HC Deb 13 May 1874 vol 219 cc206-64

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said: On previous occasions, when I have had the honour of introducing this question to the House of Commons, it has been with a preface of apology which, as far as my own personal qualifications are concerned, I beg before this House most unfeignedly to renew. The contrast between the magnitude of the undertaking and the abilities of the Mover would be so marked as to have altogether deterred me from this task, were it not that the great reductions in the electoral qualification, both in town and country, which have taken place in recent years, carried into effect, as they ultimately were by the action of the Ministry, were originally introduced into Parliament, on their own responsibility, by Members whom no one ever accused of forwardness or presumption. I shall now proceed to state what the claims of our unrepresented rural population are, and if my statement can be made in any degree as clear as I promise it shall be brief, the intrinsic justice of those claims will be so evident, that there is some hope that hon. Gentlemen, in their conviction of the strength of the cause, will forget the weakness of the advocate. The main feature of this matter may be gathered into a single sentence. A great section of the population of this country stands, as compared to the rest of the nation, in a position of political inferiority, or rather, of political nullity, which is in theory unjust, and in practice is full of disadvantages of the gravest nature to the excluded portion of the community. As regards the theory, which some hon. Gentlemen would call the sentimental side of the question, if it were not for the authority which I am now about to quote, I shall say nothing myself, but rely upon the opinions expressed by two leading statesmen. The present Lord Derby, in 1859, when speaking on behalf of the Reform Bill introduced by the Ministry of which he was a Member, said that without identity of suffrage we should always have dissatisfied classes; no measure that did not assimilate the county and borough franchise would stop agitation for further extension. And as on these occasions it is well to protect oneself from the glare of criticism under the shadow of great reputations, I will venture to refer to another and yet a loftier name. The present Prime Minister stated that, in order to terminate heart-burnings, and bring about a general and constant sympathy between the different portions of the constituent body, the Government project to recognize the principle of identity of suffrage between the counties and the towns. Sir, it is still fresh in the memories of most of us that the right hon Members for Cambridge University and for Oxfordshire (Mr. Walpole and Mr. Henley), objected to this principle of identity of suffrage, and retired from the Cabinet because they did not feel justified in continuing to act with Colleagues who were warm and decided in its favour. If these two right hon. Gentlemen speak and vote against this Bill, every one will understand their conduct. They will be acting in accordance with convictions which 15 years ago induced them to take a step to which they owe in some degree the high estimation that they enjoy in all quarters of the House alike. But that the Prime Minister should oppose a measure introduced for the very purpose of terminating heart-burnings and bringing about a sympathy between the different portions of the constituency, is what, out of respect to his consistency—and I have sat too long in this House not to be aware how very real a quality that consistency is—I absolutely refuse to anticipate. But, unfortunately, there are indications that the Prime Minister has other objections to this Bill that augur ill for its speedy or easy passage through the House of Commons. The marked feature of his speaking during the past Recess was the frequency and cordiality with which he denounced both this measure and its promoters. Of the language of those denunciations I shall not complain to the House, which has a better use for its time than to spend it on what is often a personal matter. Besides, it is hardly fair to comment too minutely in Parliament on words spoken before an indulgent and enthusiastic audience who are all of one way of thinking, during the progress or on the undoubted eve of a General Election. It is with the matter, and not the manner that we have to deal, and if the House will allow me to make the best reply in my power to the arguments which the Prime Minister has from time to time used to explain his opposition to the measure now under consideration, it will perhaps be found that the same operation will afford an opportunity for placing the arguments in favour of the Bill before hon. Gentlemen in the most compact and convenient form. The first objection of the Prime Minister is that the Bill is brought forward by a private Member. "I will say at once," he said, "that I will vote for no measure that is brought forward by some irresponsible individual;" and then he proceeds to express his disapprobation of those who "jump up in the House of Commons, and without the slightest responsibility, official or moral, make propositions which demand the consideration—the gravest consideration—of prolonged and protracted Cabinets, and all the responsibility attaching to experienced statesmen." Now, the adjective with which the right hon. Gentleman characterized the conduct of which he disapproved I shall not reproduce from these benches, and shall only say that it appeared to others besides the object of it, unworthy of one whose mind is such a fountain of copious and well-chosen epithets. I do not think it incumbent on me to undertake the vindication of private Members who press objects of legislation upon the House of Commons and the country. That vindication is written in the Statute Book of the United Kingdom and the Journals of this House itself—the Factory Acts, the abolition of the duty on Corn, the Reform Bill of 1832, the right hon. Gentleman's own Reform Bill of 1867, were all preceded by Bills and Resolutions introduced by unofficial Members, whom the right hon. Gentleman pronounces to be under no moral responsibility; but who, in the opinion of us all, are under the gravest responsibility as the chosen Representatives of a portion of our people. But if there ever was a measure which a private Member might confidently and legitimately take in hand, it is this, because the principles and the actual details of this Bill have over and over again been approved by the highest authorities on both sides of the House. For the principle of the identity of the county and borough suffrage, as I have shown, has been embodied in a Government Reform Bill as far back as 1859—to use the Prime Minister's own words—after the gravest consideration of a prolonged and protracted Cabinet, and all the responsibility attaching to experienced statesmen. That Cabinet was the one to which he belonged. Those statesmen were himself and his Colleagues. The doctrine which, before every audience which he has for the last sis months addressed, and at every banquet or festival of any description over which he has presided, he has condemned as a crude and clap-trap proposition appeared half a generation ago under his own auspices. The other great principle of this Bill—that of household suffrage—can hardly be said to have been approved in a prolonged and protracted Cabinet, when we remember what we were permitted to know of the secret history of the Ministerial Councils in 1867; but still the sanction of both Houses of Parliament has been emphatically and deliberately given to the doctrine, that the population of a locality cannot be said to be represented until the head of every family has a vote. Relying on that sanction, the Gentlemen whose names are on the back of this Bill have not hesitated to come forward, knowing that if we all stand aside, the householder of the counties may learn by bitter experience how true it is that everybody's business is nobody's business, and may find himself without a spokesman to lay before Parliament his grievances and aspirations. I cannot believe that any new fangled theories against the propriety of unofficial Members undertaking to promote legislation, will find favour with a House of Commons which has shown such unusual consideration towards Bills in private hands, that our Wednesdays are likely to be more productive than during any Session in their recent Parliamentary experience. Nay, it is doubtful whether they will find favour with the right hon. Gentleman himself. If there is a measure now before the House which closely resembles this in its aim and in its character, it is the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Marylobone (Mr. Forsyth), for the removal of the electoral disabilities of women. Last Session that measure was in the hands of Mr. Jacob Bright. It was a sweeping measure—a comprehensive measure; it proposed to admit to the franchise great masses of persons between whom and the present electors there existed at least as great a difference as between the borough and county householders; it had been considered by no Cabinets; it had been endorsed by no statesmen acting under the responsibilities of office; and yet the right hon. Gentleman himself did not scruple to go into the Lobby in its favour. How, then, can he give it as a reason for voting against this Bill on the second reading that it is brought forward by a private Member? And now I come to an argument which is of all the most formidable, because its frequent employment by the ablest of our opponents on both sides of the House indicates that here is the position which they intend to take up in order to delay, and if possible to defeat, this measure. We are told that it is idle to approach the question of the county franchise unless we are prepared to remodel the entire representation of both Islands. Some hon. Gentlemen tell us that we must at once face the notion of electoral districts. Others will have nothing to say to a scheme that does not include a strong infusion of minority, or cumulative voting, or some modification of what it is now the fashion to call personal representation. But the supporters of this Bill assert that the grievance of our fellow-countrymen who are excluded from the franchise is so pressing, so unjust, and so perilous, that it may be remedied at once and by itself without any evil consequences that approach in magnitude the danger and inconvenience of its maintenance; and they assert likewise that it is an insufficient argument for indefinitely deferring this great and necessary reform that it may have to be accompanied by a rearrangement of representation which, when carried into effect with the moderation and caution that mark all political changes in this country, is in itself absolutely desirable. For holding these views we have been stigmatized as un-statesmanlike and unpractical by the Prime Minister, by The Times newspaper, and, above all, by the eminent man who appears to possess in so large a measure the confidence and regard of those two great authorities—the Solicitor-General of the late Administration. Sir, I these epithets "unstatesmanlike" and "unpractical" are very alarming when they are heard for the first time, but they lose their terrors to those who have found by experience that five years hence the people who use them will be striving to appropriate to themselves the credit of the very measures which they are now denouncing. And let us loot for a moment more closely into this word "unpractical" as applied to the question before us. The practical man is he whose prophecies come true, and the unpractical one whose prophecies are falsified. Our opponents say that we cannot lower the county franchise without casting in a new mould our entire representation. But it is impossible to study our political history without assuring oneself of two facts—that on the one hand the British Parliament will never at one time, and with one operation, alter completely and throughout, any main feature of our constitutional system; and that, on the other hand, a gross and crying injustice, when once vigorously attacked, cannot in this country permanently endure. And the deduction from these two facts is that—unless our methods of legislation are suddenly changed—of which I see no sign whatever—we shall secure the enfranchisement of the unrepresented half of our population, either in the shape of a measure of simple justice passed on its own merits, or accompanied by such a dose of redistribution as a Government can venture to prescribe or a Parliament to swallow. The ideas which I have been endeavouring to combat were put into a very tangible shape by the Prime Minister in a speech to a Glasgow public meeting, in the course of last November, in which he warned his hearers that the extension of the county franchise would unavoidably lead to the disenfranchisement of all boroughs under 40,000 inhabitants. And in his address during the last General Election, he enlarges on this view— The Conservative party," he says, "will hesitate before they sanction further legislation which will inevitably involve, among other considerable changes, the disenfranchisement of at least all boroughs in the Kingdom comprising loss than 40,000 inhabitants. In this document, issued nominally for the information of Buckinghamshire, but doubtless intended likewise for circulation among the boroughs of under 40,000 inhabitants, he forbids the identity of the county and borough franchise under the penalty of the disfranchisement of no loss than 217 seats. This is an important announcement from the only Minister who ever proposed to make the two franchises identical. We turn back in our Hansards to 1859 with breathless interest and almost awe, to discover what gigantic machinery of disfranchisement it was by which the right hon. Gentleman, as a responsible Minister of the Crown, proposed to render possible the placing of the county and the borough electors on the same footing; but those feelings are converted into relief, not unmixed with astonishment, when we find that in his own Reform Bill he was satisfied with depriving 15 boroughs of their second Members, and transferring eight of those men to large counties, and seven to large towns. As the leader of the Opposition, he is not content with anything under 217 seats, while as leader of the House of Commons he did not even ask for the odd 17. Sir, I appeal from the right hon. Gentleman on the platform to the right hon. Gentleman on the Treasury Bench, and I ask him to recur to his ancient policy, and to take down this bugbear of boroughs under 40,000 inhabitants, with which he has been trying to frighten the country from the consideration of a measure which, when left to its own intrinsic merits, can be opposed by no argument founded on common sense, equity, or consistency. The right hon. Gentleman—and to his lasting credit be it spoken—himself has created a grievance so glaring, that it cannot but force itself upon the most unwilling eyes. By his Reform Bill of 1867 he gave every householder in the great majority of our towns a vote, or the prospect of a vote. To the householder in the counties he gave nothing but a sense of intolerable inequality. He induced Parliament to declare that in boroughs any man who could pay his rates and maintain his family by the labour of his hands, should have a voice in the Government of his country, and when this declaration had been made—when the notion of the dwelling and the vote had been indissolubly connected in the public mind—the Legislature then proceeds to deal with the county population by increasing, indeed, by some 25 or 30 per cent the number of electors of the class which already possessed the franchise, but refused to go beyond that point, and did not, intentionally and of design, extend the suffrage to a single member of the class which it was enfranchising by hundreds of thousands in the boroughs. And the result is that while on the one side of an imaginary line a man who has no ambition beyond doing his duty in the station where he finds himself, enjoys the full privileges of a citizen, his neighbour on the other side of the line must forego those privileges unless he raises himself into a higher grade of society—a grade more comfortable perhaps, but not necessarily more honourable—by efforts which you have no right to call upon him to make under such a grave penalty as that of civil disqualification. Do not let us meet the difficulty by assuming that one of these men is a townsman and the other is a rustic. Last year I had the honour of laying at length before the House a series of figures which led to the conclusion that there is a purely urban population of at least 3,000,000 outside the boundaries of our Parliamentary boroughs. These data have been submitted to a most competent departmental officer, who has pronounced the calculation as accurate as can be arrived at until we have a special investigation conducted by public authority. In Rotherham, Keighley, Accrington, Heywood, Doncaster, in all the suburbs of London, round all the boundaries of Manchester, Leeds, and Birmingham, you have 3,000,000 of people who are not countryfolk but townfolk in their habits and character, their circumstances and employments—in everything, in short, except in the possession of the ratepaying household suffrage. They are in the most extraordinary position of any population of any corner of the globe. They elect the municipal officers who manage their local finance, the school boards that superintend the education of their children, and the guardians who dispense the public charity of their districts. They attend lectures, frequent libraries, subscribe to chapels, mechanics' institutes, trade schools, benefit clubs, and co-operative stores, and yet they are excluded from the privilege of citizenship which every full-grown negro in the United States has already enjoyed for nearly 10 years. It was but the other year that the construction of a political constitution for our fellow subjects in Canada was attracting the continued attention of the House and the Ministry. It was but the other day that the adoption of a new scheme of government by the Swiss people was justly treated by our press as an event of first-class interest and importance; and yet here at our own doors is a population larger than that of Switzerland and Canada, to whom year after year we refuse the very rudiments of a constitution, and will not even take the trouble to give them a reason for that refusal, because the only semblance or pretence of an argument on the merits which has ever been put forward does not apply to them—I mean the allegation that the agricultural labourer is the political inferior of the workman in the towns. Still the case of these people, hard as it is, is not the hardest; because they enjoy the benefits of indirect representation through men of their own class, who vote as householders in the boroughs. The small shopkeepers at Ealing or Brentford are in some sort represented by the ironworkers of Middlesborough. But except the handful of his fellows who live in a few semi-rural boroughs like Midhurst and East Retford, who represents the hedger, the shepherd, and the ploughman? Up to last year, we were told that the sentiments and opinion of the labourer were adequately represented by the farmers, who voted in behalf of the entire agricultural interest. Will hon. Gentlemen use that argument now? At a time when the majority of two great classes of men are firmly persuaded—most erroneously, as all within these walls are well aware—that their interests are diametrically opposed to each other; when over a large and growing portion of one of our principal agricultural districts this supposed adversity has thrown these two classes into direct antagonism; will hon. Gentlemen say that it is wise, or safe, or just, that one of those classes should be left without any political rights whatever, and by a refinement of mockery should be told that they are supposed to be represented by the very farmers with whom they are in conflict? These poor people have given proof that they possess the very best of our national qualities. Under a grievous trial—and I am sure no one will deny that the inability to express their claims by legitimate means at a time when their dearest interests are at stake is to men of our race the most grievous of all trials—they have been patient, temperate, considerate, loyal to order and to religion. Are these the sort of men whom the country gentlemen of England want to see in the hands of any agitator who can catch their ear? I know very well that some hon. Gentlemen with pockets full of newspapers will read passages which they will call incendiary, and will ask if we are to give a vote to the people for whose consumption this dangerous trash is published. The agricultural labourers do not write these articles, and I doubt whether even they read them. But if we refuse them the means of putting forward their wants and wishes by the legitimate and constitutional channel afforded by our representative system, we do not deserve to expect to keep them from relying for the redress of their grievances upon the tongues and pens of revolutionary scribblers, accountable to no colleagues, and to no constituency. During the period between the Reform Bills of 1832 and 1867, while factory and workshop Acts were being passed at the rate of one in every two years, for the protection of children in the towns, children in our rural districts were left with no guarantee against the effects of premature, prolonged, and unsuitable labour. Operatives in many great branches of industry were protected from the oppression of forced payment in kind; and yet Session follows Session, and no attempt is made to deal with the most deleterious and demoralizing form of truck. Six years have gone by since an effective law-was passed, under which premises unfit for human habitation had to be made decent at the expense of the owner, but the people of our villages have no part in that law. The operation of the Artizans' and Labourers' Dwellings Act is confined to towns containing above 1,000 inhabitants; but are the miseries and the perils of bad drainage and defective house accommodation confined to such places? The Report of the Commission issued in 1869 can answer. Probably no class of men ever made pecuniary sacrifices for the sake of others approaching those which the landlords have suffered for those who live on their estates. But what a constituency requires of its Member is not liberality or kindness. So little are the bulk of our rural population represented within these walls, that the labour movement in Warwickshire had actually broken out without any forewarning here that any special discontent existed in the agricultural districts. There is surely something alarming in the want of familiarity which Parliament displays with the opinions of such a large portion of our fellow countrymen. But to conclude, the Prime Minister tells us that any Government which deals with the county suffrage must make up its mind to arrest the progress of all other public business. He says that between 1852 and 1866, during several Parliaments, and under the auspices of several Premiers, much valuable time was wasted in protracted debates and angry party conflicts. But it is impossible to avoid asking who is responsible for all this waste? Manifestly and plainly, the right hon. Gentleman himself. I know there were many among the followers of Lord Palmerston and Lord Russell who were openly or secretly opposed to the lowering of the borough franchise, but there was not a moment during those 14 years at which, if the right hon. Gentleman had told us he was in favour of household suffrage in the boroughs, a single Session, or at most two, would have ended the controversy. And now, as then, the right hon. Gentleman has the matter in his own hands, with this double advantage, that there is very little public business to be arrested or delayed—for I cannot be so uncomplimentary as to believe that all our energies are required for the task of passing a Bill for allowing magistrates, instead of obliging them, to endorse licences; and while the party which the right hon. Gentleman leads was, on the whole, not much inclined to household suffrage in the boroughs, it is a very different matter with regard to the measure now before us. My hon. Friend the Member for Perthshire, whom I consider as a sort of representative of his countrymen among landed proprietors, informed his future constituents last January that the assimilation of the county and borough franchise could not be resisted on any intelligible principle; and that, I will venture to believe, unless this discussion tells us the contrary, is also the opinion of the landed proprietors of England. These people to whom we are now asked to extend the franchise do not, like the town householders, live under an educational and administrative system which hon. Gentlemen opposite only in part approve, and which, at any rate, they are unwilling to see extended to our rural districts. The Secretary for Ireland is averse to enlarging the franchise of a population which does not maintain an Established Church, and which is governed by land laws other than our own. That is not the case here. Our agricultural labourers inhabit cottages at a great and permanent loss of income to the landlords who have built them; their children are taught in schools which the landlords in great part maintain; their finance is managed most economically and conscientiously by justices, who are only their landlords under another name. You have brought them up in our own way, and what are they? They are not Socialists, they are not rebels at heart, not idlers, but sober, industrious heads of families—the stationary population of the country. Stationary they are now, but how long will that continue? Emigration agents are traversing our villages, offering man and wife £50 a-year, with board and lodging, in New Brunswick, and £60 in New Jersey or Delaware. The steerage fare to Boston by steamer is £6 6s.; and in a sailing vessel hardly £3 3s.; and appended to the foot of the prospectus hung up in our rural post offices, the agricultural labourer reads the announcement that in Canada and the United States he will enjoy equal electoral rights. Is it nothing that without the delay of a Session we should remove one, and that not the least potent of the inducements that are tempting away from our shores a part of our population which we cannot lose without most sincere apprehension and regret? Sir, in the hope that this is the last Wednesday which will see this question in non-official hands, I confidently commit to the judgment of the House a Bill which is not yet, and I trust never will be, a party measure.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


, in moving an Amendment that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, that he opposed the Bill with much hesitation. The hon. Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan) was a formidable opponent; he had great ability, he understood his subject, and he had a strong case; moreover, he was extremely skilful in concealing those points in which his argument was weak, and, where it was strong, in pushing his advantage to the utmost. The question of the county franchise came into some prominence two or three months ago. He had given it some consideration, and came to the conclusion that the question did not merely concern the electors of the county; it touched very nearly the interests of the constituencies of the boroughs. Therefore, as a borough Member, he wished to offer two or three remarks. The proposal of the hon. Member was extremely simple—it was also extremely plausible. He said it was an unequal thing that a householder residing in the county should not be in the same position with regard to the privilege of a vote as a householder who resided in the town; he stated, with perfect fairness and truth, that it was very possible two men might be living within a very short distance of each other, occupying the same social position, inhabiting houses of similar character, members of the same community, of equal intelligence, and having the same interest in the country, and yet, notwithstanding all this, the county householder did not possess a privilege which was enjoyed by the borough householder—the privilege of a vote. He conceded that there was an anomaly in this. He was prepared to show equal confidence in the county householder as in the town householder; he was also prepared to concede that very possibly, sooner or later, a Bill with the object which the hon. Mover had so much at heart would become law. But he wished to keep himself perfectly free to judge, when a fitting opportunity occurred, whether he should become at that time a supporter instead of an opponent of the measure. There were two reasons why he wished to postpone the passing of this Bill. First, he considered that the present time for passing such a measure was neither fitting nor convenient. He must call to the recollection of the House that within the comparatively short period of 40 years, two great Reform measures had been passed. But these measures had not passed without difficulty; great portions of many Sessions had been occupied in their discussion; other measures, more or loss necessary, had been delayed; parties had been disorganized; Ministers had been harassed; and the country thrown into anxiety and disquietude. He did not say the results produced by those measures were not amply sufficient to justify the time and trouble taken in their preparation and discussion; but it was not wise or prudent to make these efforts too often. Nothing showed greater weakness in a country than the constant tinkering and patching of its Constitution. The statesman who followed this course was like the man who, instead of remaining steadily at his work, was constantly looking about for some new tool. Then, again, he must remind the House that there were, at the present time, two great experimental measures on hand, of which they did not yet know fully the scope and effect. First there was the Reform Act of 1867–8. Since the Reform Act of 1867–8 there had been two General Elections. What was the result of the first, in 1868? The result was to send to that House a very large majority pledged to the support of a Radical Government, which was itself pledged to carry out certain important changes—changes which the hon. Mover was entitled to call salutary, but which he (Mr. Salt) was equally entitled to call violent. There had been another General Election under the auspices of the same Reform Act, and with what result? Again the constituencies had returned Members a large and decisive majority of whom were pledged to support a Government, not, like its predecessor, pledged to important changes, but, so far as he could judge at present, pledged only to silence and consideration. Here they had, under this Reform Act, two events exactly contrary in character; which of them did the hon. Mover approve? He was enamoured of Reform Bills, and applauded them for their potency to ameliorate many of the evils under which we laboured; so enamoured, indeed, was he of them that he now asked the House to enter upon a new measure of Reform. Which of these opposite results did he recognize as the voice of an enfranchised, and therefore enlightened people? But before entering on a new scheme of Reform, would it not be wise to allow a few years to pass away, to enable the country to arrive more definitely at the results of the Reform measures which had been so recently passed? There was another measure which had been passed of an experimental character—he meant the Ballot Act. It had been talked about for many years. It had always been promoted and considered as a Radical measure. At the last General Election it had come into active and important operation. What had been its results? The Radical measure had shown Conservative tendencies. Before passing other measures in the direction of Constitutional Reform, would it not be wise to ascertain more distinctly the scope and effects of that Act? The hon. Gentlemen, who were the parents of that measure, had no doubt watched the conduct of their full-grown offspring with sorrow and grief. They had already a Committee sitting upstairs with a view to effect certain changes in it. He therefore thought they should wait a little before they entered upon a new field of change. One of the Petitions presented by the hon. Mover, from Alton, in Hampshire, not only prayed for the passing of this Bill, but also for what they called "a thorough redistribution of seats." They were therefore brought face to face with questions of the gravest magnitude, and he had a right to ask on what principle the redistribution of seats was to be carried out. Were they to enter on the dull monotony of electoral districts? Were they to disfranchise every town with loss than 15,000, or 20,000, or 30,000 inhabitants? If so, they must remember that from time to time, as trade or circumstances varied, some towns decayed and others increased. Were they, then, to pass a Reform Bill every year or every decade, in order that they might remedy any inequality, and take care that the towns enfranchised had the exact number they had fixed upon as the limit of direct representation? How would that affect the constituency of the borough he had the honour to represent? He did not speak for them selfishly—they would be ready to make any sacrifice if clearly proved to be for the public good; but they did not wish to perform "the happy despatch" without cause shown. With a constituency of 15,000—the borough he had the honour to represent (Stafford) had for 600 years returned two Members. These Members were charged to protect the honour and the interests of their town. They were imbued with something of the character and the energy of the people whom they represented; and this was the case with many other boroughs. So a Parliament was composed of varied elements, and of a mixed character—a circumstance which had contributed much to its success. "Were we now to change the most important principles of our representation. He did not, as some hon. Members had on a former occasion, complain that the hon. Member was introducing a Bill that could not pass; on the contrary, he considered those discussions as very useful. He was always glad to listen to the eloquence of the hon. Member. If those discussions ultimately led to the adoption of the proposals that the hon. Member had so much at heart, in a way satisfactory and beneficial to the country, he, for one, should be satisfied. On the other hand, these discussions might tend to show to persons outside, as well as inside the House, that, though there might be anomalies in our representative system, yet, even these anomalies were loss evils than the uncertainties and risks of a fresh change, and the loss of our old principles. It was on these two grounds that he opposed this Bill—first, the time for its discussion was not fitting or convenient; and, secondly, its results were uncertain and unascertained. He would, in conclusion, move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Salt.)


With the permission of the House, I should like to say a very few words on this question. I would like to point out to the House that, whatever may be the case in other parts of the country, so far as the miners and working men of the North of England are concerned, they feel a very deep interest in the subject, and great dissatisfaction is felt at the present distinction between the borough and county franchise. In the two northern counties of Durham and Northumberland there are about 50,000 adult miners. Of that number not more than 5,000 are voters; yet the 45,000 who are not voters are placed, in most respects, under entirely similar conditions to those who have votes. They occupy the same kind of houses, they follow the same kind of employment, and their social status and educational position are alike; they are, in fact, to all intents and purposes, the same class of men, and they naturally feel considerable dissatisfaction that a certain number of them possess the right to vote and that others should be excluded from that right. The borough that I represent (Morpeth) affords a more striking proof of this distinction than can be found in any other part of the country. The borough of Morpeth extends about 10 miles, and is bounded by Morpeth on the one side, and Blyth on the other. It goes through the chief part of the Northumberland coalfield; it embraces some of the largest collieries in the county, and very large bodies of colliers are excluded from the franchise simply from the fact that they live beyond—it may be a few yards—a privileged line. Now, Sir, the miners of Northumberland are a settled community—they seldom remove out of the county. They do remove frequently from one colliery to another. Hence this state of things arises—a man may possess a vote one day, and if he removes a few hundred yards he may lose his vote, just as much as if he went out of the country or to the Antipodes. We have this state of things also. Two men may be working—and they frequently are working—in the same pit and at the same place as "mates," and one of those men may have a vote and the other may not. Their position in every other respect is identical. They are occupying the same sort of house, and they are in exactly the same positions, only that one lives beyond an "imaginary line," as the hon. Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan) called it. Now, Sir, I cannot conceive anything that tends more to create dissatisfaction than invidious distinctions between class and class; but still more is that the case when distinctions are made between members of the same class—and I cannot command language strong enough to impress the House with the extreme dissatisfaction that exists on the part of those men on account of the anomalous position in which they are placed. I have heard a great deal about the danger of admitting so large a number of comparatively uneducated men to the franchise. Sir, I believe that the danger lies in excluding them, and there is nothing that is doing more at the present time to alienate the sympathies and the affections of the best and most intelligent of the working classes than these invidious and unnecessary distinctions, founded, as they are, on no principle of reason or common sense. I shall not trouble the House with many further remarks; but I have heard it said since I came into this House, and by many persons outside of it, that there is a difficulty in getting the best portion of the working men to join the Army and the Militia. Well, Sir, I am secretary of a very large working men's association consisting of 1,800 members, and more than once this very question has been under discussion, and resolutions have been passed to the effect that they will continue to refuse to join the Militia until they are recognized by the State as citizens of the country. They say, "Why should we fight for the country that either dare not or will not trust or will not recognize us by giving us those common rights which are afforded to working men in other countries, where the people are not more law-abiding than we of the United Kingdom?" Though I do not advocate this change from party considerations, it would be untrue to profess that I am entirely indifferent to the result it might have on parties. I may say that, so far as the North of England is concerned, I think that it is probable that it would not weaken the Liberal party to give the working men votes. But the northern counties are not the whole of England; and if we may judge from what has taken place hitherto, the extension of the franchise has not always resulted in the strengthening of the Liberal party. I beg to thank the House very much for the attention with which hon. Members have listened to me.


The hon. Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan) has vindicated his position; he is the disciple of a distinguished school whose motto is— The Constitution is intended For nothing else but to be mended. So effective have been the arguments of the hon. Member, and of his Colleagues who entertain the same opinions, that, as has been stated by the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt), they have convinced the colliers in the North of England that they are not citizens of the State in any sense of the word, and are therefore in no sense bound to take any part in the defence of the country, by joining the Militia or otherwise. I congratulate the hon. Member on the impression he has produced. The hon. Members exertions, and those of his friends, will probably be fraught with the most important results. They are determined to break up the framework of the Constitution of this country. I believe that the result of the measure which the hon. Gentleman has advocated and the result of this further step would eventually be, that the form of government in this country must either become a Republic or a despotism. I do not think we shall have a Republic; that would be inconsistent with the proud consciousness of the nation that this is the centre of an Empire. Now, that is my firm conviction. But I am not going to desert this country; I am one of the adscripti glebœ. My forefathers have been here these 600 or 700 years, and I shall stick to the old ship, although I doubt whether I shall be quite so loyal a subject under a despotism as I am under the present form of Government. I wish to call the attention of the hon. Member for the Border Burghs to this fact—that he and his friends, who have promoted the agitation which he has so justly described, have had the happy effect of producing great discontent in Lincolnshire, where the labourers have always been paid at a higher rate than in any other part of England. So long as the exertions of the agitation in my own county (Warwickshire) were directed only to the equalization of wages, not one word did I ever utter in objection to their object. But when Mr. Arch attended a meeting in Exeter Hall, which was presided over by an hon. Member of the House, and there made exaggerated statements with respect to the condition of the labourers in Lincolnshire, which I knew to be untrue, and was supported by Dr. Manning in a revolutionary speech, I at once saw that the true character of the agitation was coming out. I, who had countenanced the movement for a rise of wages in the southern division of Warwickshire, informed my neighbours that I was no party, and would be no party, to such revolutionary objects. Dr. Manning and his followers see further than the labouring classes of this country, and apparently further than the hon. Members who undertake to represent them. Dr. Manning has published his opinion, that no man who really loves his country can desire that it should remain the centre of an Empire. That is a wider view than that which has been presented to the labouring classes. The expression of it was addressed to an Irish Ultramontane Bishop by an Ultramontane Archbishop, who calls himself an Englishman. It was not intended for the labouring classes, who know that they can reach wide countries still under English law, and under the influence of the freedom generated here. So long as this country is the centre of an Empire, so long as the Constitution is what it has been, they find their way to the Colonies, where they find connections attached to the same form of Government, and they have no sympathy with the opinions that are transmitted from one Ultramontane in England to another ultramontane in Ireland. What I say is true, and it is time that the eyes of the operative classes should be opened. I am far from saying that the agitation, which has enlisted the sympathy of the hon. Member for the Border Burghs, is not likely to be fraught with great consequences. If household suffrage is to be established in counties, I do not believe that the lowering of the franchise will rest there. On the contrary, I am convinced, that we shall come to manhood suffrage. I believe that very likely we shall not stop there. I believe that we shall pass the limits assigned by the people of the United States, and enfranchise the women, and I am convinced that the result of that change must be the establishment of a Republic or of a despotic form of Government. If this country were to become a Republic, she could not continue to be the centre of an Empire, and Dr. Manning's aspirations would be carried out. I wish hon. Members to look a little beyond their noses, and to understand that Members of this House are bound to look further than the mere delegates of popular assemblies; and that when they pass measure after measure in a particular direction, tending to what I have described, they disgrace their position unless they foresee the consequences of what they are doing, the direction of the measures they support. It is my intention to vote against the second reading of the Bill now, since five years hence we shall have to consider whether the system of secret voting has proved a beneficial change. The change which has been effected by the system of secret voting is this—that whereas under open voting each elector was a trustee for his neighbours, by the system of secret voting the vote becomes the property of the voter as an individual, for the use of which he is responsible to no one; and when you once shall have established that principle—that a vote is a property and not a trust permanently—the arguments addressed to the House by the hon. Member for the Border Burghs become irresistible, for everyone has aright to say—"Why am I not to have this property as well as others?" and no arguments as to his being qualified, or the reverse, to act as trustee are applicable. I believe that this forms the strength of the present movement—a movement which will not be restricted to the measure now before the House, but must continue to be valid against every limitation of the franchise you may attempt to assign, since the fact that the vote is secret and a property must render every limitation of the franchise arbitrary. Believing this, I wish to defer the solution of these great questions until Parliament shall have reconsidered that most radical of all changes—the radical change which I think the House was misled into adopting, when it sanctioned the principle of secret instead of open voting. I shall, therefore, vote against this measure being now taken into further consideration.


said, he could not believe that the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Warwickshire truly represented the feelings of any large number of Members in that House, and he must therefore decline to follow him through all those portentous consequences which he predicted would follow from the adoption of this measure. On the other hand, the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Salt) represented generally the feelings of a number of Members on the opposite side of the House, and he had admitted at once the strength of the case in favour of this Bill. He said that the provisions of the Bill were certain to be carried, and the arguments he urged were solely, or mainly, addressed to the time which had been chosen for bringing the Bill forward. He (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) remembered that last year, when his hon. Friend the Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan) introduced his Bill, he was attacked for bringing it in at the end of the Session, when Parliament was exhausted with work, and when there was so much business on the Paper. That certainly could not be said on the present occasion. They had a new Parliament, a House of Commons with not too much to do, and if ever there was a time suited for the discussion of a measure such as this, he thought it was that which his hon. Friend had chosen. The hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Salt) had alleged one objection to the Bill which he could not admit to have any force—that it would have the effect of harassing the Ministry. It appeared to him (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) that Ministers, unlike trades, were made to be harassed, and if they were not harassed it was only because the House of Commons, or they themselves, were not properly discharging their duties. The Bill had this peculiarity, that the burden of the case lay, not upon those who were the advocates of a uniform suffrage in town and country, but rather upon those who would maintain the present unequal system. Now, it was one of the most remarkable and absurd features in the public system of this country, that there should be this great distinction between town and country. No such distinction existed in any other constitutional system—or in any country, in fact, with which they cared to institute a comparison; and unless it could be shown that the distinction was essential, that it was founded on reason, or that it was beneficial, he submitted that they ought to welcome the proposal in his hon. Friend's Bill as a step at least towards its removal. He said a step towards the removal of the distinction, for it should be observed that the irregularity of the suffrage was not the only difference between town and country. What did they find in their towns? They found every householder with a vote for the purpose of Imperial Government; but, besides that, they had an independent community managing its own affairs, electing its own officers, imposing its own taxation, and sharing amongst all its members the responsibility of its public life. But let them step across the boundary—and generally it was an arbitrary boundary—which divided the borough or municipality from the county, and it was not too much to say that, so far as the forms of government were concerned, they stepped at once from the Nineteenth Century into the Middle Ages. In the first place, they had there a franchise which shut out from all direct interest in national affairs the humbler householders; and, in the second place, they had the local interests of all entrusted to a body of irresponsible persons nominated by the Crown, while the great mass of the ratepayers, and of those inhabitants who might not be ratepayers, had no voice whatever in matters intimately affecting their welfare. Now, he believed that if they agreed about one thing more than another, it was the advantage of representative institutions; and this advantage was not confined to maintaining independence and the free exercise of rights, but there was also this benefit—that a spirit of self-reliance was inspired and cultivated in those who lived under those institutions. The hon. Member for Stafford himself, in objecting to the disfranchisement, as he called it, which would necessarily follow the adoption of the measure—that was to say, turning certain boroughs into county constituencies—based his objection on this very ground—that owing to the municipal independence of the borough of Stafford, its inhabitants had a tone which was superior, he presumed, to to that of their county neighbours. So that he (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) submitted to the House that the anomaly which he had pointed out was not a merely theoretical anomaly, but was an active cause of mischief. The whole machinery and framework of government in the country districts was obsolete, and out of keeping with the principle upon which the Imperial Government was conducted; and if it worked in some instances well—and he admitted that in some respects it did work well—it was because it was penetrated, to a great extent, in spite of itself, by better ideas, more in harmony with modern notions of government. Of course, that was the general question between town and country, and this Bill only dealt with one part of the difference between them. The hon. Member for the Border Burghs had alluded to the debate of 1859, when the Government of Lord Derby brought in a Bill establishing identity of suffrage, and when it was alleged by those who opposed the Reform Bill of the Government of that day, that this variety of suffrage was a principle of the Constitution. He had often seen this asserted in constitutional text-books and elsewhere, but he had failed to discover that in the real and common sense of the word there was any such principle involved; but if there ever was such a principle, it was surely definitively abandoned in 1832, when the occupier in counties was admitted to the right to vote. In fact it would be a waste of time to go over the arguments in favour of identity of suffrage, for he need only refer to the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, and of the present Foreign Minister, in order that hon. Members might see how completely the arguments against identity could be demolished. Now, who were those who would be enfranchised if the Bill were to pass? In the first place, there was a great body of householders in the counties who were practically of the same class in society, exercising the same trades, and having interests identically the same with the householders who had votes in towns. There would be no question, he believed, on either side of the House, that it would be desirable to give those urban elements in the counties votes, so long as by doing so they did not injuriously affect the interests of others. But it was alleged that if they enfranchised the urban householders in the counties, they should swamp what was called the agricultural interest—that was to say, the purely agricultural voters would be out-numbered and overwhelmed in very many cases—and that was regarded as an evil against which it was desirable that the House of Commons should protect the agricultural districts. It had often been urged that certain interests should be represented artificially in the House, and proposals had been made to give Members to the Inns of Court, the Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons, Chambers of Commerce, and so forth, with a view to do this; but he thought the House was now agreed that it was better to leave the general interests of the country to find their own level amongst themselves, being perfectly certain that they would secure due representation in this House, and that their centre of gravity would certainly and naturally change according as the elements composing them rose and fell in importance. But it might be contended, forsooth, that this peculiar trade of the cultivation of the soil should be selected from amongst all the other industries of the country, and treated exceptionally in this matter. He was at a loss to see what reason could be urged for so treating it—he was at a loss to see what mystical virtue there was in the cultivation of the soil which should entitle it to be treated differently from any other trade, and even if it were possible to do so, he submitted to the House that it would be disadvantageous, inasmuch as whenever agriculture, or what was called the country interest, had been treated exceptionally hitherto, it had been to its own injury as well as to that of others, because it had created an artificial antagonism for which in reality there was no just foundation. But when it was said that they should protect the agricultural interest from being swamped, he would ask the House to consider what the agricultural interest was, and whether they should be taking away from it anything which it at present had. Was the agricultural interest represented at present? They all knew that the opinions of landowners and of the tenant-farmers were directly collected in the House; but what hon. Member could say that he spoke on behalf of the agricultural labourers, who, after all, had the largest share in what was called the agricultural interest? There was no argument which could be adduced in favour of enfranchising workmen in towns that was not equally applicable to workmen in the country. Their occupation might be different, the one producing corn and beef, and the other dealing in iron and cloth; but there was no real difference between them, unless it were that the agricultural labourer was not fit to exercise the franchise. Now, so far as fitness to exercise the franchise was concerned—meaning thereby independence and intelligence—he denied this allegation altogether so far as his Scotch countrymen were concerned. The Scotch peasant was as well educated, as thoroughly independent, and every whit as well qualified to discharge the duties of citizenship, as his fellows in the town. But when they came to England—and especially the South of England—it was quite possible that there might be a lack of intelligence and independence. If there was such a lack of independence why did it exist? They had had the English peasant for all these years under the patriarchal system to which he had alluded, and if now the taint of servility was upon him, what better hope could there be of removing it than by applying to him the better system which had had happier results in the towns, and in arousing in him an interest in matters beyond his own immediate affairs, and raising his self-respect, by teaching him that he counted for something in the community in which he lived? Then it was alleged that he lacked intelligence. Well, this had been denied. His right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) than whom there was no better authority, had stated that he did not believe that the average of education was lower in the country districts than in the towns. But, after all, if the averages were equal, considering the great masses in towns which had hitherto been unreclaimed by any educational influence, we must conclude that the education in the counties where the people were so much more accessible must be inferior to that of the towns—inferior in quality, though, perhaps, more widely spread. But if such were the case, what a satire was this upon the system of education pursued in the country districts—a system said to be so valuable that we were called upon carefully to protect it from the approach of school boards, with their ignoble strife, their popular elections, and their compulsory rules, and what a powerful argument it furnished to his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Dixon), if the upshot of all the efforts of the Church of England and of all the money that had been expended upon her schools was that the population of the rural districts were reckoned to be unworthy to exercise a trust which was willingly and safely given to those in towns! But instead of finding in this unfitness an argument for opposing the Bill, he found in it an argument directly the other way. There was no surer or straighter road to education than enfranchisement. If they conferred the right to vote on the peasants, they might depend upon it that two things would follow. In the first place, the higher ranks of society, who had it in their power to do so, would encourage the peasant to give his children a much higher standard of education, and they might even endeavour to get them to reach that inaccessible pinnacle of the Fifth Standard, so very difficult at present to attain. And also there would be an effect upon the peasant himself, when he found he was called upon to pronounce an opinion upon matters of public interest, and he would be the first to claim for his children a better education, in order that they might be qualified to exercise intelligently that right. He thought the House was indebted to his hon. Friend for bringing in this measure, and he trusted that a very small section indeed of the House would oppose it.


asked the indulgence of the House while he stated some reasons for supporting the Bill of the hon. Gentleman. Before he did so, however, he thought it just to the House to reply to what he thought was implied by a statement made by his hon. Colleague (Mr. Salt.) In speaking of the borough of Stafford, he called it "his" borough. Now he (Mr. Macdonald) protested against the use of language of that description. The fact was simply this—there was a joint occupancy of that borough, and his hon. Colleague was not justified in calling it "his" borough. He further desired to say that he had taken the opinion of the constituency on this question—and he was not aware that his hon. Colleague had done so—and the decision of the constituency had been most heartily in favour of extending to the counties the franchise it enjoyed itself. It was said that this was not a fitting time for the passing of a Bill of this kind. To his mind it was a most opportune time, because they had in hand really no question of great interest to the country, and there was a very strong feeling throughout the entire country in favour of this step. During the course of last year it was his privilege to attend large meetings in the county of Durham, in the county of Northumberland, in the county of Stafford, in Yorkshire, in Scotland, and in Cumberland, At all these meetings there was a pronounced declaration in favour of the extension of the franchise to the counties. He wanted to know if they were to wait till the great body of the people that were unenfranchised were to make greater demonstrations than they had done? If they were, he would tell the House what the delay of of this measure would do—it would create an amount of feeling that he had no desire whatever to see. What was taking place at the present time? For many years the great trade organizations of the country were conducted for trade purposes, and trade purposes alone; but the inequality that existed between the position of the inhabitants of boroughs and the inhabitants of counties was drifting these great organizations into political organizations, and they would wield for the future, for political purposes, the power they had hitherto wielded for trade purposes. He should deplore to see this:—and did not use these words with a view to alarm the House—he rather wished to point out that this, as a natural result, was what would take place. It had been said by certain timid politicians on the Liberal side of the House that if this measure was adopted it would lead to Conservative re-action and the adoption of Conservative principles. That was an unfair and an unjust way of arguing the question. They ought to do justice to the community in the counties, and place them upon an equal footing with their fellow-labourers in the towns; and he, for one, if Her Majesty's Government Were to introduce and pass a measure of this kind, would not grudge them the occupancy of the Treasury benches for the next 10 years to come—because in doing a matter of right they would carry with them the great body of the people.


said, that nearly all hon. Members were agreed that this extension of the franchise must be made and the only point on which they were not agreed was, as to the right time for doing it. It was urged by the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Salt) in favour of postponing the measure now under discussion, that we had now in hand two great constitutional experiments—namely, the extension of the franchise under the Reform Act of 1867–8, and the Ballot Act of 1872. But were we not, in fact, trying a very much larger experiment in the Education Act? He thought the consideration that ought to determine Members' votes to-night was whether more time ought not to be given to see the working of the Education Act before they proceeded to upset the existing constituencies of the country. It was only within a few days that they had heard from the Report of an Election Judge that even voters in towns voted, not on considerations of principle, but "blue" or "yellow" as the case might be, without the slightest care or knowledge what policy was represented by those colours. Surely if there could be found under the present system voters so ignorant, it was scarcely advisable to adopt a measure which must inevitably swell their number and increase the unreasoning vote. It had been said that the shepherd was not represented in that House. Well, if that were so, they had ample and recent proof that sheepdogs were not unrepresented. But he would ask whether any county Member on either side of the House believed that he was doing his duty in confining his efforts to the interests of those only who could vote for him at the next election. For his own part, he believed that they as anxiously looked after the welfare of those who did not bother them with deputations as after those who were more noisy. He believed, too, that none watched those interests so carefully as hon. Members who were sent unpledged to Parliament. The Prime Minister had formerly said, that if the county franchise were assimilated to the borough franchise it would return so large a Conservative majority that he would not know what to do with it. In that opinion he (Mr. Plunkett) concurred—but he did not think the class that would be thus enfranchised would prove a dangerous class. To his notion a considerable amount of suspicion attached to this cry of the intense desire of the agricultural districts for this measure—he believed in point of fact that the agricultural population did not care for the franchise. In America, which was often pointed out to them by hon. Gentlemen opposite, they found that large masses of voters abstained from the poll altogether, and that election matters were to a great extent managed by wire-pullers. In England they had been obliged to let it be legal to convey the voters to the polling places for county elections—he believed there was not a county Member in the House who had not done it. He looked upon this as a kind of bribery, but it was done simply because otherwise the voters would not go to the poll at all; and out of the many thousands of persons with whom he had been brought in contact in the course of the recent election he had found very few who asked for this extension of the franchise. He looked, therefore, with some suspicion on the statement that there was a great desire for this measure. He did, however, believe, with the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt) that the miners were anxious to possess the franchise, and he should be glad to see them have it. But if they granted the franchise to the miners, and the protection of the Ballot was removed it would be merely conferring increased electoral power on the masters, and under the present circumstances it would be lodging the same power in the hands of the Trades' Unions. These were the two difficulties they had to steer clear of. The anomalies which had been referred to were such as always must exist under any state of things, but they were not of much more force than the argument that this measure ought to be carried because it was intrinsically good. A man might acknowledge, for instance, that marriage was intrinsically good, and yet he might deny that it would be good for him to marry to-morrow. The question had been discussed too much on the ground of the wishes of individuals, too little on the ground of public expediency. What they had to do was to look at the effect of such a proposal on the country, and to adopt it only when its advantages to the individual and to the country were found to correspond.


said, he hoped the House would extend to him the kind consideration which they usually afforded to a new Member. The only arguments they had hitherto heard in opposition to the Bill had related chiefly to the question of delay—they were asked to delay the measure; they were told that the time for it had not yet come. He thought, however, that this argument had little relevancy to the question really before them. Hon. Gentlemen opposite had maintained that the results of the elections had told them they were elected to support a Government whose chief functions were those of silence and consideration; and it was said that there was no reason at this moment for extending the franchise which was given to the boroughs by the Bill of 1867–8. He presumed, therefore, that it was feared that should a similar extension be given to the counties, that silence would become permanent, and that consideration so prolonged that the country would sink into eternal slumber. He did not think that would be the case. The question of delay appeared to him to be hardly one which they need ask themselves at" the present moment. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government in 1867, in bringing forward the Act for the extension of the franchise in boroughs, made use of words which he believed he was in Order in quoting to the House. Referring to a Resolution which that House had passed, the right hon. Gentleman said that— The being rated to the poor and the paying of the rates constituted a fair assurance that the man who fulfilled those conditions was one likely to be characterised by regularity of life and general trustworthiness of conduct.—[3 Hansard, clxxxvi, 10.] That was a principle which in that House ought not to be lost sight of. And why should not the same test be applicable to those whom it was now proposed to enfranchise? Three classes of persons would be enfranchised under this Bill—first, those who dwelt in the outskirts of parliamentary boroughs, who were frequently the most respectable of the working men, who had more consideration for the welfare of their families than for their own convenience; secondly, the householders of small towns that returned no Member to Parliament; and lastly there was the class, which alone seemed to be present to the minds of those who advocated this measure—the agricultural labourers. Representing, as he did, a group of boroughs in Scotland (Dumfries, &c), he would ask why the householders of Newbury should not have an equal right to vote with their neighbours of Andover? Why should the householders of Keighley, with a far larger population, not have the same privilege as their neighbours in Knaresborough? The real reason which caused hon. Gentlemen to oppose this Bill was that they did not consider the agricultural labourer fit for the franchise ["No, no."] He was happy to hear that "No, no" from the opposite side, because if the agricultural labourer was not unfitted, then it was admitted that the last remaining argument against the Bill was disposed of; for if the rural householders were sufficiently qualified and sufficiently educated to be able to use the franchise as well as the voters in boroughs, what remaining argument could be used against the Bill? It might be said that there was no demand for this Bill, and that it was not called for by the country. He begged to differ from hon. Gentlemen who used that argument. He believed there was a great and decided call for this measure. It certainly had not reached the point of agitation and violence; but would any hon. Member say that no wise measure was to be passed in the House without being forced on by violence from outside? Was nothing to be granted because men did not come down and demand a particular measure from the House? It seemed to him that there was no argument so revolutionary as to say—"You must hold tumultuous public meetings and create sufficient disorder, and then we will grant you all you require." He knew it was said that the Bill would destroy the balance of representation—it was said that if they had many more voters, they would so disturb the balance that there must be a redistribution of seats. [Ironical cheers.] He was surprised to hear that from the opposite side of the House, for he remembered that for many years they had sat still under inequalities quite as large as any that might be created under the Bill of his hon. Friend. Let him remind them that two noble Lords now sitting on the Treasury Bench were in that position. One noble Lord (Viscount Barrington) represented a borough of 6,700 inhabitants, and the other noble Lord, the Member for Liverpool (Viscount Sandon), represented a constituency with a population of over 493,000, which was not loss than 70 times that of the borough of Eye. Inequalities as great as that were in existence at this moment, and yet were looked upon as part of the Constitution of the country. Two other hon. Gentlemen sat on the benches opposite, one representing a town (Andover) with 7,100 inhabitants, and the other representing the large constituency of Marylebone, where there were 477,000, or nearly 60 times as great a population. Again, he might mention two other hon. Gentlemen also on the opposite side of the House, of whom one represented a borough (Knaresborough) with 5,200 inhabitants, whereas the hon. Member for Leeds represented a population of 257,000, or nearly 50 times the number. These inequalities did exist, and had existed for a long time, and he believed the hon. Gentlemen opposite were willing to allow them to remain with great equanimity. How, then, could it be otherwise than wrong to keep out persons who were perfectly qualified to use the franchise, simply because to admit them would cause inequality in the representation? Before he sat down, he would call the attention of the House to one single fact—that there were already in existence and enfranchised in some constituencies more agricultural labourers than would be enfranchised by this Bill. He regretted that he did not see on the Treasury Bench opposite the right hon. Gentleman who represented the constituency of New Shoreham (Mr. Cave), for he would have liked to have heard that right hon. Gentleman say how the Act of 1867 worked in that constituency. It might be said that was a borough and not a county. It was, in fact, an agricultural parish in the county of Sussex; and he would like the hon. Gentleman to inform the House if he did not think the other agricultural labourers of the county of Sussex might as well have the privilege of the franchise as those agricultural labourers whom he represented? The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had had the honour of placing the borough franchise on a clear and intelligible principle. He had placed the borough franchise in a position which he (Mr. Noel) believed would remain as it now stood during the life-time of every hon. Member of the House. It would be a singularly high honour if the same right hon. Gentleman was to give to the counties a franchise based on the same clear and intelligible principle, which would have an equally lasting effect, giving to the Constitution of this country a strength which at this moment it did not possess; and elevating a large number of loyal subjects of Her Majesty, who at this time had certainly a grievance.


said, that having the honour to represent a county (Warwickshire) in which great agitation prevailed among the agricultural labourers, he could not avoid making a few remarks on the subject before the House. It had been very moderately and ably introduced by the hon. Member and he heartily congratulated the hon. Gentleman upon it. As regarded the Bill under discussion, he could not concur in any measure which would remove the constitutional distinctions between the borough and county franchises, so as to place them on the same footing. The one franchise rested upon occupation, and the other upon property; and he entirely concurred in the views expressed by his hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) with regard to the consequences that would result from the assimilation of the two franchises—namely, that it would lead to universal suffrage. He had lately gone through the agricultural districts of South Warwickshire, and had visited Stratford-on-Avon and Leamington—towns in the country which did not return Members to that House—and nowhere had he met with any desire for the placing of the county franchise on the same footing as the borough franchise. He admired the qualities of the working man, and desired measures for his elevation; but he regarded him as a prey at present to political agitators; and in any view he did not wish to see him placed in that House at the expense of every other class of the community—as would be the case if this Bill were passed. Education ought to precede enfranchisement, and not enfranchisement education, as had been urged by the hon. Member who had just spoken, and when the working man was educated he (Sir Eardley Wilmot) would be ready to support the proposal that he should be enfranchised. As to the borough householder, he admitted that when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire proposed to extend the franchise, as he had done by his Bill of 1867–8, he viewed his proposals with alarm—but he would now admit that the right hon. Gentleman had exhibited as much wisdom as courage in carrying out his plans.


believed that the passing of this measure would have a good effect in Ireland, because it would bring again within the pale of the Constitution a large number of small holders who had been disfranchised some 30 or 40 years ago. He thought it of great importance that these unrepresented persons should be again brought within the pale of the Constitution.


said, that the real truth was that hon. Members opposite wished for a Reform Bill every four or five years, whereas, neither the House nor the country was at all anxious for a measure of that kind every time the subject suited the interests of political agitators, or whenever the Whigs happened to be in adversity. He recollected that when the Reform Bill of 1832 was passed, the Whigs believed that they were in power a long time—indeed, it was said that one Member of Brookes's threw up his hat and said—"We are in for life;" whereupon he was corrected by another, who said—"We are in for ever;" and nothing more was heard about a fresh Reform Bill, until Sir Robert Peel came into office; and then the agitation for a fresh Reform Bill immediately commenced—and from that time to the present, agitations had been got up whenever the Liberals were in trouble. Hon. Members opposite did not seem to be aware that if this Bill were passed, there would be a necessity for an immediate re-distribution of seats. The question before the House was, not as to the fitness or the unfitness of the agricultural labourer for the franchise, but whether we should have a fresh Reform Bill when we had so recently passed the last one. In his opinion, Parliament should not again enter upon the question of Reform until it had settled many pressing social questions of the day. He could corroborate many previous speakers as to the indifference of the agricultural districts to this question. In his communications with his constituents he had never heard the question of the reduction of the county franchise broached; and most of the Petitions which had been presented had been got up by agitators. He was much obliged by the manner in which the hon. Member, in moving the second reading of this Bill, had acknowledged the efforts which were being made by the county Members to ameliorate the condition of their cottagers. The truth was, that the county Members were most anxious that their tenants should be well housed. All had not been done that was required, but still a great stride had been made in the right direction. The hon. Member, however, had not done sufficient justice to those members of the working classes who, by their own industry and with the assistance of building societies, had become the owners of their own dwellings, and had thus obtained a vote for the representation of their counties. He hoped that many years would pass before the House would again consider the question of Reform.


said, he must congratulate his hon. Friend the Member for the Border Burghs on the stage at which this question had arrived, and on the able manner in which he had brought forward a question, in which he took so deep an interest, and to the principle of which no valid objection had been brought forward on either side of the House. It was true that the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) had opposed the Bill on its principle on the ground that it would lead to either a Republic or a Despotism; but the House was aware that the hon. Member had always had a vision of that kind before him, except when he had the still more alarming vision of the presence of the Pope. With that exception the question had not been whether the rural householder should or should not have the franchise, but whether he should have it this year. It was true that another hon. Member for Warwickshire (Sir Eardley Wilmot) agreed with the other hon. Member that this extension of the franchise must lead to one of two fearful alternatives; but at the same time he admitted that, although he had at first thought that the step which was taken at the time of the last Reform Bill by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government with regard to the borough franchise was a dangerous one, he now felt that the right hon. Gentleman had shown great wisdom and foresight in taking it. The House might, therefore, fairly ask the hon. Member not to be alarmed at the proposed extension of the principle to the county constituencies. However powerful might have been the speech of the hon. Member in moving the second reading of this Bill, the effect in favour of the measure was scarcely so powerful as that of the speech of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Salt), who had opposed it. The hon. Member had no fear of the extension proposed by the Bill itself—the only result the hon. Member appeared to dread was that if this Bill were passed, by some other Bill which might be passed at some future time the borough of Stafford might be disfranchised. The hon. Member stated that he opposed the Bill with the greatest hesitation, and that the Government was one pledged to silence and consideration. The House was well aware that the Government was a very considering Government; but surely some advantage should come from all this consideration? The hon. Member also said that the House ought first to wait and watch for the result of the Ballot Act. But really when an important Bill like this was proposed, and an hon. Member offered in opposition to it the arguments that the House had lately passed another Act, and that a Committee upstairs were considering that Act, and that therefore we had better wait—the arguments so based were, in his opinion, of little value. The Committee sitting upstairs was merely considering whether the Returning Officers should have certain payments made to them or not. The hon. Member for West Gloucestershire (Mr. Plunkett) said that the House should await the result of the working of the Ballot Act. But that was no answer to the rural householders. Both sides of the House were satisfied with the working of the Ballot Act. ["No, no!"] Well, at all events, the vast majority was. He therefore congratulated the hon. Mover of the Bill that this important question was reduced to a mere question of time. It was a question of whether it should be passed sooner or later, and he looked forward with hope to the time when hon. Gentlemen opposite would be its supporters. His hon. Friend might well be right in saying that probably this was the last Wednesday which would be occupied by this question, because, very likely, the matter would be taken up by the Government. The hon. Member for Somerset (Mr. Neville-Grenville) had stated that the country did not wish for a Reform Bill every five years, and that it especially wished not to be troubled with Reform Bills every time the Whigs were out of office. He might, however, remind the hon. Member that last time when the Whigs were out of office there was a Reform Bill; and history showed that when the Whigs were out of office nothing was more natural, more probable, or more likely than that a Conservative Government, especially one having the present Prime Minister at its head, should think about bringing in a Reform Bill. There could be nothing more natural than that the right hon. Gentleman should desire to complete the work he had undertaken of reforming the county as well as the borough franchise, especially as he had never produced any argument against the fitness of the rural householders for the franchise. As to the question of time—in his view the question was a pressing one, and there being no question of principle involved he thought Parliament was bound to set to work to settle it. It had been stated that the numerous body of the inhabitants of counties who did not now possess votes might be divided into three classes—first, those rural householders who were in the same condition as the present borough voters having the same occupation, and being in the same social circumstances; secondly, those who were occupiers in large towns that were not Parliamentary boroughs; and thirdly, that large class which was differently situated, consisting of the agricultural labourers and miners. Taking the first two of these classes, the factory dwellers in villages and the occupiers of these large towns would have a right to complain that they were not placed on an equality with their fellow-workers who lived in boroughs. True, it might be objected that there were and always had been anomalies in our Constitution, and that therefore these people must rest satisfied with the existing state of things; but that reply would not content them, and in two or three years their complaints would become so loud, and be so well founded, that Parliament would no longer be able to resist them. But when they came to deal with the third class, the circumstances were very different. This was pre-eminently a question of practical policy; it was, whether we should, in pursuance of old precedents, as had been our wont, adapt our constitutional machinery to the work it had to do, according to the social necessities of the time. The reason why we had proceeded in this country by reform, and not by revolution, was, that when new social forces had shown their power we had included them within the pale of the Constitution. Were we not in that position now? Was not this agricultural labour a new force which ought to be admitted within the Constitution? Were we not in this position—that if we were to make use of this force it would assist the Commonwealth, and that if we did not make use of it, it would be used against us? Should we not be increasing the power of Parliament by giving the agricultural labourers votes? Should we not diminish that power by denying them votes? No doubt, the labourers were the oldest class in the community; but, as far as the Parliamentary vote went, they were a new force. Until now they had been asleep, not knowing or caring anything about the suffrage; now they were awake and claimed the suffrage. ["No!"] If the point, whether they did or did not, was to be put before the House, this question would soon be settled. Now, thanks to the facilities of communication, thanks to their having a common cause and a common interest, they were coming into the possession of that power which was given by sympathy and common feeling. Until now, as citizens, they had been deaf and dumb; unable to express their feelings upon politics, to proclaim their grievances and wants; deaf to appeals from without, to incitements to improvement of their position, though, he was glad to say, deaf also to instigation to disorder. Now they had begun to express their opinions on political affairs, to proclaim their own grievances, to declare their own wrongs. Thanks to the political and the intellectual activity of the time, they were expressing themselves, and their leaders had become a power in the land. He indignantly repelled and lamented some of the teachings that had been given to these men, who were just waking up to a consciousness of their political rights:—it must not, however, be forgotten that their best-known leaders did not lay themselves open to such censure. The speech which had been made to-day by a working-man Representative—the hon. Member for Morpeth—showed the advantage the House had gained by his entrance into it, and he should be glad if a larger proportion of working Representatives of the country could bring their help to bear. He should like to see one or two leaders of agricultural unions, and one or two leaders of miners' unions, in the House. He did not doubt that that eminent man, Mr. Arch, would one day be a useful Member of the House. ["Oh!"] If he were here to tell the House that the agricultural labourer ought to be allowed the full privileges of an English citizen, the Gentlemen who now resisted the claim would welcome his genius and eloquence in support of it. It was not men like Mr. Arch only that the agricultural labourers had to hear. There were, undoubtedly, most incendiary statements brought before them. Would they be giving those incendiary advocates power by giving labourers a franchise? Would they not rather reduce them to powerlessness? They would, in fact, destroy these incendiary influences by including these labourers within the pale of the Constitution. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, themselves, when they went down into their counties, would then have to argue with these men, as men having votes, and they would find that there was now quite as great a spirit of inquiry among them as there was among the population of towns. Not only were these agricultural labourers awakening up for the first time to a consciousness of their ability to take a share in the affairs of the country, but it appeared to him that there were special circumstances connected with the present time that made it most necessary that their claims should be recognized. As regarded the Master and Servant question, that was a matter which must be considered; would it not be most desirable that Representatives of the agricultural labourer should aid in its consideration? Again, there were the Liquor Laws, on which, if the feeling of the agricultural labourers could be expressed, the House would better know the real position of the rural districts in respect to these laws. The Land Tenure Laws were entitled to a better consideration in the House, and into the discussion of that subject they ought to admit the Representatives of the agricultural labourers. Then as to a question to which he had directed particular attention—the question of education—he confessed he should like to hear the opinion of the country working classes on that subject. As to Church Reform, there were hundreds of thousands of the rural population to whom this matter was of the deepest and most vital interest, and he should like to hear from these people some expression of their opinion. He was not an opponent of the Church, but if he were, he would say that one of the causes of most vital injury to the Church would be to longer stop up the way of the agricultural labourer to attaining the Parliamentary franchise. He wished to say one word as to an argument often used in these debates, but which had been only alluded to by one hon. Gentleman that day—namely, that the House ought not to pass the Bill because of the historic traditions of the country; over that there had grown up two forms of representation—namely, property represented in the counties and numbers in the boroughs. Well, he for one did not believe in the historic truth of that argument. He believed that if they went back to the early history of the country, they would find that by means of freeholders in the counties and freemen in the towns, Parliament in those early times was constituted. The old electors were those who were not serfs, nor were the agricultural labourers now serfs. There was no precedent for the notion that they were to have one party to represent the property, and another the numbers of the country. Had such a notion been presented to our forefathers, they would have risen up against it. But whether there were historic truth in the statement or not, the argument was a pedantic one at the present day. It was not an argument that could be used in view of such a question as that now arising between master and servant in the rural districts. Could they tell the agricultural labourers now that they were represented by the farmers, that there was no antagonism of interest between them, and that they might trust the farmers to speak for them. It would be a mockery to tell them so, or to say to them that in the country property was represented, and not numbers. It was a matter in which the farmer and the labourer had different interests, and which ought to be considered from the point of view of the wage-receiving, as well as from that of the wage-paying classes. On the general question, therefore, and considering the special circumstances of the time, this was pre-eminently a question of practical politics. What were the objections raised to the Bill? The first was, that if votes were given to the country householders it would re-open the whole question as to the distribution of seats. He was not prepared to say it would not; but could they say to those people, "we cannot admit you because this other matter is to be dealt with?" That would have been no answer to the present constituencies in boroughs, and it was no answer to the country householders. But he believed that the difficulty had been enormously overrated. What was the fact with respect to his own borough? In Bradford, before the Reform. Bill of the Prime Minister passed, the constituency was under 4,000; now it was over 23,000. In the neighbouring borough of Pontefract the constituency had been increased from 700 to 2,000, but it was not found necessary to increase the number of Representatives for Bradford, or to give it a greater number of Members than Pontefract had. If any attempt, therefore, were made to postpone the consideration of the question until they had a logical and complete arrangement of representation according to population, the argument in support of it would have no more force than it had during the consideration of the Reform Bill of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government. Then as to re-distribution, he did not doubt that on its own merits a strong case could be made out for a re-consideration of the distribution of political power, or that their present "silent and considerate Government" might be ready to consider such case. But there was another reason urged for a postponement of the question which might have some weight on both sides of the House—namely, the effect a re-distribution would have on individual seats, and on the combinations of political parties. Well, if the case were one of overpowering necessity, hon. Members would find that, sooner or later, it would have to be decided upon its real merits, and that the question of individual seats, or even of party position, would be held to be of little account. It was very hard to say what party would gain by the passing of this measure. He had no notion before it became law which party would gain by the Ballot system. As it happened, hon. Gentlemen opposite had gained at the present elections; but the only guess he could make as to the present question was this—that that party would eventually gain who supported it, and that the party would eventually lose who opposed it. Had the late Government remained in office, and had he continued to be a Member of it, he would have done what he could to press this matter upon the attention of his Colleagues—though what they would have done about it he did not know. As an advocate of the cause, he was glad that the Conservative party had now special advantages for dealing with this question. They were the country party. The large majority of the county Members were supporters of the Prime Minister. As a manufacturer, and as a Member for a borough constituency, he would welcome the agricultural labourers within the pale of the Constitution. They were not serfs, and was it for county Members to exclude them? They were their neighbours—they knew their worth, their intelligence, their tenacity, their endurance—how loth they were to accept new ideas, but how hard it was to drive an idea from them when they had once got hold of it. County Members knew, too, how inclined the agricultural labourers were to follow and respect those above them, and around them, who did their duty towards them, and they knew also that if once a feeling of suspicion or distrust became implanted in their minds, it was very difficult indeed to uproot it. They were, therefore, eminently the men to come forward and welcome the admission of those persons into the ranks of self-government. There was a time when many Members of the Conservative party looked forward with apprehension to the working of the Reform Bill of the Prime Minister; but even the hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck) would hardly say-now that the "leap in the dark" was not taken with foresight. It was for that party now to complete its work. No man knew the condition of the counties, or understood the agricultural labourer better than the right hon. Gentleman opposite the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), to whose weight and authority with the Conservative party, as much as to that of the Prime Minister, was owing the passing of the late Reform Act. He asked the right hon. Gentleman, had he loss faith in the agricultural labourers of Oxfordshire than he had in the new electors of Bradford? On that side they had the satisfaction of knowing that the dealing with this question was merely a matter of time—it was admitted on all hands that it must be settled sooner or later, and his belief was that it would be settled soon. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister did not happen to be in the House when his hon. Friend the Member for the Border Burghs, without bitterness or complaint, alluded to an expression which fell from the right hon. Gentleman on the hustings in the country. When he heard the expression used, he confessed he did not think that the right hon. Gentleman, who was the greatest master of the use of adjectives he ever knew, was quite so skilful in their use as he usually was when he said that the fact of his hon. Friend bringing forward this question was "disgusting." Perhaps, what the right hon. Gentleman meant was that he was disgusted he would not have the opportunity of bringing forward the question himself. However that might be, his hon. Friend had taken up the question, and he believed that before long it would be taken up by the Government of the day. The agricultural labourers claimed the franchise, and public opinion, which, after all, was the ruler of the country, was coming every day more and more to the conclusion that it would be only just and wise, and Constitutional and safe, to grant the claim. He fully believed that if this Parliament did not settle the question the next would. They might depend upon it that it was a necessary work to give to that class the same fair treatment which had been extended to the rest of the Queen's subjects. It was, as he had said, a necessary work. It must be done sooner or later, and the sooner they set about it the easier they would find the task.


Sir, I am sorry that any observation I have made anywhere should be displeasing to the hon. Gentleman who brought forward this question, and still more am I sorry that I had not the advantage of listening to his speech to-day. The fact is that, as it was the second reading of a Bill he had himself introduced, I—perhaps rashly—inferred that he would not address the House so early in the day, and therefore I was not in my place as soon as I ought to have been. But I can assure the hon. Gentleman, however I may have been reported—and, as I have once before said, a good deal has happened since those observations were made—I clearly remember that the feelings under which I made them were not such as they have been interpreted to be by the hon. Gentleman and by others. I do not for a moment wish to challenge the right of an independent Member of the House to deal with any question, and certainly not with a question even of the importance of organic reform of the Constitution. I know well from my experience of this House that there are very few questions which ultimately greatly interest the country which have not been and which are not first introduced by Members not connected with the Government. But in the particular instance which I had in my mind on the occasion of making the observations referred to, I wished to express my disapprobation of an independent Member bringing forward a great question of organic reform in our Parliamentary Constitution behind a Government who were themselves pledged to its principle. Under these circumstances, I confess—although I may not have used the not very happy epithet referred to—I did express my entire disapprobation of such conduct; because I think that if the party was in the condition we have heard, it was the duty of the Government of the country themselves to deal with the question. Now, Sir, what has surprised me most in the course of the remarks I have listened to to-day is that, on the question of the conceding of political privileges to classes of our fellow-subjects, the expediency of such a course has been advocated on the plea that they are the rights of man. The right of certain classes to the franchise has been put forward by some speakers as the basis of our legislation. And I must say that many others who have addressed the House have really in the drift of their observations—although with some caution—assumed a position which in my mind I should have thought hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House would regard not only as perilous, but as one which would not and could not commend itself to the acceptance of Parliament. The distribution of political power in the community is an affair of convention, and not an affair of moral and abstract right; and it is only in this sense that we can deal with it. Now, as regards the classes which the hon. Gentleman by his Bill seeks to invest with the franchise, I have no hesitation in giving my opinion. I have no doubt that the rated householder in the county is just as competent to exercise the franchise with advantage to the country as the rated householder in the towns. I have not the slightest doubt whatever that he possesses all those virtues which generally characterize the British people; and I have as little doubt that if he possessed the franchise he would exercise it with the same prudence and the same benefit to the community as the rated householder in the town. But we must remember that the classes who would receive the franchise if this Bill of the hon. Gentleman were passed, are not made up of the simple materials which some speakers in this debate have chosen to assume. I was struck very much by an observation of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the County of Galway (Captain Nolan), who said there was this difference between England and Ireland in respect of this question—that in regard to England, this was a question of admitting the labouring classes to the suffrage, while in Ireland it was a question of allowing various classes—small proprietors and others—to regain the suffrage: but he assumed that the question before us was merely the question whether the labouring classes in England should possess the franchise, and some hon. Gentlemen—Representatives of English constituencies—who ought to be better informed on the matter than the hon. and gallant Member for Galway, have likewise mistaken the question. The right hon. Gentleman who has just addressed us with so much passionate fervour (Mr. W. E. Forster), said we were bound to admit the agricultural labourer to the franchise—a matter, according to the right hon. Gentleman, of vital importance. Unless we admit the agricultural labourer to the franchise, how, he asks, are we to legislate upon that important question, the relations between Master and Servant, which, he says, is a most pressing question, and must occupy our attention next Session. Then, he asks, without admitting the agricultural labourer to the franchise how are we to deal with the liquor laws? And, said the right hon. Gentleman, looking forward with severe scrutiny, unless you enfranchise the agricultural labourer how are we to deal with the laws affecting the tenure of land? What inference, Sir, am I to draw from these important observations coming from so authoritative a quarter? Why, that an immediate Dissolution is contemplated. If the agricultural labourers are to send Members to the House of Commons to influence our decisions on those questions, it must be plain that the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends have been trained so to manœuvre their forces as to bring about an immediate Dissolution, by which we can alone obtain the verdict from the new constituencies. Now, Sir, the classes who would be enfranchised by the Bill of the hon. Gentleman are really of a very various character. I speak with some confidence as to the facts because it has been my duty to examine very much into these details, and I have very little hesitation in saying that if the Bill were passed the majority of those it would admit would not be of the labouring classes. The hon. Gentleman will be surprised to hear that, as I shall show, the number of the agricultural classes would not by any means amount to a moiety of those who would be admitted. It is just as well that we should have clear and accurate ideas on this question. Now, a word as to the agricultural labourers. It is said—although hon. Gentlemen opposite appear to have arrived somewhat rapidly at a conclusion on a matter as to which it is difficult to form an accurate opinion—that the agricultural labourers demand the franchise. Well, the agricultural labourer throughout Great Britain is certainly not an identic animal. He differs in every county, and he differs in the same county very materially. The condition of those who are labouring on the land in the northern parts of England is one of great comfort, and I may say of great prosperity. The condition of the agricultural labourer in some of the southern parts is certainly very different. It forms a painful contrast, but that condition, I am bound to say, has greatly improved since the time when the agricultural community expressed their opinion—although the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford says they have now done so for the first time—I mean the time of the Swing riots, 40 years ago, just on the eve of great political changes in the country. The agricultural labourer, if you contrast his condition in 1830 or 1832 with the present time, even in the worst parts of the southern counties of England, has immensely improved. The average increase during the 40 last years in the rate of wages even in the most—having been criticized for my epithets I will not say "degraded" part of our country population—but where they enjoy loss the comforts of life has certainly been 15 per cent—some say more:—their toil has been greatly diminished by the introduction of machinery; and we cannot deny that—although there is room for improvement which I hope will be accomplished—their abodes are infinitely better. Well, Sir, I am glad to hear the agricultural labourer spoken of now with such respect by hon. Gentlemen opposite. I remember the time when the tone was different. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford has in the handsomest manner confessed that the agricultural labourer is not a serf; but I remember that until very recently we were always told that he was, and it is to me a subject of considerable satisfaction to hear his virtues at last acknowledged by hon. Gentlemen opposite. But in making these observations it does not at all follow that because there is a great movement in that class at present—a movement which I for one look upon with no distrust and no fear, and which I believe will ultimately, and I hope will speedily, end in a change in their condition very advantageous to the country—it does not, I say, at all follow that we should immediately, without thought, without the slightest reference to many weighty considerations which I will endeavour briefly to lay before the House—that we should—above all, in a moment of excitement—conclude that the only step we should take is to invest them with the franchise. I should say, on the contrary, that when a class is in a state of excitement—whatever may be the cause, however just it may be—when there exist a variety of circumstances, hopeful I trust for their eventual benefit, but not conducive to calm reflection and cool judgment—I do not think there is a primâ facie case for suddenly advancing them to and investing them with the franchise. Sir, there is one excellent feature in this movement among the peasantry of England, and it is this—the stir that is being made among them. I am throwing aside particular instances of exaggeration and artificial agitation—which, I think, may be traced to speculative individuals, who will always have a hand in anything like a popular movement—but generally speaking the stir in the agricultural community does not, in this instance, arise from any sense of oppression. It is not a sense of oppression which has made them discontented with their lot; on the contrary, although they may not, taking them altogether, have risen as rapidly as the other working classes, but perhaps more regularly, still their condition has always been one of progressive improvement. But they feel that they live in a time when great advances are made in all classes, and they are not satisfied that they have advanced sufficiently. But you never find—generally speaking—that they impute their condition to any oppression on the part of their employers. This is apparent from the absence of any acts of violence—they are ready to argue their case. They argue it often with great fallacy, and they often decide upon a course which will end in their disappointment. But, as far as the great body of the labouring population is concerned, they are as little influenced by embittered feelings as probably has ever been known in a great popular movement. Now, Sir, my great objection to the Bill of the hon. Gentleman is this—that there is no ease in which large classes of our fellow-subjects have been invested with the franchise without a general distribution of power in consequence being considered. That is a point which has been almost entirely evaded throughout this debate, and has only been noticed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford to show that he was aware of the difficulty. The right hon. Gentleman, with great skill, having announced to the House that he was aware of the rock ahead, said there was nothing in it, and avoided it altogether. In fact, the only illustration upon which the right hon. Gentleman founded his belief that there was nothing in the objection, that you cannot invest large bodies of the people of this country with electoral privileges without considering and reviewing the redistribution of political power, was a quotation from his own poll-book, in which he informed us that 3,000 original electors had been turned by me into 20,000, and that I had not added Members to Bradford. Now, let us look at the case in a little more businesslike manner. I may remind hon. Members that in the year 1866 the House came to a most deliberate—I may say a most solemn—decision, in one of the fullest Houses I recollect, that any enfranchisement of large classes of the country must be accompanied by a redistribution of seats. That decision was come to in an important division, for it virtually changed the Government. Well, in 1867 the then Government brought forward a Reform Bill which greatly increased the numbers of the constituency. Did they attempt to do that without revising and considering the subject of that redistribution of political power? There were at that time 45 seats at the disposal of the Government, obtained by the disfranchisement of small boroughs—the total disfranchisement of four, and the partial disfranchisement of the rest. Of these 45 seats, 25 were allotted to counties, and the rest to boroughs, including one to an University. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman will see that we acted entirely in unison with the principle laid down in the Resolution; and we did it in this way because it was argued that a man who had a vote as a rated householder in Bradford, if he passed the boundary of his borough, might meet another rated householder who had no vote, and that was an anomaly. We found that, unless we revised and re-distributed the Parliamentary seats, all those anomalies would be greatly aggravated by adding great numbers to the constituencies. Let me mention to the House the addition we made to the number of electors in England and Wales. I have no data before me for a similar calculation for Scotland and Ireland, though I have details on other points. The boroughs of England and Wales contain 1,800,000 inhabited houses, providing for the register 1,250,000 voters; that is, the voters are to houses as 25 to 36. The counties contain 2,500,000 houses, providing at present 720,000 voters, after deducting 80,000 for qualifications within boroughs. Assuming that the county householders would come upon the register in the same ratio as borough householders now come, the county voters, under the Bill of the hon. Gentleman would number 1,740,000, while the borough voters would remain at the number 1,250,000; that is to say, household suffrage would add 1,000,000 to county voters, and cause county voters to exceed borough voters by 500,000. And now, as the result, 1,740,000 county voters would return 187 Members to Parliament, while 1,250,000 borough voters would return 297 Members. Is it possible, as the right hon. Gentleman says, "to be deaf and blind" to facts and circumstances like these? Is it possible for any man with the responsibility, I will not say of a Minister, but of a Member of Parliament, to propose to legislate in that harum-scarum way, on the ground that there are anomalies, because a rated householder out of Bradford has not a vote, and a rated householder in Bradford has a vote? And is he to remedy that anomaly by producing the exaggerated and aggravated national anomaly which I have pointed out? I do not mean to say there is no remedy except by resorting to absolutely equal electoral districts. I do not want to put the case on that extreme position. Est modus in rebus, and we must remember that in all these questions great difficulties can be avoided by an Assembly which has such vast experience of practical politics as the House of Commons. But no one can deny that the consequence of adopting the recommendation of the hon. Member for the Border Burghs, and enfranchising these classes, is that, practically, we must look also to the re-distribution of seats at the same time. No one can deny that in so doing we must move in the direction of electoral districts. Why, all our late legislation for the last 40 years with respect to Parliamentary reform and the distribution of seats has been leading to electoral districts; and although I, for one, should think it a great misfortune if we entirely destroyed all local influences and distinctions—although I believe if we did we should much weaken the spirit and character of the country, and although I hold that we ought to cling as much as possible to maintaining those local influences and distinctions—still it is impossible not to see that if you do re-consider and re-distribute political power in deference to these views, you must, to a great extent, be approaching electoral districts. I will take the whole population of the United Kingdom at 31,450,000. Now, divide that into equal electoral districts. It may never be divided into equal electoral districts, but we must recollect that there is a constant tendency to that. You would have one Representative for each 48,000 of your population. What would be the effect of that upon particular constituencies? If the country were divided into equal—or anything approaching equal—electoral districts, the result would be this:—In England and Wales 147 boroughs out of a total of 198 would lose their right to special representation, as containing fewer than 48,000 inhabitants. Among them would be Carlisle, I am sorry to say, Gloucester, the City of Oxford, Cambridge, Chester, Tyne-mouth, Coventry, Chatham, Exeter, and Northampton. In addition to the above 147 borough constituencies, four counties in England and Wales would cease to be specially represented. In Scotland, out of a total of 22 boroughs, 13 would lose special representation, including Perth and Stirling; while in Ireland, out of a total of 31 boroughs, 27 would be disfranchised, including Derry and Water-ford. Now, we are approaching the possibility of such consequences as these arising from our dealing with the numbers in the constituencies; and I think it is well for hon. Gentlemen to pause and reflect a little on the possible results of such a proposal. These results, as I have shown, would be that 147 boroughs in England and Wales, 13 in Scotland, and 27 in Ireland—that is, 187 constituencies in the United Kingdom out of a total of 420—would be disfranchised. If you go to that excess, you must see that, in making a movement of this kind without considering those collateral conditions and arrangements which are inseparably connected with it, you are striking a blow, and a fatal blow, at the borough constitution of the United Kingdom. Now, Sir, I am not prepared to take that step. I believe our system of borough representation is one which, on the whole, has been very favourable to the enlightenment and the liberties of England and of the Kingdom generally; and I cannot say that I think this is a policy which could in any way be encouraged. I never have been an upholder of small or close boroughs. I entirely agree in the opinions expressed by Mr. Pitt at the beginning of this century. A long time has elapsed since they were uttered; but they were worthy of the man who had that great reach of mind which distinguished Mr. Pitt. He was prevented, unfortunately, from carrying out the policy he wished to pursue; but I hope we have been able, in the course of the last 40 years, to remedy this in a very great degree. Therefore, I am not myself in favour of small close boroughs; and as to those young gentlemen who wish for introduction into public life, there are many ways in which they can be introduced, without being coddled and nursed in hot-houses of that kind. At the same time, I should be very sorry to see the class of boroughs with 20,000 or 25,000 of population all erased from the Parliamentary map; and I must add, after the most able speech made to-day by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Salt), in proposing the Amendment, that I should be very sorry even to see the borough of Stafford disfranchised. But we must prepare ourselves for this if we are about to effect such immense changes in the representation of this country as would produce this consequence—that nearly 2,000,000 of voters would be represented by 187 Members, and only 1,250,000 by nearly 300 Members. It is quite clear that the moment you have passed an enfranchisement of this kind, we must be prepared to have our time entirely occupied in efforts to re-assert the balance of the Constitution and obtain some tolerable representation of the people of England, which we shall otherwise have completely destroyed. There is no doubt that through that variety of representation which is so much admired and appreciated, the boroughs of England have greatly benefited. Sir, these are the main reasons why I am entirely opposed to the Motion of the hon. Member for the Border Burghs. I agree with several hon. Gentlemen who have spoken in this debate in thinking that it is an unwise thing for a State always to be speculating in. organic change—especially a country like this, an old country—a country influenced greatly by tradition—a country which respects authority from habit—a country which expects, in the distribution of political power, that it should be invested as much as possible with a venerable character. Nor can I shut my eyes to the fact that in this matter of organic change and in the redistribution of political power, our course of late years has been very rapid and decisive. I look forward to the consequences of those measures— whether they he those for which I and my Colleagues were responsible, or those for which right hon. Gentlemen opposite were responsible—with little alarm, with unshaken confidence in the good sense of the people of England. But we must remember that they have had a great meal to digest, and I am not quite sure that they have yet entirely assimilated the nutrition which has been profusely supplied to them. We should not now, in a most unnecessary manner, disturb the political conscience of the country when, as I think, the public mind is not intent upon change, and when the very class on whose position the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford has mostly rested his argument and his appeal—namely, the agricultural labourers—are only a portion, and not the largest portion, of those interested in this question. The mind of that class is occupied, not with political change, but rather with the elevation of their social condition; and when the disposition of the country is favourable, beyond any preceding time that I can recall, to a successful consideration of the social wants of the great body of the people, I think it would be most unwise to encourage this fever for organic change, and that it would be most expedient on the part of the House of Commons, by their vote to-day, to give a decided negative to the Motion of the hon. Gentleman.


, in reply, said, the right hon. Gentleman had sought to terrify the House by a terrible picture of the changes which, in his view, the Bill would occasion in the representation of the country. The right hon. Gentleman had shown how the borough representation would be affected, and what great changes would be made in the representation of England and Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman, however, forgot that he had himself in 1859 brought in a Bill making the borough and the county franchise identical, but which he did not propose to accompany by any such sweeping disfranchisement of boroughs. The Bill of the right hon. Gentleman in 1859, instead of taking away 217 borough seats, only proposed to take away 15 single seats from 15 constituencies. They, therefore, now knew what the right hon. Gentleman would have the House accept from him as a responsible Minister of the Crown; but this was not the way in which he spoke last year when he was in Glasgow. Now, for his own part, he would prefer what the right hon. Gentleman proposed to do in 1859 to what he said in 1873. He would only refer to one other argument of the right hon. Gentleman, who said that this was a bad time to be dealing with the representation of the labourers, who were now in a state of great excitement; but in his (Mr. Trevelyan's) opinion, so far from being a bad time he thought it was the very best. Let them look at the example of the miners in the North. The elections amongst the miners in the North were all conducted with the same order as that in which the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt) was returned—a Gentleman who had that afternoon addressed the House, and had given them such a taste of his quality as to show that he was well worthy of occupying a place amongst them. Looking at the elections in the mining districts, they would find instead of disorder the utmost good feeling, in marked contrast to what took place south of the Tyne, where considerable excitement prevailed. He would strongly urge the House to give those men who were now disfranchised the earliest possible opportunity of showing that they could exercise the franchise not only without disturbance, but with credit to themselves and advantage to the whole community.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Aves 173; Noes 287: Majority 114.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Second Reading put off for six months.

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