§ Order for Second Reading read.
, in presenting a Petition in favour of the Bill from about 60,000 persons, members and friends of the National Agricultural Labourers' Union, said, he was told that the Petition had been signed by some persons more able to write than those who were represented by the names; but he had it on the best authority that the Petition was a genuine one, and that the names were such as were entitled to be upon a Petition to that House. He begged to present it.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Trevelyan.)
§ MR. SALT
, in rising to move as an Amendment that the Bill be read a second time that day three months, said, he felt great regret that he had not the pleasure and advantage of hearing the observations of his hon. Friend the Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan) when he introduced this important question to the House. But he regretted it the less because the discussion of to-day partook rather of the nature of a friendly tournament for the ventilation of the subject than of a real contest which had to be decided 1062 at once, inasmuch as, even if his hon. Friend were to succeed to-day in carrying the Motion for the second reading, the period of the Session was too late to advance the Bill to an ultimate conclusion. Not having had the advantage of hearing the observations of his hon. Friend, and not having them at hand to refer to, he (Mr. Salt) must fall back upon his memory to collect, as far as he could, the arguments which his hon. Friend had used in favour of this measure on a previous occasion, and, in doing so, he must be allowed to say his hon. Friend had always with great ability put forward the strong parts of his case in the most prominent manner, whilst at the same time he had concealed the weakness of his position. His hon. Friend had appealed to the House to consider that the agricultural labourer was a man in whom they must feel a deep interest and a sincere sympathy, whatever their political opinions might be. He had put forward that individual as a man who was, to a certain extent, deprived of just rights which, as a citizen of this country, he ought to possess, and who consequently failed to acquire his legitimate weight and his proper advantages in the community. He (Mr. Salt) was bound to say, what he had said before, that there was very much in the argument of his hon. Friend that he was prepared frankly and fully to concede. He acknowledged, that there was an anomaly in our present system. He acknowledged that the claims of the agricultural labourer seemed somewhat strengthened by the fact that a man living on one side of the line which defined a borough from a county might possess the privilege of the franchise, while a man equally intelligent, with equal interest in the welfare of this country, equally able to form a correct political opinion, was without the franchise on the other side of the line. And he would concede this third point to his hon. Friend—that, so far as the agricultural labourer was concerned, he (Mr. Salt) could only say that he would admit him to the franchise, not only without any fear that he would exercise the privilege with less intelligence or moderation than the borough householder, but with considerable satisfaction. But he must remind his hon. Friend that when we came to the consideration of the franchise, we 1063 must consider a citizen of this country who possessed it, not merely as a single individual with interests concerning himself apart and separate from all others, but as one whose welfare and prosperity were bound up indissolubly with the affairs and the interests of the nation at large. And what was the claim of that man, whether we regarded him simply as an individual or as one of a great community? The arguments of his hon. Friend rather suggested that he had a claim to the franchise simply as a matter of right. Well, he (Mr. Salt) acknowledged that that individual had a right. But to what had he a right? The agricultural labourer had the same right and the same claim which every other person in this country had, whether man, woman, or child. He had a right to free government and to sound, well-ordered legislation. It seemed to him (Mr. Salt) that when we came to consider the question of the franchise and the reform of the Constitution of this country, what we had mainly to consider was, not so much the right and possession of an individual as to whether the particular measure that was proposed was one which would lead to free government and to sounder and stronger legislation. That was the view which had been held by others of far greater abilities and of much more importance than himself. There was a debate years ago upon a question somewhat kindred to that which was now raised by his hon. Friend. That was a debate with which his hon. Friend was probably familiar. It was held in the House in 1848. Upon that occasion, in reply to a Motion which was made, one of the Leaders of a great Party said—In my opinion, that which not only every man of full age, but the whole population of the Kingdom, have a right to is, the best government and the best kind of representation which is possible for the legislation to give them. The main object of our institutions is good government and the welfare of the people, and we ought not, for the sake of some abstract principle, to lose sight of that great object."—[3 Hansard, xcix. 919.]Those were to his (Mr. Salt's) mind words of great wisdom and of sound political policy, and they were uttered by a well-known statesman—Lord John Russell—one of the Leaders of a Party to which we might apply the epithets great, historical, and extinct. We had some experience to guide us with reference to legislation resulting from a reform 1064 of the Constitution. He was going to tread on rather delicate ground, but he thought it was necessary we should look upon this question fairly and frankly. In the year 1867, a Reform Bill was passed with which we were all very familiar. What had been its result? The immediate result of that Reform Bill was a period of great legistative activity—a legislative activity which, perhaps, in some respects we might not see reason to regret, but it was legislation of a kind which he might call alcoholic. That fiery and stimulating legislation produced two different results in the minds of different persons—in some minds it left an unnatural craving for strong and excessive legislation, other minds it left in a state of enervated prostration. The resultof that fiery legislation brought us to another period—to the great change that occurred in 1874. In that year a Government came into Office which was strong, wise, and moderate, and they said—"We have had enough of this kind of legislation, and we will pursue a different, a milder course." The consequence was, that they were now going through a course of legislation of a homely character; it was now a homely subject, and he would apply to it a homely epithet—he would call it suet-pudding legislation; it was flat, insipid, dull, but it was very wise and very wholesome; and he very much preferred the latter kind of legislation to the former. He, however, did not allude to that point either to praise his friends or to blame his opponents, but to draw the attention to this fact, that, whichever course of legislation we were subjected to by the Government, whether it was alcoholic legislation or suet-pudding legislation, we were always asked to take our legislation in enormous and excessive quantities. With reference to the alcoholic epoch, there was one occasion, which most hon. Members of the House remembered, when the legislature demurred to accept all that was presented to it by the Government of the day, and we were given a very large dose of alcohol under a Royal Warrant. And it was not so many weeks ago when it was suggested, rather in the way of comedy than of tragedy, that hon. Members should sit on the benches of the House till they had consumed every bit of suet-pudding which had been presented to their notice. What he wanted 1065 to submit to his hon. Friend was the doubt he had whether the present state of affairs would be improved if we went further this moment in the direction of Reform. He was afraid the result of his hon. Friend's Bill would be that we should have our alcoholic doses and our suet-pudding put before us in larger quantities and with more violent alternations. That was one doubt he had about the wisdom of this measure. He was now going to touch upon another point which he knew he must deal with with great caution. The object of the representation of the people was clear—to obtain the best possible legislative Assembly that the country could create. Now, what had been the progress of the House since the passing of the Reform Bill of 1867? Had it improved in tone, in character, and in strength? Of course, to that question he was not going to give an answer, but he asked his hon. Friend, and likewise every other hon. Member, to consider calmly and seriously the subject for himself. And it was a question of the most grave importance when we thought of the position which he House held in the Constitution of this country. That Constitution was one composed of three Estates—the Commons, the Lords Spiritual, and the Lords Temporal, with Royalty at the head; and he presumed that some theorists would hold that if our Constitution were in an absolutely perfect condition the power of these separate bodies would be tolerably equal. Of course, we knew well enough from history that that position had never been arrived at. At one time or another some one part of the Constitution obtained large, if not predominant, power, and at this moment the part of the Constitution which held legislative power; and whose power was likely to increase rather than diminish, was the House of Commons. Therefore it was of the highest consequence, as he said just now, that the Assembly should be great in its character, strong, weighty, yet moderate in its force, and wise in the use of it. That House, in his opinion, ought to manifest the very best elements of the English people—their quiet and deep courage, their strong common sense, their love of order, and, perhaps above all, their obedience to the law. During the last few years he had watched the progress of change in 1066 that House with great care and anxiety, lest it should fall away from the high character it ought to possess, and looking back to the events of this Session, which were fresh in the memories of all, and to which he would make but a passing allusion, he could not refrain from expressing his deep regret that so much valuable time had been wasted on questions of trumpery Privilege which were likely not only to damage to a certain extent the character of those concerned, but also the character and position of the House. He doubted under these circumstances whether it was wise to pass this measure at the present time, lest the House in any way should lose that high tone and character it had so long possessed as representing the best feelings of the English people. Leaving that view of the question, he must say he had noticed that in autumn certain hon. Members were liable to a disease—a sort of choleraic eloquence—and some autumns were particularly unhealthy. Some hon. Members made orations at a distance from their constituents, and these were not confidences and friendly quiet communications between a Member and those persons who returned him to Parliament, but they might be termed manifestoes to the world at large. One of the Leaders of the Liberal party, who, he was sorry to say, was not at that moment in the House, in the autumn of 1874 made such a speech as he (Mr. Salt) had referred to, in which, mentioning this Bill, he said he could not conceive anything more dangerous than the Counties Franchise Bill passed by Mr. Disraeli—that it was a measure which belonged to the Liberal Party, but that if it should come into the hands of the Conservatives it would be a most dangerous measure for Liberals to advocate. He (Mr. Salt) had puzzled over these words, and there was a great deal in them he could not understand. Why should it be more dangerous for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire to pass a County Franchise Bill than it would be for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London? He had been led to consider the relative position of these two right hon. Members; one was a Prime Minister in esse, and the other a Prime Minister in posse; one represented an agricultural county, and 1067 the other a portion of the most populous place in the world; one had distinguished himself by passing a great Reform Bill, and the other had distinguished himself by sea and by land in organizing the Navy and in endeavouring to improve local administration, but he had had nothing to do with Reform Bills. One lived among agriculturists, and occasionally made addresses to them; the other had, perhaps, never seen an agricultural labourer except through the windows of a first-class railway carriage. Therefore, he was unable to understand why it was so dangerous for one right hon. Gentleman to pass a County Franchise Bill, while it was not so dangerous for the other to do so. The only meaning he could attach to the words was one which could not have presented itself to the mind of his right hon. Friend; and it was that the Bill was to be regarded in a political sense as affecting the interests and the balance of parties, and not as one to be passed solely and entirely for the benefit of the country at large. It was true it might be a Party question, and it must be a Party question; but it ought to be a race between the two Parties as to which should do the best for the country, and not of rivalry as to which should gain some mean advantage. These words, coming from his right hon. Friend, did make him anxious, but he probably did not feel the full force and effect of them. That, however, suggested another argument for pausing before they gave a second reading to the Bill. The real gist of the Bill was not so much what was contained in its few clauses as what lay behind them. It had been avowed over and over again that it was impossible to stop at that measure, and that there were beyond changes probably larger and more serious than the hon. Gentleman would wish to propose. If we were to have immediate legislation, it seemed to him of the utmost consequence that we should understand clearly and distinctly what lay behind it. The measures which were suggested as likely to follow were—re-distribution of seats, triennial Parliaments, payment of Members, and electoral districts. With regard to the former, there had been presented from Stafford, the borough which he represented, a Petition in favour of re-distribution of seats; but he was not prepared on the part of those 1068 he represented to sacrifice a privilege which was dearly prized by them, which was well exercised, and which for centuries had been well exercised, without being satisfied that there was some great national and constitutional reason for the proposed change. The second suggestion—that of triennial Parliaments—had been conclusively disposed of for this Session; while as to the third, if the payment of Members or of their election expenses was seriously raised, he should have something to say; but he thought the experience of other countries, of which he had ample evidence, was not such as to lead us to adopt the practice here. As to electoral districts, we had some singularly clear and satisfactory evidence. Stroud was an electoral district, and a good sample of one; it was partly town and partly country; it was exactly the sort of constituency we should have—perhaps better than we should have—with electoral districts. Stroud, as a constituency, was not homogeneous. Its people were divided in character and in interest, and the result had been that in 1874 there were four Parliamentary contests and four Parliamentary Petitions. It would be very disastrous if the whole country were divided into constituencies similar in character and in misfortune to that of Stroud. As he had said, he had no fear or jealousy of the agricultural labourer, and if he were enfranchised should welcome him as an elector with the greatest satisfaction. But, seeing that a Reform Bill of great importance was passed only recently, he thought it was inopportune to agitate the country and disturb the House at present. We had much better leave these things alone for a time, and let the country settle down and ascertain the feeling of constituencies. From the curious state of political parties, the country had evidently not yet settled down since the passing of the last Reform Bill, and the time was therefore inopportune for any further change in that direction. Another question of some importance was, whether we should reduce our electoral system to the dead level of one uniform franchise? The probable results of such a change were extremely difficult to ascertain. The step would be contrary to the principles of representation which had guided us in years past, and he was not prepared to adopt so serious a change without much 1069 further consideration and discussion. That Bill was only a step to further innovations, the character and results of which it was impossible to ascertain, and neither his hon. Friend nor anybody else submitted them for the consideration of the 'House and of the country. Upon these grounds, but with some reluctance, he opposed the Bill, and begged to move its rejection.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Mr. Salt.)
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
The House, Sir, has so often allowed me to express my opinion on this subject that I would not do so now if I did not think the time had come when on both sides we ought seriously to consider what I may call the Parliamentary position of this question. It is no longer a question on which there is any real disagreement of opinion as regards its merits. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Salt), in his very candid and able speech, began by acknowledging the fitness of county householders for the franchise; and the question of the assimilation of the county and the borough franchise has been for some time decided on its merits, and is now merely a question of time. If there was any doubt before last year, there can be no doubt in the mind of any man who heard or read the debate of last year; and there can be little doubt in the mind of anyone who heard the arguments of the hon. Member who opposes the Motion. If there was any doubt last year, it was set at rest by the remarks of the Prime Minister in opposing the Motion of the hon. Member for the Border Burghs. The right hon. Gentleman told us there were 1,000,000 county householders who had exactly the same claim to the franchise as those of the towns, except that by accident they lived outside the boundaries of the towns, and who would be enfranchised by this Bill; and the onus probandi rests on those who say they should not be allowed to have it. I agree that in these matters we cannot entirely govern our decisions by what may be called the abstract right of every Englishman to have a vote. I am still of opinion, without debating that right, that we shall arrive at the best attainable government at present, and for some time, by restricting the 1070 franchise to householders, and retaining what is called a hearthstone suffrage, instead of giving a vote to every man. In the present state of society it is better to confine the franchise to men who are heads of families and have a stake in the country. At any rate, this 1,000,000 men who have hearthstones outside the boroughs have a right to ask us for a good reason why they are not treated in the same way as owners of hearthstones within the boroughs. What was the answer of the Prime Minister last year? It would be impossible for me or the hon. Member for the Border Burghs to put the case stronger. "The right hon. Gentleman said—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."—[3 Hansard, ccxix, 251.]The right hon. Gentleman, in that statement, only confirmed statements previously made; and it shows that he now looks upon the assimilation of the county and the borough franchise in the same manner as he looked upon the borough franchise before he passed his Reform Bill, by which he lowered and extended the franchise in boroughs. My hon. Friend, in moving the rejection of this measure, made some remarks, though with bated breath, about keeping up different franchises, but he did not dwell much upon that point, and I am not surprised he did not, considering how the Leader of his Party is pledged to the contrary principle. One advantage of the Prime Minister being so pledged is that we hear little of the argument—which I myself think almost insulting—that the basis of the county franchise is property, and that of the borough franchise numbers; as much as to say that in towns we allow human beings to be represented, and in the counties bricks and mortar and clods of earth. For the disappearance of that argument from the discussion we have to thank the Prime Minister. In one way it is satisfactory there should be this acknowledgment of the claims of the county householder, because it shows that both sides of the House are convinced of the justness 1071 of the demand; but in another way it is unsatisfactory there should be this acknowledgment, and that nothing should follow. There is more discontent, and more ground for it, by reason of this acknowledgment. If we were able to say to these men—"We are sorry not to admit you, but we cannot do so without endangering the Constitution"—that would be an answer which would satisfy them if they were reasonable. What we are obliged to say to them—or, rather, what you (the Ministerial Party) say to them is—"We do not deny that you are fit for the franchise; but it is troublesome to us to give it you now. It does not matter much now, and therefore we hope you will say nothing about it." This answer does not satisfy them, and there is no reason why it should. Still less does the argument that the great object is the good government of the country, for they feel, as they ought to feel, that they have suffered in practical legislation because they have no votes. A large proportion of them are agricultural labourers; we all acknowledge how immensely important a class they are, and yet they are the only class unrepresented in this House. We have this anomaly—we have the employers of labour represented, but we have not the men who are employed by them represented, and the agricultural labourers think that though their interests may not be intentionally neglected, they are at least lost sight of. They think that the interest of the farmer is put before the House, and that of the labourer forgotten, and that they have reason to complain. Can there be any doubt that if the agricultural labourers had votes, the education of their children would have been better cared for, as much cared for as the education of the children of the town artizans; and, to take the subject which has occupied us this year, would not their dwellings have been better looked after? These are only illustrations of the extent to which, under a representative Government, which is founded upon the principle of admitting all classes to a share in the representation, that class does suffer which is unrepresented. What answer are we to give to this million of excluded county householders? Have we been too much occupied with other measures? I doubt whether this million of men will think so when the legislation of the Session is described so 1072 contemptuously as it has been described by the hon. Member, who, instead of speaking of the Government measures as grandly as the Leader of the Party in the other House, characterizes the Government legislation as "suet pudding." I do not dispute the correctness of the description, I only differ from him in thinking that if we were obliged to live on suet pudding, we should be the energetic Englishmen that many of us are. I will not differ from the hon. Member as to the loss of dignity to the House of Commons involved in the numerous debates on privileged questions; but why has our time been so occupied? Because we have had no serious question before us. My hon. Friend ought to consider whether the time we have wasted this Session does not suggest that this was a Session in which we might easily have set to work to solve a problem which must be solved. Many on this side of the House, no doubt, would prefer to see the question of Church disestablishment come up as the next main question; I do not suppose hon. Members opposite would; but, however that may be, if this question is to come up, I had much rather, in the interest of the country, in the interest of religion, and in the interests of the Church itself, have all classes in the country represented in this House. My hon. Friend has some doubt whether the Reform Bill of 1867 did not go too far; but he cannot hark back; he cannot take the franchise from the artizans of the towns. The Prime Minister has pledged his Party and the country irrevocably to that step. Having done that, he cannot think, looking at the composition of the country, that there was less danger to be apprehended from admitting the labourers of the towns than there will be in admitting the labourers of the country. He cannot think we shall be less likely to have labour arrayed against capital, or town against country. I dare say I am arguing against the interests of my Party. I believe the other side would, under the operation of this Bill, discover many of the class in whom they take such delight—namely. Conservative working men; and the only thing which will prevent their doing so is opposing this measure and thus setting the working men in the counties against them. The Party in power consists largely of county Members, who hate this County 1073 Franchise Bill; and therefore the Government which rests upon the support of farmers and of hon. Members returned is supposed to find its interest in opposing the measure. If this be true, it is an unsatisfactory answer to the men whom the farmers employ—to the million of men who are excluded from the franchise. The Members for the small boroughs are supposed to be afraid of this measure, and my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford admitted as much at the close of his speech. For fear of re-distribution the Members for the small boroughs will keep the county householders out of the franchise indefinitely. The longer, however, it is put off the worse it will be for the small boroughs. A very moderate arrangement may be made now; but the repetition against this Bill of many such speeches as were made by the Prime Minister last year will make a moderate arrangement all the more difficult. I concur in the opinion of the hon. Member that this is a question infinitely too important to be decided by considerations of Party interest. For anything I know we may be making a bad Party move in advocating a measure which farmers and small boroughs dislike; for anything I know, a good many agricultural labourers may vote against us; but of all considerations which should influence public men I think that of the immediate Party effect of a measure is the one we ought to entertain least. I think honesty is the best policy in this as in many matters, and that Party will gain in the long run which earnestly advocates a good measure. We may be told there is not much agitation or pressure for this measure. Well, in answer to that, I do not know that the people who have votes care so much for it as they ought; but we have no reason to suppose that those who have not votes do not care. The series of meetings of agricultural labourers, which are most interesting meetings, show us a new class taking part in public affairs with great moderation and earnestness, and avowing that injustice will be done them if a settlement of the question is longer postponed; and the Petition presented to-day, signed by 60,000 labourers, is not a Petition to be lightly treated. What do hon. Members wish? Do they desire a repetition of the agitation which preceded the measures of 1830 and 1867? The time 1074 has gone by when the House has to wait for agitation, or thinks it necessary for Park palings to be pulled down, especially when we know that the palings in this case would not be Hyde Park palings. One of the greatest arguments in favour of this measure is, that the class most deeply concerned advocate this change with so much moderation and so completely within constitutional limits. The Parliamentary position of the question ought to be calmly considered. Here are 1,000,000 householders who have not votes simply by reason of the accident that they live outside the boundary of the boroughs, some hundreds of thousands of these excluded householders being agricultural labourers, a class which we acknowledge to have claims, and a class which is not represented in this House. These men have patiently, persistently, and earnestly for years claimed that they should be treated in the same manner as urban householders. Hardly a Member of this House, or any public man out of it, or any writer of the Press, denies the justice of their claim; there is, in fact, no disagreement of opinion. No one doubts they ought to be voters. The demand made from these benches is met by the answer—"We agree with you, only let us pass this measure at our convenience." This answer does not satisfy these men, nor ought it to do so; for these men who have no votes believe, and reasonably believe, that their interests are being neglected, as compared with other men who have votes. Is it not, therefore, for this House to consider how long it can persevere with prudence and dignity, in a policy which would be absurd if it were not dangerous—namely, the policy of excluding from the Constitution this million of our fellow-subjects, and treating their Petition for admission within its pale with indifference, if not with contemptuous indifference, while wevie one with another in acknowledging the justice of their claim.
§ MR. RIDLEY
, who had also a Notice on the Paper for the rejection of the Bill, said, he opposed it not on Previous Question grounds, but on grounds which went to the root and principle of the matter. Before, however, referring to the principle of the measure, he had some preliminary objections to make. In the first place, he doubted whether any Wednesday 1075 afternoon was more uselessly spent than this was in discussing this unpractical measure. Next, he thought the House had some right to complain, because this matter was again brought forward as an annual Motion, notwithstanding that last year it was rejected in a new Parliament by a large majority. Then, he thought it was not consistent with the dignity of the House, or the best interests of the day, to be agitating organic changes in the settlement of 1867; and if organic changes were to be made, it was incumbent on those who advocated them to display more consciousness of the great consequences involved than was evinced by the provisions of a Bill which might be described as an ill-considered Reform Bill. He would not oppose an abstract declaration that many who did not possess the franchise were entitled to it, but a question of such magnitude could not be disposed of in this way. No one ought to support it who did not take a statesmanlike view of the consequences of reading it a second time. It would then become a Government measure, and stop the way of useful legislation. It was no longer a question of mere personal fitness. No one now contended that the householder in counties was not as fit to exercise the franchise as the householder in towns. If industrious habits and self-denial were the sole test of the franchise, it would be preposterous for any hon. Member from Northumberland—representing as he did a population possessing these qualifications—to refuse to give them a share of that power which had been handed over, he was sorry to say, to thousands of illiterate and ignorant voters in towns. The main objection put forward by the advocates of the measure was, that the Reform Act of 1867 had made matters very much worse as regarded the comparison between county and borough voters by having created an inequality that did not before exist, and by having given rise to much consequent dissatisfaction and discontent. It was, therefore, contended, that Parliament ought to give votes to every rated householder in order that he might not feel in the position of a political nullity by the side of his neighbour. He would challenge that argument. It was based on the fallacy that the franchise was a personal privilege, and that the suffrage was to be given throughout 1076 the country, not so much for the purpose of securing good government as to please a large number of persons by giving them votes, and placing them in possession of full citizenship. Some, like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone), went still further, and declared that the franchise was a natural right, and that, unless the voter was unfit, he must have the franchise. If, however, as he contended, the suffrage existed for the purpose of securing a good House of Commons, which represented not merely the numbers, but the interests of the whole country, then he was prepared to deny the anomaly. It was of the very essence of representation that it should be local and not personal—various and not uniform. If hon. Members held this constitutional doctrine, there could be no anomaly that could not be justified in giving a vote to one man and not to another who lived on the opposite side of the boundary. If there was no anomaly, there was no injustice. If, however, hon. Members admitted the personal theory of the suffrage, they most materially strengthened the claim to the franchise of all those who were householders, and thus made it three times more difficult to resist those further democratic concessions which were sure to be demanded within a short period of time. But he denied that there was any ground of anomaly, or any reason for allowing the principle of the Bill. If the principle of the Bill were not to be conceded on any ground of anomaly, the matter then became entirely one of policy or expediency, and the question which the House had to consider was whether it was expedient to maintain the distinction between the borough and county franchise—a distinction which had grown with the growth of our Constitution. To put it in another way, he would ask whether uniformity of the franchise was so desirable a thing that, for its own sake, it was expedient to take a leap in the dark? It was assumed that the Act of 1867 had proved a success, or that, at all events, it had not proved so disastrous as some of its opponents had feared. He maintained that the House of Commons fairly represented the feelings and sentiments of the whole nation; it was the part of reasonable men to try and employ that efficient instrument of Government which the country now possessed. 1077 At all events, he protested against a change which could not stop at the mere admission of large numbers of voters to the electoral body, but which must involve very large consequences in the immediate future, and greater changes than were effected by the Reform Bill of 1867. There had always existed a distinction between the borough and county franchise. He would not insist upon the antiquity of that distinction, because in the opinion of some hon. Members opposite that might be an argument why it should be attacked. It had, however, conduced to that variety in our constituencies and our representatives which had been an important element in the Constitution. The tendency of the present Bill, on the other hand, was to reduce the existing variety in our representative institutions, and to bring things to one level, thereby impairing, instead of improving, the constitution of that House. From the tendency of modern legislation the representation seemed likely to be divided between large county divisions and big towns. There had been of late a considerable encroachment on the counties by the town element. He did not wish them to be regarded as antagonistic, but the natural consequence was to take away the influence of the 40s. freeholders in the counties. This Bill would destroy the representation of a great number of the centres of industry, and was extremely well adapted to create a number of large and unwieldy constituencies, and the return to Parliament of men either of enormous wealth or prone to lend themselves to all the popular opinions of the day. It was all very well to talk of the arbitrary lines dividing boroughs and counties, but they had, at all events, lasted for a long time, and had come to be connected with historical associations, and thus possessed a living reality in the minds of men. It was, therefore, extremely unwise and unnecessary to destroy the individuality of these boundaries. In the smaller boroughs the inhabitants not only resided together, but were engaged for the most part in the same pursuits. They had, therefore, better means of exercising influence and forming a sound public opinion than a more scattered population, and he thought it unwise to proceed further in the direction of disfranchising centres of industry which 1078 might not come up to a certain standard of popuation. Every organic change rendered it much more difficult and dangerous to resist further concessions. In 1867 only two or three voices were raised in prophecy that fresh demands would probably be made for the extension of the franchise. One of these voices was that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright); but even the Party to which he belonged did not suppose that within five or six years of a settlement which it was thought would last for a generation an agitation would be raised for a measure like the present. If a thing were just and right, by all means do it and have no fear of the consequences. He maintained, however, that this was not a question of right or justice, but of policy and expediency, and it was only reasonable that the House should review the position in which it would be placed in regard to further demands of a similar kind on future occasions. Another argument was that the agricultural labourer was an element that ought to be introduced into the Constitution. The hon. Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan) admitted that the question was not altogether the admission of the agricultural labourer, because it was more and more assuming the character of the admission of town districts into the county constituencies. Outside the House, however, that Bill was viewed as a measure for enfranchising the agricultural labourer, and that was the opinion of the meetings presided over by Mr. Arch. With regard to the argument that the Bill would introduce a very desirable Conservative element whenever the questions of the Established Church and the land came up for settlement, it was, he thought, based on a mistake, and confounded representation with the franchise. It was possible to give them votes without giving them representation. There were at the present moment boroughs in the position of agricultural boroughs which did not represent agricultural interests; and he maintained that the passing of the Bill would not to any very considerable extent enfranchise the agricultural labourers. Certainly that would be the effect of the Bill with regard to the Northumbrian peasantry, because of the system of hire and housing which prevailed in that county. Those persons would either be 1079 kept out of voting altogether, or they would vote in such a minority that their voices would not be heard. He maintained that the Bill would not in this sense enfranchise the agricultural labourer, and certainly not in his own county, because, in the first place, it would not to any considerable extent give them votes; and, secondly, because they would be swamped by voters of another description. Another argument was based on the supposition that the franchise offered the best means of educating the labourers in counties. The hon. Member for the Border Burghs said that public instruction followed fast on the suffrage. No doubt, the feeling of responsibility that ought to attend the exercise of the franchise might add somewhat to the character, as it also gave a certain status to the man who exercised it. But the House must take care that the influence already given was not taken away by the large influx of new voters. In 1867 they had given cause to the old voters to complain of the diminution of the electoral power they possessed. Had there not been evinced in some of the new constituencies a marked decrease of political discrimination, and had there been no instances even of electoral ignorance and incapacity? He objected to this Bill, not only as to the time and occasion on which it was introduced, but also because of its principles and circumstances. The country did not want a Reform Bill; and if it did, this was not the Reform Bill it would want. For these reasons he should support the Amendment most cordially, and he trusted that the House would endorse it by a large majority.
§ MR. FAWCETT
said, that if this were really, as it had too frequently been been considered and treated, a measure to enfranchise agricultural labourers, or that such at least would be one of its important consequences, there would be presumption on his part, as a metropolitan Member, to rise so early in the debate; but it had been shown by the Prime Minister among others, on a former occasion, that the majority of the persons enfranchised by the Bill would not be agricultural labourers, but artizans exactly analogous to those town workmen who already possessed the franchise. Every year in which this Bill did not pass would increase the injustice complained of, because the natural tendency 1080 of the population in these districts was towards an increase, and new manufacturing villages were arising all over the country. In Yorkshire there were five boroughs with an average population of leas than 6,000, and in each of these boroughs, which were neither thriving nor prosperous, every householder had a vote. Scattered over the same county, at the same time, were a great number of manufacturing villages, or "towns," as they would be called in the South, with an average population of more than 20,000 intelligent, independent, and industrious inhabitants, everyone of whom laboured under a sense of injustice and inequality, because they knew that, although deprived of the franchise, they would obtain it if they went to live in any of the small boroughs near them. He would put another case, which was distinctly felt in the constituency that he represented. Hon. Members on both sides would agree that nothing showed more conclusively a man's care and thrift than his anxiety to take his wife and children to some healthy place in the country, where those children could be reared with the greatest possible advantage. If a man, who had for years lived in one of our metropolitan boroughs, and having a delicate wife and children, made great sacrifices to give them the benefit of fresh air, taking them to some such place as the Shaftesbury Park Estate, or elsewhere in the country, he would find himself as entirely disfranchised as if he belonged to the criminal or the pauper population. Having said thus much, he was perfectly prepared to go as far as the hon. Members for Stafford (Mr. Salt) and North Northumberland (Mr. Ridley), in not resting his support to this Bill on any ground of abstract right. He wished, in the most distinct way possible, to state that he did not consider that any individual in a community had an inalienable right to the suffrage, or that it should be conferred on any class if it would not be for the benefit of the whole community. On the other hand he maintained that the exclusion of any body of their countrymen from the suffrage was an evil and not a good in itself, and that those who advocated such an exclusion were bound to prove that there was some advantage associated with it. The hon. Members for Stafford and North Northumberland had asserted that the object of all enfranchising 1081 measures was to improve the legislative machinery. That was no doubt to a certain extent true, but it was only a partial truth. If enfranchisement was associated with deterioration in the efficiency of the legislative machine, then undoubtedly they ought to pause before passing such an enfranchising measure. But he ventured emphatically to assert that the object of enfranchisement was not simply and solely to improve the legislative machine. If they did not in the slightest degree alter the personal character of that House by a great measure of enfranchisement, he, for one, should maintain that that measure was desirable and beneficial, because, although the personal character of the House of Commons might not be altered, everything which we cherished would rest on a surer and safer basis if we interested as many people as possible directly in the good government of the country. But in looking at this subject, not as one of abstract right, they had to consider what would be the probable effect of such an enfranchisement as this Bill proposed. In this case, as in all others, a little experience was worth a great deal of theory, and they had conclusive experience to guide them in this matter. He supported the Bill, therefore, for this among other reasons—that of the 1,000,000 of labourers who would come under its operation, it enfranchised 600,000 persons of the same character, pursuits, and manner of life, as those who already possessed the right to vote under the great Reform Bill of 1867. Now, if that Reform Bill had been a failure, if it had produced mischief in the country, whatever might be the abstract rights in favour of extending the suffrage, he for one would say—"Even if we cannot retrace our steps, let us be warned by the past, and not assent to further disaster or further failure." But could anyone pretend to say that the Reform Bill of 1867 had been either a disaster or a failure? Would not the legislation of the last eight years compare favourably with that of any previous eight years in our history? The hon. Member for Stafford had said that since the present Government came into office their legislation had been judicious, wise, and prudent. If that could be said of a Government, of whom could it also be said? Why, of the majority who placed that Government in office, It 1082 was not the Government that possessed those qualities. They simply represented the majority who gave them political power and continued them in their present position. Therefore, according to the hon. Gentleman's own showing, on the most recent occasion, the new electors had exercised their powers with wisdom, judgment, and prudence. Now and then something slighting might be said about "the residuum," or some constituency might be pointed to in which a certain number of votes had been sold for glasses of beer; or, as had been stated by the hon. Member for North Northumberland, in which a popular delusion happened to obtain a triumph at the poll. But if there was a popular delusion in this country, it was infinitely better that it should obtain expression in that House. Nothing had been so fatal to popular delusions as giving their advocates an opportunity of stating them in that Assembly. Look back into the history of 1847. Violent political views had been advocated for many years. The great advocate of those views was returned to that House, and what was the result? Those views were expounded, they were met, and from that moment they had almost ceased to exist. But admitting all those drawbacks and slighting things said about the new constituencies, if they turned from these mere accidental incidents and viewed the subject in its broad aspect, was there any hon. Member upon the other side of the House who was prepared to rise to say he thought it was a misfortune that the enfranchising measure of 1867 was passed, and that he would desire the House to retrace its steps? Had not the Parliaments which had been elected under household suffrage been as loyal to the Crown and the institutions of the country as any which had preceded them? Had they not proved themselves just as careful and anxious for our national honour and renown? Had subversive or revolutionary doctrines been predominant since the new electors gained political power? All this was refuted by what they observed at the present moment in the House of Commons. The electors, including the new electors, had placed in power a stronger Conservative Government than had been in power for the previous quarter of a century. Prom the point of view of experience, therefore, 1083 nothing whatever had happened since the town householders were enfranchised in 1867 to make them pause in enfranchising the small class who lived in towns, but not in Parliamentary boroughs. And now with regard to the agricultural labourer. The hon. Member for North Northumberland—somewhat unconsciously as it seemed—advanced the strongest argument that had yet been urged in this debate in support of admitting the agricultural labourer to the franchise. He said that we did not want any personal representation. We did not want one dead, uniform level, but all classes, feelings, opinions, and ideas represented in that House. Why, that was the reason why he (Mr. Fawcett) thought so great a class as those who ministered to the most important of all our industries should no longer be excluded from political representation; Two years ago the then Prime Minister supported this Bill, and particularly on the ground that he thought the agricultural labourers ought to be enfranchised. Not one of the right hon. Gentleman's Colleagues on that occasion objected to the support which he promised to give to the proposal; and, of course, the right hon. Gentleman gave his support, not as a private Member, but as the Prime Minister of England. In 1874, moreover, this Bill was supported by 175 Members of that House. These facts alone seemed to him to afford conclusive justification for the hon. Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan) persevering in this measure. But there was another and perhaps far more important justification, and that was that every argument which had been urged in favour of enfranchising the agricultural labourers two years since—nay, even one year since—had gathered strength since that time. It had been remarked again and again that the agricultural labourers were going to surrender all the advantages which some people supposed were associated with guardianship and protection; that they were going to be independent, and that the relations between them and their employers would be exactly analogous to those which prevailed in other branches of industry. Well, if that was the case—if the period of guardianship and protection had ceased, and if they were going to be like the labourers in any other branch of industry, 1084 why should they be the only important class of labourers in this country who had not political power? But he would bring forward a specific fact that had happened since this Bill was last discussed, which he thought would convince the House that in the new state of things and under this change of relations, it was absolutely impossible any longer to withhold the suffrage from the agricultural labourers. In the autumn there was an election in the county in which he resided the greater part of the year, which he ventured to think was one of the most important that had been fought in England for many years. A Conservative, well known and highly respected, was introduced to that constituency, and it was stated at the time that he had the support of the Prime Minister, and it was perfectly well known that he had the confidence of the Conservative Party generally. That Gentleman would, under ordinary circumstances, have been returned by a triumphant majority. But what took place? The farmers took the matter into their own hands, they cast the recommendation of the Prime Minister contemptuously aside, they forgot the great service which had been rendered to the Conservative Party by the candidate who was selected in the landed interest, and they said—"We are determined to return as our Representative a gentleman who has espoused our cause in the dispute with our labourers, and who has assisted us in winning a great triumph over our labourers in that dispute." The Conservative candidate, in his retiring address, said—"It is evident that this election is not a political one. The farmers in large numbers are determined to support the candidate who espoused their cause in a dispute with a large class who did not possess the political franchise." Now, could there be anything more unfair than that if one party to a dispute should think it of the first importance that they should have political Representatives in that House, the other party to it should be left in such a position that they had no chance of obtaining political representation, even if they should show a desire to obtain it? To carry the illustration one point further, he wished to show the peculiar wrong done to the labourers, and the mischief inflicted on the country by our present system. The hon. Member 1085 who was thus selected by the farmers because he had assisted them in obtaining a triumph over their labourers stated the other night that the labourers objected to compulsory education. Could there be anything more ludicrous and absurd than that the hon. Member who was elected to a seat in that House because he had assisted the farmers to gain a triumph over the labourers should come forward and say in their name that they did not want this and did not want that? On this point, he (MR. Fawcett) ventured most emphatically to contradict the assertion of the hon. Member. Within the last few hours he had the opportunity of conversing with the esteemed and trusted leader of the agricultural labourers, and he put to him this question—"Suppose you had been in the House when it was asserted by the hon. member for Cambridgeshire that the agricultural labourers were opposed to education, what would you have said?" The reply was—"I should have got up at once and stated in the most explicit and distinct manner that the vast majority of the agricultural labourers were in favour of compulsory education, and would cordially and gratefully welcome any measure having that object in view." The agricultural labourers had themselves supplied one of the strongest arguments that could be advanced in favour of their enfranchisement. Five years ago he was told that they were going to enter into a great industrial contest, and when he remembered how their children had been neglected, he, for one, feared that many violent opinions would be expressed, and many unwise things done; but he unhesitatingly asserted that in the industrial history of this country no trade dispute had ever been conducted with so much moderation, judgment, and forbearance as had been shown between the agricultural labourers and their employers. There had been no rattening, no picketing, no breach of the peace, no resort to violence, but the labourers had shown a shrewd sense, and had got hold of the secret of what was required to improve their condition—namely, migration and emigration. If they had been the most carefully trained economists they could not have acted with greater wisdom, caution, and judgment than they had done. Before he concluded, he wished to say that he entirely 1086 agreed with those who maintained that sooner or later the Bill which they were considering must be associated with a measure for the re-distribution of seats. Last year a remark was made to the effect that, if this Bill were accompanied by a measure for the re-distribution of seats, that measure must be based on some gigantic proposal for equal electoral districts, which would disfranchise every borough with less than 40,000 population; but there was not the slightest reason why that should be the case. He did not want to see simple uniformity, but variety in the representation in that House, and he believed that equal electoral districts would not conduce to secure that variety. If the House admitted the right and justice of this measure of enfranchisement, how could they hesitate to push it forward? Why was this not a convenient time? Was it because this was a period of peace and repose? Could there be anything more contrary to the ideas of true Conservatism than that they would not peacefully grant that which was calmly asked and temperately demanded, but would wait for those troublous times when, perhaps, what they could now grant with reason and justice would then have to be conceded in order to calm discontent and allay apprehension?
§ MR. RODWELL
said, after the very pointed allusion which the hon. Member for Hackney (MR. Fawcett) had made to him, he felt it due to those who had sent him to that House to state that the hon. Gentleman had spoken with a total misunderstanding as to the facts. He had been represented by the hon. Member as the Mere Representative in this House of a class. He denied it altogether. He was no more the Representative of a class than the hon. Member himself. He utterly denied that it was in consequence of his having fought the battle of the farmers against the labourers that he had been returned to Parliament. He claimed to be as much the friend of the labourer as of the tenant farmer, and if the hon. Member would take the trouble to seek for information, he would find that at the outset of the struggle he was put aside by the farmers; and so far from having fought the battle of the farmers against the labourers, he took to himself credit for having acted as Mediator between the two. He would appeal to to the hon. Member for Bristol 1087 (MR. Hodgson), whose advice he had, whether anything ever fell from him in public or in private which did not tend to heal the wound which had been opened by the conduct of the delegates? He was himself actually hooted down by the farmers at one meeting on the ground that he was "too milk-and-water" for them. He never abused the labourers; but he did condemn the agitators, who used arguments which were condemned by hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House as well as by himself. During the whole of his canvass the question of labour was never raised, and he did not raise it, because he wished it should be put at rest. When the hon. Gentleman said that he had been taken up by the farmers against the nominee of the Government, he must remark that it was new to him to hear that any Government would presume to interfere between the right of the people of Cambridgeshire to choose their Representative and himself. Therefore, he would like to know on whose authority the hon. member stated that he came forward to oppose the nominee of the Government? He did not believe that the Government ever did interfere. The hon. member had also said of him that he was brought forward by the tenant farmers in opposition to the landed interest; but he should like to know who the landed interest were at that moment who objected to him as Representative of Cambridgeshire? The hon. member's facts were not correct, and therefore the argumen he founded upon them fell to the ground. Then the hon. Gentleman stated that he (MR. Rodwell) had said something the other night contrary to the fact, as to the feelings of the agricultural labourers on the subject of compulsory education. Now, the hon. member had not the same opportunity of knowing the feelings of that class as he had. What he said the other day was, that the labourers were anxious for education, but that the temptation was too great, and he hoped that something would be done which would enable them to avail themselves of its benfits. What he tried to do was to remove the imputation that the labourers were opposed to education.
§ MR. ANDERSON
said, he had no wish to enter into the personal matter which the House had just heard discussed. He would rather direct his 1088 attention to the remarks of the hon. member for North Northumberland (MR. Ridley), whose argument was the constitutional one—namely, that the franchise was not given as an abstract right, but merely as a matter of policy in order to secure good government. He would like to ask that hon. member, and all who agreed with him in that view, who was to be the judge of what was good government? He (MR. Anderson) maintained that an intelligent artizan, or even an agricultural labourer, had just as good a right to form an opinion as to what was good government as had any hon. member in this House. The hon. member also said that that House fairly represented all classes of the community. Now, how could it be said that the agricultural labourers were fairly represented by the nominees of the farmers and the landed proprietors? They knew quite well that the agricultural labourers had been very often of late in hostility to the farmers, and yet they were asked to be content with being represented by the nominees of those farmers. But further, he did not agree with the remark of the hon. member for Hackney (MR. Fawcett) on this subject. He thought the right to the franchise was an abstract right, and before they withheld that abstract right from any man in the community, the majority were bound to show that to extend it to those whom it was proposed by the Bill to enfranchise would be productive of some injury to the community at large. He thought the majority had a right to decide on a matter of that kind; but it was a question of withholding a right, and not of extending a privilege. The hon. member for North Northumberland also laid stress upon the importance of maintaining the distinction between the borough and the county franchise. Now, he (MR. Anderson) saw no ground whatever for maintaining any distinction either between the voters in counties and those in boroughs, or between the Representatives of counties and boroughs. The right hon. Gentleman the member for Bradford (MR. Forster) thought it very hard that the agricultural labourer should be deprived of the franchise; but there was another very large class for whom he (MR. Anderson) would plead—namely, those in the neighbourhood of large industrial centres, yet not included within any burgh. For instance, 1089 he would take Glasgow. The Parliamentary boundary of Glasgow did not embrace the whole of its population; there was a large district just outside of Glasgow which was in the neighbouring counties. Why should a man be a voter in one street when his brother, perhaps, in the very next street, a man of the very same class, and following the same occupation, was disfranchised? He thought there was a great practical injustice in such a state of things, and that that class had a right to be represented. Although he would not go so far as to say that they should have equal electoral districts—and nobody had as yet contemplated that—yet he thought the tendency should be in that direction, so as to get rid of the absurd anomalies and distinctions between the county and borough franchise. When the Prime Minister, a year or two ago, spoke on this question, the principal objection which he urged to moving in this direction—and it was thrown out as a taunt to the Liberals—was that it would disfranchise all the small boroughs, because it must be accompanied by a re-distribution of electoral power, and that the Party which would suffer by such a measure would be the Liberal Party. That was a threat which had no effect whatever upon him. He would not give his vote on the question that day in any Party sense. What the House had to consider was whether what was proposed was just or unjust. He maintained that the existing state of things involved a practical and absolute injustice, and he was prepared to vote against that injustice, whatever the consequences to either Party might be.
§ MR. BENTINCK
said, he had listened with great regret to the tone of this debate, so far as regarded those who supported this measure. It appeared to him that their great object had been to make this question a source of agitation and ill feeling between the employers and employed. The tenour of some of the speeches which had been delivered was to show the labourers that they were the persons who were suffering, but he protested against that being made a ground of political agitation out-of-doors. In one thing he entirely concurred with the right hon. Gentleman the member for Bradford, when he said he wanted to see the whole country represented before they dealt with the Church. In that he 1090 quite agreed, for he was sure the more fully the country was represented, the larger would be the amount of support which the Established Church would receive. The right hon. Gentleman desired to see this measure carried, and that it should be followed by what he called a moderate re-arrangement of the electoral system. Now, there could be no moderate re-arrangement if this Bill passed. The effects might be for good or evil, but there could be no escape from electoral districts. He (MR. Bentinck), however, believed its passing to be an utter impossibility. Looking at the effects of the measure in a party sense, he believed the Conservative Party would be gainers. Something had been said of the meetings which had been held and the Petitions which had been presented in favour of the Bill; but the right hon. member for Bradford was too old a tactician not to know very well how such meetings and Petitions were engineered. Up to the present time nothing existed to show that the question had been viewed by the people in any light except that of a lever for political agitation on the part of those who wished to disturb the existing arrangements of the country. But to come to the alleged grievance, he rather thought it was urged by the wrong parties. How did it happen that those distinguished members who represented cities and boroughs had been so suddenly impressed with the wrongs of the counties? These hon. Gentlemen had misconceived the question. There was no doubt a great grievance, but not the one which they had pointed out. The grievance was not the want of the franchise amongst the labouring people, but the want of a better representation of the rural districts. They were entitled to the representation of a majority in the House, but they were in a considerable minority, and the effect of carrying the present measure would be to perpetuate the existing grievance and virtually to disfranchise those whom it professed to assist. The whole question was one of confusion between enfranchisement and representation. The Bill sought to enfranchise, but not to give representation. It had been his misfortune to be present when the Reform Bill of 1867 was passed, and he still looked upon that measure as reflecting the utmost possible discredit upon those by whom it was introduced. It had led 1091 to a great extension of the franchise and to something else, and he did not wish to extend to counties that state of things which was too prevalent, under which bribery reigned triumphant. What happened in the borough of Stroud? There had been a series of most animated and vicious contests, with such a division of opinion that it was almost impossible that the constituency could be fairly represented. But, more than this, the system of bribery which prevailed there would be dominant in every constituency where, as in Stroud, parties were nearly balanced, and the result would depend on the votes of that class described by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham as "the residuum" and the abject class. Could there be a stronger argument against electoral districts?
§ MR. MACDONALD
altogether denied the charge which had been brought against the supporters of this Bill, that the meetings and Petitions in its favour had been "engineered." On the contrary, he knew them to be the honest expressions of the opinions and the firm convictions of those whose signatures they bore. With respect to the observations which had been made to the effect that there had not been sufficient agitation on the subject, he urged the House to accept the calm and unimpassioned expression of the opinions of the people, as expressed in their Petitions and at public meetings, and not delay action until riot and disorder ensued. What did the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down (MR. Bentinck) want? Only last Saturday he (MR. Macdonald) had attended a great meeting of pitmen in the county of Durham when 50,000 men were present, and when a unanimous resolution was passed in favour of this Bill. That meeting passed off without it being necessary to take a single person into custody, and the same was the case with a similar meeting which was held last year. It ought to be gratifying to the hon. Baronet the member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) that without the aid of a Permissive Bill 50,000 miners could enter and leave the city of Durham without getting into the meshes of the law for intemperance and disorder. Yet these were the people who were refused liberties which other people possessed. He held it to be the abstract right of every individual who paid taxes for the 1092 maintenance of the country that he should have the right and power to vote. He admitted that even those who opposed this Bill had indulged in expressions of kindliness towards the unenfranchised in the rural districts, but those expressions being accompanied with a refusal of the franchise only reminded him of the lines—Perhaps it was wise to dissemble your love,But why did you kick me down stairs?The Prime Minister last year declared that it was right the franchise should be extended to the rural districts, but that the time was not opportune. He (MR. Macdonald), however, thought if a large portion of the community was deprived of a right it was the first duty of the Government to put them in possession of that right. If, as was objected, the passing of the Bill should necessitate a re-distribution, he considered the House would be as well occupied upon that subject as upon many others which had engaged its attention this Session. But after all he believed hon. Gentlemen opposite were far less concerned about the effect which the Bill would produce on the constituencies than about the effect it would produce on themselves. He should give it his hearty support, for, however hon. Gentlemen might pooh-pooh and blink the question, he was convinced that there was such a growing feeling in the country in its favour that if they did not speedily deal with it, the country would compel them to do so.
§ MR. R. E. PLUNKETT
said, that it was necessary to consider what would be the effect on the constituencies of a re-distribution of seats, such as might be necessitated by the passing of the measure, and he had therefore taken the trouble to make some calculations showing that effect, which he thought not unworthy of consideration. On referring to the Census, he found that the rural population of England and Wales was 12,059,843, while the rural franchise was at the rate of one in 15.5. There were 801,109 rural electors, but by extending the borough franchise to counties, the rate would become one in 8½, so that they would then have 1,418,804 rural electors. The present 187 county members each represented on an average 4,809 electors, but if this Bill were passed the number would be increased to 7,576. It was found that the expenses of constituencies varied 1093 according to the number of electors, and this fact must be looked in the face. At the last General Election, in 20 counties contested, the 42 successful candidates spent £142,232 6s. 7½d. The registered county electors were 201,977, giving, on an average, 4,809 to each member, who spent £3,386 13s., or 18s. 9d. per elector. Taking the amount returned as representing three-fourths of the actual expenses, they might be estimated at £4,515; whereas the addition proposed by the Bill would make them £7,102. In 20 boroughs, 31 successful candidates spent £23,837 2s. 6d., the registered electors being 120,337, giving 3,881 electors to each member. The expense to each member was now £769, and adding one-fourth as the result of the Bill, the average would be £1,025, or 5s. 3½d. per borough elector on the register. Perhaps that might seem a low view to take of the matter, but the argument went to show that if the Bill was passed without any provision being made against a corresponding advance in the expenses of candidates, county seats would be placed beyond the reach of those who had hitherto held them, and of many who were the greatest ornaments of the House; and in attempting to reform the Constitution, they would simply throw the representation into the hands of those Gentlemen to whom a Committee upstairs had applied the polite name of "great financiers." Again, if equal electoral districts were adopted, the average cost of each seat would be over £3,000—the average cost per elector being 12s.—the mean between the county and borough elector. It had always been said that there were seats for all manner of men, and that men of capacity were not kept out of Parliament by want of means; but by placing the average expense of all seats at £3,000, they would exclude a great many men who were most necessary to their counsels. He felt it his duty to bring this disagreeable view of the subject before the House, and if the hon. member for the Border Burghs could get over the difficulty, he would remove one of the greatest obstacles to his measure. As to the argument of the right hon. member for Bradford, that if the agricultural labourers had possessed the franchise their children would have been better educated, it must be remembered that 1094 a large proportion of the uneducated classes had, until lately, been opposed to education; and if they had had votes, he (MR. Plunkett) did not think the Education Act could have been passed, as at that time there would have been in the way that inert mass which was only now being stirred into life.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
Sir, on all previous occasions when I have had the honour of introducing this question to the notice of the House, it has been with doubt and diffidence, and my remarks have been couched in the language of an apology. As far as that diffidence is personal, it is still as strong as ever. I was never more painfully and sincerely impressed with my own inadequacy to undertake so weighty a task, and to champion a cause fraught with such numerous and momentous interests. But my feeling of distrust stops there. I may not be the proper person to bring in this Bill, and I shall not quarrel with any hon. Gentleman who says so; but the events of this Session within this House—and still more, other events to which I shall presently make reference, which have occurred outside it—have rendered it a matter of pressing necessity, that some one or other—the most eminent among us if we can get him, but even the most insignificant if no other can be found—should without further delay call upon his brother members to proclaim confidence in the mass of their fellow-coutrymen. Confidence in the theory of self-government, confidence in the tendencies which have actuated our legislation over the period now of nearly half-a-century, are sentiments which, though discouraged and depressed, are not dead within these walls, but which, as I trust the division of this afternoon will prove, are entertained by the immense majority of a Party that is still true to those popular principles and sympathies, without which it cannot continue to be respected in the present, and assuredly need never hope to be powerful. Sir, the grievance which this Bill is intended to remove is one which exists in no country but our own, and which even here has existed in its present aggravated form for a period of only seven years. The Reform Bill of 1832 brought to an end a system which hardly deserved the name of a representative system at all, and set up both in boroughs and counties an excellent and 1095 effective machinery of middle-class representation. I am well aware that before 1867 there was a difference of opinion as to the proportion of working men in the old borough constituencies, as those of us who were in the Parliament of 1866 have only too good reason to remember. But although during some weeks of that Session a fresh Return was laid every day on our breakfast tables analyzing the voters of every borough in the Kingdom, and classifying and tabulating them under every conceivable head and every imaginable category, still the result always came out the same in the end, and it was quite evident that previously to 1867 the working classes were outvoted in all the counties and in 90 per cent of the boroughs. The Bill introduced by the right hon. Gentleman now at the head of the Government, as far as the urban population was concerned, put an end to this state of things at once and for ever. From the day that Bill became law, every man in every one of our boroughs who had the industry and self-command to pay his way and keep a house over the head of himself and his family, became entitled to a share in the government of his country. But while the legislation of 1867 gave the town householders what some will call a boon and others a right, it gave the county householder nothing but what everyone will acknowledge to be a grievous and in the end an intolerable wrong. For having enfranchised every man who was fortunate enough to occupy a residence within the boundaries of a Parliamentary borough, it dealt with all who resided outside those boundaries by the simple and summary process of ignoring their claims, of leaving them in the lurch, of announcing by a silence more expressive than the language of the most eloquent Preamble and the most accurately worded clause, that the county householder was unfit for the privilege and unequal to the responsibilities of a citizen. To the inequalities of class which have existed hitherto, it now added the new and not less invidious inequality of locality. The multitude of our countrymen who suffer under this inequality is very great. According to a calculation which I had the honour of laying before the House in the year 1873, and which the Prime Minister did me the still greater honour of adopting for his own in 1874, they 1096 numbered upwards of 900,000 in England and Wales alone. If their grievance was any other than exactly what it is—to say, if, possessing a vote, they suffered under any injustice one-half as great as exclusion from the pale of citizenship, I will venture to say that were the Session never so late, or the Notice Book never so full, not one month, not one week would elapse before they would have a pledge and a promise of redress in the shape of a measure laid before the House by the Prime Minister himself; and because these men, instead of being voters are only suppliants, instead of being our constituencies are only our countrymen, are we so deaf to justice that year after year we are to refuse them rights which, if they did not eagerly desire to possess, we should hardly deem them worthy of the name of Englishmen at all, and that we are to add a sting to our refusal by not even taking the trouble to base that refusal on any show of argument or pretence of reason? For the most remarkable feature in this controversy ever since it has been a controversy is, that not only has no argument been offered against the principle of this measure, but that its opponents themselves admit that no such argument exists. The hon. Gentleman the member for North Northumberland (MR. Ridley) admitted that as regards competency for the franchise no distinct line can be drawn between the town artizans and the rural labourers. Still less has anyone been found to maintain that a Scotch shepherd would make a worse voter than a Scotch weaver; that a man who spins wool at Barnsley would make a worse voter than a man who spins it at Bradford; or that a man who digs iron in Cleveland would make a worse voter than a man who puddles iron in Middlesborough. Everybody allows that the county householder may be turned into an elector with advantage to himself, and, to say the least, without any danger to high national interests. And having made this capital admission, having conceded what is the mind and substance of the whole matter, hon. Gentlemen who dislike the Bill are forced to resort to incidental objections which I cannot but venture to describe as irrelevant, though I fully admit them to be ingenious. The objection which is always first brought to the front is this—that it is impossible to approach the 1097 question of the county franchise, unless we are prepared entirely to re-cast the distribution of seats throughout the Kingdom. The Representatives of the smaller boroughs warn their electors that the passing of this Bill will inevitably lead to their extinction as a separate and self-contained constituency, and the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government has summed up these fears and these warnings in a proclamation in which he informs the country that the extension of the county franchise will bring about the disfranchisement of all boroughs under 40,000 inhabitants. Sir, a House which has in the course of this very Session been told that it is to sit till it has passed all the Government Bills, and has since witnessed that alarming announcement softened down by successive degrees until it has ceased to be too much for the nerves even of the most timid members, may be supposed to view with tolerable complacency any bugbear which the right hon. Gentleman may think fit to hold up for its contemplation. How much his threats are worth we may judge by comparing what the right hon. Gentleman said—as I presume, is his own opinion, an irresponsible candidate at the late General Election—with what he did as a responsible Minister of the Crown. In 1874 he tells the Buckinghamshire electors—and through them the country at large—that you cannot make the county and the borourgh franchises identical without disfranchising all towns under 40,000 inhabitants—that is to say, without destroying by one and the same operation 217 seats. But in 1859 he himself introduced a Reform Bill, of which the leading principle was that the borough and county occupation franchises were to be made exactly identical, and the amount of disfranchisement which he thought necessary in order to effect this object was limited to this—that he proposed to deprive 15 boroughs of their second members, and to transfer eight of those members to large counties and seven to large towns. But, Sir, those boroughs have actually been for the most part deprived of their second members by the Act of 1870, and those large counties and large towns by the same Act received their additional seats. All that the right hon. Gentleman thought it necessary to do, in order to enable himself to make the 1098 franchises identical, has been already done, and therefore I am justified by the strictest law of logic in claiming the right hon. Gentleman as an authority in in support of the doctrine that in order to lower the county franchise to the level of the boroughs, so far from its being necessary to make a root-and-branch redistribution of seats, it is right, proper, and sufficient to make absolutely no redistribution at all. But there is another objection, which comes from our own side of the House, to which I must for a moment refer. Some hon. Friends of mine—would it be breaking the seal of private intimacy if I go so far as to say some right hon. Friends?—are apprehensive lest, by pushing this question too warmly, we should give the present Ministry an excuse for re-arranging the representation of the country on a plan favourable to their interests and unfavourable to ours. A Conservative Government—so the train of thought runs—will catch only too eagerly at the opportunity of making a re-distribution of seats in a Conservative sense. Sir, my political experience has not been so protracted as that of my right hon. Friends; but I have observed enough to make me certain that it is not by any arrangement of electoral districts that one Government can be brought in or another driven from office. In 1867, the present Prime Minister had a very great, though from the circumstances of the new Parliament, not an overwhelming influence, over the local re-arrangement of our representation. Boundaries were altered, towns enfranchised, Universities endowed with members, often in strict accordance, and seldom in direct opposition to his wishes, and the very first use the country made of this electoral machinery, which he had himself re-arranged, was to place him in a minority of 100 votes. Five years passed, and that very same electoral body sent him again into power with a majority at his back, which, whatever may be its nominal strength, is, I will venture to say, for practical purposes, not very much smaller than the majority which turned him out. And the cause was, that in the course of those five years, during which we lived, perhaps, somewhat faster than usual, a change which some of us regret, and which some of us welcomed, came over the mind and the inclinations of the people. The 1099 last two General Elections teach us a lesson which everyone but a professional electioneering agent will gladly learn, for they prove that even if he wished it—which the right hon. Gentleman did not—no Minister can manipulate or jerrymander a great county into expressing his Will at the polling booth instead of expressing its own. Last year my hon. Friend the member for Stafford (MR. Salt) contrived to find an argument against this Bill in the different results of the elections of 1868 and 1874. He asked me which of these opposite and inconsistent results I recognized as the voice of an enfranchised and therefore an enlightened people. My answer to him is short and simple. I recognize them both, because from their very diversity they prove that the nation thinks and judges for itself. He must not imagine that we shall accept it as an objection to this measure if he can show that it will not necessarily lead to Liberal triumphs. We have no taste for triumphs which are won by keeping out of the pale of citizenship many hundred thousands of our fellow-countrymen, who, I will make bold to say, are as fit to be within that pale as the average of those who are there already. It is an error to suppose that the poor man, if he be honest and respectable, has a smaller stake in his country than the rich. So far from that, he has in one sense a larger stake dependent upon the wise administration of our national affair. If, owing to bad fiscal or commercial laws, trade becomes unduly depressed, if a country is invaded and its industries ruined—if a series of revolutions disturb that permanent order and tranquillity under which alone prosperity can exist—the rich man who has foresight can secure to himself at least the means of life by investing part of his possessions in foreign countries. But the poor man must stand and fall with the fortunes of the territory on whoso soil he lives, and he has the most stringent reasons for watching and checking a foolish course of foreign policy which may bring about an unnecessary and therefore a dangerous war, or in guarding against a foolish course of home policy, which may bring about disaffection, sedition, and disturbance. There is no political caution like the caution of the French peasant, and no political conservation more healthy and rational 1100 than the conservation of the small rural voter in the more favoured of the Swiss cantons. And, again, the class of persons who would be admitted by this Bill have other reasons to make them earnest and careful voters, for they depend, to a degree the rich cannot realize, upon legislative enactments for almost everything that makes their lives worth having. All the Factory Acts and Truck Acts, and Adulteration Acts and Education Acts that are in the Statute Book of the last 10 years—and there probably never was a period so fruitful in that class of legislation—have had no perceptible effect upon the well-being of the upper classes. There is not one of us who, in consequence of all that multitude of laws, will ever eat a meal the more, or work an hour the less—whose home will be healthier, whose food will be more wholesome, and who will see round his table children with rosier faces and with more disciplined and enlightened minds. But it is not so with the working people. To them a good law means happiness, health, and moral elevation; and to be excluded from the operation of such law means discomfort, degradation, and disease. And it is not in human nature—it certainly is not in political human nature—that these men who are without their share of the suffrage should obtain their share of the laws. Your doors are besieged Session after Session by manufacturers and landowners, and shipowners and farmers, and shopkeepers and officers, military and naval, and clerks and clergymen and artizans, all of them clamorous for justice—or what they think to be justice-all of them armed with a vote, and therefore if neglected in the present, only too certain to make themselves disagreeable in the future. When these armies of powerful claimants are making such encroachments upon your limited time and your energy, which is not inexhaustible, how can you spare any adequate attention to the modest demands of poor unenfranchized people who come before you provided with no more formidable weapon than the humble language of an unread, and possibly not even an unrolled, Petition? The Session, Sir, which is now drawing to a close, affords ample proof that in a representative Government, the more you extend the representation, the classes which still remain excluded from the 1101 suffrage, go only the more hopelessly and the more rapidly to the wall. Of all the Bills which our labours of this year have turned into Acts, there is none about which members of both political Parties will speak with more pride and satisfaction in the course of next autumn and winter than the Artizans Dwellings Bill. That Bill provides the means of destroying and re-building, according to the laws of health and decency, dwellings that are manifestly unfit for human habitations. Sir, the county districts contain at least as many such dwellings as the towns, unless the Report of the famous Agricultural Commission of 1867 is from its first page to its last an elaborate libel and fabrication. One Assistant Commissioner, who now sits on the Opposition benches in the House of Commons, tells us that in a certain great county the cottages must be described as generally bad, and when we consider that the county in question contains in its rural districts 150,000 inhabitants, I leave to hon. Gentlemen to imagine for themselves what an amount of misery and barbarism is implied in the few words of that simple statement. Another Commissioner, who sits in the House of Lords as a Bishop, speaks of the cottages in the less prosperous parts of England as miserable, deplorable, detestable, a disgrace to a Christian community, deficient in accommodation, deficient in drainage and sanitary arrangements, bad to begin with, and long ago dilapidated and out of any pretence to repair. Belying on such facts as these, my hon. Friend the member for Newcastle (MR. Cowen) proposed in Committee on the Artizans Dwellings Bill to extend the operation of the Bill to all sanitary districts as defined by the Act of 1872, so as to include in the blessings which Parliament was showering upon the great cities some few portions, at any rate, of our country districts. He was told by the Government that as regarded small towns the Act of 1868 would effect all that was required; but that suggestion is no consolation and no assistance to the neglected cottagers of country districts, because, as hon. Gentlemen are well aware, the Artizans and Labourers Dwellings Act of 1868 is confined to towns over 10,000 inhabitants. My hon. Friend went to a division, and carried into the Lobby 1102 with him not one single Scotch or English county member. Sir, if a county member, instead of representing 3,000 well-to-do electors, living in airy, watertight, well-drained houses, represented, as I maintain he ought to represent, 10,000 electors, of whom half were housed in the manner described by the Bishop of Manchester and the hon. member for Mid-Lincolnshire (MR. Chaplin), what do you think would, under those circumstances, have been the number of my hon. Friend's supporters, and how many years more would cottages in rural England continue to be a disgrace to a Christian community? And again, at a somewhat earlier period of the Session, my hon. Friend the member for Hackney (MR. Fawcett) moved a Resolution to the effect that it was undesirable that a less amount of school attendance should be secured to children employed in agriculture than to children employed in the branches of industry. In the course of his speech—in my opinion one of the most weighty and thoughtful speeches to which this Parliament has had the privilege of listening—he asked why children in towns should not be sent to work before the age of 10, while children in the country may be turned from babies into labourers at the age of 8? He asked why children in towns should continue their education up to the age of 13, and under certain circumstances up to the age of 14, while the education of children in the country may stop at the age of 11, and under certain circumstances at 10¼? Those were the questions which he asked, and what answer did he get? He was outvoted, by a very large majority, chiefly composed of county members, whereas not a twelvemonth before, when the Government brought in a Factory Bill for the purpose of extending the school hours of children in the towns, the members for the boroughs rallied in support in such numbers that the Lobby was hardly large enough to contain them. Where must we look for the key to such a strange diversity of view between the members for counties and the members for towns, except in the fact that borough members represent the parents of the children whose fate is at stake, while county members represent, not the parent, but only the employers? How much longer is this state of things to 1103 continue? For how many more Sessions are we to go on debating Labour Laws without consulting those who are to be bound by them; debating Education Laws without consulting those who are to benefit by them; discussing Army questions without hearing what is thought by the men whose sons fill the half of our battalions; discussing Church questions without a word from the men whose families make the great majority of our congregations? See the position in which these people are placed. They pay the taxes which they never voted; they keep the laws which they have had no hand in making; they do the country's work; they bear the country's burdens; they fight the country's battles. They are Englishmen in all respects and for every purpose except during the progress of a General Election. Then, at the very moment when a citizen's privilege is best worth possessing, they rush from the rank of citizens to the level of aliens. They see men who have only a nominal and fictitious connection with their neighbourhood flocking up by special trains from every quarter of the compass to vote in those booths from which they themselves are ruthlessly excluded, and then hurrying off in order to be in time to swamp, by means of faggot and plural suffrages, the real public opinion of some other unhappy locality. They, meanwhile—the native, the genuine, the resident inhabitants—stand in the market-place, waiting patiently and helplessly to hear who are to be their members during the next seven years; and, forsooth, they are told to be content because their interests are sufficiently represented by the farmers, the landlords, and the freeholders. But the very essence of the theory of representation is, that the represented shall be able to call the Representatives to account; and how is it possible for non-electors to influence electors, to criticize, to encourage, to remonstrate with them on the manner in which they exercise the suffrage, when, under a system of secret voting, no one can tell on which side that suffrage was given. The Ballot Act of 1872 cut away the very ground from beneath the feet of those who relied upon the already worn-out theory of vicarious representation, and, if any shred of that theory still hung together, it would have been finally disposed of by certain events which have 1104 taken place since this measure was last discussed in Parliament. The notion that the agricultural labourers are sufficiently represented by the farmers cannot hold water in the face of what has occurred in Cambridgeshire and in West Suflolk. The hon. and learned member for Cambridgeshire (MR. Rodwell) replied to my hon. Friend the member for Hackney with a warmth which expressed, I am sure, his own earnestness of conviction, but which did not in the least invalidate my hon. Friend's argument. The hon. member for Cambridgeshire himself will not deny that a long contest between the labour unions and the farmers recently took place in the Eastern counties. Both parties in the struggle were possessed by an earnest and impassioned, though, as I believe, a mistaken conviction that their interests were directly opposed the one to the other. All the incidents which usually mark a contest between employers and employed took place here. There were speeches, processions, subscriptions, handbills, meetings, and manifestoes. The public at large was appealed to through the local and the London papers, and it will be remembered that the case of the farmers was powerfully stated by a gentleman of high standing in the legal profession. The struggle came to an end, and very shortly afterwards a vacancy occurred in the representation of Cambridgeshire. A Conservative candidate was put forward who commanded the support of a large majority of the landowners in the county; but though he was an irreproachable candidate, whom we have known for years in this House as a respected Colleague, the farmers would have none of him. They resolved to take so excellent an opportunity of proving their gratitude to the legal gentleman who had acted as their champion; they rallied round him almost to a man; they sent him to Parliament, and no one here holds his seat by a more honourable tenure, because his constituents, be they few or be they many, have, at any rate, proved that they have a mind of their own. But, Sir, what is the relation of that hon. and learned Gentleman to the non-electors of Cambridgeshire? The better he represents the farmers, who regard the labour unions as a nuisance which must be put down at all sacrifices, and who think a certain lock-out in the present 1105 a lesser evil than a possible strike in the future, the worse he represents the agricultural labourers who look upon the power of combination as a right, and a right which in the long run may prove a valuable guarantee for their prosperity and independence. And, again, in the recent election for West Suffolk, a gentleman whose chances had at first seemed not unfavourable was beaten out of the field as soon as it began to be put about that he was what was called "Arch's candidate"—that is to say, that he was willing to give a respectful consideration to the claims and wishes of the non-electors. It is a very serious reflection that, in order to have a hope of sitting as Representative of a county, a candidate is under the necessity of carefully concealing the fact that he has any sympathies or opinions in common with the vast majority of the inhabitants who live within its borders. And meanwhile, at the other end of England, a circumstance has occurred which has a very important bearing on the question now before us. The miners of Durham and of South Northumberland, as is well known to many hon. members, very generally reside in cottages which they occupy under the express condition of their working in the collieries to which these cottages are attached. For some years past it has been uncertain whether or not these men, from the peculiar nature of their tenure, had a title to the franchises belonging to the residences in which they lived, and whether they would vote in any of the local elections which are so frequent in this country. But all these doubts which were cast upon their municipal qualification have only, within the last few weeks, been set at rest by a decision of the full Court in Queen's Bench, which has put them finally and authoritatively in full possession of all their privileges as ratepayers. And, therefore, from this time forward the mining population of our Northern counties will be in the most extraordinary position of any population in the civilized world. They have a voice in choosing the Guardians of their poor; they have a voice in choosing the members of the body which looks after their highways; they vote for the school board which superintends the education of their children; they vote for the Board of Health which dispenses the enormous 1106 taxation which modern sanitary requirements are supposed to demand; they exercise all these high trusts, and they exercise them well and wisely, but when it is a question of electing a member of Parliament, they have no more part or power in the matter than the horses which drag the coals along the tramways of their mines. These men, who take an interest in general politics quite as keen as in the affairs of their own locality, have already begun to see this anomaly clearly and to protest against it vigorously. And while they feel acutely the contrast between their own position as municipal electors and political non-electors, they feel still more acutely the contrast between themselves and those of their own class who live within the boundaries of Parliamentary boroughs. From all our great Northern seats of industry there run in every direction almost interminable suburbs, covering whole tracts of country with communities which are towns in all but in name. Thousands upon thousands of acres in South Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire teem with a vast population, which is not rural but urban in its habits of life, in its occupations, in its interests, in its ways of thought, in everything except in the possession of the ratepaying household suffrage. That population, large as it is, is growing with almost portentous rapidity. At every successive Reform Bill we turn many hundreds of thousands of these people into voters by the creation of new boroughs, but their rate of increase keeps far ahead of our puny efforts. In this Island, at any rate, whatever might be possible to an Oriental despot, you cannot draw an arbitrary line between town and country. You cannot confine commerce and manufacture within the imaginary limits of a Parliamentary borough, still less can you stand upon the boundaries of such a borough and say to the veins of iron and the seams of coal beneath your feet—"Thus far shalt thou go and no further." You may arrange your political districts as you will, but wherever the metal or the fuel is to be found, the miners' cottages will spring up by scores and hundreds. Wherever a convenient stream runs the wool weavers and the cotton spinners will swarm along its banks. And while this great unenfranchised multitude, nominally of country 1107 folk, but in reality, of townsmen, already equal to the population of many an ancient and famous European State, is growing daily in numbers, it is growing likewise in its appetite for political power and its aptitude for political life. When any of those social questions to which our Wednesdays are devoted is approaching discussion in this House, there is no class of our people from whom Petitions come more thickly and among whom public meetings are more frequently held and more numerously attended than the non-electors of such places as Barnsley, and Barrow, and Croydon, and Heywood, and Accrington. You have there, whether you like it or not, a vast latent force of opinion and energy, ay, and of passion too, which according as we decide to-day, will be powerful for good or most formidable for evil. It lies with you to say whether that force, the strength of which no man will deny, is to be employed in adding authority to the debates of this House and vigour to its legislation, or whether it is to be allowed to waste itself in desultory efforts until the day when some clever, unscrupulous agitator shall arise who shall divert, to the peril and disadvantage of the State, those elements which, if properly directed, might so largely contribute to its welfare and security. The strange prosperity which we have enjoyed of late years cannot last for ever. Bad trade must come—unless recent symptoms are singularly deceptive, it is coming already. The Continent is in a state in which from month's end to month's end war is something more than a possibility—and that no ordinary war, for it will be complicated by cross issues—social, and, above all, religious—for a parallel to which we must go far back into the annals of history. When the time of trial arrives, as sooner or later arrive it must, it will add not a little to our national strength if that great section of our population for whose benefit this Bill has been placed upon the Table shall not, as now, be reduced to follow any irresponsible, self-appointed leader who may choose to place himself at their head, but shall look for guidance to Representatives elected by themselves, and sent to Westminster to speak for them after the old constitutional fashion—Representatives who, unless all previous experience is falsified, will not be one whit inferior in 1108 character, in position, or in ability, to the Gentlemen whom I now see around MR. And, in conclusion, I may perhaps be allowed to address myself for one moment to the members of my own Party, and entreat them not to take counsel of any petty considerations of Parliamentary strategy and electioneering expediency, but to ask themselves the plain question whether this Bill is in accordance with Liberal principles, or whether it is not. Whatever hon. Gentlemen opposite decide to do, it undoubtedly concerns the good fame of us who sit on these benches that we should not wait until this question is forced on our acceptance by pressure from without, but now when our fortunes are at the very lowest, now in this our day of disaster, depression, and defeat, we should, acting from broad views and justice and national advantage, freely and unreservedly cast in our lot with the excluded and neglected householder of the counties. We must not be deterred by the possible cavils of a captious adversary, who may impugn our motives and hint at our being guided by interest rather than by conviction.We must not stintOur necessary actions in the fearTo cope malicious censurers.If we stand stillFor fear our motion will be mocked or carped at,We should take root here where we sit, or sitState statues only.Sir, in the belief that the duty of myself and those who think with me is plain before us, I have brought forward this Bill for a second reading. I shall be told again, as I have been told already, that it is too late in the Session to press on a measure of these dimensions; but there are many here who think it is never too late to call upon the House to pronounce against the continuance of a grievance which is at once incontestible and indefensible. As far as we have any power in the matter, we shall go to a division, satisfied that if successful we shall give hope and encouragement to great multitudes of our countrymen who at present have only too good ground for discontent; and that if beaten we shall, at least, have vindicated the principles of our creed, and handed down, as it has been delivered to us, the tradition of our Party.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
Sir, the House has just had the privilege of listening to a diatribe which has been in preparation for no less than five months. The hon. 1109 member for the Border Burghs obtained leave to introduce this Bill so far back as the 8th of February last, and then, or soon after, appointed the second reading for discussion on the 7th of July. I think that, after listening to his speech, and considering the deliberate manner in which the hon. member has evidently employed the time in preparation, the House will agree with me that he has shown himself at once an audacious and a timid man. He has had the audacity to attribute to the exclusion of the agricultural labourers from the franchise, the state of poverty, misery, and disease in which he wishes this House and the world to believe that they exist, dwelling in cottages that he says are disgraceful to a Christian country. That is a specimen of his audacity in statement. At the beginning of his speech, the hon. Gentleman appealed to the Leaders of his Party to adopt his views as a means of enabling them to return to office, and he concluded his speech with a similar appeal, though couched in somewhat more guarded language; the return of his Party to office, therefore, appears to be his motive. I own I was surprised that a Gentleman entertaining the views which he has expressed with regard to the conduct of this House could reconcile his continuing to be a member of such an Assembly to his conscience. What must he think of his own Party? They, up to the beginning of this Parliament two years ago, have been long in office. He has told us something of the former conduct of the present Prime Minister. He said that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government introduced in 1859 a measure based upon the principle of uniform enfranchisement, the principle he now advocates by this Bill; that is to say, that the franchise should be the same in boroughs and in counties. But what was the fate of that proposal of 1859? Why, that it was never seriously entertained by the House; although it was commended by a £10 occupation qualification which is wanting in the proposal now before us. At that day the House of Commons had a little more political knowledge than the hon. member seems to suppose. Parliament remembered that, in France, there had been a similar identity of franchise throughout the whole of that country, and that that uniform franchise fell through in the Revolution of 1848. 1110 You may theorize about an impossible equality, you cannot produce equality among mankind; men are not by nature equal; and if upon the principle of a dead level of equality you found a Representative system, you really provide for the misrepresentation of the nation. The hon. Gentleman says that we have no arguments to advance against his proposal. I suppose he means that we take a view of this great question of Parliamentary Reform totally different from his own. He represents in this House with but little disguise the philosophy of Tom Paine. ["Hear, hear!"and laughter.] Yes, from first to last his argument proceeded on the assumption upon which MR. Thomas Paine founded his theory, that the elective franchise is a right inherent in every man. But the hon. Gentleman is not so consistent as was Tom Paine. Why does he stop at household suffrage? Where is the consistency of thus faltering in the adoption of MR. Paine's theory? MR. Paine recommended manhood suffrage? I have said that our views are different; for we look upon this House as a legislative machine, or as a jury formed upon principles, and to be reformed upon such principles as shall ensure the fullest representation of the better, of the best qualities of the English nation; of its independence, of its sense of justice, of its intelligence, and of its enlightened patriotism. We do not believe, then, that by excluding some of those who are least educated from the franchise in some portions of the country, and making that exclusion in favour of the representation of the better educated, any injustice is done. If we are to frame a legislative machine, we claim the right of selecting the best materials for the purpose. Selection is the principle upon which this House for centuries has been elected. If you proceed too far upon this theory of equality, you will establish not freedom but despotism. The hon. member has been pleased to declare that the House as hitherto elected has inflicted degradation, misery, and disease upon a majority of the population. For my part, I do not hesitate to affirm that I never heard a more unscrupulous use of democratic exaggeration; and I venture to tell hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that if they rest their hopes of a return to office and power upon countenancing such 1111 exaggerated statements, or rather such misstatements, as to the condition of the people of this country and the supposed causes of it; upon such calumnies upon their own conduct, and upon the conduct of Parliament, it will be a long time before they regain the confidence of the English nation. Recent political events show clearly enough what the nation really feels. What has been admitted by hon. members opposite in the course of this debate? That the right hon. Gentleman the present Prime Minister introduced and carried a Reform Act in 1867; and what was the result? That at the next Election he returned from an an appeal to the country in a minority of upwards of 100! He was succeeded in office by the right hon. Gentleman the member for Greenwich and right hon. Gentlemen opposite; they passed violent measures with respect to Ireland, and concluded by procuring the enactment of the system of secret voting in lieu of the old English system of open voting at elections. What was their fate? After the last General Election they returned to this House in a minority like their Predecessors of something about the same number. What means the opinion of the nation thus expressed? It seems to me to mean that your frequent departures from the well-tried principles of representation which have rendered the House of Commons in former years the model Representative Assembly of the world do not meet with the approbation of the English people. I hope that the Conservative Party in this country will manifest their position of a quality which is totally wanting in the hon. member for the Border Burghs—I mean that of moral courage—a quality essential in the opinion of the nation. Sir, what means all this violent language? What does it mean, but that the hon. member, having as a Liberal, no principles to advance in opposition to democratic agitation, places his whole reliance on democratic denunciations. This violence represents the poverty of Liberalism when exposed to democratic agitation, and this poverty is the effect of a want of moral courage—I will not say of intellect to conceive or to appreciate—but of a want of moral courage to affirm distinct principles as to what should constitute the form of representation and of government. Let the House 1112 remember upon what the freedom of this country has been based. It has been based upon the principle of maintaining a balance of power between an hereditary Assembly and a popularly-elected Assembly; upon the existence of an aristocracy not merely of birth, but of education, possessed of the confidence of the nation, and thus armed with power to counterbalance what may be at times the misguided democratic impulse of the people. The House of Commons, in passing the last Reform Act, and by restricting the county franchise to property—that is, as expressed by a higher occupation franchise—provided some measure of security that the higher education of the country shall be represented in this House, so that it may, in some degree, when necessary, correct that which may be for a time the ignorant bias of the less educated classes, and provide a stand-point for resisting ill-advised democratic change. A Petition was presented to this House by the right hon. Gentleman the member for Birmingham in support of the Bill now before the House just before the commencement of the debate. To my mind that Petition is exactly characteristic of the movement which the measure before us represents. It is the Petition of the members and friends of what calls itself the "National Agricultural Labourers Union." I went to the Public Bill Office and looked through the first column of signatures on the first two sheets of this Petition. The first sheet contains the signatures from the parish of Little Walsingham, and I found that in the first column, for I had little time to examine, 15 of the signatures were by marks; while 16 signatures were in the handwriting of those who signed. The next sheet contains signatures from the parish of Kenilworth, of which parish, as being in Warwickshire, I know something. I observed that in the first column 21 of the signatures were by marks, and only 11 were in the handwriting of the signers. Altogether, there were about 100 signatures from Kenilworth; but the population of that place is 3,880. Such is the character of the Petition, so far as I have been able to examine it, by which the judgment of this House is to be enlightened as to the genuine and national opinion of this country. The hon. member for the Border Burghs has uttered a cruel 1113 calumny against us who oppose this Bill. He has ventured to assert that, because we deem a restriction of the franchise necessary for the objects I have endeavoured to sketch, that we are guilty of a want of respect for the majority of our fellow-countrymen—for the bulk of the nation. [MR. TREVELYAN dissented.] The hon. member shakes his head; but I appeal to those who heard him and took down his words, whether the whole tenour of his speech throughout was not, that we have no respect for any man who is not possessed of the franchise. If so, what a miserable set of delegates we must be. The price of our respect, in the opinion of the hon. member, is a vote at the election; and therefore he has argued that we are prepared to condemn to misery and disease every man who has not the hold upon us of being able to vote. Sir, there is one fact which has been lost sight of in the course of this discussion. It is, that if you multiply votes indefinitely they lose their value. That process has already begun. It is already partially felt in the boroughs. Multiply the votes in the counties, and you will have the same result on a larger scale. I am, Sir, convinced that these exaggerated statements—the misstatements which we have heard to-day—represent not the national opinion, but merely the straits to which the advocates of democratic change are driven by the beneficial course of legislation pursued by a Parliament, which the hon. member has deliberately undertaken to belie.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
Sir, as I am unable to agree altogether with any of the speeches to which I have listened in the course of this debate, I hope the House will allow me to make a few observations to explain the views I entertain upon the subject, and to explain also the course which I intend to take. Last Session, when my hon. Friend the member for the Border Burghs (MR. Trevelyan) brought for-ward this Bill, I, with several others who sat upon these benches, abstained from giving any vote upon the second reading; and, with the permission of the House, I will state the reasons why I intend to take the same course again—reasons which last Session I had not the opportunity of stating. I cannot vote against the second reading of this Bill, because I am not prepared to meet by a 1114 direct negative the principle embodied in the Bill. That principle I conceive to be that the franchise-in counties ought to be equalized with the franchise established in boroughs. Neither in this nor in any previous debate to which I have been able to refer upon this question have I found that any speaker upon either side has directly controverted that principle, and I do not see how it is possible for anyone to contend that the class of householders who have been enfranchised in the boroughs ought to be permanently disfranchised in the counties. Prior to the Reform Act of 1832 it was possible that such a distinction might be permanently maintained. But the introduction in the Reform Act of 1832 by the Conservatives of what is known as the "Chaondes clause" broke down the distinction formerly supposed to exist between the county and borough franchise—the one supposed to represent property, the other numbers or occupation; and ever since that day the equalization of the two franchises has been a mere question of time. Since the Reform Act of 1832 the country had been agitated by many attempts to fix some line which should be accepted as a test of fitness for a vote in boroughs. In 1867, however, we gave up this attempt, and decided once and for ever that, without reference to any test of fitness, every man who had to bear the responsibilities of a householder should be invested with the privileges of a vote; and I admit that I am unable to see any reason why a hard-and-fast line, the idea of which has been altogether discarded in the case of boroughs, should commend itself to the country in the case of county voters. I do not rest my assent to the Bill upon the doctrine which has so terrified the hon. member for North Warwickshire (MR. New-degate)—the doctrine of the Eights of Man. I rest it solely upon this—that I see no convenience or wisdom in excluding permanently from the exercise of the franchise any class, unless it can be shown that they are less fully qualified to exercise it wisely than the class we have enfranchised in the boroughs. On the other hand, the question now introduced by my hon. Friend involves other considerations, which in my opinion are still more important than the extension of the franchise to a large class now unenfranchised. It has been, I 1115 think, generally admitted that the passing of this measure would involve a very considerable re-arrangement of seats. This part of the question has on former occasions been somewhat passed over by hon. members who have spoken in favour of the Bill. But so long ago as 1872 my right hon. Friend then at the head of the Government, in opposing the measure of my hon. Friend—in a qualified manner I must admit—stated that, without pledging himself to the exact proportions which the re-distribution ought to take, it was impossible that this measure should pass without involving an extensive re-distribution of seats. I think every speaker this afternoon has admitted that this measure must be so accompanied. It is evident that, to the existing anomalies to which the attention of the House has been so frequently directed, other and still greater anomalies will be added. To the disproportion which now exists between the number of voters in some large boroughs and those in some small boroughs, returning the same number of members, will be added the anomaly of conferring an immensely smaller proportion of representation upon the county voters to those who are resident in boroughs. Now, it is one thing to endure anomalies which exist, and it is quite another thing to create fresh ones; and although I am perfectly ready to consider the question of re-distribution whenever it may be brought forward, even with reference to existing anomalies, I think the case becomes a great deal stronger when by our own act we create anomalies such as that to which I have referred. As to re-distribution, I have not heard in the course of this debate, and I cannot conceive that anyone knows or has at all formed an opinion, how this re-distribution is to be effected. I entirely agree with what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney (MR. Fawcett), and by the hon. member for the Border Burghs (MR. Trevelyan), that it would have been the height of imprudence to have added to the Bill a measure for the re-distribution of seats. That is a measure with which, obviously, it is impossible for any private member to grapple; it must be left to the Government. But what I complain of in the proposition of my hon. Friend is this—he asks the House to assent to the principle that 1116 a new Reform Act, of a very important character, is required, while he has not made up his own mind—and the House, I think, has not made up its mind—what is to be the character of one-half, and, perhaps, the most important half, of the measure. I entirely agree with what has been said by my hon. Friend the member for Hackney, that this measure does not necessarily involve the division of the country into equal electoral districts. But, although I should be most sorry to see any re-distribution of such a character introduced, I think, at the same time, it is essential that the re-distribution scheme which is to accompany or follow this measure should be one of a real and substantial kind, such as would afford us some hope that it would be a final settlement of the question. Re-distribution is far the most difficult part of any Reform scheme; and it is very natural this should be so, for to national Conservatism in the case of a scheme for re-distributing seats is added a vast amount of local and personal Conservatism. Accordingly, it has always been found that, while this is the most difficult part of the question to settle, it is also the part which is least satisfactorily or thoroughly settled. Certainly, it cannot be maintained that the re-distribution part of the Act of 1867 was on a scale at all proportionate to the extension of the franchise accomplished by that measure, and I maintain that nothing can enable any Government to carry a thorough and satisfactory re-distribution of seats, such as would be a proper complement to the measure of my hon. Friend, but an amount of energy and interest in the question, not only in this House but in the country at large, which, I maintain, does not at the present moment exist. My hon. Friend must, therefore, forgive me if I say that, while I am unable to meet with a negative the principle embodied in his Bill, I think the time he has chosen for pressing it upon the consideration of the House is inopportune, and I do not see how by my vote I can assist him in pressing it upon the consideration of the House. Let my hon. Friend create, if he can, that opinion in the country which, as I have said, is needed to enable the Government to pass the necessary measure—that is another thing; but in my opinion it is unreasonable of my hon. Friend now to ask the 1117 House to agree to a measure the supplement or complement of which the House is not prepared to undertake, and when the country is also wholly unprepared to deal with so large a question. I have one other reason for not supporting the Motion of my hon. Friend. The hon. member for Hackney proved, I think, very conclusively, that no danger was to be apprehended from the enfranchisement of a very large number of the hitherto unenfranchised classes. He showed that the effect of the great extension of the franchise a few years ago had been to instal a Conservative Government in power with a larger majority than had followed any Conservative Government for many years past. This fact cannot be denied, but it may be that the tendency of the classes whom you now propose to enfranchise is somewhat too Conservative. So far as Conservatism arises from attachment to the established institutions of the country, and affection for those institutions, I have not a word to say against it. But so far as their Conservatism arises from insufficient education, political ignorance, or indifference, or a preference for class interests over the public welfare, it is a Conservatism which certainly does not claim my sympathy, and which I do not wish to see in any degree extended. Probably, my hon. Friend desires to see far larger changes made in our political institutions than I myself do. He may be of opinion that the measure he is now bringing forward will assist him in forwarding those changes. On the other hand, he may be mistaken. At all events, I am more concerned at the present time to maintain the ground which we have already gained than to tempt any further difficulties. We have heard a great deal of Conservative re-action. Fortunately, that re-action has stopped short of retrogression, and if there was at any time danger of retrogression, I hope, from important words which fell a short time ago from the lips of an eminent member of the present Government, that we are likely to hear nothing further of it. I do not know, however, that our escape from re-action, or retrogression, has been otherwise than a narrow one; and I must tell my hon. Friend that, looking at the class which has made a Conservative re-action possible or probable, I am in no haste to see them largely re-inforced, until, by political and 1118 general education, they are better fitted than I believe them to be at the present moment for the exercise of the franchise. Holding these opinions, the course which I would prefer would be to vote for the Previous Question. It may be asked why, then, I have not moved the Previous Question? I think that course might have been taken with some advantage last Session; but after a division in a full House has been taken, and a large majority of members on this side of the House have pledged themselves to support the Motion of my hon. Friend, while a large majority of the House sitting opposite have pledged themselves to its direct rejection, I do not think the Amendment of the Previous Question would meet with any amount of support in this House, and the result of such a division would not adequately show the real feeling of the House respecting it. I cannot, therefore, vote for the Previous Question, and I think the course which will approach nearest to it, and which would be most satisfactory to myself, would be to do as I did last year, and abstain from voting. ["Oh, oh!"] I am perfectly aware that to deliberately abstain from voting upon a question of great public importance is a course which is rarely justified. I believe, however, it is a course which is justified upon this occasion; but I am also aware that, even if it be justified, it is a course which may expose me and others who may adopt it to some attack and some misunderstanding or misrepresentation. I prefer, however, to run this risk rather than give one of two votes, neither of which would be satisfactory to myself, or would properly represent the views which I hold and have endeavoured to explain upon this question.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, the noble Marquess had, with the courage which was habitual to him, stated in the clearest way the reasons which weighed with him against this Bill; and with many of those reasons he (Lord John Manners) cordially concurred. ["Hear, hear!" from the Opposition.] He was at a loss to account for that demonstration among hon. Gentlemen opposite, for surely if there was one quality which should be prized in the Leader of a great Party, and admired by those who followed him, it was that fearlessness and firmness in maintaining his 1119 convictions shown by the noble Marquess on the present occasion. He rejoiced all the more in the speech of the noble Marquess, because when he entered the House at an earlier period of the debate he heard the right hon. Gentleman the member for Bradford (MR. W. E. Forster), in terms of animation and almost of passion, urging that the House should adopt and should not postpone this measure. The right hon. Gentleman thought the Bill necessary because, he said, at present the farmers sent Representatives to this House to oppose the just interests of the labourers. The hon. member for Hackney (MR. Fawcett) spoke to the same effect, and added that there never was any hope entertained of passing this Motion, but that it was brought forward to enlighten the Government as to the real opinion of the nation. Now, considering that in the first year of the new Parliament this Bill was thrown out by a majority of 114—pretty nearly twice the Conservative majority. ["No, no!"] Yes; when the new Parliament met, the Conservative majority was estimated at from 50 to 60. He thought the opinion of the nation had been tolerably well pronounced, and the House might this year have been spared a repetition of the Motion. The hon. member said that the election for Cambridgeshire showed the policy of the tenant-farmers on the subject; but it was a most unwarrantable statement that a gentleman went down as the nominee of the Prime Minister.
§ MR. FAWCETT
I never used the word "nominee." I said his candidature had the approval of the Prime Minister.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
Well, the House had already heard the hon. member for Cambridgeshire contradict that statement, and he wished emphatically to endorse, on behalf of the Prime Minister, that contradiction. The hon. member said that the labourers had no Representative in that House; and to that statement he (Lord John Manners) gave an unqualified contradiction, and he did so on the authority of the hon. member himself, for the hon. member invited the House to accept the Bill on the ground that all the measures passed by the new Parliament were admirable measures, and would be a test of those which would be passed by a new Parliament based on household suffrage in 1120 the counties. On the other hand, the hon. member for the Border Burghs (MR. Trevelyan) said, all the legislation of the last few years, as far as the agricultural labourers were concerned, was cruel, harsh, and inefficient, and he called upon the House to adopt this change in order that future legislation might meet the wants of the labourers.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
said, he had never made any such statement. What he did say was that legislation on that subject during the period cited was not existent.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, he could not understand how legislation could be non-existent; but, at any rate, he would leave the argument of the hon. Gentleman the member for Hackney to answer that of the hon. Gentleman the member for the Border Burghs. He would put aside, however, all the illustrations which had been brought forward and come to the real sum and substance of the question. Those who were in favour of this legislation must admit, with the noble Marquess who had just spoken, that two main principles were involved in it—identity of suffrage and an immense re-distribution of political power. With respect to the first principle the noble Marquess avowed that he did not abstain from voting for the Bill in consequence of it, but in consequence of its inevitable concomitant, the re-distribution of electoral power. But did it not occur to the noble Marquess and to others who maintained the principle of identity of franchise between counties and boroughs, that if they went back to 1832 to find a logical reason for such identity of franchise, all the great Liberal Leaders from 1832 to 1874 had been in a fog of Cimmerian darkness with respect to it? No Liberal statesman could be mentioned who, while in office, even allowed identity of suffrage to take a place in his thoughts. They always maintained that there was an essential difference between the borough and county franchises, and they never admitted that household suffrage in boroughs ought to lead to household suffrage in the counties. They could not point to any one measure proposed by any Liberal Minister in which identity of suffrage found any place at all; and therefore in the extremity of argument some speakers had turned round on his right hon. Friend at the 1121 head of the Government, and seemed to say to him—"In 1859 you proposed to assimilate the county and borough franchise, and therefore we now call upon both sides of the House to assimilate the household franchise in counties with the household franchise in boroughs." But what was the result of the proposal made by the Government of Lord Derby? Did it find favour with the Liberal Leaders and statesmen of that day? Why they all knew of the storm of Liberal opposition which was raised against it. And since it came to the turn of the Leader of the Liberal Party to propose reform in Parliament, identity of suffrage had disappeared, and the proposals made were to reduce the county and to reduce the borough franchise. Certainly in 1866 they had something more. The Parliament of that day was very much divided in opinion as to what reduction of the representative franchise ought to be made. But there was no contention in favour of identity of franchise, and Parliament passed a solemn Resolution, which had had a very practical effect ever since, to the effect that any great enfranchisement which might be made must be accomplished by a great re-distribution of political power. That Resolution was adopted and carried into effect in the Reform Bill of 1867, when a great change was made in the county and borough franchise, and a very considerable alteration and re-distribution of representative power, accompanied that measure. Now, however, they were told, according to the right hon. Gentleman opposite the member for Bradford, that this principle of identity of franchises which would increase enormously—beyond all proportion—the number of voters for the counties must be adopted, but that they must put off to a future day that re-distribution of political power which the leaders of all sections of political parties in the House had declared to be the inevitable concomitant of a great extension of the franchise. The right hon. Gentleman said—"Pass this measure now, and consider hereafter the re-distribution which must follow. If you take it in time, it will probably be not so great as if you leave the principle of identity of franchise to some future day." Well, that was a sort of argument with which they were all familiar. The right hon. Gentleman threw no light on the amount of re-distribution 1122 which he thought would be required. The hon. member for Hackney, however, had not concealed from the House that it must be a very extensive re-distribution. The hon. Gentleman who was responsible for the Bill, and who appeared to be ready to take command of the party as Liberal Chief, and who had given the noble Marquess a sort of preliminary notice that if he did not go along with him on that occasion he would find the Liberal Party giving unmistakable expression to their indignation, and who assumed to-day the command of the left wing of the Liberal Party—the hon. Gentleman, conscious as he was of the enormous magnitude of the change he proposed, knew well that had he ventured to introduce into his measure a clause carrying out its legitimate and necessary consequence, he would not have found one single Gentleman on his own side of the House to act as Teller with him. "Well, such being the patent facts of the case, could the House of Commons doubt the conclusion to which it should come? He put aside all question as to the delay and postponement which would occur in the ease of those important social measures which still awaited their consideration, and to which the country were looking forward with so much interest, and also all consideration as to the Dissolution of Parliament and changes of Government which might follow so sweeping a change. He simply pointed to the inconvenience of the House being called upon to consider the first and the least important and difficult part of the question in this fragmentary manner. Supposing that the House were to encourage and adopt the measure the inevitable result would be that there would be found a new House of Commons still less accessible to men of small or moderate means, and a House still more accessible to men of wealth, or persons commanding local influence; that in a new Parliament constituted as the hon. member for the Border Burghs would have it constituted, there would be an uniform and unvaried array of men of wealth and local power returned by uniform and unvaried constituencies in which the old element would be absorbed and outnumbered. For these reasons, without going into the many other points which might be urged, he hoped the House would give a decided 1123 and consistent negative to the proposal to read the Bill a second time.
§ MR. GREENE
, in reference to the observations which had been made as to his hon. and learned Friend the member for Cambridgeshire (MR. Rodwell), desired to say that his hon. and learned Friend had come in as a peacemaker between the labourer and the farmer, and that he would come in again even with the constituency proposed by the Bill. With reference to the question before the House, he had only to say that the arguments put forward on the part of the Government had been so conclusive, and the hon. member for the Border Burghs had been so completely demolished that it was not necessary to go into the matter further. He would only say that whenever what was called a popular question was brought forward, they on that side of the House were always threatened with something that it was said was going to happen. He (MR. Greene) was an old member of the House, and could remember many of the old contests, and he was glad to see such a warming-up of the old elements; but he confessed that he was sorry to hear the words which fell from the right hon. Gentleman the member for Bradford, and as the House was almost empty when the right hon. Gentleman uttered them he (MR. Greene) would repeat them. The right hon. Gentleman was speaking of what had happened to the Hyde Park railings, and he added—"the next time park palings are pulled down they will will not, perhaps, be the Hyde Park palings." Was that, he asked, a sentiment which ought to proceed from a member in the position of the right hon. Gentleman—one who would be the leader of his Party, if he could be, and who might be looking forward to the day when he would guide the destinies of the nation? Was the expression worthy of a man who held such a position? Why should not this political question be fought like any other? Why should an effort be made to intimidate the opponents of the Bill by telling them that their park palings would be pulled down if they did not pass the measure.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
I am sure the hon. member would not intentionally misrepresent me, I would rather think he has misunderstood what I said. What I said was, that I trusted hon. members 1124 opposite would not think that agitation was necessary before they adopted such a measure—that they would not think Hyde Park railings must be pulled down; and I added that one great argument in favour of the Bill was the exceeding moderation of the country with respect to it.
§ MR. GREENE
I am in the recollection of the House, and can only repeat again what I said. I am not in the habit of stating anything that is not true and accurate. I repeat that I distinctly heard the words I have quoted and that I much regretted to have heard them.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 166; Noes 268: Majority 102.
§ Words aided.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Second Reading put off for three months.