§ MR. BLENNERHASSETT,
in rising to move—That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that the whole electoral body should be enabled to enjoy that direct representation which is at present confined to majorities; that no effectual security exists for the due representation of minorities; and that, as far as possible, all opinions should have an opportunity of being represented in direct proportion to the number of electors by whom they are held,said: In asking the House to consider the question before us, I am deeply conscious of the magnitude and difficulty of the task I undertake. Nothing but the strong conviction I entertain of the paramount importance of the subject could induce me to place myself in a position where the personal insignificance of the Mover so strongly contrasts with the ambitious nature of the Motion. I am not unmindful, either, how various and how important are the considerations involved in any interference with the electoral machine; and I am fully, and even painfully, conscious of the difficulty I shall have in placing clearly and with sufficient brevity before the House the nature of a scheme which has yet hardly been admitted into the arena of Parliamentary discussion; and which, at the same time, involves considerations extending far and wide over the field of political speculation. I would be glad, indeed, that this proposal had the advantage of being introduced by someone whose experience and position in the House would secure for it an attentive hearing, and, in this hope, I have let four Sessions of the present Parliament pass by in silence. Impressed, however, as I am with the belief that no question more important, nor any involving graver and deeper issues, could be submitted to Parliament, I have felt that I ought not to allow any personal reluctance to prevent my using the opportunity which we all enjoy to secure the discussion of those subjects in which we are most deeply interested. I rely with confidence on the forbearance of the House towards, I may almost say, a silent Member; and I am encouraged by the recollection that most of the great changes which have taken place in our political system have been, in the first instance, advocated by private persons with but little support and 980 on their own responsibility. Although the question of Proportional Representation cannot yet be said to have attained general popularity, it has occupied the attention, and received the approval, of many of the greatest political minds in our own and in foreign countries. I am glad to take refuge under the shelter of such great reputations. Mr. John Stuart Mill, in his autobiography, says that, having become acquainted with Mr. Hare's system of Personal Representation, he saw in that great practical and philosophical idea the greatest improvement of which the system of representative government was susceptible. He says—This great discovery in the political art inspired me—as I believe it has inspired all thoughtful persons who have adopted it—with new and more sanguine hopes respecting the prospects of human society, by freeing the form of political institution towards which the whole civilized world is manifestly and irresistibly tending, from the chief part of what seemed to qualify or render doubtful its ultimate benefits.M. Prevost Paradol has said—Proportional Representation is, to my mind, as evident and almost as important an improvement upon the majority system of representative government now in vogue as the application of steam was to industrial pursuits.I could quote the opinions of eminent public men in almost every country of Europe, and in the United States of America, who have spoken in the same spirit of enthusiastic approval. It is, surely, not reasonable to regard an idea which has recommended itself so thoroughly to some, of the highest political intelligence of the age, as a mere theoretical subtlety or crotchet unworthy the attention of practical men. Nor can we be surprised at the enthusiasm which the idea of a scientific system of representation has evoked when we consider the defects and the injustice of the existing system of mere majority representation. When Mr. Mill brought, forward a proposal to introduce the principle of minority representation into the Reform Bill of 1867, the present Secretary of State for India—then a Member of this House—made a remarkable speech, in which, though he did not accept the proposals of Mr. Mill, he admitted that the evil against which those proposals were intended to provide was a real evil. He said we were in danger of the introduction into our political sys- 981 tem of the hard machinery of local Party organization, conducted by Party managers, not always men of the purest motives or highest character, and he feared the result would be that persons who were unwilling to shape their every idea and feeling by the test of Party—to put their consciences wholly into the keeping of local Party leaders —would be entirely excluded from the House of Commons. But the exclusion of original and independent thinkers from Parliament is not the only evil of our imperfect representative system. The necessary effect of that system is to exclude altogether from representation, and to deprive of all share of political power, an enormous number of persons, who, as duly qualified electors, are nominally within the pale of the Constitution, and whose right to be represented is indisputable. These persons, consisting during each Parliament of the aggregate of the minorities in all contested elections, together with the minorities, often considerable, in those constituencies which from various causes have not been contested, may be fairly assumed to vary from a-third to something under a-half of the whole electoral body. At the last General Election the unsuccessful candidates received 891,836 votes; the House of Commons, as it then stood, being elected by 1,593,347 votes. The fact, therefore, is that in every Parliament, out of a total of not much more than 2,500,000, at least 1,000,000 electors are unrepresented, and of these a considerable number — namely, all those whose Party is in a permanent minority in their constituencies, are never directly represented in the whole course of their lives. It is evident that the effect of thus, as it were, cutting off in detail all local minorities, is that in divisions of this House the majority of Members may represent only a minority of the electoral body; for, of course, a majority of a majority may be but a minority of the whole. Our anomalous representative system, however, not only fails to provide that the majority of the electoral body shall command a majority in the House—it does not even secure to the majority of the directly represented electors a preponderating influence in our divisions. The unequal distribution of electoral power, which gives electors in small and unimportant constituencies 100 or even 150 times more voice 982 in the selection of a Member than electors in the great constituencies, sometimes leads to the defeat even of the actual electoral majority. As a matter of fact, important divisions have recently taken place, in which the minority of Members has represented a far greater number of electors, and more important political interests, than the majority. The existing state of things cannot be defended even on the ground of justice to the majority. Considering, therefore, the evil of the exclusion of able and independent men from Parliament, the practical disfranchisement of a large portion of the electoral body, the loss to the State of the wholesome influence of local minorities, and the liability of the opinions even of the represented majority to be falsified, is not any plan by which these evils may be remedied, and the opinions of the people truly represented, at least worthy of attention? So, we may be sure, would have thought that great master of political wisdom who said—The virtue, spirit, and essence of a House of Commons consists in its being the express image of the feelings of a nation.How much stronger is the case if it can be shown that all this can be done, not by any violent breaking away from the old principles which have guided the government of the country, but by carrying those principles to their natural and reasonable conclusion, by imposing on the individual elector no duty which the simplest can fail to understand, and by the aid of no machinery except that which would be easily worked and is always ready to hand. It is only those, I think, who have never taken the slightest trouble to understand the nature of this proposal who will venture to describe it as complicated and impracticable. I believe I shall be able to prove that all the conditions I have mentioned are fulfilled in the system of personal Proportional Representation on which my Motion is founded. A few words will be sufficient to indicate the leading features of that system. Every elector, wherever he resides, should have one vote. There is no adequate reason for giving an elector, because he happens to live in a particular place, the right to vote for three or four Members, while other electors, with precisely the same qualification, are only allowed to vote for one Member. Large and im- 983 portant constituencies are, no doubt, entitled to a greater amount of representation than others; but the real measure of political power is not the number of Members for whom an individual elector may vote, but the number of votes necessary to return a Member. The existing inequality in this respect, which gives a few hundred electors in some little place as much influence as many thousand electors elsewhere, is a distinction out of harmony with the feelings of the time, and cannot much longer be maintained. Every elector, therefore, should have only one vote; but he should be allowed to make the freest possible use of that vote by giving it to the candidate whom, of all candidates in the country, he thinks will best and most truly represent him. For this purpose, votes should be received in every locality for others as well as for the local candidates. An elector who does not feel that any of his local candidates are persons in whom he can put his trust, or with whose opinions he can agree, should not be condemned to choose between disagreeable alternatives—as Hortensio says—"There's small choice in rotten apples"—or else to refrain from voting altogether; but should be allowed to exercise his political rights with the utmost liberty, by giving his support to any candidate elsewhere by whom he may prefer to be represented. Every candidate for whom a proper number of votes have been recorded should be elected. The number of voters who may fairly claim the right to return a Member depends on the number of Members to be returned, as compared with the total number of electors, or of actual voters in the country. Suppose, for example, we find by dividing the total number of voters by the total number of Members, that there is one Member to every, let us say, 4,000 voters, then every candidate who receives that number of votes, which has been called "the unit of representation," should be entitled to a seat. If, however, 4,000 votes be considered sufficient to elect a Member, no greater number should be counted for any candidate; otherwise the names of a few well-known and popular public men would obtain an enormous and unnecessary number of votes. If the superfluous voting papers were entirely rejected, these votes would be lost; to avoid this, the elector should 984 be allowed to put on his voting paper some other names of candidates for whom his vote could be counted in the order in which they came, if it were not needed to make up the requisite quota for the first name. By these means every vote would be effective, and every elector, having his due share of political power, would be able to contribute to the election of the candidate of his choice. No one would any longer be nominally represented by a Member against whom he had voted, and from whose opinions he differed; all constituencies would be unanimous, and every minority worth taking into account would be represented in due proportion to its numbers. To secure all these advantages, the only thing the elector would have to do would be to put on his voting paper the name of his local candidate, or anyone else he pleased, and some other names in the order of preference to be used in case those at the head of the list did not require his aid. This is absolutely all the voter would have to do; and to speak of this as beyond the powers of the average British elector implies an estimate of his capacity not very flattering to the national intelligence. The only remaining process would be the sorting of the voting papers, and assigning each to the name written upon it, for which it ought to be counted. It does not require any extraordinary intelligence to understand that every voting paper is to be counted for the name first written upon it until the necessary quota of votes has been made up for that candidate, and he is elected; and that then a similar process is to be gone through for the other names in succession, until the election is completed. The duty of the scrutineers, in doing this, would, in fact, be a simple mechanical process far less difficult than what is done every day with accuracy and ease in the Post Office, the Banker's Clearing House, and a thousand places of business. This is substantially the whole of the proposal which Mr. Mill endeavoured to engraft on the Reform Bill of 1867, and a modified form of which was brought before the last Parliament embodied in the provisions of a Bill introduced by Mr. Walter Morrison. Every point of detail is entered into, and, I think, satisfactorily dealt with by Mr. Hare in his famous work on The Election of Representatives. I have simply tried to give a 985 general outline of the proposal; but, in Mr. Hare's draft of an electoral law, the minutest particulars are carefully provided for. It is, however, by no means necessary to commit ourselves to the details of Mr. Hare's or any other plan. If the principle of independent Personal Representation were once accepted, it would be easy to appoint a Committee to inquire into and ascertain the manner in which it could most perfectly be applied. Those who assert that such a system is unworkable, have to encounter the simple fact that it has been actually tried, and found to work extremely well. This identical method was adopted so long ago as 1855, in the elections to the Danish Rigsraad, and the present Viceroy of India, who was then one of the Secretaries of Legation at Copenhagen, in his official Report of that date, bears conclusive testimony to the simple and satisfactory working of the electoral machinery. Since that time the same method of voting has been extended to all Parliamentary, municipal, and ecclesiastical elections in the Kingdom of Denmark. Unless, on the assumption of the very superior intelligence of Danes as compared with Englishmen, this evidence is really conclusive as regards the practical working of the system. Whenever the experiment has been tried, it has succeeded. In the election of the Governing Body in the Orange Society of New Jersey, in the nomination of the Board of Overseers, at Harvard University, at the Co-operative Congress at Bolton in 1872, where its adoption was suggested by Mr. Morrison; wherever, in fact, the system has had a trial, it has been found to work easily, expeditiously, and without the slightest hitch or difficulty of any kind. Apart from this positive evidence, which will have to be disposed of before the charge of impracticability can be maintained, I have no doubt that anyone who, with an unprejudiced mind, will take the trouble of going into the matter, and of examining the nature of the proposed process, will feel obliged to admit that if it should seem desirable on other grounds to adopt this plan, there would not be any practical difficulty in getting it to work. Should, however, any doubt of this kind remain, it could easily be solved by trying the system experimentally on any large city or group, of boroughs. The objection will probably be raised, 986 that to provide for the direct representation of minorities is unnecessary; because the representation of their opinions is indirectly but still effectually secured by the representation of those holding similar opinions elsewhere. The minority in a particular constituency, it may be said, may not enjoy direct representation; but their opinions are represented in other places where their Party is in a majority and is able to return the Member. This argument is based on the assumption that the number of localities in which any given opinions prevail is proportioned to the general prevalence of those opinions throughout the country. That this is not the case with anything approaching to completeness, the slightest reflection will show. And even if it were true, it would not do away with the evil of local minorities being without direct political power. It is not the fact that the opinions suppressed in one constituency are expressed in another. There might be some truth in this if nothing was to be thought of in public life but Party, and if all considerations of variety of opinion, of individual preference and personal feeling were to go for nothing, and Members were to be elected simply, so to speak, on one ticket or another, constituents being nothing but mere mechanical puppets worked by the machinery of hard Party organization. This view is certainly consistent with the choice of delegates for an American Presidential Election; but anything more oppposed to the free, ancient, and honourable character of the British House of Commons, it is impossible to imagine. By the exclusion of local minorities, we lose an important and useful element in our political system. Minorities in England are mainly composed of country Liberals and urban Conservatives—two classes which embrace some of the healthiest and most intelligent elements of their respective Parties—while they are conspicuously free from the extravagances of either. While the county elections that take place from time to time show how considerable in those constituencies is the Liberal minority, there are but, I think, 27 Liberals to 145 Conservatives among the 172 English County Members. The Liberals, who in most of the English counties are, practically, as completely excluded from representation as if they 987 were altogether outside the pale of the Constitution, are not compensated for their condition of political nullity by the fact that large bodies of Conservatives in many towns are in a position of similar disadvantage. Two wrongs do not make a right; and those who argue as if they did, must suffer from the same confusion of ideas as the old gentleman who derived so much comfort from the reflection that in our Courts of Law justice must be fairly done on the whole; because, though a great many people who ought to be acquitted are found guilty, still a great many who ought to be found guilty are acquitted. Our country has need of all the varied elements of her national life, and the exclusion of any one of them is an evil. The true and generous policy is not to balance one evil against another; but, by a broad and just reform, to remove them both. Another objection urged against Personal Representation is, that it would destroy the local character of our electoral system. It is said, that if electors were allowed to vote outside their own constituencies, the special representation of places would be interfered with. I think it can be shown, that so far from being incompatible with our traditional method of local representation, the proportional system would carefully preserve everything that is good in it, giving the freest scope to all local feelings and interests, and providing the most effectual security for the due representation of the opinions of every locality. While, however, I fully admit that the distinctive features of local representation should be preserved, localism in politics is a principle which may easily be carried too far. Those who are acquainted with the internal politics of the United States are aware that extreme localism is one of the main causes of the inferiority of the House of Representatives in that country as compared with the Senate, the Members of which are elected from the area of a whole State. It is not the theory of our Constitution that Members are elected to represent merely the particular county or borough for which they take their seats. On the contrary, the principle that each Member of the House of Commons is deputed to serve not only for his constituents, but for the whole Kingdom, has been successfully asserted so far back as the reign of Elizabeth; and 988 mark the distinction between our English Parliament and such deputations of the estates as were assembled in several Continental Kingdoms. Hallam says—It is a principle to which the House of Commons is indebted for its weight and dignity, as well as its beneficial efficiency, and which none but the most servile worshippers of the populace are ever found to gainsay.The local principle, to be healthy, should be liberal and elastic—it should not be an unnecessary restriction on electoral freedom. The individual independence of electors is perfectly consistent with the preservation of everything valuable in local representation; but the fetters of a rigidly local system are incompatible with freedom of personal action. When, by a perfectly free system, you allow the representation of all feelings and opinions, you effectually secure due weight for those local attachments and interests which are so strong a feature in the national character. Nothing could destroy the significance and efface the traditions of local representation so completely as the introduction of the American plan of equal and variable electoral districts, and in no way can the tendency of recent changes in the direction of electoral districts be so effectually counteracted as by the adoption of the proportional system. As a matter of fact, local majorities would generally, no doubt, prefer to vote for their local candidates; while the fact of their not being constrained to do so would produce greater care by Party managers in the selection of the best men as candidates. Local minorities, instead of being altogether excluded from political influence, would be able to contribute elsewhere to the election of Representatives after their own heart. Minority representation, it has also been said, would lead to the election of a number of persons representing special interests and peculiar opinions, and would interfere with legislation on broad principles for the general good. I am not aware that our present system has the effect of excluding persons afflicted with crotchets from the House. And, moreover, crotchets, provided they are held by a sufficient number of persons, ought to be represented. All new opinions are at first held by a minority, and are liable to be considered crotchets—for instance, such was for many years the fate of vote by Ballot. All new opinions should 989 have a reasonable opportunity of being heard in Parliament; if they are absurd there is no place where their absurdity can more effectually be demonstrated. If they are new truths, their recognition as such, will be an advantage to society. Electoral independence also holds out the utmost inducement to persons who are so strongly possessed with one idea, that they are willing to devote all their political influence to its support, to look out for the best and ablest advocates for their views, and such men, as regards other questions, are likely to be above the average and to make generally useful Members. Then the proportional system would be a valuable guide in estimating the force and direction of opinion throughout the country. Petitions are notoriously a very imperfect index of public opinion; and, indeed, except on main Party issues, it is impossible to gauge accurately the state of the popular mind on any subject. A few voluble advocates in Parliament, and some noisy adherents out-of-doors, may give an entirely fictitious importance and an unreal appearance of popularity to some notion to which the common sense of the great majority of the nation is utterly opposed. It is necessary, as Burke says, to distinguish between the noisy and permanent forces of public opinion—Because a few grasshoppers on a summers' day make the field ring with their importunate chirp, while great cattle chew the cud, and are silent, pray do not think that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field; that, of course, they are many in number, or that, after all, they are more than the insignificant, though loud and troublesome, insects of the hour.A scientific system of representation would not only be the best means of estimating the actual amount of support any question receives, it would also be a safeguard against those sudden and violent changes in the Parliamentary position of questions which occasionally take place without any corresponding alteration in the feeling of the country regarding them. The political position of every question would vary, not by leaps and bounds, but in direct proportion to the growth or decline of public opinion. I have attempted to meet by anticipation the objections which appeared to me most likely to be raised to my proposal, and I shall now state, as briefly as possible, the positive grounds 990 on which I ask the support of the House. I appeal to those who hold the democratic theory of representation to support this Motion as a legitimate and necessary deduction from their own principles. The true principle of democracy is the government of the people by the whole people equally represented, not the government of the people by a majority of the people exclusively represented. The tyranny of a majority may be just as adverse to freedom as the tyranny of an individual or of an oligarchy. No one but a demagogue of the lowest type could wish to place all power in the hands of one class, however numerous its members might be, and to deprive all other classes of even the power of making their opinions heard; yet this, as I shall presently show, will be the inevitable consequence of mere majority representation, combined with the changes in our political system which have either actually taken place, or are looming in the not distant future. It is not, however, by theoretical considerations that we are generally influenced in modifying our institutions, and it is not on such grounds that I wish to appeal to the House. We are, wisely as I admit, not given to troubling ourselves much about the theoretical perfection of our institutions provided they do well the work for which we intend them. The words used by Lord Russell 30 years ago still express the general feeling on this point. That eminent statesman said—In my opinion, that which not only every man of full ago, but the whole population of the Kingdom, have a right to, is the best government and the best kind of representation which it is possible for 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.It is not as an attempt to re-model our Representative system on the basis of a theoretical perfection that I hope to commend my proposal to the favour of the House, although I am able to claim for it the unquestionable advantage of an almost ideal degree of theoretic completeness; but I urge it as a practical effort to improve our electoral machinery, to widen the influence and raise the character of Parliament, and to create a safeguard against dangers attendant upon the changes, both actual and imminent, in the political condition 991 of the country. Who can tell how long it may be possible to provide such a safeguard? The change that has taken place of late years in our political system is a great fact, and the consequences likely to follow from that change deserve the most serious consideration. An exclusive devotion to theory is, no doubt, an evil; but, on the other hand, there is such a thing as being too completely engrossed with the present to look far enough a-head and to make adequate provision for the future. Let us beware lest there be some truth in those "famous prophetic pictures," spoken of by Stillingfleet, "which represent the fate of England by a mole, a creature blind and busy, continually working underground." An eminent writer of the day has spoken of what he calls "The Revolution of 1867." I do not adopt all the conclusions, or share to the full extent the gloomy forebodings, of the modern Cassandra; but the wisdom of her lesson cannot be disputed—that, having left the old paths, we are bound to look carefully before us, and to take every possible precaution in the untried and perilous ways we have to tread. The revolution alluded to is the transfer of electoral preponderance, or, in other words, of supreme political power from capital to labour, from the propertied to the wage-receiving class. That this transfer has potentially, if not actually, taken place, hardly anyone, I imagine, will venture to deny. The establishment of household suffrage in boroughs has, as a matter of fact, actually placed the supreme control of the borough representation of England and Scotland in the hands of the class of persons who depend on manual labour for their daily bread. The adoption of secret voting has put an end—justly and properly, as I think—to any control which might formerly have been exercised over these persons by landlords or employers. More than this, the establishment of household franchise in counties is, I think I may venture to say, felt to be only a question of time. This question, which we have recently discussed, is one to which I shall make the barest allusion in passing, and only in so far as is strictly necessary for the purposes of my argument, and I shall avoid, of course, all reference to the recent debate. I may, however, be permitted to say that, in my opinion, it is perfectly evident that 992 it will not be possible much longer to maintain an arbitrary distinction founded on no difference of circumstances, position, or intelligence; but depending merely on the artificial boundaries of existing constituencies. No class of householders—perhaps I might say of the population—will consent to remain permanently outside the pale of the Constitution. The forces which are working for their admission are too strong to be resisted. Many of us must remember the remarkable speech made three or four years ago by one whose observations on the subject had all the authority of special knowledge. I am speaking of my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt), who told us that he had heard a great deal about the danger of admitting so large a number of comparatively uneducated men to the franchise; but that he believed the greater danger lay in excluding them, and that nothing was doing more to alienate the sympathies and the affections of the best and most intelligent of the working classes than those invidious and unnecessary distinctions founded on no principle of reason or common sense. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend; but it does not follow that because I recognize with him the danger and the difficulty—I will even say the impossibility—of maintaining a restricted and unequal franchise, I should be blind to the evils which may—and, if we do not guard against them, assuredly will— result from the extension of the suffrage. We must remember, also, that all these changes are no mere experiments. Every step we take in the direction of a more popular franchise is absolutely irrevocable. I do not think there is any instance in history where political power has been given to the masses, and afterwards taken away from them, without violence and revolution. The democratic extension of the franchise must go on; there is no power in the country that can stop it now. We have admitted the petty shopkeepers, the tradesmen, and the artizans in the Parliamentary boroughs. How can we keep out the large mass of precisely similar population which happens to reside beyond the existing borough boundaries? We shall have to admit in their thousands—Those who toil in mines, and never see the sun.My hon. Friend the Member for the 993 Border Boroughs (Mr. Trevelyan) pleads annually for the hedger, the shepherd, and the ploughman. The agricultural population, described a few years ago By Mr. Cobden, as that mute and helpless multitude who have never made their voices heard in the din of politics, or their presence felt in any social movement, are already clamouring to be let in. In a few years all these persons will possess the suffrage; and, for my part, I think it is a grand thing to establish our institutions on as broad a basis of popular consent as possible, and to exclude no class of our countrymen from a voice in the government of their country. But are we not in danger, as we are going on at present, of doing something more than this — of doing something, in fact, altogether different? Are we not in danger of giving to the previously-excluded classes not merely a voice in the Government, but the absolute and and exclusive control of the Government —so far, at all events, as complete possession of the House of Commons would give that control? This matter is as simple as it is serious. It has been estimated with, at all events, sufficient accuracy for our purpose, that there are in the United Kingdom about 8,000,000 of persons who hold realized property of some sort, and 24,000,000 who possess no property, but subsist by manual labour. Taking the householders among the 8,000,000 at one in four, and the householders among the 24,000,000 at one in five, an assimilated franchise would give us about 5,000,000 of poor electors as compared with 2,000,000 of well-to-do electors. But our present system of majority representation would not only give the 5,000,000 poor electors a proportionate majority of representation; but would shut out every other class altogether, and put the whole representation practically and virtually into the hands of the numerical majority. Nothing could prevent this but the want of combination among the poorer electors, and the anomalous character of the present distribution of electoral power. Who can say how soon some class question of a social nature may not unite these scattered ranks? Some think they can discover already on the distant horizon the little cloud no bigger than a man's hand which for bodes such a combination. As regards the inequalities in the electoral system, it is easy to see that 994 they cannot be permanent. Already they are felt to be out of harmony with the spirit of the time, and the next extension of the franchise will necessarily be accompanied by a wide measure of re-distribution of seats. For several Sessions past both these questions have been made the subject of a common Motion, and been largely supported. While the heterogeneous nature of our electoral distribution cannot be maintained, with it will disappear the last security for the varied character of our Representative system. The present Prime Minister, in, I think, his last speech on the subject of representation in this House, said that all our late legislation for the last 40 years, with respect to Parliamentary Reform, has been leading to electoral districts. It is impossible, he told us, not to see that with the re-distribution of political power we must, to a great extent, be approaching electoral districts. Now, electoral districts would utterly destroy that variety which is one of the best features of our political system, and which all our greatest statesmen have been anxious to maintain. Everything would be reduced to a dead level—a dull uniformity—and what sort of uniformity would it be? With equal electoral districts, unaccompanied by any protection for the rights of minorities, the poorest and least educated portion of the electoral body, being the numerical majority in every constituency, would be able to return all the Members, and absolutely to exclude those who differed from them from any share in the representation. Their power to do this would be undoubted—their exercise of the power would be only a question of time and accident. The fact is, we are called upon to adapt our political methods to a state of things entirely different from what has ever before existed in the history of the country. Formerly, political power was in the hands of the aristocracy; then it was in the hands of the middle and upper classes—it soon will be altogether, and for the first time, in the hands of the masses. As an eminent Member of the House, whom I am glad to see in his place, has said—"We cannot prevent numbers ruling, we can only hope to persuade them to rule well." There is no graver political problem than how this can best be done. In such circumstances as these, what can be more unreasonable than summarily to 995 reject a proposition because it is new, or because it is said to be un-English, whatever that expression may mean. Why, the circumstances with which we have to deal are altogether new, and our whole political condition may be called un-English, if by that be meant, previously unknown in the history and experience of the English people. The words of old Sergeant Maynard were not more applicable 200 years ago than they are now—We are at this moment out of the beaten path. If, therefore, we are determined to move only in that path, we cannot move at all. A man in a revolution, resolving to do nothing which is not strictly according to established form, resembles a man who has lost himself in the wilderness, and who stands crying—' Where is the King's highway? I will walk nowhere but on the King's highway.' In a wilderness a man should take the track which will carry him home. In a revolution we must have regard to the highest law, the safety of the State.…The old order changeth, giving place to new.Everything around us has altered. Toryism itself has been defined "an adaptation of dynasticism, privilege, and orthodoxy to the spirit of the age." The true test to apply to any proposal is, does it suit the conditions of the time, will it help us to avert or mitigate the dangers, or to enjoy more fully the benefits, of the circumstances which surround us? It is not the least of the advantages of Proportional Representation, that while there is nothing of a reactionary character about it, it is peculiarly calculated to mitigate the evils, and to counteract the dangers, attendant upon a wide and indiscriminate extension of the franchise. The evils of an extremely democratic franchise are of two kinds—the danger of a low grade of intelligence in the electoral body, and, consequently, in the Representatives chosen by them, and the danger of class legislation, the Legislature being altogether in the hands of one class— that, namely, which is lowest in the social scale. As regards the second of these perils, the will of the majority must, no doubt, in a popular Government, ultimately prevail; but the minority should not be condemned to obliteration—they are, at least, entitled to influence in proportion to their numbers, and their opinions should be heard in the Councils of the Nation. These rights can only be secured to them by some form of minority representation. The 996 "restricted vote," originally proposed by Lord Russell in 1854, and introduced by the House of Lords into the Reform Act of 1867, is a step in this direction. The area of its operation, however, is very partial, and even in the few "three-cornered" constituencies it has given us, I am told that a skilful organization of the majority may deprive of representation a minority considerably more in number than a third of the electors. Then there is the cumulative vote, of which we have so much experience in school board elections; and which, I believe, has been found to work well on the whole, though it is said to be susceptible of organization, and open to considerable uncertainty and waste of electoral energy. Both these devices for securing the representation of minorities have been well described as empirical, as compared with the scientific or proportional system. This last is, in fact, the only method by which the rights of minorities can be effectually secured, and their due share of electoral influence preserved upon grounds absolutely unassailable on even the most democratic theory of government. The tendency of the extension of the franchise to lower the average intelligence of constituencies is indisputable. Every fresh Reform Bill admits a number of persons who are, from the necessity of their position, less educated and with fewer means of acquiring information than the old electors, whose influence is swamped by their numbers. I am far from questioning the patriotism, or the intelligence, or the virtues, of the working classes. I believe there are many men amongst them who belong to the finest type of humanity; but there can be no doubt that, as a general rule, men who are employed at hard manual labour constantly from morning till night, cannot have the same knowledge and acquaintance with affairs as those who have leisure for reading and reflection, who enjoy varied social intercourse, and whose general occupations are of an intellectual character. Still, it is to those who, by no fault indeed of their own, but from the very nature of the case, have the least amount of political information, as well as the smallest degree of social influence, that we are about to entrust the power of electing, not merely the majority, but practically the whole body, of the House of Commons—the great 997 centre of Legislative authority, and the ultimate resort of the Executive Government of the Empire. Those who differ from the majority will not have even an opportunity of stating their opinions. What security have we that those to whom we are giving this tremendous power will know how to use it well? The task of government has been truly said to need the best wisdom and the best virtue of the nation. Can we depend upon the least informed, the most poorly instructed, of our people to be always able to discern, and willing to prefer this best wisdom and best virtue? Education can only reach the masses slowly and imperfectly at best. Is there no danger that ignorant and toiling men will sometimes fail to rightly estimate even the main and broad issues submitted to their decision? Can we expect them to be always able to separate the statesman from the demagogue, and to distinguish the wisdom which would remedy evils at their source from the folly which wastes itself in vain contention with mere external symptoms? Is there no fear that in the hard struggle of life, with the pressure of common needs and cares constantly upon them they will sometimes prefer immediate and individual advantage to remote and general good? Is there no danger that the stern and salutary teaching of economic science will have less attraction in their eyes than the tawdry and deceptive glitter of a sentimental philanthropy? The fact is notorious that the working men of America permit the maintenance of protective duties, which impose an enormous tax upon consumers and greatly add to the expense of living, in order that their employers may be able to pay them higher wages. Is there no reason to apprehend that the working classes in this country might adopt theories of taxation which would soon make the commercial and manufacturing supremacy of England a thing of the past; or to fear that uneducated men, failing to solve that most difficult and delicate of political problems—to draw correctly the line which divides those cases where it is the duty of the State to interfere from those cases where State interference could only aggravate the evils it attempted to remedy—might insist on a prying and meddlesome system of government, which would cramp and fetter the freedom of individual action; 998 and in the effort to remove evils and hardships, grievous indeed, and hard to bear, but beyond the reach of Legislation, strike a fatal blow at the prosperity of the country which would fall, in the end, with unsparing severity on none more heavily than on the working classes themselves? Might it not come to pass that those who foresaw these things, and, seeking the good of the country by adherence to sound and wholesome principles, refused to captivate the ignorant and discontented by showy arts and reckless promises, would find themselves at the tribunal of popular election in the position of Socrates brought to trial before the Athenians?—"like a physician arraigned by the maker of sweetmeats before a jury of children." How, then, would the adoption of personal representation affect this state of things? It would not, indeed, deprive the majority of the electoral body of their right to a majority of the representation; but it would make it impossible for anyone class to monopolize the representation, and it would effectually protect the cultivated and educated minority from the danger of exclusion. The better opinion would always be able to make itself heard, and every crude and mischievous theory would be submitted to the independent examination and criticism of competent minds. Fair discussion would be guaranteed, and for the rest we would have to rely—as I believe we might rely with confidence and security-—on the fundamental good sense of the nation. It is one thing to allow the will of the majority of Parliament, carefully formed and clearly expressed, after full and fair discussion, to decide the fate of measures —it is a very different thing to allow the numerical majority of electors in every district to silence all opposition at the polling-booths, and to exclude those who differ from them from having any voice in the National Legislature. It is not amid the clamour of a fierce agitation for the extension of the franchise, or in the din of Party warfare, that a proposal like this, which appeals not to political passion or partizan zeal, but to the calm and deliberate judgment of sober-minded men, can be expected to prevail or even to obtain a hearing. Exclusive representation given to the numerical majority can never be taken away after they have once learned to use its power. It is still possible to temper our reforms with in- 999 telligence. Who can tell how brief the opportunity may be? We are floating calmly at this moment in a local back-stream of Conservative re-action; but active and permanent forces in the life of the nation are constantly at work, which ere long will bear us onwards more rapidly than ever towards the ultimate triumph of democratic principles. Surely it is our duty now, using wisely the present interval of comparative calm, to consider and to apply, while yet there is time, the best safeguards which prudence and wisdom can suggest. I have not treated this proposal as a Party question, but I have endeavoured to show that it is consistent with everything that is best in both Parties. It is a legitimate and necessary deduction from the fundamental principles of Liberalism which demand the fair and equal representation of the whole people. It provides the most thorough and practicable remedy for those evils which Conservatism especially dreads—the extinction of variety in the representation, the exclusion of rank, wealth, and culture from public life, and the absolute supremacy of the most numerous class. There is another ground on which I can appeal with equal confidence to Conservatives and to Liberals; it is that the adoption of this system would tend to maintain and promote the dignity, honour, and influence of the House of Commons. The more perfectly the House is felt to be a true reflex and mirror of the nation, the greater will be its weight and authority. Proportional Representation would not only enable a much larger number of electors to be directly represented, but all electors would be represented with an accuracy and fidelity absolutely impossible at present. Every Member would be in a position to speak for a body of independent and unanimous electors, who had chosen him, above all others, to represent them. Every electoral body would be a combination of persons really united in sympathy and opinion; where union would be a living and active bond, not "the forced and outward harmony of cold, neutral, and inwardly-divided minds." No writer of the future would venture to compare "the independent constituency," where every man's action depends, not upon himself, but of tenest on those to whom of all others he would be least 1000 willing to trust either his honour or his property, with that sad sight called "the happy family," exhibited by the showman in the street, where every free-born instinct is quelled, and nothing is left but the melancholy spectacle of subdued and torpid natures. Then, again, the inevitable tendency of a lowering of the average knowledge and intelligence of the electoral body to lower the average wisdom and character of the Representatives that body will return, would be counteracted by the power given to cultivated and enlightened minorities all over the country to combine and elect the best men they could find. It may not be desirable that the House should be composed altogether of philosophers, or, as it might be put, that everyone should be excluded who is not sufficiently learned to have lost his common sense; but still, it would be a great misfortune if the more original and independent minds in the country were to find no place amongst us. The iron weight of Party crushing out individuality of thought and independence of action keeps them away, so also does the growing influence of local wealth and popularity, making it almost impossible for men of intellect and culture without these adventitious aids to get seats. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone) has recently said that, in considering the qualifications which attract the favour of constituencies, the two circumstances which strike him most forcibly and most painfully are—first, the rapid and constant advance of the money power; secondly, the reduction almost to zero of the chances of entrance in Parliament for men who have nothing to rely upon but their talent and their character—nothing, that is to say, but the two qualities which, certainly, stand before all others in the capacity of rendering service to the country. It is a serious thing to find a man of the high order of intellect of Mr. Goldwin Smith calmly writing—Those who wish to deal frankly and fearlessly with the great political problems which are looming in the immediate future will probably, for the most part, find a more appropriate sphere outside the House of Commons. In the House itself it is hardly possible at best to secure a seat without compliances and compromises very adverse to freedom of speculation, besides the difficulty of contending against the 1001 tremendous power which wealth and social influence can bring to bear on the constituencies once in every seven years.If you make it next to impossible for the highest talent of the country to get into the House, the inevitable result will be the decadence of the House itself. Already there are not wanting indications that less interest is taken in our proceedings than formerly. Newspapers, whose business it is to understand and gratify the popular taste, give every year more scanty reports of our debates. Notwithstanding the greater breadth of its electoral basis, I am afraid it cannot be denied that the position of the House—I do not speak of it as a Legislative machine, but as an exponent and guide of public opinion— is not what it once has been. If its position be further weakened by the exclusion of fresh and original thought, and the consequent low level of our discussions, as contrasted with the widening influence of periodical literature and the growth of a sort of extra-Parliamentary statesmanship, the result cannot fail to be highly injurious to the prestige and dignity of the House, and, in the end, to the welfare of the nation. I can conceive no way of preventing this more likely to be effectual than by enabling a number of men of more than local eminence, but without the aid of local wealth and connection, to be returned to Parliament, independently of mere local or Party considerations, by the aid of those with whom they have intellectual and political sympathy. The freedom and independence of public men would also, by these means, be promoted. The country would no longer be in danger of being deprived of the services of an eminent statesman by the prejudice of a single constituency or the jealousy of a local faction. Every tried and well-known man would be able to appeal to a wider circle outside the limits of a particular county or borough; continuance in public life being thus practically certain for everyone who had made his mark, a political career would hold out far greater inducements to men of talent, and political training would become more careful and definite. What we have to do is to follow the wisdom of our ancestors, and, as they did, to adapt and modify our political system according to the circumstances of the time. To assume that the electoral system, which 1002 was suitable before the first Reform Bill, is necessarily suitable now, when our political condition has been completely changed, is not more reasonable than to conclude that the complicated processes of manufacture which modern science has introduced do not require more elaborate machinery than the simple methods of by-gone days. Except on the ground of personal deficiency, I do not feel that I have any apology to make for bringing forward this question. Believing, as I do, that this is the greatest improvement which our Representative system is capable of receiving, I cannot feel that any other subject is more worthy to occupy the attention of the House. Much of our time is taken up in the discussion of trivial and petty matters. This, at all events, is a question of high policy, involving considerations of national importance. It is an effort, however humble, to contribute to the solution of the great problem— how to reconcile the rapid and resistless advance of democratic principles, with the preservation of the rights and liberties of every class of the people. I advocate this proposal as a measure of justice to all, and especially to those who are weak and in danger of being overborne. A safeguard equally against popular passion and oligarchic re-action, I believe it would make this House, in the truest sense, representative of the national intelligence. Whatever may be the fate of my Motion to-night, I shall still cherish the hope that the country which justly bears the proud title of "The Mother of Parliaments," will yet place this crowning pinnacle on the glorious edifice she has raised; and that we shall hand down to future times, with its ancient dignity unimpaired, its basis of popular assent enlarged and perfected, its Constitution renewed with fresh life and vigour; that noble creation of the spirit of liberty—the type and model of all the Representative institutions now meeting in the Old World and in the New—the Free Parliament of England.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that the whole electoral body should be enabled
to enjoy that direct representation which is at present confined to majorities:
That no effectual security exists for the due representation of minorities:
And that, as far as possible, all opinions should have an opportunity of being represented in direct proportion to the number of electors by whom they are held,"—(Mr. Blennerhassett,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
said, that the hon. Member who had just sat down had submitted to the House an abstract Resolution as to the manner in which a measure of reform should be carried out. Well, his hon. Friend the Member for the Border Boroughs (Mr. Trevelyan) had brought in a Reform Bill the other day, and it was thrown out by a large majority. They were, therefore, in this position — that immediately after the House had decided not to do anything at all in the way of reform, the hon. Member told them how it ought to be done. They had hardly refused the poison when the hon. Member suggested an antidote. If he were asked whether he thought the time would never come when the question of reform would be brought forward with a prospect of its being carried, he should be far from saying that such was his opinion; but he hoped the day would be a distant one, and the chances of a future Reform Bill scarcely justified the introduction, at this moment, of the question raised by the hon. Member. He must say, however, he sympathized with a good deal the hon. Member had said, although he dealt a good deal with the abstract arguments which were the bane of all discussions on the subject of reform. The hon. Member said that minorities as well as majorities had a right to be represented, and that that right could only be secured to them by the scheme which he advocated. Well, he could not but think that "rights" was an expression belonging to a terminology which ought to be excluded from reform debates. It was not a question of right, but rather one of expediency they were considering. The question was how best they could get good and efficient machinery for the carrying on of the legislative and executive Business of the House of Commons; and in that 1004 view he saw something to recommend— not the scheme of Mr. Hare, but some modification of it. It was clear that by the representation of minorities certain dangers would be avoided which arose from the fact that it occasionally happened that some wave of opinion tended to move the majorities in all the constituencies violently in one direction at the same time. There were many such cases in history. The result would be that this House would not only represent the majority in the country, but represent the majority in a very aggravated form. If the House were to carry a large measure of reform, such as was contemplated by hon. Gentlemen opposite, there was a danger that the General Election might turn on some question on which there was a difference of opinion between the educated and the uneducated classes of the community. The former would vote one way in such a case and the latter the other; and it was obvious that, without minority representation, the educated, and, therefore, the most valuable portion of the constituencies, would have no voice in the House of Commons. Again, constituencies were subject to waves of popular passion and feeling, and that would be more and more the case as the suffrage was extended; and that passion or feeling was not confined to one class, but was to be found in all classes. The minority, under these circumstances, would not be the educated as against the uneducated, but the people who kept their heads as against those who did not keep their heads. Well, in such a case it was but right that those cool and calm people should be able to express their opinions in the country and in the House. Another advantage he saw arising from some kind of minority representation arose from the difficulty that was felt in getting efficient and desirable persons into the House unless they were favoured by circumstances. It could not be denied that the persons most likely to be effective in their debates were not always the persons most likely to sit there. It might be that a man, from some fault of manner, or because some prominent opinion of his happened to be unpopular, but who had nevertheless been respected in the House, and who had justly had weight and authority there, would not be able to find a constituency willing to accept him. It 1005 would assuredly be an advantage if some means could be devised to secure that he should not be excluded from the House. He had pointed out the chief reasons which induced him to look favourably on the Resolution of the hon. Gentleman; but he trusted the hon. Member would content himself with the discussion which he had raised; and he assured him that when the time arrived for the consideration of the question of reform, if he brought forward a scheme for the representation of minorities, it should receive his support; though he earnestly hoped that the time when such support would be necessary was very far off indeed.
§ MR. COURTNEY
supported the Resolution of his hon. Friend, because it could be demonstrated that our system of representation as it existed was full of defects which they ought to be able to remove. A great defect of the present machinery was that it failed to answer the first use to which they designed to put it. They could not arrive with certainty at a conclusion as to the opinion of the country even on a single issue placed before it. A General Election, he ventured to say, did not give them any sure answer to an appeal so made. If they had a certain number of electors throughout the Kingdom, and appealed to them by the plebiscite of French experience on a certain issue, they might get an answer in one way; while, if the appeal was made to divided constituencies, the answer might be the other way. They had, thus far, no security that by an appeal to the constituencies they would obtain the answer of the nation. Suppose there were 10 constituencies of 1,000 electors each, there would be 10,000 electors to consult. If they appealed to them as one constituency of 10,000, they might have 6,000 one way and 4,000 the other as the result. If they divided them into separate constituencies, the result could easily be very different. Out of the minority of 1,000 there might be found 550 in each of seven constituencies, and the remaining 150 in the remaining three; so that the minority could secure seven seats out of 10. As an illustration of practical importance bearing on this question, he would take the county of Lancaster, which, at the General Election of 1868, returned 22 Conservative and only 11 Liberal Members. Yet, on that occasion, 1006 104,000 Liberal electors recorded their votes in Lancashire constituencies, while the number of Conservative electors who went to the poll was only 102,000. There was an example in point. Although Lancashire was a Liberal county, the result of the Election was that the Conservatives had a large majority of Members. That arose greatly from the congestion of Liberal electors in one constituency—namely, Manchester; and it was obvious that a similar failure to obtain the real opinion of the electorate might happen on an appeal to the constituencies of the Kingdom. The next fault of the present electoral system was that the number of Members elected was almost always disproportioned to the actual opinions of the country. If, for example, in the supposed case of 10 constituencies, each with 1,000 electors, the majority were equally diffused throughout them, the result of an election would show 10 Members on one side and none on the other. Another difficulty in their electoral system was this—that since those elected represented the majority only of the country, and the governing power in Parliament was exercised by a majority of those elected, this governing power was exercised by the majority of a majority, which would represent only the minority in the country. Their system failed again in the exclusion of large classes, who were unrepresented. The present Prime Minister, once introducing a Reform Bill, alluded to the fact that a large and influential body in England, Wales, and Scotland were unrepresented, except by the noble Lord the Member for Arundel, who had since disappeared because the borough of Arundel had disappeared. The right hon. Gentleman was referring, of course, to the Roman Catholics, who, although they were 1,000,000 and upwards in number, could not get—and could not hope to get—a single seat in England, Wales, or Scotland. They were driven to Ireland, where they obtained Parliamentary representation; but there were differences between Irish and English Roman Catholics, and he should like to see the latter directly represented in that House. Again, the working classes par excellence had for a long time no representation in that House, and even now they only had a small, though it was a most excellent, representation. 1007 Among the working classes in recent times no man had been more popular than the late George Odger, who was unable to get a majority of the voters in any constituency to return him, although a large majority of the working men throughout the country would gladly have sent him to speak for them in the House of Commons. Take, again, the case of the late Mr. John Stuart Mill. There were in the country large numbers of persons who would have been glad to see him in the House, and yet, after he lost his seat for Westminster, there was not one constituency which Mr. Mill could have canvassed with any chance of success. [Major NOLAN: Tipperary.] Possibly Mr. Mill might have been returned for Tipperary if he had pledged himself to denominational education, to which, as everybody knew, he was altogether opposed. There was another class of men who were excluded from the House under the present system. His hon. Friend had spoken of the large number of Conservatives and the small number of Liberal Members who sat for counties. He had always regretted that, in the discussions on the Reform Bill in 1867, so many of our counties were trisected, in order to supplement the county representation by the addition of Members for certain divisions. Great uncertainty prevailed as to the consequences of that step; but the additions to these electoral divisions had turned out to be strongly Conservative. What was the result? In the 10 counties so divided there were— Cheshire, six Conservatives; Derbyshire, three, and three Liberals; Devon, five, and one Liberal; Essex, six; Kent, six; Lincolnshire, six; Lancashire, eight; Norfolk, six; Surrey, six; Somerset, six; Stafford, five, and one Liberal; and the West Riding, four, and two Liberals; making an aggregate of 67 Conservatives and seven Liberals. If they had gone on the three-cornered plan, the result would still have been two to one; but that would have been a fair representation of the minorities, and, in his opinion, a course far preferable to the one adopted. He referred to this subject as showing the danger, by the course we had hitherto followed, of excluding from the House the Liberal county gentlemen, a class of the highest importance. By suppressing county Liberals in the House, they did not suppress such Liberals in 1008 the county; but they lost in the House the best conceivable connecting link between the extreme and the moderate Liberal sections. If this House were to go on acting with dignity, knowledge, and good fellowship between its different Members, they would avoid, above all things, the division of. the House into two hostile camps such as they saw in France, and should endeavour to carry out the system of gradually filing off from the extreme Left to the extreme Right. Another way in which their system worked injuriously was that it did not provide sufficiently for divisions of Party. On the Liberal side there were, perhaps, divisions enough, but that was not the case on the other side; and although there were many forms of Conservatism in the country, these differences were not manifested, and were not represented in the House of Commons. He would best explain his meaning by an historical illustration. It was now confessed that Conservatism had no necessary connection with the doctrines of Protection; in fact, in some of their Colonies the doctrines of Protection were part of the Liberal creed. At the time the question was agitated, there were Conservatives opposed to Protection in the country; but no county would return them to the House. The present system affected the character of the House and also of the people outside it. When a candidate contested a popular constituency, the greatest art was required not to offend anybody by some chance expression of opinion. The best candidate was the man least encumbered by independent opinions—the man who had no genius, no originality, no force of character. The best candidate was a Liberal gentleman, who had made himself rich in the pursuit of commerce and had lived a life of good repute among his neighbours. Hence the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone) recently complained of the tendency of the House of Commons to plutocracy and gerontocracy. The more they turned the constituencies of England into large and populous constituencies the more they increased this danger. Hence it was that they found what was so much to be deplored—that young men full of enthusiasm in the beginning of public life became in the end alienated from public life altogether. 1009 The hon. Member for Kerry (Mr. Blennerhassett) had explained the particular principle on which he would have the representation of the country mended. For himself, he might look forward to the hon. Gentleman's scheme as a thing to he realized in the far distant future; he had no idea that anything of the kind could be submitted as a practical proposal in the present generation. But things could be done in a near and proximate time which might remove many of the present defects, and pave the way to larger schemes hereafter. They had seen the introduction of means to secure the representation of minorities in the Bill of 1867. The aim to which they should direct their attention was to give the minority in a constituency, if of sufficient importance, power to club their votes together so as to have a direct Representative. Thus, if they had a constituency with five or six Representatives, a fifth or a sixth of the constituency might be able to club their votes for a Representative of their own. In that way, the want of men of genius which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich so much lamented would be repaired. In connection with the discussion which had lately arisen between the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London, someone had advised the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London not to repeat the error of 1867, but to use all his energies to get minorities represented. The right hon. Gentleman said, in effect, that it was useless to do anything; that in 1867 he proposed the adoption of the cumulative vote, and it was rejected; that they were going to enthrone democracy; and that it would sweep away any such plan when it had the power. The right hon. Gentleman, however, was too despondent. It was quite true that in 1867 the cumulative vote was rejected; but did the right hon. Gentleman fail after all? Not at all. When the Reform Bill went up to the other House, the restrictive vote was introduced into it by the present Lord Chancellor, who made use, in support of it, of the very arguments which had been employed in support of the cumulative vote. True, the cumulative vote was lost; but the restrictive vote was passed by the House of Lords and accepted by that House, 1010 mainly through the effect of the discussions that had been previously raised on the cumulative vote, and the right hon. Member for the University of London might say—"Alone I did it." That was not all. When the Reformed Parliament met, what happened? One of the very first things that occurred was the attempt to repeal the clause restricting votes in the three-cornered constituencies. The Government of the day used its influence as much as it could to get it repealed; but even the reformed House refused to repeal it. More than that; in the reformed House one of the first things it did was to pass an Education Act. It became necessary to create school boards, and it was resolved in Committee that in the election of members of school boards the cumulative vote should be adopted. Again, he said the success of that proposal was due entirely to what had been done by his right hon Friend. The next year, when the Scotch Bill was introduced, the cumulative vote was part of the Bill itself; so that year after year their efforts had succeeded, and he was now full of hope that when a Reform Bill again came before the House something in the shape of the representation of minorities would form part of it. Of all the provisions of the Education Act, the adoption of the cumulative vote was the one that could not be reversed. Nor did he think that democracy so enthroned would repeal what had been done. The House within itself was a pure democracy. Every man in the House was as good as any other man. Where were there such protections to minority? Where were the provisions for the protection of minorities so jealously protected? It was quite true that the Birmingham Confederation had agreed to a resolution condemning all modes of securing the representation of minorities; but they were wise in their generation, for they knew perfectly well that that principle would eventually be accepted, and that it would entirely destroy their power; and, for his part, he would greatly rejoice if it did limit and destroy the power of the Birmingham Confederation. He could not conceive how any person who had any knowledge of the caucus system in the United States could look at the growth of that Confederation with any other feelings than those of apprehension. Its object was to repress local feeling, 1011 local energy, and independence; and it sent forth its orders over the land by means of a great machinery and organization of the most frightful and alarming character. But he was satisfied those who wore in favour of the representation of minorities would win. There was one other argument to which he would refer. Hitherto his illustrations had been derived, as far as possible, from the past; but the experience of the last few years, and especially of the last two years, seemed to deserve some comment. They were often told that the tide of democracy would ere long come upon them; but it had already come, and they were floundering in the middle of it. What had been the history of legislation and of public opinion during the last few years but the history of government by impulsive, varying, unsteady opinion? Ever since this Parliament had been called together they had had, time after time, exhibitions of currents of opinion running now in one direction, now in another; not in consequence of the dictates of prudence and reason, but because some sentiment, feeling, or passion had for the moment taken possession of the public mind. They all remembered the exhibition made in that House by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll), who wa3 excited by the failure of a particular Bill. Great public meetings were held; the Bill, which had been withdrawn, was re-introduced in a modified form, and the Prime Minister at the Mansion House gloried in the excitement, saying it was the very thing the Government desired in order to stimulate the passing of the measure. It was certainly rather portentous when the legislation of that House could be acted upon in that way. Next year there was again considerable excitement and alarm out-of-doors that the Government was going to uphold slavery throughout the world. The Government had not really altered the policy of the country—it had only issued a Slave Circular, identical with the Instructions which had for many years been issued to naval officers on foreign service; but the Circular was condemned at public meetings, and it had to be withdrawn; a second Circular was issued, and also withdrawn. He did not say whether the action which had ultimately been taken was right or wrong; but that action should be taken 1012 in that way did show danger against which they ought to guard. Again, within the last 18 months—he spoke only of facts—they had seen the people inflamed with feeling on one side of the Eastern Question, and the Government, feeling themselves in a minority, changed their action. They had since seen the people inflamed with another opinion, and again the Government action was moved thereby. There had been deputations to Members of that House; but he wanted to know what was the difference between the deputation headed by Mr. De Morgan, which waited on the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Whalley) on behalf of the Claimant, and that which came to the Prime Minister, though headed by the Lord Mayor? The influence of the democracy of the present moment, therefore, should make people reflect; and when he looked back upon what had happened in the last 18 months, he felt thankful, indeed, that all danger of war seemed to have passed away. The Government would have entered into war with an outburst of popular enthusiasm; but they would have been exceedingly lucky if, at the end of 12 months, they had not found themselves the subjects of distrust and scorn. Looking at the past perturbations of popular passion, who could say what next would be assailed and who could foretell the result? In supporting the Motion of his hon. Friend, he thought, at all events, they were free from the imputation of not dealing with something real, solid, and substantial. The object of the Motion was to make the House a more, and not less, faithful reflection of the people of the country, by retaining within it men the tenure of whose seats should not depend upon the fluctuating views of chance constituencies; it was to secure that there, at all events, should be a refuge for truth, where a man might speak what he thought, let a thousand or ten thousand withstand him; it was to secure that the Government of this country should be stable and orderly, while reconciling complete emancipation with the conservation of all that had made the country great, noble, and dignified in the past. It was in a Conservative as well as a Liberal spirit they desired to see all persons identified with the Government; and it was only by thus clinging to the tradi- 1013 tions of the past that they might look forward with hope to the future.
§ MR. E. JENKINS
said, he would only trouble the House with a few remarks; and he should not have risen but that he felt there were some fallacies in the speech of his hon. Friend (Mr. Courtney), as to which he should like to say a few words. It was suggested that the House under this system would not be subject to the influence of those gusts of passion which occasionally ran through the country, and to which the House was said to be liable under their present system of representation, or quasi-representation. Did his hon. Friend for one moment suppose that if there did spread through the country such bursts of passion as those to which he had referred, a House of 658 Members, however elected, would be able to withstand the impulse of those passions, or the demands of the majority of the people of this country? He had only risen because he felt that his hon. Friend had, with much eloquence and ingenuity, built up a pack of cards which could be cut down by two or three very practical and common-sense considerations. The first was, that by no system possible to be devised could they secure the actual representation of every minority. Where was the line to be drawn? How large a minority was it that should be represented? Of course, the theoretical basis of the argument was that it was an injustice if any minority whatever was excluded. Now, a minority might be a very small one in numbers, and yet a very large and important minority in politics. What provision, then, could they make?—what provision could the ingenuity of the most philosophical Member of that House suggest or devise, by which all the minorities of the country should be adequately, thoroughly, and justly represented? That was a common-sense consideration which appeared to strike at the very root of this proposal. When they were driven to look at it simply as a practical question, practically there was a representation of minorities, and this was one of the fallacies which lay at the root of all these arguments by Mr. Mill and by Mr. Hare when they contended that minorities were excluded from representation. How could they exclude minorities from representation? It was said that they were excluded from representation; but 1014 he denied that, and maintained that it was impossible, if a minority deserved to be represented, for it to be excluded. His hon. Friend the Member for Kerry (Mr. Blennerhassett) referred to the case of the Roman Catholics of England, and said that they could not obtain representation in that House. But was there any practical injustice worked by that? Was it true that Catholic opinion had no adequate representation? Could they say at that moment that the million of Catholics had not an adequate and proportionate representation? Was it necessary to establish a new and doubtful and a theoretical system for the purpose of obtaining the same end as that to which they had already attained? It was a fallacy that lay at the root and base of these arguments to say that any minority which ought to be represented had not either directly or indirectly obtained representation. Then there came in another question. There were minorities which they might say ought not to be represented, and which they would rather not see represented in that House, and which would be a nuisance to the House supposing they were represented. At Elections there was a sifting of candidates by public opinion, and the public opinion and the common-sense of the country excluded a number of people who practically represented no valuable opinion at all. Looking at the question from the historical, the political, or any other point of view, they must conclude that there was no opinion worthy of attention which did not receive representation within that House, either directly or indirectly. It was impossible that he should go through all the arguments against this Motion, and he did not think it was necessary, from the way in which the arguments of his hon. Friend had been received by the House. What did they find was the case in America? There was a great demoralization of politics, rich minorities were content to abstain from politics; and, as a result, they had an ignorant majority acquiring a power which was too great for them, a power which his hon. Friends proposed to check by an elaborate machinery. Was it possible that this could be worked? He thought it was not; and, for his part, he preferred to throw on the minority the responsibility of working for their views, and pressing them on the attention of the larger 1015 majorities until they had converted a sufficient number to change them into a minority. He had far more faith in that than in a machinery of this kind, however ingeniously contrived, and however delicately adjusted, invented for the purpose of protecting people against their own faults. He felt that these reasons cut through the position of his hon. Friend; and, therefore, he should feel bound to oppose this mere philosophical craze, and to vote against this Motion if it went to a division.
§ MR. HEYGATE
admitted that it was impossible to secure the representation of every minority, however small; but it was not necessary to define the precise minority which was entitled to representation. He questioned whether the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. E. Jenkins), as a Liberal, would be satisfied, if he were a Lancashire man, with 22 Conservatives to 8 Liberal Members. When anomalies were shown to exist, it was usual to seek a remedy, and three-cornered constituencies were evidence of the disposition of the House to correct them. He (Mr. Heygate) had always supported the principle of the representation of minorities, and he, therefore, should vote for these Resolutions, which he presumed were practically embodied in the third, which declared that—All opinions should have an opportunity of being represented in direct proportion to the number of Electors by whom they were held.This was a simple but a very important truism. He regretted to find that the Liberal Party had, for the first time, embraced the idea of the equalization of the franchise as being the guiding rule for the next Reform Bill. The hon. Member for Kerry (Mr. Blennerhassett) had dwelt on the danger of class legislation, and there could be no doubt that there would be great danger in the fact of the whole of the constituencies being controlled by the voters belonging to the manual labour classes. Up to this time legislation of that kind had been prevented by the more or less restricted nature of the franchise and by the great variety in the character and circumstances of the constituencies. If they adopted one franchise in counties and boroughs, the reasons in favour of the proposition for minority representation became absolutely unanswerable. It was said that minorities ought to yield 1016 to majorities; but he saw nothing in that sentiment inconsistent with this proposition. The majority would continue to be the majority; but there was a great difference between erecting a minority to a position of equality with the majority and leaving it absolutely blotted out. He regarded it as of even more importance that minorities should be represented in local and municipal elections than in Imperial matters. It was said that this notion was newfangled; but people considered it to be so simply because they would not attempt to think for themselves. He doubted very much whether even Birmingham would desire to change the triangular system. They had, no doubt, in that town contrived, in the case of the first school board election, to transform the majority into the minority; but a little experience enabled them to put the majority in the position to which it was entitled. He thought that Mr. Hare's plan was too difficult to be carried out; but if there was any large distribution of political power, there should be a large adoption of triangular constituencies.
§ Sir GEORGE BOWYER
felt bound to differ from the conclusions of the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney), though he admired the cleverness and ingenuity of his speech. Until they had perfectly equal electoral constituencies all over the country, it would inevitably happen that Members would not be returned by the aggregate majority. The minority in a constituency of 150,000, for instance, might often exceed the majority in a constituency of 6,000; but as all attempts to form equal electoral bodies had hitherto failed, he saw no remedy for that evil. He was not prepared to go further in the direction of representing minorities than the three-cornered constituencies, which, he believed, had worked satisfactorily; for Parliamentary government was government by Parties, which was government by majorities, and once the principle of the representation of minorities was admitted, they would have great difficulty in drawing the line at which to stop; and even if they did succeed in doing so, they would, in many cases, destroy the whole system of Party government in this country by placing parties on an equilibrium. It was to be regretted that considerable minorities like the Roman 1017 Catholics of Great Britain, who numbered 1,000,000, should not be represented in that House. He thought it showed that the people of England were unable to appreciate the patriotism and public spirit of those opposed to them in religious opinion. A man might be a Catholic and at the same time be as patriotic an Englishman, and equally alive to the interests of his own country, and capable of sitting in that House as an English Representative, just as well as if he was a Protestant. He did not, at the same time, desire Catholics to be brought into the House by any contrivance such as the representation of minorities; but he asserted that religious opinion ought not to debar a man from political and public functions, and he hoped that that improvement in public opinion in this respect, which was inevitable, would very speedily take place. It had been stated that a tide of democracy was sweeping over them, and that they were struggling in the midst of it. For his own part, he did not anticipate any danger from the supposed torrent. Popular influence was a necessary condition of a Parliamentary system of government like theirs; and he was not aware that since the last General Election it had been unduly felt, or felt in a greater degree, than at any previous period since the passing of the Reform Bill.
§ MR. C. S. PARKER
said, he thought the House had to thank the Mover and Seconder of the Resolutions for an interesting discussion. At the same time, he hoped it would not be pushed to a division, or it would put hon. Members into the difficulty in which they were frequently placed by an abstract Resolution. In that case, they must look carefully at the wording of the Motion, and must ask whether it referred to electors for the Imperial Parliament only, or included also municipal and school board electors. Then, as to the second Resolution— that no effectual security existed for the due representation of minorities—did that apply to elections for school boards? For if it did, he should not be prepared to affirm that no such security existed. On the contrary, he thought that the security given by the cumulative vote, whether perfect or not, was at least effectual; and would meet with more approval as its working became better understood. The hon. 1018 Member for Kerry (Mr. Blennerhassett), in moving his Resolutions, appeared to have in view especially what was so well-known as "Mr. Hare's system" for the representation of minorities, and he had very clearly expounded that system to the House. He (Mr. Parker) should in no way be prepared to give in his adhesion to any attempt to introduce that system into this country, and he believed it would be impossible to do so. On the other hand, a great deal of what the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney) said with respect to safeguards against the evils to which we were exposed more and more by the democratic character of our extended franchise deserved the best attention of the House. He (Mr. Parker) had been struck particularly by the instance given of the division of counties. It was in the power of the House, at the last re-distribution of seats, to divide certain counties into two parts, each returning three Members, instead of into three parts, each returning two Members; and the hon. Gentleman showed that if they had made "three-cornered constituencies" in a larger number of counties, it would have materially altered the representation, and considerably diminished the majority in that House. Although at present this result might be more pleasing to the Liberal side of the House, yet in future it might be to the advantage of the Conservative side. When they came to another re-distribution, which was supposed not to be very far distant, he trusted the opportunity would be taken to divide constituencies so as to give three Members each to more of them. There was another instance, which had not yet been mentioned, of minorities being unrepresented in that House. He referred to the ease of the Universities. It was well known that there were strong Liberal minorities there. Yet Oxford University was represented by two Conservatives, Cambridge University by two Conservatives, Dublin University by two Conservatives, and the Scottish Universities were also represented by Conservatives, with one exception—that of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Lyon Playfair) who represented the Universities of Edinburgh and St. Andrews. He thought, however, that in this case they had a Liberal Member representing a Conservative majority, owing to the great respect enter- 1019 tained for him. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would long continue to represent those Universities; but the prevalent belief was that if he were to vacate the seat, it would probably be filled by a Conservative. They had one eminent instance of a Liberal representing an English University; But the London University was as different from other Universities — being merely an Examining Board — as its right hon. Member (Mr. Lowe) was different from other Liberals. He thought that at a time when such questions as the reconstruction of county government, both in England and Ireland, and the franchise in Ireland, both political and municipal, were under discussion, and when they had also in prospect the lowering of the county franchise throughout the United Kingdom, the House might well give some of its attention to the abstract principle of the representation of minorities. A good deal had been said of the public excitement which showed itself, under our present franchise, and of the effect of that excitement on the House. It was true that movements such as that occasioned by the inattention of the Government to the claims advocated by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll), or those evolved by the stirring events in the East, would be felt strongly in that House, whatever was the mode of selecting Representatives. But these movements would be felt less strongly if minorities were better represented. One other point he wished to notice, and that was the tendency under the new democratic franchise to have a larger majority on the one side or on the other as the result of a General Election. They had only had experience of two General Elections under the new Reform Act; and, therefore, it might be an accidental circumstance that the pendulum had swung so far in one direction and then so far in the other. But to all appearance this was the natural result of admitting great numbers of new voters, less educated, and, therefore, more liable to be swayed in their opinions by passing events; and, if so, it was unfortunate that new constituencies should be so arranged as to give full effect to this tendency, rather than to counteract it. But if the calculations of the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney) were correct, that a large alteration of the majorities in 1020 the House would have been made by the one arrangement of dividing county constituencies differently—if it were true that attention to that one point would have made a difference of something like 40 votes, it might be ascribed partly to the non-representation of minorities that they had in that House, first so large a majority of Liberals, and then so large a majority of Conservatives. He thought it would be the general feeling of the House that such large majorities were not to be desired. A very large majority was not always satisfactory even to those who enjoyed the advantage of it. The late Prime Minister had not reason to be content with his large majority, because, like most large majorities, it was not docile; and he would rather have had a smaller majority that would have held better together. Perhaps it was too soon yet to detect symptoms of anything similar on the other side of the House; but there had been some indications that the large Conservative majority was also inclined to be rebellious. At all events, he would express the opinion that it would tend more to the public benefit, more to the careful transaction of Business in the House, that the Party in power, instead of having a very large majority, should have a moderate majority at its back, for then it was likely that more Members of that majority would be present in debate to hear the arguments, and that the votes arrived at would be more the expression of deliberate opinion after discussion, and less the registration of a foregone conclusion of the Leaders.
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members not being present,
§ House adjourned at Eight o'clock