to judge of the precise effect of this proposition; but as far as we are enabled to speak, we can say this confidently, that wealth aggregates itself round large centres. Those, therefore, who will have the dual vote are congregated in masses in the large towns. And consequently, while household suffrage will introduce into the middle-sized and smaller boroughs an overwhelming mass of voters, the dual vote, which is supposed to compensate for that reduction, will take effect chiefly in very large towns, where it may affect a few seats, but in all probability very few, being lost in the mass of the population. This is a matter which can only be proved satisfactorily by statistics, and the papers on which statistics should be founded are not on the table of the House. As far as the statistics at our command go, I can only say I have a strong belief that for all practical purposes you may set aside the dual vote as any compensation whatever; and if even it were any compensation, no one could have listened to the debate this evening without perceiving that whatever abstract logical reasons there may be in favour of the proposition—and I am far from denying that such may be urged, for I believe that the proposal is good in itself, and I am by no means ready to endorse the hard names which have been given to it this evening—still, rightly or wrongly, no one can fail to have seen that the proposition is thoroughly unpalatable to this assembly. In saying this I am not condemning the dual vote, for I joined in recommending something analogous. I believe it to be just and fair in principle, but that it is not acceptable to this House. Setting aside the dual vote, which will not pass, and if it did would do no good, I come to the personal payment of rates. That is a very important limitation. But what chance have you of sustaining it? 87 The personal payment of rates means this—that in towns where the Small Tenements or other local Act is in force, no one whose house is compounded for shall be allowed to vote unless he will pay on the sum he has hitherto been accustomed to pay his landlord an advance of some 25 per cent. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire described that as a fine, and some hon. Gentlemen received the remark with derision; but though the metaphor may have been somewhat violent, the fact remains that a man who lives in one of those houses will be obliged to pay something more before he can obtain a vote. Upon a £5 house the poor rate paid by the landlord would be, say, 4s.; the tenant paying an advance of 25 per cent would pay 5s.; and thus a compound-householder wishing to be upon the register would have to pay every year 5s. for the privilege. The difficulty may be solved in one of two ways. The obvious, and I believe the practical way in which it will be solved will be this—the electioneering agent will keep upon the register those whom he may be desirous of seeing there, and every person who has studied that edifying portion of our Parliamentary literature which deals with election expenses will know that the sum of 5s. a head for voters is an exceedingly cheap price. What will the result be? Out of our 200 boroughs there are ninety-eight in which this Small Tenements Act is partially at work—that is to say, that in one parish in each of these boroughs a compound-householder will have to pay 5s. for his vote, and that in another parish in the same borough a man of exactly the same social status, living in a house exactly the same size, will be able to have his vote without paying 5s. for it. Do you not imagine that this inequality brought so close home to him, and taking so practical a form, will be most galling to him? The peculiarity—I was going to say the absurdity of this proposition is this—that you not only inflict upon him a mortification which he will feel, but with the same band you give him the power of sweeping it away, because that very man who pays 5s. for his vote will insist that his Member's first Parliamentary act shall be to sweep away this obligation. I am quite willing to join in setting up any securities against democracies that may be thought good; but I confess I think that a fence put round a person in whose hands you place a weapon which will surely knock it down is the 88 most futile fence it is possible to set up. Therefore, I cannot but come to this conclusion, that if you pass this personal payment the first act of the Parliament under which it is elected must of necessity be to abolish it. Thus you will come to simple undiluted household suffrage. I will not discuss on the first reading of the Bill the general arguments of the hon. Member for Birmingham in favour of democracy. I am content to fall back on what seems to be a simple proposition of political morality, that the party which behaved in opposition as ours did last year is not the party to propose household suffrage. I am sure that my right hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench are actuated by the purest and most honourable motives; but if they fail to comprehend the obligations of their position, they will inflict a severe blow on the respect in which public men in this country have hitherto been held. We are told that the Conservative party, as a body, have so far advanced in principles and sentiments that they will accept this Bill. Well, if that be so, I think they will be committing political suicide. When they go to the constituencies and say, "We have supported household suffrage," and there stands on the other sale of the hustings one who has all his life been a Radical and has always supported household suffrage, I think the constituencies will say, "We shall prefer the long-tried champion to the new and sudden convert." Be that as it may, I feel certain that if the Conservative party listens so much to party discipline, and listens so little to the dictates of those principles in which they have been accustomed to protest they believed, they will repent—that it will be their ruin politically, and that no preservation of party discipline and no support of individual statesmen will compensate to them for that result. I know what is said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sheffield, "What are you to look to next? What will happen afterwards?" I confess that is a consideration which presses, and has pressed very heavily on my mind. I heard some one to-night say that the right hon. Member for South Lancashire had become Conservative. I am not at all inclined to believe in that conversion. I have no reason to doubt that he will adhere to the principles he has so long and consistently supported. But still, I confess, with that prospect before me, knowing that if this Bill should miscarry, and if a change of Government should occur, the right hon. 89 Gentleman will probably have the framing of the next Reform Bill, my imagination is not sufficiently fertile to see how we can well have a more dangerous Bill than that proposed to the House. I say so for this reason—I believe this Bill in its end is household suffrage, Although I deprecate the result, I say that, if you are to come to household suffrage, you had better come to it openly and boldly; you had better not reach it by a process of irritating those who have not the franchise, but who will win it from you step by step. This personal payment of rates will be removed, but only after enormous irritation has been caused to those upon whom it presses. Therefore, I cannot but fear that we shall reach the same end as we might if a Radical party was in power, only we shall reach it by a process which will irritate, and aggravated the results when they are attained. If household suffrage should come from the other side, I do not know that it will be worse than this Bill. I earnestly hope that whatever may be the result, the patriotism of hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House will not suffer our action to degenerate into any mere party victory, and that whatever Minister is in power, the moderate party—the large majority in this House—will be able to exercise sufficient control to procure a measure which shall to a considerable extent satisfy the yearnings of those skilled artizans who are conscious of political opinions and desire to see them represented in this House, without submerging under a flood of numbers the capital, wealth, and intelligence which has hitherto had so large a share in the Government of the country.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
What strikes me as most singular in this discussion is the extreme inconsistency between the views of the different speakers and even the extreme inconsistency exhibited by individual speakers themselves. The most remarkable and significant of all the addresses we have heard was unquestionably that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire. It was half alarm, half derision—alarm at the revolutionary proposal, derision at the petty consequences it will produce. He said, "You propose in your Bill to admit 234,000 persons who are now rated and pay their rates; but it won't admit half as many, for you do not make the deductions that are inevitable." I never denied them; I gave Returns show- 90 ing them; and hon. Gentlemen are quite competent to make them. The Members of the House of Commons are acquainted with the management of property, and know as much about rating as any assembly in the world. I suppose the chairmen of many assessment committees have seats in this House, and with a Return before them, they are as capable of forming an opinion as any statist, and I would as soon take their opinion as that of any other person. The right hon. Gentleman says we are not admitting half as many as 234,000. If his estimate is correct, you must apply it also to the great mass of the compound-householders, and what is the result The result would be that of the whole 700,000 you will not have more than 300,000 or 350,000 persons. The right hon. Gentleman, in that moderate Bill the moderation of which has been so much vaunted, proposed to admit 220,000 persons. When we are talking about household suffrage, about revolutions, and about all those terrible consequences to which my noble Friend has just adverted, it is just as well that we should keep an eye on the real facts before us. The question now, is not between the proposition we make, taking it at its greatest possible amplitude, and the measure of the right hon. Gentleman last year, which he says would have admitted 200,000, though I think the estimate was higher; but it is between this and a £5 rating measure, which would increase the estimate of the right hon. Gentleman, so that probably you would arrive within some 40,000 or 50,000 of the whole number that by what is called household suffrage you could possibly admit. It is inconsistent that one moment we should hear that the alternative of the proposition we make is, no doubt, the admission of some 300,000 to the constituency, and we are to accept it in order that we should avoid the horrors of household suffrage, which world probably admit a greater number; but would it not admit that greater number on some principle on which we might stand, upon a condition understood by the people of England, which has been practised by their ancestors, which is understood by every working man, and which no working man complains of? "Oh but those cheeks." I do not admit they are checks. I say they are constitutional conditions of which a man ought to be proud. These checks, we are told, will be swept away in a moment. Were the checks placed upon the suffrage by 91 the Act of 1832 swept away in a moment? What became of the ratepaying clauses of that Act? Why, you had a period of revolutionary excitement when that Bill was passed. You have had moments of great dissatisfaction and discontent, while there has been one much more fearful organization of labour than is in existence now. You have had great excitement against the ratepaying clauses, and you have had Members returned to Parliament in order to ensure their repeal. But the common sense of the English people never sanctioned that agitation. The people who paid knew very well that it was an English, a rational, and a patriotic condition. They were proud to fulfil it, they felt it was a security that the suffrage should be exercised by men who were trustworthy, and all that agitation against the ratepaying clauses failed, and they have prevailed for thirty or forty years. And what are the ratepaying clauses compared with the conditions we make? The conditions we make are those which every Englishman understands. He is invested with the fulfilment of a duty and the possession of a right; and you misunderstand the character of your countrymen—you are misrepresenting the idiosyncrasy of the English people if you suppose they look upon such conditions as these except as those which are worthy of freemen. Sir, if you cannot found public rights upon public duties, then I say that the liberties of the English people are in danger. But you calumniate your countrymen if you lay down such a principle. I therefore maintain that the principle upon which we propose to establish the borough franchise is an English principle, a constitutional and sound principle, which will recommend itself to the conscience and conviction of the country, and one which, if any, holds out to us the prospect of security and peace.
Sir, I will make no further remarks upon the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, because that is the essence of it. Lord Derby may have committed an indiscretion which the right hon. Gentleman has noticed, in calling his party together and speaking to them with the frankness which is characteristic of his nature. I have heard something in my time of the great fault of eminent statesmen who have j failed in public life because there was a want of frankness, and because they did not consult their party. We have all heard something of that kind. I think it has often been told us that the po- 92 litical history of this country would have been altered if some in eminent positions in times of great crisis and emergency had deigned to consult those who had been their companions and colleagues during a long political and Parliamentary life. That reserve is not the temper of Lord Derby. But on this Lord Derby may be congratulated, that his frankness has given the right hon. Gentleman the opportunity of preparing a speech—a speech which was evidently intended for the second reading. And I thought as I listened to it that, perhaps, the real intention was to have prevented the second reading ever being put from the Chair. I think, however, that the candour and good sense of the House of Commons have already repudiated that manœuvre.. Whatever may be the fate of these propositions, they will be decided upon after fair discussion [Mr. BRIGHT: Hear, hear!], and after a calm investigation by the representatives of the people of the propositions we make and which, at all events, touch the most important questions in politics. There was another right hon. Gentleman who also favoured us with his views of the conduct and policy of Her Majesty's Ministers. Still charmed with the success of his tactics of last year, he seems to emulate a repetition of those brilliant achievements. Sir, he has not been sparing in imputing to us the most unworthy motives. He has not been sparing in anticipating for this country the most gloomy fortunes. But this I must say, after listening to the ingenious and vivid remarks of the right hon. Gentleman, that on a question on which the people of this country require some information, and which at this moment interests and animates all classes, the right hon. Gentleman shed no ray of light, and the whole result of his arguments and the whole tenour of his reasoning were that under no conceivable circumstances could any improvement of the House of Commons be accomplished. Sir, the hon. Member for Nottingham (Mr. Osborne), who addressed the House, I thought, with much candour this evening, seemed to find fault with me because in the Bill I am asking for leave to introduce I made no mention of any provision for preventing corruption and bribery. But if the hon. Gentleman had been in his place on a preceding occasion he might have remembered that there was a general understanding and a general wish on the part of the House that upon this matter we should proceed in a separate 93 measure. I then expressed to the House the principal propositions which we had to make in order to prevent bribery and corruption. And I undertook that I would lose no time, after the introduction of the larger measure, in bringing before the House the consideration of this matter in another Bill. And, Sir, I shall be prepared to fulfil that engagement. My noble Friend the Member for Stamford has, in a manner that must have interested the House, touched upon the conduct of the party of which he is still a most distinguished member, and he Las expressed his regret and his anxiety that we should not deviate from the course which it becomes us, in honour and in truth, to maintain. Sir, my noble Friend seems for the moment to suppose that there is an inconsistency in the course we are pursuing, because we are introducing a Bill to amend the laws which regulate the representation of the people of the kingdom in Parliament. [Opposition Cries of "No, no!"] But can this be said with any justice of a party that eight years ago attempted to the best of their ability, and at great sacrifice, to grapple with the same question? And what have we ever said, or what done, to justify any such suspicion in the mind of the noble Lord? Let my noble Friend, or any hon. Gentleman who has spoken, point to any conclusion during the debates of last year, to any vote that was given, to any Resolution inconsistent with the course we have taken. ["Oh!"]
I never imputed any inconsistency to the course taken by the Government. What I said was that if the Government introduced household suffrage pure and simple I then thought they would be guilty of inconsistency.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCIIEQUER
The Government will never introduce household suffrage pure and simple. It is not merely my noble Friend, but another right hon. Gentleman has spoken of our inconsistency in bringing forward a Reform Bill. I maintain there is no inconsistency. This is not the first Reform Bill we have brought forward. Nor is there a single vote that I gave last year, nor is there any single Resolution ' in which I have joined, at all inconsistent with the course which I and my Colleagues are pursuing at the present moment. I state that without reserve, and it is not to be answered by a mere 94 jeer. I state that to the country and to Parliament, and I will maintain it as truth in every place and in all circumstances. I think that we were perfectly free to deal with this question, if the circumstances of the country required that we should advise Her Majesty upon it. And the circumstances of the country did require it. I hope the House will give to our proposition a dispassionate consideration. I hope we shall show in the discussion which it may produce, that there is in this House a sincere desire to bring to a satisfactory settlement a question that has too long existed. If you throw out this Bill on the second reading you may affect the position of Ministers, but you will still more affect the position of this House. You will on this question place it with respect to the country in a position which no friend to our institutions can desire. This question has existed too long and lingered too long. Do not decide rashly against a measure which you have never even seen. Let it not be said that to-night, excited by rhetoric which I may at least describe as prejudiced, you are deciding on a question on which the people of this country are deeply interested without even a complete cognizance of the propositions that we are bringing forward. You are deciding on hearsay. [Cries of "Oh!"] You are deciding upon a narrative of the proceedings which took place under a roof where you were not present, and where you quoted expressions on a most important subject which were never used. I think it would be wiser at least to take this Bill and read it before you decide upon its merits. I believe that it at least has this great object—it seeks to bring about the settlement of a question deeply interesting to the people, inn manner conservative in the highest sense of the institutions of the country.
Motion agreed to.
Bill to amend the Representation of the People in England and Wales, ordered to be brought in by Mr. CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER, Mr. Secretary WALPOLE, and Lord STANLEY.
Bill presented,and read the first time [Bill 79.]