§ Order for Committee read.
It is to be regretted, although I do not think it is matter of blame to anyone, that there was no discussion on the subject of this Bill when it was read a second time; because it involves consideration of a nature that can hardly be discussed in Committee, unless we consider broader questions than are raised by any clause on the Motion for postponing the Preamble. With regard to the principal provisions of this Bill, we are in a position of very considerable difficulty, and it is only by the disposition of the sections of the House to co-operate that we have any chance of getting out of that difficulty. I will endeavour to explain the difficulty. First, I may say, for myself and those with whom I have had the means of communicating, that no part of the difficulty arises from the conduct of the Boundary Commissioners. They had entrusted to them a difficult duty with regard to the alteration of the existing boundaries of boroughs, and with scanty guidance from the House. They were to inquire into the boundaries of all boroughs, subject to the condition that they were in no case to recommend the contraction of those boundaries; but the main object of their inquiry was to be to ascertain whether the boundaries should be enlarged so as to include within the limits of boroughs—All premises which ought, due regard being had to situation or other local circumstances, to be included therein for the purpose of conferring upon the occupiers thereof the Parliamentary franchise.We must all feel that the task imposed upon the Commissioners was a very arduous one; and there was no notification given to them on the part of Parliament of the principle on which they were to found their proceedings, beyond the general words, "All premises, due regard being had to situation and other local circumstances." With these disadvantages the 249 Commissioners have earned our obligations by the care, intelligence, and impartiality they have displayed. For my own part, I know of but one case in which there is, upon the face of circumstances, any appearance of a palpable departure from the intention of their Instructions, and that is Baying a great deal when the cases to be dealt with were so numerous, the Commissioners having recommended the extension of the boundaries of about two-fifths of the boroughs of England. The exceptional case I refer to is that of Leamington and Warwick. So far as I can learn there is not the slightest imputation upon the Commissioners of any indirect aiming at augmenting the influence of one party or another by the recommendations they have made; nor is there, as far as I know, any such character even unintentionally attaching to those recommendations. There are however, points which it is absolutely necessary that we should take info view, not only without any disrespect to the Commissioners, but, on the contrary, with a strong feeling of gratitude for the way in which they have discharged a very difficult duty. I own that I have a prejudice in favour of the identity of Parliamentary and municipal boundaries. Obviously where the Parliamentary boundary is within the municipal boundary and covers a less area, there can be no difficulty about the extension to the frontier, so to speak, afforded by the municipal boundary; but the difficulty in departing from the identity of boundaries arises in this way— When we wish a town to be represented we must ask ourselves what we mean by a town? Do we mean an associated community having a common government? While very unwilling to admit of a wholesale departure from that principle, I do not ask the House to adopt it and deal with the recommendations of the Commissioners upon it, because the time to have done that was twelve months ago when the Commission was appointed. The point which I wish to bring fully into view is, that there is an element in this case which, in the absence of a clear principle like that of the identity of the Parliamentary and municipal boundaries, is the most important element of all, but which was not within the Instructions of the Commissioners— I mean the disposition of the parties, the disposition of a town to be extended, the disposition of a district to be annexed. The Commissioners have not considered that, and they were not ap- 250 pointed to inquire into the wishes of the inhabitants; but it is impossible we can exclude that element from our view. I will not say that the wish of the inhabitants ought to be conclusive with the House, and that there should be no extension, unless in cases where the town is willing to be enlarged, and the district is willing to be included; but this is a propotion for which I cannot help anticipating general if not universal assent—that where there is an unwillingness on the part of the town to be enlarged, and of the district to be included, that intelligence demands from this House in principle a fair consideration, and the time and opportunity necessary for such a purpose. Therefore I feel the greatest difficulty—nay, an impossibility, in adopting wholesale the recommendation of the Commissioners with respect to new boundaries for old boroughs, on the face of the evidence we have of a disinclination existing in many cases to its being done. That disinclination of the parties is not the only consideration we must take into view. There are others of a very serious nature. One is the effect which is produced by the extension of boundaries upon proprietary franchises. It is a portion of the Act of last year which I regret exceedingly, and I think we acted with great shortsightedness, at a period when we were so greatly multiplying the merely numerical force of the constituencies, in allowing so much extinction of proprietary franchises. In some cases it might almost be asserted that the effect of an extension of boundary as proposed will be simple disfranchisement; because there are cases in which the district proposed to be included is inhabited wholly by the middle class. The persons who constitute the population are men of business, having their places of business in the town, and having, in virtue of those offices, a vote for the borough, while their residences, being beyond the limits of the town, give them a vote for the county. I do not say this is a general rule; but where it is the case the effect of the extension of the boundary would be simple disfranchisement, because all those persons would lose votes for the county and they possess votes for the towns already. I mention this only as a reason for proceeding with deliberation in this matter. Another great reason is the effect of the extension of these boundaries with reference to compound-householders. With the sense of hardship and grievance that appears to prevail in many of the boroughs 251 of the country in consequence of the provisions of the Act of last year, we ought to be very cautious about extending these provisions in cases where the inhabitants do not desire such extension. Further, I do not think that the Report of the Commissioners can be considered as final. I do not think we can conclude this from the Report of the Commissioners, because they themselves have brought into view the inconvenient effect of the regulation imposed on them, that in no case were they to recommend a contraction of the areas of existing boroughs. They refer to the case of Salisbury, and having some partial acquaintance with the borough, I can attest the truth of their remarks. Then I call the attention of the House to this fact, that the Commissioners, proceeding in this matter as they have done in all other matters, in a spirit of fairness and impartiality, report on the indisposition which they found in certain districts to be annexed to the neighbouring towns. I refer to the words of their Report—We found, in some cases, a general indisposition on the part of persons residing in the neighbourhood of a borough to permit themselves to be included within the Parliamentary boundaries —an indisposition which, in almost every case, was attributed to the fear of an extended Parliamentary boundary being followed by a similar extension of the municipal area, and that they would then be liable for the borough rates.Now, the fact is one thing, and the reason is another. The fact is one that requires our gravest consideration, and as for the reason I must say there is a good deal in it. I will not say that the extension of Parliamentary boundaries at all leads, as a necessary consequence, to the extension of municipal boundaries; but I think the plain tendency is in that direction, and if those who live within the Parliamentary and without the municipal boundaries feel that they are more likely to be drawn into the municipal net, they naturally object to being brought within the Parliamentary boundaries. But this frank declaration of the Parliamentary Commissioners as to the indisposition, is only to be drawn out of their Report. They tell us they have received all the memorials addressed to them through the Assistant Commissioners; but those memorials are not before us, and we cannot tell whether they include the whole or nearly the whole of the boroughs where an extension is recommended. [Mr. RUSSELL GURNEY made a gesture of dissent.] The right hon. and learned Gentleman says not the whole, and I was quite prepared for 252 that statement, because I believe that in some cases there may be a great desire for annexation; but the other cases will require our serious consideration. As far as I am concerned, wherever there is a desire that the recommendations of the Commissioners should be carried into effect, or where there is a disposition to acquiesce in their recommendations, I think, in all such cases, we would do well at once to give effect to their recommendations. On the other hand, I own I, for one, am not prepared—I do not believe that this House is prepared—to over-ride, without any further examination the objections of the districts, where it may reasonably be presumed that there is a very divided state of opinion, or still more where there is positive aversion on the part of the inhabitants. Today we have had some remarkable evidence before the House, in the shape of the various petitions and memorials that have been presented. I especially refer to the petition from Aston, in the neighbourhood of Birmingham, where it appears that out of 6,000 ratepayers nearly 5,000 have petitioned against being included in the Parliamentary boundaries of Birmingham. Now, it is impossible, I think, to refuse these parties a fair hearing of their case. That will not be acting against the judgment of the Commissioners; for the Commissioners have not heard them, not thinking themselves allowed to do so. I believe they were right, and that it was not the intention of Parliament that they should have any jurisdiction in the matter. The House, however, is entitled—nay, more, is bound to hear them. I may mention a case. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. M. T. Bass) has put together, I have no doubt, with great dilligence, all the names, [Mr. M. T. BASS: No !]—well, nearly all the names which he can collect, in which there is a decided feeling on the part of the inhabitants, or in which there is the manifestations of a divided state of opinion; and I should require that all those cases shall be reserved for further consideration. Our general position with reference to this Bill is very much like that in which we were placed in a debate twenty-four hours ago, when a Member rose at 30 minutes past 5 to continue a debate which he well knew would, at 45 minutes past 5, by the rules of this House, settle itself. I do not say that position was at all unreasonable; I use it merely for the purpose of illustration. If there be elaborate discussion and examination of details, followed by divi- 253 sions, with reference to one by one of the towns the names of which are included in the Schedule, why the question will settle itself, for it will be totally impossible for the Bill to pass before the 10th of June, in which case I apprehend it will not, as the law stands, be available for the purpose of registration in the present year. Under these circumstances we find a very natural explanation of the proposal of my hon. Friend (Mr. Hibbert) to postpone the consideration of the Commissioners' recommendations to a time when we can view the whole matter deliberately, and can consider calmly upon what principle we shall proceed with respect to these very various and different cases. Undoubtedly, I for one, if I were driven, on the one hand, to postpone the consideration of the Report, or as the only other alternative, to; go into these debates in the face of a strong opposition, or of a divided and conflicting state of opinion on the part of the inhabitants, I own it appears to me that the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham offers the only solution the House can possibly have. It remains for us, however, to consider whether it may be possible by the use of any means which are at the command of the House, or whether the Government can suggest any method on which we can act, by which we may proceed without delay to adopt the recommendations of the Commissioners in those cases where no serious difference of opinion exists, holding over the other cases for further and careful consideration. The difficulty of course is in finding a criterion, and my hon. Friend (Mr. M. T. Bass) must have experienced that difficulty. He has embodied it in a more modest form; but it is really the framing a schedule, or rather the dividing one schedule into two Now, there is a very difficult operation, though I do not believe is any hon. Member more qualified than himself to do it, and I am satisfied that he has succeeded, to a considerable extent, in pointing out the cases which are required for exception. My principal object in rising was to do what may really save time, by bringing the attention of the Government, of the House, and of the Commissioners who sit in this House, without delay to the consideration of whether we can adopt any, method by means of which we can at once with certainty and satisfaction act upon the recommendation of the Commissioners in regard to cases that are subject to no considerable doubt, leaving over for con- 254 sideration such cases as are open to doubt so far as the will of the parties to be affected is concerned, for undoubtedly their opinion is worthy of consideration. An hon. Friend of mine (Mr. Monk) has given notice of a Motion that the first Schedule be referred to a Select Committee. I do not wish to prejudge that or any proposition by means of which we can avoid great entanglement and embarrassment; but if a Select Committee be appointed, it must, I think, be subject to these limitations—It must be a small Committee; it must be selected with great care; its investigation must be carried on de die in diem, and it must confine itself to documentary evidence— namely, to the memorials that were brought before the Commissioners and the petitions that have been or may be addressed to this House. I do not undertake to make a Motion; but I think under the circumstances, we are fairly entitled to appeal, in no hostile spirit, to Her Majesty's Government, who are of course immediately responsible for the Bill, to relieve us from the difficulty in which we are placed. I think there is no general desire on this side of the House to increase their difficulties by throwing over these recommendations in the mass, provided they can point out to us some fair means—and as to the fairness we shall not be very critical—for drawing a line between the cases that are clear and the cases that are not. Otherwise I should certainly feel that I had no option except to support the Motion of my hon. Friend (Mr. Hibbert). In a case like Aston—and there are many others approximating to it—I cannot think it possible the Government would ask the House to consent to throw these people who object to it into the borough Parliamentary community without giving them some opportunity of a hearing. The effect of this is that it separates them from the representatives for the county, who are their natural advocates in matters of taxation, and while they are separated from the county representation they will remain subjects for local taxation to the county authorities. I think it is not possible for us, in the face of an apparent indisposition on the part of the parties themselves, to adopt any such course. The only other explanation I need offer is this—I do not think it could be supposed to be the function of this Committee to decide finally upon any of these cases. I should not ask, after a Parliamentary Commission had been appointed, and after the manner in which 255 the duties of that Commission had been charged, that its recommendations should be finally disposed of by the Committee. The only function of the Committee would be to indicate what are the cases in which, in point of fairness and policy, it would be expedient to hold over, and not to attempt to dispose of by legislation during the present year.
§ MR. DISRAELI
The right hon. Gentleman has succeeded in pointing out a great many difficulties which we shall have to encounter in considering the Report of the Boundary Commissioners; and I apprehend that no Bill of this extent, scope, and dimensions can possibly be brought under the consideration of this House without such difficulties being experienced. But I am fain to believe that with patience and temper we shall encounter no difficulties that may not be settled in a manner satisfactory to the large majority of the House, and, I hope, entirely satisfactory to the country. I was very much pleased to hear the right hon. Gentleman take up a sound position with regard to the labours of the Commission—a position, indeed, which we should all expect from one of his ability and experience. I am glad that he did not impugn those labours. If we were to sanction the Motion of the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert) we should be taking a course which we should afterwards regret, and which would injure the character of Parliament. If we interfered in such a manner with the recommendations of eminent men, statutory Commissioners unanimously appointed by Parliament, whose duties were defined by Parliament, and who had fulfilled those duties most laboriously and conscientiously, it would be difficult to get any Gentlemen again to labour under such circumstances for great purposes of State. I was glad, therefore, to find that on this point the right hon. Gentleman took a position which one would expect from a Member of his standing and experience in this House. Then, let me say one word upon the nature of the Bill before us. It is really not in spirit a Government measure — that is, it is not a measure which has even been submitted to the Cabinet, because there was no question of policy upon which the opinion of the Cabinet was required. The Government have acted simply as the trustees of Parliament. They have taken the Report of the Commissioners, and have been careful to bring it under the consideration of the House in a businesslike and effec- 256 tual manner. The House will recollect all the circumstances under which the Commission was appointed. It was a statutory Commission. I may say that virtually the chief Commissioners were named by this House. I certainly proposed some names, because it was well understood that unless some were proposed we should never arrive at any conclusion. But I said at the time that the feeling of the House was that which would influence the Government; and that there was nothing we more desired to avoid in a matter of such delicacy and importance than that the imputations should rest upon the Commissioners now that were freely thrown on the Commissioners of 1832. I believe that those imputations were unfounded; but we resolved to take such a course that there should be no ground for similar imputations in this case. I offered other names, some of which were not accepted, but they were names of hon. Gentlemen sitting on the opposite Benches, and distinguished not only for their abilities, but for their extreme Liberal opinions. Ultimately the five Commissioners were appointed by the House, and to the entire satisfaction of the House. ["No!"] All I can say is that I am in the recollection of those who took part in the proceedings of last year, and I think they will admit that the statement I have made is perfectly well founded. No objection was made to the five Gentlemen who were ultimately appointed; and the objections made to other individuals were immediately submitted to without any inquiry into their justice, because there was a general feeling that the Commissioners should be unanimously appointed. Then, with regard to the Assistant Commissioners, Her Majesty's Government had no connection at all with their appointment. It was at once announced, to prevent any misconception on that head, that the Assistant Commissioners should be appointed by the Chief Commissioners; and I only learnt the names of the Assistant Commissioners by reading the Report. It was therefore quite impossible that to fulfil these duties a Commission could be appointed which was more completely accepted by the House as its representative in this matter. The results of the Commission are now before us. I cannot for a moment maintain that the House has lost its power of revising the decision of the Commissioners. I do not suppose for a moment that the Commissioners consider that they have submitted to us a Report which could not 257 be the subject of Parliamentary criticism and revision; and if, as we proceed, we find any case which merits our interference, I am sure that the good sense and the spirit of justice of the House will be applied to set right any matter requiring correction. All I can say is that I cannot consider this Bill as a party question under any circumstances. It is a measure with regard to which, so far as any influence I may possess, I shall consider that any Gentleman with whom I may be connected is perfectly at liberty to come to any decision which he thinks the justice of the case requires. I do not think that the interests of party are matters which ought to be introduced into these discussions; and I believe it would be very difficult to settle what political party will benefit by the recommendations of the Commissioners. The effect of the recommendations would be of a very mixed kind; but, at the same time, important principles may be involved, and therefore in that sense we should consider whether we believe the recommendations are just. The right hon. Gentleman seems to think that we are entering upon a subject of great difficulty, and that it will take a considerable time to arrive at a decision. No doubt, it is desirable that on an early day in June this Bill should pass; but if it is not then passed, we might by legislation still effect our purpose; and it is possible, if the course of business with regard to the supplemental Reform Bills requires it, I shall have to appeal to the House to support me in passing some Bill to shorten the time which, under the existing law, must intervene in the case of a dissolution. But having gone through this Bill with some pains in order to form some estimate of the time it would take to carry it through the Committee, I do not see that it is impossible to conclude it within the necessary time and without precipitate-ness. I may remind the House that there is an effective instrument in their own hands, which they may adopt, and which they did adopt last year—the practice of morning sittings; and I believe that if you resort to morning sittings upon the Boundary Bill you will avoid the difficulties which the right hon. Gentleman seemed to anticipate. The right hon. Gentleman says there may be cases which it may be desirable to refer to a Select Committee. If, as we go on, we find there are cases of that description, that is an instrument of which we ought to avail ourselves; but certainly on the condition that the Committee should 258 sit de die in diem, and give us the result of their deliberations without unnecessary delay. There is another mode by which we might facilitate our labours and obviate some of these difficulties; we might refer a controverted case and a memorial to the Commissioners themselves. The dignity of the Commissioners, if we enter fairly into the discussion of their labours, would not be in any way diminished or injured by our asking them to re consider any of the details. ["No !"] These are considerations for the House; they are not to be settled by any Gentleman giving an affirmative or a negative. If we determine on morning sittings, and if an impartial spirit pervades the House, I cannot doubt that, referring particular cases, if necessary, to a Select Committee or back to the Commissioners, we may get through this Bill in time to accomplish what we desire. All I can say is, that on the part of the Government there will be every effort to effect that object, and that so far as depends on them no spirit of party will be allowed to enter into any of the discussions.
§ MR. HIBBERT
said, he hoped the House would allow him shortly to justify the course he had taken with respect to this Bill. There were three courses which any one might take who objected to the proposals of the Boundary Commissioners. One was the proposal of the counter-schedule against the schedule in the Bill; the second was to refer the Bill to a Select Committee; and the third was the course he had adopted in the Notice he had given. There were great objections to the proposal of a counter-schedule; for, as a private Member, it would have been very invidious indeed for him to undertake to say what places ought to be excluded and what included. He also felt that it might be imputed to him that he had prepared such a schedule for party purposes, leaving out places which were supposed to be favourable to his own party, and putting in others which were unfavourable. With regard to any reference to a Select Committee, he thought that there were great objections to any such course on account of time. One reason why he proposed to omit the clause altogether was that he saw a great difficulty in passing this Bill in time to be brought into operation for the purposes of the registration. The Registration Act required that on or before the 10th of June the clerks of the peace in counties and the town clerks in boroughs 259 should give certain precepts to the different overseers of the various parishes. If therefore the Members of that House were to fight in detail all the points which were now on the Notice Paper, it would be quite impossible for the Bill to pass in time for the Registration precepts to be given this year. But there was another strong motive for his proceeding, and it was that it would be quite impossible to get proper consideration for the Amendments on the Notice Paper if they were to be taken in detail. However strong each case might be it would have no chance, or but very little chance, of being successfully brought before a Committee of the House. He had therefore come to the conclusion that the only course open to him was to move that the 4th clause be omitted, in order to give further time for its consideration. But, in giving notice to that effect, he had no desire whatever to prevent the extension of the boundaries of those towns to which no objection was taken. In his opinion, it was a matter rather for the Government than any individual Member to propose a plan which would get over the difficulties. With regard to the Commissioners, he must say that, as far as he was concerned, he had no wish to impugn their decisions in any manner. He believed that they had fairly and impartially considered everything that was brought before them; but the House had given them very large, vague, and indefinite Instructions last year, and it was because of that vagueness that he held the House was justified in reviewing the proposals in the Bill. Those proposals, he felt, were not the proposals of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli) bad very properly stated that this was the Bill of the House of Commons; and therefore he did not impute any motives to the Government in what they had done. The Bill re-produced the recommendations of the Commission, and he did not suppose they had been in any manner altered. He felt bound, however, in duty to his constituents, to ask the House to give a real consideration to the objections entertained. It was upon these grounds that he had placed his Notice upon the Paper. He certainly had no party object in view; he was not a party man at all, and when he should bring forward his Motion he would not deal with it in a party spirit. He did not think the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government was at all satisfactory. He hoped the right hon. 260 Gentleman and his Colleagues would see that there was a real necessity for considering the proposals which had been submitted to the House. He had looked into them, and he knew that the feeling of the people in many of the towns to which they referred was of the strongest nature. As they were about to legislate, he hoped not for a few years, but for many, he trusted they would not lay down boundaries which would give dissatisfaction for many years to come. Unless the Government proposed some plan for meeting the difficulty, he should feel compelled to proceed with the Notice which he had given.
§ MR. GOLDNEY
said, with regard to postponement, he wished to draw attention to what had occurred thirty-four years ago with respect to the Boundary Commission for municipal purposes. In that case the plans were prepared quite carefully for the enlargement of eighty-one boroughs, which was the exact number of boroughs which the Commissioners, in the present instance, recommended should be extended. The consideration of the Bill was postponed on the plea of want of time, and from that period to this no step whatever bad been taken to carry out the Report of the Commissioners. One of the objections raised to the measure now before the House was that hon. Gentlemen would like to have the area of the Parliamentary borough extended, so that its limits and those of the municipality might be the same. But, inasmuch as the recommendations of the Commission on Municipal Boundaries had never been carried out, it would be impossible to adopt that course. He had endeavoured to gather from the petitions which had been presented, and the Notices placed on the Orders of the House, what the objections to the recommendations of the Commissioners were. In the discussion on the 31st clause of the Reform Bill, the question of Instructions to the Commissioners was very fully debated, and the right hon. Member for South Lancashire himself said that the municipal boundary ought not to be taken for the Parliamentary borough. Any one who had read the Report of the Commissioners would see that the Instructions given to the Assistant Commissioners had been most carefully prepared. They were to give notice in every town by advertisement, and they were not only to hear all the evidence brought before them, but to inspect in person the proposed boundaries. The Members of the House would probably 261 be surprised to hear that out of eighty-four cases there were only four objections to the alterations proposed. With respect to the whole of the boroughs of Wales there were no objections at all; with regard to the whole of the now boroughs only two alterations had been suggested; and as for the counties no alteration of boundaries was proposed to be made. The only other objection was with regard to three boroughs which had been re-divided; so that the practical thing which the House had to grapple with was, four objections to alterations in the boundaries, which he looked upon as a question of simple detail, and the Notices of ten Gentlemen for the omission from the Bill of the additions proposed to be made to their boroughs. If the Bill were sent to a Select Committee, and the objections laid before it, his opinion was that they would be all disposed of in a day; and if the House was willing to go into the matter properly, two nights would be sufficient for the purpose.
MR. M. T. BASS
said, he desired to express complete satisfaction with all that had been done by the Commissioners. It appeared to him that while the Commissioners had examined the cases of 222 boroughs, 128 had not been touched at all, nine were new boroughs, and only eighty one were dealt with. It seemed to him, therefore, very undesirable that 128 boroughs which had not been touched, and that large proportion of eighty one which had been considered, should be deprived of the benefit of what the Commissioners had done, because there were some twelve or fifteen or twenty boroughs to the arrangements about which very strong objections had been taken in detail. He had been in hopes, after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government would have said something more satisfactory than he had done. The right hon. Gentleman had admitted, provisionally, the force of many of the suggestions that had been made; but had declared himself in favour of none. He should be glad to know whether the Government would consent to the appointment of a Select Committee, if such a proposal were made by any hon. Member, under such conditions as they might think fit? Considering the grave objections which had been raised, he would be glad, if he were not taking too great a liberty, to invite the Commissioners to tell the House 262 whether they had not met with some difficulties which they themselves thought entitled to re-consideration. He trusted that the Government would adopt the suggestion that had been thrown out of a small Select Committee to determine all the more important disputed questions.
§ MR. GATHORNE HARDY
The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gladstone), and my hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. M. T. Bass), have both stated that great difficulties are about to arise with regard to the Bill, and that the Government ought to meet them by some preliminary step. But, in the first place, the Government are not prepared to admit that great difficulties will arise. I believe that my hon. Friend (Mr. Goldney) has overstated the case. There are certain cases in which, I believe, the House will come to an unanimous decision, in conjunction with the Commissioners — that certain things which they have recommended, on account of the terms to which they were bound down, might be set aside with great advantage both to the borough and to the county. In addition to this, there may be many other cases which are open to consideration; but at this moment I believe there are not more than seven or eight cases which will require the careful attention of the House. And if the Committee of this House is not able to deal with seven cases, in a very short time it will be giving itself a character which it does not deserve. The right hon. Gentleman opposite says he does not object to go into Committee, Well, let us go into Committee, and see whether any of these very great difficulties which have been specified will arise. If they do, then will be the time to consider them; and the Government will be prepared to do so.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
If we go into Committee we shall soon come to the 4th clause; and the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert), unless he gets some assurance from the Government that due consideration will be given to a matter on which great local difference of opinion exists, must press his Motion. The object of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) is that some means should be taken, with the general consent of the House and with the concurrence of the Government, to make progress with this Bill without being involved in a general discussion on the Motion of the hon. Member for Oldham on the one hand, and on the several places in schedules on the other. Now, we are quite incompetent to enter upon the merits of the 263 particular cases in which strong objections are entertained to the recommendations of the Commissioners. In the majority of the cases there would be no difficulty in adopting the recommendations of the Commissioners; but in regard to the others, the House is not in possession of the objections that have been locally made before the Assistant Commissioners. I know cases in which memorials of the strongest character having been adopted unanimously, have been presented against the recommendations of the Commissioners. But these memorials are not before the House; and we are called upon to decide these cases without any knowledge whatever of the circumstances. The suggestion thrown out by my right hon. Friend is, not that the schedules should be referred to a Select Committee with a view to take further evidence and over-ride the decision of the Commissioners, but merely to report those cases in which time for further consideration ought to be given. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. G. Hardy) says that there are but seven of such cases; but, judging from the Notices on the Paper, I should imagine that there are from twenty to thirty. I know cases in which memorials have been presented to the Commissioners urging grounds which are entitled to consideration, and which the House ought to be aware of. And if a Select Committee of six were appointed by the Committee of Selection, and if they have the memorials before them, they will be able to report whether there are any cases, and, if so, which they are, in which further time for consideration is required. Except in these cases the schedules might be passed, and the Bill proceed through Committee. The House is entitled to ask the Government to assist them in promoting this object, and in avoiding unnecessary discussion. It is desirable we should not take what will practically be the irrevocable step of extending the boundaries of these boroughs without any consideration of the grounds on which strong objections are made to the recommendations of the Commissioners.
I shall not, in any observations I may make, complain of what the Commissioners have done. But the House will recollect that last year I objected to the Commission—I mean to the names as they stood on the Commission. I did not say that they were not all very honourable men; but I thought I should have liked to see the Commission formed 264 in rather a different manner. And the right hon. Gentleman will recollect also that I moved an Amendment—at least I gave notice of it, and the right hon. Member for Morpeth (Sir George Grey) proposed it to the House—that words should be inserted, calling upon the Commissioners to have regard in their proceedings to the local circumstances of the boundaries of municipal government. Well, unfortunately, as I think, that Amendment was not accepted by the Government: these words were not introduced. The House will see that at least I am free to discuss this case without being influenced in any way by the notion that the House was unanimous. I am quite sure it was not. But though there was no division on it, there was a feeling on this side of the House against the course which the Government proposed. The fact is, that the House did make a mistake, as we now pretty nearly all feel; because, although we gave the Commissioners powers to extend—apparently without limit—we gave them no power to contract, which they themselves now regret. We permitted them to extend, without any regard whatsoever to the opinions of the populations that were affected by the extension. Now, I venture to say that nothing could be more contrary to the practice of Parliament than that of bringing in a people from one constituency to another without consulting the persons affected—bringing people to the amount of 400,000 from the county constituency to the borough constituencies. That is a thing which Parliament has never placed in the hands of a Commission without regard to the opinions of the people affected. Because, when you propose to grant a charter of incorporation for a borough, you require that a majority of the ratepayers should present a petition in favour of the measure, and the Queen in Council thereupon sends down an Inspector who makes an inquiry, and unless a majority of the inhabitants are in favour of incorporation the charter is not issued; and I argue that the House of Commons would act very differently from its ordinary course if they brought 20,000, 30,000, 40,000, or 50,000 persons outside of the borough within its limits, contrary to the wishes of that population, and contrary also to the wishes of the inhabitants of the borough to which it was proposed that they should be annexed. Local circumstances surely should weigh something in a matter of this kind. The cases brought 265 before the House, such as Manchester and Birmingham, are really astounding. I know not how the candidates or committees for parties are to work the elections for these enormous constituencies. I know not, under the circumstances, who is to bear the expense that is to be incurred. [A laugh.] I see some Gentlemen smiling as if they thought I was interested in that matter; but I beg to assure them that through the kindness and generosity of my friends in Birmingham I have never yet paid, and in all probability never will be called upon to pay, a single sixpence for the cost of my election; but if I have not to pay in my own person, I am the more bound to see that nothing is done by Parliament in reference to the borough which is not required by the public interests, and which would involve it in grievous difficulty and cost. I believe that both sides of the House will admit that nothing could be more fair or reasonable than the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, and certainly there is no disposition on this side of the House to enter into any party wars on this matter. No doubt, out of the seventy or eighty boroughs dealt with, only a minority of them object to the recommendations of the Commissioners; but that minority comprises many of the largest boroughs in the kingdom. They comprise in the metropolis the boroughs of Lambeth, Maryle-bone, and Finsbury, as well as those of Lancashire and Warwickshire; and it affects, I think, very materially the county of Middlesex. In that minority we find Birmingham; and the recommendations of the Commissioners affect not only the town of Birmingham itself, but the county in which it is situated, and the adjoining county of Worcester. It comprises also the city of Manchester; and, if there had been no other boroughs in the county of Lancaster, the Commissioners, upon the principle they have acted upon there, might have taken in half the county. It affects also the city of Liverpool; and the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Horsfall) who sits opposite has given, I believe, some notice on that point. What, then, under the circumstances, are we to do? The main difficulty has arisen from the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government. Not from what he has said to-day, because that was very fair, but from what he had said in past discussions. I appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite whether the right hon. Gentleman has not taught them in his 266 speeches for some years past that there was some vast secret underlying this boundary question; and whether he has not implied that if, in some manner, you could sweep into the boroughs what now forms a portion of the counties, great party results would ensue? I do not believe in the great party results; I rather believe in what the right hon. Gentleman has said to-day. And I think anybody who has examined the Report of the Commission must perceive that the party results will be of the very smallest character, and really not worth considering in the least as bearing either upon this side of the House or that. I regard the question as it affects particular interests, and disturbs the Parliamentary attachments of a very large population, from whom you are about to take a franchise which they much regard, giving them a franchise which they regard very much less. I do not believe that the House, if it could divest itself of the notion that there was any party gain in the matter, would agree to the recommendations of the Commissioners with regard to a certain number of boroughs—I am not sure of the number, but, as far as I have observed, I think it is between twelve and twenty — certainly more than the number stated by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. G. Hardy). In what position do we now find ourselves? My hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Bass), who, of all men, dislikes Parliamentary fighting — he has been a great fighter in that county at Parliamentary elections—but now, I suppose, like myself, finding the fire of youth partly suppressed, he comes forward to propose, in point of fact, a mediation between my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert) and the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government. Suppose we were to take the boroughs to which formidable objection is made, and refer them to a fair Committee of seven Members of this House, I believe that in the course of two or three days they would make a Report to the House, which the whole House would accept. I understand from the right hon. Gentleman's statement that he fears to throw any discredit on the proceedings of the Commission. Well, I see one of the Commissioners (Mr. Russell Gurney) sitting opposite to me, and from his character and professional training, I believe there is no person who would be more likely to wish to do what was proper in a matter of this kind. But I think the right hon. and learned Gentle- 267 man would admit that the course which I am recommending would enable proper consideration to be given to points which were shut out from the view of the Commissioners. For the Commissioners were not allowed to entertain the local circumstances of a borough or the feelings of the persons affected by their recommendations. That is quite clear from the terms of their Reference; and it is also clear that when their Report comes before the House, the House may deal with it, as it does with Reports of Select Committees. How often are Select Committees appointed and their recommendations overruled, sometimes passed by altogether? We do not want to overrule the main objects of the Commission; but we find that there are certain boroughs to which, acting under their instructions, they were not permitted to do what we believe to be perfect justice. In the borough which I represent there are 350,000 persons at least, who ask that the boundaries of their borough shall not be increased. They say that there is land within the boundary of the borough, even now, which will contain 40,000 more houses, and they do not wish, with an existing constituency of 50,000, or, as it will be next year, of 60,000, to have 30,000 additional persons brought in, a large number of whom belong to another county, and about whom there is this further peculiarity—that, while the 350,000 within the borough are almost unanimous apparently in asking the others not to come in, the 30,000 proposed to be added are absolutely unanimous in wishing to remain out. The Commission were quite unable to take cognizance of the wishes of those persons; they were only to take account of the geographical circumstances of the locality, and they acted upon their instructions. It is, however, not only within the power, but it is the duty of this House to take into consideration the feeling of the district. And therefore the right hon. Gentleman, without feeling that he is doing any wrong or throwing any slur upon the Commission, might fairly refer this matter to a Committee of the House. I understand the right hon. Gentleman would be willing to refer the whole matter of the disputed boroughs back to the Commissioners; but I believe the Commissioners would not like to have it so referred, because, after the decision to which they came, they would find much more difficulty in going into the question with dispassionate minds, and in 268 recommending a different conclusion than a select and fairly appointed Committee of this House would have. Now, I put it to the right hon. Gentleman, and I put it to hon. Gentlemen opposite, whether we, who differ from some of you in this matter, have not behaved fairly and honourably. You could have no fairer speech than that from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire—no more honest exposition of motives than that of the hon. Member for Oldham—no more rational or moderate proposition than that of the hon. Member for Derby; and you would find it difficult to have any more judicious advice than that which I venture to offer. [Laughter.] I should not have made that observation if I were not sure that it would meet with general acceptance. Having said this, I abstain from going into the particulars of these boroughs, because I am sanguine that after what has been said the right hon. Gentleman will not refuse to refer the case of these boroughs to investigation in some such manner as will be acceptable to the House. And I can promise him that if that be so, he will find upon our part a great disposition to forward the matter with the least possible delay.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that as allusion had been made by the right hon. Member for South Lancashire (Mr. Gladstone) to the case of Aston Manor, which the Commissioners proposed should be joined to the borough of Birmingham, and as the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) had also expressed his views upon the subject, he was anxious to state some facts connected with it. It was impossible to consider this subject without a reference to the wider question, of which it formed a part. In 1854 Lord Russell's Government proposed to make a large addition to the county representation. That was a wise proposal, for it would have increased the general representation of the country. As Member for North Warwickshire, for instance, he shared in the representation of from 400,000 to 500,000 people through the freeholders. He shared in the representation of Coventry and of half Tamworth, while representing 2,000 freeholders in Birmingham. The extension of the county representation was the plan which he (Mr. Newdegate) had desired; he had supported the Motion of the hon. Member for the Wick burghs (Mr. Laing) last Session, by which ten additional seats had been given to the counties; 269 but Parliament unwisely, as he thought, refused to go further in that direction. In 1854 Earl Russell's Government had proposed to give an additional Member to North Warwickshire, with its population of from 400,000 to 500,000; but the House refused to assent to that proposal. Last year a proposal was made to give on additional representation to Birmingham, and he supported it on the clear understanding that the limits of the borough would be extended, and that the people of North Warwickshire would share the additional representation in that way. He afterwards supported the right hon. Member for Calne's (Mr. Lowe's) Motion, by which the minorities of large boroughs, Birmingham included, might obtain representation. The principle of this arrangement was not altogether the best, in his opinion, that might have been made, but it was that upon which the House had decided; and it was now law. It was true that some of the 20,000 inhabitants of the Manor of Aston wished not to be included in the borough of Birmingham; but that was because they thought that if the borough boundaries were extended the municipal boundaries would be extended also, and that the Manor of Aston would therefore become liable to the heavier rating incident to the borough of Birmingham. This dislike to increased rating was the real ground of the objection. A gross anomaly and some inconvenience had arisen from the fact that Aston was not included in Birmingham. He would give the House an illustration of this. Some years ago Her Majesty was graciously pleased to intimate her intention to visit Birmingham. The object of Her Majesty's visit was to open the park of Aston Manor for the recreation of the inhabitants of Birmingham. This Manor is beyond the municipal boundaries of the borough, and he (Mr. Newdegate) was called upon by the justices of the county to introduce a deputation to the Home Secretary, because it seemed unjust that the expense of the police regulations and other expenses of the Park, when made public, should fall upon the county ratepayers generally, while the benefit of the Park would be almost altogether derived by the inhabitants of Birmingham. The day for Her Majesty's visit was at hand, and there was no time for any extension of the municipal boundaries of the borough by law, though it was obvious that the Park ought to be included within them. The justices agreed, that come 270 what might as to expense to the county, Her Majesty's gracious intentions should not be frustrated, provided the arrangement, by which the county, exclusive of Birmingham, was to bear the expense, was considered temporary; the whole regulation of Aston Park, so far as police goes, continued up to the present time on a temporary conventional arrangement. between the justices of the county and the municipal authorities of Birmingham. The Park was opened for the recreation of the inhabitants of Birmingham, yet the whole of Warwickshire was liable to be taxed to maintain that Park. The influence of the then Home Secretary (Mr. Walpole) had been invoked. Under his sanction it was decided that any arrangements made upon this subject should be only temporary, until the Park could be placed within the municipal boundaries of Birmingham. If the proposal for giving a third Member to North Warwickshire had been carried out, there need have been no question about extending the Parliamentary boundaries of Birmingham; but the proposal to increase the representation of Birmingham had been preferred and had been supported in the belief that the boundaries of the borough would be made to include the Manor and Park of Aston. The 20,000 inhabitants of the Manor were almost all employed in Birmingham, or derived their resources from the trade within the borough. He (Mr. Newdegate) respectfully submitted to the House that, under such circumstances, the decision of the Commissioners to include the Manor of Aston within the borough of Birmingham was perfectly sound.
§ MR. MONK
said, he had placed a Notice on the Paper for referring the first schedule of the Bill to a Select Committee. He could not support the Motion of the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert) for the omission of the 4th clause, because he thought it would be unfair towards the people in the suburbs of great towns who had been led to expect by the Bill of last year that they would have a share in the representation of the boroughs to which they must ultimately be attached. The omission of that clause would be tantamount to the postponement for some five or six years of the right of those persons to a voice in the choice of representatives. If, however, the suggestion to refer the Bill to a Select Committee were adopted he thought the result would be satisfactory, and that it would really occasion no delay.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
What I want to do is to appeal to the Government, and ask them what possible mischief can arise from acceding to the request made to them from this side of the House. What we all want to do is to make a satisfactory settlement of this question, and to do it rapidly. Can we have an inquiry in this House? I think that is impossible, there is such a multitude of little places; but in respect of this matter, which will affect our representation, for, perhaps, centuries, I do not think there can be so much party spirit among us that we cannot find a satisfactory Committee. If we have a Committee a certain result will follow. We can do what we want by means of a Select Committee more rapidly than in any other way, and without casting a slur on the Commissioners. They were appointed to perform certain duties; they discharged those duties, and did not step beyond them, therefore no possible slur can be cast on them. I hope that the Government, in the large and generous spirit which ought to actuate the Government of this country on such an occasion, will accede to the fair, honest, plain, and simple proposition now made to them.
§ MR. RUSSELL GURNEY
Sir, as a Member of the Boundary Commission, I think it is due to the House and to my brother Commissioners that I should say a few words as to the principles upon which we acted in doing our work, and on the proposition now before the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire has called attention to the instructions which we received from the House. It was from Parliament, and Parliament alone, that we received instructions. It gave us distinct instructions as to the course we were to pursue; and I believe we have acted faithfully up to them. I think I should bring under the notice of the Mouse what were our instructions, not only in reference to the boroughs, the subject of discussion to-night, but also in reference to the boroughs to be created under the Reform Act. There is a remarkable difference in the language as regards those two different classes of boroughs. As regards the boroughs to be created, this is the language—They shall, immediately, after the passing of this Act, proceed, by themselves, or by Assistant Commissioners appointed by them, to inquire into the temporary boundaries of every borough constituted by this Act, with power to suggest such alterations therein as they may deem expedient.272 There was then no limitation of our powers whatever, either in regard to contracting or extending the temporary boundaries proposed by the Act. We were left to act perfectly as we thought right in the matter —to exercise our own discretion. But when we come to the other class of boroughs you will find that the instructions were very specific. The language is as follows:—They shall also inquire into the boundaries of every other borough in England and Wales, except such boroughs as are wholly disfranchised by this Act, with a view to ascertain whether the boundaries should be enlarged, so as to include within the limits of the borough all premises which ought, due regard being had to situation or other local circumstances, to be included therein for the purpose of conferring upon the occupiers thereof the Parliamentary franchise for such borough.We viewed this—and I believe we viewed it rightly—as an enfranchising provision. We looked outside the present boundaries of existing boroughs to see whether there were premises so situated that the occupiers ought to have a vote in the borough. We are told that is merely the transfer of a constituency from a county to a borough; but it is really a different matter. A large number of these persons would have no votes at all unless the borough boundaries were extended. What was the meaning of all we heard last year about the figures £6, £10, and £12, and what was the special charm found in the words "household franchise," if it is a matter of no importance whether a large number of the people outside the boundaries are included in the assessment, whether they have a £15 house or a mere cottage? We did not look to the matter merely as a transfer from county to borough. What we looked to was whether there was not in places now without the boundaries of boroughs a large number of people who would be altogether excluded from the franchise unless they were included in boroughs. That was the principle on which we thought we ought to act; that was the principle on which we did act; and I rather collected from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire that he thought it the correct principle to apply in respect of these boroughs, limited as we were by the instructions we received from the House itself, It is perfectly true that the matter being now before the House, the House is at liberty to take other matters into consideration which the terms of our instructions did not allow us to consider. It may take cognizance 273 of matters which had not perhaps been brought under its attention at the time our instructions were framed. Means of inquiry have been proposed which, it has been suggested, might be deemed disrespectful to the Commission. I have had an opportunity of consulting with some of my brother Commissioners on this point, and they have the same feeling on the subject as I have myself. They entertain no such opinion. We are anxious that the House should adopt any mode which to its own judgment may seem best calculated for enabling Parliament to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. There is just one course suggested which I think we should disapprove. We should object to have the question sent back to us. I know that suggestion had its origin in a feeling of kindness and respect for us; but after our very arduous labours, and after having given up a considerable portion of the vacation which we all so much covet, it may easily be imagined that we cannot have any wish to enter into this business again. I think it would be more satisfactory to the House and the country to have another tribunal. I would suggest, however, that the House ought not to order the Committee to enter into a general inquiry respecting all the boroughs. The Report of the Commission has been laid on the table of the House, and has been circulated about the country during the last three months, and there has been ample opportunity afforded for raising objections to any of the propositions it contains. Members have had time to communicate with their constituents, and constituencies to make their views known to their representatives. Therefore, instead of having a general inquiry into the eighty-one boroughs, I think it should be limited to those in respect of which petitions have been presented or Notices of Motion have been given. If, after this discussion, agitation should be got up in this House or out of it, by means of the Press or in any other way, and if complaints should be urged in respect of other boroughs, I think we may presume that there is no great force in objections taken after such a lapse of time and under such circumstances. Without the opportunity of referring to the Assistant Commissioners and obtaining information from them the effect of embarking in a general inquiry would be to preclude legislation.
§ SIR FRANCIS CROSSLEY
, as one of the Commissioners, wished to express 274 his thanks for the kind manner in which the labours and the Report of the Commission had been referred to, and to testify that he was never associated with Gentlemen more devoted to their duty and move desirous of serving their country without being influenced by party feeling. The Commissioners did not recommend the extension of boundaries in cases where a road stretched out from a borough with houses on one or both sides only; but if there were diverging streets on each side, making in the aggregate a town population, then the Commissioners did not see how they could carry out their instructions without including such a district in a borough. It should be remembered that thirty-six years had elapsed since the passing of the former Boundary Bill, and in a country like England, where there was so much progress, it was only natural that in that time boundaries should require enlargement so as to embrace town populations. Birmingham comprised an area of 8,400 acres, to which it was proposed to add 1,309 acres, containing a population of between 31 and 32 per acre. It was said, on undoubted authority, that the greater part of Birmingham proposed to be included was as much town as that within the Parliamentary boundary now. Complaint had been made that the larger provincial boroughs were getting unwieldy; and it might be very true, but still they were not so un-wieldly and large as the metropolitan boroughs. They could overcome the difficulty by dividing the boroughs and letting each Member represent his own constituency. However well a man served his constituents, when he had two or three Colleagues and one did not satisfy them he had to bear the expense of a contested election without any fault of his own. It would be well to divide these large boroughs, and let every Member answer for his own conduct. The hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) had said that his constituents would not allow him to be put to any expense for his election, and now that boroughs were to be so greatly enlarged this example ought to be generally followed. It was quite enough for Members to give their time and services to their constituencies, and it would be well if the choice of the constituencies was not restricted to men who could afford to pay large sums for the honour of sitting in Parliament. He had no objection, as a member of the Commission, to offer to the suggestion that those boroughs which had 275 sent petitions to the House, and which were very few in number—they had on the preceding evening amounted, he believed, to only thirteen, and not more than seven of these were important — should have their cases investigated by a Select Committee.
§ MR. DISRAELI
I believe it will be for the convenience of the House that I should again address them, and I hope that they will favour me with their indulgence during a few moments for that purpose. The obligations of the House and of the country to the Commissioners appear to me to be so considerable and so incontestable that I refrained from responding to the invitation of hon. Gentlemen opposite that I should express the views of the Government upon this subject until the Commissioners had favoured us with their opinions with respect to it. A considerable majority of the Commissioners who could be communicated with have expressed opinions similar to those we have heard from my right hon. Friend (Mr. Russell Gurney), and from the hon. Baronet (Sir Francis Crossley), and I have therefore no hesitation in saying, on the part of the Government, we shall be most happy to meet the wishes expressed. I have noted some points of detail as the discussion proceeded; and what we propose is that there shall be a Committee of five, to be appointed by the Committee of Selection; that it shall sit from day to day; that its investigations shall be limited to places that have already petitioned; that it shall have power to confer with the Commissioners, and that the evidence shall be purely documentary. These five points embrace all that I believe the House seeks. On the understanding that we take early steps to carry this arrangement into effect, I conclude the House will have no objection to go into Committee.
§ MR. SERJEANT GASELEE
said, he objected to the arrangement if it would exclude Portsmouth, which had not petitioned, although Gosport had, the public meeting of Portsmouth being held that very night.
§ SIR FRANCIS GOLDSMID
said, that although the inhabitants of Reading had not presented a petition, they had held a meeting, and objected to the proposal by which they were to be affected, and he thought their case ought to undergo further investigation.
§ MR. OSBORNE
The Boundary Bill is, with the exception of the Reform Act, the most important measure that has for many years come under the consideration of Parliament, and yet we have not, down to this moment, had any discussion of its principles. My constituents have not addressed any memorial to the House, and I will not say anything about my individual seat. To the instructions which were given to the Commission, and to the principle on which it has reported, I altogether object. Before the House, in its haste for co-operation and legislation, consents to shuffle off this question, let us consider whether it is better not to pass any Bill at all than to pass a bad Bill, which will not give satisfaction, and which it will be one of the first Acts of the next Parliament to repeal. I want to know what we are going to refer to a Select Committee, and whether we are going to refer merely the petitions and memorials from large towns, or whether we are going to give it power to do what the Commissioners were debarred from doing — namely, to contract the areas of boroughs. They say that in some cases there are anomalies which cannot be rectified without reducing the areas of boroughs. I want to know whether the Select Committee is to have the power to reduce the area of boroughs, and to correct these anomalies. It is very material that that should be stated. If the Select Committee is merely to rectify the boundaries of Nottingham, Portsmouth, and other boroughs, it will be of no use whatever. I will say one word with regard to the constitution of the Commission. We have heard a statement this evening from the hon. Baronet the Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire (Sir Francis Crossley). I regard that hon. Member as a most excellent man; but I objected altogether to his being put upon the Commission, for reasons which I do not choose to give now. I cannot fall in with the excessive compliments which have been paid to that Commission. So far from its Report having given general satisfaction in the country, it has given great dissatisfaction. The Commission was appointed in a House of thirty Members at the fag end of a Session, completely worn out with passing the Reform Act; and I will venture to say that not thirty Members have gone through the voluminous Report of the Commission and the maps illustrating it. Before we appoint a Select Committee we ought to know exactly what 277 that Select Committee is about to do. The whole tendency of the Report is to make constituencies which are already unwieldy more unwieldy still. Look at what the Commissioners have done in such places as Birmingham and Manchester, and look also at the metropolitan boroughs. My hon. Friend the Member for Marylebone (Mr. Harvey Lewis) will now be sent to canvass at the extremity of Highgate. The same remark applies to Lambeth and Finsbury. It will only come to this—that you will have a Reform Bill of a Reform Bill, and a reform of this Boundary Bill. Now, I wish to co-operate with hon. Gentlemen opposite in making an end of this Parliament, because I am aware that, like a second Guy Faux, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) has in his pockets materials with which he can blow us to the winds. I have no objection to that process, and, indeed, the sooner it is done the better. But I say, before a Select Committee is appointed, let us know what it is about to do, and, among other things, whether it has power to contract the boundaries of boroughs as well as to enlarge them.
§ MR. W. P. PRICE
said, he hoped that the inquiry of the Select Committee would not be limited to cases of boroughs respecting which petitions had been presented, but would include cases in respect of which Notices of Amendment had been given.
§ LORD HOTHAM
said, he was anxious to say a few words with respect to the proposal that the Select Committee should be appointed by the Committee of Selection. He was one of those the habits of whose life had been not to shirk duties properly placed upon them, and he had performed the duties devolving upon him as Chairman of the Standing Orders Committee and Committee of Selection to the best of his ability. It was not therefore to avoid any trouble in that capacity that he now asked the House not to cast upon the Committee of Selection the duty of choosing the members of the Committee now to be appointed. Such a task was quite foreign to its duties and its habits. The duty of the Committee of Selection was to choose Members to serve on Private Bills who should be, as far as possible, unconnected, directly or indirectly, with 278 the subjects of these Bills, and not liable to the imputation of bias. In the case of Hybrid Bills the Committee of Selection chose a certain number of Members to serve, the rest being appointed by the House. But the Committee on the Boundary Bill would be essentially a public Committee, and he suggested that it should be appointed by the House in the usual way.
§ MR. BONHAM-CARTER
also thought that to cast this duty upon the Committee of Selection and Standing Orders Committee would be to place these Committees in a very invidious position. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) would take the ordinary course with respect to the appointment of the Committee.
§ MR. DISRAELI
My only reason for naming the Committee of Selection was in consequence of a suggestion made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Morpeth (Sir George Grey), which seemed to be accepted by the House. But I have no particular predilection for that mode of appointment, and, indeed, would rather follow the usual course, and leave it to the House to appoint the Committee.
§ MR. HARVEY LEWIS
said, he hoped that the case of Marylebone would be referred to the Committee. The inhabitants of Marylebone had not complained of the arrangement proposed for their borough; but the inhabitants of Hampstead — the district to be annexed to Marylebone—had made a complaint upon the subject.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he understood that upon the appointment of the Committee they would examine into the cases of boroughs where petitions and memorials had been presented. ["No, no !"] That was what he had understood, at all events. He was sorry if he had been mistaken, because he had thought that the House would certainly agree that the cases of those boroughs which had presented memorials to the Boundary Commissioners ought to be considered, as well as the cases of those boroughs which had not thought it necessary to send petitions to that House, in consequence of their believing that their Members would take steps to bring their cases forward. The fact should not be lost sight of that many boroughs which were affected by the Report had not petitioned, simply because they had relied upon their Members taking their cases up. He did not make this observation with the idea that the House should hold out any inducement to the 279 boroughs which were affected by the Report to send up petitions, but because he thought that their cases should not be determined without their being heard upon the subject. He presumed he was correct in understanding the right hon. Gentleman to consent that all boroughs which sent up petitions up to the day of the appointment of the Committee should be heard. [Mr. DISRAELI: No !] He could not suppose that the right hon. Gentleman intended to steal a march upon those boroughs which bad not sent up petitions by deciding that night that they should be excluded.
§ SIR JAMES SIMEON
asked, whether the Committee would have the power of considering questions such as limiting boundaries, on the application of petitioning boroughs, which the Commissioners had?
§ MR. DISRAELI
They will have that power; but I may state that if the House would allow us to go into Committee I should not be forced constantly to break our rules by answering questions, because I could then answer every question put to me.
I should prefer that we should wind-up this conversation at once, rather than that we should commence another debate. ["Order, order !"] If the House would indulge me for a few moments, perhaps the discussion might be shortened. ["Order, order!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
I wish to consult the House as to the order of our proceedings. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister made a speech in which he introduced a proposal of an entirely new character— namely, the question of referring the matter to a Select Committee. It may be the opinion of the House that the right hon. Gentleman, having already had an opportunity of expressing his opinion upon that question, other hon. Gentlemen who feel an interest in it shall also have the opportunity of speaking upon it?
I am anxious that we should arrive at a clear understanding upon this subject as soon as possible. My distinct opinion is that there is so great a disposition in all quarters of the House to come to an agreement upon this matter, that nothing but a little time and consideration are necessary to enable us to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion with regard to it; but, at the same time, we must not come to a premature decision upon it. The general sense of the House appears to be 280 in favour of the appointment of a Committee. I do not quite understand from the right hon. Gentleman whether he intends that that Committee shall decide what cases shall be reserved for further inquiry, or whether the Committee shall finally dispose of all the cases which may come before them. My own opinion is that the Committee should report what cases should be reserved for further consideration. ["No, no!"] I do not make this proposition as one by which I should wish to be finally bound; but my object is to prevent the Committee being deluged with endless details, while at the same time I think an inquiry should be made in bonâ fide cases. In the first place, I think that all petitions which have been already laid before the House should be referred to the Committee, and it appears to me quite necessary, in the interest of all parties, that those boroughs which have presented memorials to the Commissioners should likewise go before the Committee. In point of fact, the memorials would be far more likely to represent the general diversity of opinion than the petitions to Parliament, and there can be no difficulty in receiving them as long as we keep to documentary evidence. Another point to which I desire to draw attention is this:—Some communities, instead of exercising their right of petitioning, have relied upon their Members to bring their cases before Parliament, and in several instances Notices of Motion have been given with that object. I think it is impossible to exclude such cases from consideration, even although neither petition nor memorial has been presented. In such cases a Member ought surely to be allowed to present such documentary evidence to the Committee as might have been laid before the Commission.
§ MR. GATHORNE HARDY
I admit that it is very desirable that we should arrive at a fair understanding as to what has been settled. As I understand, the majority of the House has agreed that a Committee shall be appointed, and that that Committee shall be chosen by the Committee of Selection. ["No, no!"] Then, I will only say that it has been agreed that a Committee consisting of a small number of Members—say, of five —shall be appointed, which shall have referred to it all cases in which petitions have been presented to the House and are now on the table. It must be remembered that the memorials have not been presented to the House, but to the Commissioners, 281 who have reported on those documents, and their Report has been on the table of the House for nearly three months, during which period there has been ample opportunity for Members to move that it should be amended. Several memorials have, in fact, been sent to the Home Office; but I have in variably informed those who sent them that the proper mode of proceeding was to petition the House. With respect to other cases, the Committee will have to take into consideration all those cases in respect of which Notices have been given, including those given to-night. I do not think that the House can go further than that, for if' it did it is obvious that questions would be raised day by day for the purpose of referring them to the Committee. I must also remind hon. Members that a Committee of this House will not be bound by the instructions given to the Commissioners, but will report on the merits of each case submitted to them, whether the claim be for contraction or extension. If the Committee commence at once to sit day by day, it will not be long before the inquiry is brought to a conclusion.
§ MR. CARDWELL
I am anxious to promote the end which appears almost to be attained—namely, the satisfactory and friendly settlement of this question. In general I agree with the statement of the right hon. Gentleman opposite; but I am quite sure he would be as sorry as we should be if any substantial case should be excluded from consideration in consequence of a technical rule, I wish, therefore, to be at liberty, when the Motion is made for the appointment of the Committee, to move; that the Committee be free to entertain any memorial from the inhabitants of a borough which it could have presented to the Commissioners had it not been determined to leave the matter in the hands of their Members.
I presume there will be some notice given before the Committee is appointed; but I wish now to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he thinks it right that the Committee should consist of so small a number as five Members, instead of the number being extended to seven. Upon another point I may add that in many boroughs by which no petitions have been presented an idea prevailed that there would be an appeal from the Report of the Boundary Commission to that House, and, except for the course which has been taken to-night, they would not have been altogether mistaken. I wish to say that there 282 are several places which would like to have their cases come before the Committee. ["Oh!"] Every Member must be conscious of that. I say this, that we ought to be very careful that the discussion tonight and the appointment of the Select Committee should not prejudice any case which, not being able to come before that Committee, should afterwards be brought before the Committee of the Whole House. I presume that we cannot go into that long schedule to-night. There may be twenty or thirty or any number of those boroughs which will come before the Select Committee, while others may not do so; and therefore I say that the Committee of the Whole House ought to give the latter as fair an opportunity of having their claims discussed before it as if the Select Committee had never been appointed.
§ MR. LOWE
I wish to add one word by way of supplement to what has been said by the hon. Member for Birmingham. What he said was, I think, perfectly true, when he laid it down that if you shut out any persons who are anxious to appear before this Committee, it will be impossible for you to object to hear them before the Committee of the Whole House. I would take the opportunity to remind the House that the reason for appointing this Committee is to save the time of the full House; and if you make any strict technical rule by which to exclude persons who are really and bonâ fide anxious to bring their cases before the House, because they have not petitioned, or because Notices have not been given, you will, in fact, save the time of the Committee, but waste the time of the full House; because the effect of such a rule must necessarily be that hon. Members will be pressed on by their constituents to move the House to refer their cases specially to the Committee, and the points will be argued on their merits, not with a view to their final settlement, but as to whether they shall or shall not be referred, I do not ask the House to come to any decision upon this point to-night; but between this time and the time when the Committee is appointed hon. Gentlemen will consider the matter, and take steps which will enable persons to be heard before this Committee, although they may have taken none of the steps mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department.
§ MR. DARBY GRIFFITH
said, he thought it would be unfair to refer one borough in the Isle of Wight which had 283 applied for restriction of its boundaries without referring others which had not made similar applications, in the belief that the Boundary Commissioners had refused to consider them.
§ VISCOUNT AMBERLEY
said, that inasmuch as the evidence before the Select Committee was to be of a documentary character only, it would be only fair that Members representing a borough that considered itself aggrieved by the Bill should have the opportunity of making a statement in writing to the Committee, for it was quite possible that the matter could be brought forward more clearly and fully in that way than by memorials and petitions, and the Committee enabled to decide in a more satisfactory manner.
§ Bill considered in Committee. (In the Committee.)
§ MR. GATHORNE HARDY
Upon consideration, inasmuch as there are a great many questions which will arise and must be discussed, which will have to be discussed again after the Report of the Select Committee, I believe that the best course for the Committee would be immediately to report Progress. I do not think it would save any time if we were to attempt to go on at present. I only wish to say that the proposal we shall make to the House will be this, that in naming the Select Committee we shall also name the places we propose for their consideration. We shall put the names on the Paper, and if any hon. Member should wish to add to the his he will have an opportunity of stating his case to the House. [Cries of "What time?"] I hope to give Notice to-morrow, and to move on Monday.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
If we had before us the memorials presented to the Commissioners it might be of advantage in guiding us as to the cases to be sent to the Committee. The Commissioners state in their Report that those memorials were in their hands.
§ MR. GATHORNE HARDY
My right hon. Friend must understand that we object to go into all the cases upon which memorials were presented. But we will go into cases as to which petitions have been presented to the House, and it will be in the option of any hon. Member who thinks any borough improperly excluded to move that it should also be referred to the Select Committee. The memorials to the Commissioners are of the most bulky character, and it would be an extravagant use of public money to print them,
§ MR. WALDEGRAVE-LESLIE
inquired, whether the right hon. Gentleman's list would include the boroughs the petitions of which had been presented that evening?
§ MR. GATHORNE HARDY
What I propose is that all boroughs from which petitions were presented before the discussion began to-night should be put on the same footing as those from which petitions were previously received.
§ MR. POWELL
said, that memorials and petitions presented up to this time would probably contain ex parte statements, and to make the documentary evidence complete there ought to be an opportunity for the boroughs affected to put in counter memorials.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
What the hon. Gentleman says is perfectly true. Memorials have been presented on one side, and unless memorials be received on the other the Committee will have but an ex parte statement before them. But if the memorials from both sides are presented, then the views of those who assent as well as of those who dissent will be known.
I would like to present a point of some weight. Is the Report of the Committee to be final on the question of boundary, or only on the question of postponement? If the Report is to be final with respect to boundary, then its task will be much more formidable than if it was to report only on postponement. A serious difference of opinion will often justify postponement, but not a final decision.
§ MR. GATHORNE HARDY
My proposition is that the Committee should report to the House the final decision, and that the House should take such course upon it as it may deem expedient. If they thought proper the Committee might receive documentary evidence on both sides, but not call witnesses.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
suggested that the Committee should report to the House on what evidence it arrived at its conclusions.
§ MR. WALPOLE
said, that he did not see how the Committee could have the full materials for forming a proper judgment before it. It should be clearly understood what would be the means at the service of the Committee to enable them to decide 285 these questions if they were not to hear arguments on both sides. He was afraid, unless the Committee were furnished with sufficient information, that when they had concluded their labours, Member after Member would complain that in certain cases they decided in the absence of material evidence.
§ SIR ROBERT COLLIER
recognized the difficulty suggested by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole). It was extremely difficult to say how the Committee could come, upon merely documentary evidence, to a final decision, which should have the effect of annexing one district to another for an indefinite period; but what was proposed was that, in order to save the time of the House, cases which were very doubtful and required further inquiry, should be referred to a Select Committee. But the Committee might report that they could not decide in particular cases upon mere documentary evidence, and that those cases ought to stand over for further consideration. When they came to discuss the terms of the appointment of the Committee, he thought it would be more convenient and more consonant with the general wish of the House that the Committee should be directed to report cases which, in their opinion, required further consideration, and which the House was not in a condition to deal with during the present Session.
§ SIR GEORGE BOWYER
said, he did not understand precisely what was meant by documentary evidence, because the petitions and memorials were more in the nature of pleadings than evidence. Supposing the statements of a petition were impugned, how could the Committee decide as to the matters of fact unless they were empowered to call witnesses? It was not possible to postpone questions with regard to boundaries until next Session, because if they did so the wrong man might be returned at the next General Election, and it would be necessary for Members returned for boroughs the boundaries of which had not been decided to go back to their constituents as soon as the decision had been given.
§ MR. RUSSELL GURNEY
I quite agree with the hon. and learned Baronet (Sir George Bowyer) that it is absolutely necessary to settle the boundaries in the present Session, for it would scarcely be proper after a General Election to consider what a constituency ought to have been. To obviate the objection of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Walpole), I would suggest that 286 the Committee should have the power of calling before them the Assistant Commissioners, in order to inquire into particular boroughs. They would be able to furnish all the evidence that was given before them, and to offer useful suggestions. I say this the more freely because, having seen a great deal of the Assistant Commissioners, I can speak in the highest terms of the fairness with which they conducted their inquiries, and of the general intelligence which they displayed. They would be able to supply the Committee with all the necessary information.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, he wished to mention a case which showed the force of the objection of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole). The inhabitants of Chiswick had petitioned against being united with Kensington and Chelsea, preferring to remain in the county; but if the Committee were only to look into the matter with that petition before them, they would not be able to see the force of the case, because there was a compact entered into last year that Fulham should be added to Kensington and Chelsea, and that in that case Chiswick should be left out. There should be some supplementary evidence given to the Committee in addition to the petitions, which did not enter into the merits of the case.
§ MR. DARBY GRIFFITH
recalled the attention of the Committee to the fact that one of the conditions on which the Commissioners were appointed was, that they should not have power to contract boundaries; and suggested that if certain boroughs were allowed to come forward with claims to have their limits restricted the same liberty should be given to all.
§ MR. MORRISON
inquired, whether it was intended to give any instructions to the Committee as to the principle on which they would make the selection of cases to be investigated? He could not see how such instructions could be given, because that was the very point at issue which the House was going to refer to the Committee to decide.
§ MR. HORSMAN
reminded hon. Members that the proper time to discuss the matter was when they had the terms of the Reference before them, and when the Motion was made for the appointment of the Committee.
§ House resumed.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.