§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [24th March], "That the Bill be now read a second time."
And which Amendment was,
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House declines to proceed further with a measure, having for its object the addition of two million voters to the electoral body of the United Kingdom, until it has before it the entire scheme contemplated by the Government for the amendment of the Representation of the People,''—(Lord John Manner,)
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. BROADHURST
said, he exceedingly regretted that the time of the House should have been wasted so long that night over matters of interest in the jungles of Africa, instead of being devoted to matters of interest nearer 1552 home. The speech made by the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marriott) on Tuesday night did not deal with the question of the extension of the franchise, but mainly consisted of criticism, if not abuse, of the President of the Board of Trade. It had been frequently alleged in that House that there was no feeling among the mass of people in favour of the extension of the franchise. To that assertion he begged to give a flat contradiction. If the workmen who felt strongly on that question would only address their letters to hon. Members who were opposed to that change instead of to those who supported it, he ventured to say that opinion on the opposite side of the House on that subject would be materially modified. Speaking, as he thought he had a right to do, for the organized trades of the "United Kingdom, he could assure the House that a Motion in favour of the extension of the franchise had been one of the chief Resolutions brought before their annual Congresses ever since the present Government had been in power, and each successive year the Resolution had been stronger. At the Congress of September last, a fear being expressed that the Government might betray the country and not deal with the question in the present Parliament, the Parliamentary Committee of the Congress were instructed to urge the Government by all means in their power to make this the principal subject for the present Session. But that was not all. On the 31st of January a deputation of trades representing the organizations of the United Kingdom waited on the Prime Minister to declare to him their anxiety for a speedy dealing with that subject. That deputation was not an ordinary one. It included about 240 or 250 delegates coming from all parts of the country, whose whole expenses and time were paid for by their union funds and voted by their respective lodges. He reckoned that its cost to the whole of the trades was not less than £700 or £800—a sum, he need hardly say, which the trade unions of this country would not spend on any matter which they had not deeply at heart. He would now like to say a few words with regard to the Bill itself. In doing so he could not congratulate the Government on the production of a measure which was satisfactory to his mind. It was far too com- 1553 plicated; it had too many qualifications; it was shaped too much to suit the prejudices and the privileges of the rich and the upper classes, rather than shaped to meet the question of the franchise fairly and honestly, as it should be. He saw no reason why any man should be entitled to two votes because he was a freeholder of landed property in the country. That was a mere concession to ancient monopolies, and the privilege should be abolished. His view in regard to this question was that there should be one vote to one man; and the only qualification he should possess was that of being of sufficient age and of capacity to exercise it. By the jugglery of the lodger franchise and by the long residence which was necessary for qualification they effectually deprived thousands of their best citizens of the franchise. Although he did not include himself in this list, he should like permission to mention that under the lodger franchise, and owing to the difficulties of registration and otherwise, he was a Member of the House of Commons before he had an opportunity of recording a vote for a Member of Parliament. He had been elected Member for Stoke two days before he gave a vote in the East Surrey Election for the Liberal candidates who were then contesting that division of the county. There was a too great tendency to discuss this subject from the standpoint of the agricultural labourer, as if he were the only person to be enfranchised by this Bill. If it were realty the case that the agricultural labourer was the only person to be enfranchised, he would labour as cordially and as enthusiastically as he did now on behalf of others, because he would consider him equally fitted with others for the exercise of his undoubted right as a citizen. But he should like the House to remember that at present there were still outside the franchise thousands of persons who had been described as the most ignorant of the community. When, however, it had been found that a mistake had been made, and that the term "most ignorant" embraced within its scope hundreds of thousands of intelligent artizans, then it was attempted to withdraw the declaration, to minimize it, and to apologize for it, because it was found that those persons so described might shortly be appealed to for their support. He had received a letter from 1554 the secretary of the Shipwrights' Association in the Clyde district, in which some interesting facts were revealed. In the districts of Govan and Partick there were 94.000 inhabitants, the majority of whom were skilled mechanics. Of this population, 19,442 persons exercised the municipal franchise; but only 3,426 persons had a voice in the political affairs of the country. That was through no fault of their own, but was duo to the shifting character of their employment, occasioned by the removal of large firms to cheaper land. He had also received a telegram that day from Glasgow, in which it was stated that Singer's Sowing Machine Company and Thomson's Engineering and Shipbuilding Company were removing to Clydebank and Dalmuir; 4,000 or 5,000 workmen were following the works, and in consequence would not have a vote in the county election. He had also received a letter from the Secretary of the Shipwrights on the Tyne in which it was said that Walker-on-Tyne had a population of 21,500, who had neither the municipal nor the Parliamentary representation, although they were only a quarter of a mile from the Newcastle boundary. Returning to the question of the agricultural labourers, he much regretted that there was no one of their order there to plead their cause, and give a direct denial to the charge of incapacity and ignorance so constantly brought against them. He contended that the agricultural labourers were as capable of exercising the franchise as many of the farmers themselves. [Mr. H. H. FOWLER: More so.] His hon. Friend near him (Mr. H. H. Fowler) said they were more so. He quite conceded the point; but in all things he liked to be moderate, and within the mark. He ventured to say that when this class were enfranchised they would not be found backers of that broken-kneed old hack that was so often trotted out on rural courses—the 5s. duty on corn—that extraordinary animal that was only kept for provincial shows, but which never dared be started in the House of Commons. Those new voters would not be misled by such cries as these. But supposing it were true— which he utterly denied—that the agricultural labourers were ignorant and unfit to exercise the franchise, did the charge of ignorance come with a good grace from that side of the House 1555 mainly associated with the county representation? The parson and the squire had had charge of the intellectual progress of the agricultural labourer for centuries; and were hon. Gentlemen opposite not ashamed of their wet-nursing, and of their half-starved labourers, whom they now denounced as ignorant and unlit for the exercise of citizenship? In his opinion, the Conservative Party had a much greater fear of the labourers knowledge and intelligence than they had of their ignorance or incapacity. It was undoubtedly the case that where the ignorance of the agricultural labourer was most dense, there Tory opportunities were greatest, and their political power and representation strongest. If it were a question of intrusting the agricultural labourer with the administration of a marriage settlement, as was suggested by the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes), or if it were a question of understanding the technicalities of their hideous laws, passed by a class Parliament, he would not think of putting him in competition with the right hon. Gentleman, or his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler); but on a question of common sense, sound judgment, and honesty of purpose, he would not hesitate to place him in competition with them. The agricultural labourer had mastered a problem which the right hon. Gentleman had never mastered. He had solved the problem of maintaining a house, a wife, and family on a weekly income less than the right hon. Gentleman probably spent for his afternoon meal. These men, who had solved this question of how to maintain a family on an income of 8s. or 9s. a-week, should stand at the very head of the science of domestic economy, if of no other economy. The noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton) appeared to be greatly alarmed at the references that had been made by the President of the Board of Trade to manhood suffrage and the payment of Members, and he said they would be nearer if this Bill was passed. It would be all the better if both these reforms were not only nearer, but already law. The noble Lord himself belonged to a ring that was paid for its services when in Office. Why should not hon. Members, who worked 1556 as hard, but who had not the same opportunities of distinction as Ministers, be paid, since Ministers were? Let them not suppose for a moment that the old order of things—of monopolies and privileges to a few families in the country—would always continue. The time would come, if not during his life, or that of the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt), yet during the day of the generation now being educated at the board schools, when the people would insist upon having a share, not only of Representatives in that House, but in the administrative and executive work of the nation of which they were the most important part. On this Bill the Conservative Party, while professing, some of them, not to oppose it, were anywhere but in the right direction in regard to it. He had listened to some parts of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen), in which he stated his reasons for his conversion on this subject, with pain and surprise. It was lamentable to hear the right hon. Gentleman, who had been twice a Cabinet Minister, confessing that he never understood the people. The agricultural labourers could have no sordid or selfish motives in claiming the franchise. They had no places to seek, no pensions to secure, no Court honours to look for. Their leading object in life was to secure those home comforts so long denied to them, and the honour of the country which they loved no less than any other class in the Kingdom. Had the House forgotten how, when the great and powerful were weak and hesitating on the question of freedom or slavery in America, our poorer countrymen and women faced the prospect of starvation and ruin rather than sacrifice one atom of their principle and love of freedom all the world over to black and white? A good deal had been said on the question, of redistribution, and as to the difficulty of finding Members in England to supply the additions to be made to the representation of Scotland. There were four Members, at the least, whom he could place at the disposal of the Government for this object. Let them take the Members for Oxford and Cambridge Universities. He was at a loss to know on what ground of reason, logic, or justice these Masters of Arts, who were mostly clergymen of the Church of England, 1557 should have the privilege of returning Members to that House more than the same number of Nonconformist clergymen. The country, he ventured to say, would not long tolerate these nests of bigotry. Having regard to the nature of their tenure, it might be expected that the University Members would behave with peculiar circumspection. But only yesterday they found one of the Representatives of these seats of learning and culture coming forth as the champion of the beer-sellers. That action was in itself an additional reason why these constituencies should be disfranchised, and that the seats thus monopolized should be given to some other part of the United Kingdom. He scarcely liked to say the same of the University of Dublin. He regretted that it should send two Gentlemen so learned and unobjectionable in every other respect but that of politics. But when they arrived at a further stage of reform, they would have to think seriously whether the many good qualities of these right hon. Gentlemen would be sufficient to entitle them to immunity from Disestablishment. [Cries of "London!"] The University of London had recently done itself great honour. No University had done so much to preserve the ancient monuments and landmarks of this country by returning their distinguished Member (Sir John Lubbock). He had no hesitation in saying that those who feared the results of the proposed extension of the franchise were needlessly alarmed. Every additional million of voters was as concrete to foundations and as buttresses to ancient towers. Every increase of influence and power of the working people had proved to be Conservative in the highest and best sense; he did not mean Conservatism as demonstrated by Oxford University; but Conservatism of the most useful and lasting description. He was not prepared to deny the people of Ireland their fair share of this beneficial legislation. He knew many Irish working men, and, in his opinion, no workmen in England were better qualified to exercise political rights than the mechanics of the great towns of Ireland. He held that it would be unwise and wicked to curtail the political privileges of Irishmen, and that the Government by their proposals had given expression to the unanimous wish of the Liberal Party. 1558 If the Irishmen who would be enfranchised by this Bill lived in mud huts, who were to blame? Was it their fault that they occupied mud huts instead of comfortable cottages when they had been kept in a state almost bordering on slavery century after century? This was an additional reason forgiving them political power, that they might give effect to their own views on political and social questions; and he would do all he could to secure to Ireland every right and privilege that Parliament was bestowing on his own countrymen.
§ MR. BIDDELL
Sir. The hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Broadhurst), in citing the case of the 20,000 artizans living just outside of Newcastle, proves the desirability of discussing the Enfranchisement and Redistribution Bills together, for it cannot be disputed that these men should be attached to Newcastle. So blended are the two subjects that in nearly all the leading speeches they have both been discussed. That of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister is no exception. He evidently felt the necessity of alluding to the new redistribution scheme, though he did it somewhat vaguely, creating the impression that with his fear of the Irish, his known love for the Scotch, and his natural sympathy for his neighbours the Welsh, the English must look out for themselves. By his intimation of a slight increase of Members, I assume he will deal feebly with this redistributing; far from increasing, it would be better to decrease the numbers of this House by 50 or 60, for it is already too unwieldy. This great measure is simply one of household suffrage, regardless of size or quality of the house. I wish distinctly to affirm this, as I have the best evidence that many persons even of standing think there will be some limitation preventing its application descending to mere hovels. No doubt, there is not sufficient time this year to discuss the details of both parts of the subject; but the Government could explain on what general principles they intend to proceed. Do they, in such cases as Newcastle, intend to join such outside people to the borough? Do they approve of grouping towns, or do they prefer to add a slice of the county to any of our small boroughs to improve their titles for returning Members? To be sure, the Premier gave us only his 1559 private opinions; but we know that such is his imperial sway that both the Cabinet and hon. Gentlemen opposite have to act upon his opinions. The street argument I do not place so much weight in as is generally attached to it. Persons on the non-voting sides enjoy considerable advantages in having all the conveniences of the town without its taxation. At any rate, any person feeling aggrieved can easily change from one side to the other. An argument used in favour of the measure is the principle of uniformity; but do the Government act on this principle? Decidedly not, for in answer to ray question they have stated that though the borough residents shall continue to have a vote for their county freeholds, the county resident shall not have a vote in the borough for his freehold there. Hence, if so, we shall have a House on one side of the street giving its owner a vote, where an exactly similar one on the other side shall confer no such privilege. This is no small matter, for in the division of the county which I in part represent nearly 600 of the voters out of 5,000 or 6,000 voters live in Parliamentary boroughs. I agree in the opinion expressed by the Premier that the more capable men voting the better; can he, then, contend that the county resident owning a freehold in the town is not a capable voter? If so, why withhold a vote from him? It has been, I think, rightly contended that farmers in the agricultural counties have had supreme political power, hence a monopoly in the representation. This I admit is bad; but what are we invited to do? Why, to merely change this monopoly from one classtoan ot her—that is, to the labouring class. It has been contended that we on this side of the House are against any extension of the suffrage. This I deny, as for years I have thought the rural labouring class should have some more direct representation. I say more direct, as every Member represents, I contend, all classes in his constituency, though I must confess we are apt to have a more lively interest in those who have a vote than in those who have not. What is objected to is—as by the present Bill—the so arranging that the labouring classes could completely swamp all others in the counties. On this point I contend that the Government should have placed some statistics before us by which we could better judge of the 1560 effects of the measure. For my guidance I have collected some; and, to convince the House I have done so impartially, I have taken three Suffolk parishes, in all of which I have resided, and consequently know about. The first is —I give only round numbers—that wherein I was born—namely, Playford; there are now six voters rated at £1,400, or £230 each; there will be 37 new voters rated at £140, or £3 10s. each. Hawstead I take next—a well-known parish, as its history is published—has now only 11 voters who are rated about £2,000, or nearly £200 each; while under the new measure there will be 42 new voters rated only at £84, or, say, £2 each. My present abode is at Lavenham, which now has 51 voters rated at £4,200, or about £80 each, and the 328 new voters to be added are rated at only about £1,350, or about £4 each. These figures prove conclusively that this representation will have no proportion to taxation. Accepting household suffrage as unalterable—or rather inevitable—-how can be modify its effect? It is impossible to arrange representation in strict proportion to taxation. Some of my friends think it can be rectified in the Redistribution of Seats Bill. I think not, for if not right on the basis we cannot erect sound work upon it; but we can in some rough way take a step in that direction, when we shall in. sonic measure modify the proposed swamping of the present electors. In cases where two Members are to be elected, let those rated under £8— namely, those who are or can be rated on a reduced scale—vote for one Member, while higher rated electors are allowed to vote for both. I contend this great Empire is but a mighty Company wherein it is not expedient that the holder of a single share should have equal weight in its direction with the holder of many shares. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. G. Russell) said that the parish clergyman, the squire, and the farmer have prevented the labourers from expressing their political views. I deny this. The Dissenting minister I believe has now, and certainly will have, far more political influence than the clergyman, who rarely takes an active part in politics; while the squire has had his wings so cut by the policy adopted by this House that he no longer can continue that generosity 1561 which secured him, in great part, the allowance of his poorer neighbours. As to the farmer, the good labourer is, from the decrease of the rural population, independent of him. Jack is now as good as his master, and happily no longer has to depend upon one or two farmers for the sale of his labour. This is the greatest measure proposed in our time, and as such I ask hon. Members to drop all Party views and seriously consider whether or not it is good for the country, and even good for the working classes themselves, that our county representation should so entirely rest with them. Full well I know that the course I am pursuing is one which may imperil what I shall seek—namely, my re-election. So be it, for I would rather be cast off, and, so to speak, fall into nought, than to have it said I preferred my personal interest to that of my country. The order of the day to "worship the rising sun," to pamper and flatter the coming power. Though yielding to none in good will to the labouring class, I decline to do it, for, in the words of one of our poets, I ask the Gods "to grant me an honest fame or grant me none."
§ MR. W. REDMOND
said, that, as he represented a borough in Ireland which suffered to no inconsiderable extent under the present Franchise Law, he trusted that he might be allowed to contribute a few observations to the discussion upon this Bill, which Her Majesty's Government had rather tardily introduced. There could be no two opinions as to the important effect which this measure, if carried, would have upon the composition of that House; and, therefore, legislation on such a subject should be conducted with the utmost care. The question of the franchise had been for a long time calling for settlement, more particularly in Ireland; and it was a subject for congratulation to hon. Members on both sides of the House that it was now about to be settled. Her Majesty's Government might congratulate themselves on having at length introduced a Liberal measure, while Her Majesty's Opposition had now a fair opportunity of proving that it was for the welfare of the country that a large and respectable class should be excluded from the franchise. He intended to approach this question, not from the English or the Scotch point of 1562 view, but from the Irish point of view. He might, however, incidentally observe that he was in favour of the liberties of the people in England and Scotland being extended to the utmost possible limits. He should ever remain in opposition to the Conservative Members of the House, who appeared to think that the majority of the Parliamentary voters were mere unintelligent machines to be used for the purpose of keeping far more intelligent men in opposition. He believed that the unfortunate and oppressed people of his country had much more to expect at the hands of the great mass of the people of England and Scotland than they had from the landocracy of those countries, who were disposed to legislate in favour of their brother members of the landocracy of Ireland. He had heard with surprise the noble Lord the Secretary of State for War express a fear lest the effect of the Bill would be to increase the Irish National Party in that House. That fear was only worthy of the extinct spirit of servile Whiggery which had received such a practical and decent burial in the borough which he had the honour to represent. The Opposition had relied greatly upon the mud cabin argument. It was a poor argument to adduce that because people dwelt in mud cabins they should not be entitled to have a voice in the government of their country. Another reason given for not extending the measure to Ireland was that a large percentage of the people could neither read nor write. Admitting that fact, he said it was not surprising that many of the Irish people should be illiterate when it was remembered that for generation after generation obstacles had been placed in the way of Catholic education by successive Governments in this country. But there were many illiterate Irishmen who were as well able to form a sound opinion on political subjects and to give a vote as gentlemen who had matriculated in English Universities. If the present or any other Government was coerced by Jingoism to try and lower the number of Irish Representatives, he could assure them that they would have to face the bitterest and fiercest opposition which the Representatives of Ireland in that House and the people of Ireland could give. According to the atrociously corrupt Act of Union of Lord Castlereagh, of infamous memory, Ireland had 100 Members given 1563 to her. If the Government wanted to cut down that number, they must violate that infamous Act. If the Government wished to repeal that infamous Act, they could rely on the hearty support and co-operation of himself and his Colleagues. It would have been well for the Empire if, in days gone by, Governments had proceeded to redress grievances as promptly as Her Majesty's Government were now proceeding to redress what was undoubtedly a grievance in shutting out large numbers of intelligent and. capable men in Ireland from the privileges of the franchise. He would take the opportunity of appealing to the Government, now that they were in the reforming humour, fairly and impartially to view the demand of the Irish people for local self-government.
MR. JOHN MORLEY
said, that the. hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Biddell) had made a very honest and straightforward speech; for he courageously said that whatever change the Bill might make in the franchise, he would still hope to retain his seat in that House. The speech was honest in another sense, for it let out the secret of the attitude taken up by hon. Members opposite. They only did not object to the extension of the franchise, on condition that in redistribution they could take back with, one hand what they had given with the other. The hon. Member, for instance, did not attempt to deny that the man who lived on one side of a street had as good a right to vote as the man who lived on the other. But the hon. Member went on to advocate a double qualification for people of property, an idea which had long ago been abandoned even by the Party opposite. The hon. Gentleman, all through his speech, divided the nation into classes and interests; educated people as distinguished from ignorant people—farmers as against labourers—employers against workmen. The hon. Member used an ignoble image, and said that we were all members of a Joint Stock Company. But men who were bound together by the common ties of citizenship were much more than members of a Joint Stock Company. The interests which divided them were as dust in the balance compared with the associations by which they were united. He regretted to find in the speech of the hon. Member for Wilton (Mr. Sidney Herbert) the same tendency to divide the country into 1564 classes. The hon. Member used a singularly infelicitous and inaccurate illustration in connection with that theory. He said that in France it was the lower classes who drove the Empire into war. Now, nothing was better known in all Europe than that the French peasantry were devoted friends of peace. He would appeal to his hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Broadhurst) whether there was an audience in England that would respond so earnestly to an appeal for peace as an audience of workmen. This would be as true of the labourers in the country as of the artizans in the towns. The right hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Beresford Hope) had quoted an old saying, that the towns represented population and the counties property. But it was said by Conservative speakers that the effect of the Bill of 1867 had been to make the boroughs so Conservative that the Liberals had to attack the counties. If so, then the boroughs must represent property no less than population. So that the argument lost all its force in the mouths of hon. Gentlemen opposite. He did not understand why it was that the Party which called itself the patriotic Party were not better patriots. A patriot ought to take pride in his countrymen as well as in his country. A dozen years ago he presided at a meeting of agricultural labourers, who had come to London at their own charge to protest against their exclusion from the franchise. Everybody was impressed by their orderly and temperate attitude. A few strong remarks were made about the parson and the squire; but they were soon overborne by the good sense of the meeting. Then all who had been fortunate enough to attend trades union congresses must have come to the conclusion that their proceedings might well furnish a model to more august assemblies. But it ought not to be forgotten that agricultural labourers were not the only class who would be enfranchised by the Bill. It would add 500,000 miners, who had in that House so excellent a Representative as his hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt). to the electorate. He had often attended meetings of miners, and could testify that in no assembly would revolutionary doctrines find less acceptance than among the miners of the North of England. Among no class was there a keener thirst for knowledge. There was 1565 a little district not fur from his own constituency, of 17,000 inhabitants. where no fewer than 1,300 men, almost the whole of the adult male population, regularly attended the lectures in connection with the scheme of University extension, which had been inaugurated by Professor Stuart, of Cambridge. There was more honour due to these men for their thirst for knowledge in their hard lives and humble homes than to all the learned leisure of Colleges and the luxurious state of ancient Universities. Yet of the nine Representatives of Universities in that House, no fewer than seven would go into the Lobby with those who wished to refuse to such men the Parliamentary franchise. When the scheme of redistribution came before them, rather than see the numbers in that House increased, he would prefer that those nine seats should be taken away, and transferred to worthier claimants. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Huntingdon (Sir Robert Peel) had said that the only meetings in favour of the Bill had been held by a few scientific Radicals. He did not know what a "scientific Radical" meant; but if it meant the opposite of a harum-scarum Tory, he would not, himself, be disposed to disown the name. The right hon. Baronet, just returned for Huntingdon, with its population of 6,400, might have found for Leeds, with its 300,000, a bettor name than that of a county town. Nothing showed how strong was the feeling of the working classes on this subject than the fact that the boroughs cared so much for the extension of the franchise in the counties. There were Conservative boroughs in which the feeling was nearly as strong as the Liberal feeling on this point, and which would not return a Conservative Member unless he pledged himself on the question of the county franchise. If there were any indifference in the country it would be due to growing scepticism as to the value of Parliament itself. The true danger to the stability of our Constitution was not in the admission of 2,000,000 more voters; but in the fact that the time of the House was so wasted that it was impossible to pass, not only disputed measures, but even non-contentious measures, as to which both sides of the House were agreed. This was striking the working classes as something that needed explanation, and of which the 1566 solution might, in time, become formidable; that it was not so now was because the respect for law was so deeply ingrained in the English and the Scotch character. Yet the Opposition refused to extend the franchise unless they were assured that there would be some manipulation or re-arrangement of seats, which, would, in fact, be taking away with one hand what was given with the other. He regretted that proportional representation should have been introduced into the debate from that side of the House, for all these schemes were but new disguises for the old Tory distrust of the people. It would be easier than it was now to answer its advocates, when they said what it was they meant by proportional representation. The House had the right to ask them which scheme it was they were going to stand upon; at present they only maintained the principle, while they threw over oven application of it. They admitted that the cumulative vote involved a waste of voting power, and often gave a majority to a minority. They admitted that the three-cornered constituency involved a waste of voting power, and stimulated the activity of those electoral associations, which Gentlemen on both sides professed to hold in so much dislike. The single district system had been tried fairly in the United States; it was found to lead to gerrymandering; it stimulated the activity of caucuses; it did not secure men of exceptional ability, as had been set forth in a Report made to the Senate in 1869. As to preferential voting, the right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) said lie had not yet seen a scheme that would work. But if there were more to be said for schemes of proportional representation, the question did not arise under this Bill. As the right hon. Member for Bradford said in the Recess, if we were going to keep on the old lines we might safely leave minorities to take care of themselves. This Bill did go very much upon the old lines. If it were proposed to give to Birmingham, Manchester, and Leeds eight or ten Members each, a question might arise as to whether they should all be given to majorities; but there was no such proposal. The time for the schemes of proportional representation would come when it was proposed to adjust representation on a numerical basis. 1567 The question of Irish representation he would not discuss, either upon the basis of numbers, or that of the Act of Union —cither by reference to what had been called a musty parchment, or by working a sum in rule of three. It ought to be settled upon the same principle as that which settled all political questions —naraely, the broad ground of policy and expediency. He would argue it when the time came upon those grounds. We should lose far more by irritating the population of Ireland than we should gain by taking seats from her for our own use. Ireland was entitled to exceptional representation, not so much on the score of geographical distance, as on that of moral distance, and the disadvantage under which her Members laboured from the ignorance and prejudice of Englishmen about them, arising out of the difference in race and religion. Another reason for special treatment of Ireland was that a great obstacle to improvement in Irish legislation was to be found in the other House; and, as Ireland was under a disadvantage in the hereditary branch of the Legislature, there was less reason to object to her having an excess of representation in the elective branch, Hon. Gentlemen opposite had stated that they were in favour of an appeal to the people. The supporters of the Bill wanted to enable them to appeal to the real people, and not to a privileged section with a narrow franchise, and jockeyed by an artificial arrangement of seats. If they were not to have this Bill, the Opposition would have to bring in another. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Member cheered, but he would warn him that there was no case of a second Reform Bill being more moderate and more narrow than the first. The present Bill was well worth having. But if they did not get the Bill now before the House, all he could say was that they would have from the Opposition a measure better worth having still.
§ MR. STRUTT
said, he could not look upon this great revolutionary measure as a wise one, coming, as it did, within so short a time of the last Reform Bill. The hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. T. Morley) had told the Opposition that they ought to have confidence in the people. For his part, he should have perfect confidence in the people if there were; no agitators to go and lead them astray, They had heard a great deal about right 1568 in this matter. If hon. Gentlemen on the Ministerial side of the House believed that the individual right was of paramount importance as compared with the welfare of the State, they ought to make a bonfire of nearly all their Bills. Most of the measures introduced by Ministerialists went against the right of the individual. Upon this question of right they could not refuse the franchise to the greatest criminal in the dock, or to the smallest child who could toddle up to the polling booth. If a man had a right to a vote because others had it who were in no way different from himself except in geographical position, he had equal right that his vote should he of the same value; and this argument would, therefore, lead them directly to electoral districts. But he ventured to say that even under a system of electoral districts they would find exactly the same inequality of which they complained now. What political power had a Conservative in the wilds of Scotland or Wales? What political power had a Liberal in the highly civilized districts of Westminster or Essex? It was true the Conservative and the Liberal had a vote; but what was a vote if it brought no political power? It was absolutely worthless. He submitted that to advocate proportional voting was not to distrust the people. A system of proportional voting would give political power to all the people as far as it was possible. He believed that if the Bill passed in its present shape the agricultural labourers would have it in their power to prevent a single man entering that House to represent the feelings of the farmers. He should like to know whether the Government intended to turn a deaf ear to the bitter cry of the Loyalists in Ireland. The First Commissioner of Works had told the House that if they gave a vote to the Loyalists in Ireland they must also give a vote to Irishmen in England. He did not see why they should not give a vote to Irishmen in England, because those Irishmen might not always share the opinions of Irish Members in that House. That House ought to be the reflex of every phase of public opinion, and particularly of the more intelligent part of it. He did not think that the agricultural labourers bad that amount of political power which their numbers and importance entitled them to; but if 1569 the Government had introduced a Redistribution Bill, so as to enlarge the small boroughs, they would have struck a blow at the anomalies which those small boroughs presented, and would have rectified the position of the agricultural labourer. The artizans had quite enough of power already, especially when they took into consideration what a short time it was since compulsory education had been in force. He confessed he had some jealousy of that class, because he thought it dangerous that one class should have so much more power over the destinies, not only of this country, but of the 250,000,000 of the people of India who depended on the vote of that House. All the statesmen of the past and all political writers had looked with suspicion on one class having all the political power. It was easier, no doubt, for hon. Gentlemen to say that they had confidence in the people than want of confidence, when those in whom that confidence was expressed might be their future electors. For his part, he did not think that this Bill would conduce to the happiness or contentment of the people, and he should, therefore, support the Amendment.
§ MR. PLUNKET
I am sure that Members on both sides of the House who have heard the speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Strutt) will agree with me that his presence among us is a distinct accession to the debating power of the House, and gives much promise for the future. I hope the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. John Morley) will not think, if I do not follow him through his philosophic, disquisition, that I refrain from doing so from want of personal respect, or from any feeling of resentment towards him for having explained his own opinion as to the way in which the nine Members who represent the Universities in this House ought to be dealt with. If I were to do so, I should evidently be speaking, as it were, with a rope round my neck. For I feel that the unfortunate heads of the Representatives of the Universities—English, Irish, and Scotch—will be the first to fall into the Republican basket of the hon. Member when he gets his way in regard to this Franchise Bill and also the Redistribution Bill of which he has given the House a forecast. I gladly turn 1570 away from the speech of the hon. Member, hoping that his Friends near him —my right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Edinburgh (Sir Lyon Play fair) and the hon. Member for the University of London (Sir John Lubbock) —will find some means of persuading their political allies generally that they would be a greater loss to the House, if taken away from it, than their companion-in-arms the hon. Member for Newcastle seems to think. For my own part, I have a strong belief in luck, and nine is a lucky number; and therefore, despite all the distrust the hon. Member feels as to the extreme illiberality of the University Members, I hope we may yet be spared to break a lance with him in some future Parliament. I pass now from the hon. Member for Newcastle to the very remarkable speech which preceded it, and which, I am sorry to think, was not hoard by many hon. Members of the House—I mean that of the hon. Member for Wexford (Mr. W. Redmond), which was also a maiden speech. The hon. Member described his borough as "suffering, to no inconsiderable extent, from the want of some such Bill as the present." Certainly, the borough of Wexford does not suffer from the want of a vigilant, able, and fearless Representative, and a very frank one I must say also. The hon. Member, of course, denounced the Whig Members of the House, and naturally honoured, from his point of view, the President of the Board of Trade; but, from another point of view, his speech was really interesting — namely, for the clearness and distinctness with which he brought before the House the peculiar tenets of those he is sent hero to represent, affording abundant proof that, after all, the constituencies of Ireland do not suffer seriously from that "moral distance" of which the hon. Member for Newcastle has just now so loudly complained. The hon. Member has put before the House as plainly as can be desired the views entertained by himself, and, I presume, by those who sit around him, in regard to this Bill. Now, there has been a certain amount of rumour in the Press and whispering in the Lobbies for some days past that this Bill, after all, makes no formidable contribution to the power of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell), 1571 as some benighted Conservative Members have supposed, but that it will rather undermine his influence; and on that ground hopes have been kindly held out to us by the Radical newspapers that it may not be impossible to secure, in opposition to the Bill, even the support of the hon. Member for the City of Cork and his Friends! But the hon. Member for Wexford has told us plainly what his view of the case is. He said he would support the Bill, not because it is a good Bill, or because he thinks it satisfactory or sufficient, for he requires a Bill which would go much further, but because it will, as far as it goes, give greater effect to what he calls the will of the Irish people in this House — he did not say the whole of the Irish people—and, he added, as I understood him—I accept the Bill as far as it goes; but you need not think that it will have the effect of staving the agitation of a Separatist character which exists in Ireland, for if you give us this Bill, or 20 more Bills of the same description, we will never cease from that agitation until we fully obtain our object.He said, further, that until the Separatist object of his Party was achieved, that agitation would have the effect of disorganizing and disgracing this Assembly. At all events, that is perfectly plain speaking. I shall not comment upon it, neither shall I make any apology to the House if, during the brief time for which I shall claim its attention at this stage of the debate, I confine myself entirely to the Bill and to the Amendment as they may affect the future of my own country. That, I think, is the aspect of the case which has weighed most heavily upon the minds of English and Scotch Members, even of Members who are favourable to the proposals of the Government. For me, as an Irishman, it totally eclipses all the others; because, if the view I take of this measure be the true one, the thing yon are now asked to do in passing this Franchise Bill as it stands, without further qualifications or safeguards against its immediate effects than have been shadowed forth in the vague and contradictory utterances which as yet have been heard from the Treasury Bench, is an act fraught with grave and urgent peril to the State. It is so, in my opinion, not only because it will at once commit practically the whole Parliamentary representation of Ireland to one social 1572 class of its population, which must overwhelm in numbers all the others—and that a class, unfortunately though I fully admit its many virtues and good qualities, who are ignorant, excitable, prejudiced, and absolutely unused to the duties and responsibilities of public affairs—because this great augmentation of voters will practically extinguish for political purposes those of my countrymen, best able to form an intelligent and useful opinion. Because the result would be a total misrepresentation of the Irish people, including all its interests and all its classes. But, above all because, in that great question which is now at issue between the Imperial Government and the Friends of the hon. Member for the City of Cork— that great question of the maintenance or the destruction of the Union between the Three Kingdoms—it will throw into the hands of the latter an increase of power wholly out of proportion to their just claims as Representatives of the Irish people. It will throw it into their hands, without the possibility of recall. The struggle we have to maintain in this great controversy is, even in the present Parliament, extremely difficult; and, in all events, in the next, it must be much more arduous. But I foresee that if this Bill passes in its present shape and without qualification, and a General Election is taken upon it, the struggle will become almost desperate, if not absolutely hopeless. I know this is a strong statement, and that I may be accused of being an alarmist for uttering it; but if the House will grant me its patience, I think I shall be able to make good my words by arguments the most simple and practical. Before, however, dealing with the Bill as it may affect the fortunes of the Separatist movement in Ireland, let me say something about its other effects in Ireland itself. The present electors of Ireland number about 224,000; the Bill would add 480,000, as nearly as I can calculate; so that the new electors would more than double the existing electors, and form over two-thirds of the future constituencies of all Ireland. And remember that these new electors would not be, as those are whom you propose to add to the English constituencies, electors of the same class, but persons totally unused to taking part in public affairs, who have had no experience whatever in the matter, and 1573 that it is nearly impossible, in the unfortunate state of their social existence, for them to form an independent political opinion, and still more hopeless for them to take any independent political action. A great deal has been said about what is called the "hovel" electors in Ireland. It is no pleasure to me to have to dwell upon that subject, and I am very glad to think that this reproach to our land is gradually passing away; still, it does exist to a considerable extent. And when it is said that in England also there are people almost as badly housed as any in Ireland, who will have votes under this Bill, I answer that that is true; but there is this difference between the two cases—those who dwell in hovels in England contribute only a small quota of the electors; but in Ireland, in the country districts, these hovels will contain about one-half of all the householders, and in the boroughs a very large proportion of the electors. And now, one word also as to the state of education in Ireland. There, too, I admit freely—and I am glad to admit it—that considerable progress has recently been made, and is still being made. But, nevertheless, the condition of the Irish people in this respect is still very bad. As far as I can calculate, the facts of the case would be these —if we assume that the present electors are able to read and write, it may be said, speaking generally, that the new electors to be added to the franchise by this Bill will be taken from a class of which 40 per cent of those above 20 years of age cannot read or write. I will not push my argument to the extent to which it was carried by Mr. John Stuart Mill, who held that no man should be enfranchised who could not read and write; I do not push it to that extent at present; but I do push it to the extent of another proposition which Mr. Mill laid down when he said—No one can deny that it is not a good, but a hurtful thing, that the Constitution of a country should declare ignorance to be entitled to as much political power as knowledge.Now, I put it to the House, if this Bill were intended to apply to Ireland alone, what responsible statesman would have brought forward a measure with such results as I have described? Would you, in England or Scotland, trust the fortunes of your country to such a 1574 wild, untrained, disqualified democracy is this? I do not wish to pursue this branch of the subject further; but I should like to say this much. It is argued that there are anomalies in the present representation of the Irish people. I grant it fully, and I am quite sure that if the time were propitious for introducing reforms, remedies might be found, well-considered, cautious, and safe, which would, to a great extent, remove these anomalies. But this Bill will not only continue many of these anomalies, but it will aggravate them, and especially those anomalies which tell against the constituencies which are most enlightened and progressive. Let me give one or two instances. The town of Belfast is one of the most improving places in Ireland. It contains 35,000 inhabited houses, which exceed in number the inhabited houses in all the boroughs in Minister, including the City of Cork; yet it only returns two Members, while the boroughs of Minister return 14. Again, in Leinster, the City of Dublin has nearly 28,000 inhabited houses, which is a larger number than all the other boroughs in the Province of Leinster; but still that City has only two Members, while the rest of the boroughs have eight. I say again that anomalies in the Irish representation undoubtedly exist; but in many important cases the present Bill will not only continue, but will aggravate them. I think I have already satisfied the House that this is a Bill, as it affects Ireland, which would not have been introduced if it had been proposed for that country alone. There is no political philosopher so flighty as to maintain that, under the existing circumstances of Ireland, the wholesale extension of household suffrage to the counties and boroughs is the best way of representing all classes of the Irish people. In point of fact, the effect of this Bill would be, that the representation of the less capable citizens would be inordinately increased, while the representation of the most capable citizens would be practically extinguished. I say that such considerations as these would have been amply sufficient to have justified the Government in adhering to the precedent of all former Reform Bills, and dealing on somewhat different principles with the English and Irish constituencies. And now let me turn to the view 1575 of the case which weighs most heavily on the minds of all serious thinkers on Reform; and that is the influence which, if the Bill is carried as it stands at present, it will give in the future to the Party led by the hon. Member for the City of Cork. I am willing to accept the estimate—I wish to deal with the question in the most practical way— I am willing to accept the estimate which has been made by Members of that Party, as to the number of Representatives they will be able to return if this Franchise Bill should pass. That calculation goes up to 90 or 95, and I am sorry to say that I am not in a position to show that it is a very exaggerated estimate. If this Bill is carried, and a General Election is taken upon it without any Redistribution Bill, the result would probably be that the hon. Member for the City of Cork, or whoever may be at the moment the Leader of that movement, will have in this House from 90 to 95 followers. It has also boon said that if this Bill does not pass, the hon. Member will return after the next General Election with 70 or 80 followers. I think that that is an exaggeration. I believe we should be very well able to hold our own. I think it was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) who said the other day that the Conservatives and the Whigs, by acting together, ought to be able to return 35 or 40 Members to the next Parliament against the Parnellites. Therefore, the difference which the Bill makes is not merely 10 or 15 Members, but 25 or 30. I know that the arguments I am putting forward now are arguments which will be treated by advanced Reformers as perfectly unworthy of consideration in this House. These gentlemen go altogether on other and general principles, and yet it is not very long since we had high authority for relying on these very apprehensions. I am speaking of the maxim deliberately laid down by the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War, and to which I beg now particularly to recall the attention of the House and the country; I allude to a speech which was made by the noble Marquess about a year and a-half ago to his constituents. In that speech the noble Marquess stated that the present Parliament was perfectly capable of dealing with the questions 1576 of local government and with the franchise for Britain; but he went on to say, speaking of the proposal to include Ireland in such measures, that in his opinion it would be madness to volunteer to give to Ireland a more extended local self-government until they received from the Representatives of the Irish people some assurance that it would not be used for the purpose of agitation and for the purpose of weakening the authority of the Crown. That was the proposition then deliberately laid down by the noble Marquess; so it remained, apparently, in the mind of the noble Marquess for more than a year, and I do not know by what process the noble Marquess has been led to change that opinion. But he went on to say that, while there was no franchise or power possessed by, or afterwards to be conferred upon, the English people, that he would withhold from Ireland as soon as he was persuaded that she was contented to remain an integral portion of the United Kingdom, he would plead for Ireland that she should have an interval of repose from such exciting legislation. This opinion, which the noble Marquess expressed at that time, I am sure, recommended itself to nine-tenths of the common-sense politicians of the country as a sound, reasonable, and just view to take of the question. But, before I proceed further on this point, I should like to add a word as to what has been said and to what has not been said by Ministers on the subject of a Redistribution Bill. I do not intend to trouble the House with any observations as to the propriety of making a reduction in the number of Members returned by Ireland. I only mention the topic as throwing some light upon the way the Irish Party are likely to be approached when the question arises of the redistribution of the constituencies of Ireland inter se. It is perfectly plain that when the Prime Minister made his overture to Irish Members below the Gangway, he did so with the hope of conciliating, or, at all events, of averting the opposition of the hon. Member for the City of Cork and his followers. Now, let me ask this question—If the Prime Minister felt himself compelled to make that rash and sudden pledge to the hon. Member for the City of Cork, while he stands in this House with 40 Irish Representatives as his followers, what 1577 would he or any other English politician feel himself called upon to do, if, instead of 40 Members, he had to deal with 90 or 95? Let me follow this up a little further, for really it is the kernel of the present controversy. Is the redistribution which hon. Members talk about to be brought about in the present House of Commons? If the Franchise Bill were carried alone, it would secure to the hon. Member for the City of Cork 90 or 95 followers. How, then, would any Minister be received who approached the hon. Member and proposed, in the last days of this doomed and dying Parliament, that he should give up 20 or 30 of those seats? When is it to be done? In the next Parliament, after a General Election shall have given 90 or 95 followers to the hon. Member? Is it to be done as part of a Redistribution Bill for the Three Kingdoms? At such a time of keen contest, of contending interests, of the hot rivalries between different English Parties and places, one single independent vote would fetch a famine price. But what will be the market value of a cohort of nearly 100 free lances perfectly disciplined to act together under the Leadership of their cool-headed and experienced Commander? Where, let me ask, will be found the Government so strong, and where the Parliament so patriotic, which would have the courage and patience to attempt to carry such a proposal against such an opposition? No; you must make up your minds to this. If this Franchise Bill be carried without such safeguards as are demanded by the Amendment—if Parliament parts with it without having secured the redress of these evils—you will have saddled this House permanently with 90 or 95 Members returned by Irish constituencies, pledged, every one of them, to vote solidly together for the purpose of breaking up the Union of the Three Kingdoms, and, as they have plainly told you, until they have achieved that end, resolved to make the conduct of Public Business in this House impossible. How long do you suppose that the frail machinery of Party Government, with all its incidents of intense rivalry, of strong temptation, of momentary exigency—a machinery which was never intended to meet such a peril—how long would it be able to resist the steady pressure of these 90 or 95 Members who are prepared to sub- 1578 ordinate every other consideration of foreign and domestic policy until they have wrested from you the concession of the independence of Ireland? But, then, we are promised by hon. Gentlemen opposite that we may rely upon it that the English people will see right done in the matter. We were especially assured of that by a right hon. Gentleman who is certainly entitled to speak with considerable authority on the subject. I refer to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford. He told the House that his decision to support the application of the Bill to Ireland was one which he had arrived at only after great and long doubting as to whether he was justified in doing so or not The grounds on which he seems to have got over the difficulty are very strange and suggestive. The right hon. Gentleman said that some people fear that, by constant changes in the relative power of English. political Parties, the hon. Member for the City of Cork will become the arbiter of the destinies of the United Kingdom, because he could make his support "useful." Now, I think that was a, very curious and interesting statement, coming from the right hon. Gentleman, who had himself dragged to light and exposed an expression, which was not at all dissimilar, in a famous letter sent on a historic occasion by the hon. Member for the City of Cork to the hon. and gallant Member for Clare (Mr. O'Shea). The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford said it might be feared that the hon. Member for the City of Cork would make his support "useful," and added that the hon. Member would get almost all he wanted by controlling the action of the different Parties; "but," said the right hon. Gentleman—I am not afraid of that, because Party men in this House are too patriotic, and because the householders of Great Britain would make short work of any Government which could give way to the dictates of a small minority.It may not, however, be quite so small a minority; but suppose it were to be a small minority, I must say no one is more capable of gauging the patriotism, of politicians on such a subject than the right hon. Gentleman. I do not know whether he is, as was wittily said the other day by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Huntingdon (Sir Robert Peel), "a refugee in the corner;" I 1579 would say that he is rather an honourable exile from Office, having left the Government because he would not consent to an Act of the kind which he deseribed, when he spoke of the destruction which would follow any Government which dared to attempt such a step. There sits the right hon. Gentleman on the Bench behind the Treasury, a danger signal—like a bell buoy on the ocean, to mark the spot where the Kilmainham Treaty sank. But the Government ship sails gaily over the wreck, and they are now engaged in further —I suppose I must not call it a Treaty, but in further "arrangements," which the right hon. Gentleman himself described as clearly another "concession to the Irish Members." As to the householders holding any Government accountable for such a transaction, I sincerely hope the right hon. Gentleman is justified in his confident expectation; for I am afraid that before very long the householders of England, Scotland, and Wales will have an opportunity of putting their patriotism and firmness on this subject to a very serious trial. I want now to say a word on behalf of the loyal minority in Ireland, whose voice has not yet been heard from these Benches; and when I speak of them, I wish the House distinctly to understand that this is not a landlords' question. Some hon. Members said in the debate the other day, in a general way— "Oh, it is only the landlords of Ireland who are the loyal minority." Nothing can be further from the truth than that. In speaking of the Loyal Party, I am thinking of more than 1,000,000 Protestants living in Ulster and outside Ulster, embracing all classes of the people, but mainly composed of farmers in the counties, and artizans in the towns—aye, and thousands and hundreds of thousands of Catholics in Ulster and out of Ulster, who are just as much devoted to the maintenance of the Union between the two countries as any hon. Member of this House. These are the men who, through all the difficulties, through all the dangers, through all the temptations, and through all the terrors of the last few years, never threw in their lot with the hon. Member for the City of Cork, but stood firm and true to the maintenance of the Union. These are the men referred to, not long ago, by the right hon. Gen- 1580 tleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, in a speech to his constituents, as that Party in Ireland which was not confined by any means to Conservatives, but included the Whig Party of Ulster as well, and which he hoped lie might describe as "the greater Ireland." In that description, I am afraid, the right hon. Gentleman took too sanguine a view; but there can be no doubt whatever that considerably more than one-third of the whole population of Ireland are loyal. Then I would ask the House—Are not these men entitled to be fairly represented in the Imperial Parliament? Are not their rights to be safeguarded? I do not care to appeal for the sake of old attachment between England and the Loyalists of Ireland; but I put it upon the ground of your own interests at the present time. The right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Shaw Lefevre), speaking the other night, seemed to think that the Members for two or three counties were quite enough for the loyal minority in Ireland, and that they would be fairly represented by such a number in this House. Let it be remembered that this minority is not a minority composed wholly of Protestants. Neither is the principle which binds them together, and on which they are perfectly identified, a crotchet—it is one that is vital to their political existence, and which goes to the very root of their liberties as free citizens. It is a principle for which they have shown themselves prepared to risk and, if necessary, to sacrifice their lives. If ever, then, there was a case in which a minority was entitled to the support and protection of this House, it is the Loyalist minority in Ireland. Certainly, this exigency of Her Majesty's Government is a great windfall for the hon. Member for the City of Cork. It bids fair not only to increase his power, but to practically extinguish his opponents absolutely and for ever. Let me urge my cause on yet another ground. After the next General Election, the hon. Member for the City of Cork will certainly return to this House with a very considerably increased following. He will as certainly renew his demand for a separate Irish nationality. You say you are resolved to resist that demand. But will it make no difference to you if you are then able to appeal in the presence 1581 of the public opinion of this country, of foreign countries, and of our own Colonies, to the existence in Ireland, as proved by the presence of their Representatives in this House, of a considerable proportion of people who are resolutely opposed to any scheme for the dismemberment of the Empire? Will it make no difference, especially to you who are pledged to governing Ireland according to Irish ideas? Imagine the joy with which, in such a crisis, the winning even of a single bye-election by a Loyalist would be hailed. Yet this Bill proposes to hand over, wholesale, 20 or 30 more votes to the Separatist Party than they are entitled to claim, even on the ground of mere numbers, to say nothing of education, wealth, or the payment of taxes. I cannot stay to argue upon the folly of the time selected for the introduction of this Bill. You cherish hopes that the power of the hon. Member for the City of Cork is breaking up. The noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War, catching at any straw, dwelt upon that possibility. For myself, I am sorry to say that I can see no symptoms of the breaking up of the power and authority of the hon. Member for the City of Cork; but, even supposing that there really was such a chance, why did you not wait until the thing happened, instead of now, when the hon. Member is at the zenith of his power, stereotyping his influence and authority by sending to the assistance of the phalanx which he commands such a large additional number of supporters to secure for him without delay his ultimate triumph? Then I have heard another and a very strange argument. It is said— "What matters it whether 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, or 90 Members from Ireland are led by the hon. Member for the City of Cork. The case is already as bad as it can be? "I will not call it an argument at all; it is only a lazy, listless, and reckless excuse on the part of those who wish to shirk trouble and shrink from responsibility. I say that in the mere physical difficulty of opposing the Separatist Party in this House it must make the greatest difference, but it is to the moral value of every Irish vote that you can fairly save on I this question whether you are going to maintain or to sacrifice the Union between the two countries—the question which predominates over and overwhelms in 1582 importance all others—that I attach such critical importance. Let me back my reasoning on this subject by one quotation from an unexpected ally. There have been great doubts expressed as to whether, if this Bill passes, it will really have the effect of strengthening the power of the hon. Member for the City of Cork and his Party, and it has even been urged by some that it would have an opposite effect. Hon. Members from England and Scotland, who are sincerely anxious to support this Bill, surely have been driven to strange devices in order to find arguments in justification of the course they are prepared to take. They say it is a mistake to think that the hon. Member for the City of Cork will be strengthened; that, on the contrary, his power will be broken up. Now I must admit that the hon. Member, in the only appearance he has entered on this subject, when he spoke on the first reading of the Bill—he was not here, I believe, when his Lieutenant, the hon. Member for Wexford, enlightened the House this evening—the hon. Member for the City of Cork helped the Government as much as he could. His speech, on that occasion, was a very remarkable one. He deprecated all passion or heat, and treated the effect which the measure would have upon his own position in Ireland as very trifling. He said he hardly thought he could get as many as 90 Members; and, if he did, it would make no difference at all. In point of fact, the hon. Member said everything that he possibly could in order to assuage the fears of English Members and reconcile them to the Bill. With the permission of the House. I will read an extract from a speech made by the hon. Member for the City of Cork, at another time and to a different audience—at a meeting held for the purpose of founding the present National League of Ireland. On that occasion, when the hon. Member was organizing that agitation and laying down the lines upon which it was to proceed, and holding out the hopes which were to encourage his supporters, this is what he told them, and I beg the attention of the House to it. Speaking on the 18th of October, 1882, the hon. Member said—We comprise about 40 out of the 103 Members Ireland is entitled to send to the House of Commons. It is true that, even under the pre- 1583 sent franchise, we can hope largely to increase our present numbers at the next General Election without altering at all the franchise. We trust to increase our numbers to at least 65 or 70, and we then should, at least, constitute the majority of the Irish Representatives, and not be under the imputation, as at present, that we are only a fraction or minority of that representation. But to get such a representation as would secure, for instance, the creation of National Self-Government for Ireland, we require to return 80 or 90. Members to the House of Commons, and we cannot hope for this until the franchise has been lowered, at least as far as the basis of household suffrage.This is, then, exactly the original object and the main purpose with which the hon. Member founded the National League, which is now in full swing in Ireland; and it is in face of that object, and in face of that warning and protest, that the English Government are preparing to give this overwhelming and preponderating power to the hon. Member, so that, with the conveniences which he has described, he will be able to fulfil has prophecy, by stamping out those in Ireland who are still friendly to the Union! I bog the House to weigh this serious state of things, and this well considered and deliberate statement of the hon. Member for the City of Cork, who must understand this subject at all events, against all these vague and general propositions about the good time coming for Ireland, when, after you have made this last concession, she is to settle down in peace and contentment. Admirable moralizing! But I should like to ask the Government how they expect to impress these excellent precepts upon the minds of men whose ideas are but too faithfully represented by such, speeches, as we sometimes hear from the hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar) and the hon. Member for Monaghan (Mr. Healy)? Through what channels do you expect to pour these gentle antidotes? They never read a word of publications that contain such respectable platitudes. They are accustomed to diet of a different kind. They believe what is said by the hon. Member for the City of Cork, and they read the newspapers which support his cause even in stronger language than hon. Members are accustomed to hear in this House—stronger even than we heard from the lips of the hon. Member for Wexford this very evening. The hon. Member for Cork has long ago assured them that the real reason why Ireland 1584 was included in the Bill was that otherwise he and his Party would not have permitted any measure to be carried at all. Realizing all these things, I stand in amazement at the folly which is hurrying forward this fatal measure; and, often as I listen to the wise saws and abstract reasons by which its supporters try to keep up their confidence in this last reckless experiment, I am reminded of that remarkable saying of Lord Dufferin, when dealing with a not very different school of critics, in his famous despatch upon the Egyptian Question. He said—The situation of the country is too critical, the problems immediately pressing for solution are too vital to be tampered with, even in the interests of political philosophy.I am quite sure there are a great many hon. Members in this House—I do not know how many—who have hailed the decided improvement in the condition of Ireland, as shown in the subsidence of agrarian crime and the more general tranquillity of the country, as the harbinger of the existence of those conditions which the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War laid down in his speech at Bacup, and that they really believe that the Irish people have become reconciled to obedience to the law and to the maintenance of the Union. I am not going to repeat again what I said on that subject— against laying too much stress upon those signs of improvement—when I had the opportunity of speaking in the debate on the Address. I think, however, I am content to recall the attention of the House to the very remarkable statement made here, a few days ago, by the hon. Member for the City of Cork, when he encouraged the Irish farmers to unite in a strike against the payment of the police tax; and when I add that that teaching has been carefully improved and disseminated as far as possible in Ireland by the Press which supports that Separatist Party, I think these considerations are enough to show how far we are still from the state of affairs which was required by the noble Marquess as the condition of granting the same measures to Ireland which he is prepared to grant to England, and also to show how near we are still to the time when the law of the League was the law of the land. I implore hon. Mem- 1585 bers not to be too much influenced by the subsidence of agrarian crime. I rejoice at it as much as any man in this House can do; but I pray you not to lay your heads too calmly on the opium-pillow of security and repose, lost, while you sleep and slumber, the door of this House may be pushed gently open, and you may awaken to find that your threshold has been crossed and your House thronged in over whelming numbers by those men, who frankly tell you they come here for no other purpose than to break up the Union of the Three Kingdoms. I will not enlarge upon the certain consequence of that movement if it succeeds. It has been laid down as an axiom by all the great thinkers and statesmen of England in former times that the repeal of the Union would mean nothing less than the breaking up of the Empire; and if such ends were sought by open force you all say you would resist it to the bitter end. But to-day the danger is of a more subtle, and therefore more formidable kind; and it is, in my opinion, nearer to you than it has been within this century. And yet I am very glad to be able to assure the House that, quite independently of the policy of the present Government, or of any Government—I should say, despite the policy of the present Government—there are forces at work in Ireland which, under more favourable circumstances, might lead that country on to a happier future. Education and material prosperity are spreading over the land their civilizing influences. The rapidly-increasing interchanges of commerce, and the interweaving of financial interests, the frequent passing to and fro of men across the inhospitable sea—oceanus dissociabilis—or, as it was once translated by an Irish schoolboy— "The Channel which repudiates the Union." These influences are spanning and bridging the Channel, and ought to bring the peoples of the two countries more closely together; and I am perfectly certain in this House there is no feeling more strong, in spite of the bitter invectives and furious slanders to the contrary sometimes heard from Irish Members below the Gangway. There is no fooling stronger in this House than the desire for a lasting reconciliation—a desire felt not more on one side of the House than on the other. But realize, 1586 I pray you, what are the conditions which you are preparing for the last act of this solemn drama. Separation will be demanded after the next General Election by those who demand it now; but their numbers will be seriously increased. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford said he would rather meet the hon. Member for Cork in this House than confront his associates in Ireland. I cannot see the force of the remark. What really will happen? The conspirator in Ireland, the assassin, will not be more loth to take his place behind the hedge, and the dynamiter to deposit his carefully-constructed clockwork, whenever it is thought that another tug at the chapel bell will be useful. The amount of external pressure will be carefully regulated so as to increase the power, but not to spoil the game, of the Parliamentary Representatives of the movement. But you will meet them in the House of Commons redoubled in numbers, and more than ever willing, confident, and able to protect their confederates operating in the country. Let me put the case to Ministers and Members opposite from one other point of view. What is your answer when you are confronted with the fact that after all your boasted policy of concession the Irish people seem to be more estranged from you and from England than ever? You say— "Wait a bit; the operation of our healing measures is necessarily slow; but time is on our side," and so on. I suppose your hope is that you may win away at last the minds even of the passionate people of my country from their false guides, and that common sense, and a sense of common interests, may again draw them into a friendly fellow-citizen-ship? You expect that the effect of your acts of conciliation, according to the natural course of such a policy, must soon influence the more reasonable and educated of those classes in Ireland who have lately been in revolt against your rule, and that it may gradually work down through the various strata, even to the lowest, the most ignorant, the most bitterly prejudiced? That, at the best, must take time, and a long time. Yet, without giving a moment's respite for such a change to be accomplished, at one bound you outstrip the operation of those influences, and place practically the whole of the electorate power in the hands of those who are absolutely un- 1587 fitted for it; and to the Representatives of those classes of Irishmen certain not to be converted for years to come you give such an over whelming influence that they will inevitably control and guide the fortunes of Party warfare, and the i future action of Parliament, not only for Ireland, but for the Empire! I have to thank the House for its attention. I have endeavoured, as far as possible, to avoid saying anything which could introduce into the debate the heats of Party conflict; and I have sought to plead—to plead patiently—the cause of the Irish Loyalist. I solemnly warn the House that in this controversy, which, believe me, is not now at an end, and of which, I fear, you have not yet heard the worst, the act which the Government are now asking you to do will absolutely efface the influence of the men who might be your friends in Ireland, and will give an overwhelming preponderance in that country and in this House to those who are resolved to destroy the Union and break up the Empire.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
said, he felt; that his hon. Friend the Member for: Newcastle (Mr. J. Morley) would see that a very serious obstacle had already been raised in the way of the suggestion made in the course of his speech. He thought that the eloquent, graceful, statesmanlike, and powerful speech to which they had just listened, would very; much indispose the House and the country to deprive itself of such ornaments of debate as the Representatives; for the Universities of Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. He was not going to touch the Irish Question, which had been so exhaustively dealt with that evening, nor was he going into any side issues with reference to minority representation, or kindred subjects of which they had heard so much. He wished to say a word or two upon the Amendment actually before the House, which suggested that this measure should be postponed until the whole redistribution scheme of Her Majesty's Government was before them. That Amendment was very skilfully drawn; it secured the support of three classes of the opponents of the Bill. It secured the support of those who did not object on principle to the extension of the franchise to householders in rural and urban districts, but who contended that the 1588 grouping of those was so essential an element that they declined to support the scheme without redistribution; it secured the support of those who altogether objected to the measure, and whose opposition no possible scheme of redistribution would remove; and it also secured the support of those who, not venturing to oppose the measure openly, disguised their hostility under the cover of an Amendment which enabled them to vote against the Bill without saying what they really meant. The noble Lord's argument rested, to a great extent, upon the precedents of 1832 and 1867. With the permission of the House, he would point out the essential difference between this measure and those to which the noble Lord referred —it was that the latter were disfranchising as well as enfranchising measures. They deprived persons who already had the vote, and gave it to others possessing the same qualification living in different localities. But the present measure did not deprive a man of his vote at all; it simply altered the locality in which the vote was to be exercised; and although it did not remove the anomalies in the present system of electoral distribution, it would bring home to hon. Gentlemen opposite the injustice under which the boroughs had been suffering in consequence of the unfair redistribution which had been settled upon them in 1867. The number of borough Members in the Kingdom at the present time was 360, and the number of county Members 283; the former representing only 15,000,000, and the latter 20,000,000 of the population. Now, that disproportion already existed; and although the extension of the franchise would aggravate the difference, it would not really make the condition of things worse than at present. But no possible contrast of this anomaly could parallel the electoral absurdities of the present system, because it depended upon the contingency that this Parliament would be dissolved before it had dealt with the whole scheme. Now, only in three events could that contingency arise. The first was, that the Bill became law this year, and that Parliament was dissolved this year; the second was, that if the present Bill became law this year, and the Dissolution occurred next year; and the third was, that the Government would postpone bringing in a Redistri- 1589 bution Bill until after the Dissolution of Parliament. The date on which a man's qualification was ascertained was the 31st July. That qualification was maintained for 12 months. Any election that took place this year must be based upon the existing register, which was made up to January last. The present measure, unless a clause which it did not now contain were inserted in it, could not confer electoral power until the 1st of January, 1886. [The ATTORNEY GENERAL. (Sir Henry James): No, no !] The hon. and learned Gentleman said "No, no!" He would make that point clearer. He admitted that if the Bill received the Royal Assent before the 31st of July this year, it might possibly come into force on the 1st of January, 1885; but as no one would consider that it could receive the Royal Assent before the 31st of July this year, any election which took place in 1884 or 1885 must be decided by the existing constituencies. The real opposition to this Bill was the opposition of the two right hon. Gentlemen opposite—namely, the right hon. Member for North Lincolnshire (Mr. J. Lowther) and the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes), who believed that the Bill would effect a transfer of political power dangerous to the public welfare. His right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge said that there was a sort of compact entered into in 1832, by virtue of which the middle classes were contented that the county constituency should be left to property holders; and he contended that the same sort of arrangement took place in 1867, and that a counterpoise to the artizan franchise was to be found in the restricted occupation franchise in the counties. If that extraordinary theory did exist, then his reply would be that those who were not parties to those bargains could not be bound by them; and, inasmuch as the borough householders who were left out in 1832 were not debarred from obtaining their rights in 1867, so the county householders of 1867 were not debarred from obtaining their rights in 1884. But that was a repetition of the old argument about interests and classes, which had been dealt with by his hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Morley) that evening. He would like to ask whether those who entertained this view had 1590 taken into consideration and calculated the proportion of the wage-earning classes, and the amount of political power to which they were on that ground entitled? The wage-earning class comprised the bulk of the population; they produced the largest amount of national wealth, and gave the largest amount to the national income. Their production was valued at £500,000,000, while they paid 40 per cent of the National Revenue. On, what principle was this gigantic and preponderating interest to be represented? Formerly numerous interests were represented in Parliament. There was the East India interest, the West India interest, the Colonial interest. and the Shipping interest; but the experiment had been tried, and had failed, inasmuch as the political ignorance and subserviency of the Parliaments which represented those interests had only been surpassed by the venality and the corruption of the constituencies by which they were elected. There was one interest into which all others merged, which all other classes were bound to support, in which they all shared the interest of the people as a whole, and it was upon that standpoint that lie claimed the privileges of citizenship for all those who discharged its duties. The possession of political power and its use constituted the best education of the people; and he believed that the artizans of 1884 were superior in political information to the £10 householders of 1832. There were, of course, capable and incapable men in all grades of society—there was a residuum in all classes; but that was no argument against the extension of the franchise to those classes—because some people were drowned it was no reason for keeping everybody out of the water until they could swim. Gentlemen on those Benches supported it as a measure of popular government; and although he admitted that the power which it gave might not always be exercised wisely, or always exercised with justice, for blunders and mistakes were inherent in all human institutions, yet he and his hon. Friends had no fear of the result. The truth was that there were two policies with regard to the people of this country which the House could adopt — that of trust, tempered by prudence, or that of distrust, tempered by fear. He anticipated the success of 1591 the former policy, which to his mind was one of wisdom and justice, one that would strengthen the Constitution by widening the base upon which it rested, while at the same time it strengthened that system of Party government which controlled and checked the administration of the national affairs. It was the boast of Lord Beaconsfield in 1867 that he had created the Conservative working man. So long as they excluded the mass of the people from the pale of the Constitution they compelled them to assume a hostile attitude; but the moment they admitted them they gave full play to those political instincts, which were as natural to the cottage as to the mansion. The artizans and peasants did not belong to one political Party only; they had ranked themselves some with one Party and some with another; and he believed that their accession to political life would not only strengthen the working of our institutions, but would add great political force to the two great Parties of the State, whoso healthy rivalry and whose common patriotism had been the story of our political freedom, lie commended the Bill to those hon. Members, Liberal as well as Conservative, who foresaw that in the near future there were social and political problems to be solved, whose solution would tax the energies of our best and wisest statesmen; and he commended it also to the support of all who were desirous of erecting another bulwark around that system of law and liberty, order and progress, which was the proud and peerless inheritance of the English people.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned,"—(Mr. Stuart- Worthy,)—put, and agreed to.
§ Debate further adjourned till Monday next.