§ MR. DISRAELI
Mr. Speaker, with the permission of the House I will now state the course which Her Majesty's Government propose to take with reference to the votes which this House arrived at in Committee a few nights ago on the Scotch Reform Bill. In the arduous labour of attempting to re-construct the electoral system of the United Kingdom Her Majesty's Government are not conscious that they have shown any want of sympathy with the claims of Scotland, or any desire not to treat those claims with the utmost respect and with every wish to arrive at a conclusion which would be generally satisfactory to the House. And I am bound to say, on the part of the Government, that those efforts have been appreciated by the Scotch Members, and that we have received from them, especially last year—that is, from Gentlemen who are not politically connected with us—a warm and generous support in carrying the principal provisions of the great English measure. And we are sensible of the value of that support, and in no instance more than in our efforts to establish a household rating franchise, against the opinions of those who would have advocated one on a principle of restriction. When I say "restriction" I mean an arrangement similar to that which was familiarly described last year in this House as a "hard and fast line," and which had been proposed both for England and Scotland. I felt that in those efforts when we have attempted at all times to uphold a rating franchise against any artificial restrictions of the kind, we have received much, support from Members from Scotland who are in no degree connected with myself or my Friends. Now, the other night—on Monday night—two important decisions were arrived at with respect to the Scotch Reform Bill. The first related to the distribution of seats. It is unnecessary for me to remind the House that by the plan which Her Majesty's Government proposed they hoped they might give, if not an adequate, at all events a considerable addition to the representation of Scotland, in a manner 620 which would be consistent with maintaining the general privileges of the other portions of Her Majesty's dominions. That plan, we ascertained, was one which did not find favour in this House—or at least not sufficient favour to insure its passing; and there were many of our Friends—Gentlemen of influence—who were opposed, though, as we thought, on insufficient grounds, to any plan for increasing the number of the Members of this House. Then there were two other propositions made in order to satisfy the claims of Scotland—or, at any rate, partially to satisfy them—and which were before the House—one proposed by the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter), and the other by the hon. Member for Northamptonshire (Sir Rainald Knightley). Neither of these propositions was agreeable to Her Majesty's Ministers—they were not in harmony with our original views; but, as we were very anxious to carry a measure for Scotland which should be on the whole satisfactory, and desirous, as every Member of this House is, to bring these great labours to a happy conclusion, we expressed our willingness to defer to the feeling of the House, and whether the Motion of the hon. Member for Montrose, or that of the hon. Member for the county of Northampton were adopted we said we would consider the decision of the House, and endeavour to frame upon it such a proposition as would on the whole give general satisfaction. I need not dwell further on that point—I think I have said enough to remind the House of what they will in justice admit—namely, that there has been at no time any desire on our part to meet the claims for the increased representation of Scotland in a niggard spirit, or, indeed, any other desire than to bring about, if possible, an arrangement which would be satisfactory not only to Scotland, but also to the other portions of the kingdom.
And now, Sir, I come to the decision arrived at under different circumstances, and which is, in the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, of a different character. I refer to the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie), which, if adopted, would establish a household suffrage in Scotland without any qualification or condition whatever, and this, too, in a country where, we should remember, householders do not dwell in houses. Therefore, that proposition was of a very serious 621 character. Now, Sir, with regard to that decision, I must say on the part of Her Majesty's Government that I deeply deplore that the Committee should have arrived at it. But it is their opinion that the Committee arrived at that conclusion under a considerable degree of misapprehension. I can say certainly for Gentlemen who sit generally on this side of the House, that after the vote had been taken I upon the Motion of the hon. Member for Montrose there was a general apprehension—indeed, I may say it was founded on an authoritative statement made by one who, from his position, influences the conduct of hon. Gentlemen as far as their attendance in the House is concerned—there was a general apprehension from the nature of that vote that our proceedings in Committee would close, and that Progress would be reported in order that the Bill might be adapted to the Motion of the hon. Gentleman. ["No!"] I do not say it was a just apprehension, but undoubtedly there was such an apprehension. Hon. Gentlemen were not at that time aware that the first part of the Bill referred merely to the franchises of Scotland, and that, therefore, it was open to us to proceed with the Committee, and impossible for us to resist any claim for continuing the business of the Committee. But there is no doubt whatever there was a general apprehension on the part of hon. Gentleman—certainly on this side of the House—that the Committee would close, and report Progress after that division; and, therefore, the greater portion of the House broke up without any idea that we were going to proceed further with the consideration in Committee of the Scotch Reform Bill. I believe that to be an accurate statement: and think there were signs even on the other side of the House that there was not an apprehension that we should be proceeding in Committee after the vote on the Motion of the hon. Member for Montrose. I will not, however, dwell further upon that. Statements have been made to me that such was the case, but of course cannot speak with the same knowledge as can with regard to Gentlemen sitting on this side of the House. I think that under these circumstances the Committee arrived at a somewhat precipitate conclusion—that it was a conclusion not preceded by that degree of discussion or accompanied by that attendance which should have expected, whatever their decision 622 might be, and which was especially desirable when the decision was to be taken on a point of such paramount importance. I do not wish to conceal from the House that the opinion of Her Majesty's Government on this Motion of the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock is such that it would have the most serious consequences on their conduct as regards their responsibility in carrying on the Bill; for it is not only in itself, as we believe, highly detrimental and disadvantageous to Scotland, but in its ultimate consequences on the whole electoral fabric of the kingdom it must be of the most injurious description. And therefore do hope that, with that anxious wish which pervades both sides of the House to carry the Scotch Reform Bill to a satisfactory conclusion, I may induce the Committee to re-consider the determination which they came to on Monday night, so that with a larger attendance and a more complete discussion we may all of us clearly understand what point we are arriving at, that we have contemplated all the consequences of the issue at stake, and that if we do feel it our duty to uphold the Resolution adopted by the Committee the other night, at least it shall not be said if us by those whom we represent that we have arrived at that conclusion in a precipitate and careless spirit. With these views, it is my wish to propose on Monday next certain words in Committee which will obviate the inconveniences and injury which we think will accrue if we do not take some remedial course of that kind. I shall not propose to restore the two clauses which have been struck out by the Committee. I shall propose to add words—which we shall place on the table in the course of the evening—to the effect that no elector in a Scotch borough shall be entitled to exercise the suffrage who is not rated to the poor and who has not paid his rates. That will assort the principle which we wish to uphold, and will provide against the infringement of the principle of the English Bill. In answer to those Gentlemen who have talked of innovation, and who spoke the other night as if we were proposing regulations which were perfectly unknown to the people of Scotland, and to which they were quite unaccustomed, beg to state that the language in which shall endeavour to secure this end and to vindicate the principle which have already vindicated for England in a House of more than 600 Members, is the language which find in 623 a clause regulating the exercise of voting under the Poor Law Act of Scotland. Therefore, hon. Gentlemen opposite need not be afraid of any innovation or of anything to which the people of Scotland are not accustomed, because the provision will be the same as that which has so long influenced their conduct in the performance of one of their most important municipal duties. With this view I shall place these words upon the table in the course of the evening, so that they will be in the hands of hon. Members tomorrow morning; and I do hope we shall come to a unanimous conclusion, by accepting the words to which the people of Scotland are accustomed, and which entirely vindicate the principle of the English Law, which the House adopted so decidedly last year. And if that be so we may, I trust carry the Scotch Reform Bill to a happy conclusion, and that within a few days.
§ MR. PERCY WYNDHAM
said, he desired to say a few words on this question; and, to put himself in Order, would conclude with a Motion. He should not have ventured to obtrude himself, had he not thought the statement they had just heard would have been more satisfactory if the right hon. Gentleman had told the House that, in the event of his not succeeding in inducing the House to reverse the decision arrived at the other night, Her Majesty's Government would resign. Let hon. Members look back for a moment upon what they had lately seen in that House within the last few days. He would not dwell on the votes on the question of the Irish Church carried by majorities sufficient at any other time to make Government resign their places; but what could they say of the conduct of a Government who had seen the House disallow the proceedings of a Royal Commission, that Royal Commission being appointed by themselves? He would not say that the Instructions to that Royal Commission were not imprudent and unjust ones; but having given those Instructions, and having limited and restricted the Commissioners, he maintained that, by not making their decision the starting point for the decision of that House, but by going through the farce of appointing a select Committee to consider the subject, the Government had shown a disrespect to the Commissioners. Would the House, or the Government, respect the decisions of the Committee? From the way the Government had treated the "whole Boundary business, nothing was 624 clearer than this—that every question relating to it would be decided upon the floor of that House, and nowhere else. This would set all the electioneering agents in the country agog. The fact was the government of the country and the direction of legislation on all important questions no longer remained in the hands of the Government; it did not even rest with the Opposition, as a distinct body properly so called; it rested in the hands of the House, as a whole—that is, in a vast Committee of nearly 600 Members, fluctuating in their attendance, and who arrived at decisions of the greatest importance by a mental process, which could be described only as drifting. The result was that hon. Members—the hon. Member for Birmingham and those who agreed with him—were able to obtain all the changes they desired, without the least responsibility attaching to them. He gave those hon. Members more credit for patriotism than to suppose they wished to attain their ends by means of a state of things in that House which was drawing down upon it the contempt of every thinking man in the country; and which, if persisted in much longer, would render the present system of Parliamentary government impossible. He was aware that some hon. Members on the Government side of the House thought the Opposition did not treat the Government with generosity and forbearance; but he was not at all certain that forbearance was a word you could admit into politics. Gentlemen were sent to that House to further their own views; but because a weak man—to which he compared the Government—gave up to his antagonist an advantageous post as soon as it was demanded, his antagonist knew that it was given up because it could no longer be withheld, and not on any ground that entitled him to forbearance or respect. Some years ago, when Lord Palmerston was in Office, and the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) in Opposition, at the beginning of the Session he issued to his supporters a manifesto, in which, after enumerating the important negative victories which had been won by the Conservative party—the putting a stop to a Church Rate Bill among others—he made use of this expression: "Place without power may gratify the vain, but it can never satisfy the nobly ambitious," Either the right hon. Gentleman did not fall within that category, or he had much changed his sentiments on the question. 625 He wished to speak of the Government with all the respect that attached to their high position, and which he felt for many of them individually; but he must tell them, when they put forward principles which they were always ready to withdraw; when, Session after Session, time after time, they exhibited what they called their principles—as a showman draws his puppets from a bag to be dangled awhile before the eyes of their supporters and put away again when they had served their turn—although they might continue to be Ministers of the Crown, they were permitting themselves to sink into the position of a mere joint-stock company for the division of places among themselves. He did not suppose that anyone who supported the great and important measure passed List year believed it to be, in the old acceptation of the term, a Conservative measure; on the contrary, it must be clear to every one that we were on the eve of great and important changes; and, it was all-important how we met these changes. The right hon. Gentlemen at the head of the Government had been saying to their supporters—"The talisman of safety lies in the Boundary question, and we will appoint a Royal Commission and secure it;" and "The real basis of the electoral franchise—the old pathway of the Constitution—is in rating and not in rental." Of these two principles they had already given up one—the other they would give up when it suited their purpose, and they met the difficulties of the day in this most unwise and unstatesmanlike manner. His objection to the right hon. Gentleman at the Head of the Government continuing in power was that his vitality as a Minister of the Crown appeared to be in direct inverse ratio to the vitality of his principles as a politician; and, as they one by one disappeared, slain by his own hand, the tighter did he stick to Office. We were coming upon dangerous times; there was a limit to everything, and he would tell the right hon. Gentleman that there were some at least of his supporters who would refuse to be dragged through the mud, in order to enable the Government to remain on those Benches, and that there was a limit to the fidelity and patience of the right hon. Gentleman's followers. To put himself in Order, he would move the adjournment of the House.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Percy Wyndham)626
Sir, I have no intention of taking up the discussion at the point at which the hon. Gentleman has left it; but I think the statement made by the First Minister is one that, on this side of the House, we have a right a little to complain of. Now, my view of the discussion on Monday night was this: that it was a very wise thing, as I said then, to go with the great majority of the Scotch Members on a matter with which they were more familiar than the House generally could pretend to be. The Scotch Members in the House being about forty or forty-one on that evening, thirty-five or thirty-six—nearly all—voted in opposition to the view of the Government, and of the four or five who voted with the Government, at least two if not three are members of the Administration or in some Office. Well, now, I think farther, that although the right hon. Gentleman and the House last year had agreed to rating—what we call the ratepaying clauses of the Bill of last year—that in that case he was following the Act of 1832, which has produced enormous inconvenience in England. I have a letter this morning from a gentleman connected with the town of Blackburn, who says that, in consequence of there not being any rate made in that town before the 5th January last, any person in Blackburn occupying a house of any value will be placed on the registry in the autumn of this year. So the system is one which, being connected with a system of voting and the franchise, will create, the more numerous your electoral body, difficulties continually in a great many boroughs. But in Scotland the Reform Act of 1832 did not apply this principle; and therefore think that, as the Scotch Members were of opinion that it would be accompanied with great inconvenience—with even more inconvenience than in England—and as they were nearly unanimous in that opinion, they were the best judges, and that the House was wise in following their advice. But to come to that night's debate—the right hon. Gentleman accepted the proposition of the hon. Baronet the Member for Northamptonshire—the hon. Member having made up the little difference which existed some time ago. [Sir RAINALD KNIGHTLEY: No, no!] I am sorry to hear that, because like to see harmony in a political party. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, or somebody who acts for him, was well aware of the Notice being 627 given. In point of fact it was offered to the House as the proposition of the Government, in substitution for that of the hon. Member for Montrose. I do not think there was any great difference between these two; but the Government made a very fair offer in the matter. At the same time—although will not say that should not have liked the Motion of the hon. Member for Northamptonshire quite as well, looking to the future, believe that the House did really decide in a proper manner in giving the preference to the Motion of the hon. Member for Montrose. The right hon. Gentleman allowed the debate to go on, and the House to go into Committee; and nobody on his side of the House had a right to believe, and I am sure nobody did believe, that he was about to make a great catastrophe of any vote in connection with the Scotch Bill. He had agreed not to increase the numbers of the House—which in his speech at Edinburgh he had held out as a great bait, and he had consented to the destruction often "centres of representation," which, as a principle, was thought more of last year, I imagined, than the principle of rating, though next year in all probability, the centres of representation in Ireland may follow the same fate, and at the same hands. The right hon. Gentleman, say, had already agreed to this important alteration, and surely no one had a right to expect that a difficulty would arise upon any further clause. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman even heard any of the discussion upon the proposition of the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock; and how was the question debated? We are warned now that this was a vital principle, and that if it failed the Bill might be defeated, the Government might resign, or something still more impossible might take place. But how was it defended? Did ever Minister defend a great cause in such a manner? The Lord Advocate spoke, but certainly he did not speak with enthusiasm in the matter. He pointed out that he was merely seeking to introduce into the Scotch Reform Bill a principle approved in the English Bill—a fact of which we were well aware. The clause was also defended by the hon. Baronet the Member for Ayrshire (Sir James Fergusson), who spoke upon it, as he always does—he spoke very fairly, with a certain feeling, which possibly was real. "Who else defended it? Why, it was defended by an erratic Mem- 628 ber of the House, the noble Lord (Lord John Browne) who sits below me, who generally sits upon this side of the House and votes on that; but who, with perfect consistency, upon that occasion, addressed the House from the opposite Benches. He, an Irish Member, took up the cudgels for the Government. And that was about the only defence which was made. When the House came to a division, there were 224 Members present, and there were 240 others who had paired, most of them after the first division; and they paired knowing that this very question was coming on. ["No!" and Cheers.] Well, I have taken some pains to inquire, and I find that the great bulk of them paired till ten o'clock; and it was a reasonable supposition that, in their opinion, the discussion would last until ten o'clock. The fact is, they did not come down very punctually, and the division took place, unfortunately for them, five minutes before ten o'clock; and the result was the great calamity which has brought the Government and the House into a position of some difficulty. If I might, I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman to be a little more explicit. I have no unfair object; I do not want to put him into any difficulty. I have felt it my duty to speak with a certain severity upon one occasion, when I thought that severity was deserved; but the House will bear me witness that I have not been active except in the fair discussions of propositions before the House during this Session. The speeches that have been made most offensive to the right hon. Gentleman, speaking generally, have come from Gentlemen that see opposite. I am told—though I do not pretend to have that secret understanding with Gentlemen opposite which the right hon. Gentleman always assumes that he has with some upon these Benches—that the Gentlemen who have spoken unfavourably of the Government from the Benches opposite represent the feelings of a great many who are silent. ["No, no!"] We are placed in an unpleasant position, and what I say shall be uttered with the simple and honest object of helping us to get out of the difficulty; for I agree with the hon. Gentleman who spoke last as to the discredit which attaches—a great deal of it to the Government, some to the House, and I am afraid some portion of it especially to this side of the House—that the present state of things is not terminated. The right hon. Gentleman came into Office having, 629 as we know, a minority only at his back he has had but a minority during the whole period of his official career—by which I mean the existence of Lord Derby's Government as well as of the present Administration; and he has been maintained in Office because there was an opinion upon this side of the House that hon. Gentlemen opposite do much less harm to our principles when in Office than when they are in Opposition. I think that is true, as the past has shown, and the sequel may still further illustrate. But at this moment the right hon. Gentleman holds over the House a threat to which reference has been made before—a menace which I say it is not right for a Minister to employ, and not right for this House to submit to. The right hon. Gentleman knows that in one sense this is the most corrupt House of Commons that ever assembled within these walls. ["Oh!"] When hon. Gentlemen hear the explanation of that statement, I think they will agree with me. I believe it cost more money to place the 658 Members now in this House within these walls than any 658 Members who ever sat here at any former period. And it is because of that excessive cost that the right hon. Gentleman has the power—I am sorry that, under any circumstances, he should have the will—to hold over the House the menace of dissolution, A penalty, probably, of £1,000,000 sterling will be entailed upon those who contest the seats—that is to say, upon the Members now here who will come back from the General Election—the Members who will fight and be defeated—the new Members who will be returned, and the constituencies who return them; and the great bulk of that expenditure will go into the hands of a certain number of lawyers, a great number of publicans, and a considerable number of printers. Now, the right hon. Gentleman has proposed that we should go back from the Vote of the other night. I will only say what I said then—that I think the Scotch Members are the best judges of this matter; and, if they can find any satisfactory solution of this difficulty, I shall be extremely glad, and feel perfectly confident that I am right in giving my vote with them. Therefore, I shall say no more on that point; but leave it till the question comes on again—I suppose about Monday next. But the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary has given a Notice to-night with regard to the Bill of which the right 630 hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire is to move the second reading, I believe, to-morrow. I do not know exactly what is the object of that Notice—whether it means more than a debate or a division, as we had on the first Resolution. Clearly, the First Minister was right when he said that the second and third Resolutions followed naturally and inevitably from the first; and he would be right now if he were to get up and say that the Suspensory Bill followed more inevitably—if such a thing were possible—from the second and third of those Resolutions. There is no doubt that, even if the propositions for changes within the; Irish Church, in accordance with the recommendations of the Commission now about to report were accepted by the Government and the country, it would be wise for Parliament to pass a Suspensory Bill, in order that money might not be wasted in filling offices between the time of the presentation of the Report and the passing of the Bill for giving effect to its; proposals. I thought the right hon. Gentleman was intending to get the House into smooth water; and I wish he would. If he is resolved to sit there till the House is prorogued in July or August—to remain in Office till Christmas, until after the General Election has taken place, I have I no power of myself to move him from his seat. I dare say there are many persons; in this House and out of it who are more anxious to eject him than I am. But, if he wishes for smooth water, let him not be a disturber of the pool. On this very question of the Scotch Bill possibly there may be some half-way house, some proposition or solution which may be fixed upon as the way out of the difficulty. There is no wish to drive him out of Office on that Bill, or to cause the failure of the Bill. On this side, I believe, there is perfect unanimity in wishing that the Bill should pass, and that it should be, as it promises in the main to be, a measure satisfactory to Scotland. But, if we are to be asked to make concessions in this matter, I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is prepared to make concessions also? Do not misunderstand me. I am not speaking for anybody else—for anybody I upon those Benches, or upon this side of; the House. Nobody knew or supposed that I was going to make any observations of this kind. But suppose the right hon. I Gentleman considers it due from us to make any concessions with regard to this 631 matter, surely it is not the business of the Government to raise any question that can bring us during the next few weeks into any dilemma of this kind again. After all, a crisis every week—twice a week, some hon. Member says—is not a creditable thing for a Minister; and it is not a pleasant thing for this House. There is some advantage occasionally in having a little excitement; but I confess that the excitement which we have had during the last two months since the right hon. Gentleman came into Office has been rather too much for my nerves; and, if it continues much longer, some of us will have to ask leave to go to a purer atmosphere and to more pleasant occupations. I have risen to say that, if the right hon. Gentleman thinks he has a claim to ask this side of the House to make any concessions, as regards the Scotch Bill, surely it is time for him, and those who sit with him—many of whom very seldom get up to say anything themselves, though their voices are enthusiastic when cheering the right hon. Gentleman—to pursue a course which will not lead the House into any difficulty hereafter. Now, only one other observation upon that. The House has decided by majorities of from 60 to 70 in favour of the Resolutions on the Irish Church. No one can deny—even the right hon. Gentleman himself or the Home Secretary cannot deny—that the House is agreed—for a vote by a large majority must be held an agreement—that the Bill that has been brought in is a just and necessary measure. If the Parliament that shall meet next spring, elected by the new constituencies, shall decide that the Irish Church shall remain as it is, then the Bill of my right hon. Friend, being only for twelve months, will expire, and there will be an end of it. Moreover, if the plan of the right hon. Gentleman opposite is considered better, the Suspensory Bill will be equally useless. I say, therefore, that, under these circumstances, if the right hon. Gentleman takes this opportunity of picking a quarrel, or what may be intended as a quarrel, it is from the love of the quarrel itself, and for a purpose which does not arise naturally out of the question or out of the Bill. Well, then, if the right hon. Gentleman asks Members on this side of the House to step back one hair's-breadth from the line they have taken, I say he should be careful to deal with the House in as frank and fair a spirit as we on this side are disposed to deal with him. 632 I think it will be understood that, in the observations I have made, I have not been speaking so as to aggravate the position of the right hon. Gentleman. I have said nothing to add to the irritation that might have been caused by the speech from the other side of the House. I have spoken my honest sentiments with regard to the position the House is placed in. If the right hon. Gentleman behaves, as I have known him to behave, as becomes him—though sometimes I have known him to act otherwise—if he behaves as becomes a Minister in a minority, possibly we may be saved in the next few weeks from many of those tumults and disorders which are not pleasant in the House, and which will not add to its influence with the country.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that the hon. Member for Birmingham had expressed his satisfaction at the present state of things, because Her Majesty's Government, according to the hon. Gentleman, were very useful to the principles which he advocated. It was not surprising that the hon. Gentleman, while thus using the Government for his own purposes, was satisfied that they should continue to hold Office while in a minority. This state of things might not be pleasant to hon. Members on the Government side of the House, but for one definite purpose, he (Mr. Newdegate) thought that Her Majesty's Government should remain in Office. They had carried a Reform Bill for England, and it was their duty, although in a minority, to test the forbearance of the House as to whether they could complete their scheme by carrying Reform Bills for Scotland and Ireland. With respect to the question which had arisen as to the re-distribution of seats in the Bill for Scotland, he had been inclined to vote for the proposal of the hon. Member for Northamptonshire (Sir Rainald Knightley) to take one Member from the smaller boroughs which had two, in order that they might be given to the counties; but when he found that the county Members would not stand together with the object of adding two county Members, one selected from each side of the House, to the Select Committee on Boundaries, he gave the larger and subsequent object up as hopeless, and then he voted distinctly for the alternative of transferring the scats to Scotland. The truth was that the seats for the small boroughs had long been felt to be due either to the counties of England or to Scotland. Under the circumstances he thought the House had done well in 633 allotting them to Scotland. The hon. Member for Birmingham had accused Her Majesty's Government of bringing forward measures not connected with the Reform question to disturb the House. Now it was with reference to one of these questions that he wished to obtain some information, A Bill on the subject of Promissory Oaths had been sent down from the House of Lords, and he wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman to allow Members a few days to consider the constitutional questions which arose in connection with that Bill. And this he must say, that he so far agreed with the hon. Member for Birmingham that, in the irregular state of things which existed, with the Government in a minority in a House not adequately representing the country, it was not just to the people that that Assembly should deal with great constitutional questions other than Reform. Why, yesterday they were considering the law of libel, and Member after Member told him that they had been so distracted that they had not read the Bill until that morning, and many had not read it at all. In this crisis the House was really so distracted that Members could not give their attention to those great subjects as they ought, and as under other circumstances they would have done. The hon. Member for Birmingham had alluded to the question of the Irish Church; but Her Majesty's Government were not responsible for the introduction of that measure. He had held from the first that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire had incurred a deep responsibility for thrusting upon a House, which he had declared to be imperfect because it inadequately represented the country, a question which had stirred, and would stir, the feelings of the people; and for raising it in anticipation of the decision of a Parliament, which, according to himself, would more fully represent the nation. With sincere respect for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, for whom he had no feeling of personal enmity whatever, and whose great talents he admired, he must say that he thought it unworthy of the right hon. Gentleman's antecedents—both as a constitutional authority and as a good Reformer, to endeavour, as he was now doing, to anticipate to a certain degree the decision of the next Parliament, which was not likely to be in accordance with the wild declarations with which he had 634 introduced the Resolutions. He begged to conclude by expressing a hope that the Prime Minister would allow the House a few more days to consider the Promissory Oaths Bill before asking them to come to a decision upon it.
§ MR. BOUVERIE
I respectfully beg leave to demur to what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman the First Minister—that in the decision at which we arrived on Monday night there was something like misapprehension or surprise. No doubt it is very convenient for the right hon. Gentleman, when he is making an attempt—and I believe it will be an unsuccessful attempt—to induce the House of Commons to swallow a well-considered decision, and to reverse what they have already resolved; it is very convenient, I say, for him to make such a representation. But not only is the fact not so, but I beg leave to say that the fact is the exact contrary to what was stated by the right hon. Gentleman. The more fact mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham is conclusive—that out of forty Scotch Members who were present in the House that evening thirty-five voted for it. In short, all who are familiar with the subject, and who know how the matter will work, were practically unanimous. And so far from its being a hasty and sudden impulse of the Scotch Members—and let me say in passing that we, as a body, are not very liable to hasty and sudden impulses—the Amendment which I had the honour to submit, and which was carried, was the result of long and careful deliberation by the great body of the Scotch Members; Notice was given of it, and it was put on the Paper before Easter. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham that if a way out of this difficulty can be found, consistent with the already expressed opinion of the House, and the decided opinion of the Scotch Members backed by the great body of the Liberal Members—if a way can be found out of the difficulty so as to enable the Government to go on with the Bill in a satisfactory manner, well and good. But, as I understood his proposal, the right hon. Gentleman intimated that it was his intention simply to ask the House to reverse the decision which was come to on Monday, and which, as I have paid, was a well-considered and not a hasty one. Now, the Scotch Members, no doubt, with their ordinary prudence and caution, will take time to see what the Amendment of the 635 right hon. Gentleman is, and how it will fit with their views; but I must say for myself, if it is simply the reversal of the decision of Monday that is proposed, I shall not be induced to consent to it; and I doubt very much whether the right hon. Gentleman, consistently with the common forms of Committee, will be able to call on the House to reverse its decision. The fact is, that the right hon. Gentleman has at last come to a point when he thinks he can no longer go on and take the consequences of the situation in which he has been during the last two months. The right hon. Gentleman, however, must be content to accept the consequences of that situation. If he is willing to be a Minister in a minority, he must—as he said last year he would—bo guided by the majority of the House. He has no right to set up his views, or the views and wishes of the minority, against the well-considered decision of the House. It comes to this—which is to play the part of Ancient Pistol and which of Fluellen? Are we still to go on offering the leek to the right hon. Gentleman, and forcing him to bite it, or is he, stung by the various defeats of the last two months, to come forward and say, '' Well, this is my last vital point; all the rest I have surrendered; every one which I insisted upon, and on which I educated my party, they are all now abandoned but this one of rating. On this I stand, and I insist, whether it is right for Scotland or not, on the House upholding my consistency?" Well, I trust he will not succeed in persuading the House to take that course. Now, important as this question of a clause in the Scotch Reform Bill is, there is a graver question behind it, on which the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Percy Wyndham) made so strong and able a speech. The greatest man of our times once asked, in "another place," with reference to the Reform Act of 1832, "How is the Queen's Government to be carried on?" Now, it appears that the right hon. Gentleman has discovered the solution of that question. The recognized and ancient practice of the House, to which we were all accustomed, which we all understood, which worked well, and which, whether it worked for or against either party, was accepted by them as a natural consequence of the system, was that the majority should rule, that the Government should express the mind of the House, and should give efficiency to its acts. That was the time- 636 honoured and well considered practice. But now, it appears, the minority are to rule. Any number of defeats do not signify. "Thrash me, kick me, beat mo, insult me, outrage me," says the right hon. Gentleman, "but still I say, like Mr. Toots, it doesn't signify, I feel quite comfortable where I am." Now, I am astonished that the Tory country Gentleman have submitted to this state of things so long. I am a Whig country Gentleman, and I am not ashamed of the designation, and according to my notion, this state of affairs is degrading to the Crown, disgraceful to the Minister, and destructive of the just rights and privileges of this House. That is not the only reason why I am astonished at the Tory country Gentlemen submitting to a continuance of this. I must say, that had I been sitting behind the right hon. Gentleman I should have been aghast at seeing all that I most valued and honoured gradually swept away under his protection. You have had the benefit of this system for two years, and under its auspices you have seen carried a measure which I do not myself dread or dislike, but which you viewed with the greatest dislike and alarm—a democratic Reform Bill. Under the same process we are likely to have an inroad upon that great institution which you value above everything else—the Church—for it is no doubt far easier to make an inroad upon that deep-rooted, long-established institution when we are in the position we now occupy than if we were sitting on the opposite side. That is the reason why some of us are very unwilling to see a change of Government. Again, the financial arrangements of the Government are no doubt acceptable to this side of the House, because they are in conformity with our views; but it has been a matter of the greatest astonishment to me that not a single Tory country Gentleman has been found who has had the courage to rise up and protest, in conformity with the doctrine taught him for twenty years by the right hon. Gentleman, that it was not fair or right to the landed interest to raise the whole of the increased expenditure of the country by direct taxation. I do not make these remarks in any spirit of hostility. There is a story told of Lady Mary Wortley Montague that she once said—Most people wish their enemies to die. That is not my wish at all. My prayer is, give my enemy the gout; let him feel what the pleasure of that is; let him have the stone; let him know what torture is.637 Now, the worst that I could wish an enemy would be that he should sit as a Minister on the Treasury Bench in the circumstances in which the right hon. Gentleman is placed—for I cannot conceive a position more humiliating to one's sense of dignity, and more derogatory to constitutional Government. If I were hostile to the right hon. Gentleman and his friends—if I were animated by feelings of personal dislike, my prayer would be that they should continue in that position, endeavouring ineffectually to carry on the Government of the country, endeavouring ineffectually to support principles to which the majority of the House will not adhere, and endeavouring to maintain their position by a policy which I must designate as a policy of legerdemain.
§ MR. J. HARDY
, as the representative of one of the ten unfortunate boroughs which were condemned on Monday, wished to say a few words. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bouverie) had just related a story of Lady Mary Wortley Montague; but he thought a much milder saying was that of Lord Chesterfield, who held that the worst wish he had to an enemy was that he should be married and settled in the country. Now, if the right hon. Gentleman chose to retire into the country he would not be regretted by hon. Members who sat opposite to him. Now, with reference to the proposed alteration of the vote of Monday last—for his own part, he should not be satisfied by the mere rescinding of the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment, for he considered that a vital principle of the English Reform Bill had been attacked by the previous Amendment, affecting ten English seats. Members on both sides were induced last year to support the Reform Bill, under the express condition that there should be no total disfranchisement; and it was a, most monstrous thing that ten English boroughs that had committed no sin should be swept away in order to give additional seats to Scotland. Ten independent English Members were to be sacrificed for the benefit of the most narrow-minded constituencies in the Empire. As for the boasted success of the grouping system, why, such a rude and rigid line was enforced that no independent man dared to offer himself, and if a Scotch Member ventured to show any independence he never appeared in the House again. Everybody knew exactly what the ten additional Scotch Members would be like; they 638 would be like so many brace of grouse. His own borough (Dartmouth) had, he thought, been treated in the most shameful manner; indeed, the honour of the House was at stake in the matter. Last Session a proposal to disfranchise these boroughs, made by the hon. and learned Member for Portsmouth (Mr. Serjeant Gaselee), was defeated in a full House by a majority of 52; but on Monday, in a much thinner House, there was a majority of only 21 for it. Now, he regarded that as a very unfair decision. He did not say that he should have supported the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Northamptonshire (Sir Rainald Knightley), for he had no great fancy for giving additional Members to Scotland. He was quite aware that Scotch Members were most respectable persons at home; but when they entered the House it seemed to be their business to vote away everything which a Constitutionalist held dear in Church and State. He would not go far as Charles II. in saying that Presbyterianism was not a religion for a gentleman, for religion was not concerned in this question; but he regretted to say that the dominant religion of Scotland was not conservative. The Scotch Presbyterians were banded together with Irish Roman Catholics to carry their measures; how then could they expect the Constitutional party in England to support them? The hon. Member for Birmingham, ready to give advice, he would not say with less than his usual obtrusiveness, and who, as he had told them, was the last man to get the House into troubled waters, had laid all the blame of what had taken place during the last few months upon that (the Ministerial side) of the House. But that side had not been at all to blame. Surely they were not called upon to accept everything offered to them from the other side. The Government, pledged as they were not to disfranchise totally, could not have supported the proposal of the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter), and he wanted to know why the vote on that proposal should not be re-considered? If this were not done he only hoped the Bill would be thrown up or withdrawn; for Scotland could exist very well for another Parliament without these additional Members. Several of the condemned boroughs were in Devonshire, and he protested against the representative power of that county being thus diminished. His own borough, moreover, had once been, and might again be, an important port, and he felt bound to protest 639 against its disfranchisement. If the vote of last Monday were supported he hoped the Government would throw up the Scotch Bill.
§ MR. HIBBERT
said, he neither voted nor paired the other night, and was not pledged on one side or the other; but he did not feel disposed to establish a principle of rating in Scotland that had been hitherto unknown there. He supported the Government on the ratepaying clauses of the English Bill last year, and was in favour of maintaining it; but he could not admit that by agreeing to a different principle for Scotland, they would necessarily weaken the principle adopted for England. The law and circumstances of the two countries were quite different. It appeared to him that the question at issue was one the solution of which only called for a little practical common sense on both sides of the House. What was the object of the Government? That those who were too poor to pay the rates should not be put on the poor-rate book and be eligible to be placed on the register. That was equally the object of the House. He would suggest an addition to the clause providing that all persons exempted from the payment of poor rates should not be placed on the register. Such a provision would only leave out a small number of persons in Scotland; for he had been told that throughout Scotland the rates were collected within 9 per cent, so that the collectors did not allow many persons to leave their rates unpaid. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would accept some such compromise on this question, and he had no doubt that some arrangement satisfactory to both parties might be arrived at.
§ SIR RAINALD KNIGHTLEY
said, he was a Tory country Gentleman, and he hoped he was as independent and as little influenced by personal motives as the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie). No man felt it more deeply and painfully than himself the existing state of things, and the only consideration that induced him to tolerate it was his hope to put a stop once for all to any further agitation on the question of Reform. Last year the Conservative party had made enormous, and, as he thought, most disastrous sacrifices, and he for one deeply regretted the course taken by the Government. Those sacrifices, however, were made, and the only hope was that they would have a little peace for the time to come. He wished to see the Scotch and 640 Irish Reform Bills settled. Hon. Gentlemen opposite could not settle them—they had tried their hands at Be form for a good many years and failed. He did not say whether those on his or the other side of the House were most to blame for that; his own party had their share of the blame, but not, he maintained, so large a share as hon. Gentleman opposite, because when in opposition they were not so factious. He would tell hon. Members for Scotland, "If you wish to pass a Scotch Reform Bill, and to obtain ten additional Members for Scotland, do not turn out the Government at the present moment." Just let them try what chance they would have of passing such a Bill through the House of Lords with the Conservatives in Opposition. He did not wish to see the Government retain Office longer than to settle the Reform question in Scotland and Ireland. Let the Government pass those two Bills and then let the House turn them out next day if they would.
§ MR. KENDALL
said, he was in the House on Monday night, and being very suspicious about what was going on he would not go away to dine or pair. "What was the state of the House? The hon. Member for Birmingham said that no questions were asked and no objections taken in opposition to the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bouverie). The reason was there was no one there to take objections. "When he came in he found five Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench, two behind them, and three near him. He also found the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bright) pressing for a division. ["Oh!"] He heard that hon. Member frequently say "Divide, divide." Although he was getting old he was very quick of hearing and of eye. The hon. Member urged to-night that as the Scotch Members were agreed the English and Irish Members ought also to agree to pass the Amendment. But why should forty or fifty Scotch Members destroy the principle of the Reform Bill for England? It was not a fact, as had been stated by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bouverie), that his Amendment had been fully discussed and duly considered on the Conservative side of the House. No one expected it to come on so early. Many Members were prepared for the Motion of the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter), but there was not the slightest expectation of the Motion of the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock coming on. He did hope, notwithstanding the 641 manner in which he had been treated, that the First Lord of the Treasury would give Scotland a further chance, because the vote of Monday night was a catch vote. It was passed in the absence of those who were dining and taking care of themselves. Hon. Gentlemen were too quiet on the other side of the House, and so he stayed; there to watch them.
§ SIR GEORGE BOWYER
said, they were constantly hearing hon. Members on that side of the House taunting the Government with more or less bitterness, on the ground that their retention of Office was calculated to bring the House into a humiliating position. Bat nothing was more calculated to produce that result than language such as had been heard that night from the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie). What could be more degrading to the House and the country than the constant practice in which some hon. Members indulged of casting the vilest imputations upon Her Majesty's Government—he did not speak of the present Government in particular. If they were to sit there as an assembly of Gentlemen, they ought to give credit to any Government for acting on principles; of policy in the performance of what they considered to be their duty to the country, Hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House were always telling them that the sole; object of the right hon. Gentleman and; his Colleagues was to retain their places; but if the Opposition were always throwing such imputations on the Government, might not the Government retort by pointing to Members who might be very anxious to succeed them, and might they not say that these hon. Gentlemen were hungry for place? But if hon. Members went on making these imputations and foul aspersions, that House could not fail to be degraded in the eyes of the country and in the eyes of the world. Let them give the right hon. Gentlemen who might sit upon the Treasury Bench credit for holding Office with a sincere desire to perform their duties; and even if they did not believe they were actuated by a sense of duty, let them at least have the good manners to suppose they were, and not make these charges, which degraded the House and the whole country in the eyes of Europe. The hon. Member for Birmingham and the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bouverie) appeared to suppose that because the Scotch Members were agreed in supporting the Amendment adopted on 642 Monday night the representatives of England and Ireland were practically to abdicate their functions on the question of Parliamentary Reform for Scotland, and leave the matter to be settled by the Scotch Members alone. Any more unconstitutional doctrine he could not imagine, and he was surprised to hear such comments from the hon. Member for Birmingham, who had been for many years a Member of that House, and ought during that time to have learned something about the English Constitution. The question touched the constituencies of the United Kingdom, and of course affected the constituency of England as well as Scotland; and an Instruction had even been moved in Committee upon the Scotch Reform Bill to disfranchise a number of English boroughs. He should have thought such a proceeding most irregular; but the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair ruled that it was a thing that might be done. If it were really within the rules that governed their proceedings it was pushing those rules to an extent bordering upon licence to disfranchise English boroughs upon an Instruction on going into Committee on a Scotch Reform Bill, and thus to repeal an Act of Parliament passed last year after the greatest deliberation and the fullest discussion, That appeared to him, he owned, to be an abuse of the proceedings of Parliament. The other question upon which the Government were placed in a minority was upon the Scotch franchise. Now, if there were to be a simple household franchise without rating for Scotland they would have to apply the same principle to England. He denied most emphatically that the Scotch Members should be left to decide this question upon principles which the other Members of the House thought were not right. He contended that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had done no more than his duty in affording the House an opportunity of re-considering this subject. He was certainly under the impression that after the decision of the House on the Motion of the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter), on Monday evening, the House would not proceed with. the consideration of the Scotch Reform Bill in Committee; and he believed that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire was not present during the discussion which ensued. ["No!"] The right hon. Gentleman was absent, at 1 all events, during a portion of the discus- 643 sion; and the division was a snapped one and was taken under a misapprehension. It was therefore right that they should have a re-consideration of so important a subject. He thought the hon. Member for Birmingham was again exceedingly unfair in saying that the Government called on them to re-consider the decision on the Scotch Reform Bill under the threat of a dissolution. He certainly had heard no threat of the sort, and his belief was that no threat was intended. Any such threat held out to the House of Commons in a case of that kind would be a crime. He believed that the Government were not capable of that crime, and that, whether they were or not, they would not commit it. With regard to the speech of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Percy Wyndham), who had moved the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of enabling them to enter upon that discussion, he was perfectly at a loss to know what was the object of the hon. Gentleman in making that speech. The hon. Gentleman dealt largely in that species of declamation which he had already deprecated, and which he still most sincerely deprecated. On a question regarding the Scotch Reform Bill the hon. Gentleman had gone into a mere attack of the Government; and he could not but think it would have been better to avoid a discussion which must necessarily be of a personal and offensive character, and which could not conduce in any manner to the decision of the important questions which they had before them. In conclusion, he had spoken as an impartial observer. ["Oh!"] It was not very often that he took part in what might be called party debates in that House, and, he repeated, he had spoken as an impartial observer, uttering freely what he believed it to be his duty to say, as no one else had said it.
COLONEL LOYD LINDSAY
said, the remarks that had just fallen from the hon. Baronet (Sir George Bowyer) were made in the same spirit in which he himself wished very briefly to address the House; for after the taunts thrown out by the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock against Conservative country Gentlemen he could not allow his speech to remain wholly unanswered. The right hon. Gentleman said he was astonished that country Gentlemen on that side could continue to support a Government which was conducting public affairs in the more than questionable manner he had described. For his own 644 I part he (Colonel Lindsay) was astonished that a country Gentleman could impute such mean and paltry motives to any body of Gentlemen who were endeavouring to serve Her Majesty and the country. His own feeling was that Her Majesty's Ministers were, under great difficulties, fulfilling a most important duty at great personal sacrifices to themselves. [Laughter.] It might cause a laugh to some hon. Gentlemen opposite that the Members of a Government should be supposed capable of doing their duty to their Sovereign and their country at some sacrifice of their own feelings; but he was sure that many hon. Gentlemen who sat on the Opposition Benches must be perfectly ashamed of the manner in which not only in that House, but constantly in private on all occasions, the most mean and paltry motives were I attributed to the Government for remaining in Office. He regretted exceedingly that a speech of that character had been made that evening from that (the Ministerial) side of the House. Such an attack I as that which the hon. Member for Cumberland (Mr. Percy Wyndham) had directed against those by whose side he sat and to whose party he professed to belong ought not to be made in the hasty and precipitate manner they had just witnessed. If an Independent Member below the Gangway might give advice to the Government as to how long they were to continue in Office and what course they ought to pursue, he hoped that one Independent Member might give advice to another; and availing himself of that privilege he would ask the hon. Member for Cumberland to listen to a few words taken from a well-known classic author. The Spectator, describing the establishment of Sir Roger de Coverley in the country, and speaking of Sir Roger's pack of hounds, said—I was at the same time delighted in observing that deference which the rest of the pack paid to each particular hound, according to the character he had acquired among them. If they were at fault and an old hound of reputation opened but once, he was immediately followed by the whole cry; while a raw dog might have yelped his heart out without being taken notice of.He trusted that Her Majesty's Government might continue to carry the very important measures they had in hand, which everyone knew they were endeavouring under a conscientious sense of duty to bring to a satisfactory issue. Let those measures be carried, and he was convinced that nothing would induce the Government to remain 645 in the very unpleasant position they now occupied.
§ SIR HARRY VERNEY
said, the hon. and gallant Member who had just addressed the House had not dealt with the real difficulty of the present circumstances. He charged the Opposition with imputing unworthy motives to Her Majesty's Government; but the main point to be dealt with was whether the Conservative Members themselves did not disapprove the course pursued by the Government. The statement he ought to have grappled with was what they had heard from the lion. Member for Northamptonshire (Sir Rainald Knightley), who said that the Government had carried measures which were disastrous and fatal, and that the great body of the Conservative party so regarded them. That was the light in which they were viewed by the men whom he had been accustomed to look upon as the chief Gentlemen of England. The hon. Baronet the Member for Northamptonshire said that his party had supported measures which they themselves believed to be disastrous. ["No!"] Aye, but they did, though. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Loyd Lindsay) charged the Opposition with imputing motives to, and speaking harshly of, their opponents; but he must say, as one of the oldest Members of the House, that he had never heard anything spoken there against hon. Gentlemen opposite which was nearly so violent or so strong as the language used by one of their own most respected Members. The right hon. and gallant Member for Huntingdon (General Peel) had told them the Treasury Bench ought to be sent to the British Museum as a curiosity, as the Bench for the honour of sitting on which right hon. Gentlemen were willing to sacrifice all other honour. For himself, as a Whig country Gentleman, he said there were things far more important than the transfer of any party from one side of the House to the other; and among those things were the honour of Parliament, political honour and consistency, and the respect which the country should entertain for its representatives. An injury had been done to the character of Parliament. That was what he imputed to hon. Gentlemen opposite, and not any base personal motives, of which he knew nothing. On the contrary, such were the labours undergone by Ministers, who were also Members of that House, and so great the pecuniary sacrifices, by relinquishing profitable pro- 646 fessions and business, that he felt that the country was hardly aware how much was owing to those who transacted the business of the State.
§ MR. GATHORNE HARDY
Sir, I shall contribute but very slightly to what I may call the personal and almost offensive character of the greater portion of this debate; for I think I shall best consult the dignity of the Ministry itself and that of the House if I abstain from noticing many of the remarks which have been made; and certainly I should be doing wrong to my own feelings were I to attempt to retaliate. But when the hon. Baronet the Member for Buckingham (Sir Harry Verney) stands up and tells us that he imputes to the great body of Gentlemen fitting on this side the House not personal but political dishonesty, and professes, as others have done, that he represents the majority of this House, I must tell him that both he and they are grossly neglecting their duty if, believing what they state, they do not take immediate steps to put an end to an exhibition which they tell us is a disgrace to the country and to the Parliament in which they sit. For such a proceeding I long. When the time shall come to vindicate my personal or political honour, I shall not be wanting, at least, in my efforts to do so. Passing to the subject more immediately under our consideration, I proceed to notice an observation which has fallen from the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock. He states that there was no reason for saying that the division of the other night was sudden and unexpected. Let me speak for myself. There is no question on which I have taken greater interest than that rating and the personal payment of rates should be the foundation of the Parliamentary franchise; but after the division en the Motion of the hon. Member for Montrose, understanding that further progress with the consideration of the Scotch Reform Bill in Committee would not be pressed that night, I left the House, and only returned—and returned by mere accident—at the last moment, before the division on the Amendment of the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock. I understand that those who represented the party opposite stated to many Friends on the Ministerial side of the House that there was to be no further progress with the Scotch Reform Bill that night, and the consequence was that many Members who would otherwise have remained in 647 the House were absent from the division. I say this in my own vindication, because it would have been my duty to remain on this (the Treasury) Bench if I had thought that the Scotch Reform Bill would have been proceeded with. No imputation can be made against the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie) on the score of not having given full Notice of his Amendment; for, as he has himself said, he gave Notice of the Motion some time ago, and it was on the Paper for the Business of that night; but, believing that the House would resume immediately after resolving into Committee, I certainly was surprised, when I came back to the House, to find that, instead of Supply being proceeded with, the Scotch Reform Bill was being considered in Committee. I have only one word to say to my hon. Friend (Mr. Percy Wyndham) who introduced the present discussion. I am very far from thinking, like the hon. and gallant Member behind me (Colonel Loyd Lindsay), that the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Cumberland was unprepared; for, in fact, it was prepared, but for a totally different state of things from that which has actually occurred. In the first place, my hon. Friend does not appear to have read accurately the Reform Bill of last year; for he imagines that the Commission appointed to inquire into the question of Boundaries was a Royal Commission, whereas it was a Parliamentary Commission. Therefore, to say that Parliament might deal with the question of Boundaries as it thinks proper was not such an extravagant assertion as my hon. Friend supposes. In the next place, my hon. Friend attacked the Government for abandoning the principle of rating, although my right hon. Friend (Mr. Disraeli) had just given Notice that, so far from abandoning the principle of rating, we proposed to ask the House to re-consider its former decision. It was further stated that threats have been held out to the House by the Government as to what would follow in certain contingencies; whereas the only observations on that point were made by my hon. Friend himself, who said that we ought to have told the House what we intended to do with Parliament in case we should be unable to carry our proposal. I state this for the purpose of showing that the hon. Member has no foundation for the attack he has made upon the Government. I say again that we are prepared at any moment to meet the charges 648 brought forward in this desultory manner, if they are submitted to the House in such a shape that we can fairly deal with them. That is what we desire. I do not know that there is any Gentleman on this Bench who would not say that we have painful and difficult duties to discharge, or who would not acknowledge that from day to day and from hour to hour our difficulties are increasing; but at the same time we may entertain a sense of duty which prevents us from ignoring the obligations which we owe to ourselves, to our Friends, to this House, and to the country at large. For myself, I defy any Gentleman to say that we have done anything inconsistent at least with personal honour; and if any one wishes to impute to us political dishonour, the way to bring that accusation to a test is to submit a distinct Motion to this House.
§ MR. OSBORNE
We are again engaged in personal discussion, and we know that nothing so delights the House as baiting a Minister. But, in my mind, this proceeding has gone a little to far; and I think that those hon. Gentlemen who talk so loudly of the honour of Parliament would best consult that honour by not indulging so much in these miserable discussions, which can lead to no practical result. I for one, have no political sympathy with the right hon. Gentlemen who sit on the opposite Benches; but to them I impute no dishonest or dishonourable motives. I have still less sympathy with the hon. Baronet and Tory country Gentleman, the Member for Dundalk (Sir George Bowyer) who defends the Ministers on every possible occasion. But this I will say—that neither as a Whig country Gentleman nor as a Tory country Gentleman, but as a sort of nondescript country Gentleman—that if I thought, as the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock thinks, I would not be satisfied with making speeches of the kind he has made, but I would test the opinion of this House by a Vote of Want of Confidence. I say, moreover, as a Member of the Opposition who wishes to transplant the Gentlemen opposite to the more congenial atmosphere of this side of the House, that, whatever steps I might take on that point, I would not be content to come down here night after night interfering with the Public Business; but I would come forward either to support the Motion of the hon. and learned Serjeant the Member for Sligo (Mr. Serjeant Armstrong), or to anticipate that Motion, 649 and ask the House to declare whether, in its opinion, the Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench are or are not deserving of the confidence of the House. What is the position we are placing ourselves in? Night after night we move adjournments, we take every opportunity of scandalizing the Ministers, and imputing the basest motives to them; but we are positively afraid to say that we have no confidence in them. I say that I have myself no confidence in their discretion; but I do not impute these unworthy motives to them. [Mr. BOUVERIE: Neither do I.] Well, certainly, if you love them your brotherly affection is expressed in a most extraordinary I manner. All I say is, Don't love me after the same fashion. I pray the House to ' consider one thing. The representative institutions in this country are going rather to a discount. The people out of this House view our proceedings with some distrust. There is but one Parliamentary way of expressing want of confidence in a Ministry, and I say that we are bound to adopt that mode if we think the Ministry do not deserve our confidence. I am not going to give any pledge to the hon. and learned Member for Sligo (Mr. Serjeant Armstrong) as to the course which I may pursue in reference to his Motion. I certainly will not move a Vote of Want of Confidence myself; and I think that if other Members are wise they will not move it. I will tell yon why. [An Hon. MEMBER: Because they cannot carry it.] That I know nothing about; and I leave it to those older hounds who can yelp for the pack. But we all know that this Parliament is coming to a rapid end. We are all agreed that it ought to be brought to a rapid end. Let the Government push the Scotch and Irish Reform Bills. They do not lie upon a bed of roses. It cannot be agreeable to any men to hear what is said of them in this House night after night, and not be able to notice it elsewhere. I say that the sensible course for Parliament to pursue is to pass the Scotch and Irish Reform Bills in the best way we can, and to get rid of these miserable discussions and this still more miserable House. If you are not prepared to do that, then come forward with a Vote of Want of Confidence; and if that Motion is brought forward, it will be met, if not by discussion, at least it will be met in such a way as the character of the Ministry justly entitles the House to give them credit for.
§ MR. MONCREIFF
said, he wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman at the head if the Ministry if he would put upon the Paper any alterations which he might intend to make in the Scotch Reform Bill, in addition to those of which lie had given Notice? It wan absolutely necessary that hon. Members should know whether those words are to stand by themselves, or whether they were to be accompanied by any other alterations. He must, however, say one word with reference to what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department. He said that he was taken by surprise the other evening—that be understood it was not intended to go into Committee on the Scotch Reform Bill on that night. If that was realty the case, he must say that the Scotch Members had the greatest reason to complain. They appealed night after night to allow these Scotch and Irish Bills to go through, and they were told by the Government night after night that their only desire was to wind up the Session at the earliest period, and that the Scotch Reform Bill should stand for a day on which it should really be taken tip. On Monday night, the right hon. Gentleman placed the Boundaries Bill before the Scotch Reform Bill; and now it appeared that, after a division upon ray hon. Friend's the Member for Montrose Motion, he did not intend to go on with the Scotch Reform Bill—for what reasons and with what view lie was entirely unaware. And then, when they agreed to a Resolution respecting a matter relating to Scotland, they were suddenly thrown into a Ministerial crisis. If they were to have a Ministerial crisis on every clause of this Scotch Reform Bill, there were a good many Amendments on the Paper, they would therefore have plenty of them. They did not desire to embarrass the Government by these Amendments. They related to matters of Scotch detail. This matter about the rating was not intended to defeat the Ministers, but to apply to Scotland the principle upon which a Reform Bill could work in that country; and he did not think it reasonable that when the House came to a decision upon such a point, they were to have a Government crisis thrown in their face.
wished to explain the vote he had give the other night on the Motion of the hon. Member for Montrose. He voted in the minority against that Motion, and if that had been nega- 651 tived, he should also have voted against the proposal of the hon. Baronet the Member for Northamptonshire. He quite agreed with the hon. Baronet the Member for Dundalk (Sir George Bowyer), that it was rather straining the rules of the House by an Instruction to the Committee on a Scotch Bill to give power to disfranchise English boroughs. He did not think Scotland stood in need of any additional Members. Instead of ton more, he rather thought if she had ten less, considering the sagacity and organization of the Scotch Members, they would be quite able to hold their own both as against England and Ireland.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.