HC Deb 06 May 1873 vol 215 cc1561-90

in rising to move— That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable to redress the inequalities of the distribution of Electoral power in England and Scotland as well as in Ireland, said: Mr. Speaker—My first duty is to express to the House my sense of the disparity which exists between the magnitude of the subject to be raised tonight, and the humble position which who move the Resolution occupy among the Members of this House. It is, however, a topic with which the constituencies are in a peculiar degree concerned, and the consideration, which as an individual I could not claim, will not be denied by the House to the electoral body that I have the honour to represent. Forced to touch for a moment upon the theory of representation, as gathered from our history, I will not weary the patience of the House by dealing with it at length. Briefly, I may state the matter thus:—In the earliest Parliament in which the Commons were represented, their Deputies seem to have been summoned only to express the consent of the people to taxation. The origin of the modern Parliament is to be found in the necessities of the Crown. There was in early days no general representation of popular opinion, but the desire was to find men who by their consent could bind their fellow-townsmen to new taxes. All towns that were held worthy of having their consent asked, were asked in equal degree; all places sent the same number of Members—that is, two. In the reign of Edward I., "two or three" was the phrase often made use of in the Writs, showing that no importance was attached to the number of representatives of a constituency in this House. Indeed, while "two or three" were summoned it was entirely sufficient if one came. It is even known to Members whose researches have led them to the early history of English Parliaments, that the practice of sending a second Member was based upon the notion that when one Member was detained by sickness, or by the then terrible hardships of the journey up to London, the other should be present to express the opinion of the town. As late as the 22nd year of Edward III., all tow ns sent two burgesses alike, and the first time that we hear of some places having more Members than others was when the Cinque Ports—their inhabitants being zealous partizans of a particular opinion—were directed to send four Members each. In this brief history we find the key to all the difficulties by which the subject is embarrassed now. We have tried to put new wine into old bottles—with the usual success. While, little by little, the idea of general representation has been growing up, by the gradual assertion of the principle of redress of grievances before taxation, the House of Commons has still continued to be, in the strict theory of the law, representative of places, not of persons. No one, however, who gives his attention to this subject can fail to see that, whatever may be our view in here, the outside public, the newspaper writers, the voters—in short, all who are not strangled with a hempen rope of precedent—have come to speak of the House of Commons as a great national Assembly where opinions—if they be worthy of representation at all—ought to be represented as near as may be in proportion to their prevalence in the country at large. All now admit that not the majority of communities but the majority of voices should bear rule; and the measures of 1832, of 1867, and of 1868, have by the disfranchisement of small places, and the increase of the representation of large ones in a ratio based on population, wholly upset the old theory of representation. It is now admitted on both sides of the House that it would be monstrous that a small minority of the voters should impose their will upon a large majority in national affairs of moment. But I think it can be shown that although this position may be taken as admitted, it is far from having as yet received expression in our law, and that a minority may still rule a majority of the voters of England, through the overrepresentation of decayed communities, and the under-representation of the most prosperous portions of the land. There are 100 Members of the present House who were elected by communities which contained in 1868 about 80,000 voters. Their constituencies are dwindling away—growing "small by degrees and beautifully less." There are another 100 of us who sit for communities who then had not 80,000, but 1,080,000 voters. 80 of us now have in our boroughs and counties 1,040,000 electors, while 124 Members at the other end of the scale have but 104,000 electors, or one-tenth as many. Half the Members of the House represent less than 500,000 voters, and the other half of us represent considerably more than 2,000,000 voters. One Gentleman sitting opposite polled 18,702 votes, and one Gentleman also sitting opposite polled 64 votes. There are now 12 Members of the House sitting for boroughs which contain more than 50,000 voters each. There are another 12 sitting for constituencies containing less than 336 voters each, of whom 6 sit for constituencies with less than 257 voters each. 1,600 voters in the small Irish boroughs have 7 Members; 16,000 voters in a single Irish county have but two Members; and 25,000 voters in the great county of Middlesex have only the same number. I said just now that the small constituencies were dwindling away. Why, taking English boroughs alone, and comparing the figures of 1868 and those of 1873, we find that Evesham, which was a constituency of 750, is now a constituency of 721; Tavistock, which had 857 electors, now has 810; Midhurst, which had 995, now has 979; Ripon, which had 1,132, now has 991; Tewkesbury, which had 745, now has 676; and Marlborough has fallen from 616 to 598. Woodstock, Warwick, Flint, Eye, Wenlock, Cocker-mouth, Berwick, and many others also, show a falling off; as do Whitehaven and Droitwitch, indeed, although the hon. Member for the former (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck), and the right hon. Member for the latter (Sir John Pakington), show no falling off at all. The big boroughs are growing fast, while the small ones are declining. For instance, my mention of Warwick reminds me that while it has two Members for its 1,600 voters, and is declining in number of electors, Birmingham hard by has only three Members for 54,000 electors, and has increased by 11,002 voters since 1868—that is, has an increment greater than the entire constituencies of five-sixths of the Members of the House. In old times there was a self-acting machinery for the cure of these strange anomalies—namely, the issue of Orders in Council, a return to which practice was, I think, proposed in the first draft of the Whig Reform Bill of 1832. Moreover, the increase of trade in the present century, and the rapid movement of population from one part of the country to another which railroads have brought about, have made the anomalies more apparent now, as well as greater, than they ever were before. I am far from sharing the view of those who say that there is any sort of understanding that these questions should not be reopened for a time. As for the redistribution of Irish seats, the Government have promised to deal with that "in a complete manner" next year. On the 10th of February the noble Lord the Chief Secretary for Ireland said— The Government are of opinion that a measure dealing with the redistribution of seats in Ireland is required, and I hope it may be possible for the present Parliament to consider such a measure before its dissolution…. and We think that if the thing is done at all, it should be done in a complete manner."—[3 Hansard, ccxiv. 195.] Yes, but I think that I have shown that such a measure is needed in England, too, and that is what my Motion says. It was speaking, not of Ireland, but of some of the small English boroughs saved in 1868 that the present Premier, on the 8th of June of that year, said, that "the odds were 100 to 1 that they would not take part in more than one General Election."—[3 Hansard, cxcii. 1248]. Which means that the odds are 100 to 1 in favour of the redistribution of seats being successfully undertaken next year—not with regard to Ireland alone, but for England and Scotland too. It is surely impossible to justify the continued existence of boroughs with between 200 and 300 voters a-piece. The old contention that these tiny towns open our doors to men who could not otherwise find their way into the House has been given up. The Prime Minister used to be a staunch supporter of small boroughs, but in the last speech which he made about them he used these words— I am bound to say that, having particularly watched the working of our small boroughs during the last two General Elections, I do not think that the small boroughs now possess the advantage in the degree they did at one time, or, indeed, in any degree beyond other classes of constituencies. If this be so—if they have no advantage—they surely have disadvantages enough to ensure their condemnation. Without using strong language, we may take it as admitted that there is more temptation to bribe and intimidate in small boroughs than in large, because each voter, however poor, however weak, tells more and has more political influence than has any voter in a large constituency. Those who maintain small boroughs say that political power should be given, not to numbers, but to property and intelligence, while the only effect of their acts and words is to leave the representation of the people in the hands of the pauperised and ignorant inhabitants of decaying towns. On the other hand, look at the large cities and the larger counties. Can anyone say that the county of Lancaster and the county of York are sufficiently represented in this House, or that the City of Edinburgh and the City of Bristol, for instance, make their weight felt in the government of the country in a due proportion to their wealth and size? Can anyone contend that the county of Middlesex, with its 25,000 electors—increasing fast—with their intelligence and wealth as well as number, is entitled only to the same weight in our counsels as Portarlington and Kinsale, with 300 voters between them? I do not even speak of such towns as Croydon, which still go wholly without any special representation here. There has, indeed, for some years past been a general disposition to regard redistribution of seats as a matter not urgently needing action. It seems to have been thought upon both sides that if the Liberal party had a majority at the last Election under the present system, it could not have had more than a majority, or less than a majority, under any other; and it has been argued that when a party in a majority among the voters came to be in a permanent minority in the House it would be time enough to raise the question of redistribution. In other words, it is supposed that, parties being more or less nearly equally divided throughout the country, it does not much matter if the voters in big places are under-represented, and the voters in small places over-represented, because if we were to adopt an electoral system based on population, the two sides of the House of Commons would not of necessity undergo any considerable change. But this may be true, and is true, without its following, as a matter of course, that there are not practical inconveniences in the present state of things, and practical necessities for a change. The view which I have stated assumes that the voters belong to the one party or to the other party, and nothing more; that the one party have certain views, and that the other party have opposite views, and that all that is important is that the party that is in a majority among the voters should be in a majority among the Members. But there are the greatest differences upon both sides of the House—differences of opinion among Members of the same party upon most subjects, and clearly marked party lines only upon a few. Will anybody maintain, for instance, that the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith), and the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck), or the hon. and learned Member for Dungarvan (Mr. Matthews), and the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), or the hon. Member for Belfast (Mr. W. Johnston), and the hon. Member for Boston (Mr. Collins)—who believes in nothing but the Athanasian Creed—represent absolutely identical views? I will not point to the still more flagrant cases of difference upon this side. The truth of these considerations may be seen if we take as an instance either the opinions of the large counties on taxation questions, or the opinions, upon many subjects, of the great towns. If we look to the latter we find, for example, that many Lancashire Conservatives are Conservative upon Church matters, and upon little else. A large number of Liberals, again, differ from the Liberal Government upon most questions. Above all, we can show that divisions continually take place upon subjects which those who are immediately interested in them consider of importance, in which the majority in the House of Commons does not represent the opinion of a majority, but the opinion of a minority of the Commons of England. Surely if this be so, then clearly it must follow that redistribution is a matter of practical and of pressing importance. Yet, Sir, many such instances might be found in the divisions of any Session of any Parliament that has sat. Let us take but a single one from our deliberations of last year—that afforded to us by the Birmingham Sewage Bill. 147 Members voted in favour of that Bill, and 150 Members voted the other way. Now, there are many modes by which we may test the amount of the voting power which each Member ought to be considered to express. We may take the number of his constituents at the time of the division; we may take the number of his constituents, if he has no Colleague, half that number if he has one, a third of that number if there are three Members, and a fourth of the number if he sits for the City of London. Another mode would be to give to each Member the number of electors who voted for him at the last Election, or a proportion of that number upon the second plan. But, Sir, whichever of these four modes we may adopt, and of whatever year we may take the statistics, the minority of 147 Will be found to outweigh the majority of 150. On the first plan, and on the statistics of 1872, the 147 represented 1,455,000 voters, and the 150 represented 1,063,000 only, so that the minority outnumbered the majority by nearly 400,000 electors. On each of the other plans it will be found that the minority represented or were voted for by a majority of from 200,000 to 400,000 electors. In short, on every system that can be devised, we find that if the opinions of the Representatives of the majority of the people are to be consulted, the minority should have been the majority, and the majority the minority in that division. I venture, Sir, to think that, for many years now past, we should have been justified in the assertion that the representation of the opinion of voters, and not of that of places is the true theory of the Constitution, and that divisions in which the majority here represents the minority of the voters are a scandal to which an end should properly be put. If that be so, we can only be confirmed and strengthened in that opinion, when by his appeal to the highest Courts in support of his claim to vote in the election of Members to this House, we see Lord Salisbury himself take the most democratic step that has been taken by any man of note in modern times, and virtually admit that the House of Commons now represents not the Commons only, but the entire people. There is but one difficulty, so far as I can see, which stands in the way of the adoption of a sweeping reform of our electoral machinery—I mean the representation of the Universities. It is true that the Universities send distinguished Members to this House, but those Members most certainly are men who would be able to find seats elsewhere. It could not be maintained for a moment that the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. G. Hardy), or my hon. Friend the Member for the University of St. Andrews (Dr. Lyon Playfair), or their Colleagues in the representation of the Universities, would not be able to find constituencies to return them; but, on the other hand, I cannot but confess that the representation of the Universities as such seems to me to be indefensible. The Masters of Arts and Laws, and the Doctors of Law and of Divinity who constitute the voting body of the Universities, are men who almost all of them have votes in University towns, or in the parts of the country where they dwell. I know not upon what principle it can be claimed that they should have special representation. If it is on the ground that science should be specially represented in the House of Commons, then the Royal Society would return far better Members for that purpose than even the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, who send us politicians. If it is to improve the standard of the House of Commons that University Members are returned, then it is for us to consider whether such fancy means of doing so are not opposed to the whole principle of popular election. The men thus sent to the House belong to the very class which from its wealth, its education, its ability is the most represented of all classes in the country, and therefore not the most entitled, but the least entitled, if any difference is to be made, to exceptional treatment, or special representation here. Looking, indeed, to the importance of giving to all men a hearing in this House, a certain case, though not a conclusive or even a strong case, might be made for the special representation of some orders. It is, for instance, hard to foresee—it is impossible to foretell—when agricultural labourers will succeed in returning any Members to this House. On the other hand, it may be shown that their interests are more directly affected by legislation than are those of any other class, and that they are the most numerous single body of men engaged in one employment in the whole engaged Here is a case for special representation, and one which can only be met by a stern resort to general principles. But, at all events, it is a very much stronger case than any which can possibly be made for the special representation of the clerical gentlemen, who for political purposes control the older English Universities. It is not the duty of those who call attention to the existence of these anomalies to point out at the same time, and before they have secured the universal acceptance of their general propositions, the character of the remedies by which redress could be obtained. We cannot be asked to decide upon the manner in which this question should be settled before it has first of all been decided that it shall be settled. The decision rests not here with us, but with you upon those benches. The great constituencies will not long permit the neutralization of their Members' votes by those of Gentlemen who sit for decaying towns; but the Conservative party has power, if so minded, to defeat any of the first attempts that may be made to substitute a better state of things. On the other hand, when the Conservative party has been brought to see that reform has become unavoidable, that party can cause whichever plan it may support to be that one which will ultimately prevail. Those who are raising this question are not supporters of a one-sided agitation that would neglect the counties, while it pressed only the claims of the great towns. But Conservatives will have only themselves to thank, if by resistance to the principle of the reform they should cause that reform, postponed for a few years, ultimately to take a shape hostile to themselves. The machinery by which the change when decided on should be carried out, is a secondary question as compared with the necessity of the change itself. The present state of our representative system is a menace to the peace of the country. Look at the justification it affords to the persons who are in the habit of assembling tumultuously in the Parks to denounce this House. All that we contend is that it ought to be our aim, especially in these days of paternal legislation, to obtain the maximum of popular consent to every measure, on the ground that the majority of the whole community is the best judge of the interest of the community at large. All we ask is that security should be given that the majority in the House of Commons shall represent the opinion of the majority of the electors. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Resolution.


in seconding the Motion, said, that very little had been left for him to urge in support of it. He contended that a change in our representation was very urgently required. It had been promised with regard to Ireland next year; but all the three countries ought to be treated as one, and one great measure ought to be applied to the whole. If a measure of reform was to be applied to Ireland only, it meant of necessity that Ireland was to retain exactly the same number of Members as it now returned, and that the other countries were to be treated in detail. Was Scotland to retain the same number of Members that she had now? Why, Scotland already complained that she had not nearly enough Members. He did not know how far he should be able to show that that was the case; but he should try to do so. A Return had been laid before the House on the Motion of the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren), in which a comparison was made between the number of representatives and the population and taxation of the three countries. It was shown that, according to population, England ought to have 470 Members, instead of 490; Scotland ought to have 70, instead of 60; and Ireland 112 instead of 105. On the other hand, according to taxation, England would have 514 Members, Scotland 79, and Ireland 65. If, however, a mean were taken between the two, England would be entitled to 494 Members, Scotland to 75, and Ireland to 89. It therefore followed that if Ireland was dealt with on the basis of retaining her present number of Members, that would be unjust to the other countries, and that there was very flagrant injustice in the present system had been very abundantly proved. The hon. Baronet (Sir Charles Billie) had brought forward some figures and he (Mr. Anderson) should bring forward some others. He found that there were in this House eight Members who represented constituencies having an aggregate of 1,800 electors, but there were eight other Members who represented constituencies having 146,000 electors; therefore, the 1,800 electors in the one case had exactly the same political power as the 146,000 in the other. He found that there were 14 Members who represented 3,800 electors; but there were 14 others who represented 239,000. He found that in England there were 57 Members representing constituencies of less than 1,000 electors. Ireland had 28 such constituencies, but Scotland had only 3. England returned 14 Members to represent constituencies of less than 700 electors; Ireland had 23; but Scotland only 1. Eight Irish Members represented less than 300 electors, and 2 of them less than 200. When they came to consider the matter of power in an election the contrast was equally remarkable. In the little borough of Portarlington 70 voters were enough to return a Member to this House; but in such large constituencies as Glasgow, Liverpool, and Hackney, it required 18,000 or 19,000 votes to secure a seat. There could be no sort of comparison between such cases, and he was at a loss to know how any case could be made for the existence of such small boroughs. The only defence he had over heard made for them was, that it was desirable to retain them for great statesmen who wished to be free from local work in order to devote their time to the consideration of great questions. But fact was contrary to theory, for they did not find as a rule, small boroughs returned great statesmen. He did not think he should be saying anything derogatory to Portarlington when he said that it had not yet returned a great statesman. There were many double constituencies very little better. Tiverton had two Members for 1,200 electors; Berwick had two for 1,300, and Weymouth two for 1,300. Against Truro, with two Members for 1,400 electors, he would place Aberdeen, with only one Member for 14,000. These small constituencies which now had double representation might very well be deprived of one Member; but he would go a great deal further, and say that he could not see any good argument for the existence of double and treble constituencies. He thought that every Member ought to have a constituency of his own, and every constituency ought to have but one Member. The present system of double and treble Members involved a great deal of injustice. For instance, a Member who was giving satisfaction to his constituents was obliged to fight for his seat just as if he were not giving satisfaction. Again, when one Member did not wish to sit again, his Colleague was obliged to fight if there was a contest, although that Colleague might be giving so much satisfaction that alone he would not be required to fight it. That was, he thought, a very strong argument for the abolition of double constituencies. The case of the treble ones was far worse. The system of giving two votes when three Members were returned was productive of nothing but confusion, If there were added to that the cumulative vote, as had been suggested by the hon. Member for Boston (Mr. Collins) it would make "confusion worse confounded." In the elections to the school boards in Scotland they had gained much experience as to the cumulative vote, and he thought that in hardly a case were the same men returned as would have been the case with single voting. The cumulative vote was simply a scheme for the stultification of majorities. He should not trouble the House at greater length, for he thought they had made out a very good case for the Resolution which he seconded.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable to redress the inequalities of the distribution of Electoral power in England and Scotland as well as in Ireland."—(Sir Charles Dilke.)


moved, as an Amendment, to add the words— By the application of the cumulative vote or otherwise, so as to secure a better proportional representation of the people in the respective constituencies. He thought that the House would look at this question in a very different light from one simply of arithmetic. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Anderson) went into figures to show that Scotland ought to have more Members; but the question they had to discuss was this—in constituting a new House of Commons they had to consider how they could get a proper reflex of all the opinions in the country; and before they pulled the House about their ears they had to take care that the House, as reconstituted, would be as likely to give them a fair representation of the people as the existing system of representation. He contended that before they examined into the question of the redistribution of seats they ought to have some sort of knowledge upon what principle the reconstitution was to be. In England there were 75 county constituencies that returned two Members, and of these 59 returned two Gentlemen who sat upon the same side of the House, whilst only 16 returned Members who sat on different sides—Cornwall, for example, returning all Liberals, and Kent all Conservatives. Now, if they were to give an addition of Members proportioned to population, every one of these counties would have additional Members; so that unless they had the cumulative vote there would be an increase of the existing evil—that of a representation of a bare majority. In 1832, on Mr. Mackworth Praed proposing that in three-cornered constituencies each elector should have two votes, Lord Althorp assured him it was impossible to return in any county constituency two Members exclusively of one party; but that state of things had passed away, and at the General Elections in 1852 and 1859, when party feeling ran so high, of the 21 Members returned by the unicorn counties in England 20 sat upon the same side of the House, and at present only one county constituency in five was divided between the two parties; and if the principle of the present Motion were unqualified it would aggravate the evil. Adding a third Member to counties would only increase the injustice. If population were to be the basis, and if variety of representation were desired, there must be districts with three or five Members; and with the modern and scientific principle of cumulative voting, which had operated successfully in the English, and, he believed, in the Scotch school board elections, this would represent not the dominant majority, but the various elements in their approximately proper proportions. He had no sympathy whatever with Mr. Hare's plan of personal representation, seeing no reason why an elector in Westminster should vote for a candidate at Glasgow. Such a question and that of the cumulative vote should by no means get mixed up together. At the last General Election in the metropolis, if the theory of mere numbers was a right one—which he thought it was not—they should have had for the metropolis about the same number of Representatives as Scotland had. At that Election there were 22 Members returned for the whole metropolis, with its 275,000 electors; but of these, except for the University representation in the City, there was only one Gentleman who sat upon the Conservative side of the House, his hon. Friend (Mr. W. H. Smith). Even if the metropolis were divided into wards, as had been suggested, the result would be precisely the same; and no one would pretend to believe that the Conservative party in the metropolis was in the proportion of 1 to 22. Not the wildest Liberal fanatic would assert that. This evil as to the returns would not be remedied by merely giving an increase of Members to the metropolis, when they would be returned by a bare majority. They had so managed that with a party numbering one-third of the constituents of the metropolis they had only one twenty-second part of the representation. It might be said that the Conservative Members for certain counties and boroughs represented in some way the Conservative minority in the metropolis, and that was all very well so long as they left things alone; but it was now said that the representation should be placed upon a basis on which such an argument would no longer be available. In re-constituting constituencies they would have to go further than the consideration of mere numbers; and in an old country like this they should have some means of representing minorities. What he said of the metropolis applied equally to other parts of the kingdom— for example, to Ulster or to Scotland—where a dominant party prevailed. Let thorn look at the representation of the county of Lancaster which, of course, according to his view, was in a most satisfactory condition. Everyone knew that in Lancashire there was a large and important Liberal element, and this was practically disfranchised. At the General Election there voted in Lancashire for the Conservatives 26,400 persons, whilst the Liberals polled 23,190; so that, considering the Members returned, it was only a majority of 3,000 that sent eight Members to the House, and the 23,000 sent none. He did not complain of this; but still it would aggravate the inequality if Lancashire returned 20 or 24 Members. There was a similar state of things in Kent. The hon. Members who sat on his side of the House were voted for by about 11,900 persons, whilst those on the opposite side had 10,800 votes; and the odd 1,000 really returned six Members. The Motion of his hon. Friend opposite would go far to augment this evil. He (Mr. Collins) did not wish to see that House filled with middle-aged merchants representing large towns, and broad-aged squires representing counties. What they wanted was a representation of persons, interests, prejudices, and all the various opinions in the country, and not a representation of mere numbers. Before they passed an abstract Resolution of this sort, they ought to have some sketch as to the form in which they would re-model the constituencies. This Motion simply was that our present system was defective; but he had himself shown the inequalities that prevailed, and he contended that it would be unjust if some means were not taken to give representation to minorities in such places as Lancashire and the metropolis.

Amendment proposed, To add, at the end of the Question, the words "by the application of the cumulative vote or otherwise, so as to secure a better proportional representation of the people in the respective constituencies."—(Mr. Collies.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."


Far be it from me to deny that there is great force in the speeches which were made by my hon. Friend who proposed and my hon. Friend who seconded this Motion, or to deny that there is much force also in many of the views urged by the hon. Member for Boston (Mr. Collins), whose speech, as far as it goes in relation to the particular illustrations he gave us in the cases of the metropolis, Lancashire, and Kent, is in harmony substantially with the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of the Motion; because the general upshot of his argument is to show that there is great force of reasoning in favour of a change in the present system of representation. For my own part, I am not able to support either the original Motion or the Amendment, for reasons which I will briefly state, without entering into the merits of the question. I wish first to observe that there is something peculiar in the wording of the Motion. We are called upon to vote— That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable to redress the inequalities in the distribution of Electoral power in England and Scotland as well as in Ireland. I do not know whether I interpret the intention with which these words have been drawn correctly; but I interpret the Motion to assume that we have already arrived at a determination to remedy electoral grievances in Ireland. My hon. Friend founded upon that assumed concession an inference that we should enter into the redress of similar inequalities in England and Scotland. I can only say that I am not aware of any announced determination of the House to apply at any given time a remedy for the inequalities of electoral power in Ireland, nor am I aware of any engagement given by Her Majesty's Government to submit the subject at any given time to the consideration of the House. It has been mentioned once or twice with regard to the proposal of the appropriation of certain vacant seats in Ireland, and I think my noble Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland has gone so far as to express an opinion, in which I concur, that it would be advantageous at some early opportunity to consider the question of the redistribution of seats in Ireland, more extensively than the appropriation of the seats which are now vacant. So far it is easy to go; but I am not aware that anything has occurred to lead the House to assume that there is a fixed intention on the part of the Government to deal with the redistribution of seats in Ireland in a given time. Is it desirable, then, that we should proceed to deal with the question of the redistribution of seats generally? or if we do not think it desirable, should we pass a Resolution affirming that it is desirable? It appears to me that both these questions should be answered in the negative. My hon. Friend himself has shown indisposition to go beyond the delivery of a speech. I take it that this Motion is one of that class of Motions which are intended to act on opinion out of doors, to make a contribution towards a gradual formation of public opinion on a great subject. I do not venture to censure those who think fit to adopt that mode of proceeding, or who think fit to make their place in Parliament the place in which they attempt to instruct and enlighten the country on these matters; but that certainly is the construction which I put on the Motion of my hon. Friend. If he means more than that, it is his duty to embody his intentions in a Bill, and to lay before us in clear and intelligible detail, not merely the defects which exist in the present system, but likewise the mode in which such defects are to be remedied. Let us recollect that this is, after all, a choice of many evils. I believe that of all the subjects that could be submitted to Parliament, there is no one that embraces a greater multitude of topics than the redistribution of seats. It appears to me that when next the question of redistribution is to be dealt with, it must be dealt with on a scale of considerable magnitude. Further than that I do not profess to see. It would hardly be possible to enumerate all the topics that enter into this subject, or the various modes that might be pursued in legislating upon it. The relations of town and county representation, the relations of town and county franchise, the question between single representation and plurality of representation, the mode of qualifying plurality of representation—all these are merely heads under which again the subject branches out into other heads; and therefore it is that I say when the question of redistribution is again touched it must be touched on a large scale. But there is one other proposition which I think may be laid down with considerable confidence, and that is that it is a question which it is idle for the House to approach, with any desire of attaining a practical end, unless it is approached at the commencement of a Session which it is able to devote to the work. The subject is one on which there is so much room for differences of opinion that it is only by a mere balance that the several points can be decided, and that balance cannot be ascertained except under circumstances favourable for introducing the question. I do not dispute that various abstract arguments can be advanced in support of the redistribution of seats; but I am at issue with my hon. Friend on the question of urgency. Is this a matter which it is urgent that Parliament should deal with at the present time? If it is, I can only say that all the other questions which we have now in hand, and which we contemplate dealing with before the close of the Session, had better be thrown overboard at once, in order that we may have something like a clear start to address ourselves to this question. It is not enough to show that there are great defects in the present distribution of seats. It is necessary to show that the public mind, the public opinion of the country, is in a state of expectancy and of preparation for dealing with this matter. I must confess that I have not seen any clear or manifest sign that the public entertain the opinion that this is a subject which has stronger claims on the House of Commons than many other matters with which we are or may be occupied. My hon. Friend, I am bound to say—however ingenious and able his statement has been, however telling in some striking descriptions of the defects now existing—has really given us no assistance with regard to the mode of change which is to be adopted when we come to consider the question of change. My hon. Friend referred to some declarations made by me to the effect that it was highly probable that this year or the coming year this subject would be dealt with. He professed to quote my words; but I certainly cannot exactly recognize any word used by me in the reference that he made. That a recurrence to the subject of the redistribution of seats is a probable event within a limited period of time I have thought and still think. So far as that I am prepared to go; but I am not aware that at any time I, for one, have indicated a particular period at which it would be the duty of Parliament to apply itself to the consideration of this subject; and I think it pretty plain that it is not in the present Session of Parliament that we can deal with it. This is a Parliament in the fifth year of its existence, and with plenty of arrear of work of urgent necessity to deal with during the remaining period of its constitutional life. I may say that I am not very sanguine in the expectation that it would be possible that this subject could be dealt with even if there were greater urgency in the demand for it than appears to me to be the case. I will not enter into any other question of reform of the representation of the people further than to say that it does appear to me that there are other matters connected with the representation of the people which have stronger and more urgent claims on the attention of Parliament than the question of the redistribution of seats. But I would really hope that my hon. Friend will not press the House to do that which of all things is objectionable—namely, to make a declaration that it is desirable to redress defects in the representation of the people, which is in the nature of a promise to do what we are not able to do at the time, and which we do not know when we shall be able to do. Nothing is to be gained, and much is to be lost, to the prestige and influence of Parliament by promises of that kind. Let us reserve all such promises until the time comes when we may be in a position to redeem them. If hon. Gentlemen think it expedient to the public interest that we should have from time to time discussions on this question without intending to proceed to a practical issue that is a matter on which it is not for me to give an opinion; but, for my own part, I feel the greatest objection to ask of Parliament anything in the nature of an abstract declaration of such a character. I think that whatever may be the personal opinion of my hon. Friends who moved and seconded the Motion, they cannot give to the Motion any other character than that of an abstract declaration without any promise or probability of early fulfilment; and on that account, without entering into the argument of the expediency of a change, I hope that the House will withhold its assent from the original Motion; and if it does, I do not suppose that the Mover of the Amendment will grieve very much if the words that he proposes to add are not agreed with.


said, the right hon. Gentleman's principal objection to this Resolution was that it was an abstract Resolution, and he (Mr. Dixon) did not suppose that anyone would imagine that the carrying of this Resolution, if it should be carried, would be likely to be followed immediately by the introduction of a Bill. The object of any Resolution of this kind was to test the opinion of the House and to enable it to form some idea as to the opinions of the country. The Government could not bring in any great measure without having first ascertained what the opinion of this House and of the country might be upon the question with which they desired to deal. He would venture to say that in large constituencies which were inadequately represented, at the present moment there was a very considerable amount of feeling on this question. That feeling had already found its utterance in various parts of the country, and in his opinion the time had arrived when it was advisable to discuss the question more fully. What was it they had to go the country upon at the next General Election? They would have to go to the country upon something. There were, no doubt, many hon. Gentlemen in the House who represented constituencies of a very convenient character—which required very little expression of opinion, and cared very little about what opinion was expressed. That was not the case with those who represented the large counties and boroughs; they had to state what their opinions were on the questions which were already before the country, and also upon those which were likely soon to come before the country. He (Mr. Dixon) could not attend a meeting of his constituents without being asked his opinion on this subject, and whether he thought it likely that the question would be taken up by the Government. Would hon. Gentlemen prefer to take up the question of the disestablishment of the English Church? Would they prefer that they should take up the land question? These questions were the alternatives of this question of reform. The Government of the future would be bound by the very condition of their existence to consult the opinion of the people on this question, and take it up one way or the other. He would point out to the House that this question had been fully considered at Birmingham, and Birmingham had a right, through him, to state their grounds for the feeling that existed with regard to the great injustice thus done to such constituencies. He had ascertained that within a radius of 50 miles of Birmingham there were 15 boroughs which were in their constituent elements essentially different from Birmingham. They had no manufacturing or commercial elements in them. These 15 boroughs sent 20 representatives, and these representatives represented 150,000 inhabitants. Birmingham, with a population more than double that number, only sent to that House three Members. Did they believe for a moment that a large constituency like Birmingham could be satisfied with one-fifteenth of the political power of these small boroughs which were in the immediate neighbourhood of Birmingham? What was the difference in the circumstances of those boroughs that should give to them 15 times as much political power as Birmingham? Were they more wealthy? It was well known that in Birmingham the working classes had much higher wages, and the shopkeepers and others were in a more prosperous condition. Were they better educated in these small boroughs than they were in Birmingham? On the contrary, they had in Birmingham many elements of education which did not exist at all in these small boroughs. Birmingham had technical schools, and higher class education, of which the working men availed themselves. They had also free libraries and museums. They had a degree of self-government in large constituencies which did not exist to the same extent in small boroughs, and he would venture to say that, besides being better governed and more educated, they were, from the very necessity of the case, more intelligent. There was scarcely a question which was not discussed in a borough like Birmingham. They had meetings innumerable on all questions. [Laughter.] Hon. Members might laugh, but how were they to arrive at a knowledge of, and a conclusion upon, any question unless they were to discuss it, and listen to those who understood it? In a constitutional country like this it was the only way in which an intelligent and enlightened opinion could be arrived at. He was justified in saying that these constituencies must be more intelligent than those small places where they never held meetings. He had been told in some constituencies the Members did not think of going near them once a-year. He thought there was more than that. He thought these large constituencies were more independent, as well as more intelligent. He would venture to say that there was not a representative on either side of the House, of a large borough, who was not perfectly aware that it would be out of the question to think of bringing to bear a personal interest on the great mass of the voters. If he wished to do so, he could not. The way in which elections were carried on was by addressing the constituencies. In small boroughs it was far different. The influence which was brought to bear on the individual voter was a personal influence; it was the influence of the employer, the influence of the customer at the shop; it was the influence, it might be, of the landowner. They knew perfectly well that this direct personal influence was, unfortunately, greater in the smaller constituencies than in the large ones. The result was that in our large constituencies there was an amount of independence which did not exist in the small ones. If in those large constituencies the working men were richer, if they were mere intelligent, if they were bettor educated, and if they were more independent, he would again ask on what grounds were they to be told that they were to rest satisfied, although these small constituencies had 15 times the amount of representation in this House than the large constituencies had? It was a question of simple justice. In a constitution self-governed like England each individual ought to have the same power as his neighbours. He knew that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) would call that mere theory. At any rate, lot the justice of it be acknowledged. Let them say that they would consider the question at the earliest possible date. That, at least, was what they had a right to expect from the House.


said, he had examined the Papers which had reached hon. Members with reference to the numbers of electors in each borough. On turning first of all to his own constituency, Clitheroe, he found that the name was spelt wrongly, but that was of small importance. He next of all discovered that the number of electors was set down at 727. Now, as he himself polled more than that number, and as the gentleman who did him the honour to oppose him unfortunately polled nearly as many, he naturally came to the conclusion that the Return was inaccurate. He accordingly telegraphed to the town clerk, and had received a reply stating that the number of Parliamentary electors for the borough of Clitheroe was 1,727. By this it would be seen that in the Paper furnished to hon. Members the first figure was omitted, and as there might be other trifling omissions of this description, he would suggest that before they did anything in the matter, it would be advisable to obtain reliable Returns.


Sir, when my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke) moved last year that No measure dealing with the redistribution 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, I supported his Motion, and I am now also prepared to support the converse proposition which he has submitted to the House—namely, "that it is desirable to redress the inequalities of the distribution of Electoral power in England and Scotland as well as in Ireland." The hon. Baronet has pointed out so clearly the necessity for reform in England, and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson) has made out so strong a case on behalf of Scotland, that I shall entirely confine the few remarks which I trust the House will allow me to make to an examination of the state of the Irish representation. I shall endeavour to show that not only is the distribution of electoral power in Ireland unequal and anomalous as it is in England, but that Ireland has been left, if I may so speak, a stage behind in the progress of reform. I do not intend to trouble the House with many figures drawn from the statistics of Irish constituencies. One or two facts will be sufficient to show the existence of a state of things which is most unsatisfactory, I might almost say absurd. There are, in round numbers, 1,500,000 men of mature age in Ireland, and of these, according to a Return issued this morning, about 220,000 possess the Parliamentary franchise—170,000 in counties, and the remaining 50,000 in boroughs. Of the total number of these Irish electors, 66,000, representing constituencies with an aggregate population of about 1,500,000, return 59 Members, leaving only 42 Members, exclusive of the representatives of Dublin University, to represent the remaining 157,000 electors, or constituencies with an aggregate population of nearly 4,000,000. That is to say, a considerable majority of the Members are returned by a comparatively small minority of the electors. It is evident, therefore, that in a division of this House a majority of the Irish Members may represent a minority of the Irish people. There are 28 constituencies, with an aggregate population of about 300,000, represented by 31 Members; while one great constituency, with a population of 400,000, has only two Members. In this way a population of 300,000 possesses 15½ times as much representation as the larger population of 400,000. When we inquire into the causes of this anomalous state of things, we find that it is mainly due to the enormous numerical disproportion between the small urban constituencies and the counties. There are, according to the Return to which I hate already referred, 19 boroughs in Ireland of which the population is under 10,000, and of these five—namely, Kinsale, Mallow, Portarlington, Downpatrick, and Dungannon, have less than 5,000 inhabitants, and under 270 electors. It is evident that the electors in these little towns, or rather villages, have an entirely disproportional amount of political influence. The question at once suggests itself, why not disfranchise these small and comparatively unimportant towns, and transfer the seats to the great constituencies of such counties as Cork, Down, and Mayo? No doubt the separate political existence of such a place as Portarlington cannot be defended, and I have no intention of attempting to defend it; but there are, in my opinion, some very serious objections to a wholesale transfer of seats from boroughs to counties. I am inclined to believe that the most glaring anomalies in the Irish electoral system can best be removed, not by weakening the urban representation, but by reforming and widening it. This can be done by the application of principles which have already been ap- plied to England and Scotland. In dealing with this portion of the subject, I am much indebted to the published letters of the hon. and learned Member for the City of Limerick (Mr. Butt), in which the state of the Irish urban representation is very fully examined. The first fact that strikes one in connection with this matter is the extremely small number of persons who possess the borough franchise in Ireland, in proportion to the population either of the whole country or of the cities and towns. The total number of city and borough electors is 50,000, and if from this number we subtract 28,000—the constituencies of Dublin and Belfast—there are only 22,000 votes left for all the remaining cities and towns of Ireland. In England there are 1,350,000 borough electors; and Scotland, with its small population, has over 180,000. This great difference is no doubt, to some extent, to be attributed to the fact that Ireland is an agricultural country, with an almost exclusively rural population, while this country abounds in great towns which are centres of manufacturing and commercial industry. It would, however, be an error to suppose that the extremely small number of Irish, as compared with English and Scotch borough voters is entirely due to this cause. This is clear from the fact that the disproportion is far greater between the aggregate number of electors than it is between the aggregate populations of the cities and towns of the three portions of the United Kingdom. One great cause of this disproportion is the fact that the popular franchise which prevails in the English and Scotch boroughs has never been extended to Ireland, and that the boundaries of Irish boroughs have not been altered and enlarged, or new electoral districts formed on the principles which were applied to England by the Reform Act of 1867. We can realize the significance of this fact when we remember that the provisions of this Act more than doubled the English borough constituency. Before the year 1867 the English borough electors did not amount to more than 500,000, now, as I said before, they are over 1,300,000. I am anxious to call the attention of the House to the useless and invidious distinction between the borough franchises of England and Ireland. In English and Scotch boroughs, as hon. Members are aware, the last Reform Bill admitted every rated occupier to the franchise, and as a remarkable achievement of Conservative policy, virtually established household suffrage. In Ireland, on the other hand, the Act of 1868 limited the borough franchise to occupiers rated at £4. This distinction lies so much at the root of the whole question, that I must venture to enter into it a little more fully. In English and Scotch boroughs every rated occupier is entitled to a vote, and the officer whose duty it is to make out the rate is obliged by law—no matter by whom the rate is paid—to find out the name of the actual occupier of every house, and to place it on the books. The English Reform Act specially provides that nothing is to be allowed to interfere with the proper registry of every occupier as a payer of rates, and consequently as an elector. Contrast this really liberal and popular franchise with that established in Ireland by the Act of 1868. By that Act the borough franchise is fixed at £4 rating, and as the letting value of most houses, especially those in towns, is considerably above the sums at which they are rated, I do not think I exaggerate when I say that all occupiers of houses let under £6 are absolutely excluded from the vote and deprived of that constitutional privilege which every Scotch and English borough householder enjoys. In addition to this, the Irish provisions as regards the rating of occupiers over the franchise limit are extremely defective. There are two ways by which we can roughly estimate the effect of the distinctions of which I have been speaking in excluding Irish borough householders from the suffrage; one is by comparing the number of inhabited houses with the number of registered electors in the Irish boroughs, and the other is by contrasting the number of electors in Irish boroughs with the number of electors in Scotch and English boroughs of about the same population. The total number of inhabited houses in Irish boroughs is over 120,000, and the total number of electors is only 50,000. Let us see the proportion in two or three cases. Armagh has 1,196 inhabited houses and 621 electors; Carlow has 1,383 houses and 317 electors, and Belfast 27,000 houses and 15,000 electors. Now let us compare the proportion of voters to the population in English, Scotch, and Irish towns respectively. I shall only name a few instances, not specially selected. Galway has a population of 19,000 and 1,400 electors. Boston with a population of 18,000 has 2,600 electors. Ayr, a population under 18,000 and 2,400 electors. Again, the City of Waterford with a population of 30,000 has a constituency of 1,300. Dover with a population of 28,500 has 3,500 electors. Perth with 25,000 inhabitants has 3,700 electors, and so on through the whole list. It only remains to ask on what grounds many thousands of Irish householders are thus excluded from the enjoyment of the political privileges which have been intrusted to the great body of English and Scotch householders? What sufficient reason is there why the occupier of a house should be excluded from the franchise because his house is situated in an Irish instead of a Scotch or English town? I believe the distinction is arbitrary and unreasonable, and one which ought to be removed. One effect of introducing household suffrage into Irish boroughs would be to admit a considerable number of working men within the pale of the Constitution, and I believe that the progress of education and enlightenment among that class would fully justify their admission. The Irish working man of the present day is very different from what he was 30 or 40 years ago. He has probably attended a good primary school; he is acquainted with the English language; he knows how to read and write; and he has begun to study the newspapers. His mind is active, and he is potential for good or evil. He finds himself, however, completely shut out from constitutional political influence; and remember this, the exclusion of the non-electors from any voice in public questions is far more complete now than it has been. It is only a short time since every elector was made feel, to some extent at least, that he held his vote in trust for others; he went openly to the polling booth under the observation and influence of those about him, and with that sense of responsibility to others, which always accompanies the public discharge of a public duty. All this has been changed. I am far, indeed, from approving of violence or intimidation; I know that deplorable excesses in this respect have sometimes taken place; but, still, it must be admitted that under the old system of open voting the non- electors were able to exert a certain legitimate influence which they no longer possess. I was one of those who voted in favour of the Ballot; but I did so on the principle of choosing the lesser of two evils. I had seen enough to convince me that, in Ireland at least, secrecy was absolutely necessary for the protection of the humbler class of voters from various kinds of undue influence. My argument simply is, that since the working classes have been deprived of the indirect but legitimate influence which they possessed before the Ballot—and this at a time when they are advancing in education and intelligence, and consequently in the capacity for comprehending public questions and discharging public duties—it is desirable to compensate them for this loss by admitting them to a greater degree of direct political power. I believe that I establish a strong case for immediate reform when I show that this can be accomplished by doing for Ireland what has been done for England and Scotland—namely, by assimilating the borough franchises, and thus abolishing a useless and invidious distinction between the different portions of the United Kingdom. I am perfectly certain that if the Irish working classes had more direct political power than they possess at present, more earnestness would be exhibited on their behalf by the Government, and some effort would have been made to meet the often-admitted necessity of introducing a measure dealing with their condition. Returning, however, to the question of Irish urban representation, we find that a considerable reform of its abuses could be effected by a just and equal application of the principles by which the English and Scotch boroughs were reformed in 1867 and 1868. The hon. and learned Member for Limerick has made a calculation by which he shows that if this course were adopted we might have in Ireland 31 towns returning 39 Members—that these towns would have an aggregate population exceeding 900,000, and an aggregate number of electors of more than 120,000. None of these towns would be in population below 5,000. All of them would have, on the lowest estimate, constituencies of more than 600, and in very few of them would the electors be less than 1,000. I do not pretend to say that this would be a thorough and complete removal of the inequalities of the Irish representation; but I do maintain that it would be a great improvement in the existing state of things; and I hold that it is a simple and moderate measure of reform, which, with the precedents of England and Scotland in view, there is no ground for refusing to extend to Ireland. I must protest against any proposal—and we have heard something from high quarters of such a proposal—to diminish the inequalities between the Irish constituencies by any scheme which would narrow the bounds of political privilege, and decrease the number of enfranchised persons in Ireland. This would be the direct result of a transference of seats from boroughs to counties. The county franchise is limited to £12 rating, while the borough franchise descends to £4. If therefore you were to throw borough into county constituencies—which is the meaning of a transference of seats—while the difference in the franchise remains unchanged, you would actually disfranchise altogether a large proportion of the present boroughs electors—all those whose rating does not come up to the county qualification, and you would transfer their political power to the existing body of county electors very slightly increased. This would be a retrograde step—a measure of disfranchisement directly opposed to the principle of extending the limits of political privilege as education and intelligence advance. In Ireland, at the present time, the basis of electoral power is unduly contrasted as compared with England and Scotland; for while a majority of English and Scotch Members are elected by household suffrage, only about one-third of the Irish Representatives are returned on the lower franchise, and even that is limited to £4 rating. You must not increase this disproportion by diminishing the number of Irish Members elected on the more popular franchise. I hope the House may be of opinion that I have shown some grounds for my statement that Ireland has been left a stage behind England and Scotland in the progress of electoral reform. No doubt, if the Irish urban constituencies were treated in the way I have indicated, there would still remain considerable inequality in the distribution of political power. I do not see how this inequality can be altogether removed without injury to popular right while the present distinction is maintained between the county and the borough franchises. Reform as you may, you cannot get great urban constituencies in Ireland for this simple reason—that there is no great urban population there. Whether, this being so, there is any sufficient ground for maintaining any distinction between county and borough Representatives—a distinction which does not altogether correspond to any real distinction in the character of the population—is a question into which I shall not enter. If this distinction were abolished, and an uniform franchise established, all irregularities and anomalies might be removed by dividing the county into electoral districts, and assigning a certain number of Members to each. This, however, is a question more of the future than of the present. I have simply desired to point out a moderate and practical measure of reform which Ireland is justly entitled to claim, and which, I believe, would tend to make her Parliamentary representation a more true and adequate reflection of the national mind.


in reply, said, that not being responsible for the Returns he must leave the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Assheton) to deal with the Home Office as to the accuracy of the figures he had cited. With regard to the promise of the Government to deal with the redistribution of seats in Ireland, he remembered it well, because it was made on the 10th of February by the Chief Secretary, and gave rise to a general laugh, because the noble Lord said that while the Government were prepared to deal with the question in this Parliament they were not prepared to do so in this Session, thereby implying that the Parliament would not come to an end in the present year. He was opposed to the hon. Member for Boston's (Mr. Collins') Amendment, because it was like counting one's chickens before they were hatched, and he should prefer to divide the House on the original Resolution.


expressed his willingness to withdraw his Amendment, and said he was sorry the good example he set was not about to be followed by the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 77; Noes 268: Majority 191.