HC Deb 10 July 1872 vol 212 cc890-926

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that he was asking the House of Commons to consider a very large scheme of Representative Reform. The subject was not altogether new to the House. Mr. John Stuart Mill endeavoured to introduce into the Reform Bill of 1867 clauses embodying the system of preferential voting and proportional representation, which had become familiar to educated men in this country by the writings of Mr. Hare. But the time was not pro- pitious for the consideration of a proposal of so large a scope; we were in the middle of a fierce party struggle, considerations of mere national importance were subordinated to the more immediate and engrossing interest of party success; the debate fell through. In reviving in another form the proposals of Mr. Mill, he might point to the fact that in every civilized country in the world the subject of Proportional Representation had engaged attention, and procured acceptance from some of the ablest and best men of our day, as embodying a remedy for many admitted evils in representative institutions; and to the really astonishing consideration that in three different countries independent inquirers, acting without concert, actually ignorant of one another's existence, had hit upon what was virtually the same remedy for these evils—namely, Mr. Gilpin in Philadelphia, Mr. Andræ in Denmark, Mr. Hare in England; and that in a country circumstanced so differently as regards its social and political constitution as the Canton of Geneva from our own, the same conclusion had been reached by the Association Réformiste. But he would prefer to justify his action on more practical grounds. We were on the eve of "new departures" in politics. Parties would soon be organized on new bases. As soon as ever the Liberal party were in Opposition, they would raise the cry of electoral reform. Already there had been hints from a high quarter on this point. That cry would take the form of household suffrage in the counties, and a re-distribution of seats. No legislation could compare in importance with that which was intended to perfect the legislative machine; yet, there was no subject on which national were more apt to be sacrificed to party interests. The events of 1867 were fresh in most minds. At that time the two great political parties seemed to have changed their ground completely—the Conservatives supporting household suffrage, while the Liberals turned round and opposed it by every means in their power. Various reasons had been given for this abnegation on the part of each political party of their professed principles—the most plausible was the widely spread belief that the introduction of the "residuum" would benefit the Tory party. The event showed how unfounded this belief was; but it certainly prevailed at the time. He availed himself of the present lull in party politics to ask for a discussion of a plan founded on justice and national expediency; for it was only in such times that a hearing could be obtained. Now, whenever the time should come for dealing again with re-distribution, the country would demand finality—that there should be an end of the constant patchings and tinkering of the electoral machine in the interest of the party in power for the time being. In his opinion, the only final solution of the re-distribution question was to take population as a basis, and apportion Members according to population. Many persons would say—Why not borrow from America their system of equal electoral districts, each returning one Member? It was because he believed that such a change was distinctly a change for the worse that he ventured to bring forward this Bill, in order to show that it was possible to apportion Members strictly according to population without incurring the evils which in other countries accompanied single equal electoral districts. These districts were only adopted in America in 1840, and, after 32 years' experience, the conviction was growing that they were at the root of many of the evils of the American electoral system. The State of Illinois had already emancipated herself, and had adopted a constitution in which the cumulative vote and districts returning three Members were substituted for the single electoral district, and the change was supported avowedly on the ground that it was a step towards a better and more scientific system—something analogous to the plan contained in this Bill. This feeling was spreading in other States of the Union. An objection to equal electoral districts was that they destroyed all local pride, and all pride in the character of the Representative. A district liable to entire change at the end of 10 years was a mere fortuitous concourse of atoms. If party managers forced upon such a district a candidate of bad personal character, individual electors did not feel the same sense of shame which would be felt under similar circumstances in Manchester, Liverpool, or any of the great English counties; and it was significant that in this country the metropolitan boroughs, which most nearly approached electoral districts in character, returned to the House of Commons men like Roupell and Edwin James. Another objection was that electoral districts inevitably led to "gerrymandering," an American word not yet adopted in our vocabulary, though it indicated a practice not unknown to English party politicians. It is a method of so arranging electoral districts as to make either the most or the least of a local majority. American political life was full of examples. Governor Gerry, from whom the word came, by clever manipulation of the State of Massachusetts, succeeded in preserving for his party a majority in the Representative Chamber long after the majority among the voters had passed away to his political opponents. Here was another example. A friend of his represented, as a Democrat, the town of Columbus, in Ohio. The House was aware that in the United States the Member must reside in the district he represents. The Republicans were in power in the State when the time came for re-arranging the districts. Accordingly, a district was formed composed of a small triangular slice of the town of Columbus, in which was his friend's house, and a great district sparsely inhabited by Republican farmers. He would give the House an example of "gerrymandering" in England. He happened to reside in the West Riding. That county contained a large manufacturing population living in well-defined districts, and giving a large majority to the Liberal party. Now, the West Riding was an oblong district, stretching from the northwest to the south-east. The natural way to divide it was to draw the lines of demarcation roughly across its length, keeping in mind the boundaries of Wapentakes and the physical geography as affecting the lines of communication. But that plan would have left a goodly manufacturing population in each of the three districts, and would make the return of six Liberals probable; so the Reform Bill of 1868 proposed to form one purely agricultural district, consisting of a narrow slice cut off the length of the county, extending, literally, from Lincolnshire to Westmoreland. But he was bound to admit that his own party were just as bad whenever they had the chance. Take the case of Dartmouth. After the Reform Bill of 1832, Sir William Molesworth had the credit of having "gerrymandered" the counties of Devon and Cornwall in the Liberal interest. Dartmouth consisted of the town and a queer-shaped district attached. That was the estate of a certain Whig magnate, and for many years the borough was Liberal. One day, for reasons best known to himself, the Whig magnate turned his coat, the borough thenceforth was Conservative until its disfranchisement. The temptation to "gerrymander" in the interests of the party in power was, in fact, so great, that party managers would avail themselves of it, if they had the opportunity. That was a strong objection to equal electoral districts; and another objection was that the system practically deprived electors of the power of selecting their own candidates. In former times the candidates were selected by small cliques of the most eminent of the local politicians. Such men, at the least, took care to select men of high private character. But that was passing away with the spread of political knowledge, the electors were demanding a voice in selecting candidates—some form of the caucus becomes a necessity. Now, the caucus looked very well on paper, but in practice it handed over the delegates to a few clever wire-pullers, who might be corrupt. This happened in America. A late Bristol election showed that corruption in the caucus would nourish on English soil. The choice once made, the electors were bound hand and foot. Even if it came out afterwards that the candidate chosen was a man of infamous private character, they had the sorry alternative only of voting for him, or giving a triumph to their political adversaries. Then, again, the system gave excessive power to minorities; whereas the axiom should ever be kept in mind that though the minority should be heard the majority must rule. Parties were evenly balanced, but a small minority of corrupt voters could turn the scale. One side bought their votes. When once blood had been tasted, the corruption spread and infected the whole constituency. Again, one marked and growing feature of modern political life was the rise of organizations, outside of the House of Commons, banded together to carry some object by means of legislation. Each such organization usually had an affinity with one of the political parties; its delegates attended the caucus, Various names were pro- posed; but it was a sine quâ non that the candidates should swallow certain Shibboleths. Now, what you wanted here were men of education, thought, and force of character. Such men had thought out their opinions for themselves, and would not mould their political creed on the demands of associations. Under the caucus system such men would be passed over for a man of a very different type, and thus there would be a gradual deterioration of the quality and personnel of the House of Commons, which would be composed in great part of political adventurers, who would swallow any pledge for the purpose of getting a seat, and for the chance of afterwards getting office; or of half-educated rich men, who sought a seat for the sake of the accompanying social distinction. But in their hearts they detested the pledges they had taken, and hence a grave danger. The excitement of the contest over, they had to face the fulfilment of their pledges. What more likely than that they would keep the promise to the ear but break it to the hope, and bring forward measures intended to be inoperative. And thus under the system of single electoral districts there was a danger that Parliament would become a Parliament of mediocrities, and that the variety of representation which was now our boast would disappear. These were among the objections to the system he had been considering. To some extent they applied to the existing system, but all would be aggravated by a system of single districts, and he might point out that with two-Membered constituencies there was a very faint approach to proportional representation. If two Liberals were returned one was a Whig, the other a Radical; two Tories were of different shades of Conservatism. That would disappear with single districts. He now came to the details of his Bill. He had already stated that population should be the basis of representation, and the Bill accordingly proposed that after each decennial Census the number of Members should be apportioned to each district according to its population. In the arrangement of constituencies, he had taken, for the most part, the old county boundaries; but in one or two cases—notably in Wales—he had grouped counties into electoral districts. The object was to obtain constituencies no one of which should return fewer than three Members; for no system of proportional representation could work with a smaller number. In some cases he had grouped boroughs with one another. In the case of large boroughs which might be entitled to return as many as three Members, he retained them as separate constituencies; all the smaller boroughs he would throw into the county population. That was a weak point in his Bill, because it would undoubtedly tend to swamp the county interest. The remedy was a reduction in the county franchise; but, though urged by some to propose household suffrage in the counties, he had kept it out of the Bill, because, having no expectation of carrying the Bill through Parliament this year, he wished to confine the discussion to its chief object and scope, which was distinctly proportional representation. The extension of the county franchise would be adopted years before he could hope to obtain any considerable support for such a Bill as this. The effect of his Bill would be, in the first place, to remedy an evil often made the subject of complaint—the insufficient representation of English counties. It would also do justice to the large boroughs. Liverpool would have 11 Members, instead of three; Birmingham would have seven; and the metropolis would be entitled to return 66 in place of 22. He made two exceptions to the principle of proportional representation. He retained the special representation of the three English Universities, throwing them, however, together into one constituency, returning five Members. In that way we should get there a representation of political opinion which was now entirely ostracized—the Radical element was growing among the younger and more active members of the Universities and the teaching staff. Another exception was the City of London, which should be allowed to retain its present electoral privileges, as representing in a peculiar sense our commerce and finance. He had been told that, as the basis for redistributing representation, not only population but comparative wealth should be taken; but on working out the figures he found that in practice the results of taking population alone, or population along with the Income Tax Returns, were the same. Another objection might perhaps be made—that instead of taking population as the basis of redistribu- tion, he should have taken the electoral register. With household suffrage in the counties, however, that would be a question of no importance, because you would have the same practical result, whether with the population or the electoral roll; and the latter, indeed, did not present so satisfactory a basis as population, because it contained a number of persons who, from one cause or another, had lost their qualification. He now came to the essential characteristic of the Bill. Instead of the representation in the House of Commons of certain collections of houses and so many acres of land, you wanted a representation of the opinions of the people who lived in the houses or upon the land. He had already explained that, in his opinion, the creation of equal electoral districts would result in a dead uniformity of representation. Was it possible to obtain variety of representation and yet do justice to electors wherever they resided? Let them consider for a moment the theory of representation. Popular government began with small republics where all the citizens could meet in one spot to discuss the common weal. But in modern States some system of representation had become a necessity owing to their size. In the infancy of Parliaments there was far greater sameness in interests and in human character than amid the more varied conditions of modern life with its higher education and increased means of travel. The functions of Parliament were then far less important, the knights of the shire and the burgesses came up to Westminster to vote as scanty Supplies to the King—to remonstrate as loudly against abuses of the Prerogative, as they dared. For such simple functions there was entire community of interest and opinion between Members and constituents. But new interests, new thoughts, had since grown into life. Our ancestors showed their wisdom in adapting their institutions to the circumstances of their days; let us imitate them. As machinery had superseded handicraft labour, and railways the pack-horse, we need not wonder if modern social conditions should need a more scientifically constructed legislating machine. Now, the principle of our Parliamentary system was, or should be, the equality of electors; but that principle had not been a reality. For example, there was not the slightest reason in principle why a citizen of London should be able to vote for three Members and an elector in Rochdale for only one. Moreover, some minorities had no voice under the existing system. How could those evils be removed? It had been said that the House of Commons ought to be to the nation what a chart was to a country. You did not want every house and tree depicted in a chart, but you wanted it to be correct as far as it went, especially in delineating the comparative proportions of the districts to be found in it. So in the House of Commons, while it was impossible to represent every individual opinion, it was right that the main opinions from time to time existing throughout the country should be represented here according to their strength. Practically, no doubt, this result was to a great extent attained in the present House of Commons, but it was due to a series of happy accidents rather than to the operation of any satisfactory system designed to produce a variety of representation. Even as it was, great masses of opinion were now unrepresented in the House of Commons. For instance, in recent discussions upon the Mines Bill it must have occurred to many Members that there would have been great advantage in the presence here of some artizans who could have set forth the opinions of the working miners; and it was a scandal to our representative institutions that since Sir John Acton was made a peer, and since the death of Sir John Simeon, there had not been in this House a single representative of the English Catholics. The working of the system he proposed would be best seen by an example. Each elector would have one vote; and, supposing there was a constituency of 10,000 electors returning 10 Members, if the electors divided themselves into groups of 1,000 each, we see at once that each such group ought, in fairness, to return one Member. But if you gave an elector the power of voting for any candidate he liked, it was obvious that one candidate of great popularity might attract 6,000 out of the 10,000 votes, and then the minority would return the remaining nine Members. The waste of voting power which had occurred at the election of Mrs. Garrett-Anderson in the school election for Marylebone was almost as great as that in the imaginary case just given, and some machinery to prevent it was therefore necessary. Various plans had been recommended. By the New York Reformers, it was suggested that surplus votes cast for a particular candidate should be regarded as proxies given to him, and should confer on him greater voting power in the Legislature than a candidate who had polled a lower number. He should be sorry to adopt a plan under which one man—perhaps an ambitious, unscrupulous man—might receive an enormous majority of votes, and make himself the autocrat of the House; and such a power would be especially dangerous in voting upon private Bills. Another suggestion was, that the candidate who received surplus votes should be entitled to pass them on to any other candidates he might choose or nominate as proposed by Mr. Baily and Mr. Dobbs. That, however, was the New York plan in another form, and would simply result in the election of the political adherents or the creatures of the popular candidate. The Association Réformiste of Geneva proposed that any body of electors might agree upon a list to contain, as many names in order of preference as there were Members to be returned. Each elector would have to vote for one of these lists in block, and at the conclusion of the poll the votes given for each list would be counted, and so many candidates would be elected beginning with the first name on each list as would be in proportion to the number of votes given as compared with the whole vote cast. He had adopted Mr. Hare's plan as being the most perfect and the best known in this country. The voter himself would arrange on his voting paper the names of several candidates in the order of his preference, the voting paper showing on its face, as the House would see by referring to the schedule of the Bill, that the vote would only be reckoned for one candidate. The poll being closed, the total vote cast is ascertained, and this sum is divided by the number of Members to be returned, the quotient being the number of votes required to return one Member. The papers having been then sorted in packets, all those having the same name as first choice being placed together, the packets are counted. So soon as the quotient just mentioned is reached that candidate is declared elected, and the papers so reckoned put on one side, all surplus voting papers are then added to the credit of the second name mentioned on them, and this process is continued, as described in the very simple rules contained in the Bill, until the whole number of candidates has been elected; in the end those candidates who have the largest fraction of the quotient, if they cannot obtain a full quotient, filling up the last places. It was objected that the plan was complicated. But the task imposed on the elector was really simpler than in the Government Ballot Bill, for it was inevitable that numbers of voters would make marks against the two first names in alphabetical order, and one desideratum of party managers in looking out for an available candidate would be that his surname should be near the beginning of the alphabet. In all other respects he would vote just as he did at present. But as regard the functions of the Returning Offier, the objection seemed more plausible. But the answer was simple—a direct traverse of the allegation. That very system was adopted in 1855, in Denmark, in the elections to the Rigsraad. Mr. Andræ, and Mr. Lytton, a perfectly disinterested witness, bear evidence as to its simplicity in actual working; it had been since applied to elections to the Landsthing, and, last year, to all municipal and ecclesiastical elections. That which worked smoothly in Danish villages could not be beyond the power of English Returning Officers. In its application to the elections of the Governing Body of the Orange Society of New Jersey no difficulty was found. From Harvard University came most convincing testimony. The Standing Committee of Elections reported that the counting of the votes, given under Mr. Hare's rules in the nomination of the Board of Overseers, actually took far less time than under the former system of the cumulative vote. He had himself suggested it to the delegates at the Co-operative Congress at Bolton last spring—the voting went off without the slightest hitch. Those who maintained that the system was complicated in operation must meet these facts. Another objection which might be urged against the Bill was, that it would introduce into the House of Commons the representation of crotchets. It was, however, all very well to call things by that name. Everything new in politics and social philosophy was called a crotchet, until it came to be accepted by a substantial minority. He admitted that it was not desirable to have in the House of Commons a very large number of men with special crotchets, but there was no reason to fear anything of the kind. It would be the interest of persons holding certain views to obtain the ablest men they could find, and the men whom they selected to represent them would probably be found to be wise counsellors in dealing with other subjects. The objection was raised by his hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke), that he did not include Ireland and Scotland in the provisions of his Bill; but his reasons for excluding them were to make the Bill shorter, and that it was the custom of the House to deal with questions of electoral reform only for one kingdom at a time. If his Bill passed into law, Scotland and Ireland would, as a matter of course, obtain that justice which was not now extended to them, for it would be necessary to carry out the principle of the measure in its integrity. He had already explained why he had not dealt with the question of household suffrage in the counties; and, for the same reason, he avoided touching for the sake of simplicity on the extraordinary anomaly that 40s. freeholders living in boroughs did not vote for the borough, but for the county. It was said that the constituencies which he proposed were not large enough; but he desired, as far as possible, to comply with our existing habits of representation. As intelligence increased, and as people individually, apart from the party managers, began to take more interest in political affairs, the districts might be made larger, until at last we might arrive at the ideal position of having the whole of the United Kingdom, as proposed by Mr. Hare, thrown into one constituency. Such a change as that he was not, however, prepared to recommend at the present moment. He was aware that he had made a very imperfect statement, but he had, he thought, a right to claim the indulgence of the House, seeing that that which he proposed amounted to a revolution, and that measures dealing chiefly with the reduction of the borough franchise had been explained in speeches of much greater length. Indeed, taking into account the extent of his scheme, he might not unfairly claim to be allowed to occupy in dealing with it a whole Morning Sitting. He should not, however trespass at much greater length on the indulgence of the House. The question was not a party question. It had been advocated in this country by men for the most part who belonged to the extreme Radical party; but in other countries it had been taken up by men who might be regarded as representing Conservative principles, and who had experienced the evils of equal electoral districts, which we had not. But be that as it might, he claimed for his Bill that it would cause that political bitterness to disappear which was created by the fact that when parties were nearly balanced, the most unscrupulous efforts were sometimes made to secure a few votes, thus giving rise to bribery and intimidation. The Bill, he contended, would further operate to bring into our election contests many new voters—the most intelligent and educated of the electoral body—who at present took no part in elections at all. There were many who abstained from voting because of the heated atmosphere of political meetings and the excited crowds which were to be found in the streets. A number—and those among the most worthy—also abstained from voting because they objected to the candidates who were brought forward by local party managers. The Bill could not fail to act beneficially with regard to such electors, while it would greatly—though he admitted not entirely—put down bribery and intimidation, inasmuch as the incentives to those offences would not be so great as under the present system. Under such a Bill, too, the great mass of the Members of the House of Commons would be completely freed from the necessity of truckling to a corrupt minority. It would render their seats secure to eminent politicians, and remove the dangers and inconveniences which arose from their being obliged to curry favour with local authorities. It would, moreover, have the effect that under its operation Parliament could not err in legislation through ignorance, while it would do away with the greatest of all possible tyrannies—the tyranny of majorities. New truths were always held by minorities. It would give them an earlier opportunity of obtaining an arena whereon they must be answered, or prevail. It would become impossible for a minority of the electors to return a majority of the House of Commons; it would almost annihilate the tyranny of the wire-pullers. He did not, of course, expect to carry the second reading on that occasion, but he was glad to have had an opportunity of raising the question involved in the Bill in an arena where it could be most freely discussed. In this country we were eminently Conservative in our opinions, and no great change was ever carried out under the lapse of a generation. If the change proposed were sound, it would gain converts among the young; and as the older generation, whose minds could no longer assimilate new ideas, passed away, the despised minority would become a majority. If a measure like the present was ever to be carried, it could only be after a long struggle such as that which led to Free Trade. He did not claim for the Bill that it was perfect, but the discussion upon it would, he hoped, do some good, as showing the English people that it was possible to adopt a system of political reform without the necessity of sinking into that Slough of Despond, equal electoral districts. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.


, in seconding the Motion, said, there could be no doubt of the truth of his hon. Friend's observation that during the last few years the representative institutions of the country had become much more democratic, and were likely to become even still more democratic. But if the fact were indisputable that this country was becoming more democratic, he thought it was imperative upon all those who took an interest in public affairs to endeavour to bring about some better system of representation—a system under which the person chosen would represent, not the land or the houses, but the minds of the inhabitants of the district forming each, unit of representation. Unless some such system were adopted in place of the present crude and unsatisfactory method by which this House was elected, we should very soon find ourselves at the mercy of wire-pullers and cliques. He would refer to the United States of America—the most democratic of all countries—to show that the feeling was beginning to prevail there that it was necessary some alteration should be made in an electoral machinery which was very much like our own. An eminent clergyman in that country had lately said, in a discourse on the duty of citizens, that whenever he put his hand in a ballot-box he felt he was being made use of by somebody—he did not know whom, and for some purpose—he did not know what. The danger of the existing system was one, therefore, which was becoming distinctly recognized in America, and we, he thought, ought to take early precautions to guard against it. He would refer to a notorious example of the evils of wire-pulling in the United States which would be fresh in all their minds. At the recent great Convention at Cincinnati a number of the best men in the country attended, resolved to secure the election of a candidate for the Presidency who should be a Free Trader and in favour of Civil Service Reform. By their efforts a most eminent Free Trader and Civil Service reformer, as well as a man of the highest character—Mr. Adams—was for the first three or four Ballots at the head of the poll. He had not, however, obtained quite the number of votes required, and the consequence was that the wire-pullers got hold of the machinery, and in the end, to the astonishment of the whole country, one of the staunchest advocates of Protection, and a man who had never been in favour of Civil Service Reform, had been selected as the candidate of the Convention. He feared that similar results would be brought about in this country unless the House showed its wisdom by taking up the question and dealing with it in good time. A number of voters, estimated at nearly one-third of the existing constituencies, now took no interest in politics, and never recorded their votes because their choice of candidates so frequently lay between men by whom they had no wish to be represented. Now, the obvious way to change such indifference into some more active feeling was to secure that a larger number of candidates should be obtained, from amongst whom almost every voter would be able to choose one who was, to a considerable extent, at all events, to his mind. The area must be enlarged in order to effect this, and some form of proportional representation adopted, and the first question was, what was to be the unit of representation from which the start should be made. In his opinion, better units of representation could not be obtained than the county divisions. They were as old as the Saxon times. The people of the country still felt attached to them, and they would involve the least amount of change necessary for so great an experiment. Such an alteration would tend greatly to guard against the danger of cliqueism, which had now become so marked a feature in our politics. If the county were adopted as proposed in this Bill, it would, he thought, be impossible to make it a condition of voting for any candidate that he should swallow a particular bolus, and a great means of political torture would thus disappear. It was clear that if it was desired the best men in the country should be returned to Parliament, some change must be made in the direction indicated by his hon. Friend, and he trusted his right hon. Friend the Secretary for the Home Department would not, speaking for the Government, say that this was a question more suitable to a debating society than to the House of Commons. The need was pressing, and it was high time we should devise some method of escape from dangers such as these from which the people of America were now struggling to free themselves.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Morrison.)


Mr. Speaker,—There is much that has fallen from my hon. Friend, in which. I cannot but agree; but he has failed to remove my objections to his Bill. The first observation that must be made about it is, that it applies to neither of those portions of the United Kingdom in which it is most needed, and that it does not put an end to the evil of one man's vote in one part of the country counting for more than that of another man in another part—an evil, the tangible results of which we should, I think, consider. The Bill purports to be founded upon two considerations—that the opinions of electors should be represented in proportion to the prevalence of such opinions, and that Members should be returned in proportion to population. Now, there is this justification for some Bill on the subject—that so wide is the disparity in the electoral power possessed by voters in different portions of the country, that mo- mentous divisions continually take place in which both the number of electors and the population represented by the majority are inferior to those represented by the minority in the House. If I am asked to state cases, I would point to two divisions which are fresh in the minds of all of us—the division on the Mines Bill and the division on the Birmingham Sewerage Bill—both of which occurred last month. In the division on the clause relating to the employment of children in mines, the Ayes were 185, and the Noes were 170. But I find that the 185 Ayes were elected by 1,410,000 electors, and the 170 Noes by 1,464,000 electors. That is—the minority were elected by 54,000 voters more than the majority. The Birmingam Sewage division was a much more remarkable one. The 145 Ayes, who represented, as we believe, the public interests, were beaten by 148 Noes, who, according to some of us, represented private feeling. But, however that may have been, the 145 Ayes had been elected by 1,383,000 voters, and the 148 Noes by 977,000 voters; that is, a majority of 406,000 in favour of public considerations. That is to say, that in this division the judgment of the House as given by the majority was contrary to the judgment of the electors of the United Kingdom, so far as we can gather that judgment by the only means constitutionally open to us—namely, from the votes of the representatives of the electors in this House. Having said thus much in favour of having a Bill of some kind, I feel bound to admit that there is one distinction of the utmost importance which may be drawn in favour of this Bill between it and any other measure that has ever been proposed upon the subject of re-distribution. It is that, so far as it goes, this Bill is of a lasting character. It is impossible to overrate the importance of finality in the matter of re-distribution. I am prepared, indeed, to contend that it is unwise even to touch this question until we can deal with it in such a manner as that it will not need to be reopened every two or three years, and at the same time in such a manner as to prevent the future perpetration of such jobs as that by which the county of Sutherland was saved for the Whigs, when the last re-distribution measure with regard to Scotland passed. It is of the utmost importance that the next re-distribution scheme should be of a permanent, and therefore of an elastic character. Great as is the injustice of the present distribution of electoral power, under which, while you proclaim the sovereignty of the people, you make one portion of the people in small and corrupt boroughs, 250 times as sovereign as another portion in large, wealthy, and intelligent towns, still I do not hesitate to say that, looking to the certainty that this question must be completely dealt with within a very few years at the most, I had sooner for the moment keep matters as they are than help to pass any more such trumpery fragments of a re-distribution scheme as those which disgraced the legislation of the last Parliament that sat. Having said thus much, I am nearly at an end of the words that I can speak in favour of this particular Bill—this Bill, that is, so far as it differs from other schemes for a wide reform which may previously have been proposed. I have come to an end of the pleasanter portion of my task, for I find myself compelled to enter upon a hostile criticism of a measure promoted by those who have the same objects at heart as I have, I want to know why, in the first place, population rather than the number of electors should be taken as the test. I know that there is an answer. I know that it may be said that to take the number of electors and not the population as the test would be grossly unfair to the people of the counties, and would confer too great power upon the inhabitants of the towns. That is true under your present franchise, far higher in the counties than in the towns. But is it likely that this double franchise will continue? Is it well that it should continue? Can you touch this question of re-distribution, except in connection with the equalization of the borough and county franchise? I doubt it. All the arguments that can be used in favour of a change make strongly against the principle of taking population rather than electors as your test. Not formally and officially, but in our daily practice, we assume always that every elector in the country is equal in political power with every other. That is our modern view, but our practice is widely different, and the difference is founded upon no intelligible principle, for it is the voters who reside in the most ignorant and the most cor- rupt boroughs of the country that have the greater, and those who reside in the most enlightened and least corrupt boroughs of the country that have the lesser power. I say, then, that instead of taking mere population as your test, you ought before all things to look to the need that exists for equalizing throughout the country the power given to each elector. That, for fairness sake towards the counties, you cannot do so long as you have a double franchise, and hence the impossibility of agreeing to this Bill, or even of properly considering its provisions so long as your double franchise cumbers the ground. This Bill is far more than merely experimental in its nature. It deals with the whole question upon, as I think, a mistaken, but at all events a logical principle—that of population. It saves University representation and plural voting by freeholders, which are entirely inconsistent with the whole idea of proportional representation. But, with the exception of these two concessions to historical usage, it is a measure which aims at being complete so far as it goes. But what a little way it is that it goes! Why does it not go across the Border? Why does it not go across the Irish Channel? Surely, if re-distribution is needed anywhere it is needed in Ireland. In Ireland you have vast counties represented by the same number of Members as sit for insignificant villages. How can you ascertain that which it is of vital importance to the Empire to ascertain—namely, the opinion of the Irish people on Home Rule or on Education while you have such a burlesque of representation as that which exists at present in that country? If you are to go for the future upon the principle of population in England and Wales, why are you not also to follow it with regard to Ireland and Scotland? The strongest demand for the redistribution of electoral power comes from Scotland and Ireland. Yet, here is a Bill claiming to be logical, and certainly wide enough in its scope as regards this portion of the country in which we are assembled, which almost begins with the words "This Act shall not extend to Scotland or Ireland." No doubt, the Bill is an experiment; but why try the experiment upon the counties so long as you have the insuperable difficulty of a different franchise in counties and boroughs? Why not try it upon, some city or group of towns? Some think—and I among them—that it is almost impossible to overrate the advantages which might flow from proportional representation, if proportional representation could be worked. I think it most desirable that the experiment should be tried. Here again, however, we are met with difficulties of the most serious kind—namely, the inconsistency between the new principles which you seek to establish and the inadequate representation if you take wealth, population, or number of electors as your test, which is at present given to the great towns. It is clear that, however just the principle of personal representation may be, it is not easy to work out in practice, and it implies so great a change in our habits of thought, that we should be cautious about making our experiment. There can be no place so fit for trying the experiment, from the great concentration of wealth and population, from the machinery at hand, and from the variety of opinions held within the compass of a single town, as London; and it would be most natural to suggest that the experiment should be tried within this City. But look at the difficulties in which, from the very injustice of our present system, we should be at once involved. London has 22 Members for 280,000 voters. If you were to try your experiment upon London, it is probable that the metropolis would under your new system elect as its 22 representatives men of great fame and of the highest attainments—men whose service would be of splendid value to the State; but it would be impossible, nevertheless, without the fiercest opposition on the part of London, to make this trial of your scheme, and to ask this town to return but 22 Members to your House when by its population it is entitled to far more, and at the same time to return men of such character and position that the majority of them would probably have neither time nor inclination to attend specially to London wants. Such are the difficulties that meet us at every turn. The moral to be drawn from these facts is, that it is hopeless to attempt the experiment of proportional representation until you have obtained, on the one hand, the equalization of your franchise throughout the country, and, on the other, the recognition of the still more important principle, that equal weight ought to be given to the votes of electors in whatever portion of the country they reside. I object, then, to this Bill, because, while the greatest need forre-distribution exists in the case of Ireland and Scotland, it expressly excludes those portions of the country from its operation. I object to it again because it retains the system of University representation and of plural voting by freeholders, which are wholly inconsistent with its scope. I object to it also, and chiefly, because it continues, and by continuing aggravates, inasmuch as it stereotypes for the future that which I consider by far the greatest of all the evils of the present system—namely, the difference in the weight of votes between one portion of the country and another. In truth, the Bill is magnificent in its design, and miserable in many parts of its performance. Why, for instance, should Westminster and Marylebone continue under the provisions of a Bill of revolutionary reform to be two separate constituencies? Why, when it is your only object to secure the due representation of opinions in proportion to their prevalence—why should you disfranchise a man for moving in his town across his street, or, in the same house, from one room to a better room on the same floor? You cannot deal piecemeal with reform. But my chief objection to this Bill is, I repeat, that by proposing to have two franchises in the same constituency—namely, both borough and county franchise, coexisting at the same election in the same county—you propose that which would be unworkable, to which the House of Commons would never agree, and which would prevent the possibility of obtaining for the other principles of the Bill that consideration which is undoubtedly their due. Those who have not carefully read this Bill will hardly credit my statement that under it you will have two franchises co-existing in each county. For instance, Abingdon will have no Member, but will become a part of Berkshire. But every householder in that part of the county of Berkshire which was formerly the borough of Abingdon will have a vote, while in almost every other part of the county, every householder will not have a vote, but only the twelve pounders. It is hopeless to attempt to deal with re-distribution by itself without, at the same time, undertaking the equalization of the franchise in the counties and the towns. I voted not long ago for a Motion in favour of the reduction of the county franchise, thinking it deserving of support not only as in itself desirable, but also because that reform is clearly a necessary first step to a re-distribution of electoral power upon a logical, an elastic, a permanent, and a self-acting plan. Re-distribution of electoral power is not a matter which any Government will lightly undertake. It is not a matter that a Government will undertake at all, unless supported by a popular demand. Your popular demand will not be for a small and imperfect scheme. Future re-distribution of electoral power is certain to proceed upon the democratic principle, that, when you once have settled what your franchise shall be, one vote is as good as another. That principle you are unable to apply as long as you have a different franchise in the counties from that which exists in the towns. County Members cry out that they represent a far larger population than do those Members who sit for an equal number of voters in the boroughs. The answer is, that the country will not tolerate the counting on behalf of the agricultural Members of the labourers who have no votes, any more than public opinion in America during the war would have continued to tolerate the counting for electoral purposes of the unenfranchised slaves. These facts must before long force the county Members to concur in giving to the labourers votes, but until that agreement has been reached, or until an overwhelming pressure has been brought to bear on behalf of the great towns, it will be impossible that a good measure of re-distribution should be passed. But such is the need for a large Bill that it cannot be long delayed. The divisions to which I have alluded, and many others which I might quote, shew that our measures are often not measures desired either by the major portion of the voters or by the major portion of the people; and, I ask, where is the boasted freedom of our institutions, if this can long continue to be the case? This Bill aims at securing by impossible provisions the accurate representation in the House of various opinions and various interests—a good end to aim at, as an end; but, even as an end, of secondary importance as compared with the non-falsification of the opinion of the country as a whole. It is because you never can be secured against that falsification of opinion until you have an equality of franchise such as to permit an equality of representation, that I am convinced that there is no possibility of a settlement being reached upon the lines laid down by the promoters of this Bill. I beg, Sir, to move the Amendment of which I have given Notice.


Sir, I shall not attempt to discuss the principle on which the Bill before us is based, or the objections which have been urged against it in detail by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke). I am content to believe that sooner or later the difficulties and errors of the representative system in this country will receive their natural and logical solution in the adoption of a plan which will secure full and equal representation for the opinions of all classes in the community in proportion to the numerical prevalence of these opinions. I shall confine myself to supporting that portion of the Motion of my hon. Friend which declares that no measure dealing with the re-distribution of electoral representation can be satisfactory to this House which does not apply to Ireland as well as to England; and to establish that position, I hope to prove to the House that the present representation of Ireland is by no means a fair and honest expression of the opinions of the people of that country. I regret very much that the hon. Member for Plymouth (Mr. Morrison) has limited the extension of his Bill to England, and yet I am not surprised that he has done so, for he probably did not wish to introduce into this discussion the question whether Scotland and Ireland are adequately represented in this House in proportion to their population. I find, on applying the method suggested in the Bill, and dividing the total population of England and Wales by the total number of representatives which they return to Parliament, that England and Wales have one Member for every 46,000 persons; while, on the other hand, Scotland has only one Member for every 56,000, and Ireland for every 52,500; while the average for the United Kingdom would give one Member for every 48,000 persons, and would entitle Scot- land to 10 representatives more than she has at present; Ireland to 9 more; and England to 19 less. But, Sir, I do not wish to import any new element into this discussion, and therefore I am content to assume for the purposes of argument, that the present number of Members returned for Ireland would be sufficient, if fairly and honestly elected, to represent the opinions of the people in Parliament. But are they elected in such a manner? By the Census of 1871, I find that there are in round numbers 1,500,000 grown-up men in Ireland; of these only about 220,000 possess the franchise, leaving 1,280,000 of mature years who possess no voice in the government of their country. However, as the question of the extension of the franchise does not enter into this discussion, I pass it over and assume again, for the purposes of the argument, that 220,000 electors are a sufficient number, under an honest and equitable arrangement, to select Members to represent the opinions of the country; my position now is that the political power of these 220,000 electors is destroyed and frittered away by the absurd and dishonest manner in which the Members are distributed amongst them, and that consequently the Irish representatives in this House do not fulfil their legitimate place in the Constitution, and do not fully, freely, and equally represent the opinions of the various classes of the population. That position I shall attempt to prove by reference to statistics based on the number of electors and on the population of the various constituencies in Ireland. There are 19 constituencies with populations under 10,000. The aggregate population of these constituencies, which are represented by 19 Members in this House, is about 120,000. There are, on the other hand, 20 constituencies, every one of which has a population greater, in some instances more than double that of the population of all the 19 constituencies added together, and yet these great constituencies return only two Members each to Parliament. To the 19 boroughs of which I have spoken, let us add the 9 constituencies next in size—namely, those whose populations range from 10,000 to 50,000. We thus get 28 constituencies returning 31 Members to represent a population of about 300,000. With these, let us contrast the great county of Cork return- ing two Members to represent a population of over 430,000. Proceeding with our examination, let us add to the 28 constituencies which return 31 Members, the 14 constituencies next in size, and we get 42 constituencies with 6,000 electors, and a population of 1,500,000, returning 59 Members leaving—Dublin University being excluded—42 Members to represent the remaining 157,000 electors, and a population of about 4,000,000. That leads us to the extraordinary conclusion that 66,000 Irish electors return 17 Members more than 157,000 electors do; and that 1,500,000 of the Irish people have 17 representatives in this House more than 4,000,000 have. But, Sir, a recent event would seem to vindicate that state of things. The notion that a Member is returned to Parliament because the result of an election has proved that he holds the opinions and possessed the confidence of the majority of his constituency has been shown to be an antiquated delusion—a foolish and groundless assumption. The true title to a seat in this House seems now to be that the great majority of the constituency you nominally represent do not wish for you, will have nothing to do with you—that you cannot after the most strenuous exertions poll one-eighth of the electors on the register; that you cannot count one vote for every four recorded in favour of your opponent. I pass, however, from this novel and extraordinary development of the principle of the representation of minorities, a development which entirely ignores the representation of the majorities to consider some other strange anomalies in the representation of Ireland. There are, I find, eight constituencies—namely, Portarlington, Dungarvan, Mallow, Downpatrick, Enniskillen, Kinsale, New Ross and Youghal, with about 2,000 electors between them, and a population of under 40,000, and yet these boroughs have exactly the same amount of representation in this House as the four greatest constituencies in Ireland—Cork County, Dublin City, Down and Mayo, with their 44,000 voters on the register, and a population of 1,200,000. Again, there are in the present House of Commons 31 Irish Members who represent 16,000 electors, and a population of 300,000. There are, on the other side, 28 Members who represent 120,000 electors, and over 3,000,000 of people. I have alluded to little boroughs, I do not know whether there is a strong desire in the present day to defend their existence, but they seem to me to be liable to many objections. They are peculiarly exposed to corrupt influences; they are sometimes under the influence of some one great nobleman or landowner; they are often in the power of petty cliques, and are distracted by local jealousies. The argument, I believe, has now almost been abandoned that they are useful because they enable young men of ability to get into the House who are afterwards returned for popular constituencies. But let us assume everything in their favour; let us assume that the borough of Portarlington, for example, is perfectly pure, that it is perfectly independent—we may, of course, assume the most unlikely things for argument sake—that it is quite free from local jealousies; and let us suppose, moreover, that it generally selects as its representative a man whose presence is calculated to add to the collective wisdom of Parliament, and who is destined to rise to high office in the State. Let us assume all these points in its favour, and yet they are not, I think, sufficient to justify the monstrous inequality caused by the existence of such a constituency. The borough of Portarlington with its 102 electors, and a population of about 2,700, returns one Member to Parliament. The county of Cork returns two Members. The population of Portarlington bears to the population of Cork the ratio of 1 to 162; therefore, an elector merely because he happens to reside within the municipal bounds of the borough of Portarlington, has 81 times as much voice in the election of a Member of this House as if he resided in the county of Cork. That is the climax of absurdity in the present system. Therefore, because I believe these facts show that the representation of Ireland in Parliament is unequal, dishonest, and absurd, I support the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "no measure dealing with the re-distribution of Electoral Representation will be satisfactory to this House which does not extend to Scotland and Ireland, and which does not give an equal share of political power to all Electors,"—(Sir Charles Dilke,) —instead thereof.


said, he did not intend to follow the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kerry county (Mr. Blennerhassett) into the question of the comparative value of small and large boroughs. He thought that where small boroughs were nomination boroughs—such as Ripon or Stamford—and where the patrons used their influence to select men of distinction, calculated to become ornaments to that House, in such a case those boroughs fulfilled a useful mission; but the case was very different where these boroughs were mainly in the hands of the richest buyer. He thought that the House owed a great debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for Plymouth (Mr. Morrison) for having brought forward the question now under consideration. He regretted that the House had been so thin during his speech, which was as able a speech as had ever been delivered on the question of proportional representation. The question was becoming day by day and hour by hour of greater importance, and though it was not desirable now to set to work to re-model the representation, it was exceedingly desirable by such Bills as the present to teach the people at large a sounder view of representation than had hitherto prevailed. That House ought to present a miniature of the general views, feelings, ideas, and even prejudices of all parts of the community, and various were the means suggested to bring that about. In fact, the feeling in favour of proportional representation was a growing feeling, and he believed it to be founded in wisdom. Last Parliament the question of the representation of minorities was carefully considered, and was very ably discussed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other Members of that House, as well as of the Upper Chamber, and the result was that a compromise was agreed upon, and a certain number of constituencies were selected in which this principle was to be adopted. About two years ago, when the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Hardcastle) brought a Bill into the House to repeal the clause giving minorities in certain large constituencies proportionate representation, the House had gone to a division on the point whether the Question should be put, and the then Speaker gave his casting vote in favour of the Question being put. On the vote being taken, the Bill was lost but by a majority of only 3. Since that time no hon. Member had ventured again to raise the question that the minority clause should be abolished. He was not going to say that the clauses in this Act, taken by themselves, were such as he should recommend to the House; but it was important that the Act should be discussed with reference to the principle it involved. They had better have a just and sound principle among a few constituencies, with a view to extending the same, than repeal the minority clause as at present existing. Then, in 1870, a Bill for constituting school boards throughout the country was passed. That Bill, though containing a more comprehensive principle of suffrage than had been adopted in Parliamentary representation, because it had given the other sex a right to vote, did not propose to give a representation to minorities; but the noble Lord the Member for the Northern Division of the West Biding of Yorkshire (Lord Frederick Cavendish) brought in a proposal that, by means of the cumulative vote, minorities should be represented at school boards. That proposal, in 1870, passed almost without notice, and it might be said that it came upon the country by surprise, so that the true judgment of the House had never been taken upon it. Last year, however, the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Dixon) brought in a Bill to repeal that clause, so that school boards should not be the representatives of the different sections of the population, but of the majority. In spite, however, of the very able advocacy of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Harcourt)—who was the only young Member of any mark who had espoused the antiquated principle of majority as opposed to the proportional representation—the hon. Member for Birmingham was too good a tactician to press his Motion to a division, and allowed it to be negatived. No one else had raised the question again. On the contrary, when the cumulative clause was not found in the Scotch Education Bill of this year, it was moved and carried by a very large majority—three to one—that the same principle of proportional representation should be introduced as had been applied to English school boards. He did not expect any immediate change in the representation of the people of this country, but he thought it was their business, as far as possible, to propound doctrines which would teach the people of England that when they were to have a new Representation of Peoples Bill it should be based upon sound principles, and give a fair representation to every class of the community. And how was that to be done? Was it to be done by a majority vote? There was one plan of dividing every borough into wards, but he believed the system of ward elections would let a number of extreme, and bigoted, and narrow-minded Members into the House. The ward principle had been tried in the metropolis, but the state of representation in the metropolis was in a very unsatisfactory condition. He did not say unsatisfactory because 20 Liberal Members were returned and only two Conservatives. The return would have been equally unsatisfactory as regarded the constituency if the 20 Members returned had been Conservative. The return did not give a fair representation of the metropolitan constituencies. There were in the metropolitan area 22 Members, the constituency of each ward, so to speak, with the exception of London, returning two Members each, and in every single case, except the City of Westminster and the borough of Southwark, where the constituency had only the other day been accidentally disorganized, the majority of the electors returned Liberal Members. Would anyone tell him that 21 Liberal Members out of 22 was a fair representation of the relative strength of the two parties? The present system gave about 12,000 electors to each Member. In the City of Westminster 7,400 electors voted for his hon. Friend behind him (Mr. W. H. Smith), and therefore the whole body of the Conservative electors in the other divisions were unrepresented, and these amounting to many, many thousands. Of the electors of the metropolis, probably one-fourth or one-third were what might be called Conservative, whatever that term might mean, and if numbers ought to be represented for the metropolis, instead of one Conservative Member there ought to be six or seven at least. Till they got a sounder system of representation there would always be a ready answer to those who claimed more Members for the metropolis. That answer was this—they could not have more Members, for the majority was already over-represented. When they cut and carved the constituency in such a way that one-third of the constituency was not represented at all, that was a reason for not giving more representatives to the majority. The Bill of 1868, as regarded the extension of the suffrage in boroughs, partook of a final measure; but as to the distribution of seats it contained no basis of finality whatever. What they had to do when they came to deal with any new measure touching the representation of places, was that they must have regard to the fact that there were a great number of small boroughs, and that these were a means of securing variety in our representative system, and care must be taken not to reduce everything to a wretched dead level, or convert into a mere Plutocracy what had been the first Representative Assembly in the world. To effect this they must have a system of proportional representation. He was not going to discuss the details of the Bill, for the reason that when the House was asked to read it a second time on the 10th of July, it could only be brought forward with a view to the discussion of its principle. There was one point, however, to which he would for a moment refer. The metropolis was to have 66 Members, according to its population. According to the system of ward elections, judging by the experience of the past, three Conservatives and 63 Liberals would be elected. That would be aggravating the present system of injustice, and would be a burlesque of representation. Things had very much changed since 1832. When three-cornered constituencies were then first introduced, Mr. Mackworth Praed got up and proposed what was called the limited vote, but Lord Althorp said it was quite unnecessary, for constituencies would never be found to vote for three Members of one political party. But what was now the fact? In 1852, out of the 21 Members returned by the seven triangular constituencies referred to, 20 were Protectionists and only one a Free Trader, and that distinguished statesman, Sir Cornewall Lewis, lost his seat for Herefordshire by a fractional majority. The majority system of voting had at all times of great excitement broken down, and in times of popular clamour minorities had ever been overborne. He hoped his hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth would be satisfied with the discussion which had arisen on his Bill and not press it to a division. There were many clauses in the Bill which were objectionable, and that House would never consent to add 20 or 30 to the existing constituencies as proposed. No doubt, boroughs of a certain size might disappear in the counties, but all these were questions of detail rather than of principle, and the principle of the Bill—an approach to proportional representation—was one that ought to be aimed at. The present system worked only tolerably well in consequence of the variety in our constituencies. Whenever the change did come he hoped that the Executive of the day would take care that adequate means were taken to represent minorities.


, who was nearly inaudible, was understood to oppose the principle of the Bill, but regretted that his hon. Friend had not given the details of his scheme as applicable to the whole United Kingdom. There were some very small boroughs whose existence it would be very difficult to justify, but still if they struck them altogether out of the system of representation, they would deprive it of much of its variety.


said, he had listened with much pleasure to the very able speech of his hon. Friend who introduced this Bill, but he could not in any way commit himself to the details of his plan. There were many evils in his way, which his hon. Friend had not grappled with in a manner likely at any time to commend his plan to popular opinion in this country. So far as he could judge, the scheme had been founded on what was known as Mr. Hare's plan. They were much indebted to Mr. Hare for having brought the subject prominently before the public; but he had failed to enlist popular opinion in favour of his scheme. Mr. Hare had wholly ignored the essential feature of our representative system—namely, its local character. He put the constituencies into a "pool," and elected Members promiscuously from it. The great blot in this scheme, however, was that it aimed at establishishing personal as distinguished from local representation. The representation of local minorities had engaged the attention of all thoughtful politicians, though he admitted that any attempt in this direction would have no support from the mere partizan or stereotyped follow-my-leader school, who thought that the political or even physical existence of anybody who did not see all things èye to eye with themselves was a monstrous anomaly. The representation of minorities could never be popular with persons who took such narrow views. Without going into the details of the Bill, he must point out to the House that the single vote was by far the worst of the various systems of proportional representation. It diminished the electoral power of each individual elector, whereas the cumulative vote greatly increased that power. The cumulative vote worked admirably in America and in the school boards of this country. The evil was, that under the system of a large majority they were always liable at a moment of excitement to carry everything with a rush; and the House might be filled with hon. Members not representing the deliberate opinion of the country, but by those who happened to catch the popular ear; that evil, however, was to some extent corrected by the existence of the small boroughs which had been so much questioned. How was that danger met in America? Instead of the Members of the House of Representatives being simultaneously elected, as in the case of the House of Commons, each State returned every two years a moiety of its quota. It had been said that Illinois had adopted the system of proportional representation; but there each voter was allowed to give his three votes, one to each candidate, one and a-half votes to each of two candidates, or two votes to one, and one to the other. Now, if in constituencies returning two Members this plan were adopted, and "a plumper" counted as one and a-half votes, it would be a practical solution of the great difficulty of applying a fair representation of minorities to our existing institutions. This system prevented any small minority from being represented, while it gave to a minority respectable in numbers a fair share of representation. The "limited" vote in three-cornered constituencies had worked very well, and had supplied a want which had long existed. The exclusion of eminent men from the Legislature was little short of a national calamity, and already the value of this salutary provision in the last Reform Act had been illustrated, as he must take the liberty of reminding the House that to this they were indebted for the privilege of addressing the right hon. Gentleman who now so ably filled the Speaker's Chair. The want of a more extended system of this kind had been also brought prominently forward in several instances. Take the case of the Prime Minister, to which he referred in no spirit of taunt, for in his opinion the electors of Greenwich had performed a public service by returning to the House of Commons the eminent Leader of the party opposite, for it would, undoubtedly, have been a serious evil if the Leader of one of the principal parties in the State had not been able to make his appearance in that House. Again, if we had had a fair system of proportional representation, it would not have been necessary for the Home Secretary to make such diligent inquiry, and by, doubtless perfectly legitimate, but, nevertheless, indirect means, to find his way back to the House of Commons. The same remark was applicable to the case of his noble Friend the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant. He trusted that the House, although it might not be disposed to adopt the exact machinery proposed by the Bill, would not decline to entertain seriously the suggestion that minorities ought by some means or other to be adequately represented, because the House of Commons ought to represent the calm, deliberate, and well-balanced opinions of all classes of the community, and not be the reflex of the first blind impulse of popular passion.


, in reply, said, the only objection he could urge against the tone of the debate was that it had been rather too much on one side. He had been told that in bringing forward this Bill he was converting the House of Commons into a debating society; but his justification was, that he really had a practical end in view, because he observed signs that the re-distribution of seats, and, perhaps, the question of equal electoral districts, would become a party cry. The present measure was one which he was glad to see could be accepted, with, perhaps, some modifications, by both sides of the House. He concurred with his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Boston (Mr. Collins) in thinking that the adoption in 1867 of a limited vote in counties and large boroughs was a tentative process, and that that provision must either be extended or else repealed. In common with all the prin- cipal advocates of that change, he had always taken the same ground as the supporters of the cumulative vote in the State of Illinois—namely, that it must be regarded as a step towards a more perfect form of proportional representation. His Bill did not propose, as had been alleged, to substitute Mr. Hare's scheme for the existing system, for its special object was to preserve the principle of local representation. Under all the circumstances, he felt it would not be right to ask for a division on the second reading, because he should then have to vote against the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea, in which he entirely concurred. Therefore, he would accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Chelsea, leaving the House to deal with the Bill as it thought fit.


thought that as the Bill proposed to bring about an organic change, it was somewhat extraordinary that Her Majesty's Government had not favoured the House with any opinion on it. True, the subject to which it related had not yet taken possession of the country, but still it was only natural to suppose that some utterance would proceed from the Treasury bench, if it was only for the purpose of quieting the public mind, which had been far too much agitated of late by political movements. The amount of change we had had recently must have more than saturated the public mind, and it was time now that we should have some certainty of peace and rest. He would remind the House of the epitaph in a country churchyard—"I once was well, I wished to be better, and here I lie." No constitution in the world could endure constant stimulants and excitement, and the rule held good in the case of the Constitution of a country as well as in that of an individual. The Bill was diametrically opposed to our present system of representation, which was intended to be, not so much a personal as a class representation. In conclusion, he would recommend the hon. Member for Plymouth (Mr. Morrison) to wait a few years, when the country would be so disgusted with the effects of the new system of secret voting that they would be glad to seek refuge in anything.


said, he opposed the Bill on the ground that the industrial element of Ireland, by which he meant the manufacturing and commercial interests, were not represented at all in the House at present. As a consequence there were very few business men from Ireland, most of the Members from that country representing either the landed interests or the professions. Had not the landed interest prevailed generally in the House, it would have been impossible for a recent Sewage Bill to have been kicked out as it was.


said, he feared that coming among sundry attempts to tinker up the Constitution by party efforts, for party purposes, the House might be disposed to regard the Bill of the hon. Member as an anachronism. He was disposed, however, to accept it as a valuable protest, coming from that side of the House, against sham Reform Bills like those of 1832 and 1868, and sham Ballot Bills of 1872, and all other such inane bids for mere popular support. The Bill itself was an improvement upon Mr. Hare's plan in many important respects, for it brought the representation within the scope of the personal knowledge of each elector, and would prevent the election of mere public notorieties and political quacks, puffed into public notice by the Press, which would otherwise be the result. He thought that the Bill created too many new constituencies, which might be obviated by taking the areas of counties as the uniform basis, and merging the borough system in this, the franchise being uniform throughout. Finally, however, there was a fear he would express, that not only such a Bill as this, but no other Bill of such a nature would ever pass. Practical politicians, as they were called, would not look at it, and no doubt there was a reason for it. Our present system was not philosophical abstraction, but a stern reality, the result of the struggles of the past. First, as history informed us, the Commons of England had won power over the Crown; then the larger boroughs had special representation; then the Crown had sought to regain its ascendency by creating small boroughs, which the Reform Bill of 1832 swept away in the greater part; that Reform Bill dished the Tories, and that of 1867 the Whigs; and it was now distinctly as a party measure for party purposes that the Ballot Bill was introduced. No doubt, there were infinite evils in such a system as this, for it gave each party in turn an opportunity to gain an unfair advantage, and if in the ascendant, to put their power to unscrupulous use. Several instances had no doubt been pointed out, typical of the rest; all sprung from the same source. Political power was the spoil of victories of this sort, and he doubted whether any desire existed for anything more just. He accepted the Bill as a protest against such a system as this; but for its realization he feared the hon. Member must wait until unscrupulous power should lay down the sceptre at the feet of unassuming merit, and personal ambition be replaced by the purest patriotism.


said, with all respect for the hon. Member for Plymouth, who had introduced the Bill, and for the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke) who had moved the Amendment upon the second reading, he would remind them that the circumstances under which these proposals had been made, were very peculiar. The House was aware that he regarded the change contemplated by the Elections Bill, which were now very nearly accomplished, as calculated to effect a revolution in the electoral system of this country, for those changes would avowedly alter the character of the franchise, since they would make the franchise a property instead of a trust, in the hands of the voter. Until that change had been fully consummated, and until he had had the opportunity of considering the operation and effect of that great change, he was unwilling to proceed with any further changes in the electoral system of the country. The first point in every process in electoral reform was to settle the franchise; that had not yet been consummated. By his vote on this occasion, then, he by no means was to be understood as pledging himself against further changes; he felt, however, that by the accident that that Elections Bill was not matured, the hon. Member who had proposed this Bill was placed at a great disadvantage, because he did not think that the hon. Member could now fairly ask the House to proceed further in the path of electoral change before the character of the franchise, which was the foundation of all electoral rights, had been definitively settled by Parliament. His vote, therefore, would be given both against the second reading of the Bill and against the Amendment, in the sense in which, in this House, the "Previous Question" was usually moved. He should vote against both those proposals, because he did not think that Parliament was in a position fairly to entertain them.


said, he was not aware that the Government had any collective opinion on the merits of the Bill, which was of too abstract a character to call for an immediate decision on the part of those who would be responsible for carrying out its provisions. Indeed, the hon. Member for Plymouth (Mr. Morrison) himself admitted this to be the case when he proposed to withdraw the Bill. Speaking, however, on his own account, he had always felt the justice of the principle of the representation of minorities. The Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea appeared to him to be open to more objections than the Bill itself, as it was destructive of all real representation, and therefore he should vote against it.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.

COLONEL STUART KNOX moved the Previous Question.


said, that the Motion just proposed was not in Order, and could not be made before the Amendment actually before the House had been disposed of.

Question proposed, "That the words 'no measure dealing with the re-distribution of Electoral Representation will be satisfactory to this House which does not extend to Scotland and Ireland, and which does not give an equal share of political power to all Electors,' be added, instead thereof.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 26; Noes 154: Majority 128.