HC Deb 15 July 1875 vol 225 cc1533-54

rose to move— That it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to cause inquiry to be made into the Various methods of bringing about a juster distribution of political power, with a view of securing a more complete representation of the people. The hon. Baronet said: In raising the question of re-distribution of power in Parliament, a strong case may be made by pointing out the anomalies which exist at present; but merely to point out anomalies—although increasing, and increasing more rapidly at this moment than they have been for some years past—is not to make a sufficient case for immediate action. At the same time, while it would be misdirected energy to spend many minutes upon the consideration of the anomalies, it is worth remembering that the last General Election has revealed them once more in a naked and startling form. All over the Three Kingdoms we have seen Members victorious in one constituency who polled from 1–20th to 1–250th of the votes polled by candidates who were unsuccessful in neighbouring constituencies, thus bringing home more clearly than ever to us the fact that a man's vote is a very different thing in its weight and influence, if he live in a favoured village, rather than in a wealthy county or a flourishing town. To give a few instances of this state of things—If we look to the English counties, we find that in North Durham—while 3,000 voters ought, upon a fair system of apportionment of representation, to be a sufficient number of county voters to return by a majority of their number a county Member to the House—the present Conservative sitting Member, though he has through the storms returned among us, was nevertheless at first defeated and two Liberals were returned, although he polled well over 4,000 votes, and, indeed, polled the number of votes which seated his Colleague on a former occasion. In East Kent, the defeated Liberal candidate polled over 4,300 votes. In East Surrey. Mr. Locke King—a valued Member of the last Parliament—polled a number of votes which ought to have returned him to this House, the number being 4,300. In South East Lancashire, the rollicking economist who represented Warrington in the last Parliament, my friend Mr. Rylands, polled 7,500 votes, and yet was beaten. 8,300 votes were polled for the defeated Liberal in the Southern Division of the Western Riding. On the other hand, if we turn to the boroughs the anomalies are much more startling. Why should Colonel Pease have lost his seat at Hull, when he polled 7,700 and odd votes?—4,500 votes, by this majority, bring the number, which ought to be considered a proper one, of borough votes to return a borough Member to the House. In Marylebone, the defeated Liberal polled nearly 7,900 votes; in Bristol, the defeated Conservative polled nearly 8,600 votes; almost an equal number were polled at Oldham by Mr. Hibbert, whose absence is greatly regretted by the House; at Sheffield, a defeated candidate polled nearly 11,000 votes; in Lambeth, the defeated Conservative polled 11,200 votes; at Leeds, a defeated Liberal polled 12,000 votes; at Liverpool, a defeated Liberal polled close upon 16,000 votes; and at Manchester, Mr. Jacob Bright was the defeated candidate although he polled 18,727 votes. If we turn to Ireland, we find figures still more extraordinary. The defeated Liberal at Antrim polled over 4,000 votes; the defeated Liberal in Belfast polled considerably over 4,000 votes; the defeated Conservative in Down polled nearly 5,000 votes. On the other hand, the successful Liberal at Dungannon polled 121 votes; the successful Liberal in Ennis polled 115 votes; the successful Home Ruler at Kinsale polled 107 votes; the successful Home Ruler at New Ross polled 120 votes; the successful Home Ruler at Youghal polled 126 votes; and the successful Home Euler at Mallow polled 86 votes. There is one Gentleman sitting in the present House of Commons who polled 76 votes, and was returned. He sits representing his 76 votes on the Conservative benches, where there sits besides him a Member who polled 20,206 votes. The population of Liverpool, which returns this one Member, increases at the rate of 5,000 souls a-year; the population of the village, which returns the other Member, decreases in population at the rate of 10 souls a-year. We have a successful Conservative and a successful Home Euler returned to the Parliament of the United Kingdom by 76 and 86 voters respectively, and one borough Member defeated who polled 18,727 votes. I made, on a former occasion, a statement with regard to these anomalies, which was not challenged, and which cannot, I think, be upset—namely, that our electoral anomalies are greater now than they were before the Reform Bill of 1832. There were in 1832 a considerable number of constituencies which had less than 100 voters each; but, excluding the single case of Old Sarum, the disproportion between those constituencies and the average size of constituencies at that time, and the disproportion also between those constituencies and the largest constituencies that existed at that time, was less than the existing disproportion between the 12 smallest borough constituencies of the present day and the average 4,500; or between them and the constituency of Liverpool. Gatton, which was the worst but one, had 23 houses, and the disproportion between that and the then average was much less than that between Portarlington and the present average. In a speech which I made upon this subject two years ago, I showed the practical grievance which underlies the theoretical grievance that I pointed out. I showed by careful examination of figures, that divisions take place on subjects concerning the interests of the great counties and of the great towns in which majorities in the country are converted into minorities in the House of Commons by the operation of these strange facts. I pointed out that those anomalies were of modern growth, and that in olden times that was the case which ought to be the case again—namely, that a self-acting machinery existed for their cure, which in those days took the form of a Royal Prerogative, now fallen into disuse. I showed how greatly some of the large towns had suffered by the present state of things, and being, I hope, free from any one-sided prejudice, I pointed out how grossly under-represented were also to their detriment the counties of Lancashire, Yorkshire, Middlesex, and Kent. I showed the claims to a special representation of such great centres of population as Battersea, Croydon, Kingston, Richmond, Bromley, Barrow, Batley, St. Helens, and Ramsgate. It will be obvious to all that, great as are the anomalies at the present time, they are increasing year by year, inasmuch as the villages are going backward, when they are not standing still, while the great towns and the manufacturing counties are thriving and increasing more and more. I may mention, for instance, that in the borough which I represent (Chelsea), and which is divided into 13 wards, the yearly increase in a single ward is more than double the total population of each of half of the Irish boroughs. Comparing my Return of the number of Parliamentary electors for 1874 with my Return for 1873, I find a great increase in the already very populous counties of Middlesex, Surrey, Lancashire, and Yorkshire. I find the other counties on the whole stationary. I find a decrease in the borough electors in the whole of Ireland, in spite of the very enormous increase in the city of Belfast; and I also find a decrease in a large number of the small English boroughs. On the other hand, I find, in my borough for instance, an increase of 2,600 electors in the single year, which in London means an increase of 40,000 in population; in Finsbury, an equal increase; in Hackney, an increase of nearly 2,000 electors; in Greenwich, an increase of 1,500; in Lambeth, an increase of 2,000; in Liverpool, an in- crease of 2,000; in Manchester, an increase of 1,500; in Salford, an increase of more than 1,000; in Sheffield, an increase of 2,500; in Southwark, an increase of 1,500; in the Tower Hamlets, an increase of 1,500; in Wednesbury, an increase of 1,500; in Wolverhampton, an increase of 1,000; in Swansea—unless there was a mistake made last year, which I almost fancy must be the case—an increase of 6,000 electors; in Portsmouth, an increase of 1,500; in Preston, an increase of 1,000; and only in three big boroughs was there a slight decrease to set off on the other side. No doubt it may be said that so long as great expenditure occurs at the elections in large boroughs, we shall not be much improving the chances of the poor man if we disfranchise small boroughs and give their Members to the large ones. We shall also, it will be said, remove a certain number of young men of family from the House, and replace them by a certain number of manufacturers. Now, in the first place, the smallest boroughs on the average are not sending to the House of Commons at the present time at all the same class of men that they used to send 50 years ago. You have only to compare the list of Representatives of almost any of these boroughs during the last few years with the list at the beginning of the present century to see that this is so. But I go further, and I turn the argument; for if there were a proper distribution of political power by population, the big boroughs would not be so big as they are at the present time, and the expenses of elections in them would consequently not be so great. In Liverpool and some other towns, there are 18,000 electors to one Member. There are some of our cities—parts of London, for instance—where there is only one Member to every 250,000 of the people; but under a proper distribution of electoral power there would be, on the average, one Member to every 40,000 people, which would be a more manageable constituency, even if no improved method of representation were adopted. Indeed, I may make it a new argument in favour of re-distribution that with a register made conclusive as to the right to vote there is room for frightful corruption by means of personation in the very large boroughs. I had charge of a district at the last election for Hackney, and in working there I came to the conclusion, that in that constituency of 400,000 people and 40,000 electors, it would easily have been possible to have carried out personation on a very large scale. Now, if there were a complete re-distribution of political power, and such an allotment of the present number of Representatives as would give one Member to every 4,000 electors, the constituencies would be more manageable even in this sense, and the very great existing danger of personation would be avoided. But it must not be assumed from what I say that I think the present electoral system is perfect; and the Notice that I have given is not one that points to any plan of reform, but one which, stating the question in general terms, asks for a Commission for inquiry into the various methods of bringing about a juster measure of distribution of political power with the view of securing a more complete representation of the people. I also pointed out, two years ago, that there was no understanding in 1868 that this subject should not be re-opened, and that, indeed, there was, on the contrary, an understanding that partially, at all events, it should be re-opened, and that very speedily indeed. The Conservative Government in 1868 itself actually proposed the disfranchisement of the small Irish boroughs and the increase of the county representation in Ireland. That proposal, however, suffered the fate which many of the proposals of the year underwent. The House of Lords, although they were dealing with a subject in respect of which I think they felt a certain nervousness, nevertheless professed, through their leading Members, that the re-distribution scheme could not last. Lord Granville said it could not last three years. Lord Halifax moved a Resolution declaring the redistribution scheme wholly inadequate, and obtained 59 votes in a small House. Lord Grey proposed to secure 23 more seats from the small boroughs, and was only beaten in the House of Lords by 98 to 86. It is on a suggestion of Lord Grey that I raise the subject once again. After the discussion upon my Motion two years ago, Lord Grey wrote a long letter to The Times, in which he strongly advocated inquiry into the subject by a Royal Commission. He pointed out, with great force and great truth, that while everyone admitted that the anoma- lies were frightful and that something ought to be done to diminish them, hardly any two people agreed as to what plan for remedying them should be adopted. He showed that some were favourable to a mere chopping-up of the constituencies—that, on the other hand, the principle of allowing minorities by means of the cumulative vote, or otherwise, to obtain a share of political power was gaining ground in public opinion—that as regarded this very idea itself, the best mode of applying it was far from being ascertained—that among those who more or less shared the views of Mr. Hare there was a general belief that the difficulties of his scheme were very great, and ought to be examined without delay. Now, there can, I think, be no doubt in the mind of any impartial man, that Lord Grey's statements were perfectly and entirely sound; and, if that admission is once made, it becomes clear that a strong case has been established in favour of inquiry. The summary of that case is this:—That men of all parties are agreed that the anomalies of our representative system are exceedingly great and ought to be abated; that the country is indisposed to sudden and hasty action, and therefore the time has not come for immediate legislation; that, moreover, there exist a number of competing schemes for the removal of the anomalies, each of which has active partizans whose opinions have never yet been sifted by careful and skilful examination. I hold in my hand a letter from Mr. Hare, for instance, in which he reminds me that when the subject of Parliamentary elections was inquired into by a Select Committee of this House, the Chairman refused to take evidence upon the representative system on the ground that it was outside the scope of the already large inquiry. Again, upon the discussion of the Parliamentary Elections Bill, the Chairman ruled out of Order the elaborate Amendments of Mr. Morrison, which, again, would have raised a discussion upon the point. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, who is to second the Motion that I make, will deal with other proposals, and with the need that exists for inquiry into them, when he speaks, and I will only say of them that a time of quiet like the present is the only time when plans such as these can possibly obtain the impartial and, I may say, the scientific inquiry and treatment which they need. When the Conservative Party is in power, Liberals and Radicals in the constituencies unite, and unite upon some cry. In the course of a few years they return to power, and the war-cry becomes a policy, and it is too late to begin to point out how the reform upon which the country has set its heart could have been accomplished in a better way. The next cry raised will probably be a cry for equal electoral divisions in some form or other, and, as Lord Grey showed, the Conservative Party will only have itself to blame if, by refusing calm and deliberate inquiry now, it should cause an imperative demand for hasty or for ill-considered change. The case in favour of inquiry is so strong, that the only danger which its advocates can run is that of weakening it by repetition. The only question which can be seriously discussed is that of the character of the body by which inquiry should be conducted. The time of Members of the House of Commons is already taken up by a vast number of Select Committees, and while any Commission appointed upon this subject would, of course, contain some Members of this House, it would not need the services of so many as 21 or 23. Moreover there are some of the Peers peculiarly qualified to sit to hear evidence and to report upon those points. By having recourse to a Select Committee rather than to a Royal Commission, we should lose the advice and assistance of men like Lord Halifax and Lord Grey; but whatever be the plan of inquiry adopted, that which I think must be clear indeed is that it should take place at once. The Conservative Party know how the subject of reform was thought to have been put aside for years in the quiet which followed 1860; yet, there are many, even in a triumphant Conservative majority, who, looking both to the future and to the past, are still of opinion that it might have been better for the country, and better even for the Party to which they themselves belong, that inquiry should have preceded the hurried legislation of 1867 and 1868. When the Conservatives carry the majority of the divisions of the great counties of Lancashire, Middlesex, and Kent, and when they hold their own in Yorkshire—when, turning to the boroughs, they carry Marylebone and Manchester as well as Liverpool—they need have no fear about steps in the direction of giving the intelligent voter in the large communities a power equal to that possessed by the voter in constituencies such as those which some time ago I named. A country like England will not long permit the public scandal which our present system must produce:—for instance, such a satire upon representative institutions as the universal admission by the Press, that with Westminster at Motcomb, Shaftesbury is hopeless for a Liberal, and that with Lord Richard Grosvenor at Motcomb it would be hopeless for a Conservative; nor can men of intelligence be expected to put up long with such advertisements as those which appear daily in our leading journals of which the following is a specimen, which I cut lately from The Times:To merchants retiring from business, and wishing for a seat in Parliament. A first-class Irish estate of 5,000 acres, carrying the representation of a borough in the House of Commons. Those must have misread the history of the country, who think that England will tolerate the grievance now any more than she tolerated it in 1832. The right hon. Gentleman opposite, who has never feared the English democracy and who has the magnificent past of the settlement of the lines of the franchise, might well be praised if in the future he should also lay down the principles which are to regulate our dealings with re-distribution of political power. The hon. Baronet concluded by moving his Resolution.


, in seconding the Motion, said, he agreed in thinking that it was not only necessary to prove the existence of inequalities and anomalies, but also to prove that such anomalies and inequalities, instead of curing themselves, were increasing. As far as the boroughs were concerned, the increase in the population was taking place in towns at present unrepresented in Parliament, while in boroughs which were, in his view, unduly represented, the population was either stationary or retrogressive. It might, at first sight, be supposed, because there was an emigration from the country to the town districts, that so far as the counties were concerned, the admitted inequality in their representation was diminishing; but a moment's consideration would show that this was not so. In Yorkshire, there were scattered over the country great and increasing boroughs, which were at the present moment unrepresented, and those boroughs were constantly adding their quota to the town population. Many of the counties were in this way liable to be swamped by town voters, so that the county Members would cease to represent the rural population of England. In one division of East Sussex there were about 10,000 electors, and of these no less than 35 per cent derived their qualifications from Parliamentary boroughs, whilst about 10 per cent were living outside the county altogether. In South West Lancashire no less than 25 per cent of the entire county constituency was supplied by persons who had qualifications in the one Parliamentary borough of Liverpool. If the county constituencies should be enlarged, this inequality would largely increase. It was such reasons as these that induced hon. Members on both sides of the House to say that if there should be an enlargement of the suffrage, the present inequalities would be so enormously increased that it would be necessary to have a comprehensive scheme for the re-distribution of seats. There was a great and important distinction between the two measures. To extend the suffrage would be an extremely simple matter; but there could be few things more difficult than to frame a proper and just measure for the re-distribution of seats. This being so, it was much better that the preliminary steps towards such an object should be taken in a time of political peace like the present, than that the matter should be postponed to a time of heat and tumult. There were two distinct schools of thought in reference to this question. One class believed that the inequalities complained of would be best remedied by the formation of equal electoral districts; others thought the remedy was to be found in a system of voting, by means of which, every important section of opinion in a great constituency would have a chance of being represented. To equal electoral districts there were these objections—that they would make the representation of great constituencies more local in their character, that only local majorities would be represented, and that as the different districts in- creased, re-adjustment would have to be constantly going on—a process which would no doubt give rise, as in America, to a great deal of election trickery. In the State of Illinois, a few years ago, the system of equal electoral districts was tried and abandoned, and a more satisfactory plan devised, which was to divide the State into constituencies returning three Members each, and to allow each elector to vote for only one candidate. Cumulative voting, again, had the very serious disadvantage of allowing a great waste of voting power, when a popular favourite had an enormous majority heaped upon him, and also of making it possible for an actual majority to be in a minority at the poll. Now, the purpose of an inquiry would be to discover some means of preventing a waste of voting power, and, at the same time, of giving every section of opinion its due share of representation. When he first entered the House, all of the 16 Members for the Metropolis were Liberals; and the result was the same as if from Notting Hill to Greenwich and from Hampstead to Lambeth there was not a single Conservative to be found. No one could say that that was a fair and adequate representation of London. What he wished to secure was absolute supremacy to the majority, and, at the same time, a guarantee that the minority should have the opportunity of being heard. The Prime Minister, in speaking on this subject last year, attempted to alarm the House by saying that the redistribution of political power would be accompanied by the disfranchisement of boroughs of less than 40,000 inhabitants. But nothing like that was proposed. Instead of disfranchising small boroughs, he (Mr. Fawcett) desired to see them grouped together, with the addition of some of the larger towns which, as yet, had no representation; and, if this were done, the present borough representation would be preserved in all its vigour, the small boroughs would be freed from local influence of a pernicious kind, the present inequality of the county representation would be redressed—the county regaining its distinctive rural character—and, lastly, additional Members would be obtained to bestow upon the larger boroughs and counties. By this means he believed we might make considerable progress towards equality, without the wholesale scheme of disfranchisement which the Prime Minister had hinted at. His object in speaking had not been to advocate any particular system of representation, but to show the importance of the proposed inquiry. The great end of political reform was to interest as large a number of the people as possible in the affairs of the State, and to make that House a true reflex of the wishes, wants, and hopes of the entire nation.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to cause inquiry to be made into the various methods of bringing about a juster distribution of political power, with a view of securing a more complete Representation of the People."—(Sir Charles W. Dilke.)


Sir, like the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, I have already spoken this evening, and therefore on this occasion I will not address you at any length. The address of the hon. Baronet, which was well considered, appeared to me to be founded on the principle that there is no feeling at present in the people of this country for any further Parliamentary change; and, under these circumstances, the hon. Baronet suggests to us the advisableness of preparing for the future by the convenient machinery of investigation under the authoritative form of a Royal Commission. I understood the hon. Baronet that the reason he assigns for this Motion is that on previous occasions when Parliament was called upon to consider these questions it was not prepared for the task, neither under the Government of Earl Russell in 1866 nor under the Government with which I was connected. I must say, in defence of my Predecessors, although I did not at all agree to the measures which they produced, I did not see any symptoms of their being unprepared. They appeared to me to be armed with a considerable mass of evidence and with the fruits of great researches; and when I myself acceded to office, and my mind was directed to the consideration of the same question, I must say I found that in the public offices—and especially in the office of the Poor Law Board, which had furnished the machinery used by my Predecessors to accumulate facts and conduct inquiries on the subject—there was a mass of evidence which I believe was quite unexampled in the history of this country; and whatever mistakes may have been made by the Administration which was responsible for the Acts of 1867–8, it cannot be pretended for a moment that those mistakes were due to deficiency of information. So far as I could collect the views of the hon. Baronet, he appears to me to found his demand for inquiry principally upon the existence of anomalies in our Parliamentary Constitution. These anomalies, he says, are universally acknowledged, and therefore, although there may not be a public opinion at the present moment which demands improvement of change, he counsels us that it is necessary to avail ourselves of the interval to obtain the information which is necessary for dealing with them. But, after all, the case of the hon. Baronet on the subject of anomalies does not appear to me to be a very happy one. He says that in 1832 the country determined to deal with these Parliamentary anomalies. Well, to deal with the anomalies that existed in 1832 required no trifling measures. I do not suppose England had ever been, from a civil cause, more agitated than it was in its attempt—in its determined effort rather—to terminate the Parliamentary anomalies that flourished in 1832. But what says the hon. Baronet? He says we have arrived at the year 1875, and, to his great disappointment, he finds the anomalies have increased. Therefore, if we failed in 1832, and in 1867–8, I want to know what prospect there is of our succeeding in the present period? The fact is, anomalies have always prevailed in the Parliamentary Constitution of England. The hon. Baronet will not deny that; no one will on either side of the House; but the Parliamentary Constitution of England is the only Parliamentary Constitution that has ever continued. Such anomalies as the hon. Baronet referred to existed when James I., to mitigate them, summoned boroughs to Parliament, and terminated, without the intervention of Schedule A, the influence of a number of boroughs. Yet the Parliament of England established in that reign and in the succeeding reigns the liberties of England; and it was by Parliamentary anomalies that you founded—at least established—the Constitution of this country to which we are all so indebted. No one can deny that from that period to the present, on the whole, the course of this country has been a course of progress. You have dealt with questions of political liberty and commercial liberty and many other subjects that interest and agitate the human mind, and you have dealt with them by the agency of this Parliament of anomalies. Therefore, when I find we have achieved such greatness by Parliamentary anomalies—and the hon. Baronet confesses that the great Reform movement of 1832 was designed to put an end to Parliamentary anomalies, and that they flourish now more than they did at that period—I hope the hen. Baronet will not be offended if I am not sanguine that the new movement he recommends, in my opinion, may yet disappoint the expectations of this country. The fact is this—that in an ancient country and under an ancient Constitution like ours you cannot get rid of anomalies, which are historical results produced as time goes on by the varying temper and circumstances of the country. What you want is this—when an anomaly is proved to be an abuse you should get rid of it, and that is what you have done. The hon. Baronet appeared to indicate the lines of a new Reform Bill; what are these? We have to wait for it; but it is founded upon three principles—equality of franchise, re-distribution of seats, and representation of minorities. Well, I would say upon that statement that equality of franchise does not require any very great scientific knowledge. If you determine to have equality of franchise you do not require the researches of philosophers to assist you. It is a rough but simple process, and it requires only will on the part of the Ministry and determination on the part of the country. If you come to a re-distribution of seats, that is a minor affair; it is an affair for a Boundary Commission; we do not want a Royal Commission existing for an indefinite period to accomplish that task. If you want England to be mapped out like a chessboard, with a number on every square, I will be bound to say I could attain that result with the assistance of some hon. Members of this House to whom I have appealed to perform similar tasks. We want no finessing either on the subject of the equality of franchise or of a large re-distribution of seats, although the one may require more labour than the other in dealing with it. The other feature of the new Reform Bill—the representation of minorities—is of a different character. The country is not at all decided upon the subject generally. The hon. Baronet will admit that. But there are a great many schemes of which the representation of minorities is the principle, though all varying in the suggestions by which that principle is to be carried into action. Then, to what does this call for a Royal Commission to inquire into the representation of minorities amount? It means to say that a number of clever, thoughtful men—that different schools of clever, thoughtful men—men who, I hope, will not be offended if I describe them as doctrinaires, because that is a title which was once held to be one of high honour among the greatest scholars and philosophers of this century—that they have a variety of schemes, all varying, but founded on the principle of the representation of minorities. They cannot agree among themselves; they do not contend that any of them have created a public opinion in the country that gives a colour to any particular scheme which is brought forward; and therefore they want a Royal Commission to inquire which of those schemes is most entitled to public confidence. That is a proposition which, when brought forward by a man of the ability of the hon. Member for Chelsea, and recommended as he has recommended it, deserves, no doubt, the consideration of this House in debate; but no one can for a moment suppose that that is an indication of a state of feeling which demands the practical dealing of Parliament. The question is not ripe—if it ever does become ripe—for Parliament to consider; and to-night we have really all our old friends, with one exception, in a new face. All those philosophical views of the hon. Baronet, whether they refer to the franchise or to the re-distribution of seats, are part of the old stock of the Parliamentary speculator. The one exception relates to the representation of minorities; and, as to that, the hon. Baronet himself confesses that there is no scheme for the representation of minorities which he can recommend for adoption by Parliament. He says there are a variety of schemes; they are to be found in every Magazine and every Quarterly Review. Why, men set up Magazines and Quarterly Reviews in order to propound those schemes. And we are to have a Royal Commission for the purpose of discovering which of them is the least devoid of practical genius. We are to have the existing anomalies inquired into by a Royal Commission, which if it arrives at a practical result that it can recommend to Parliament for the representation of minorities must lead to very long deliberation. Conceive all this time how the anomalies will be spreading! The hon. Baronet says they are like mushrooms. Notwithstanding Lord Grey's measure and the other changes that have been introduced in the interval, there are more anomalies in our Constitution than ever. And will not these anomalies go on increasing at the same rate? Of course, according to the hon. Baronet's views, they naturally will. The name of a borough of importance, which is not represented, has been mentioned—that of Barrow-in-Furness. That borough has sprung up within a few years, and since there was a Parliamentary Reform Bill. We all know it is a centre of vast activity, intelligence, and enterprize. It is not represented. Well, is it not quite clear that if you go upon this principle of always removing Parliamentary anomalies, you must have, not a Royal Commission of Inquiry only, but a Royal Commission of Parliamentary Revision in the country. I will not say that Commission will be like the Barristers who revise the lists of voters every year, but you must have it periodically revising the Constitution, in order to remove anomalies and to adapt existing circumstances clearly, finally, and completely to the machinery of the Constitution. Well, I much object to that. I think that is a power which, in the hands of a strong Government, might be the source of great peril; and I prefer the older system, which leaves anomalies to settle themselves in time, but which permits the country to grow in freedom, in wealth and in power, to a political system which is to be revised every five or ten years under the influence of the Government of the Sovereign. There is another point which struck me when the hon. Baronet and his Seconder addressed us. It was, indeed, difficult to ascertain upon what ground the hon. Member for Hackney supported the Motion of the hon. Baronet. The hon. Member for Hackney objected to equal electoral districts. He objected to the Cumulative Vote—at present the most popular mode of representing minorities.


I did not object to the Cumulative Vote, but I said it was not a perfect scheme.


The hon. Gentleman says he did not object to the Cumulative Vote, but only said it was not a perfect scheme. Well, but then I thought that the hon. Member for Hackney and the hon. Baronet were politicians who never brought up anything but perfect schemes. I thought the observations of hon. Member for Hackney were directed against the destruction of small boroughs, and if you approve of the scheme of the hon. Baronet, you would suppose he was in the early Parliament of 1832 opposing some Reform Bill that was brought forward by the Administration of that day. I did not understand from the hon. Baronet that he so decidedly objected to the new scheme generally proposed by the hon. Member for Hackney. I think I heard that he was in favour of a Commission, of which Lord Grey and Lord Halifax should be Members. Well, I think that would be a very safe Commission. I do not think so far as I can form an opinion on public affairs, that the Constitution would be in danger under an investigation and scrutiny conducted by those eminent statesmen. But, after all, what is and what must be the practical result of investigations of this kind if they end in an approval of anything like equivalent changes? and, of course, they must be intended in time to lead to equivalent changes, or else the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea would not make the proposition which he has submitted. What is aimed at is to break up the old borough system of representation in this country. Well, that is a serious affair. How much of the character of this country depends upon its system of borough representation? How many of the great deeds which have been accomplished in this country have been accomplished by our borough representation? Is it likely that we should have reached the point which we have attained in political civilization without the borough representation? You may find a substitute for it—you may create equal electoral districts, and a general constituency of of the same monotonous character—but that variety of energy which has distinguished the history of England will, I think, be wanting; and, at any rate, until we can see something substantial placed before us which we can accept as a possible substitute for the present Parliamentary system of this country, I cannot doubt but that the people will hesitate long before they consent to any change. I cannot support the Motion of the hon. Baronet. I do not think there is any necessity for inquiry upon these subjects. Upon two of the great divisions I have mentioned—equality of franchise and re-distribution of seats—I think we have all the information already in our possession which it would be necessary to deal with if action were contemplated. And as to the third—the representation of minorities—I do not think that a Royal Commission on such a question would be likely to arrive at happier results than the meditation of philosophers, the writings of eminent men, and those authors who have given the deepest thought and research to the subject, and who, by the communication and expression of their ideas, excite in the public mind that intellectual controversy from which truth arises, and by which alone truth can be produced. I would not consign this great subject, on which public opinion is not in any way matured, and which is engaging the attention of the greatest authors and the highest philosophers, to the machinery of a Royal Commission. There is no necessity for taking such a step. I ask the House not to sanction it; and, although I am not one of those who pretend that the Parliamentary Constitution of England can remain unchanged—though I doubt not that in the course of time it will be modified by the changing circumstances of the country—yet I would always to the very last, even when I counselled or advised change, keep as well as I could to the old lines. I would not forget the traditions of the country, and I would remember under all circumstances that it is not well to surrender, for what, after all, may be the vagary of philosophers, a Parliamentary system which has raised this country to the highest glory, and certainly is the admiration of the world.


trusted that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister would not think him wanting in courtesy if he said a few words at this stage of the debate. He would have risen after the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea and the hon. Member for Hackney if he had not thought that anything he might have added to their speeches would be surplusage. Under the circumstances, he had determined to wait till some Member on the other side of the House had spoken. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had, it seemed to him, scarcely done justice to the speeches of the hon. Members. In the first place, he had treated the case as if it had been the chief object of those speeches to insist upon a Royal Commission; whereas the gist of them was, not that a particular mode of investigation should be adopted, but that a timely inquiry should be made with regard to changes which they deemed desirable. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to have forgotten a large question which occupied the House not a fortnight ago, and on which last Session he himself made a most important speech. It would seem that the question of the county franchise, with the proposal to admit 1,000,000 into the Constitution, was held by the Prime Minister to be one which need not now be taken into account, although the right hon. Gentleman said last year that that 1,000,000 of agricultural labourers were deserving of the franchise, and pointed out as his only objection to their admission the large changes which must follow the anomalies that would arise if they were admitted. The hon. Members for Hackney and for Chelsea had pointed out the necessity that must arise for a re-distribution of seats when the franchise was enlarged, and in doing so they had only followed the example of the right hon. Gentleman himself, who had pointed out with great elaboration the precise re-distribution which must take place. The right hon. Gentleman said that they had sufficient information before them to enable them to deal with this subject. But he had also understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that in 1867, when his Government was approaching the subject of reform, the House had at that time adequate information on that question, and yet the right hon. Gentleman's Government had been obliged to drop within a few weeks many of the provisions which they had added to their Reform Bill. The gist of the hon. Members' speeches to-night was that we ought not to be hurried into another "10 minutes' Reform Bill." There was a celebrated occasion on which a right hon. Gentleman, once a Member of that House, had informed his constituents that a Government Reform Bill had been adopted and dropped within the short space of 10 minutes; and what the people of this country would demand was that the House should not again drift into a question of this kind without the greatest possible circumspection. The speeches of the hon. Members for Hackney and Chelsea had done good service in calling attention to the classes of questions which must arise when further inevitable political changes occurred. Who could say what political changes must ensue when another 1,000,000 of electors were added to those who already possessed the franchise? And was it to be supposed, as had been stated by the right hon. Gentleman, that such changes could be brought about without further inquiry? The object of the Motion of the hon. Baronet was to point out that it was the duty of the present Government to lay sufficient information before the House as to the effect of the changes in our Constitution that must occur before long. The right hon. Gentleman had spoken of the principle of the representation of minorities as though it had not already been introduced into the Constitution. It was, however, a part of our Constitution at the present time, and that principle had been carried out to a certain extent. He (Mr. Goschen) was opposed to that principle, and he was not converted to it by the fact that he owed his position in that House in some degree to that principle. He doubted, however, whether the House had sufficient information on the subject. Had it been ascertained, for instance, what had been its effect in various towns? had it borne good fruit? had it prevented contests when contests ought to have taken place? had it thrown power too much into the hands of election agents? These were all proper subjects for inquiry; and if in the future there was to be representation of minorities, it seemed to him to be all important that Parliament should know how the system worked. Again, everyone would admit that it was desirable to include within the franchise many who were now outside of it; but they would also see the advantage of being able to forecast with some certainty what the pro- bable effect of extending the franchise would be upon future legislation. Parliament had now to deal with an increasing number of social questions, which were more or less complicated, and was often called upon to act as arbitrator between different classes of the community, in addition to having thrown upon it a considerable amount of philanthropical legislation; and it was impossible that their increasing duties could be adequately discharged without further information as to the effect upon such questions which a widening of the franchise would have. He ventured to say to hon. Gentlemen opposite that what the philanthropist gave one day to the masses as a gift and a boon, the democrat might probably demand the next day as a right. Parliament had come to deal with questions which affected interests which it used not to touch. Formerly it was considered the duty of Parliament to leave the community to manage its own affairs as much as possible, and to confine itself mainly to the maintenance of order and the voting of the Estimates. Now, however, Parliament entered into almost every condition of life, and legislated on subjects of a different character. Looking at the effect of the lowering of the franchise side by side with the changed tendency of Parliament, the House would do well to inquire what would be the result of its composition of a mere numerical supremacy in every borough and county. Very thoughtful men, although the right hon. Gentleman sneered at them as philosophers, who foresaw that changes must come, considered it desirable to ascertain what arrangements would be suited to the changed circumstances of the time. In his judgment, the right hon. Gentleman, with his usual good humour, treated too lightly the very serious questions raised by his hon. Friend. On one point, however, he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman. He did not think a Royal Commission would be the best body to make an inquiry such as had been discussed. The Commissioners would be few in number, and their political colour might give a bias to their Report. Still, his hon. Friend had done good service by the course he had taken; and, considering that the Motion was not a demand for any particular form of inquiry, but merely an assertion of the principle that inquiry ought to precede constitutional changes, he should have great pleasure in supporting the Motion of his hon. Friend.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 120; Noes 190: Majority 70.