§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [25th March], "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. BUTLER-JOHNSTONE
said, that it was only upon questions in which he took a great and deep interest that he presumed to intrude upon the notice of the House; but holding as he did strong convictions upon the question of Reform, he felt that it was no time to consider what was tasteful or distasteful to himself, but that it behoved him to speak out his sentiments boldly to the House. He believed that vital issues were at stake, and the mightiest that could be debated in any country or senate; nothing less than the whole course of this country's future history; and men in after days looking back to these times and sitting in judgment upon us, would either say that Parliament did well and saved the country, or that it did ill and ruined the Constitution. He confessed that it did not diminish from his anxiety on this question to reflect that it was the country Gentlemen of England, on whichever side of the House they sat—it was the Hampdens, the Pyms, and the Cavaliers alike—whose influence was at stake. He had had the misfortune to differ from his party in the House more than once, but he had never shrunk from boldly expressing his convictions; and he would say he did not think a greater calamity could happen to the country than that these Gentlemen, with their high spirit and great qualities, should be subtracted from the sum of their country's attributes. It appeared to him that they were standing on the brink of a precipice, and that it needed but a slight push to send them over it, and that push, the Bill of the Government, if it were passed as it stood, with what must inevitably and immediately follow, 570 would certainly give. He did not wish to be misunderstood—he did not blame the Government—he was quite sure they wished to do their duty to the Crown and the country. But he believed they had quite misapprehended their duty in undertaking to solve a question which it was wished to get rid of, and that they had erred quite as much in their omissions as in what they had proposed. Erroneously believing that the question of Reform must inevitably damage their party, their whole minds had been bent on its being damaged in the least possible degree. Hence that elaborate system of checks and counterpoises—hence what he would call that egregious and stupendous blunder the dual vote. What was the consequence? These checks and counterpoises were seen to be unpalatable, and in all probability would be withdrawn, and could they then be surprised that their party should stand aghast and bewildered, and believe that sentence of death had been passed upon them by their own leaders? For what was the case? The Government, in fact, seemed to be doing that which the late Government proposed to do, only by a different machinery; because nobody supposed there was any great magic in rating, and if they took this Bill merely as a franchise Bill the effect would be precisely what the late Government had intended, and which they were told last Session would bring about the ruin of the Constitution. Ruin the Constitution he firmly believed this Bill, if unamended, would; and therefore he had always thought that the position taken by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe), and others, was perfectly unassailable. It was enough to do one's heart good, and it redeemed one's opinion of the consistency of mankind, to find that one who had held these opinions last year, in spite of all that had been said against him, holding the same opinions now.
The arrangement of 1832, it had been said, stretched the Constitution as far as it would go, and it could not be stretched any further without breaking it. That opinion he fully shared; but, nevertheless, changed the Constitution must be. No one believed that that change would not take place, and was it not wise to acquiesce in the inevitable, and accept facts that must be accomplished as certainly as if they had been accomplished? Accept them certainly, but not as a Turk or a Hindoo would accept fever and famine, as a decree of Heaven. Accept them bravely by 571 throwing themselves, as it were, at the head of the storming party. In 1832 a Whig Government proposed a Reform Bill. The Tory party, headed by the Duke of Wellington, met the proposal by a negative, and cried non possumus. What was the consequence? The Whigs, aided by the force of the country, knocked down all obstacles, and the tide which might have been directed broke loose and swept over the fair face of the land. At that time the numerical principle of representation, a principle unknown to the Constitution, was introduced—at first diffidently—it afterwards assumed a form of greater confidence, and now it asserted itself quite arrogantly. Before that principle asserted itself the result of a great Yorkshire meeting was regarded as having more force than that of scores of borough elections. Thus, in 1781, a great county meeting in Yorkshire put an end to the American war and to the Administration of Lord North; and in 1807, the election of Mr. Wilberforce in Yorkshire was attended with consequences of corresponding importance. Ever since 1832, the principle of numerical representation had asserted itself. And what was the principle of numerical representation? It was not only a democratic principle—it was the democratic principle—it was the very principle of evil. Care must be taken lest it should wax so strong as to swallow up the whole representation. Take the cases of Dewsbury and Middlesborough—boroughs each containing. 18,000 or 16,000 inhabitants—when they asked for representation it was because they had interests which required representation. But when Torquay, with a population of 16,000 inhabitants, asked for representation, he would ask what principle did Torquay represent? None that he could understand, unless, as an hon. Friend near him said, it represented pulmonary principles. The population was dependent upon pulmonary patients, and was composed of butchers, bakers, tailors, and other purveyors to these pulmonary patients. These pulmonary patients had no status at Torquay. They were not shiftless nomads; but, at all events, they were nomads who shifted about from place to place according to the bidding of the East wind, and the state of their bronchial tubes; they did not live at Torquay, and they did not care for Torquay, and the remainder of the population consisted of bakers, butchers, and tailors. But, when an election came, they would rush to the poll, though 572 in doing so they would not be actuated by any particular degree of public spirit. He did not say that these people should not be allowed to have a voice in the affairs of the country; but they should not be allowed, as an uncontrolled and unmixed constituency, to return a Member to Parliament. As far as his argument was concerned, it did not matter whether a Member of Parliament was returned by fifty or by 50,000 tailors. The principle was equally wrong in both cases. Outside the boundaries of the proposed borough there lived something like 1,000 villa-holders. They were composed of retired tradesmen, barristers, medical men, professional men, and literary men—men who read their newspapers and talked politics, and took an interest in the collective action of the country, yeomen such as no country under the sun, except England, could show. They were, in fact, the equivalents of the ancient yeomen of England, the representatives of the ancient freeholders of counties. When it was said that the yeomen of England had died out, he pointed to these men with pride, and asserted that they were their representatives. These were independent men living upon their own incomes, owing no man anything—men who reverenced the law. Such men were the ancient yeomen of England, and they were more numerous now than in the time of Hampden, when the freeholders of Buckinghamshire returned him as their representative to Parliament. There was, however, one important difference between the ancient yeomen and their modern representatives, and it was this, the yeomen of England returned Members to Parliament, they had a voice in the country; whereas, by the existing arrangements, these men were practically disfranchised, they were politically annihilated. It was said that freeholders formed a large class of the county constituency; but the old class had been swamped by the 40s. freeholders—and this last class was, as it were, but the galvanised relic of a previous age, who swamped the better class, so that these would not take the trouble to register themselves for the counties, and the consequence was they were practically disfranchised. Had the Government Bill, instead of drawing the boundaries of this proposed borough so as to exclude these freeholders, drawn them so as to include them, then instead of getting a worthless constituency such as he had described, they would create one of the best conceivable constituencies He 573 thought that if they took a town as a radius or focus, and included in it a certain district of the neighbourhood, they would get the best constituencies imaginable. They had some such constituencies in the country. There was East Retford, there was New Shoreham, with the Rape of Bramber, and there was Aylesbury, all of which were of this character. One of them included an area of twenty-five miles, having in addition only one or two small townships and a rural neighbourhood. Then, again, he would take the case of Windsor. He had nothing to say against the representatives of that borough; but he would appeal to them to say if the constituency would not be improved if the neighbouring village of Ascot and town of Maidenhead, and the surrounding country were added, thus creating instead of a corrupt borough a most satisfactory constituency.
He would point the attention of the House to the case of Hungary Proper, whose constitution, bearing great similarity to our own, dated nearly from the period of Magna Charta. There were 335 representatives in the Diet of Hungary; and he begged the House to mark this fact, that out of that number 248 were Members for counties, and only fifty-six for towns, and there were upwards of thirty representatives for the rural districts. It would be impossible in this manufacturing country to allow the counties to have the same proportion of representatives; but, at the same time, the counties were entitled to their fair share of representation. Turning to the county representation, he might point to counties like Rutland and Cumberland with limited constituencies, but which were enabled to secure a fair representation of their sentiments; while again, where the counties had increased in population, so as to become unmanageable, they were very properly separated into divisions, which was a most rational and sensible arrangement. When the Government proposed to disfranchise corrupt boroughs, like Lancaster, Yarmouth, and Totnes, in his humble opinion they committed a great error. When they passed sentence of death against a constituency they ought to do so in a calm and judicial manner; they had no right to deprive towns like Lancaster and Yarmouth—towns with a life of their own—of their share of the representation, on account of the viciousness of a certain portion of their inhabitants. Independently of that fact, the proposed disfranchisement was not made in a judicial spirit. The in- 574 habitants of those towns and the country generally would feel that their disfranchisement was merely a matter of convenience, and that those boroughs were deprived of their share in the representation because the seats were wanted. If, instead of disfranchising these towns, they were to disfranchise unmercifully all those persons who were guilty of corrupt practices, and to infuse with the remainder of the inhabitants a large healthy country district, they would thus create a good constituency. In the course of time, too, those boroughs would raise an irresistible clamour for the restoration of their representation, and their demand would have to be complied with, and their share in the representation restored to them. Let them contrast with these constituencies the small rural districts composed of towns, townships, and neighbouring villages, and the small counties and divisions of counties; let them, on the other hand, take a large county like Berkshire, and he would ask whether they had in such a place a satisfactory constituency? In such a large and long county the men of Dan at one end did not know what the men of Beersheba were doing at the other end; they had nothing in common with them; they did not even worship the same golden calf. In the case of an election it was turned by the townspeople, and turned in the wrong way, for these people had no sympathy with those of the county. He believed that the consequences of a Bill like that now introduced by the Government, would be that they would lose the counties, and the counties which had hitherto been the stronghold of Conservative feeling—he did not use the word in a party sense—and they would become centres of democracy, the result would be they would have a pure democracy, equal electoral districts, and the reign of the 50,000 tailors.
He had said but little about the franchise, and for this reason—that to his mind it was a question which was quite secondary to that of the re-distribution of seats, He had been taught to trust the great body of the English people, and he believed that they would never very widely diverge from the magnetic currents of society, and that consequently they would be able safely to do in England what would be unsafe in America and in Australia. In these states of society they required checks and counterpoises, but in England he believed that they would be utterly vain and pusillanimous. While, therefore, he should like 575 to see the franchise widely extended, he would control its exercise by infusing two kinds of aristocracy among them—the civic aristocracy and the rural, radiating freely in well-proportioned and naturally selected districts. They must trust the people altogether or not at all, and it was the theory of our wise Constitution that they should be trusted altogether. If they insisted upon a wise distribution of seats it did not matter much whether it was a £10 rating or household suffrage, and to his mind it was intolerably nauseous to go on discussing the difference between £10 and £7. It seemed to him that they had got beyond questions of renting and rating. There might have been some sense in the matter if it were a question between £50 and £10; but between £5 or £6, and a household suffrage, the discussion seemed utterly useless, and one likely to lead them into a perfect Serbonian bog. Surely it was not beyond their power to discover some other test of respectability beyond the tests of rent and rating, and a man might be equally worthy whether he lived in a flat containing four rooms, in a four-roomed house, or being a single man occupied only one room. What he should propose when they were going into Committee on this Bill was that the second part, which related to the redistribution of seats, should be taken first. The present Government had in this matter followed the example of the late Government, who had followed the advice of the hon. Member for Birmingham—the serpent beguiled the woman, and the woman beguiled the man. The present Government had followed the late Government in laying especial stress upon the question of the franchise; but to his mind it was an entirely subordinate question. If they left the people under their natural leaders, and if they had naturally selected districts such as he had endeavoured to describe, there was no fear that the people would choose improper men, they would respect and trust the old names and the old associations. He was not in favour of equal electoral districts. On the contrary, he believed that such a system was about the most destructive surgical operation you could put a country through; it would be a severing of the limbs from the trunk, and cutting through the muscles and sinews of the body politic. Such a system would be cutting across the train of old and hallowed associations; but he would make his districts in obedience to and in accordance with those asso- 576 ciations, and if this were so he did not think that it would matter much what franchise they had. Were they afraid of the people of England? Was there any fear that those who lived in their own districts could be turned out by a stranger, or that any caucus would be able to elect a hireling representative for their own sinister purpose and against the interest of the whole country? What he wished to point out was that if they had a natural selection of districts, there was no fear whatever kind of franchise they had, and, à fortiori, that it was perfectly unnecessary to have cumulative or dual votes, as there would be no need of checks or counterpoises to defend the minority. He did not want the principle of minority representation defended. It appeared to him that any system of minority representation would prevent their getting at the real sense of the country. He was decidedly opposed to the principle of dual voting. The reason which made him anxious to see a Reform Bill carried was because he believed that matters had now come to a deadlock, and would remain so until that question was settled.
§ SIR ROUNDELL PALMER
, who rose at the same time with Mr. Osborne, said: Sir, it is with very great regret that I deprive myself, as well as the House, for a short time, of the pleasure of listening to the hon. Member for Nottingham, whom the House is always willing to hear; but, in the meantime, I will avail myself of the indulgence of the House to offer my remarks upon a subject which I, in common with all here, feel to be of the utmost importance. I do not, however, mean to follow the example of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Butler-Johnstone); but in saying so, I hope he will not believe I intend any discourtesy towards him. What I mean is this—the hon. Gentleman has chiefly addressed his remarks to the subject of the re-distribution of seats; whereas I, though by no means undervaluing the importance of that question, look upon the question of the franchise as of still more importance, and with this feeling all I intend to say will have reference to that question.
My right hon. Friend the President of the Poor Law Board told us yesterday, and with truth and candour, that whatever else this Bill may be, it is certainly not a Bill for the introduction of household suffrage. Whether that be a merit or otherwise, it is, I think, a fair description of 577 the Bill. Now, the House is aware that I am not one of those who entertain any alarm at the idea of household suffrage. Upon a former occasion, when there were many reasons why I might have abstained from making a declaration on the subject, if I could conscientiously have done so, I felt it to be my duty not to conceal from the House that my own mind had been for some time travelling in the direction of household suffrage. It had done so upon what I thought to be a combination of Liberal and Conservative principles; I thought a household suffrage liberal in principle, because, whatever might be the regulations under which that franchise was conferred, it would be still a large and satisfactory admission of many persons now excluded from the franchise; I thought it Conservative in principle, because it identified the suffrage with the heads of families inhabiting rated houses in boroughs, and I, of course, anticipated a provision that the proposed voter should have inhabited a house for a sufficient time to secure us against a vagrant and fluctuating constituency. At the same time, it was recommended à priori by the very powerful consideration that, so far as the limits of Parliamentary and municipal boroughs were conterminous, the citizen of the municipality would seem in reason to be entitled to that part, not the least part, of the rights of the place or borough in which he resided. It appeared to me that there was a natural principle of finality in such a franchise; but I have never disguised from myself that if at any time that principle should be admitted it would be necessary to define what we mean by rated houses, and what we mean by residence, so as to insure that the voter should be identified with the place for which he voted. Whatever may be the mode arrived at of solving these necessary questions, I do not for one moment entertain the slightest alarm or apprehension as to the consequences of a franchise so extended. My confidence, in this matter, is founded upon the broad basis of the state of society in this country; upon the manner in which the different classes of society are seen to be practically united and co-operating together; and upon the fact, that in every town, if this principle of enfranchisement were adopted, it would place the suffrage in the hands of those who at least were the heads of their own class, whether that class were high or low. I know that the working of the municipal 578 franchise under the Compound Householders Act was made the subject of inquiry a few years ago in "another place;" and the Report of the Committee who considered the question infused alarm, with respect to the working of that Act, into many minds. I find in that Report that in certain places, not very numerous—of which New-castle-on-Tyne was the only one, from which more than a single witness was examined—among the more ignorant portion of the constituency, described as being chiefly Irish, I believe, there was a great deal of treating and some personation of voters arising from the use of voting papers. But, on a careful examination of that evidence, it appeared to me that the proof of the charge was very narrow; that the charge was made with respect to a small portion of the population, and—what is of far more importance—that every witness admitted that the practical good government of the towns in respect to their local affairs was not substantially, if in any degree whatever, anywhere impaired by the working of that Act. Under these circumstances, I shall feel no alarm if it be found necessary to go to the full extent of the municipal franchise. I am, however, the last man to set up my own judgment against the general opinion of the community, in case it is thought safer to proceed by slower degrees. With reference to the question of limitations, premising that the simple provision of requiring a voter to write his name at the poll would be enough to exclude a great amount of ignorance, I would say that, if it be the general opinion of the House that we cannot go safely to the furthest limit of the household principle, without some safeguards which would prevent the ascendency of the lower portions of the constituency, which some apprehend, though I do not, then I say, by all means let us accept the proposal, made by more hon. Members than one, to stop at £5; but, if we do that, let us at all events do it in such a way as to obtain that which we all want—a good settlement of the question. And whatever we do, whether it be done under the name of household suffrage or under the name of a rating franchise—which my right hon. Friend (Mr. Gathorne Hardy) prefers—let us not by introducing new differences infuse new grounds for disagreement and discontent. The introduction of new and arbitrary inequalities into our franchise is, I venture to say, not the right way to pro- 579 duce any settlement, but it may be calculated to leave the question more unsettled than it is at present, That, I take the liberty of saying, is what this Bill would do; and I think the assertion can be demonstrated with perfect ease.
Now, I ask the House to test the Bill by one very simple criterion—How does the Bill propose to leave the existing constituencies? Will those constituencies, as the Bill proposes to leave them, be constituencies in conformity with the alleged principle of the Bill; or will they be established upon a totally different principle, and in a manner quite at variance from the Bill? I say that all the conditions of the borough franchise given by the Bill are at variance with the law which regulates the existing constituencies, and that you cannot leave the existing conditions untouched side by side with the new conditions which the Bill proposes to create. Now, this is a very important matter. Let no one suppose that all that the present Bill does with regard to existing constituencies is to preserve unimpaired the rights of those who may at this moment be voters. The Bill, by the 40th clause, says, "the franchise conferred by this Act shall be in addition to, and not in substitution for, any existing franchises." Therefore, not only those persons who are now upon the register, but for all time to come, as long as this Act is in force, you are to retain the £10 householders, with their present qualifications and with their present conditions. Are these qualifications and conditions the same as those which will attach to the new voters under this Bill, or are they entirely different and inconsistent with them? Now, I give the answer. Your first clause says with regard to your new franchise that first of all there must be a two years' residence. That might possibly be a very good term for the purpose if it were uniform and applicable to all alike. But you are going to retain the present law as to the £10 householder; and the £10 householder, divided from those beneath him by that arbitrary line, will be qualified by one-half of that amount of residence. Is that a satisfactory settlement of the question? I thought your object in introducing the rating household suffrage was to get rid of this arbitrary pound figure—the line which had been arbitrarily drawn at a certain sum, when no human being can say that one sum is better than another. But you retain this line, as if for the very purpose of getting rid of the benefit of your 580 own principle. An arbitrary figure is still to separate a privileged class from an inferior and a "handicapped" class below them—a class which is to be loaded with greater difficulties in the attainment of the franchise. But the objection does not stop there. Besides the advantage they will have in respect of length of residence, you intend that persons who pay £10 shall get the household franchise much more easily than persons who pay only £9 19s. 6d. You only allow occupiers below £10 to qualify for an entire dwelling-house; but if the amount is more than £10 they may qualify for counting-houses, warehouses, and shops; which, in some cases, may be only parts of dwelling-houses.
Nothing is better than an example to make a thing well understood; so I will mention a case from Stockport which in 1843 came before the Courts under the Reform Act. A mill was let off by the owners in different rooms to a dozen or more different people, each paying £10 or upwards for his room, having his own key and the common use of the machinery. The rate was entered in the rate book in gross; the names both of the owner, and of all the occupiers, were entered as rated together; one gross sum was levied upon the whole premises; and the landlord paid the rate. Now every one of these persons was held entitled to his vote for the separate room he occupied, and will be so entitled after this Bill has passed. But if those persons had each paid £9 19s. 6d. instead of £10, not one of them would get a vote unless he occupied the whole house. Is that the way to settle this question, by introducing such distinctions in order to make the dividing line, always arbitrary, more galling and more objectionable, if possible, than before? But there is another point to be considered. Does the present law require this personal payment of rates which you say is the great cardinal principle—the most reasonable principle—of your Bill? When the £10 householder whose rates are compounded for claims to be put upon the rate book, does the present law require from him payment of the difference between the composition and the full rate? It does not, and will not after this Bill has passed. I agree that the present law does require that the voter's name should appear upon the rate book; but I venture to say there is no earthly use in it, unless it is to pay the rate or something in addition to the rate. 581 If the occupier is put in the rate book and he is not obliged to pay more than the owner, it clearly makes no practical difference, so long as the rate is paid, who pays it. As between owner and occupier it is sure to be taken into account in the payment of rent. Now, I want to know whether, under the present law, your £10 householder is obliged to pay the rates himself. He is not. It has been settled over and over again that if by arrangement between landlord and tenant the tenant pays nothing to the landlord but his rent, and the landlord pays the rates, and if the overseer goes to the landlord without communicating with the tenant and gets the rate, that is just as good in the eye of the law as if the tenant paid the rate himself. The absurdity, therefore, of requiring payment to be made by the tenant's own hand is not entertained by the law as it now stands, and will not be with respect to £10 houses after this Bill passes. The landlord's payment is exactly as good as the tenant's payment, and it would be absurd if this were otherwise; for, if the money be paid, can any one doubt that for all the purposes for which the rate is imposed it matters not who pays it, and that as between landlord and tenant the rate must find its way into the settlement of rent? Then, I say, that for the form of requiring what you call personal payment of the rate not a reason can be given; and that, as it is not required by the present law, if you mean to make it a condition in the case of the new voters, you are introducing a most unreasonable, unnecessary, and arbitrary distinction. The essence of the thing is that the rate shall be paid; if paid, it is unimportant by what hand the payment is made; and to introduce this test as a qualification for the franchise is, I venture to say, a simple absurdity.
Now I come to a still more important matter. Is, or is not, the principle of this Bill right when it requires that the person who has compounded, if claiming to vote, should pay an additional sum of money beyond that which would be payable by him or by anybody unless this claim were made? How stands the law on that point as regards the present £10 householders, and how will it stand with regard to those householders who are to be enfranchised if this Bill should pass? My right hon. Friend the President of the Poor Law Board (Mr. Gathorne Hardy) said—If the compound-householder is fined by pay- 582 ing his full rates, it might be rejoined that he would be bribed by being permitted to pay less than the full amount. But why should one man be put on a more favourable footing with respect to the exercise of the franchise than another? Let every man stand on the same basis."—[3 Hansard. clxxxvi. 511.]The words are not mine, but those of my right hon. Friend. I echo those words. I say that one man should not be put on a more favourable footing with respect to the exercise of the franchise than another. I accept the principle, "Let every man stand upon the same basis." But will he, if this Bill passes as you have introduced it? No, he will not; and that you must perfectly well know. You leave the law as it stands with respect to the £10 householder, who, on paying the landlord's composition, if the landlord has not already paid it, and without paying anything if the landlord has, is entitled to be put on the register and to have a vote. Now, I want an answer to this question, and I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman addresses the House he will give that answer. Is it meant in Committee to adhere to this part of the Bill? Is it meant to leave the £10 householder in a more favourable position than those below him because the law at present gives him that position? You do not by the Bill alter the law in this respect, and you let the richer man acquire a vote on easier conditions than the poorer man, for the former may get upon the register after half the period of residence, or if he only occupies part of a house, and without paying a farthing additional, though the landlord who has compounded may only have paid one-half the rate; while you say to the man assessed one sixpence below £10 that he shall not come upon the register unless he pays the full rate. I say, Sir, that the measure stands self-condemned on this point. But the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General was very candid, and told us that from the time of the passing of the Reform Bill to that unhappy year 1851—when Sir William Clay introduced a certain unfortunate Bill, which, still more unfortunately, has become law—until then the Reform Act required everybody to pay the full amount of the rate. I wish my hon. and learned Friend had given us his authority for that statement. I do not believe it. I do not believe that such a thing has ever been established as law under the construction of the Reform Act, and I hold in my hand the words from which I draw this conclusion— 583And upon such occupier so claiming and actually paying or tendering—'What?'—the full amount of the rate or rates, if any, then due in respect of such premises.But nothing was due in respect of such premises except the sum legally payable; and the Act goes on to say that if the landlord has paid it nothing is due of course; but that if the landlord has omitted to pay it, then the occupier has to pay it. The Reform Act did not expressly add that the occupier paying what was legally due from his landlord might deduct it from his rent; but the law would, without express words, give him that right if it was the contract between the landlord and the tenant that the landlord should pay the rate, as in these cases of composition it always is. Sir William Clay only made clear and express what was the law before. But suppose it were otherwise.
I now come back to the Solicitor General. He says, "Oh! that was bad legislation; the present Bill is good legislation, and the former Act ought to be repealed." Then, where is your settlement of the question? You say your new franchises are to be cumulative; they are to be additional to the old franchises, and not to interfere with them; you have the £10 householders, and you do not require them to pay the difference. And then the Solicitor General says this is justified, because the £10 householders' law is a bad law and ought to be altered. Why, then, does he not alter it? I suppose the right hon. Gentleman means to propose in Committee that the £10 holders shall pay up this difference. If he does make such a proposition I hope to offer some reasons to induce the House to pause before they accede to it. Not only do I say it is wrong in principle as well as inconsistent and unjust to have this distinction between the two classes; but I want the House to see what a total departure from every principle hitherto recognised or contemplated you will make if you adopt the view that the difference of the rate is to be paid. The Reform Act certainly said no such thing, and it is clear that Sir William Clay's Act, as to the municipal franchise, the Small Tenements Act, and the Act 21 & 22 Vict., relative to compounders under Sturges Bourne's Act, have ruled to the contrary. You have had repeated legislation with regard to the Parliamentary and the municipal franchise on the principle that the whole rate is to be treated as paid by payment of the composition; and even 584 the Committee of the House of Lords in 1859, although they were more impressed than I am with the evils which they thought were introduced into the mode of conducting municipal elections by the lower class of householders, yet what did they recommend? Did they recommend this? Nothing of the kind. They never recommended as a condition of the franchise that a man should pay what was not due. What they recommended was that the occupier under £6 should be admitted to claim to be rated on the same terms of payment as the landlord. At all events, therefore, it would be reversing the whole previous course of legislation if you were to agree to this proposition of the Government. But now I want to know whether this is not in principle a fine?
I now come back to the language of my right hon. Friend the President of the Poor Law Board. Commenting on the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Lancashire, who had said—"Don't think that those small things are not galling. You remember that the 1s. formerly paid under the Reform Act for registration was felt to be galling, and you had soon to do away with it." In reply to that argument the President of the Poor Law Board said—The right hon. Gentleman says that a man will have, in consequence of the provision in the Bill, to pay for his vote, and he puts it on the footing of the 1s. which used to be paid for registration. But that 1s. was paid by a man for the purpose of being put on the registry; whereas the rates are paid because they are due from the man."—[3 Hansard, clxxxvi. 512.]I take issue upon that point with my right hon. Friend. I say that the small occupier wishing to obtain the franchise will have to pay money which is not due from him, and which is not due from anybody else, and if it is not due, it is to all intents and purposes a fine. How is the difference between the amount at which he would be rated and the rate actually paid by the landlord due by the occupier or by anyone else? If it were due now, some one would have to pay it. The fact is you make it due as the price of the occupier's vote. You sell him the vote for that sum of money. That is the simple truth of the matter. But then it is said, if it is not so it ought to be so. And my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) said, "It is plain common sense to say that if a man comes in and has a vote, he should pay the same as anybody else." But I have just been showing that he will 585 not pay the same as the £10 compound householder now pays; and therefore I say that it is not so simple a matter of common sense. But what is the meaning of this composition? Under those Acts, for the purpose of the convenient collection of rates, a double system has been introduced. In 1819, and again when the Small Tenements Act was passed, and when several local Acts were passed, it was thought advantageous for the local interests, practically, to employ the owner as a collector of the rate from the occupiers. It was perfectly well known that what the owner paid he would get—and probably much more—in the rent; and it was thought an economical and convenient arrangement, because it might happen that he would occasionally not be able to collect the rent, to allow him a sort of discount or commission for the collection. It was, under the Small Tenements Act, arranged that 75 per cent should be rated on the owner instead of the 100 which would have been put on the occupier; and by that and other Acts a further composition was allowed, reducing the payment to 50 per cent, if the owner paid upon all the houses belonging to him, taking upon himself the risk of some of them remaining unoccupied. What reason in the world is there why you should make the occupier pay the owner's commission if he is put on the rate instead of the owner? It is more extravagant and absurd still if the occupier is required to pay that portion of the rate which the owner is allowed as a compensation for the chance of some of the houses remaining unoccupied. He pays in the lump upon occupied and unoccupied houses, and is therefore granted an advantage. Is the tenant to pay that? Is the tenant to pay for the unoccupied house that is covered by the landlord's composition? The whole theory depends on an utter misconception of the nature of this discount and allowance. That which the landlord pays is the amount of the rate, and the sum allowed to him as discount is money paid for the benefit which those interested in the rate are supposed to get in consequence of the payment of the rate being made by him, If anybody is interested in the payment of the rates, surely it is the local community; but a man may obtain municipal privileges without the payment of this discount or commission. Should we, then, impose such a payment for the privilege of voting to return a Member to Parliament, which has nothing to do with 586 local burdens, while for the exercise of a privilege in connection with the local community, and consequently with local burdens, nothing of the kind is required?
I come next to a remarkable passage in the speech of my right hon. Friend the President of the Poor Law Board, which shows me that, notwithstanding his ability, he is not himself master of this Bill which he is hero to advocate. He did not know what it contained. He thought it ought to contain something which it not only does not contain, but which, I venture to say, could not by possibility be put into it. My right hon. Friend said that of course the tenant would deduct from the rent he now pays his landlord the sum which ho will have to pay in rates. The right hon. Gentleman observed that the provisions of the existing law were made a part of the Bill, and that a man when he paid his rates would have a right to recover against his landlord. But, under the existing law, you do not oblige him to pay anything, except what the landlord is by law compelled to pay; and if the tenant pays what is the landlord's proper burden, he can recover it by the ordinary operation of the law. The question, however, is not as to the payment of the proper amount of the rate, but as to the payment of what we take the liberty still, notwithstanding all that has been said on the other side, of calling "the fine"—namely, the extra payment for which the landlord is not liable, but which you impose on the occupier as the price of the franchise. My right hon. Friend laid down that the occupier would have the power to recover from the landlord the full amount he had paid. He observed—I can only say that they were meant to be, and that a man shall be entitled to recover from his landlord the amount he has paid. It is obvious justice requires that it should be so. Nobody will suppose that the Bill meant to make both the landlord and the tenant pay the rate. Then would there indeed be a fine. The provision of this Bill is, that where the occupier claims to be rated he shall be entitled to recover from the landlord the amount of rates he has paid in the rent."—[3 Hansard, clxxxvi. 512.]I took the liberty, no doubt improperly, of interrupting my right hon. Friend; but, regarding the point as one of much importance, I asked him to what section he alluded, and he referred me to the 34th clause, which is in these terms—Where the owner is rated in respect of a dwelling-house instead of the occupier, the occupier may claim to berated for the purpose of acquiring 587 the franchise in the same manner and subject to the same conditions in and subject to which an occupier may claim to be registered under the existing Acts of Parliament for the purpose of acquiring the franchise in respect of the occupation of premises of a clear yearly value of not less than £10, and all the provisions of the said Acts shall apply accordingly, provided that the rates to be paid by such occupier in order to entitle him to the franchise shall be rates calculated on the full rateable value of the promises.Now, observe that those who drew the proviso at the end of this clause must have known well that they were attaching conditions to the new franchise which do not attach to the old. The clause merely states that the occupier may come in and claim to be rated in the same manner as the occupier of a £10 house may now claim to be registered. But is any £10 householder enabled to recover any sum in excess of that paid by his landlord? No, because he is not liable to more. In respect of a £10 house, of which the landlord pays the rates, the occupier need only pay them if the landlord is in arrear. If the landlord is bound to pay them, but allows them to get into arrear, and the tenant pays them for him, the tenant is left to recover the amount by the ordinary process of law. But he does not pay anything more than the landlord is liable to pay, and does not recover more. Now, if this plan were passed into law, how would it act? Under some of the statutes the landlord is obliged to compound one full half. Suppose, therefore, that a landlord had 100 houses rated at £8, and that fifty of them were full and the remaining fifty empty, and that he pays a composition at the rate of £4 for each of them. Of course, he would make that good by putting at least £8 on each of the occupied tenements; so that, in point of fact, he would recover from them the full rate; and yet, when one of the tenants desires to come in for a vote, you would make him pay over again, by compelling him to bring up his rate to the full amount, so as to cover the allowance which the landlord has got for the unoccupied houses, and for which allowance the landlord has been fully indemnified, as far as the actual payment is concerned. Then I want to know how the measure would work in other cases. Take, for instance, the case of the aggregate rating at Stockport, to which I have already referred. How are you to divide it? Or take the case of frequent changes of residence in the occupied houses within the required time, and 588 of different rates, and see what a deal of trouble you would impose upon a man who desired to have a vote; and all these difficulties will inevitably make themselves felt if such a provision is to become law. But you have not got any such provision in your Bill; and I say that the right hon. Gentleman does not know his own Bill when he thinks that there is any such proposition in it. If you try to introduce it, you will have to encounter all the difficulties I have mentioned. But, apart from this, I ask for what reason ought the landlord to be mulcted for the benefit of those tenants who desire to claim the franchise? Yet this would be the effect of such a provision. But it is quite evident that it was the improvised idea of my right hon. Friend. It is not the law, and I hope it never will be. It is monstrous that you should disturb and unsettle contracts and economical arrangements made for the greater advantage and convenience of the parties interested in local taxation, under laws passed for that purpose, merely to discover a mode of impeding and restricting the operation of a new Parliamentary franchise.
I will not occupy the House with dwelling on the practical difficulties which my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General makes so light of. He argued that they would be no worse than what have existed under the Reform Bill, and that we know how to manage these things. Well, but it is one of the objections that it is so easy to manage them—that they would be managed so very unequally—that in some cases they would be so managed as to put such an immense number of persons upon the list as to swamp the constituency, and that in other cases they would be kept off altogether. That sort of management will not be prevented by the clause about the corrupt payment of rates. What is a corrupt payment of that description to consist of? You must define it by some other words than you have got in your present Bill.
Well, I will now pass from this subject, and I come to another point, upon which I shall not say much to-day, though certainly I cannot treat it as one of trivial importance—I mean the principle of dual voting. Sir, when we came down to the House yesterday, I think many hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House expected that we should have been relieved from the discussion of this question. I fully thought that the Government would take an opportunity, and an early opportunity, of throwing that lumber overboard. But 589 it is not so. We are required to bring forward our arguments against it; and my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General, and the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board have brought forth their arguments in favour of it. And what were those arguments? They may be summed up in one felicitous phrase made use of by the Solicitor General, who accompanied it by his happy reference to the antiquities of English history and the reign of Henry VI. The felicitous phrase was this, that "half a loaf is better than no loaf at all." My hon. and learned Friend argued thus:—"How can you complain of there being a favoured class, a privileged class"—and most of the £10 householders, no doubt, would be included in that privileged class—"how can you complain of their being gifted with a double vote, of their voice being made twice the value of that of others? For see how much better off you are who have a single vote than those who have no vote at all." Now, Sir, the thought did occur to my mind when I heard this argument, that there was a little undercurrent towards universal suffrage in that way of putting the question. The suggestion of the grievance of those who have got no vote at all, and how thankful those ought to be, by comparison, who have got even half a vote—I must say that this did not appear to me, on the whole, to be a remark of a very Conservative tendency. But it is of more importance to observe that this remark did lay bare the very essence of this proposal, which is to grant a half enfranchisement instead of a whole enfranchisement; because it is quite plain that it makes no earthly difference whether I give a man below mo half a vote, retaining my own vote at its present value, or give him what I call a whole vote, and at the same time double the value of my own. Now, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not profess to be able to state fully what the effects of this provision would be; but I apprehend that they would be—if it were possible to imagine that it could be adopted—of a much more large and potent character than the right hon. Gentleman shadowed forth in his speech. And, Sir, whether or no it is thrown overboard—as I have no doubt it will be—it will remain to stamp the character of this Bill with respect to the purpose for which it was introduced. Why has this provision—not without forethought, not with- 590 out deliberation, and not without a place for repentance being several times given—why has this provision to the last and up to this very moment adhered to the Bill? and why is there now so much hesitation about throwing it overboard? Because, as my right hon. Friend the President of the Poor Law Board said, the favourite principle of the Bill is that of limitation, and not that of enfranchisement. Well, then, I say, as far as this is the case, those whose object is enfranchisement, and whose main object is not limitation—they certainly are bound to be on their guard if the Bill goes into Committee; and if they consider that they cannot sufficiently protect their object when in Committee, they will be well justified in taking care, in such other way as may seem best to them, that the purpose of limitation rather than of enfranchisement, entertained by hon. Gentlemen opposite, is not fulfilled.
I have kept the House so long that I really do not like to go into other matters; but there are still two points of considerable importance upon which I wish to say a word. One is with respect to the county franchise. We have here exactly the same provision promised us as with the borough franchise—an invidious line is to be drawn between the present constituency and the future one—the £50 occupier is not obliged to pay any rates at all by the present law in order that he may have a vote; but the Bill proposes that the new county occupiers must be rated, and must pay their rates, before they can claim the franchise.
Then with regard to the special franchises. Now, I am perfectly free in this matter, and I mean to exercise my freedom. I have been no party, directly or indirectly, to any Bill containing such franchises, except the Bill of last year. With respect to the saving banks franchise in that measure, I took the liberty of saying that I regarded it as by no means the best portion of the Bill, which was as much as saying that, as far as I individually could, I disapproved it. I venture to say that the whole of these franchises, from beginning to end, are utterly wrong. They are wrong in principle, and untenable and unsettling in practice. When I say wrong in principle, let me for a moment apologize to the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill). I do not like to pronounce a principle wrong in the abstract of which he is the advocate. I do not think I shall be misunderstood; I mean only to express my 591 personal respect for the hon. Member, not of course that I agree with this or that particular opinion which he may entertain. The hon. Member has put on the paper notice of his intention to propose in Committee—if we reach that stage—certain clauses which shall substitute the principle of personal representation in the place of local representation. The hon. Gentleman holds to the well-known method of Mr. Hare, which would be no doubt a very effectual mode of carrying out that principle. But it is not at present the principle of our Constitution. We go now upon that of local representation; our counties are large communities; and though they may in some respects no doubt be artificially defined, yet by the associations of our whole history they have acquired a certain species of reality in the minds of men. And so with regard to our boroughs, our cities, and our Universities—in each case there is a living body politic, which is the seat and local centre of representation. The whole of our present system is founded upon it; our present franchises are all local franchises. You have your freeholders and occupiers in the counties; you have your householders in the boroughs. But these special franchises will cut you adrift from that principle altogether and, if they are accepted, will not land you in any consistent results. They are personal, and not local in any proper sense; they depart from the one principle, and do not develop or satisfy the other; there is no reason whatever that I can see for them. The lodger franchise, indeed, would be an exception; because that is, in fact, a franchise given to a person who occupies part of a house, under circumstances similar, though we are not able to apply all the terms of the definition, to the person who occupies a whole house. But with respect to those merely personal franchises, I venture to say that while they would be totally insufficient to satisfy any principle, they are also, as they stand, either objectionable or needless. Take the first of them, that which proposes to confer the franchise on the graduates of our Universities. What claim have they to it? You have already given them their own local representation. The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge already return Members; and under this Bill the University of London would return a Member. There is the proper place for their graduates. Your ministers, your lawyers, 592 your schoolmasters, will be householders, or lodgers; they are part of the class which, at all events, a lodger franchise would introduce, and there is therefore no reason for a special franchise for them. I come next to the savings bank franchise. What does that mean? I know very well that in what I am going to say I may be separating myself, in some degree, from some of those whose judgment I respect; but I feel bound to say what I think on this subject. What does this savings bank franchise mean? It is a petty property qualification for a special poor class of people. By all means admit poor and rich by any well-considered franchise which is applicable to all; but do not invent a petty property qualification for the sake of one class—probably a very special class, of poor persons—household servants, and others of that description. Well, then, we come to another still more absurd and preposterous—the qualification of £50 funded property. Why, in the name of all that is reasonable, should it be "funded" property. When you had that old incumbrance, the property qualification for Members of Parliament, it was once, but did not continue long to be, limited to landed or funded property. Why limit the qualification, if you are to have anything of the sort, to this particular mode of investment? Do not you see that it could not possibly stand there—that there is no kind of principle in it—that you are merely introducing a new element of change which cannot possibly stop at the point at which you have put it? The direct taxation franchise has been sufficiently dealt with by those who have preceded me, and I have reached the limit of the observations I have to offer.
For my own part, I share fully in the wish that something, if possible, may be made of this Bill; and if the House thinks it can make something of it in Committee, I do not hesitate to say that, for one, I should prefer to go into Committee. But most assuredly I agree with those who say that if this Bill passes substantially as it stands you will neither be improving the representation of the people nor settling this question; and therefore it is the bounden duty of the House to prevent such a consummation as that.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
I hope that all who agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, in the opinion that household suffrage has in it essential merits to recommend it to the 593 country as the basis of borough representation, will be prepared to go into Committee on this Bill. I agree with my hon. and learned Friend that the borough franchise is the main feature of this Bill; and I agree with him in placing, in a comparatively subordinate position, the attention and consideration which should be given to the other franchises which it contains. The borough franchise in this Bill rests on a principle intelligible and free from doubt; there is no obscurity about it. He who runs may read, The humblest individual in the kingdom, and the lowest in point of education, can understand this—that the borough franchise here contained is conferred upon the rated and ratepaying occupier of a house. If there be a word that requires definition it is this—the word "occupier?" You do not intend that it shall mean an individual who enters the house the day before the election and leaves it the day afterwards. Some description must be given of the word "occupier," and even in the democratic constitutions of America some conditions are laid down with which a man must comply to become an occupier within the meaning of the law. But it is introduced not for the purpose of excluding from the franchise those to whom it had previously been given, but simply as part of the description of those to whom it is extended, and the period fixed is a two years' occupancy. Admitting that the borough franchise will be placed on a wholesome basis by extending it to household suffrage, the arguments urged have been mainly directed against subordinate points—it has been argued that the manner, the form, and the condition on which we propose that the franchise shall be enjoyed is open to objection. I venture to ask, is there any justice in that mode of argument? Is it not our duty, first of all, to consider whether this basis be a sound one for the borough franchise? We ought to look at it first in the abstract, and to consider afterwards the manner, the form, and the condition (not the limitations) under which this ample qualification is to be enjoyed. We must bear in mind that the inquiry we have to make is whether this is not the most satisfactory mode left to us of settling the franchise consequent on the measure of 1832. For collateral purposes it is no doubt useful to refer to our ancient Constitution; but in determining what ought to be done to-day we must take our departure from 1832—we must accept it as a fact. It is 594 in vain to go further back. At the time of the passing of that Act two questions were argued—first, whether it gave promise in it itself of supplying the means of good Government; and next, whether it contained any principle of fixity and permanence? I admit frankly that I was one of those who thought that the measure of 1832 was objectionable upon both these points. I doubted whether a House of Commons elected under it would harmonize with the other parts of our Constitution; and I feared it would lead, at no distant day, to other and greater changes in the representation. I admit that I was wrong in thinking it unlikely to lead to present good Government; but it is another question whether the apprehension that it did not contain any principle of fixity has not been justified.
After the Act of 1832 passed, the then great Leader of the Conservative party foretold that it would ultimately be the duty of Conservatives to stand by that measure; and I will say that the Conservative party beyond all doubt have been loyal to that measure. Though they by no means approved the principle which fixed the limit of enfranchisement at the £10 householders, they were not the persons to break down the line. Of course, it was not right to surrender a stand-point, however imperfect, without being sure that it was the wish of the country really to abandon it. It has been stoutly maintained; but it has been found impossible longer to maintain it. I do not think it has been obstinately maintained; but the time has come when it was plain that the principle of the Act of 1832 must be extended. Everybody who has spoken in this debate has distinctly admitted that change of some kind was necessary; and, that being so, the question is, in what direction should we proceed? You cannot recede, you must take the direction of the Act of 1832—something must be done to extend the franchise; the existing line must be given up. Will you simply adopt another figure in place of the present one; or will you not rather look for some new and better definition of the franchise? The hon. and learned Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer) has distinctly admitted that household suffrage is a resting place, and a much more lasting one than any figure we can fix upon. It gives us, my hon. and learned Friend said, the very elements of a constituency.
I agree with that—defined as household 595 suffrage is in the Bill—namely, the rated and ratepaying occupation of a house. That is the principle which is advocated by the Bill now before us. It requires from the voter the possession of that which is of the first necessity, and the discharge of that which is the first duty in civilized society—the possession of a roof over his head—the discharge of his obligations to the State. I say, then, that if we have got to this point we have obtained a clear and definite principle, and one on which all may rely. It may not be comprehensive enough to suit some classes of Reformers; but I venture to say that it is comprehensive enough to satisfy any class of Liberals—at least, to satisfy that class which constitutes the majority of the party in this House. Another question may, indeed, arise, whether it ought to be accepted by hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House. But the experience we have had of former Reform Bills, the knowledge we have of the feeling of the country, the description of the class who are to have a vote—that is, any persons who have occupied their houses and paid their rates for two years—ought to take away from us all practical apprehension of danger from the immediate operation of the measure itself. The immediate and the important question for us to consider is, whether these qualifications do not give us as good a security for the exercise of the franchise as the fixing of a certain amount of rent. The other and more difficult question is, how far is this measure calculated to afford us the prospect of permanency? Now, in speaking of permanency in human affairs, nobody means immutability—we speak only of that degree of permanency which we expect to find in human affairs; and looking at the measure in that point of view. I say it does afford us the prospect of such a permanency. Nor do I now speak of permanency considered in reference to the life of an individual, but in reference to the life of a nation. What might be sufficient in dealing with the interests of an individual would be wholly insufficient in dealing with the interests of a nation, where we ought to expect that more than a quarter of a century will elapse before we are called upon to try some new experiment. And I say boldly that in this Bill a broad and distinct and yet flexible line is adopted which takes the first elements of the constitution of society, as to what voters must possess and the duties they must discharge. I say that in this 596 you have the prospect of a permanency which it is simply idle to say that a £6 or an £8 rental would afford. The old argument would for ever return—why should those below £8, why should those below £6, be excepted from the franchise? But when it is decided that not any amount of rent, but the simple fact of being rated and paying his rates in respect of the house he occupies, entitles a man to the franchise, I maintain that you have here a prospect of permanence which does not exist in any other experiment that has yet been tried. I hold, therefore, that this measure is one which it would be wise for this House to adopt, comprehensive enough to satisfy all the reasonable demands of the Liberal party, and safe enough for the Conservative party to adopt.
Then I come to the objections which have been taken to the manner, the mode, the conditions on which this franchise is to be enjoyed. This, I must say, has hitherto been the whole burden of the arguments that have been urged against this measure. I maintain that the real place for the discussion of all these objections is the Committee. You have got the principle settled—the principle which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond says he approves of—the principle of the rated and ratepaying occupation of a house. [Sir ROUNDELL PALMER: I said a rated house.] Well, my hon. and learned Friend prefers to put it in that way. At any rate, we have got the principle of a rated occupancy fixed, and I say that everything else ought to be left to the Committee. But let us consider it. The first question with which we have to deal is whether the vote shall be given to the occupant of a rated house, or to the rated and rate-paying occupier of a house? Is it not a distinct and clear advantage that the occupier should also be the ratepayer? Is not that a guarantee when you are desirous of finding an instrument for good Government? It is said that this qualification was put in as a check to democracy. Is that necessarily an objection to it? We need not go back to find what was the precise basis of representation in our early history; but if we do so, it is clear that a Conservative element has always prevailed in this country, and in this House; and that in your Reform Bills you want a constituency that will work in harmony with the Constitution, that will continue to work, as the House of Com- 597 mons has hitherto worked, in harmony with the House of Lords and the Sovereign; and I say that it would be no objection to the qualification of the rating and rate-paying clause if it were found to work in that direction; on the contrary, it will be an essential qualification if necessary for that end, and I say that this qualification is simply the description of a class. The occupier of a rated house is not enough; that description defines a class very different from that which is defined in the present Bill. I confidently put it to the House whether, for the purpose of the franchise, the rated and ratepaying occupier of a house is not a better description than the occupier of a rated house? I have little fear of the decision of the House if that question were put to it; and I have little doubt it would prefer a constituency of rated and ratepaying occupiers of houses rather than of the occupiers of rated houses, no matter who was rated or by whom the rates were paid. Then we come to the alleged inconsistency of permitting differences between the constituency under the old Reform Bill and the constituency under the new Bill. I ask you to consider on this point what is possible to be done, and what it is impossible to do. As I understand, it is admitted you must respect and cannot interfere with the old constituency established under the Act of 1832; and if that be the case, then I say that, in maintaining the existing constituency, you are not introducing safeguards or drawing distinctions between class and class. You are simply making a distinction between qualifications created in 1832, and qualifications it is thought right to create now. The different times at which the two measures were introduced will sufficiently reconcile the community to any distinctions that may exist.
I come, then, to the other arguments which, as I have already said, are more properly fit for the Committee. A great argument has been that the Bill is not adapted or applicable to the existing state of things. We are told that it is impossible to apply the principle of personal rating and payment of rates to those householders where the owner of a large number of houses compounds for them and is rated, and pays the rates. Why not? What is the difficulty? Surely it is a very simple process. You have got the simplest enunciation of the franchise, the rated and ratepaying occupier. Is there any difficulty in putting 598 into words so simple a proposition? If any Acts of Parliament stand in the way, can they not be modified? Just consider what it is you propose. Simply that the occupier of a house shall have a right to insist on being placed on the rate book, and upon being put on the register on his paying such rates as are in the rate book, or as by law are due. Is there any difficulty in that? None. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire said that when the Act of 1850 was passed it effected a great social and moral revolution, by establishing a new mode of collecting rates; and, with an emphasis which those who heard him will not easily forget, he read this passage to explain the great social and moral revolution which took place—Whereas the collection of highway rates assessed upon the occupiers of small annual value is expensive, difficult, and frequently impracticable, and it is expedient to make proper provision for the collection of such rates.A Bill, then, the object of which was to remove difficulties in the way of collection of rates, is said to be a revolution:—a Bill to enable those persons who desire personally to be rated, and to pay their rates, and who say, "Put me upon the rate book; take my money; I am willing to pay," is said to stand in the way of a franchise which depends upon rating and the payment of rates. That is an extravagant proposition. It is said that you have numberless difficulties thrown in the way of the ratepayer. I have difficulty in enumerating the long beadroll. There are, it is said, the difficulties of knowing the law; of knowing that he must obey the law; of finding where the rate collector lives; of claiming to be rated; of paying the rate; of claiming to be put upon the register; and finally, of seeing that he is put upon the register. There are other difficulties raised of this nature; but they are mere words, the meaning of which is lost in the sound. There is nothing in them. The whole of them comes to this—all that the occupier who desires to vote has to do is to claim to be rated, and to pay his rate. The proposition is so simple that I cannot understand how these difficulties can have any real existence, and if they do exist, I am sure they can easily be removed. A great deal has been said about the compound-householder being "fined" if he tries to obtain a vote. What is the meaning of this objection? Is it seriously intended that, in the long 599 run, a contract between landlord and tenant will not settle itself; and that as soon as it is found that there are tenants willing to pay their rates, they will not find landlords with whom they could make arrangements for their rents consequential on that? It is simply a question of supply and demand. The whole difficulty, if there be one, would simply rest upon the first year or so after the Act came into operation. After the first year everything will be settled, and the occupier, if he claims to be rated and pays his rates, will get as much as he pays in reduction of rent. The landlord will ultimately lose nothing; he will not have any of the risks of payment. The tenant will be rated, and the whole argument of the compound-householder being "fined" falls to the ground fully after the Act comes into operation. I at first supposed that the right hon. Gentleman opposite meant to say that possibly the tenant might be called upon to pay a second time the rate which the landlord had already paid; but, of course, that is not so. Then it is said that the tenant may pay the rate, and may not be able to recover it from his landlord; but that is not the true construction to be placed upon the Bill as it stands. It was certainly not so intended. The whole question is covered by the 34th section. The tenant, where the owner is rated, may claim to be rated for the purpose of acquiring the franchise; and then the clause goes on to prescribe the manner and conditions on which he shall do so, maintaining the manner and conditions found in all existing Acts with respect to the payment of rates by persons who, as occupiers, are not liable to pay themselves, but who pay through their landlords. The construction and legal effect of the provision, as I understand it, is that the tenant paying the rate would have a right to deduct the amount of it from his rent. If that is not sufficiently clear, however, it could easily be remedied in Committee, and all dispute on the point avoided. The whole of this question of the "fine" rests upon the difference between commuted value and the full value for the first year or two after the Act has come into operation. The tenant is to pay the full value and the landlord the commuted value; and in some cases that may produce a difficulty for a year or two, but it only comes to this after all—that the question of paying the full value is open to consideration. However, I believe it is right that the occupier 600 should pay the full value. The petition from the people of Wolverhampton, recently presented in "another place," says that "a claim to vote should be supported by giving up the relief of composition and paying the full rate." I believe that that is the sound view. That if a man chooses to claim the franchise he must pay the rate in the same manner as other ratepayers, and the most that could happen would be that he would pay the difference for the first year or so until (he law of contract stepped in, and the form of contract would be so altered as to set the matter right. I do not believe that there would be any practical difficulty in the case.
We now come to a further argument of a very remarkable character. It is said that this provision will give great facilities for bribery—it is said that these voters will be handed over to political agents who will say to the tenant, "We will claim the vote for you, and we will pay the rates;" and it is said that there will be no difficulty in doing this, and that there will be no way of preventing such a course by this or any other Act of Parliament. But I say that, where you have a candidate who is above bribery, and electors who are also above bribery, there are no facilities and no danger; but if you have a candidate and electors who are, the one willing to give and the other willing to receive bribes, it is idle to talk of facilities for bribery. All that is wanted is that there should be money or money's worth to change hands, and there are no greater facilities for bribery given by this Bill than existed before. As the law exists now there are unlimited facilities for bribery by the payment of rates. I cannot, therefore, understand how we are said to be handing over the voters to the political agents. May not other classes of voters be handed over to political agents also? Is this handing over peculiar to one class? May it not be just as easy, if you take a household voter under a household suffrage pure and simple, or if you take a £5 voter? And if you take universal suffrage, may not the result be that the voters may be equally liable to be handed over to political agents, until you have Government in one place by a "caucus," and in another place by an Emperor? It is idle to say that you hand this particular class, more than any other, over to the political agents. It is an idle argument, of no avail. The real question for considera- 601 tion is—Is this Bill founded upon a wise and sound basis for a borough franchise? I venture to say that it is. The borough franchise, which is the real main feature of the Bill, stands upon grounds which cannot be controverted by any moderate Liberal. It may be open to question from those who have Conservative instincts and Conservative associations. Many of us have, doubtless, felt that there were grave considerations to be entertained before the Bill should be adopted; but we have felt that it was necessary that the franchise should be extended, and that we should come to some point that would afford a chance of permanence. It may be said, "If these are your views why do you not stop somewhere on the road? Why do you not try something farther in the shape of an £8 or a £6 rental?" My answer to that is that if you begin changing in that manner now you will be more rapid in your descent than if you make a broad change, and get to a more secure resting place at once. You would go on much more rapidly in your changes when once you had begun, and it would be most dangerous. When change becomes necessary and inevitable, it is better to make it at once—not with an idea of immutability—but selecting some line, some resting place, better than any amount of rental, such as household suffrage—and I am glad to have the authority of my hon. and learned Friend (Sir Roundell Palmer) for saying that household suffrage does afford a great security—for something like permanence. And I say, that with the conditions we propose, though we have not household suffrage pure and simple, but qualified by residence and payment of rates, we have reasonable assurance of permanence.
I shall not trouble the House by going into the other franchises. My hon. and learned Friend, however, thinks that a lodger franchise is a good franchise. If you go into that, however, in the spirit with which this Bill has been examined on the other side, I venture to say that it is far more impracticable and impossible of execution than anything to be found in the present Bill. Under the Bill as it stands every lodger whom it would be desirable to admit will be able to acquire the right of voting as an investor in the funds or in a savings bank, or by virtue of the educational franchise. There you will find all the elements for realizing what you desire from a lodger franchise; and no lodger whom 602 it would be desirable to admit would be unable to acquire the suffrage. The difficulty of admitting the lodger as such is great, compared with the ease with which he can be placed upon the register by one of these other modes. My hon. and learned Friend asks us why we select one particular kind of investment, and do not select any other description of personal property? The reason is obvious. We do not take investments in trading or commercial speculations, which are constantly fluctuating; but we take investments in the national funds, which are ordinarily made with a view to permanence, and we say that if a man has a given amount of money in these for a certain period, you have in that fact a satisfactory presumption of his eligibility for the suffrage.
For these reasons I venture to think that the special franchises, as well as the borough franchise, stand on a safe foundation. As to the county occupation franchise, there is really nothing to discuss upon the second reading. Everybody is agreed that it ought to be extended, and the question, What should be its amount? has to be determined in Committee. So, again, with respect to the re distribution of seats—the moment it is conceded on the one side and the other that some enfranchisement and some disfranchisement are necessary, the principle of the Bill on that point is thereby admitted. In fact, there is only one question upon which there is any difference to be discussed on the second reading of the measure, and that is the borough franchise. I say the principle on which this Bill rests that franchise is the most favourable conclusion which the country is left to deduce from the Act of 1832 and its consequences. This measure is consequent upon that Act; and nothing, I think, remains for us that is more capable than this Bill is of forming a constituency which is likely to produce in the Members it returns an instrument of good Government adapted to the present circumstances and requirements of the country, and that there is no other basis to which you can point as affording so sure a resting-place for the franchise. For these reasons I trust the House will not only be prepared to assent to the second reading of this Bill, but will also in Committee see whether, by adopting household suffrage, defined as it is by the Bill, as the basis for the borough franchise, a measure may not be passed which will prove satisfactory to the country.
§ SIR FRANCIS CROSSLEY
had always felt it his duty to support the Government of the country as far as with consistency he could. It had been said—Uneasy lies the head which wears a crown—and if that were true the Prime Minister of this country had difficulties enough to encounter without having to struggle with a factious opposition in the House of Commons. He (Sir Francis Crossley) had been sent to Parliament for two objects:—first, to sustain and extend the principles of free trade, and secondly to extend the franchise to the working classes. With regard to the former, he was well satisfied with the legislation of the last fifteen years in which he had taken part; but as regarded Reform he had been miserably disappointed. He had seen it bandied from side to side and from Government to Government. They had had Liberal Ministers who really cared about it; but they had had others to whom it was merely a profession. During the whole time he had sat in that House, however, he had never seen a more general disposition to settle a question which blocked the way to wise legislation on other matters, and was a serious injury to business. Looking at the conduct of the present Government towards their predecessors last year, he agreed with the noble Lord the late Secretary for India (Viscount Cranbourne) that not much indulgence for the Bill could be looked for from the Opposition Benches; but he did, nevertheless, hope that bye-gones would be allowed to be bye-gones. He did hope that there would be more disposition to pass a good Bill than to make small holes into large ones. He did hope that the House would do its best to amend the Bill as far as it was possible, so as to make it a practical measure and one capable of settling the question in a manner satisfactory to the country. If he understood the measure, it professed to extend the suffrage by a plan which would give it at once to all ratepayers, and would leave it to compound-householders to extend it amongst themselves at their pleasure. If that profession were really carried out he did not think there could be much objection to the Bill, He did, indeed, very much prefer that which had been brought in by the late Government last Session, because it selected the best portion of the working class to be enfranchised; whereas the present Bill left it to the householders themselves to claim to be put 604 upon the register. Still, there was something to be said for the present proposal; for it would be a great convenience to make the rate book the register. He thought the Government must allow that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) had shown the Bill would not do without alteration; for in many boroughs where the Small Tenements Act had been partially adopted all the householders on one side of a street might be enfranchised, whereas very few on the other would have the same privilege conferred upon them. It seemed to him that the Small Tenements Act should be made compulsory; that all householders above £5 should be obliged to pay their own rates; and that it should be left optional to those under £5 to claim to be rated and to be put upon the register. Then would come a question as to the amount of the composition. No doubt the landlord, as a wholesale customer, should be allowed to pay wholesale prices, while his tenant ought to be left to pay retail prices; but still, when the difference came to be 50 per cent, the difference struck him as too great. There were some parts of the Bill which appeared to be given up by general consent. For example, there was dual voting. The Solicitor General complained that no argument had been brought against it; but the hon. and learned Gentleman's own illustration was argument enough to condemn the proposition. When he pointed out that a £4 householder who paid 20s. a year in assessed taxes would have two votes, whereas a ratepayer of £50 or £100 a year might have only one, he had said quite enough to dispose of the plan. With these there was the question of voting-papers, the adoption of which he feared would lead to great abuse. They could not establish from the use of voting-papers in the election of guardians a rule with respect to the voting for Members of Parliament. With them there would be nothing easier than for a wealthy man to obtain a qualification in every county in England. He believed that he himself could at present vote for eighteen Members of Parliament; but if voting-papers became the law, he could extend his franchise to 200. In his judgment, if there was any objection on principle to dual voting it applied with tenfold force against voting-papers. There was one point in connection with the payment of rates on which he hoped the Government would give way, because they could do so with- 605 out the surrender of any principle. What they required was that a man who wished for a vote should make his claim himself, and pay his own rates; but why should they hind him to a particular day for that purpose? They all knew that the men who collected the rates in boroughs were generally political partisans, who when an election approached took care to get in the rates from their own friends, but in the case of their opponents forgot to go until the day after the election, and so the vote was lost. But that was not the worst, In cases where parties were pretty equally balanced in a borough, and where party spirit ran high, there were men to be found who, although they had plenty of money for everything else, were always a few shillings short for their rates. Electioneering agents would soon get a friend to pay the rates for those who were short, and the process acted injuriously in this way—that when an honest man found that his neighbour had got his rates paid at one election he himself hung back for similar payment next time. Why, then, insist on the payment of rates when there was always a certainty of their being recovered? The Government required that a man should himself put his name in the rate book; but there was no security to make him in addition pay his rates, as a preliminary to voting. If the Government withdrew this condition the rates would still be paid, so there need not be any difficulty about the matter. With regard to the county franchise, he hardly had thought that a Government having the same leaders as in 1859, and who came down then to the House to propose that the qualification for the county franchise should be £10, could now come down and say that that franchise should be £15 rating. Let him look at that proposition. Her Majesty's Government said, "If you extend the franchise to the working classes you must have a counterpoise;" but he said, that if they wanted a counterpoise the best way to get it would be to fix the county franchise at £10 rental, because the houses in counties were bettor than the houses in towns, and were occupied, not by the working but by the middle classes. Therefore, if they wanted a counterpoise to the boroughs, there was one ready to their hands. He certainly expected, both from the House and the Government, that they would not have anything worse than the Bill of last Session, but that at least the county franchise 606 would be lowered to what was then carried by a majority. With regard to the redistribution of seats, he thought that the present measure was defective in not going-far enough; but, that in as far as it went, it would bear a comparison with the proposal of last Session. The giving a third Member to places where they were not wanted was not so good as dividing the counties, and giving Members to places which had recently grown into importance. What the present measure was defective in was, that it stopped short in settling the question. He thought it would have been better to deal with the question now, than to leave it open until after the Reform Bill had come into operation. He had one word to say with respect to the disfranchised boroughs. There was no one in that House who would go further in the punishment of bribery than himself; but he did not wish to punish the innocent with the guilty. Those boroughs which had been exposed were not so much worse than many others that they should be altogether deprived of Parliamentary representation. The deprivation of one Member would in his judgment be sufficient punishment, and the right hon. Gentleman could prosecute those who should be found guilty of offering or receiving a bribe. He did not wish to overlay the present Bill with all that he thought necessary to be done as remedies against bribery; but he feared that they never would find a sufficient remedy until they had obtained the ballot. Suppose they were to begin by trying the experiment of the ballot in a few places, when he believed it would work so well that it would soon be adopted in all the constituencies.
§ MR. HARVEY LEWIS
said, that difficult as this question undoubtedly was, he was bound to say that if it were approached on both sides of the House in the spirit which had been developed in recent speeches much of the difficulty would vanish, and they would come to the question with a more anxious desire to settle the matter than had been exhibited hitherto. For his own part, he must say that he had a strong desire to come to some settlement of the question. He believed that it had been too long bandied about from one party to the other, and that both parties were overlaid with promises which there was little hope of getting realized. Therefore it was that he listened with great pleasure to the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he rose to address the House, and proposed a mea- 607 sure which he intended should settle this question. Now, the House of Commons must decide one way or the other what was to become of this Bill. If they on both sides of the House were anxious—and he believed that those on the Government side were sincerely anxious—for a settlement of this question, he did not see any reason why they should not pass a just, fair, and reasonable measure of Reform in the present Session. He considered that it would be a reproach to tire House if they failed to pass such a measure. When they considered that in this country the settlement of almost every great question was a compromise between the two great parties in the State, he thought that they were bound to settle the present question now when they had the opportunity of doing so, and not to allow any light matter or difficulty to intervene between them and its settlement. He was bound, however, to say that there were some great and serious difficulties to be overcome before arriving at that desired consummation. Representing as he did a great and important constituency in the metropolis (Marylebone), he regretted to perceive that London was practically ignored in this Bill. When he heard of a proposition to increase the representation of Scotland, whose claims he admitted were great, he confessed he was surprised at seeing London treated with such neglect. Since the great Reform Act of 1832 London had almost doubled in size, in population, and in wealth. It seemed, then, most extraordinary that the state of the representation of London should be left nearly in the same position as it was by the Act of 1832. He also complained of the total absence in this Bill of a lodger franchise. Considering the high rents paid in London, both for houses and apartments, he was at a loss to conceive any sound reason why the lodger franchise should be omitted from the Bill. Although lodgers might be considered as rather migratory individuals, he thought that a residence of twelve months in the one house ought to entitle a man to the franchise. As far as London itself was concerned, he did not think that any Reform Bill would be satisfactory without a lodger franchise. It was true that people of a certain position might obtain the franchise by placing a certain sum of money in the funds or the savings banks; but what was to be done for the cream of the working classes employed in London who 608 only occupied apartments in a house, but paid good rents every year for such accommodation? He was decidedly opposed to the principle of dual voting, believing it to be unjust and totally subversive of the Constitution. It would give rise to further agitation, and had a tendency to set class against class. He thought that the provision regarding dual voting was so objectionable that he was determined to give it his most strenuous opposition. The question of compound-householders was also one to which he had the strongest objections. It was no doubt right and proper that the voter should contribute in some degree to the State; and he contended that the compound-householders who were brought into existence by the Act of that House contributed their quota to the State by the payment of rates through the hands of their landlords. When they asked a man to pay directly himself the whole rate of the house he occupied, they were in reality depriving him with one hand of the franchise which they professed to give him with the other. Practically, the landlord was only the agent of the compound-householder, for he charged him in rent the amount which he paid for him in rates. This question was one, however, which he thought might be settled in Committee. With regard to the use of voting-papers, he was strongly opposed to the proposal; for he believed that however well the system might work in the case of the Universities, their use in large boroughs in Parliamentary elections would open up bribery, corruption, forgery, and fraud of every kind. He should therefore oppose that part of the Bill as not coming within the constitutional principle which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had laid down as the basis of the Bill. He hoped the House would hear no more of charges of inconsistency and references to previous Bills, for they had had quite enough of the tu quoque line of argument, and the wisest policy was to profit by experience, and to avoid those mistakes which had hitherto impeded a settlement of the question. Any party which effected that settlement would deserve the gratitude of the country, for while the public mind remained unsettled our national prestige was impaired, and we appeared to the world a divided people. It would be a great and serious reproach to them if they could not lay aside all party prejudices and feeling, and by mutual sacrifices satisfactorily 609 settle the question for at least this generation. He had never been a party to obstruct any Government, and he never would give his vote against a fair and liberal proposition simply because it came from the Conservative Bide of the House. He again expressed a hope that this question would be settled this Session.
§ MR. LIDDELL
said, that if they could all bring their minds to approach the subject under discussion in the spirit which had been exhibited by the last speaker, a settlement of the question might be nearer at hand than many persons expected. Before examining the provisions of the Bill, he should like to say one or two words upon the general aspect and position of the question. He, for one, concurred in the opinion expressed by the hon. Baronet (Sir Francis Crossley) that it was desirable that a settlement should, if possible, be arrived at in the present Session; for there was, he thought, great force in the remark which had a few evenings ago been made, to the effect that the country must be looked upon as disunited so long as it was postponed. The state in which it at present stood produced feelings which they must all regret, and which could only be allayed by the removal of the grievance. In order to arrive at that settlement great sacrifices must be made. The sacrifice of place was often a small sacrifice to make to obtain the confidence of the people in the sincerity of public men. But there were other sacrifices than those of office; there were sacrifices of opinion (or prejudices as some might consider them, which had not been rashly formed, but had been long entertained), and these sacrifices were very painful to honourable men. Such sacrifices had, however, been largely made at the shrine of public duty, and he believed they would be considered by the public as proofs of the sincerity of our public men in an attempt to settle this question. He wished now to make a few remarks upon the Bill before the House. When he first read the Bill it reminded him of a very pithy saying of the late Sidney Smith. A friend asked him if he had seen a certain new book; and his reply was, "Oh, yes, I have seen it and read it; and it contains a great deal of what is both new and true; but what is true is not new, and what is new is not true." That was a not inaccurate description of this Bill. The county franchise was true—it was a bonâ fide reduction of the franchise—but it was not new. It was nearly identical with the proposition of last 610 year; and he thought it would have been wiser, and more respectful to the House if it had been identical. He thought it would throw into the counties a large amount of the town element, which would alter their constituencies; but that was one of the sacrifices which he thought those on the Ministerial side of the House were prepared to make, in order to arrive at the solution of the Reform question. The borough franchise, on the other hand, was a new franchise; but it was not, as it stood, a true one—that was to say, it did not propose a bonâ fide reduction. It was undoubtedly open to the accusation which had been made against it, that it took away with the one hand what it gave with the other. Now, he had always thought that when once the House of Commons made up its mind to depart from the present resting-place, and to confer the franchise on those who were anxiously desirous of possessing it—and there were many of the working classes, in his opinion, deserving of it—it should act in an ungrudging and unsuspicious spirit. He entertained that view, because a gift frankly conferred was likely to be valued; while a boon wrung from Parliament was likely to be regarded, not as a gift, but in the light of a victory. He would prefer giving less and giving freely and bonâ fide than to give more, and by some ingenious process to draw back again that which he appeared to give. These remarks were applicable to the dual vote, which the House, he believed, was not disposed to accept, which the country did not understand, and which he therefore looked upon as doomed. As the Bill was a measure of checks and balances—or, to adopt the phrase of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, compensation balances—it behoved the House very carefully to weigh those balances before going into Committee to see whether they might not be found wanting. He, for one, was not prepared to vote for household suffrage, which he did not believe that either the House or the country desired. Household suffrage was said not to be the proposition before them; but he wanted to look well at the safeguards, limitations, securities, or balances, or by whatever name they were called, upon the Motion for the second reading of the Bill, or else by some accident or other they might find them tumbling, they knew not how, into household suffrage in Committee. The safeguards in the Bill were three in number. Dual voting was one—but he looked upon that as gone. Then there were, besides, resi- 611 dence and rating. With regard to a residential qualification, it was a curious fact that the residence required for a municipal voter was longer than that proposed for a Parliamentary voter. In the first case, it was a residence of two years and eight months, and in the latter it was a residence of two years. The attention of the House had been drawn by the hon. and learned Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer) to the valuable Report of the Committee of the House of Lords on the working of the municipal suffrage; but he must say that that Report had made a different impression on his mind from that produced on the mind of the hon. and learned Member. He would appeal with great confidence to the majority of the fifty-eight boroughs which had adopted the Small Tenements Act, by which the municipal voter was not required to pay his rates, but obtained his vote by residence, and would ask whether they were satisfied with the working of the municipal suffrage as it now stood. He believed that their reply would be in the negative. A curious fact had appeared in connection with the municipal suffrage. The town of Great Yarmouth, which he had never understood to be very remarkable for any great sensitiveness on the subject of purity of election, adopted the Small Tenements Act shortly after its passing; but so great were the scandals and increase of cost which occurred in the municipal elections that, at the end of two years, Whig, Tory, and Radical unanimously agreed to put an end to the operation of the Act in that town; and the increased rates collected under the Small Tenements Act were sacrificed in order to obtain greater purity of elections. He thought that case constituted a warning against the adoption of a simple residential franchise, which did not produce that independent class of voters best qualified to exercise the privilege. The next safeguard in the Bill was the rating qualification; and he thought that there could be no doubt that that was a good provision. It had evidently received the approval of the House, and he thought he perceived in quarters hostile to it last year a certain leaning towards it this year. But when they came to the practice, he was bound to say he thought any man of common sense and judgment would admit that the objections urged on account of the existing state of the law in respect to rating were so strong that unless a change in the law were proposed the principle of a personal 612 payment of rates, which was the only safeguard in the Bill against simple household suffrage, became extremely difficult to adopt. He thought that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire had dwelt too much on the "fine" imposed on the voter by being called on to pay the difference between the full amount of rate and the composition, according to which the owner undertook to pay the rate for all occupiers in places where compounding was not in practice paid the full amount of rate due. Then the right hon. Gentleman tried to make much of the point that the occupier paid the rate in his rent. But it so happened that an owner of small tenements who was examined before the Committee of the House of Lords stated that since he was rated for those premises he had not increased the rent on the occupier except in three instances, that he preferred taking a lower rental to getting an indifferent tenant, and that he was so much out of pocket. Whatever subtlety or refinement the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, or the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Richmond might employ, he (Mr. Liddell) should not be persuaded that individual responsibility could be so efficiently secured as by the personal payment of rates. If Parliament once accepted the principle of a rating qualification as the basis of the Parliamentary franchise, he thought it would not be difficult to alter the law in respect to compound-householders so as to make it work well. The present state of the law placed too much power in the hands of the overseers for making bargains with owners of houses, and also placed the compound-householders under the influence of registration agents all over the country. He should have liked to have seen this mode of rating altered before rating was made the basis of the Parliamentary franchise. His noble Friend who usually sat by his side (Viscount Cranbourne), in the course of the observations he made the other evening, said, "Don't trust to personal rating; because, depend upon it, the soreness and irritation that will be produced in the voters will be such that the very first Parliament elected under it will sweep it away." Now, his answer to that was a simple, but he thought a complete one. They must trust those whom they intended to invest with political power; and, whatever the conditions, if reasonable, plain, and moderate, which Parliament chose to at- 613 tach to the possession of the franchise, the voter's fulfilment of them would be the test of the sincerity of his desire to obtain the vote, as well as of his intention rightly to exercise it.
There were two other points on which he wished to say a few words. Great complaint was made against the Bill because it did not contain any provision for the enfranchisement of lodgers. He thought it well worth inquiry whether it was wise to enfranchise lodgers as a class. Of course, the class comprised a great many highly-respectable persons; but the very word "lodger" implied an unsettled condition. Evidence was better than argument. A most respectable working man was asked before the Committee of the Lords on the Municipal Franchise some questions on this subject. He had raised himself to an independent position, and even thought of becoming a candidate for one of the wards in the town where he lived: he said he had resided in the town for twenty-one years; during thirteen or fourteen years he had worked on a railway, but during that time he did not care a bit about town affairs: he took no interest in them till he had a house of his own and paid his rates. That was his description of a working man's own feelings, and he (Mr. Liddell) thought it was as applicable to things Parliamentary as to things municipal. A young man in that position, probably a lodger, if he did not care to meddle with the election of those who were to take charge of lighting, draining, ventilation, and everything which touched his social and sanitary interests, could scarcely be expected to take an interest in Imperial matters. Therefore, he saw objections to the enfranchisement of lodgers as a class. But the lodger, if an educated man, would have the franchise under the Bill; if a prudent and saving man, he would have the franchise under the Bill; if he was fond of amusement and, like most of them, got the key of the door from the landlord, he would have the franchise under the Bill—he would then be a tenant, not a lodger. Ho would show by the small sacrifices he would have to make that he was anxious to obtain the franchise, and that was a tolerable security that he would exercise it well. He therefore did not join with those who thought it essential to enfranchise the lodger class. Of course, in London this became a great question, where, from the dearness of houses, the lodger class was, ex necessitate rei, a very numerous one; and London had certainly 614 very strong claims to a lodger franchise. With regard to the re-distribution of seats, he agreed that the scheme of the Government did not go far enough; he ventured to think a much larger scheme would have been more in accordance with the wishes of the House and the actual claims of the country. But then it must be considered that the larger the scheme, the more numerous would be the enemies which it would arouse, and therefore the Government had to consider what they would be best able to effect. His chief objection, however, to the smallness of the Government scheme was, it did not do what they had for years urged on that House; it did nothing to redress the inequality between the borough and county representation. Whether they considered population, growth of wealth, number of electors, or the number of members, the counties were vastly under-represented in that House. The boroughs returned 334 Members, and there were only 162 county Members. The scheme of the Government was just, so far as it went; but it did not go far enough. It left the great existing inequality unredressed, for it equally divided the number of seats available between the boroughs and counties. This was a matter which ought to command the attention of Parliament with a view to a remedy. An hon. Friend last night announced a scheme, which he did not very well understand, to include in the borough agricultural areas outside; but, then, he said the over-represented counties must agree to part with some of their Members. If his hon. Friend would point out to him where the over-represented counties were he would agree with him; but he held that the counties were not over-represented, but under-represented, by whatever test they chose to apply. He thanked the House for the kind attention with which these remarks had been received. He had endeavoured to make them not from one particular side of the question or another, being sincerely anxious that this question should be settled. He was sure that could only be done by sacrifice of opinion not on one side only, but on both sides. Many of those on the opposite side had, to their honour, expressed their willingness to sacrifice opinions. Those on the Ministerial side had made great sacrifices; and it would therefore be hard if they could not deal with this question and really settle it upon a broad and intelligible basis that would be satisfactory to the people of this country.
§ MR. PERCY WYNDHAM
said, he was glad to find that the second reading of this Bill was not to be opposed, because he never could admit that so grave a question as Parliamentary Reform could be the exclusive property of any one party. The great Reform Bill of 1832 was opposed by a number of persons who by birth and education were Liberals, as well as by Tories; and it was perfectly true that the Bill of last Session was opposed—unwisely, as he thought—by those who now occupied the Treasury Bench; but it must be remembered that the first great blow it received, and from the effects of which it never recovered, and the finishing stroke, to which it at last succumbed, were not aimed by members of the party who were then in Opposition. He remembered the feeling of satisfaction with which he listened last Session to what he considered the modest proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire when he brought forward his Bill; and that feeling, he believed, was shared in by some of those who sat near him. But a change came over the spirit of the dream of those now in office, and it was determined to oppose the Bill by every means and at all hazards, and, as a party man, he supported them in their efforts to accomplish it. On the present occasion, however, he hoped a similar policy would not be pursued. The country was in an unhealthy state; and without referring to the Hyde Park riots, or the Trafalgar Square meetings, which he was ready to accept for what they were worth, they found wherever they went, whether in town or country, that no man was satisfied with the present House of Commons on the question of Reform, and the easiest criticism they met with was a good-natured jeer, which to his mind was more dangerous than the mere riots of a mob. With regard to the question of rating or rental, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in alluding to a vote that was taken on the Bill of last Session, said that the House by instinct had arrived at a great principle in our Constitution. Now he (Mr. Percy Wyndham) must say that on that occasion he arrived at a conclusion by instinct as contradistinguished from reason, for he gave his vote, as he had given many previous votes, for the mere object of getting rid of the measure neck and crop. When they were told that there was a difference between rental and rating for 616 the basis of this question—no doubt he had not gone so deeply into the matter as other hon. Members had—he believed that each had its advantages, its difficulties, and its defects as the basis of the franchise; but when they were told that one had transcendent qualities over the other, he confessed that he could not see it. His hon. Friend the Member for Lincolnshire (Mr. Banks Stanhope) alluded to what had been called "the ten minutes' Bill," and said it did not meet with the approval of hon. Members on the Ministerial side of the House. He (Mr. Percy Wyndham) strongly disapproved of that Bill. It appeared to him that it was a very feeble measure, inadequate to the occasion; and really if they got rid of the distinction between rating and rental, it was a luke-warm réchauffee of the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire. He should like to see a very wide measure of the re-distribution of seats based upon philosophical principles; but the principles laid down by his hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Butler-Johnstone) he considered too Utopian. That measure was not, however, then under discussion; he would address himself further to the franchise question. If the present Bill were opposed on the Motion for going into Committee, he should certainly vote in its favour, but he regretted that they had not as yet heard from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the Government intended to stand by and what they intended to abandon; and he protested against their being called upon to vote for portions of the Bill which perhaps it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to withdraw. When they got into Committee every vote that he gave would be decided on the merits of the clauses, and he intended rather to support the Bill of the Government than the Government itself; because he thought it essential that, whatever the wording of the Bill might be, as it then stood, the actual bearing and effect of the clauses should be in accordance with the words of those clauses. And if the patient should prove to be of too delicate a constitution to bear this medical treatment—if he should sink beneath the hand—though he would greatly regret that they had not arrived at a settlement of this question during the present Session, he would rather trust to the good sense of the English people to defer the settle- 617 ment to another Session, rather than to press the adoption of a bad measure, which would only disturb and unsettle everything, and tend to promote agitation.
§ MR. LAING
said, it struck him forcibly that the House of Commons were drifting on this question in a manner not very creditable or satisfactory. He was to-night reminded of the position of the House some years ago, when they drifted into the Crimean war for want of a clear under-Standing of the principles on which they were proceeding. It was therefore incumbent on those who had devoted any thought and attention to the question to contribute their information and opinions towards the general stock, with a view to prevent any drifting into Committee with a bad Bill and getting out with possibly a worse one. He believed that the opinion of the majority of that House was that the Bill of the Government in its present form was a bad Bill, and one that ought not to be passed. He thought also that the majority of the House of Commons were desirous of substituting an alternative measure which would be accepted as a practical settlement of the question. He further thought it evident that the House and the country were anxious to arrive at a settlement of the question in the present Session, and would therefore substitute a good measure for the present bad measure, if they could do so without involving a Ministerial crisis, and throwing the whole thing over for another year. Looking at the matter from that point of view, he wished to state in what respect he regarded the present Bill as a bad one, the nature of the measure which he thought might be accepted, and the course which might be adopted by both sides of the House in order to arrive at a satisfactory settlement. He did not pretend to more consistency than his neighbours, and he was anxious, therefore, not to say a word that might be construed into taunting hon. Gentlemen opposite with having changed their opinions; but he could not help feeling bewildered at the position of almost standing with the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) on "the old lines of the Constitution," and offering a defence against the reforming vehemence of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, whose zeal had, he must confess, somewhat outrun his own. He had always believed that if the Reform settlement of 1832 were ever reopened, it ought to be dealt with in a manner which would give a complete, 618 comprehensive, liberal, and yet Conservative solution, by which all parties could abide for many years to come. On that ground, and on that ground alone, he opposed the measure of last year, so long as the then Government left out the re-distribution of seats. He felt that whatever might be the anomalies with regard to the franchise, the anomalies with regard to the re-distribution of seats were still more flagrant. He would touch briefly on what the present Bill proposed to do in that respect. He held as strongly as he did last year that in order to make a permanent settlement of the question the Legislature must deal with the re-distribution of seats; and if they dealt with that question in an obviously inefficient manner they had better not touch it at all, because they would only be deferring the discussion to a future opportunity. In this respect the distinction between the present Bill and the Bill of last year was very conspicuous. The Bill of last year proposed to re-distribute forty-nine seats, which were to have been obtained by taking away one Member from all boroughs returning two Members, and having a population under 8,000, and by a system of grouping the smaller boroughs. The present Bill drew the line at 7,000 inhabitants, where one Member was to be taken away, and did not propose any grouping of the smaller boroughs. The result would be to leave eight boroughs returning two Members each, which would by the Bill of last year have each lost a Member. Those boroughs were Bridgnorth, Bridport, Buckingham, Chichester, Chippenham, Cockermouth, Newport (Isle of Wight), and Stamford. He would read the names of the eight corresponding large towns or cities which would still be left with only two Members each. He left out the metropolitan boroughs returning sixteen Members, which were exceptional in circumstances. Those boroughs were Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow, Birmingham, Dublin, Leeds, Sheffield, and Edinburgh. The population of those towns or cities was, in round numbers, 2,500,000; while the population of the eight boroughs excepted from partial disfranchisement by the present Bill was only 60,000. He did not put this matter as one of population merely, but on higher ground; because it was not a question merely of population or of dividing the country into electoral districts; but he put it on the right of national representation in the great cities, which were important 619 centres of national life. He would put it to any hon. Member whether those towns were not important centres of national life, whose opinion on any great question, such as a foreign war or a renewal of the Bank Charter Act, did not carry great weight; and whether the opinion of the inhabitants of the other eight towns would weigh, or ought to weigh, in the scale against that of the large towns he had mentioned. The Bill of last year would have given a third Member to those large cities; but the scheme of the Government would not do so, and in his opinion it was miserably inadequate and unsatisfactory, and if adopted would not afford any fair chance of a final settlement of the question. By disregarding the principle of grouping they left as returning one Member each a number of boroughs—he would not call them towns, for they had been properly described as "decayed villages"—in the West of England. He would read the names of the eleven boroughs, each having a population under 5,000:—They were Arundel, Ashburton, Dartmouth, Evesham, Honiton, Launceston, Lyme Regis, Marlborough, Northallerton, Thetford, and Wells. Contrast these with eleven boroughs—large towns—which return only one Member:—Salford, 105,000; Dundee, 90,000; Merthyr Tydvil, 83,000; Aberdeen, Swansea, Birkenhead, Dudley, Cheltenham, Rochdale, Bury, and Walsall; the population of these places varied from 40,000 to 100,000. The population of the eleven large boroughs was 655,000, while the eleven small boroughs, with a population of no more than 44,000, had a larger representation; or, to put it in another way, eight of the small boroughs returned two Members each, and eleven of them returned one Member—in all, twenty-seven Members were returned by boroughs containing in all a population of 104,000, which was smaller than that of a single town like Salford. But this discrepancy in the population was not the only objection to the scheme. The present geographical distribution of political power in the country was eminently unsatisfactory. The progress of commerce and industry in the North had developed largely all the elements of political life, and the advance of those districts had been out of all proportion to that which had taken place in the South, yet the power of the representation remained in the South. Thus, of the two counties of Wilts and Dorset, the population of Wiltshire was 248,000, and had eighteen 620 Members; the population of Aberdeenshire was almost the same, equal in numbers, wealth, and intelligence, and it had only two Members. The population of Dorset-shire was 188,000, and had fourteen Members; the population of Ayrshire was exactly the same, and had only two Members. Now, anomalies such as these must be dealt with, and with a liberal hand, if they wished to construct a system that was likely to last. He said confidently that no plan of re-distribution would be acceptable to the country or to the House that fell below the standard of last year. He thought, indeed, that 10,000 was the lowest limit of population which should entitle boroughs to return two Members, and that all boroughs with a smaller population returning two Members ought to be deprived of one, and perhaps have the system of grouping applied to them. It might be, too, that the larger cities of the county should send three Members instead of two, and some system be devised by which their minorities might be represented. At all events, he thought it would be necessary to double the representation of those cities which possessed more than 50,000 inhabitants, and which at present returned only one Member.
With regard to the borough franchise, it was of the utmost importance that the House should remember that the extent of the proposed enfranchisement depended altogether upon whether the checks at present in the Bill were struck out or not. It was estimated that there were 723,000 male occupiers in boroughs living in houses under £10, the whole of whom would be admitted to the franchise if the checks proposed were not agreed to; while if all the restrictive provisions were maintained, the number of these that would be enfranchised became quite insignificant. Now, the principle of personal rating was the one upon which the real character of the measure—whether it was a democratic or a restrictive measure—must turn. The other proposed checks could be easily disposed of. If it had been proposed in the first instance to insist on two years' residence for the whole of the constituency, the proposition might have passed; but it would be simply impracticable to require half the constituency to qualify by two years' residence, and the other half by only one. The check called the dual vote had already been condemned. It was not a point upon which he felt strongly, and he was willing to admit that 621 if some description of plurality of votes had come down with the Constitution from the days of Pym and Hampden, he should have been inclined to think it as good as the principle now adopted. It was clear, however, that no party in the State was strong enough to entertain the smallest prospect of being able to carry such a proposition. Hon. Members who held by the theory credo quid impossibile might believe in such a scheme; but for his own part, he looked upon it as impossible, and therefore dismissed it from his thoughts. Well, then, he came back to what he had said at the outset, that the provision of personal rating was the essential point of the Bill. If it were maintained, he reckoned that the numbers enfranchised would be between 100,000 and 120,000. But if this provision were not enforced the 723,000 male occupiers in boroughs would come in; and, according to the experience furnished by the £10 householders, deducting some 250,000 who would be temporarily disqualified or disinclined to vote, it might be reckoned that about 500,000 of these would qualify, which number, added to the present constituency of 488,000, would make a total of nearly 1,000,000. Of this number upwards of 300,000 would come in at the lowest point of the scale, occupying houses below even the standard of £4 rating; and, according to the calculation of proportion made last year by the noble Lord the Member for Stamford (Viscount Cranbourne), out of the whole constituency, as it would stand under the Bill, a proportion of three-fifths would belong to the working or wage classes, and only two-fifths to the middle and upper classes. This conclusion was arrived at on the presumption that 25 per cent of the present constituencies were of the working classes, and that all the new voters were of the same class. Thus the Bill, without the ratepaying check, would be far more sweeping and democratic than anything contemplated during last year's discussion. The most fatal objection to the Bill, however, was that provision which left to local vestries and election agents to decide whether Parliament was to be elected by a limited or by an almost purely democratic constituency, by simply adopting or rejecting the Small Tenements Act. If these bodies decided generally to adopt the Small Tenements Act, the enfranchisement effected by the Bill would be comparatively restricted; but if otherwise, the influence of mere numbers 622 must become predominant. It was impossible to suppose that such a question could be left to be decided by local bodies, actuated by local party feelings and local jobbing. When he looked at the possibility of maintaining the test, he had to consider the whole current of their past legislation upon the subject. The hon. and learned Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer) had shown clearly that the current of past legislation was to enfranchise all persons whose rates were paid for them by their landlords on the principle of qui facit per alium facit per se, a maxim which prevailed in all other cases. Even if they succeeded in introducing that check into boroughs, what chance would there be of its holding its front against the attacks that would be made upon it? In periods of great political excitement means would be found by the payment of rates to put these compound-householders on the register, and it would not be easy to prove a corrupt intention when these persons might probably have been put on the register long before an election took place. In all the smaller boroughs it would be simply a question of who bad the longest purse. If they were to resolve that such payments of rates would be bribery, the experience in all contested elections showed that that would be absolute moonshine. How would the system work in large towns? But there was a more serious point for consideration. What would be done in large towns by members of trades unions for the purpose of having the rates of compounding members paid, and securing that their names were put on the register? Would not every workman, at a time when the body felt its interests were at stake, spare a 1d. or 2d. a week for the purpose of getting the whole of his fellows on the register? That, he thought, was a most serious danger; they were asked to place enormous power in the hands of an organized army of trades unionists. If the Bill were passed, and Parliament were dissolved to-morrow, he did not believe there was a borough in the kingdom where a Liberal candidate would not have to promise to vote for the abolition of the ratepaying clause if he desired a chance. He was therefore convinced that the tests in question would prove illusive—that they would be frittered away like the crumbling cliff by the tide, and ultimately be swept away altogether. He felt strongly that in voting altogether. He felt strongly be voting for household suffrage pure and 623 simple, but not of a satisfactory kind, because it would not be a final settlement of the question. It would not be given as a boon to the working classes, nor in a generous spirit, as it would be accompanied with the check and counterpoises to which he had referred.
He had stated why he thought the Bill of the Government would not effect a permanent or a satisfactory settlement of the question. He felt, however, that they had arrived at a point at which criticism of Bills from the Ministerial Benches was not the only duty devolving on Members—the House itself must be prepared with some solution of the question. For his own part, he believed that the majority of the House would be prepared to adopt a £5 rating franchise coupled with a reduction of the Small Tenements Act to the same sum. It was said that a £5 rate franchise was a mere figure, and that there was no principle involved in it. The principle of it was the same as the principle of household suffrage. If they adopted that principle they would include what was good, and exclude what was bad. He might shortly sum up his idea of a Bill. It might be adopted, if the majority of the House were free to give an opinion on it. He would fix the borough franchise at £5, reducing the Small Tenements Act to the same point: he would add a liberal lodger franchise; and he would have the county franchise fixed at £14, the figure agreed upon last year. He would add a measure of redistribution of a character not less liberal than the proposal of last year. If that were done he thought the result would be a measure which would be acceptable to the House and to the country, and which would perfectly settle the question. The question remained as to how they could best arrive at such a solution. In what position would they be if they went into Committee on the Bill as it stood? They were met on the threshold by a clause which declared that household suffrage was the principle of our representation; and how could they deal with that question while they were left in a position of uncertainty as to whether the checks proposed were to stand or not to stand? They all desired a satisfactory solution of the question; but the only chance of arriving at it was, that some influential Members of the House should bring forward the broad outlines of a scheme before the House went into Committee, so that they could fairly have it in competition with the Government Bill, and 624 so that the Government could have a fair opportunity of adopting those Amendments which the general feeling of the House showed to be desirable. The question, as had been recommended at the commencement of the Session, should not be treated in a party spirit—but that should apply to the other side of the House as well as to the Opposition. He thought the plan of embodying the scheme in Resolutions, which was first adopted, was a good one, and if it had been carried out it might have formed a good foundation on which they might have adopted the basis of a measure. This was a serious and important measure, and as a different course of action had not yet been pointed out in the course of the present debate, he thought he should be doing some service if he helped to sketch out a different course. He thought that propositions should be presented to the Government—not in a hostile spirit, which they could not accept with honour, but in a form in which the Government could accept them with perfect honour and consistency before going into Committee; and then, on the Motion that the Speaker should leave the Chair, the House ought to have a distinct understanding as to what the Government meant to do, and as to what they meant to stand upon. He trusted that the Government would adopt such modifications as would make the Bill acceptable to the House; but if they did not do so—if they proceeded with the present measure—he who had always struggled for what he considered a Liberal-Conservative settlement of the question could not be satisfied with it. As it was, it was not a Liberal-Conservative, but a Tory-Radical measure.
§ MR. POWELL
said, he felt anxious that before this debate closed the House should have some expression from Her Majesty's Government with regard to the course they would adopt in reference to the dual vote. He was anxious to know whether the dual vote was dead or alive. For his own part, he was inclined to think that it was neither numbered amongst the living nor recorded amongst the dead; but that it somewhat resembled one of those melancholy objects to be seen in a foreign land, which, although considered dead, were yet arrayed in the dresses of ordinary life, and attached to a delicate mechanism, from which, on the least movement indicative of life, the tinkling of a bell was heard. He had waited patiently during this debate to hear the sound of the 625 bell which would render the life of the dual vote apparent. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, in peremptory tones and a sepulchral voice, had pronounced it dead; and from the Treasury Bench there had been only doubtful sounds heard, not indicative of confidence in the life of the vote, but rather expressing a desire on the part of right hon. Gentlemen to ascertain the judgment of the House upon the point. He thought, however, that the Government should give some expression of opinion upon the subject. If the dual vote was indeed dead, the House ought to know whether there would be any alterations made in the Bill in consequence of that death. Were there any other parts of the measure which would be surrendered if the dual vote was entirely abandoned? He also desired to ask what would be the method of procedure in case the dual vote was still living? There was first the question of the franchise to be decided, and then they had to decide upon the dual Vote; and it was only right that the House should know whether their judgment was to be taken in that order, and whether, when they had determined the franchise, they would then be called upon to decide upon the dual vote. With regard to the question of personal rating, it had been spoken of as a grievous and intolerable hardship that there should be a diversity of votes in the same community, either under the partial carrying into effect of the Small Tenements Eating Act or of some system of local legislation. He entirely concurred in that judgment, and did not think that there should be diverse votes in the same community. But in truth no difficulty existed, as any community by private legislation where local Acts created diversity, or by universal adoption or non-adoption of the Small Tenements Rating Act where there was no local Act, could render the practice uniform. With regard to the question of the lodger franchise, he did not think there had been any reasons given on that point which militated against the second reading of the Bill. If the lodger franchise would admit good men, it was well to admit them by that franchise. Good men were welcome wherever they came from, and bad men were not welcome whatever might be their origin. There would be in Committee the amplest, fullest, and fairest opportunity for ascertaining the judgment of the House upon the lodger franchise. With regard to another of the proposed franchises, the hon. and learned 626 Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer) had fallen into a strange error when he said that the graduates in our Universities were already enfranchised. It was true that some of them were; but none below the degree of Master of Arts were entitled to the franchise, and of Masters of Arts none voted save those willing to comply with certain conditions. With regard to the re-distribution of seats, he wished to point out that in taking the group of boroughs represented by one Member each, it would be found that those at the bottom of the list had indeed small populations; but those at the top of the list had large populations, and were growing and increasing boroughs, which during the past few years had gathered round them, and would continue to gather round them, large and increasing populations. Some of them were centres of commercial life, and were entitled to a large share in the representation of the country. He thought the Government were right in not dealing too boldly and too broadly with this question of the re-distribution of seats; but still, he had a lingering wish that the Government would deal a little more boldly and a little more comprehensively with this important question. He could not help sometimes asking himself what would be the result of passing that measure or any similar measure? It would no doubt give increased power to the working classes, while he did not believe that the new Parliament would be animated by a greater desire than the existing Parliament to promote the welfare of those classes. But he felt persuaded that a more direct representation of the working men in that House would lead to a more accurate knowledge of their condition and their capacity; and that circumstance would necessarily be productive of some amount of advantage, enabling Parliament as it would to legislate with more wisdom on matters relating to the most numerous classes of society.
Sir, on the last occasion when I offered a few observations to the House on this question, I concluded by a quotation from what some might call a demand, and some a prayer, uttered by working men when they said, "Deal with us on the square." Now, we all know exactly what that means, and we are all conscious whether, in the vote we shall give at some future time on this Bill, we shall be doing that which the working men mean in that sentence, asking what they did. Now, looking at this Bill as it has 627 been described by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and as afterwards described by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief of the Poor Law Board, and as it has been described by several Members on both sides of the House, does it not present itself to us in some degree as a puzzle, and will it not be regarded as such by those whose interests it is intended chiefly to affect? According to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it is a Bill of the widest dimensions as an enfranchising Bill. According to the President of the Poor Law Board, it is a Bill of many restrictions, and many compensations and limitations, and therefore it is a Bill of a wholly different character from that which it was introduced to us as being by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Nobody in this House knows better than the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the question we are now discussing is more entirely a working man's question than any other; but being a working man's question, after what we have seen during the last nine months, I think the House will be of opinion that it is a matter which it is not desirable, if even it be safe, to delay, and that it is not a matter on which this House can afford to deal with the working man in any other than fair and honourable terms.
The hon. Member for the Northern Burghs, who spoke very lately (Mr. Laing), dwelt much on the question of the Redistribution of Seats. There are many parts of the Bill on which much may be said; but I venture to say that every other part of the Bill can wait for a calm and fair consideration, it may be in this, or it may be in some future Session, but this question of the manner in which you propose to deal with the working man is the question of this Session. Sir, it is an unfortunate thing that this Bill is in the hands of a Government who are in a most difficult position with reference to this question. That position apparently renders it almost impossible for them to deal with this matter with that straightforwardness which the matter itself demands. I am too serious upon this matter to enter into any recriminations with respect to what took place last year; but without going over the debates of the last Session, I should like to read one passage—and it is the only one I shall read to the House—delivered in a debate last year by a Member of the present Cabinet, and who has lately been promoted to one of the most responsible positions in that Cabinet. He 628 said he preferred to remain at the £10 franchise, but that he would be willing, if he consented to make a change, to go very much below it; and he said, referring to the opinions of the late Attorney General and to my opinions—And now he must part company with the Attorney General and the hon. Member for Birmingham. He was obliged with the utmost sharpness and definiteness to say that he thought to descend to household suffrage at once or at any time, with any safeguards whatever, would be a most mischievous and reckless innovation on the Constitution. Upon that ground he opposed, and should always do so, any general lowering of the franchise beyond the present limit of £10.And he added this—That being so, how was he now to deal with this Bill?"—[3 Hansard, clxxxiii. 1534.]Well, that being so, how has he dealt with this Bill? That is from the speech of the present Minister for India (Sir Stafford Northcote). I have not seen him in his place to-night nor last night; but no doubt he will be able to explain the position in which he stands. Now, I am not quoting this for the purpose of upbraiding the right hon. Gentleman; but I am doing it for the purpose of pointing out to the House the extreme difficulty of the position of the Government, and the extreme difficulty of dealing with a Bill of this nature when it finds itself in the hands of a Government which was so pledged last year to a policy which is in reality opposed to the professed principles of this Bill. If we look back to a time to which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer sometimes looks back, and upbraids us for our conduct in connection with it—if we look back to the year 1859 we find that the question of Reform was in the same hands, and in the same difficulty, and it met with the fate that may probably attend the measure of this year. For instance, at that time the right hon Gentleman proposed to the House, not a reduction of the borough franchise, but a very large reduction of the county franchise—from a £50 occupation to one of £10. But what did he ask us to do? He asked us, as a compensation, to exclude from the county representation 70,000 occupiers, whose holdings were found within the limits of boroughs. He proposed that they should become voters within the boroughs, and be taken out of the counties; though only last week—I think it was—the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, in answer to a question, that five-sixths of those 70,000 persons were not resident in the boroughs 629 of which at that time he would have made them voters. I am not going to find fault with that proposition now; it has been disposed of, and in all probability will never re-appear. I want to show the House that at that time there was a great reduction offered, but with injurious and impossible conditions. An attempt was made to disturb the ancient and universal practice of the country, and it was done because of the difficulty that a Conservative Government, opposed to Reform, was endeavouring to settle the question of Reform. Well, so now, at this moment, the right hon. Gentleman conies before the House with a measure which at first sight, in form and words, offers a large reduction, not of the county, but of the borough franchise, and he has been trading on this for the last two or three weeks. Those newspapers with which the right hon. Gentleman is no doubt familiar have been telling the world that the Conservative party have fairly capitulated; and that all those checks, whether it be of a dual vote or of the personal payment of rates, may be easily given up during the discussion; for "we," they say—speaking of that party opposite—have no more reason to be afraid of the appearance of thousands at elections than the party which sits on this side of the House. Well, but if we take the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board, nothing is more clear—if he says what is true and what the Cabinet means—nothing is more true than that the right hon. Gentleman—and, indeed, as I understand, also Lord Derby, as he is stated by the newspapers to have done at the recent meeting—are preaching democratic doctrines outside the House, which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board entirely disavows. According to his doctrine, the limitations are really the principles of the Bill; and if he had said what was the true state of the case, he would have pointed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and have said, "My right hon. Friend is dealing merely in political flash notes; in point of fact, they look very like the real thing, and a man unaccustomed to handle notes would hardly know the difference; but if you present them at the bank you will find they are worth no more than waste paper."
Now, I shall confine my observations mostly to the borough franchise; for, as I have said, I believe it to be the one question which it is absolutely necessary for us, if it be possible, to come to some conclusion 630 about. The right hon. Gentleman in his speech dwelt upon our ancient Constitution. Well, I suppose I shall be one of the few persons by-and-by who will continue to be in favour of that ancient Constitution. I recollect the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty once amused me by telling me that he was the only extant Peelite; and I sometimes think, in the unmoorings of hon. Gentlemen opposite, in their drifting from their anchorage, under the presidency of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that some of us here will at last be left the only defenders of our ancient and time-honoured Constitution. Now, what is the manner in which he reads that ancient Constitution? He says that in ancient times the franchise was based upon the payment of rates and the occupation of houses. Well, there is no doubt whatever, I believe, that that is true. I have urged that sometimes in this House, and much more frequently out of it; and ill-judging persons said I was preaching revolutionary doctrines. But he does not bear in mind that in those old times to which we all love to look back, though none of us would like exactly to go back to them—in those old times there was no such thing, so far as we read, as of the landlord paying rates, or of compounding for rates. All occupiers who could pay were, of course, compelled to pay whatever taxes fell upon them in their position as inhabitants of parishes or boroughs. At that time nothing could be more reasonable or wise than the plan which was established; because, as the House will see, the only persons who would be left out of the franchise, if the franchise was so fixed, would be that extremely poor class whose members were unable to pay, and who, not being able to take upon themselves any of the burdens of citizenship, might fairly be asked to abstain from taking part in the right of election. But at the present day everything that concerns these matters is changed. The parish is differently managed, the landlord is a more important person, the tenants and occupiers form a more numerous class; and for the convenience of all these, and of all whom they represent in the parishes, another and an entirely different system has been established, and it has been found so good that gradually it is spreading to all parts of the country—a voluntary arrangement, a voluntary contract, by which the tenant is benefited, where the landlord has no objection to act in his position, and where the parish authorities and all the ratepayers of the 631 parish feel that their interests are concerned. The right hon. Gentleman says that he will make use of the system, which is a modern and improved system, and work it—he does not say it in words; that would be another thing; but the chief of the Poor Law Board says it in words, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer says it in effect—that he will use this system, thus changed from the old times for the purpose of disfranchising two-thirds or three-fourths of all those persons who in those old times would have been admitted to the franchise and in fact of those whom this Bill, as you look at it at first, would seem to propose to admit. But why is it that the right hon. Gentleman does this? I forget the phrase he used—he used it several times, and I am sorry I have not remembered it—but he referred to the character of the working men, and the circumstances of their settled mode of life, their responsibility as citizens in their different districts; and he assumed that this was all proved if the working man, instead of paying a small sum of, say 8s a year, to his landlord, which the landlord pays for his rate, should pay 12s. directly to the overseer of the parish; and that this 4s. paid to the parochial authority was the grand test—it made all the difference in the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman between Englishmen who are entitled to be placed on the register and Englishmen in whom the House of Commons can have no confidence at all. Now I wonder the right hon. Gentleman did not add another test. The tenant may make an arrangement that the landlord should repair his house, or that he should himself repair it, and it would be as good a test that the tenant should repair the house as that he shall directly pay the rates. One of these tests would seem to be almost as reasonable as the other. There are many tests just as good, and most or perhaps all of them are worth nothing whatsoever. I take it that a man who has a house, who has a wife, who has children, who has furniture, whose life is marked by a steady industry, industry from dawn till dusk on the average of all the year, and men who obey the law as the law is obeyed in this country, men who need so little governance as the people of this country need—I say that all this is ten thousand times better as a test than any miserable difference of a few shillings in the course of the year on the amount of the poor rate, and the person 632 to whom it is to be paid. Look at what this difference is in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. He says there are 723,000 householders who are at present not on the register. The President of the Poor Law Board admits that 50 per cent will necessarily be struck off; you will come down then to 360,000 in any case. The Bill which is now before us, with the restrictions and personal rating, will cause an introduction of new voters in boroughs to the small amount of 118,000 persons. I am not quoting speculative calculations; I am quoting the words of the President of the Poor Law Board, and therefore the amount which throughout the boroughs of England and Wales the present Bill proposes to add to the existing franchise consists only of 118,000 persons. But the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer—and here I must draw the same distinction between his speech and those of his Colleagues—said, in answer to the right hon. Member for South Lancashire, that very easy access would be afforded, and the greatest facilities given, by which persons who appear to be excluded would be admitted. But the President of the Poor Law Board, on the contrary, did not give us the least expectation that the road would be rendered smooth and easy, and he prided himself on the strength, and the force, and the completeness of the limitations of which the Chancellor of the Exchequer intended to make so little. But the road is very rugged. It is encumbered by pains and penalties at every step. Go, for an example, to the past. We have had brought out in this discussion more than once the subject of the Bill introduced in this House in the year 1851 (14 & 15 Vict. c. 14) by Sir William Clay. Now, may I tell the House the effect of this Bill? But for the last three lines of it, this Bill may be said to be almost entirely a failure. When the Bill was passing through this House I knew what the Mover did not, I think, and I knew its probable effect in a direction which he did not intend to meddle with. The real reason why compound-householders did not get on the register was this—opposite their names in the rate book was the composition rate and not the full rate; and although the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Richmond says he doubts very much whether they could be excluded by law, the universal judgment of revising barristers from the time of the Reform Act till 1851, had been 633 that, unless the full rates originally imposed, and not the composition rate, were paid, that compound-householder did not find his way from the rate book to the register. Well, when Sir William Clay brought that Bill before the House, I went to Lord John Russell, who was then Prime Minister, and I represented to him the grievance of this case. He said he did not think that the Reform Act or its framers had intended the conclusion to which the revising barristers had come, and he thought it would be a very proper thing to make an alteration in accordance with that view. He recommended me to see Sir William Page Wood, who was then, I think, Attorney General, and mainly at my suggestion, the very clause which is the last clause in that Act was introduced. I will read that, clause. I do not know whether it has been read in the course of the debate—Provided always, and be it enacted, that in cases where, by any composition with the landlord, a less sum shall be papable than the full amount of rate which, except for such composition, would be due in respect of the same premises, the occupier claiming to be rated shall not be bound to pay or tender more than the amount then payable under such composition.The House will see what is the result of that. If the overseers of any district could be prevailed upon to do voluntarily what, as far as I understand, they ought to do by law—that is, place every occupier's name in the occupiers' column of the rate book, with the sum opposite his name for which the landlord has compounded—when that sum has been paid by the landlord, the name of every such occupier would pass on to the register every year, just as the name of the owner of houses, or of his own house, would pass on who had paid the full rate for his house. And the result was this—that immediately after the passing of that Bill, in the city of Manchester not less than 4,000 new voters were placed upon the register in one year—although I believe in one of the townships of Manchester the overseers failed in their duty in putting the occupiers' names upon the rate book. Three or four years ago my hon. Colleague and myself, being at Birmingham, had an interview with the overseers and the parochial authorities of the town. One of them objected, on the score of trouble, to put the names of occupiers on the rate book. However, they assented to our interpretation of the law; and from that time they have placed upon the rate book all householders 634 whose rates are compounded for, and whose rates are paid by the landlord, although the sum paid is less than the original rate upon the premises. Well, the result is that in Birmingham there has also been a very considerable addition to the number of electors and I believe in the town of Brighton the same result has followed. I hope, I am not sure, that there has been the same result in other constituencies of the kingdom.
Now, I have stated this fact to show the House this—that the road to the franchise for compound-householders over £10 is not so difficult but that it may be travelled. I want to know why it is, when we ore going to extend the franchise downward to another and a large class—in profession, at least—we should not make that road just as easy to them as we make it to those above them in the social scale. Why, if you are to take in a class of householders more laborious, having less leisure—it may be, in some cases, less instructed and less acquainted with the details of all these matters—is it not a painful idea that you should place obstructions in their path which you have not placed in the path of those who are householders above the value of £10? Now, I wish to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his Colleagues, with all sincerity, whether he intends, so far as regards persons below £10, to repeal in principle, and to withhold from them, in fact, the right which this House of Commons has deliberately given to electors or householders above £10. Will he say that that clause which I have read—so simple, so clear, agreed to by the Prime Minister in 1851, drawn by an eminent Attorney General, passed in this House without a division, accepted in the House of Lords without question—shall, so far as regards these new voters, to whom he professes to give the franchise, be a dead letter, and that they at least shall take no advantage of it? If he proposes to do that, let him tell the House why. The Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire last year proposed, by a £7 rental franchise, to invite 240,000 men into the electoral list. This Bill, according to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board, will invite only 118,000. When the late Chancellor of the Exchequer brought in his Bill he made no flourish of trumpets. He did not offer it as a great all-embracing and all-enfranchising measure. He offered it as a moderate proposi- 635 tion which he hoped the friends of a wider suffrage, and the great body of the people, would accept in the spirit in which he offered it. The right hon. Gentleman, with far more pretence, with the air of doing much more, of sounding deeps far deeper, and finding a bottom from which nothing would disturb him, asks merely 118,000 men to partake of the blessings of this liberal Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues remind me very much of the story of a man whose name I mention with anxiety and with sorrow—I speak of Dr. Livingstone. Dr. Livingstone, in his African Travels, says that he came upon the tribe of the Bechuanas. They were a people savage to the last degree, but ostentatious to a remarkable extent. As an illustration of it, he said that when his party wished to get some food from them, the Bechuana chief said, "Behold an ox;" but when they looked, they found but a miserable goat. Well, that, I think, is not a bad illustration of the tactics and conduct of the right hon. Gentleman. Now, the real object of this scheme is this—to introduce to the franchise about as many men as would be admitted if the franchise were fixed at an £8 rental. I believe it would not be in any degree a more extensive enfranchisement than that. Well, if this be so, why talk of household suffrage? Why should a great chief and a great party meet in St. James' Square, or in Downing Street, and talk of household suffrage, and offer to the people of this country that great and generous enfranchisement, when, after all, the scheme only involves what is tantamount to an £8 rental suffrage? ["No, no!" and "Hear, hear!"] If that be so, let us call it an £8 suffrage. ["No, no!"] Let us speak the truth about the matter. And defend it if you can. But bear in mind, if this be the nature of the measure, what is the step you are taking? You are renewing the error of 1832. You are about to re-enact the virtual exclusion of the working classes from the franchise. ["No, no!"]. The working classes are of that opinion. ["No, no!"] But you are doing much worse than the statesmen did in 1832, for they made no pretence of admitting working men. They offered a £10 franchise, and the working men throughout the whole kingdom said, "The Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill." They took it frankly and freely when it was offered, knowing what it was, 636 hoping that hereafter it might lead to something for them. But you, with a population far more advanced and instructed than that of 1832, after the promises of half-a-dozen Cabinets, and passages in half-a-dozen Queen's Speeches, after what you have seen during the last nine months, venture to ask Parliament to exclude the working classes.
I think there are Members of the House who have taken more alarm than is necessary; but I venture to tell them that the course they are pursuing, if this be the extent of the concession, is a very perilous course; because bear in mind that it will be viewed in combination with the spirit of your Bill as shown in other parts of it. What did the Chancellor of the Exchequer say? He said that his counterpoises, checks, and compensations would prevent the mischief that might arise from the admission of 118,000 men, and the President of the Poor Law Board said the Bill proposed to give more than 200,000 persons of a higher rank a double vote—and that these would balance the 118,000 men. All that will be understood, and will be answered by those for whom you are proposing to legislate. I say it will appear to them as an intolerable wrong and insult. I think myself it is one of the most astounding propositions that was ever made by any Minister to any Parliament. If I am free thus to speak of a condemned proposition of the Government, in what position do I stand with regard to this question? Can I propose anything which in the contest of parties possibly a large majority may agree to accept? I have always been in favour of household suffrage, for reasons which I have often stated in this House and to other assemblies. I believe that the solid and ancient basis of the suffrage is that all persons who are rated to some tax—the relief of the poor being the most general now—should be admitted to the franchise. I am quite willing to admit there is one objection to that wide measure, which exists, at least to some extent, in almost every franchise you can establish. At this moment, in all, or nearly all our boroughs, as many of us know, sometimes to our sorrow, there is a small class which it would be much better for themselves if they were not enfranchised, because they have no independence whatsoever, and it would be much better for the constituency also that they should be excluded, and there is no class so much interested in having that small 637 class excluded as the intelligent and honest working men. I call this class the residuum, which there is in almost every constituency, of almost hopeless poverty and dependence. In 1859 I prepared a Bill which, I venture to say, in opposition to the character which has been given to the present Bill by the right hon. Member for South Lancashire, was the best Reform Bill ever introduced. In speaking of that Bill I stated that there was this class which I thought it would not be any advantage to the class itself, or to the constituency, or to the public, to admit to the franchise. I am not sure that I should read this paragraph if I did not observe that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe), in the preface to the volume of his Speeches, has inserted the paragraph, and has linked me with himself in a wholesale—perhaps he would not say a wholesale—want of appreciation of the character of the working classes. Speaking of that class at the very bottom of the scale, I made these observations—I put it to every man, I do not care what his theoretical notions are, whether he believes that throughout the boroughs of the United Kingdom it would be advantageous or beneficial to the constituency, as a whole, to include some scores in very small constituencies, some hundreds in others, a few thousands, perhaps, in the largest, of a class of which there are, unfortunately, too many among us—namely, the excessively poor—many of them intemperate, some of them profligate; some of them it may be, only unfortunate, some of them naturally incapable; but all of them in a condition of dependence, such as to give no reasonable expectation that they would be able to resist the many temptations which rich and unscrupulous men would offer them at periods of election to give their votes in a manner not only not consistent with their own opinions and consciences, if they have any, but not consistent with the representation of the town or city in which they live.Now, I am prepared to repeat that. I hold that in every borough with which I have any acquaintance, even with a £10 franchise, there are a few men whose absence from the constituency would be an advantage to that constituency, and I believe an advantage to themselves. But these remarks did not, and do not apply to working men between £10 and £7 rental, but to a small class at the very bottom of the scale. And I must therefore say that the right hon. Member for Calne did me an unfriendly sort of an act when he hung up my picture alongside his for the observation of the working men of England. In the Bill I refer to I made this proposition—that all those persons who were rated, 638 whether they paid rates themselves or not—(in all cases if they paid the rates themselves)—and in cases where the landlord paid a composition rate, down to the point of a £4 rental or £3 rating, they should find their way on to the rate book and on to the register. Now, I am not about to say that that is the exact limit that should be fixed. The House may think £4 rating, or a £5 rental, or even a £5 rating low enough. On a great question like this, when you offer to the working men a real and generous been, you will not find them—I am sure you will not find me—intolerant of any proposition that may be made. Now, I have never changed from that view. I hold it now as strongly as I held it then. And I am willing to allow that at this moment I do not believe there is a majority in this House who are in favour of household suffrage pure and simple. But we might take this course of drawing a line which would exclude, as far as we could judge, all those who should be excluded by their non-payment of rates—if no such thing as compound-householders existed. And this seems to me to be the true policy of the House. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his Colleagues would accept some proposition like this, I do not doubt that we might proceed with this Bill; and, so far at least as this great and vital part of the question is concerned, we might come to some final conclusion during the present Session. That the House may thoroughly understand me let me repeat the proposal. You would then have the household basis for the suffrage with limitations corresponding as nearly as you can get to the ancient limitations of the non-payment of the rate. That, I think, would satisfy the demands of our ancient Constitution, and therefore, I hope, the mind of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If such a measure as this was passed, I would hold it to be a real and generous extension of the franchise; and I give you my word—whatever may be the worth of it—that I believe it would be felt that no class of the people was intentionally excluded, and that none who could be expected to be in would be shut out. And if with these you included a clause that would admit those who are settled dwellers in apartments within the district of the metropolitan boroughs, you would at once close the offices of the Reform League—and give general satisfaction to the whole of the people.
I have one or two observations to make 639 on other parts of the Bill, and I will dismiss them with the fewest possible words. I want to put to the right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues and to the House this point in regard to the county franchise. In 1859 they brought in a Bill, to which, I presume, most of you were assenting parties, with a £10 franchise for counties. In 1860, under the Government of Lord Palmerston, Lord John Russell introduced another Bill with a £10 franchise for counties. Last year my right hon. Friend the Member for South Lancashire—his moderation is now known to all men—introduced a Bill offering a £14 franchise for counties, to which the House on a great division assented. Now, as you are about to lower the borough franchise considerably, which certainly the House will do, whatever becomes of this Bill—what will the persons living in the counties—those millions whom the right hon. Gentleman is always talking to us about—and the people living in those villages for whom he expresses such a strong affection when he is fighting us with them, but for whom he cares so little when they ask for the franchise—what will these persons in the counties say if you leave them at a £15 rating—being equal to a £17 to £20 rental—when you are going down in the franchise in boroughs to a rating qualification of £5 or £6? I say that a settlement of this kind would be no settlement at all. I say it is not a democratic proposition, and I trust the House, when we come to that part of the Bill, will act courageously and rationally, and adopt a measure at least as liberal as that which Lord Palmerston—by no means a democratic Minister—adopted in 1860. I will say nothing about the system of voting-papers. Everybody who speaks to me about them says there could be no more effective means of corruption, and merely express this opinion and recommend it to the attention of the House, that this system would withdraw all the influence of the public eye, without setting up the dominion of conviction or of conscience. The hon. Member for Wick (Mr. Laing) has stated what he regards as most extraordinary facts—they are not extraordinary to me, for I have gone through this schooling many a time—with respect to the re-distribution of seats. The measure of the right hon. Gentleman for the re-distribution of seats is a mere pretence—he does not offer it as a settlement. Having heard or read the unanswerable speech of the noble Lord the 640 Member for King's Lynn last year, I suppose he felt bound to bring in some clause with regard to the re-distribution of seats. But when the town of Birmingham, which has now 15,000 electors, shall have 30,000 under this Bill—when Manchester, which has 20,000, shall have 40,000—when all these great constituencies shall be nearly double—do you think they will look with kinder eyes on the borough of Arundel, and on the borough of Calne, and other boroughs of that nature. Do you think that a measure which leaves such a dead limb as this encumbering the ground—if, indeed, encumbering be not a strange expression to use of anything so minute—will be received with approbation, or will be regarded as even a two or five years' settlement of this question?
There is another point upon which, at some future time, Sir, I shall ask your opinion. In this Bill there is a proposition to disfranchise four boroughs. I now speak of the two largest—Lancaster, with 2,672 male householders, and Great Yarmouth, with 6,660 householders. If this Bill is to pass it is clear that there would be created in these two boroughs, if they were not disfranchised as nearly as may be, an entirely new constituency. When you are going to double the constituencies of Lancaster and Yarmouth it seems to me a thing unheard of and new if the House will agree to disfranchise these boroughs. It is one which, I will venture to say, the House when it conies to consider the matter will not agree to. I complain of this—that in the preamble of this Bill there is no reference to the disfranchisement of these four boroughs, which have sent Members to this House for 500 years. There is not in the Bill a single word to indicate shortly to posterity how or why it was these boroughs were disfranchised. They will be swept away from the floor of Parliament, and there will not be a single record in your Parliament to show why it was these boroughs were struck out of your representative system. If the House will bear with me for a moment, I wish only to say this—that I am as much against corruption at least as the Chancellor of the Exchequer—and it has always been held in this House since I have been here, and for a much longer period, that it was a very grave matter to disfranchise any constituency—and I say that you are cutting off in Lancaster and Yarmouth, not only the population who would come in under this Bill, but their children and their children's 641 children, who would be enfranchised and represented there if this clause be not passed. I say that if this is to be done it ought to be brought into the House by a special Bill, and that the whole question ought to receive a careful discussion and deliberate consideration; and that it should not be put into a clause of a Bill like this to enable the right hon. Gentleman to give seven more Members to counties than he would otherwise have been able to do.
Now, Sir, I believe I have said to the House what at this stage of the Bill I think it is necessary to say. The Bill, as a whole, I regard as very unsatisfactory and as very bad. I think it has marks upon it of being a product, not of the friends, but of the enemies of Reform. It is wonderful what clever men will do when a dozen of them are shut up in a room. Now, look at the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Why, he is a marvel of cleverness, or else he would not have been for twenty years at the head of hon. Gentlemen opposite to lead them into this—what shall I call it?—great difficulty at last. Take the right hon. Member who sits next him, and who represents a very learned University—Cambridge. Take the President of the Poor Law Board, who represents the wisdom, and it may be, to some extent, the prejudices of Oxford. Now, take the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Droitwich. I fear to speak of so potent a personage. Why, at this moment he directs all the armies of the Empire. There is not a soldier who shivers amid the snows of Canada, or sweats under the sun of India, but shivers and sweats under the influence of the right hon. Gentleman. Why, it was only the other day that he was Lord High Admiral of England. In metaphor—His tread was on the mountain wave, His home was in the deep.But all these Gentlemen retired into a mysterious apartment in Downing Street, and they sat to work to concoct a Reform Bill, and with all their capacity it seems to me to come out as a Bill marvellously like that which would have been framed by the hon. Member for North Lincolnshire. The hon. Member for North Lincolnshire (Mr. B. Stanhope) last night gave us an account of his conversion. There could hardly be anything more affecting or more truthful in any class meeting; but he spoke of "we" all the time—what "we" did, what determinations "we" had come to; and, in thinking over it to-day, I have come to the conclusion that he is the author of this 642 Bill. Well, now, I complain of this Bill, and I do not do it in anger, for I hope that I have not said a word to-night that can be considered anything but fair and just; but I say it is a Bill in which, looking at the working class question, there is nothing clear, nothing generous, nothing statesmanlike; and I believe that if the House were to pass it, there would be universal dissatisfaction throughout the country. I believe it would aggravate the wounds it is intended to heal, and that it would leave the greatest question of our time absolutely unsolved. Well, now, I grieve to say this; but it is true. I tell the House frankly, and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer will believe me when I say that there is not a man in this House who would be more glad to give his very warmest support, whatever it may be worth, to a fair and honest measure on this question. I regret what hon. Gentlemen opposite did, led by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his friends, last year. I shall never cease to regret it, and never cease to blame them; but still, I would help any Government to bring this question to a just conclusion. But, Sir, it seems to me impossible to assist a Government which will not tell us frankly what it intends, what it stands by, what it will get rid of; which asks us to come into its confidence, and is the most reticent Government that probably ever sat upon these Benches. If any Gentlemen on this side were to treat you as you treated us last year, I should denounce them with the strongest language that I could use. I hate the ways, and I scorn the purposes of faction—and if I am driven now or in any stage of the Bill to oppose the Government, it is because the measure they have offered us bears upon its face marks of deception and disappointment; and because I will be no party to any measure which shall cheat the great body of my countrymen of the possession of that power in this House on which they have set their hearts, and which, as I believe, by the constitution of this country, they may most justly claim.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Sir, the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) commenced his speech with his usual protest—a protest against Gentlemen on this side of the House presuming to deal with the Liberal monopoly. As long as the hon. Gentleman and his Friends were allowed to remain the only amenders of the representation of 643 the people, so long we received from the hon. Gentleman all that encouragement which in his milder moments he knows how to bestow. But I have always protested against the opinions of the hon. Gentleman on this subject. I hold that we have a full constitutional right to deal by any means we think best with the representation of the people in this House of Commons, and I will assert that right at all times in spite of the dogmas of the hon. Member for Birmingham, The hon. Gentleman tells us to-night that I, on the part of the Government, have brought in a Bill which is full of false pretences—imputing to me statements which I never made, and opinions which I have never professed. But how easy is it to show the utter want of foundation for this charge. The hon. Gentleman said, "You made a statement which left the House under the impression that you were giving a large amount of enfranchisement to the people." The statement I made must be still fresh in the recollection of the House; and what did I say? I said, if the measure which I proposed were passed—if all the persons now under the £10 line were rated to the poor and paid their rates, 240,000 men would be qualified to avail themselves of the franchise if they complied with the constitutional conditions which I explained. Now, what happened? Why, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, no doubt well informed on the subject, but acting, I am sure, entirely under a misapprehension in imputing to me that I made a statement that 240,000 men would be added to the constituency, which is not my statement; what I said was, that they would be qualified; and having allowed me to correct him, reduced the number to one-half, which the hon. Member for Birmingham has adopted for his estimate, and now says that only half the number that I alleged will be added to the constituency. I will not impeach the accuracy of this estimate. I will assume it to be true; and I will ask how is it that only half the number will be electors? We know the reason. We know that the other half are of a migratory character, or paupers; and we have evidence of that. ["No, no!"] I am not speaking now of the compound-householders; I am speaking of those who are now personally rated to the poor, and who, if they paid their rates, would be qualified to vote by this Bill. And why, then, is this amount reduced to 120,000? Because, as I have said, they are migra- 644 tory and paupers. Well, then, does the hon. Member for Birmingham wish that this moiety of migratory paupers should have the suffrage, or does he not? Let him answer that. He knows very well that he does not wish the migratory pauper to be an elector. Well, then, what becomes of the charge that I am the advocate of exclusion, and that I bring in a Bill which shuts out one-half of those who should be admitted from the right of voting? The charge is utterly shallow. Well, if it is true that you must make this deduction from the 240,000 men who are at the present moment personally rated, it is equally true that the same deductions must be made from the great body of compound-householders. I never heard anybody dispute that. The hon. Member for Birmingham knows that statement is perfectly accurate; he knows well what the deductions would be, and from what cause; and he approves of the cause. Then, what becomes of this charge of exclusion? And what becomes, too, of the charge that this is a revolutionary measure—for as such it is treated on one night, and then the next night we are told that it is a measure of extreme restriction? Why, Sir, it is a measure founded upon a principle—upon a popular and a rational principle. It is of general application, without any restriction whatever; and any person who fulfils the conditions, which are conditions that are, as I believe, entirely approved by the great majority of the people, may possess and enjoy the suffrage in this country.
Well, the subject has been very little discussed. Considering the nature of the Bill before us, and the great attendance there has always been in the House when this question has been mentioned, it is remarkable how everything like Parliamentary discussion has been as it were evaded. Why, when I asked leave to bring in the Bill what happened? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire rose and delivered a speech or rather an invective against a measure which he had never even seen, basing many of his conclusions upon assumptions which when he found the Bill in his hands he saw had no foundation whatever. But if the right hon. Gentleman on the Motion for bringing in the Bill made a speech which was only adapted to the second reading, when the second reading is moved, instead of allowing a general discussion to take place upon it, he jumps up at once and immediately 645 makes a speech which is only fitted for Committee. And, Sir, if the course which the right hon. Gentleman indicated last night had been followed, the discussion would have ended that evening, and probably at a very early hour. Now, is that a fair or proper way in which to treat a question like this, which the attendance here always shows to be one deeply interesting to the House as well as to the country, and by the due discussion of which the Government introducing a measure of this character can alone obtain any accurate cognizance of the feelings of this assembly? The right hon. Gentleman said last night in a very solemn tone that if this were a Motion for the third reading of the Bill we should all agree that it would be impossible to pass it. As if, under similar circumstances, that were not the fate of every Bill! As if on the second reading of any Bill it is treated as though it then stood for a third reading! As if a Reform Bill, of all Bills in the world, proposed to be read the second time, any one could expect it to pass the third reading in the exact shape in which it was then presented to the House! Sir, that is not fair criticism. And then the right hon. Gentleman gets up and addresses me in a tone which I must say is very unusual in this House. Not that I much care for that kind of thing; although really his manner is sometimes so very alarming that one might almost feel thankful that Gentlemen in this House who sit on opposite sides of this table are divided by a tolerably broad piece of furniture. The right hon. Gentleman, addressing me in the tone and with the air of a familiar of the Inquisition, puts me to the question and says, "This must be given up, that must be abandoned," and so forth. Sir, I will fairly say that I neither wish to accept conditions from the right hon. Gentleman or to offer them. But I will treat this House on this subject as Her Majesty's Government have always been willing and anxious to do. I have certainly never supposed that we could bring any matter like this to a conclusion without the candid and cordial cooperation of the House of Commons; and it is only by discussion, by becoming acquainted with the different views of hon. Members, by mutual concession and arrangement, that any conclusion whatever on such a question can be arrived at.
Well, the right hon. Gentleman yesterday made a very stern appeal to me on the subject of the lodger franchise. He said 646 that "the lodger franchise must be conceded." Now, I thought that was a very extraordinary tone in which to address one who certainly on the subject of a lodger franchise cannot be supposed to have any very great prejudice. Indeed, if I may say so, I am myself the father of the lodger franchise. Undoubtedly, I was the first Minister who ever proposed its adoption by this House. We hear a great deal of abuse of what are called the "bye-franchises" or the special franchises. We are obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for giving a decent epithet to describe them after the phrases applied to them by the hon. Member for Birmingham. We hear, I say, a great deal of abuse uttered against those franchises; but I believe that the opinion of the House of Commons—the opinion of the majority of the House of Commons—is in their favour ["No!"]; and also that the calm opinion of the country really approves them. ["No!"] Who is the author—who are the great patrons of all these special franchises? They did not emanate from me; they did not come from this Bench, They came from Whig Prime Ministers, from coalition Prime Ministers, and from coalition Chancellors of the Exchequer. There is no doubt one of these special franchises which has recommended itself to the sympathies of a great portion of the people, but which was never invented by a Whig or by a coalition Minister, and it is this very lodger franchise which I am now sternly told we must concede, as if in being asked to concede that we were asked to make some enormous sacrifice. Sir, we had considerable difficulty about the lodger franchise. I will deal candidly with the House. I brought this subject before my Colleagues. I do not know that any of them were particularly hostile to the lodger franchise; but, of course, the first objection to it is that it is inconsistent with a Bill which is founded on the principle of rating, because you cannot rate the lodger. Well, that is an important objection; but it is not one which may not be overcome. I mean to say that my Colleagues would not have been prevented by that consideration alone from entertaining the question of the lodger franchise. Several members of the present Cabinet were in the Cabinet which in 1859 brought forward a lodger franchise; but they said, and said naturally—"The right hon. Member for South Lancashire, the Leader of the Opposition, stated last year that the lodger franchise was an in- 647 significant affair, and that he believed it would produce very small results; and if it be an insignificant affair, and will produce very small results, what is the use of deviating from the principle of our Bill?" But now we find that the lodger franchise, which a few months ago was a very insignificant affair, and could produce only very small results, is the great question of the day. There were seven or seventeen heads of accusation, I forget which; for I may perchance have confounded what occurred here last night with what took place at some of those meetings where what is called "the mob of the House of Commons" attended on the right hon. Gentleman. But though there were these seven or seventeen heads, this one is put forward as the first and foremost, as the one great point on which the fate of the Government is to rest, on which a secretly prepared Resolution is to be moved, and on account of which we are not to be allowed to go into Committee. This is the first great cause and "it must be conceded." Sir, I dare say that the lodger franchise, if we get into Committee, will be discussed with candour and calmness; and if it is brought forward in a shape that commends itself to the favour of the House, I have no doubt the House will adopt it.
But, says the right hon. Gentleman, in the second place—and this is most important—means must be taken to prevent trafficking in the votes of the lowest class of householders. "Means must be adopted!" But what means? I should like the right hon. Gentleman to be more specific and to be more special on this point, as he sometimes is. Of course, we are all anxious to prevent this trafficking as regards "the lowest class of householders"—I must be careful of the words I use. I think also it would be very convenient if we could establish some means of controlling the conduct of the higher class of householders, and if I have an opportunity of bringing in our Bill for the prevention of bribery and corruption we shall make the attempt to do that; although I am not sure, after what has passed to-night, that it will not be opposed by the hon. Member for Birmingham. But what surprises me most in this affair is the assumption of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire that all those persons who are going to be introduced into the constituency by this Bill are anxious to be bribed. ["No!"] Well, a line, a magical line, is to be drawn to prevent it; as if clever 648 vestrymen and cunning election agents would not soon convert a £4 householder into a £5 householder when you have got your precious line, and so screw the figures up from year to year. But if these people are what you assume, but what I do not believe them to be, then the hon. Member who is, I will not say the great professor of manhood suffrage, but the great counsellor of those who advocate manhood suffrage, will show us that that line is the only bulwark against democracy. I remember some years ago, when the militia was about to be restored, the Government of the day, rather short-sightedly, determined to establish that force on the principle of the ballot; and Lord Palmerston, who had then left them and gone into Opposition, opposed it very much. The Government of the day, a Whig Government, of course containing many great statesmen and distinguished orators with great power in debate, established with wonderful cogency of logic and fertility of illustration, the absolute necessity, if there was to be a militia, of adopting the ballot. Lord Palmerston, on that occasion, said—All these arguments are no doubt very imposing; but the reasoning of my noble and right hon. Friends rests entirely on this assumption, that the people of England cannot be trusted.It was upon that issue he took the opinion of this House, and that the Government was changed. Was he right or wrong in the view which he maintained? Why, you had a militia established on the voluntary principle, and you found that the people of England could be trusted. They received their bounty money and come back in accordance with their engagement every year, and no institution could be more successful, notwithstanding the opposite view that it was impossible to establish a militia on the voluntary principle because the great body of the people could not be trusted. I now say the same thing with regard to these frequent remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, who assumes that everybody who is about to be introduced into the constituencies is already preparing to be bribed ["No, no!"]; that every gentleman who expects to be a Member of Parliament is ready to become a briber; and that a scene of corruption will be the consequence of this popular franchise. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman of the extreme difficulty, and not only the extreme difficulty, but the immense cost, of bribery under the circumstances which will follow the passing of 649 this Bill. Why, it would exhaust all those fabulous resources which have recently been the subject of investigation before Committees, and with results with which the hon. Member for Birmingham seems so peculiarly to sympathize. Let me take the fifty-seven boroughs in which the Small Tenements Act is universally in force, and which furnish the best test on this point. Among these boroughs there are only ten which have less than 500 occupiers within their limits, the average of the whole fifty-seven being 2,445 in each constituency. Well, those wicked vestrymen and artful election agents are to pay their rates for 2,445 men for two years certain, and if you take the average existence of Parliaments at three-and-a-half years, they must pay the rates for that number for that time, and when they have paid their rates what hold, I would ask, will they have on them? for if they consented to pay their rates for three-and-a-half or even two years, I think it very likely these electors would turn round when the hour for action came, and, in consequence of the experience which they had acquired, expect something further and upon a larger scale. Yet, this is the sort of argument—this appeal to the impossible—which is used to show that a proposal which is politic and necessary ought not to be adopted.
The third menace of the right hon. Gentleman was of this nature—He says the distinction between different classes of ratepayers must be abolished. Now that is a very serious question, and one on which a decision ought not to be pronounced by this House in haste. I very much doubt the policy in a country like England, and with institutions such as here prevail, of attempting by artificial means to obtain anything like a similarity of suffrage at a sacrifice of what I may venture to call the natural circumstances in which we are placed. It is most desirable not to deal in a Bill like the present with any privileges which happen previously to exist. If therefore you give the franchise to new classes on the condition of personally paying rates and of adequate residence, you must adopt provisions which are not identical with those which prevail at present under the law; but that difficulty has been felt before. It is not the first time, as the right hon. Gentleman reminded us the other night, that such combinations have been considered by Cabinets and Governments of which he was a distinguished member. Provisions precisely the same as those 650 which we now proposed making a distinction between those already in possession of the franchise, and newly enfranchised classes, were contained in the Reform Bill introduced by the Government of Lord Aberdeen, and there were also provisions specially guarding the rights and privileges of old constituencies. That shows that the subject must have been considered by the wise and eminent men—some of them the most wise and eminent whom the country has produced in this century—who were members of that Cabinet. You may depend upon it that it was not idly that such regulations were framed, and framed too at a time when a £6 rental was the reduction suggested, instead of the great reduction which is now proposed. The right hon. Gentleman says that I am happy in remembering the mistakes of my predecessors. Now, that may be a taunt, or it may be a philosophic observation; but I know this—to revert to the immortal subject of the lodger franchise, which, we are told, is the great political question, of the day, that, in the Bill of last year, that favourite offspring of the intellect and passion of the right hon. Gentleman, it was enacted that there should be a qualifying term of two years' residence. What, then, becomes of all this idle rodomontade about our newfangled schemes and principles, which it is said the English people cannot endure, when eight or nine months ago the same principles and policy were professed, advocated, and recommended by the right hon. Gentleman himself? Now, I have presumed to impress on the House that this is a most important question, and I hope it will not decide upon it with any precipitation. It is of the utmost consequence, if you establish the suffrage on the principles which we recommend, that into it the element of residence, and adequate residence, should enter. There is no other condition which would give satisfaction to the people of this country generally, and permit me to say that there is no condition which has been more popularly received by the working classes. We have some means, though we may not be favoured with all the inspired information respecting the people which hovers round the head of the hon. Member for Birmingham, of becoming acquainted with the feelings and opinions of the great variety of classes in this country at the present moment. There is not a day on which, on this question of Parliamentary Reform, the Government are not in the receipt of I do not say hundreds, 651 but scores upon scores of important communications coming from all classes of working men, individually, collectively, in assembled bodies, and committees, and I will frankly admit that very critical and shrewd remarks are in them sometimes made on our propositions, for I do not pretend that they contain nothing but eulogium. They are communications which we attend to with respect, and by which I hope we may profit; but although in some of them considerable objections are urged with regard to rating, and not unnaturally, because when a man is called upon to pay he thinks twice before assenting to such a proposal—there is observable in them this remarkable characteristic—that without exception they entertain but one opinion on the question of residence. They cheerfully propose the municipal term of residence as a qualification for the exercise of the franchise; so that all this vaunted indignation of the right hon. Gentleman is entirely misplaced, and is indulged in in complete ignorance of what the feeling of the country really is on the subject of residence. This is a condition which recommends itself to the good sense and is accepted by the integrity of Englishmen, and we shall, I believe, make a great mistake if we deviate from this proposition in the Bill. I admit that there is at first sight something invidious—though that interpretation does not seem to have occurred to those to whom I have just been alluding—in having one household qualification based on one year, and another for a longer term; but when you are dealing with complicated transactions of this kind, and when you are adding new franchises to old constituencies, there must be irregularities, from which some persons may draw invidious inferences, though the people at large do not. If you make any proposition in Committee with a view to remove this invidious character without destroying the fundamental condition, we shall, of course, be prepared to consider it. It has been suggested that the term with regard to the £10 householders should be increased to two years, reserving all existing rights, and the suggestion may be worthy of consideration; but depend upon it the House will commit a great error if it supposes that by reducing the term of residence as a test of fitness for the exercise of the franchise it will be doing that which the working classes either desire or approve.
I now approach the fourth head of the impeachment. It is said that the taxing 652 franchise and the dual vote must be abandoned. Let me say a word first about the taxing franchise. I have already touched on the lodger franchise, and I leave that respectable franchise, the savings bank franchise, and others invented by Lord Russell—who is supposed to be the most learned man on the subject of franchises—I leave them with the dust of almost venerable antiquity on them, and I proceed to this dreadful invention of Lord Derby's Government—the franchise founded on direct taxation. But this, too, has not the claim of originality. This also is a franchise proposed by previous Administrations. Let me call the attention of the House to the circumstances under which this franchise was first proposed. It was proposed first in 1852, Lord John Russell then being Prime Minister. He had to draw up a Reform Bill. Generally speaking that is an easy task to him; but on this occasion he wished to appear with some novelty, and some new franchises were proposed. Being a man of a constitutional temperament, he determined to have a franchise founded on the greatest duty of Englishmen—that of paying taxes. He thought that duty should confer a right. When a Minister, and especially a Minister more distinguished for his constitutional than his financial knowledge, projects a franchise of this kind, of course he avails himself of the best information. He brings to his aid the intelligent views of adepts; he broaches his idea, and has it well discussed in argument by persons well versed in all the details, and it was only, of course, on their advice that he adopted the scheme, which was proposed in this House, and which died an untimely death. The House never pronounced against it; but in course of time—in the course of two rather important and troubled years—there was a new Administration, and a new Reform Bill was introduced. The question of the franchise founded on direct taxation was again brought before the consideration of Parliament. Mark what happened between 1852 and 1854 on the subject of direct taxation. The question of the income tax during those two years was the question of the day. It engrossed public attention, and made the fate and fall of Ministers. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire obtained, and justly obtained, great distinction for the manner in which he treated the question of the income tax, and showed himself a complete master of all its details. 653 It was a great advantage to Lord Russell when Lord Aberdeen deputed to him the task of providing a franchise founded on taxation, that he could consult the right hon. Gentleman—a man transcendant on all subjects, eminent for his knowledge of finance, but most remarkable for his knowledge of direct taxation. Any failure which Lord Russell met with in 1852, might be ascribed to circumstances totally irrelevant to the merits of the Bill; they could not again be anticipated, especially with the immense advantage of the assistance of the right hon. Gentleman, who is able to take a part in the consideration of every subject. I have no doubt he was consulted on every part of the Reform Bill of 1854. I believe he drew up the proviso which saved the lights of the £10 householders. It is in his style. It was, I say, of immense advantage to Lord Russell, when forming a franchise founded on direct taxation, that he had the assistance of a person of the great ability and strong character of the right hon. Gentleman, who was entire master of the subject. There can be no doubt, the right hon. Gentleman was the constructor of the franchise founded on direct taxation. Then, how can we reconcile with such circumstances the language of the right hon. Gentleman, that this franchise will make faggot votes; that it is the most objectionable of all propositions; and to repeat the words employed by the right hon. Gentleman last night, it must be abandoned? Whether the House will abandon it or not is a subject for future consideration; but practical men, who know as much about the incidence of the income tax and the subject of taxation generally as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, laugh at his objections, and say that there is nothing in them. They were perfectly surprised at the remarks which the House of Commons received with the natural deference and the natural credulity which it is the pleasure of the House to extend to the right hon. Gentleman. I have before me some remarks on the subject in a letter dated the 24th of March, written by one who, I suppose, the right hon. Gentleman will not hesitate for a moment to acknowledge to be a consummate judge of the subject, and whom I know personally he highly respects. I will read it—I do not see that the proposition for giving the payers of direct taxation to the amount of 20s. a vote would offer means for creating faggot votes. In the first place, the persons bonâ fide 654 liable in almost every such case would have a vote from other sources. As regards the income tax, I think it is absurd to suppose that a man would return his income for assessment, having none, for the purpose of getting on the register. He must do it annually, and pay the tax, and he could not obtain it hack on the ground of exemption. With regard to the assessed taxes, the assessment is not made until after the year in which the article subject to taxation has been kept, and will a person state in his assessment paper that he had a carriage, horses, and servants in the year preceding, having had none? I do not believe it, for persons of that class would not be supplied with the ordinary printed tax paper to make the return which would be brought into the assessment. And how could they be assessed? The revising barrister should be empowered to require the claimant to prove his bonâ fide liability, and a clause to that effect should be inserted in the Bill.Well, that is the opinion of Sir Charles Pressley, and everybody who knows him knows him to be a man of consummate ability. Here is another opinion, that of a calmer temperament, perhaps, but it is well worth the consideration of the House. It is the opinion of Mr. Stevenson, and he says that he agrees with Sir Charles Pressley in applying the remedy which he suggests. But he adds that ho would be disposed to doubt whether any inquisition into the affairs of men who are to be charged with the income tax would be necessary, for it should be remembered that the assessment of men in situations are furnished by their employers, and that therefore no extensive frauds could be committed without the knowledge of their masters. Now, I ask the House, after hearing these opinions from such men, and remembering that Lord Aberdeen's Administration was the author of this very franchise, and which, no doubt, was constructed under the special advice and counsel of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, or, if not, he was remiss in the performance of his duties, as a Member of that Cabinet, whether such arguments as he used last night should have been uttered, particularly when we think of the respect due to Lord Russell, should not have been withheld. There should have been more regard for the feelings of that distinguished nobleman. I think the right hon. Gentleman might have spared the epithets he showered on this franchise. It is very possible that in the Committee it may be improved. Well, if not, what is the use of going into Committee? Some hon. Gentlemen seem to think it a wise thing to sneer at the action of their own Committee. These are questions, if there 655 are any, with respect to which the House has the power of improving the suggestions of Ministers.
I leave for a moment, until I have touched on some slighter topics, the question of the dual vote, in order to come to the fifth article of impeachment, which was couched in the same imperative and authoritative language—"the re-distribution must be enlarged." [Hear, hear! from an hon. Member on the Opposition Benches.] The hon. Member who cheers is bound to tell us what he means by enlarging the re-distribution. I will not do as the right hon. Gentleman did last night—I will not call on the hon. Member to make his maiden speech now by way of parenthesis to my observations; but I must say that, in trying to settle the most difficult question of the day, we have a right to expect from the hon. Member, as well as from a statesman in the position of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, some indication of their views of enlarged redistribution. That, Sir, is a very important question. We, Sir, may have contracted views and limited notions on the subject; but we have been frank in stating them. Is the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, then, to sit there, with his large process of distribution, surrounded by some who think themselves his followers and his friends, while he may be prepared to stab them to the heart? I say that particularly, because I am told there is to be a large scheme of re-distribution, with which it is impossible to proceed without destroying his most intimate friends. Now, Sir, we have laid down the principles on which we think re-distribution ought to take place. If there be any Gentlemen who are of opinion that any strange and new principles should be introduced—if there are advocates of cumulative voting and other means of obtaining the opinion not only of majorities but of minorities; but which new principles cannot he applied without a great change in our whole electoral scheme; I understand, I respect those opinions, though I differ from them; but I deny that any man has a right to loll on his easy seat in the House of Commons, and only tell us when a practical proposition is brought forward that the redistribution must be enlarged. I say the right hon. Gentleman ought to take the earliest opportunity of informing the country what are the views on which he thinks re-distribution ought to take place, and 656 calm the uneasy feelings of all his adherents—uneasy feelings with which I sympathize, but do not wish to share.
Then we are told that the county franchise must be reduced. Well, we have reduced it; we make a proposition to reduce the county franchise. The county occupation franchise is at present £50. We propose it should be £15 on a rating basis certainly; but every one will admit that that is a very large reduction. I have not heard that any much larger reduction is proposed; at any rate, that is a matter of secondary importance. It is entirely for discussion in Committee. Did not Lord Palmerston, when he voted for the Bill of the hon. Member for Surrey (Mr. Locke King)—a Bill for a £10 county qualification—did he not say he was not pledged for £10, and in Committee would propose £20. Then, as to voting-papers; it is a very interesting question. Voting-papers, we are told, must not be pressed. So far as I am concerned, they will be pressed; but it is a question on which the opinion of the House ought to be taken; and I heard with pleasure last night that the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck)—I say the Member for Sheffield, for so he should always be described—the Member for Sheffield did incidentally remark that of the principle of voting-papers he approved. I do not say he is pledged to the application of it in the Government Bill; but every man of sense and experience must feel that this is a very important principle, well worthy of the consideration of the House of Commons. [Mr. Roebuck: I beg to inform the right hon. Gentleman that he makes a mistake. I never said any such thing.] I regret, Sir, that a pleasing illusion has been dispelled; but I have such confidence in the intelligence and candour of the hon. and learned Gentleman, that I will not despair that he may yet support it.
Now, Sir, let me ask the attention of the House to what the Member for Birmingham very properly described as, after all, the great question—the borough franchise. You have been trying to deal with the borough franchise for fifteen years. Five Governments have made propositions—four Governments certainly; the fifth proposed no change, but still, at least, they expressed by their policy an opinion on the subject. Five Governments have attempted to deal with the borough franchise. It has been twice attempted to be dealt with in this very House of Parliament. There is 657 no figure, no combination of figures, there are no means by which value can be ascertained that you have not had recourse to; and now some Gentlemen opposite are following the old track, and believe that they have arrived at a solution of all difficulties and determination of all political perplexity on the subject by taking refuge in £5 rating, when every one knows that it is as shifting as the sand for a foundation on which to rest any superstructure, and that all those election agents we hear of, and all those ambitious and cunning overseers that now occupy so much attention, could by their power or favour convert a £3 or £4 into a £5 rating with the greatest ease. We have taken the subject into consideration, and have thought it was wise to establish this franchise on a distinct principle that could not be mistaken; and we say, if a man personally pays his rates, and has resided a certain time, that is primâ facie evidence that he is a man of a regular, methodical, and dutiful course of life; and, on the whole, in a borough, a very good test. You must have some test in all those cases. The Member for Birmingham is against all tests whatever. I think there are such things as tests. The man who has a house, who is rated to the poor, who pays his rates, and who for two years has paid his rates, these are circumstances that recommend him to our minds as a man competent to fulfil a trust. But then the Member for Birmingham, and a great many Members before him, have said your principle may or may not be a good one; but assuming that it is a good principle, your application of it may not be good. We find that practically you are leaving out of the enjoyment of the franchise a great many men who are quite competent to exercise it and deserve it, and that in consequence of legislation not, after all, very old. Well, when we are talking of an ancient constitution, and speculating on the possibility of investing men with rights which may influence the destinies of our country for ages to come, you come and tell us of rating Acts, which, after all, were only passed in the memory of our fathers and ourselves, and these are to be the obstacles which are to prevent us from establishing the franchise of Englishmen on the ancient and proper basis. But we meet that difficulty fairly and thoroughly, I think; and we say, Let every man who by the action of these local or general Acts is not rated to the relief of the poor have the privilege of 658 calling upon the official person to rate him; and let him in consequence obtain the enjoyment of the suffrage. No one pretends that the principle is not sound, and that the proposition is not large. The principle is this:—A man who is personally rated, and who has by his residence what is thought in this country a fair claim to the trust of the community, is to have the suffrage. And if by these peculiar Acts of Parliament there are classes who are, as it were, prevented from enjoying on these conditions the suffrage, we give them the right, notwithstanding these Acts, of asserting their claim and acquiring the franchise. Now, who can deny that that principle is correct in theory? The application of it is vast and unlimited.
What, then, are the objections to this? We have heard many; but I think they were summed up in the speech we heard to-night from the hon. and learned Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer). I remember—I am sorry to say one remembers too many things now—but I remember, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, who was in that Parliament, remembers also, that there was a great party struggle in this House—and the right hon. Gentleman belonged then to the same party as myself—with respect to the policy pursued by the Government in regard to China. A reference was made to the elaborate speech of a lawyer delivered during that debate by Sir James Graham, whose name is not often mentioned in this House, but is never by me to be mentioned without respect and affection; for he was one of the most considerable men we ever had in this House. He rose in his stately cynicism, and exclaimed, "Let us get out of the region of Nisi Prius;" and when we come here to offer the franchise to the people of England—notwithstanding the imputations of the hon. Member for Birmingham—in a spirit of sincerity and truth—when we offer to establish it on a principle that no one can contravert, and to apply it without limit—when I heard those observations of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Richmond, I recollected the observation of Sir James Graham, and I say we must get out of the region of Nisi Prius.
But there is another spirit in which to deal with this question than that of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and that is the spirit of the right hon. Gentleman 659 opposite, who takes a more statesmanlike view of this question; for although on the subject of rating he delighted and misled the House at the some time, yet he touched on greater themes. He said this system of yours is all inequality; this is the difficulty I find in it; this is the fatal consequence I denounce. If you establish your suffrage on rating and apply it, you will not find two towns in which the same suffrage will exist. There are fifty-seven towns in which the Small Tenements Act prevails; there are ninety-two in which it partially prevails; and there are twenty-seven in which it does not prevail at all. And then the hon. Gentleman says, "Good God, what will be the consequence under such circumstances of the application of such a proposition as that in your Bill?" Why, Sir, I always thought that what we have been complaining of for years was the dreary monotony of the settlement of 1832, and the too identical character of the constituency under that Act. Every time these discussions were brought on we were told over and over again that what the country languished for was the variety of franchise that they were deprived of by the Act of 1832, and that if that had been re-introduced in any of the schemes of later years one of the great wants of the country would have been supplied. It had been said, and most justly said, that the remarkable characteristics of this assembly—the variety of character which distinguishes it—is really owing to the machinery of the small boroughs which were called into existence, partly under the Plantagenets, but certainly under the Tudors and Stuarts, and which have given to England that varied representation of interests which India and our multifarious colonies, the settlements of two oceans and of two hemispheres demanded. And I say of these Local Rating Acts, which have been so criticized—these Small Tenements Acts, which prevail, we are given to understand, with a power as secret and inscrutable as that of the Jesuits—that they can absolutely, though unintentionally, give us that variety which the country requires, and which I believe is an admirable quality. ["Oh!"] Why, how does it work? There are twenty-seven boroughs under this system in which almost household suffrage prevails. What is the harm of that? Have you not been year after year deploring that you have no longer Members for Preston and such places elected by household suffrage—that we have no 660 longer a system that produces among us a Hunt or a Cobbett? Among the twenty-seven towns in which the Small Tenements Act prevails you have this large constituency. There is a dozen of these twenty-seven boroughs having some of the most considerable constituencies in England. There are Stockport, Bradford, and half-a-dozen others. [Mr. Gladstone: Stoke-upon-Trent.] That is one of the greatest arguments that I have heard in favour of it, though the right hon. Gentleman the other night, taking advantage of the position he had in the debate, appealed to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-upon-Trent (Mr. B. Hope), who, in consequence, delivered a fiery invective against our Bill. I will not stop to consider what would be his relative position if this £5 rating were adopted in his borough instead of our proposal. It would make a difference of only a very few thousands. There would be a difference as between 15,000 and 9,000. But every one knows that my hon. Friend is perfectly superior to any political accidents of this kind. The hon. Member is Member for the Potteries, and, in my opinion, he will always represent the Potteries, because they are filled by an intelligent population, who like men of social standing and refined taste in the arts, and who are not insensible to the charms of his rich and grotesque rhetoric.
Well now, Sir, let me ask the House to consider what is the result of our proposal respecting the borough franchise. Our proposal—I must repeat it again even at the risk of wearying the House—is that every householder who is rated to the poor and personally pays his rates, and who has occupied his house for two years, shall possess the franchise. I never wished in arguing this question that its merits should depend on the exact numbers that may be admitted under it to the exercise of the suffrage. I think that on that subject a vast misapprehension prevails. It is a mistake to suppose that mere numbers make democracy. So long as you have fitness and variety it is impossible that democracy can prevail. In our proposal we believe these two elements do prevail. Now, Sir, recurring to a point to which I alluded when I first rose in answer to the hon. Member for Birmingham, I mentioned the other night that by our scheme 240,000 persons in round numbers would be qualified to enjoy the franchise, and I thought that it was the duty of statesmen and politicians in the proposal-of laws to look 661 to those who would be qualified, and not to those who would vote. I think, with great deference, that the House has rather erred in trying always to calculate the state of the poll. But this is a practical assembly, and I adopt its tone, and I will argue the case in the way in which the House, and especially the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone), appears to wish it to be considered. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that my 240,000 qualified persons would only prove to be 120,000 persons who could possibly go to the poll. I believe, however, that ho did not subject even them to the constitutional conditions of our Bill—that they should be personally rated, and that they should reside for two years. [Mr. GLADSTONE: I have.] Well, we expect some opposition to our Bill; but it should be an opposition on some definite ground. Is it a Radical, or is it a Conservative Bill? You must oppose it on one ground or the other. You cannot blow hot and cold upon it. I brought it forward not as a Radical, but as a Conservative measure, I brought it forward as a Conservative, but as a popular Bill, and if the word had not been objected to the other night I would say that I defy any person to show me any measure which the House has passed of a more popular, and at the same time of a more Conservative character. I admit that these 120,000 may be the most that are practically admitted to the exercise of the franchise by our proposal. We never considered the numbers, but we looked to the principle. We looked to the means by which we might unite competency and fitness with variety of character, in order to form the constitution of the country. If we have to reduce the 240,000 by one-half, the same rule must of course apply to the 460,000 compound-householders, who, according to the hon. Member for Birmingham, are excluded by this Bill. I never apprehended that the hon. Member for Birmingham was ready to enfranchise all these persons. On the contrary, no man has ever impressed upon society more strenuously that there are a great many people to whom he would not give the power of voting. Following, then, the principle to which I have just-referred, those 460,000 compound-householders will be reduced to 230,000. If you apply the constitutional conditions which we ask the House to adopt, that I number will be still further reduced. Upon these constitutional conditions the House ought to give an opinion. Are they or 662 are they not of opinion that a man who is to be intrusted with the suffrage should be rated to the poor, should pay his own rates, and have, moreover, a two years' residence in the place where he is so rated? I cannot apprehend that the number that will be admitted within the pale of the Constitution, as it is called, by the scheme which we propose, will be so great as to cause any distrust or alarm. I believe that those who will obtain the franchise, and who are not compound-householders, will not exceed the number which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire has estimated as the immediate consequence of our Bill. But it must be remembered that our Bill is not framed, as was the one of last Session, to enfranchise a specific number of persons. We do not attempt that. We lay down a principle and let that principle work; but if you ask us what will be the result of its working, we say—although we do not wish to found our policy on it—that we do not apprehend the number that will be admitted to the enjoyment of the franchise will exceed the number contemplated by the Bill of last Session. But there is this difference between our proposition and the proposition made by the right hon. Gentleman. The proposition of the right hon. Gentleman was founded upon a state of things which was liable to be changed the next year, when the question might possibly have to be raised again, while the proposition that we make is founded upon a principle that is not liable to alteration. With regard to the dual vote, I frankly confess, when I consider how limited may be the number enfranchised by our scheme, that I am not prepared to recommend a proposition which was originally intended to protect the middle classes against an invasion of their political power. That proposition as to the dual vote was not merely brought forward as a check and a counterpoise. No such mere vulgar idea entered our minds. ["Oh, oh!"] It is all very well for Gentlemen to sneer. Nothing is easier than that; but you must recollect that for a number of years the attention of some of the most eminent men, and of some of the profoundest thinkers, has been given to the subject of Parliamentary representation; and that by many of them it has been held that it is impossible to disturb the balance of political power, as it now exists, without departing from the old system of apportioning one vote to each individual. We cannot, however, be blind to what has 663 recently occurred. We bettered that men of great mark and standing were prepared to support this view, and possibly even now, before we have finished with this Bill, we shall find more than one hon. Member rising to propose a still broader and stronger principle than the one involved in the dual vote. The question is a profound one, and one that has commanded and will command great attention. But this is essentially a practical assembly, and it is the business of Her Majesty's Government to bring forward, and, if possible, to pass a measure of Reform. We must also defer to the wishes of our supporters. What encouragements have we received from this side of the House upon this point? [Laughter.] Do hon. Gentlemen mean to say that we are to disregard the opinions of our friends? Why, Sir, we are not prepared to disregard the opinions even of our foes. If there be any one question upon which the opinion of the House has been expressed more clearly than upon another, it has been upon this. And most certainly we have received no encouragement. From first to last no one has spoken a single word in its favour. I had hoped that some stray philosopher would have risen to say something in its behalf, and to have lent dignity to our forlorn position. I had hoped that the noble Viscount the Member for Stamford (Viscount Cranbourne) would have given it his support, but even he denounced it.
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. I distinctly stated that I thought the proposal just.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
At any rate the noble Viscount said he believed it to be impracticable, and if practicable, would do no good. How can one fight against such difficulties? I am prepared to fight against the greatest difficulties. But we stand here as practical men, with a duty to fulfil, and that is to pass a Bill for the Amendment of the Representation of the People, and it would therefore have been worse than idle to persist against such opposition. One word before I conclude. I hear much of the struggle of parties in this House, and I hear much of combinations that may occur, and courses that may be taken, which may affect the fate of this Bill. All I can say on the part of my Colleagues and myself is that we have no other wish at the present moment than, with the co-operation of this House, to bring the question of Parlia- 664 mentary Reform to a settlement. I know the Parliamentary incredulity with which many will receive avowals that we are only influenced in the course we are taking by a sense of duty; but I do assure the House, if they need such assurances after what we have gone through, after the sacrifices we have made, after having surrendered our political connection with men whom we more than regarded—I can assure them no other principle animates us but a conviction that we ought not to desert our posts until this question has been settled. Rest assured that it is not for the weal of England that this settlement should be delayed. You may think that the horison is not disturbed at the present juncture—you may think that surrounding circumstances may be favourable to dilatory action, some of you may think, in the excitement of the moment, that ambition may be gratified, and that the country may look favourably upon those who prevent the passing of this Bill. Do not believe it. There is a deep responsibility with regard to this question, resting not upon the Government merely, but upon the whole House of Commons. We are prepared, as I think I have shown, to act in all sincerity in this matter. Act with us cordially and candidly, assist us to carry this measure. We will not shrink from deferring to your suggestions so long as they are consistent with the main object of this Bill which we have never concealed from you, and which is to preserve the representative character of the House of Commons. Act with us, I say, cordially and candidly, you will find on our side complete reciprocity of feeling. Pass the Bill, and then change the Ministry if you like.
§ Question put, and agreed to: Bill read a second time.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
The Mutiny Bill must be taken on Thursday next: on the following Monday, there are Votes in Supply which cannot be deferred. On the 4th of April I propose to make the Financial Statement, and I will therefore give Monday the 8th for Committee on this Bill.
I cannot think that the arrangement proposed is the one which would be most convenient to the House. The right hon. Gentleman says it is a matter of great necessity that the Financial Statement should be made on the 4th. Now, no doubt there are some- 665 times peculiar circumstances which render it very desirable that that Statement should be made at a very early period indeed; but we have not been given to understand that there is on this occasion any great question pending which disturbs the public mind, or which agitates trade and throws it into a state of suspension, such as would necessitate the proceeding with the Financial Statement at a particularly early date. Moreover, it is very difficult, as I know from experience, to get all the facts connected with the finance of the country into a position to be presented to the House as early as three days after making up the year's accounts. If the right hon. Gentleman would tell us whether any great change is contemplated in our financial system, or whether there is any large reduction of taxation which he is able to promise, or any other topic of extreme importance, I, for one, should not, if such circumstances exist, at all object to the proposal which he has made; but otherwise it does not appear to me convenient to the House to postpone the Motion for the Speaker's leaving the Chair until the 8th. I am far from saying that the difference between the 4th and the 8th is one on which I, for one, should think it necessary to go to an issue with Her Majesty's Government, for I do not think the question is one of such magnitude, as to justify that course; but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be disposed to reconsider his proposal. ["No, no!"] Much more ample time would be allowed for the House either to go through the discussion which may precede the Speaker's leaving the Chair, or to enter upon the consideration in some other manner of the main provisions of this Bill, if he would fix the Motion for the 4th than if he postpones it till the 8th.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
We have, of course, considered the question from every point of view, and for many reasons we are convinced that the course we are taking is the most convenient for the public interests.
§ Bill committed for Monday 8th April.