, in rising to move for leave to introduce the Representation of the People Amendment Bill, said:—
Sir, I intend to dismiss altogether from my mind and memory the conversation, or nearly the whole of the conversation, of the last three-quarters of an hour, and shall proceed to address myself to a subject which a large proportion of this House at least believes to be of vital importance, in that full reliance upon the indulgence of the House which my experience assures me I may very safely anticipate. It commonly happens with regard to these large and Constitutional questions—and it is well that it should so happen—that, before they are proposed upon the responsi- 107 bility of the Queen's Government, they have attained to an advanced stage of progress in the public mind through discussion out-of-doors; and, in consequence, it is not necessary very long to detain the House with the general arguments which, if they were entirely new, would undoubtedly be requisite in order to make a case for the introduction of a Bill. On that part of the subject, therefore, I shall be very brief; but a few words I must necessarily say.
I conceive that this Bill—this proposition—may be presented to the House under any one, and indeed under all, of three distinct and several aspects. In the first place, it is on our part a redemption of a pledge; because, although I do not use the word "pledge" in its more narrow and objectionable sense, there is no doubt, I think, as regards the persons prominently concerned in conducting the affairs of the country in conjunction with the Liberal Party, that at and before, as well as since, the last Election they have constantly assured the country that they regarded the work of Parliamentary Reform as a proper and vital part of the mission, so to speak, of the present Parliament. The proposition may be regarded, secondly, as intended to satisfy a desire, for our belief is that a desire for the extension of the household franchise to the counties is widely and generally entertained among the classes who are to be affected by that extension. But there is another aspect in which I, for one, should hope that it will still more pointedly and constantly be viewed: it is a proposal in satisfaction of a pledge; it is a proposal to meet a desire; but, above all, it is a proposal, in my view, and I think I may say in our view, to add strength to the State. I am not prepared to discuss admission to the franchise as it was discussed 50 years ago, when Lord John Russell had to state, with almost bated breath, that he expected to add in the Three Kingdoms 500,000 to the constituencies. It is not now a question of nicely calculated less or more. I take my stand on the broad principle that the enfranchisement of capable citizens, be they few or be they many—and if they be many so much the better—gives an addition of strength to the State. The strength of the modern State lies in the Representative system. I rejoice to think that in this 108 happy country and under this happy Constitution we have other sources of strength in the respect paid to various orders of the State, and in the authority they enjoy, and in the unbroken course which has been allowed to most of our national traditions; but still, in the main, it is the Representative system which is the strength of the modern State in general, and of the State in this country in particular. Sir, I may say—it is an illustration which will not occupy more than a moment—that never has this great truth been so vividly illustrated as in the War of the American Republic. The convulsion of that country between 1861 and 1865 was, perhaps, the most frightful which ever assailed a national existence. The efforts which were made on both sides were marked. The exertions by which alone the movement was put down were not only extraordinary, they were what would antecedently have been called impossible; and they were only rendered possible by the fact that they proceeded from a nation where every capable citizen was enfranchised, and had a direct and an energetic interest in the well-being and the unity of the State. Sir, the only question that remains in the general argument is, who are capable citizens? and, fortunately, that is a question which, on the present occasion, need not be argued at length, for it has been already settled—in the first place by a solemn legislative judgment acquiesced in by both Parties in the State; and, in the second place, by the experience of the last more than 15 years. Who, Sir, are the capable citizens of the State, whom it is proposed to enfranchise? It is proposed, in the main, to enfranchise the county population on the footing, and according to the measure, that has already been administered to the population of the towns. What are the main constituents of the county population? First of all, they are the minor tradesmen of the country, and the skilled labourers and artizans in all the common arts of life, and especially in connection with our great mining industry. Is there any doubt that these are capable citizens? You hon. Gentlemen opposite have yourselves asserted it by enfranchising them in the towns; and we can only say that we heartily subscribe to the assertion. But besides the artizans and the minor 109 tradesmen scattered throughout our rural towns, we have also to deal with the peasantry of the country. Is there any doubt that the peasantry of the country are capable citizens, qualified for enfranchisement, qualified to make good use of their power as voters? This is a question which has been solved for us by the first and second Reform Bills; because many of the places which under the name of towns are now represented in this House are really rural communities, based upon a peasant constituency. For my part, I should be quite ready to fight the battle of the peasant upon general and argumentative grounds. I believe the peasant generally to be, not in the highest sense, but in a very real sense, a skilled labourer. He is not a man tied down to one mechanical exercise of his physical powers. He is a man who must do many things, and many things which require in him the exercise of active intelligence. But, as I say, it is not necessary to argue on that ground, first of all, because we have got his friends here—on the opposite Benches—from whom we must anticipate great zeal for his enfranchisement; and, secondly, because the question has been settled by legislative authority in the towns, and by practical experience. If he has a defect, it is that he is too ready, perhaps, to work with and to accept the influence of his superiors—superiors, I mean, in worldly station. But that is the last defect that hon. Gentlemen opposite will be disposed to plead against him, and it is a defect that we do not feel ourselves entitled to plead, and that we are not at all inclined to plead. We are ready to take him as he is, and joyfully bring him within the reach of this last and highest privilege of the Constitution. There is only one other word, Sir, to add on this part of the subject. The present position of the franchise is one of greater and grosser anomaly than any in which it has been heretofore placed, because the exclusion of persons of the same class and the same description is more palpable and more pervading than before, being, in fact, spread over the whole country, persons being excluded in one place, while the same persons are admitted in another. I wish just to call the attention of the House to an important fact connected with this part of the question, which is 110 of frequent occurrence. It is a thing which the House detests, and which we in this Bill shall endeavour to avoid—namely, the infliction of personal disfranchisement. Observe how the present state of the Franchise Law brings this about. It is known, and well understood, that a labourer must follow his labour. Where his labour goes, where the works go in which he is employed, he must follow. He cannot remain at a great distance from them; and the instance I will give—and though I am not personally conversant with it, I believe there is no doubt about the fact—is an instance which I think singularly applicable. It is that of the ship-building works on the Clyde. Those works were within the precincts of the City of Glasgow, and the persons who laboured in them were able to remain within the city, being near their work, and at the same time to enjoy the franchise. But the marvellous enterprize of Glasgow, which has made that city the centre and crown of the shipbuilding business of the world, could not be confined within the limits of the City of Glasgow, and it moved down the river. As the trade moved down the river the artizans required to move down the river with it. That was a matter of necessity, and the obedience to that necessity involves, under the present law, wholesale disfranchisement. That is an argument which is sufficient for disposing of the general question. The whole population, I rejoice to think, have liberty of speech; they have liberty of writing; they have liberty of meeting in public; they have liberty of private association; they have liberty of petitioning Parliament. All these privileges are not privileges taking away from us, diminishing our power and security; they are all of them privileges on, the existence of which our security depends. Without them we could not be secure. I ask you to confer upon the very same classes the crowning privilege of voting for a Representative in Parliament, and then I say we, who are strong now as a nation and a State, shall, by virtue of that change, be stronger still.
I shall be obliged, from the circumstances in which I stand, to deal with this subject on its affirmative and on its negative side. I shall endeavour to explain to the House, without undue detail and without affecting too much of 111 legal and technical precision, what are the provisions contained in the Bill that I propose on the part of the Government to introduce. But it will be equally necessary for me to dwell upon proposals which some have expected, and some have desired to see in the Bill, but which the Bill does not contain; because what I have to say upon that subject is vital to all hope of carrying what is contained in the Bill. Now, I have considered what would be the most convenient course of exposition to the House, and I have arrived at this conclusion—I wish to fix and fasten your attention, in the first place, upon the borough franchise as it exists in England, because the borough franchise as it exists in England, with the modifications which we propose to introduce into it, and which I will immediately proceed to explain, is the hinge of the whole Bill. Upon that borough franchise the entire structure holds as respects not only England, but likewise as respects Scotland and as respects Ireland. The borough franchise, as it is, is three-fold. I put entirely out of sight what are sometimes called the "ancient-right" franchises—the case of freemen, the case of liverymen, the case of burgess tenure, and whatever other miscellaneous franchises there are surviving under the old system. I put them aside, for they are not touched by the Bill for reasons which I will afterwards explain. Setting these aside, then, the borough franchise is three-fold. It consists, in the first place, of enfranchised occupiers of buildings of £10 clear annual value, with or without land. That was the franchise established by the Act of 1832. It consists, in the second place, of inhabiting occupiers of rated dwelling-houses. That is the franchise established and extended by the Acts of 1867, 1868, and 1869, and is the principal borough franchise of the country. The third branch of the borough franchise is the lodger franchise. So much for the present borough franchise in England.
Now I come to the future borough franchise which we propose. We leave the "ancient-right" franchises, as I have already said, exactly as they are now. We touch them in no way. We leave the household franchise established by the Act of 1867 exactly as it is now. We leave the lodger franchise exactly as it is now. But we do two things notwith- 112 standing. First of all, for reasons which are partly of principle and partly with a view to unity, we extend the £10 clear yearly value franchise to eases where the occupation is of land without houses or buildings. At present, it may be for houses or buildings alone, or houses or buildings with land. We extend it to land alone without buildings. There is a more important change which we propose to introduce, and it is also in the direction of extension. We propose to establish a now franchise, which I should call—till a better phrase be discovered—the service franchise. It will be given to persons who are inhabitants, and, in the sense of inhabitancy, who are occupiers. The present law restricts, I believe, the signification of the term "occupiers" to those who are either owners or tenants. Our object is to provide a franchise for those inhabitants who are neither owners nor tenants; but they must be householders in this sense—either, in the first place, that they are actual inhabitants; or, in the second place, that there is no other inhabitant with them, superseding them or standing in the same position with them; and, in the third place, they must either be inhabitants of an integral house, or else of that separate part of a house which, at any rate, so far as England is concerned, has already been declared to be a house for electoral purposes. Hon. Gentlemen are aware of the general reasons which may be pleaded in favour of this enlargement. It is an enlargement absolutely required by the principle of this Bill, because the principal and central idea of this Bill is to give every householder a vote. The householder is just as much a householder, and has just as much the responsibility of a householder, whether he is in the eye of the law an owner or a tenant, or whether he is not, provided he is an inhabitant in the sense I have described. And this service franchise is a far-reaching franchise. It goes to men of high class, who inhabit valuable houses, as the officers of great institutions. It descends to men of humble class, who are the servants of the gentry, or the servants of the farmer, or the servants of some other employer of labour, who are neither owners nor tenants, and who, in many cases, cannot be held as tenants, in consequence of the essential conditions intended to be realized through 113 their labours, but who fully fulfil the idea of responsible inhabitant householders. The House will, therefore, see that in the future borough franchise, if our proposals be adopted, there will be a four-fold occupation or house holding franchise—the old clear yearly value franchise of the Act of 1832; the lodger franchise of the Act of 1867; the service franchise of the Act—as I trust—of 1884; and there will be, what is the most important of them all, the household franchise proposed in 1867, and developed from its original narrow and stunted proportions partly by the votes of this House and partly by subsequent Acts of Parliament into what it is now—namely, the principal franchise of the cities and towns of this country. If hon. Gentlemen will be good enough to retain in their minds this four-fold occupation franchise—the principal and almost exclusive basis of the franchise in English boroughs hereafter—they will have laid down a fixed standing point, from which they will be easily able to follow me in everything which I have further to explain.
I pass from the boroughs of England to the counties of England. The present county franchise I shall describe without any attempt at technical precision, but in popular terms, and I throw it into three classes. There is, first of all, the £50 rental franchise of occupiers introduced under what was called "the Chandos Clause" in the Act of 1832; and, next to this, the £12 rating franchise of occupiers introduced by the Act of 1867. These are different in their minute conditions, although they are alike in certain of these conditions, and in this condition particularly—that neither the one nor the other requires residence, and yet that they both of them fall under the condition of occupation franchise. The third description of the voter in the county is the voter in respect of property. Here again I shall not descend into detail, but simply say that by the voter in respect of property, I mean the man who votes in respect of a freehold, in respect of a copyhold, or in respect of a leasehold. That is the present county franchise.
And now, you will ask, how do we propose to deal with it? We propose to proceed as follows:—I name the minor changes first. The first of these changes is one which is really intended for no 114 other purpose than that of practical convenience and simplicity. It is, that we propose to abolish the £50 franchise, which I shall call, for convenience sake, the £50 rental franchise. I propose to abolish it, because two categories of franchise, where only one is necessary, are highly inconvenient in the rate-books and registration of the country, and because we believe it is hardly possible that there will be any man entitled to this £50 rental franchise who will not come within the county franchise as we propose it for the future. The second change we propose is to reduce the figure of the rating franchise of 1867 from £12 rateable value to £10 clear yearly value. Those who hear me are aware that that will be a reduction greater in amount than the mere difference between £12 and £10, and it will appear, I think, as I proceed farther, why it is that we propose to place this franchise on the basis of the clear yearly value rather than on the basis of the rateable value—namely, because we thereby get a definition which we think will run tolerably well through the three countries. Sir, to this franchise we do not propose to attach the condition of residence. These, as I have said, are the minor changes.
But I now come to the main change of the Bill. It is this. I have said there were four occupation franchises in boroughs, one of them the £10 clear yearly value, the other three, the household, the lodger, and the service franchise. Those three we propose to import into the counties precisely as they are to be in the boroughs. Now, I hope that will be clearly understood, because I wish to fasten attention upon it, as it is the main, the most operative, and the most extensive, perhaps I should also say the most beneficial, change that is proposed.
Well, then, with regard to the property franchises, I will not dwell upon them at length, but I will simply for the present say this much—We maintain the property franchises in principle, but we propose provisions which we think are necessary, in order to secure them against abuses which are known in many parts of the country, and which in some parts are grievous and menacing to the people. Now, I wish to keep together all that relates to the question of occupation. Sir, a fundamental part 115 of the structure of this Bill is the union of the Three Kingdoms in one measure and essentially, so far as we, without undue complexity, can achieve it, not only in one measure, but in one and the same franchise.
I pass from England to the case of Scotland, which is a comparatively simple case. My first observation with respect to Scotland, which I beg hon. Members from Scotland to bear in mind, is, that we leave Scotland everything she at present possesses. She has certain peculiarities, and especially in regard to the borough franchise; it is not necessary for me to enter upon them now, but everything that is peculiar to Scotland will be left as it is. In the second place, we import the service franchise into Scotch boroughs, the Scotch boroughs being already possessed of the lodger and the household franchise, and likewise the £10 clear yearly value franchise. In that way we establish an identity of franchise between Scotch and English boroughs, with the exception of those small peculiarities which we find in either country. I have done now with the Scotch boroughs. As regards the Scotch counties, the case is pretty simple. We follow the line already laid down for English counties, and we propose to absorb in Scotland, as in England, the £50 rental franchise, which we believe will be quite unnecessary, and will be absorbed in what is now the £14 rated franchise. We propose to reduce that £14 rated franchise to the £10 clear yearly value franchise, as in England. We also import into Scotch counties the three franchises which they at present want, as the English counties want them—the household, the lodger, and the service franchises. The House will thus understand that we have got to a virtual identity of the franchise, with small and insignificant exceptions, as between Scotland and England.
The case of Ireland is rather more complicated; but, with the patient kindness of the House, I am sure there will be no difficulty in explaining what we propose to do. The present borough franchise in Ireland is two-fold. In the first place, there is the £4 rating franchise; but that franchise is not subject to the limitation of the £10 clear yearly value franchise, as in England—namely, that it must consist either of buildings, or of buildings and land. It is a fran- 116 chise which may exist with respect to land alone. Besides that £4 rating franchise there is the lodger franchise. With regard to the borough franchise in Ireland for the future, we propose to leave the lodger franchise as it is now. With regard to the £4 rating franchise, I think it will convey the clearest idea if I say that we propose to abolish it; and there will be a franchise, according to our plan, dependent upon value, and it will be a franchise of £10 clear yearly value, retaining all the other conditions of the £4 rating franchise, and identical with the £10 clear yearly value franchise in England and Scotland, except that each of the three countries has its own separate method of ascertaining what the clear yearly value is, with which we do not propose to interfere. We leave the lodger franchise as it is, and we import into Irish boroughs the service franchise and the household franchise, which is the great thing we have in view, precisely as in England.
With respect to the Irish counties, the matter is simple. We there have to deal with a franchise analogous to the £12 rating franchise in England. We simply reduce the county franchise in Ireland to one of £10 clear yearly value, without altering its conditions in other respects. This is in itself a small change. Having done that, we introduce the great change in Ireland which we propose in England and in Scotland, and we establish in Irish counties, as in Scotland and England, in the first place the lodger franchise, in the second place the service franchise, and in the third place, and far above all, the household franchise. The House, I think, will see, therefore, in the first place, how far we have gone towards the identification of borough and county franchise; and, in the second place, that we have gone the whole length that it was possible to go in the identification of the franchise in the Three Kingdoms, and it is a vital and essential part of our measure that they should be treated upon a footing of perfect political equality.
I have done now with the occupation franchises; and the reason why I have separated them from the property franchises is this—that occupation will inevitably be, under the new system, the ground and main foundation of our electoral system. Now, the property 117 franchises will, and must, be few in number. The legitimate property franchises may be, perhaps, somewhat fewer than now; but they must be fewer in number in comparison with the occupation franchises. It is not possible to estimate with precision what proportion of our franchises hereafter will be occupation franchises; but I, certainly for myself, could not place the proportion of occupying franchises to property franchises, under the operation of this measure, at a lower rate than five as compared to one.
Now I come to the question of property franchise in English counties. Scotland and Ireland are also equally affected, so I shall not make separate statements with regard to them. As I have said, the property franchises in our English counties are freehold, copyhold, and leasehold. We propose that they shall in principle remain; and the first question that arises is, Shall they, or shall they not, be made subject to the condition of residence? We are of opinion, Sir, that upon the whole it is not necessary that they should be subjected to the condition of residence. There is a sort of show about the old English electoral law as if its original principle made residence a condition of the property franchise, which was then the exclusive county franchise. But we do not find that that idea bears scrutiny. The two matters of fact to which alone I need refer are first of all the dictum of Lord Coke, delivered in 1620, which governed the action of the House of Commons, and governed the practice thereafter. I will not enter into a detail of the case; but Lord Coke's declaration—and the House of Commons acted upon it—was that residence was not enforced as a condition of the property franchise, according to the usage established in this country. And so it continued, and matters continued to be regulated upon that footing for a great length of time until we arrive at the Reign of George III. and the Ministry of Lord North. In the time of that Ministry, but not by the action of that Ministry, and not under the influence of that Ministry, but apparently by the spontaneous action of the House of Commons itself, a Bill was introduced which finally and formally dissociated residence from the exercise of the franchise in respect of property. That is 118 the state of things we find established, and which, so far as residence is concerned, we propose to leave. We in no way alter the Law of Residence, but we do feel that it is quite necessary to make provision against abuses. Those abuses are undoubtedly connected in a great degree with non-residence. I think that if we compare the number of nonresident voters in counties generally with the total county constituencies, we shall find that they are about one-eleventh part. But I am familiar with the case of a county where the nonresident voters are one-fourth part of the constituency. I need not explain to the House what kind of voters they are, or by what process they have appeared upon the roll of county electors, nor will I go into further details into facts to justify at this moment the propositions which we shall be amply able to justify, should they be questioned. At present my object is to lay clearly before the House our proposal rather than to support and defend it in detail.
We propose, then, Sir, two enactments. In the first place, we propose to disqualify, with due exceptions, those incorporeal hereditaments which are, or readily may be, employed for the creation of fictitious votes. Those incorporeal hereditaments may be classed under two principal categories; in the first of these categories are rent-charges; and in the second are feus, head rents, and the like, where there is no reversion to the person who takes the benefit of the feu or head rent. Well, Sir, we think that it is manifest that there is one just exception, and that is the exception of the tithe rent-charge of a parish held in single ownership. If we do not retain the condition of single ownership, tithe rent-charge, made, as it is, on every field, would evidently become favourable to the creation of fictitious votes, not in Scotland, where they are not so happy as to possess it, but in England. But the tithe rent-charge is usually held for the parish; and the tithe rent-charge, not only because it is a very ancient property—perhaps the most ancient interest in land which exists in the country—but also because it is a rateable one—indeed, it has the quality of rateability more than any other description of property—we distinctly except, and hold that it should continue to qualify as now. That is one provision 119 against incorporeal hereditaments of the description I have named. There are other incorporeal hereditaments, rather numerous, I believe, in kind, but less significant and important, to which I need not refer. Then the other provision we propose to make is a provision against the sub-division of hereditaments. That is the other grand instrument by which this great operation—I might almost call it one of the staple manufactures of the country—the manufacture of votes—is conducted by the most skilled of all the capitalists who apply themselves to that particular work. I have in my possession a photograph of a hereditament, a certain structure not very imposing in itself, occupied by a single person, and conferring one occupation franchise, but held by 45 owners—every one of whom stands on the Register in virtue of his 45th part of this building, which qualifies only a single occupation voter. But it is right and necessary that we should distinguish between subdivision for Parliamentary purposes and sub-division which arises in the natural course of family transactions or of business; and I may therefore say at once that we except from our disqualifying provision as to sub-division, cases where the share of sub-divided property is obtained by descent, by succession, by marriage, by marriage settlement, or by will. There is another case, an important case, which ought to be taken in view, and which will be provided for, but in another manner. There may be a case of a joint ownership for the purposes of trade or business, and it may be said that the persons having such joint ownership, and using it for trade or business, ought not to be disqualified; nor will they be disqualified, because as joint occupiers they will be registered in respect of their trade or business. But we strike, and I hope strike effectually, at the fictitious vote, and by the fictitious vote I mean two descriptions of franchise—one, where there is no real proprietary interest at all, but a naked dominion, divested of every incident of dominion, and dependent merely on a life, and not always dependent on the life of the person himself who holds it, but dependent on some other's life. That is the worst, and what I may call the lowest, description of fictitious vote. But we also 120 strike at fictitious votes where they have been secured through the machinery I have just been referring to, either of incorporeal hereditaments or of subdivision, and where there is no natural association with place; because we hold that when Parliament gives the franchise to a certain county or a certain town, its meaning is that that franchise is to be exercised by the people who belong to it, and not by a set of strangers who come in by surreptitious means, overpowering the genuine Constitutional majority by a foreign importation, or, to employ words that have lately been used, by an invasion from without.
Sir, I think the House will now see that the Bill I am proposing to introduce is substantially, though not technically, confined to one main view, one great provision—to give unity and completeness to the household and occupation franchises throughout the United Kingdom. The principle upon which it proceeds is, that the head of every household, under the conditions of the law, shall vote; and we seek to go as far as we can to get the heads of households and enfranchise them. The lodger and service franchises we look upon simply as branches—I may call them enlargements—of the household franchise. It is, in point of fact, if it is to be described by a single phrase, a Household Franchise Bill for the United Kingdom; and the popular idea has not been far wrong which has seized upon the conception of it as a measure which is to extend to the counties what is now enjoyed by the towns, although in making that extension we endeavour to accompany it with some further provisions for giving greater completeness in practical application to the idea of household franchise. Now, let me say shortly, we leave the "ancient-right" franchises alone. Let me say that we disfranchise personally no one. Wherever there is a provision in the Bill which would operate against the creation of franchises hereafter, identical in principle with some that now exist, we do not interfere with the right already legally acquired, however illegitimate it may seem to be. We leave the property vote alone, and confine ourselves to the endeavour to stop the extension of fictitious votes.
Well, Sir, these are the matters which the Bill contains; but all will feel that 121 it is impossible for me on this occasion to pass by what the Bill does not contain. I am prepared for the complaint that this is not a complete Bill, and for the question—"Why don't you introduce a complete Bill?" On that I have some things to say which appear to me to be of very considerable force; but, at any rate, I will state them; and the first thing I will state is, that there never has been a complete Bill presented to Parliament on this subject of Parliamentary Reform. Never one. I make that assertion in the broadest way. There never has been a complete Bill presented to Parliament. Parliament has never attempted a complete Bill; and, moreover, I will go a little further, and say that Governments and Parliaments would have committed a grievous error in judgment—I might almost say they would have been out of their senses—if they had attempted a complete Bill. There are different points in which a Bill may be complete. Was the Bill of 1831, or the Bill of 1832, a complete Bill? Why, Sir, they touched England alone. And what was England alone at that time? Not greatly more than one-half the United Kingdom. At that time, in 1831, the population of England was under 14,000,000; the population of Scotland and Ireland was over 10,000,000; and Ireland and Scotland were left to the mercy of Parliament, and were not touched by the principle of what is justly called the Great Reform Bill. There was no such thing as a complete Bill on that occasion, and there never has been a complete Bill.
Sir, there are three essential divisions of this great subject; and, if we intend to deal with the subject as practical men, if we are endeavouring to pass a measure, and not to overlay and smother it, we must recognize the limitation which is imposed, not upon our will and choice, but upon our power, by the nature of the case and by the conditions under which Parliamentary government is now carried on. The first of these three great divisions is to define the right of the individual—that is, to fix the franchise. To fix the franchise is of itself an enormous task; it is a question which may be led out, if you should think fit, into a score or scores of ramifications. But it is clearly one of principle—it is, to fix the right of the individual who shall be entitled to vote. 122 The second branch of the question is to provide machinery for the exercise of that right, and that is the subject of registration. It has never been found, as far as I am aware, practicable to unite this vital subject of good registration with the subject of the franchise. The third is, to gather the persons whom Parliament judges to be capable of exercising the franchise with benefit to themselves and to the country into local communities; and that is the business of distribution of seats.
Now, Sir, what do we attempt? I am going, perhaps, to make a confession as to what you may think the nakedness of the land—of the stinted character of the measure; but, looking at these three divisions, we deal only with one, and we deal with that one, not upon exhaustive principles, but with a view to great practical ends, leaving much upon which the critic and the speculator may, if they think fit, exercise their ingenuity in the way of remark, or of complaint. And why is it we should not present a complete Bill? The faculty of authorship is getting very weak, I am afraid, in myself, although many of my Colleagues are not only in the vigour of life, but sufficiently fertile of mind and brain, and I have no doubt that, with our joint authorship, we could have produced a perfectly complete Bill. Why did we not do so? Because, if we had done so, we knew, as well as if the thing had happened, that the Bill must remain a Bill, and would never become an Act. I say this is not a perfect Bill with regard to the franchise. What are the questions we leave out? We do not aim at ideal perfection, and I hope Gentlemen will not force us upon that line; it would be the "Road to Ruin." I have heard that there have been artists and authors who never could satisfy themselves as to the perfection of their picture, or of their diction, as the case may be, and in consequence the picture and the diction have been wasted. I remember a most venerable Archbishop—Archbishop Howley—who, with respect be it spoken, was the worst speaker in the House of Lords. And why? Because he was a man of inferior intellect? He was a man of remarkable intellect, remarkable education, remarkable refinement; but, unfortunately, he had a taste so fastidious that he could never satisfy himself that his terms 123 were perfect and his phrases entirely beyond criticism, and, in consequence of his fastidiousness between the one and the other, catastrophe befel him. No, Sir; ideal perfection is not the true basis of English legislation. We look at the attainable; we look at the practicable; and we have too much of English sense to be drawn away by those sanguine delineations of what might possibly be attained in Utopia, from a path which promises to enable us to effect great good for the people of England. This is not an exhaustive list; but to aim at an ideal franchise might draw in the question of proportional representation, the question of women's suffrage—the question with regard to which my right hon. Friend (Mr. John Bright) has invented a wicked phrase, as he has invented a good many. I call a phrase a wicked phrase when it commits murder, and my right hon. Friend has had the fortune repeatedly to kill a proposal by a phrase. There was once a group of proposals made in a Reform Bill which he at once dubbed "fancy franchises," and by that phrase he killed them all. There is also the question of voting papers; the question of the franchises of the Universities, of the freeman's franchise's, of the livery franchise and the burgage franchise; and there is I again the principle of whether one man should have more than one vote. There is, in fact, no end to the proposals that might be raised even on the stage of the first of these three great divisions, without touching the other two. Our principle has been to inquire what was practicable; what were the conditions under which we had to move and to act in the present state of Parliament, and of Parliamentary Business. We have heard in former years, and possibly we may hear this year, something about the consequences of deck-loading a ship. We are determined, as far as depends upon us, not to deck-load our Franchise Bill. We consider that we have filled the hold with a good and a sufficient cargo, but the deck-loading of it would be a preliminary to its foundering; and were we with that impression—nay, not merely impression, but with that conviction and knowledge—to encumber our Bill with unnecessary weight, we should be traitors to the cause which we profess to have taken in hand, and we therefore will have nothing to do with giving 124 encouragement to such a policy. As to registration, all I will say is this—that our Bill is framed with the intention of preparing a state of things in which the whole occupation franchise, which, I believe, will be about five-sixths of the franchise, shall be a self-acting franchise, and the labour, anxiety, and expense connected with proof of title, which is, after all, according to our view, the affair of the public and the State rather than of the individual, will, I trust, be got rid of. But, at the same time, our Bill is not a complete Bill in that vital respect, and we look to the introduction of another Bill for the purpose, with which we shall be prepared immediately when the House has supplied us with the basis on which it wishes us to proceed.
I now come to the third of these great problems, and I think the House will not be surprised when I say that, if we find ourselves quite incompetent, consistently with the aims we have in view and with public interests, to deal with the franchise in an exhaustive manner, they will not be surprised when I say that, à fortiori, in our opinion it would be absurd for us to attempt to deal in the same measure with what is termed redistribution. This is a question of great importance, and I make no apology for detaining the House upon it. The argument for redistribution was on former occasions never treated by us as a contemptible argument, even when we thought it was far wiser to separate the two subjects—I mean in 1866. There was a strong argument then in favour of uniting redistribution with legislation on the franchise, and it was this—that we had even then sought to keep alive broad and vital distinctions between the county and the town constituencies; and as long as these broad and vital distinctions subsisted, there would have been very great inconvenience in a serious separation between legislation on the franchise and legislation on redistribution. For, of course, by legislation on redistribution two things happen—rural districts that have hitherto been rural districts in law become towns in law; and districts that have hitherto been towns in law, if there be any disfranchisement of however small a constituency, become rural districts in law. Well, in either case, under the law that prevailed before 1866, and under the 125 law which hag prevailed since then, there would have been a very large change in the franchise; and, in certain cases, there would have been great disfranchisement inflicted had redistribution been left to be dealt with separately from legislation on the franchise, and at that time our contention was that the best way was to legislate on the franchise, and to follow that legislation at the earliest possible moment with legislation on redistribution. However, that argument was not then successful. But I admit at that time there was a great deal to be said in favour of those who opposed separation. What is to be said in favour of it now? The franchise is not going to be absolutely identical; but it will be within a shade of it. Do not let us conceal that from ourselves. All over the country the occupiers, taken as a whole, will be, if I am right, five-sixths of the whole constituencies. What harm will happen to them supposing you legislate on the franchise now? Supposing, through any accident, which I do not expect, this Parliament is prevented from legislating on redistribution, what would be the worst that could happen? Districts now rural might, in another Parliament, become towns. What would be the difference? They would exercise the same occupying franchise in a town instead of exercising it in a county; and their right to vote in the county in respect of a property franchise from within the town they would retain as they have it under the present law. So, again, when Parliament found it necessary, in any smaller towns, to deprive them of the privilege of returning by their sole power Representatives to Parliament, those persons would still carry the same occupying franchise which they have heretofore had into the county. So that, in fact, that argument has practically vanished.
Now, let me look at the arguments in favour of separating legislation on the franchise and legislation on redistribution. I have said our measure is incomplete, and that there has never been a complete measure. But our measure is complete in one vital respect, in which no measure heretofore presented to Parliament has been complete. It is absolutely complete as to its area. In our opinion there was an imperative necessity for making it complete as to 126 its area. I, for one, should be no party to the responsibility of bringing in on this occasion throe separate Bills. All the three countries have a case for enfranchisement arising out of the insufficiency of the present constituencies as compared with what they might be; but of the three the strongest is that of Ireland. I could bear no part in the responsibility of passing, perhaps, a Reform Bill for England, and, perhaps, a Reform Bill for Scotland, and then leaving a Reform Bill for Ireland to take its chance. I do not wish to rest on my own impression of what would happen. But I have noticed the tone of Conservative organs, and the language of those Conservative organs is, in effect, that there may be something to be said for extending the franchise in England and in Scotland, but to extend it in Ireland is madness. ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.] That is a Conservative organ. That is an indication of what would probably happen, I do not say in this House, but "elsewhere." Under these circumstances, the necessity of a complete measure in point of area is, I would say, absolute, and nothing will induce us to part with the principle. Next, I would ask the House to consider what it is that we ought really to attempt. What has been the effect of uniting redistribution with franchise legislation since 1832? It has been that the redistribution has been of a trivial character, hardly purchasing a postponement of the question, and in reality, and in regard to its broader principles, has simply given the question the go-bye. Some people may be innocent enough to think that our opponents are to be conciliated by uniting redistribution with franchise legislation. We had some experience of that matter in 1866, and we found that, confident and sanguine, and perhaps a little ferocious, as our opponents were before we introduced our Redistribution Bill, when we introduced it their appetites were whetted, became keener than ever, and still more lively was the rush made on every occasion at the unfortunate Bill, until it, and still better the Government which proposed it, were brought to their extinction. In 1867 the number of seats liberated was 38, and they were liberated by a peculiar process, and by leaving a large number of small towns with one Member. We have to face the question, 127 whether places with 3,000, 4,000, or 5,000 inhabitants are to continue to possess the solo power of returning a Representative to Parliament? The uniting of the two descriptions of legislation has resulted formerly in the inefficient handling of redistribution. If redistribution is to be touched at all, it must be touched more broadly,
What will be the effect of introducing a plan of redistribution? It is quite evident we ought to have some regard to what has happened before. There was one effective plan known to Parliament—the plan of 1831–2. What was the effect of that plan? The effect was two-fold—in the first place, it multiplied six-fold the labour of the Reform Bill. In Committee on the Reform Bill there were three nights occupied upon the franchise legislation; 24 nights were occupied on redistribution; and the effect of associating redistribution with legislation on the franchise would be to produce at present a result not very different. More than that, the franchise legislation has opponents who find it difficult to show their colours. Redistribution is their favourite study; but it is impossible not to observe this fact—that of the three political crises produced in connection with Reform legislation, every one has been produced by redistribution, and not one by the franchise. A vote on the redistribution of power brought about the defeat of the first Reform Bill, and it brought about a Dissolution of Parliament. A vote on the redistribution of power brought about the crisis of the year 1832, which was the most serious crisis known to the country since the Revolution of 1688. It was all brought about by the vote of the House of Lords—not upon the franchise, Oh, no!—it was more convenient to deal with the question of redistribution. The crisis of 1866 involved no consequences more serious than the displacement of one Government and the introduction of another Government, which in the following year introduced a Bill establishing the principle of household suffrage. I only refer to it because it comes under the definition of a crisis. To take the two Bills together would be to place on ourselves a multitude of provisions and a complexity of legislation such as we know would make it impracticable for us, under the present condition of Parliamentary Business, to have 128 the smallest hope of passing into law. There is one reason which is not unimportant—a practical reason—and that is that it is quite impossible, until we have the new franchise legislation, to form any just idea of the limits of the new redistribution. That, however, I need not dwell upon; but there is another reason which goes to the root of the matter, and it is this—the union of franchise legislation with redistribution makes a confusion of things that ought to be kept sedulously apart. [An hon. MEMBER: Why?] I will tell you why. The question of the franchise is a large and national one, and ought to be determined upon Imperial considerations. I take it there is no doubt about that. Is redistribution a question that is only determined upon Imperial and national considerations? Of course, the question of redistribution raises up local feeling, and what may be described without offence as a selfish fooling. The effect of that is this—that, where the two measures are mixed together, those who think their local interests are touched by the measures oppose the extension of the franchise for fear of the redistribution which is to follow. The consequence is, that they decide the great Imperial question of the franchise on grounds which are sectional and local, if not selfish. It appears to me that that is a political objection of a very grave description indeed. These reasons seem to me to be more than sufficient to justify and to compel us to decline the responsibility for any measure which should combine redistribution with extension of the franchise.
Now, what do I admit? I admit that legislation on redistribution ought to follow legislation on the franchise at an early date—aye, at the earliest date—and the earliest date will be next Session; and it is for that reason we have brought forward the Franchise Bill of 1884, in order that within the natural life of the present Parliament there may be plenty of time to deal with the question. [Laughter.] Of course, I mean if we have the permission of hon. Members opposite. Perhaps you may say—"Tell us your plan." Well, Sir, we do not intend to walk into any trap. And, in my opinion, there can be no greater mistake than for a Government, which is not going to legislate immediately on redistribution, and cannot 129 legislate upon it during the Session, to give its view on the subject.
The only substitute I can offer is a very humble one. I have not the least objection to make a little sketch of my own views upon redistribution; and although I cannot commit my Colleagues absolutely to them, yet I certainly would say this—that I would not submit them if I believed them to be vitally in conflict with any of the opinions they entertain. I need not detain the House long with them, but I will just run through the main features. In the first place, I think, when a measure of redistribution comes, as it may come, I hope, next year, in order that it may have that sort of relative finality to which we ought always to look forward, especially when organic changes are in question, it must be a large measure of redistribution. I do not know whether it need be so large as the measure of 1831, which, of course, effected a wholesale slaughter of nominally existing boroughs and constituencies in this country; but, at any rate, it must be nearer the measure of 1831 than the one of 1867, in order to attain its object. At the same time, I am not personally at all favourable to what is called the system of electoral districts, or to the adoption of any pure population scale. I cannot pretend to have the fear and horror which some people have with regard to the consequences of electoral districts. My objection is a very simple and practical one. In the first place, electoral districts would involve a great deal of unnecessary displacement and disturbance of traditions, which, I think, you ought to respect. But my second objection is—and I regard it as a very important one—that I do not believe that public opinion at all requires it, and I doubt whether it would warrant it. Next I should say that, in a sound measure of redistribution, the distinction between town and country, known to electoral law as borough and shire, ought to be maintained. Although our franchise is nearly identical, that is not the question. The question is, whether there is not in pursuits and associations, and in social circumstances, a difference between town and country, between borough and shire, which it is expedient, becoming, and useful to maintain? Now, Sir, I do not think we ought to have any absolute population scale. I would 130 respect within moderate limits the individuality of constituencies, and I would not attempt to place towns which have had representation for many generations precisely and mathematically upon the footing of towns that have not.
There is another principle to which I would call attention. I am certainly disposed to admit that very large and closely-concentrated populations need not have, and perhaps ought not to have, quite so high a proportional share in the representation of the country as rural and dispersed populations, because the actual political power in these concentrated masses is sharper, quicker, and more vehement. That consideration, of course, would apply most of all to the Metropolis. Another proposition I would lay down is this—I would not reduce the proportional share of representation accorded by the present law to Ireland. In the case of Ireland, as in the case of some other parts of the country, in my opinion some regard ought to be had to relative nearness and., distance. Take Scotland, for example—the nearest part of it is 350 miles off, and some parts of it are between 600 and 700 miles off. It is impossible to say that numerical representation meets the case, though I grant it is pretty well made up for by the shrewdness of the men whom Scotland sends; but it is her virtue and good fortune which cause her to make so excellent a choice. Undoubtedly, however, the representation is exercised under greater difficulties, and it is fair that those parts of the country which, like Scotland and Ireland, are separated by great distances, not omitting the element of sea, should be more liberally dealt with in proportion to the Representatives they ought to send Well, Sir, that is pretty nearly all I have to say, excepting one other proposition which I am disposed to lay down with considerable hesitation, and not as giving a final opinion. Speaking roughly, what will happen will be this. Smaller boroughs, so many of which are in the South of England, must yield seats for London and other great towns, for the counties, and, thirdly, for Scotland and the North of England, which have, perhaps, the largest and most salient of all these claims. The prospect of that operation certainly suggests a proposition, if, under the altered circumstances of Parliament and its 131 increasing Business, Parliament were disposed to entertain it, but which it has not yet favourably entertained, and I think ought not to entertain unless for grave cause, for a limited addition to the number of its Members. I ask no assent of the House to that proposition. All I say is, I do not exclude it from the view of the whole circumstances of the case; and it may be found materially to ease the operation, which is one, taken altogether, of no slight magnitude and difficulty. Finally, when redistribution has come forward, then will be the proper time for considering all the propositions with regard to minority representation and with regard to modes of voting. These very important subjects will have to be fully considered; but I myself see no cause to change the opinion I have always entertained with regard to them. I admit they have claims which ought to receive the full and impartial consideration of Parliament.
Before sitting down I wish to make two appeals. One is an appeal to hon. Gentlemen whom I am afraid I cannot class as Friends, and more particularly to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Sir John Hay) who has given Notice of the first Amendment. He knows my sentiments on that subject. It is impossible to entertain the question of redistribution at all without including in a measure a liberal enlargement of the number of Members accorded to Scotland. If we are called upon to set aside this Bill to make that assertion, which is totally unnecessary, we may equally well be called upon to make any other assertion. We then come to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Knaresborough (Mr. T. Collins); it is one of those Motions which might be multiplied by the score, and of which it is too obvious the object is to say we will not entertain your Bill, we will not consider it. Then comes the Motion of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Salt). That is a distinct refusal. He proposes to the House distinctly to refuse to entertain the subject recommended by the initiative of the Government and the Crown. The House has never taken such a course. The House has, upon very rare occasions indeed, entertained Motions analogous to that of the hon. Gentleman—that is to say, touching the subject-matter even of measures recom- 132 mended in the Queen's Speech; but that has been extremely rare, and I submit to the House that it is rather hard that after more than 100 persons have been allowed, upon their own authority and recommendation, to bring Bills into the House of Commons without resistance, that the Speech from the Throne on the responsibility of the Government, recommending in the most prominent manner the subject of Parliamentary Reform to the consideration of Parliament, is to be met, for the first time in our history, by an absolute refusal to entertain the subject at all, and by setting up other reasons which, in the opinion of the hon Member, are reasons why the recommendations from the Throne should be contemptuously trodden down. That is my appeal to the opponents of the measure.
But I have the strongest appeal to make to its friends. I entreat them not to endanger the Bill by additions. This Bill is in no danger from direct opposition. It has some danger to encounter from indirect opposition; but of these dangers from indirect opposition, I for one am not afraid, unless they be aggravated by the addition of dangers which it may have to encounter from friendship. For I do not hesitate to say that it is just as possible for friends to destroy the measure by additions which it will not bear, as it is for enemies. If I may presume to tender advice, it is this—Ask yourselves whether the measure is worth having. What does it do, and what does it do in comparison with what has been done before? In 1832 there was passed what was considered a Magna Charta of British liberties; but that Magna Charta of British liberties added, according to the previous estimate of Lord John Russell, 500,000, while according to the results considerably less than 500,000 were added, to the entire constituency of the three countries. After 1832 we come to 1866. At that time the total constituency of the United Kingdom reached 1,364,000. By the Bills which were passed between 1867 and 1869 that number was raised to 2,448,000. And now, Sir, under the action of the present law the constituency has reached in round numbers what I would call 3,000,000. I will not enter into details; but what is the increase we are going to make? There is a basis of computation; but it is a basis which 133 affords, I admit, ground for conjecture and opinion. That basis of computation is the present ratio in towns, between inhabited houses and the number of town electors. Of course, we have availed ourselves of that basis for the purpose of computation. I have gone into the matter as carefully as I can, and the best results I can attain are these. The Bill, if it passes as presented, will add to the English constituency over 1,300,000 persons. It will add to the Scotch consistency, Scotland being at present rather better provided for in this respect than either of the other countries, over 200,000, and to the Irish constituency over 400,000; or, in the main, to the present aggregate constituency of the united Kingdom taken at 3,000,000, it will add 2,000,000 more, nearly twice as much as was added since 1867, and more than four times as much as was added in 1832. Surely, I say, that is worth doing, that is worth not endangering. Surely that is worth some sacrifice.
This is a measure with results such as I have ventured to sketch them that ought to bring home to the mind of every man favourable to the extension of popular liberty, the solemn question what course he is to pursue in regard to it. I hope the House will look at it as the Liberal Party in 1831 looked at the Reform Bill of that date, and determined that they would waive criticism of minute details, that they would waive particular preferences and predilections, and would look at the broad scope and general effect of the measure. Do that upon this occasion. It is a Bill worth having; and if it is worth having, again I say it is a Bill worth your not endangering. Let us enter into no bye-ways which would lead us off the path marked out straight before us; let us not wander on the hill-tops of speculation; let us not wander into the morasses and fogs of doubt. We are firm in the faith that enfranchisement is a good, that the people may be trusted—that the voters under the Constitution are the strength of the Constitution. What we want in order to carry this Bill, considering as I fully believe that the very large majority of this country are favourable to its principle—what we want in order to carry it is union and union only. What will endanger it is disunion and disunion only. Let us hold firmly together and 134 success will crown our effort. You will, as much as any former Parliament that has conferred great legislative benefits on the nation, have your reward, andRead your history in a nation's eyes,for you will have deserved it by the benefits you will have conferred. You will have made this strong nation stronger still; stronger by its closer union without; stronger against its foes, if and when it has any foes without; stronger within by union between class and class, and by arraying all classes and all portions of the community in one solid compacted mass round the ancient Throne which it has loved so well, and round a Constitution now to be more than ever powerful, and more than ever free.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Law relating to the Representation of the People in the United Kingdom."—(Mr. Gladstone.)
§ SIR JOHN HAY
, in rising to move, as an Amendment—That no Bill to amend the Representation of the People of the United Kingdom will be satisfactory which does not provide an increased number of representatives for the Kingdom of Scotland up to the full measure which justice demands, according to population and the share of revenue which it contributes,said, that after the eloquent and ingenious speech—full of eloquence and fire—to which they had just listened, and after the appeal the right hon. Gentleman made to him, he felt some diffidence in speaking on his Motion. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman's proposition for the extension of the franchise, and did not intend to controvert any of the provisions he had introduced to the House for the benefit of the counties. What the right hon. Gentleman had stated, however, in regard to the means by which the representation of Scotland was to be increased, was, to his mind, extremely unsatisfactory. The statement that the same franchise would be extended generally to the United Kingdom he hailed with satisfaction. He had never been one of those who thought that, in consequence of the agitation which had lately prevailed in the Sister Island, it would be right that Ireland should be excluded from the franchise which was given to England and Scotland. He was 135 glad, therefore, to hear that there was to be uniformity. But he confessed when he heard the statement that the increase of the Representatives of Scotland was to be derived from the proposition that the Members of the House should be increased, he felt that such a proposition, although only for the moment suggested, and as a mere idea passing through the brain of the Prime Minister, was not one that would commend itself to the country or to this House. Believing, as he did, that it was for the advantage of the Three Kingdoms that there should be identity of franchise, he thought there should be identity of representation. If the House would allow him to draw attention to the subject, he hoped to show that the proposition which the Prime Minister had indicated was not entirely satisfactory. Although the Prime Minister had stated that it would be disadvantageous to over-burden the ship he was endeavouring to pilot with redistribution, yet it was absolutely certain that the House and the country would expect that that measure of redistribution, if not brought forward pari passu, should at least be in their hands before the second reading of this Bill. Having listened to the eloquent words of the Prime Minister which he had just addressed to the House, he should quote the right hon. Gentleman's own words on this particular subject. Speaking in the North in November, 1879, the right hon. Gentleman said—It is my opinion that Scotland is not represented in the Imperial Parliament up to the full measure which justice demands.A voice in the crowd then asked—"Whose fault is that?" And the right hon. Gentleman proceeded—I will tell you in a minute. If Scotland were represented according to population it would, instead of 60 Members, possess 70. If represented according to the share of Revenue it contributes, it would, instead of 60, have 78 Members. I am sorry that my friend asked me whose fault it was, for I had no intention of making any charge against the Members of the present Government.This was in 1879.But it is the fault of those who framed and carried the Reform Bills of 1867 and 1868 in such a manner as not to afford to Scotland a fair share of representation.These words of the Prime Minister seemed to him to meet the contention 136 which had been submitted, that redistribution ought not to be considered in the same Session as a Bill for the extension of the representation of the people. He referred Scotch Members to the proposition which the right hon. Gentleman had just made in such eloquent terms—that the Members be increased beyond 652 by the number which would give increased representation to Scotland; or that the increased representation should be taken, not from Ireland, which at the present moment was over-represented, but from England, which, looking to its population and wealth, was under-represented, although not to the same extent as Scotland. Neither of those alternatives was likely to be accepted by a British House of Commons. The condition of matters was shown by the Census of 1881, that the population of England was 25,968,000, say 26,000,000; of Ireland, 5,159,000; while, according to the authority of an Irish Member, it was now even under 5,000,000. Scotland had a population of 3,734,000. There were 489 English and Welsh Members, 103 Irish Members, 60 Scotch Members. In England each Member represented 53,000 persons; in Ireland each Member represented 50,000 persons; and in Scotland each Member represented 62,000 persons. Thus, in point of population, Scotland had a fair claim for additional representation. As to the valuation, the valuation of England and Wales was£158,000,000; Ireland, £13,639,000; and Scotland, £22,000,000; so that each English and Welsh Member represented £323,000; each Irish Member, £132,000; and each Scotch Member, £371,000. Taking Excise and the Property Tax, England and Wales gave £26,000,000; Scotland, £5,000,000; Ireland, £4,000,000; and under Schedule D, the figures were—England, £193,000,000; Scotland, £23,000,000; Ireland, £8,000,000. The figures he had given showed that the amount of representation enjoyed by Scotland was far below what it had a fair right to expect. He thought it most unsatisfactory to suggest that, this position being admitted, Members should be taken from England to make up the number of Members which Scotland could justly claim; or that the representation of Ireland was so much in excess of the population and wealth of the country. The Returns on the subject for the year 1882 showed that in Ireland 137 there were 500,000 persons receiving relief from the poor rate; whereas in Scotland the number was only 92,000, of whom, at least, a third were Irish. His view was that in this matter of representation the present Bill ought to run on the lines of the Bills of 1832 and 1867, and that now, as then, the smaller constituencies ought to give up a part of their representation in order that justice might be done to the larger ones; the claim of Scotland to an increased representation being admitted now, as it was at the former periods to which he had referred. So important did he think this branch of the subject that he should urge on Scotch Members not to assent to the second reading of the Bill until they had before them a statement of the form in which the representation of the Scottish people was to be increased in a proportion compatible with the increased wealth and population of the country. He had intended to allude to various matters which had been referred to by the Prime Minister; but he might say he was very well satisfied with the statement the right hon. Gentleman had made. Discussion on details had better be taken in Committee than on the second reading of the Bill, and, therefore, it would be unfair to detain the House; but he was bound to say that the Prime Minister seemed to appeal to his more immediate followers for approbation with regard to the extension of the franchise to the working classes. He would remind the House that no one had urged such an increase more than did the late Lord Beacons-field, to whose memory and to those remaining Members of the House who agreed with him credit should be given. He had hoped when the right hon. Gentleman expressed himself in favour of better representation for Scotland that he would have gone on to propose the transfer to Scotland of the 16 seats where the Writs were now suspended for corrupt practices. The right hon. Gentleman, as a Scotch Member, might fairly have made that proposition, by means of which he would have at once fulfilled his Mid Lothian promise, and relieved himself of much trouble in his Redistribution Bill. No one could with justice contend that the population of England and Wales were now too largely represented, and that they could, therefore, afford to make sacrifices in order that 138 Scotland might have more Members accorded to it. Lancashire, for instance, had a population almost equal to that of Scotland, but it had only 32 Members; and Middlesex, with a population of very nearly 3,000,000, had only 19 Representatives. It was impossible to expect that that or any other Parliament in which the large majority of the Members were English would allow Ireland to retain the unfairly large number of Members she now had, seeing that England and Wales were now under-represented. In England and Wales there were 56, and in Ireland 10 represented boroughs having a population of under 10,000, while there were no such boroughs in Scotland. In England and Wales there were 48, and in Ireland three, boroughs having a population under 50,000, and returning two Members each, while there were no such boroughs in Scotland. In England and Wales there were 181, and in Scotland 12 unrepresented towns, with a population of over 10,000 each, whose voters would be thrown by this Bill into the county constituencies, while in Ireland there were no such towns. In England and Wales there were six towns having a population of over 50,000, and one having a population of 137,000, who would be thrown into the county constituencies. The Prime Minister said that it was not desirable to mix these two classes of voters, and in that he quite agreed with the right hon. Gentleman. But if the franchise were extended, those small towns should receive a proper amount of representation, and it would be convenient to know whence it was to come. He thought Parliament ought to insist, when giving Ireland uniformity of franchise, upon giving her also uniformity of representation. There was no sound reason why small Irish towns should send Representatives to Parliament, while similar towns in Great Britain were totally without representation. Scotch Members should take care that some definite promise was given with regard to representation in Scotland, and that some compromise was arrived at, as he did not believe that the House or the country would assent to an increase in the number of Members of Parliament. He considered it advisable that with regard to the small English towns some system of grouping—similar to that which prevailed in Scotland—should be 139 adopted, in order to secure efficient representation; for if the populations of such towns were thrown into the counties, the effect, in many instances, would be to almost nullify the county vote, and make the county Member the Representative of a concentrated population. Let them take a case or two as illustrations of what would occur if the town; population was thrown into its respective counties. The borough of Macclesfield was deprived of its Representatives for corrupt practices. It had a population of 37,260, with 5,486 household votes. East Cheshire, in which it was, had 104,983 population, and 7,071 votes under the present franchise; but with the extension of the franchise East Cheshire might expect to have 12,659 votes, which, added to Macclesfield, would give 18,145. Macclesfield would have one-third of the voting power, and, concentrated as town voters were when compared to rural districts, would return the Members for East Cheshire. Let them take Gloucester. That city had 36,521 population, and 5,721 votes. East Gloucestershire, population 88,541, and 8,861 votes; with household franchise this would be increased to 16,068 votes, which, added to Gloucester City gave 21,789; so that one-fourth of the voting power was conferred on the city. Take Oxford City, population 40,387, votes 6,306; the county, 121,942 population, votes 7,664. Under household franchise, the shire, 18,870 votes; the city, 6,306; total, 25,176 votes, or one-fourth in the city of Oxford. It therefore seemed to him desirable that a scheme of redistribution should be considered fully and fairly with the extension of the franchise. At the present time, England and Wales were represented by 493 Members, but, on the ground of population alone, they should have 491 Members; while, if population and revenue were considered, they were entitled to 502 Members. Ireland had 105 Members, but on the ground of population she was entitled to 89 only, while on that of population and revenue combined she could claim only 78. Scotland, however, which was represented by 60 Members, had a right to 74 by reason of her population alone, and to 78 when population and revenue were taken together. These Members could not be taken from England and Wales, but they could be taken from Ireland, if 140 population and revenue were to be recognized as the basis of representation. At the time when they were about to give to the Irish people their full franchise, it was absurd to say that they ought to continue to send to Westminster a number of Members largely in excess of that to which they were fairly entitled. With regard to Scotland, it appeared to him that if the counties and the Universities were left as at present, the representation of the eight large towns ought to be increased to 16 Members. He felt sure that the Government would be wise to indicate more clearly to Scotland how her representation was to be increased. He felt certain that no British House of Commons would ever consent to reduce the number of Members for England and Wales. The number of additional Members required for England, Wales, and Scotland, in his opinion, ought to be obtained by lessening the superabundance of representation in Ireland, which, with a population of under 5,000,000, returned 105 Members to the Imperial Parliament. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman concluded by moving his Amendment.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "no Bill to amend the Representation of the People of the United Kingdom will be satisfactory which does not provide an increased number of representatives for the Kingdom of Scotland up to the full measure which justice demands, according to population and the share of revenue which it contributes,"—(Admiral Sir John Hay,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. SALT
, who had on the Paper the following Amendment:—That it is not desirable to introduce great changes in the Representative system of the Country, the results of which it may be difficult to foresee, whilst the position of affairs in Egypt are a source of alarm and anxiety, and whilst a rigid Coercion Act is necessary to secure the tranquillity of Ireland,said: I was anxious to rise early, since, unfortunately, I was out of the House when I understand the Prime Minister administered a rebuke to me because of the Amendment I have placed upon the Paper. That rebuke he administered 141 on two grounds. First of all, because he said it was unusual to move an Amendment upon the introduction of a Bill that has been mentioned in Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech; and, secondly, on the more general grounds that it is undesirable that an Amendment should be moved at this stage of a very important measure. I think I can find answers very readily. First, I may say that since Her Majesty's Speech was delivered on the 5th of February many important events have taken place. The state of affairs in Egypt has entirely changed. So far as might be, the words in the Queen's Speech with regard to Egypt were no doubt anxious, but were generally congratulatory as to the achievement of some degree of success. But since that time many events have occurred. Armies have been massacred, troops have been in rebellion, and the country that is by nature and experience the greatest Administrator in the East has failed altogether in her hold of Egypt. Therefore, I say, if the march of events which has altogether changed since the time that Her Majesty's Speech was delivered justified in any sense an alteration from the usual courtesy and custom of Parliament, the events that have taken place offer a double or treble justification for me now. But something is to be said about the character of the measure introduced tonight. I grant that it is somewhat unusual at the introduction of such a measure to move a Motion which appears to be in opposition to its introduction; but here, again, I would say the circumstances of the time render the introduction of a measure of such importance wholly unusual. Instead of discussing a Reform Bill at this moment, we ought, according to the Rules of Parliament for years past, to be discussing the Supplementary Estimates, or a Vote of Credit for military operations. Therefore, I say, on that ground too, a departure from the custom and courtesy of Parliament is amply justified. But I have ventured to put this Motion on the Paper for yet another reason, and that is to express my own opinion, and which I may fairly urge at this stage. I believe—I honestly believe—that it not only expresses my own opinion, but the earnest opinion of a large number of thoughtful men throughout the country. Yet if this affords any con- 142 solation to the right hon. Gentleman, or his supporters, I may say that I do not think it is a Motion which I ought out of courtesy to the House to press to a Division; indeed, I doubt whether, according to the Rules of Debate, the Motion of my right hon. and gallant Friend (Sir John Hay) preceding mine, I could proceed to a Division, even if I wished to do so. My position is this—that I protest against the introduction of a measure of this kind; and, consequently, I protest also against the Amendment of my right hon. and gallant Friend. When great Constitutional changes have to be considered in this country, there are two points that have to be weighed. First of all, there is the method of the change; and, secondly, there is the opportunity for the change. As to the method of the change, I will say nothing at all to-night. There will be ample opportunity—many opportunities—of discussing the method of the changes proposed to be made; but what I want to urge to-night is that the opportunity is neither suitable nor advantageous to the country. In urging that point alone, it is of necessity that I should be brief. First of all, the arguments in support of the view I hold so strongly are simple and few; and, secondly, the illustrations and circumstances by which I shall support that argument are such that if I were to follow them out fully I should be carried into a discussion that must be reserved for another time. The measure which is proposed to us is a very great one. We have heard what has been said by the Prime Minister to-night—that time is necessary to think over the effect of the changes he proposes; but we have it on the highest authority—the authority of a Cabinet Minister trusted by his fellows, of great experience, of great position in the present Ministry—the words of a Cabinet Minister—words spoken not privately, but openly before England and before the world—that the Government is about to make the greatest reform since 1685. Those reforms, I grant you, may be very good, or they may not be very good; but what I contend is this—that whether they are good or not good, we have to consider carefully that the opportunity for discussing such changes is in a political calm, when they can receive serious and proper consideration. The history of the past half-century throws some 143 light, I think, on the view I take, or at least I may claim, perhaps, some illustration of my opinion from the events of the past. In 1785, Mr. Pitt introduced a Reform Bill, but that Bill was not carried. Mr. Pitt was a strong and able Minister, of determined character and of Liberal as well as Conservative opinions; but this question of Reform was not touched for years and years after—I believe I am correct in saying it was not discussed until after the Peace of 1815. And why? The answer is obvious and plain in the history of the country that during 25 years this country and Europe were engaged in the greatest difficulties Europe has ever known. These difficulties, these dangers both at home and abroad, required all the thought, and activity, and energy of the Ministry of the day, instead of spending the time in mere Constitutional reforms. But there is another illustration I may refer to. In 1832, we have been reminded to-night, the great Reform Bill was passed. Many discussions originated by private Members took place in the House during the succeeding 20 years; but in 1852 the question of the Reform of the Representation of the People became again a Government measure. There was a Reform Bill introduced in 1852, and another in 1854; but there was a pause between 1854 and 1858; and why? Well, the history of the country will tell you the reason why there was that pause. Between 1854 and 1858 two great foreign events occurred in the history of this country—the Crimean War and the Mutiny in India. Great events they were, that demanded the whole care and attention of the Government; therefore, I say, take this illustration in the history of our country as bearing on the attempt to introduce a great Constitutional change, and there is the theory to which I beg to draw the attention of the House. I am making no attack on the policy of the Government. I accept for the moment for my argument the policy and action of the Government as the policy and action of the country. I complain of nothing they are proposing to-day; but what I wish to put before the House is this—that a great Reform Bill is a matter for quiet, sound, business-like argument, and this is not the time for a great Constitutional change. What are the circum- 144 stances of the present time? I can turn to a document of the highest authority and of recent publication: I mean the Speech from the Throne on February 5. Now, reading Her Majesty's Speech, I was struck with this—that never had I read a document in my life anywhere so suggestive of disturbance, anxiety, and discomfort. It underlies every sentence, every line of the Speech—suspicion, fear, and rnystic dread of something in the future. Take Madagascar. Is the story of Madagascar satisfactory either to the mercantile interests or the national honour? There is the Congo mentioned. Are affairs on the Congo such as to satisfy a country that desires to drive its commerce into every part of the world? There are negotiations for Treaties of Commerce mentioned. Treaties of Commerce may be good things; but I do not know that they have always been altogether satisfactory. Already we see the Treaty with Turkey mentioned in the newspapers with doubt, for there we are told the Anglo-Turkish Convention is under consideration with certain reservations. Well, we know when a Treaty of Commerce is under consideration what certain reservations mean. Then there is the Transvaal mentioned. Is that a subject with out serious anxiety——
§ MR. ARTHUR ARNOLD
I rise to Order, Sir, and respectfully ask your opinion. Have the hon. Member's observations any connection with the Motion or the Amendment before the House?
§ MR. SALT
The hon. Member was not in the House when I began; and I think if he had been, instead of indulging his comfort outside, he would have heard the point I took. It is this, and perfectly clear and distinct—that I protest both against the Motion and the Amendment on the simplest of all grounds—that the time, in the interest of the country, is not opportune for the Bill and the Motion; therefore, I am perfectly in Order. But if it will be any comfort to the hon. Member, I may say I must from necessity and the nature of the subject be very brief, and in two minutes I shall sit down. There is also Basutoland. These were all matters of anxiety—were matters which were men- 145 tioned in the Queen's Speech, and which demanded the earliest attention of the Government—an attention so earnest, that this was not the time for great changes. I have alluded in my Notice especially to Egypt and Ireland. What is the position of Egypt? The position of Egypt after the bombardment of Alexandria and the storming of Tel-el-Kebir was that the English Government were triumphant and dominant, and by accepting that position they undertook, willingly or unwillingly, certain great duties. The question I have to ask is—How have those duties been fulfilled? They undertook duties to this country that its interests in Egypt were properly secured. They undertook to Europe, which acquiesced in our peculiar position there, that we would maintain peace and order and a highway for commercial transactions. They undertook towards France—who had entered into the Dual Control with us—that we would maintain the authority which Dual Control exercised. We undertook that in a Mahommedan country we would at least maintain order and justice, and we undertook to the Christian population and to the fellaheen that we would prevent, as far as possible, oppression, bloodshed, and war. Have those duties been carried out? Is there no cause now for anxiety? One of the most recent reports from Vienna says that the leading newspapers speak in terms of utter compassion of the spectacle offered by Great Britain at the present moment. While Russia without a shot was able to annex Provinces bringing her nearer to our Indian Empire, England allows garrisons to be massacred under her own eyes, and comes to terms with the Mahdi, who is justified in boasting that the British Empire is powerless to defeat him. I am not going to enter into an Egyptian debate; but what I have a right to say, and do say, in the most emphatic manner, is this—that I have said enough to show that the attention of the Government ought to be turned towards Egypt, instead of being taken up by a great Constitutional change, which, however good it may be, might as well be deferred to another year. I need not say very much about Ireland. Is Ireland really happy and contented under your Coercion Bill? We know what has been said in this House. We know the terms of hatred and hostility to this 146 country that have been used over and over again by men who are Members of this House, and bound by their position and their Oath to be honourable not only to the particular part of the Empire in which they live, but to the Empire at large. Is that a satisfactory state of affairs? Is it a state of affairs in which it is either prudent or safe to undertake great administrative changes? No, Sir. I wish to protest against Parliament entering into an enormous Constitutional reform, of which we cannot see the end, at a time when the country is in a condition of anxiety both at home and abroad. I hope the Government may be induced, in the interests of the commerce of the country, for the credit of the country, and for the honour of the British name, to bring to Egypt order, justice, firmness, and real government, and to bring about a state of affairs which will lead ultimately to its prosperity; and, as regards Ireland, to bring her back at least to the condition she was in in 1880, when there was then an absence of crime and outrage, and a general sense of comfort and satisfaction such as had been unknown in the previous history of that country.
§ MR. ANDERSON
said, the hon. Member who had just sat down had endeavoured to convince the House and the country that because, at an earlier period of our history, such serious events as the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny were considered sufficient reasons for postponing a great measure, such affairs as Madagascar, the Congo, and Basutoland were now to be considered sufficient reasons for postponing a great reform which the country had been so long waiting for. The hon. Member's speech had been addressed to an Amendment which had not been before the House, and which the hon. Member could not move. He never said a word on the Amendment before the House, and he (Mr. Anderson), therefore, rose to say a few words about the Amendment properly under consideration. The right hon. and gallant Baronet who moved the Amendment before the House had furnished the first illustration of the Prime Minister's remarks that it would not be this Bill that would excite opposition, at least open opposition; but it would be the redistribution scheme, when it came on, that the Opposition would gather round. The right hon. 147 and gallant Baronet's speech was highly appreciative of the Bill, for he spoke of how he had always advocated such a Bill, and was ready to support it when brought forward by a responsible Ministry. He was very glad to hear that statement from the right hon. and gallant Baronet as a Scotch Member from the opposite side of the House, and he earnestly hoped other Scotch Members on the opposite side would follow the example that had been set them. The speech of the right hon. and gallant Baronet was directed mainly to the redistribution of seats that was shadowed forth by the Prime Minister in the most guarded manner. The Prime Minister said it was only his own opinion he was expressing, and not that of his Colleagues; but he (Mr. Anderson) was content to take that guarded promise of the Prime Minister of a considerable accession to the Members for Scotland, and not to make any difficulty or press for any more pointed answer now. He would even make an admission to the right hon. and gallant Baronet. There was a great deal in the scheme, as presented by the Prime Minister, of which he did not approve, and which he would be ready to oppose when the time came; but not now. When it came before them he would be ready to move, and to claim for Scotland a large accession to her Members, at any rate, as large as justice seemed to require; but he did not agree with the right hon. and gallant Baronet in his estimate, nor did he believe that the Revenue ought to have anything whatever to do with the question. So far as population went, he believed in his estimate. If they kept to population, England was somewhat over-represented; Ireland was also somewhat over-represented by population, but not very largely, and perhaps not at all if they admitted the element mentioned by the Prime Minister of distance from the Central Authority. If that were admitted, then probably Ireland was not over-represented; but if that were admitted for Ireland, it would have to be admitted for Scotland also, and that would give Scotland a right to a little more representation than mere population would justify. Having said so much about redistribution, he would confine himself now to the Bill to be introduced, and he must congratulate the Prime Minister, and he had pleasure in 148 being the first Member to do so, upon having offered the House a really great measure. A Bill to enfranchise no less than 2,000,000 could not be described as other than a great measure; but when that was only an estimate, and an uncertain one, he thought it was an admirable reason for putting off the redistribution scheme to a future date, until they knew what the reality was in the increase in the representation, and not a mere estimate, however near that estimate might prove to be. The Prime Minister had mentioned the shipbuilding industry on the Clyde as one of the greatest arguments in favour of extended franchise. As the shipbuilding yards had been obliged to move further down the Clyde from Glasgow the workpeople had gone with the work, and by doing that many of them had lost the franchise which they actually had before. There could not be any greater injustice; and he could assure the Prime Minister that the Bill which he now offered would be hailed with satisfaction on the Clyde, and he thought generally by the Scotch Members, and when the redistribution scheme came they would be ready to discuss that; but, in the meantime, he hoped the Scotch Liberal Members would confine themselves to the Bill before the House.
§ MR. GIBSON
said, he thought it must have been present to the mind of everyone who had listened to the Prime Minister's very elaborate and carefully arranged speech that he was conscious of opening to the House and country a measure of stupendous dimensions; but that, at the same time, he was fully conscious that the Bill was one that would challenge great difference of opinion, even among his own Friends, and that it conveyed to everyone on his (Mr. Gibson's) side of the House the impression that he was speaking the sentiments of a divided Cabinet. It was the lot of the Prime Minister 18 years ago to introduce a Reform Bill of considerable importance, and which met with a fate which he thought would, to a certain extent, determine the fate of the Ministry on the present occasion. On that occasion the Prime Minister himself, in his opening statement, indicated that he was disregarding the opinion of the country, and he used the following remarkable words:— 149A state of the public mind that was not clear, definite, and resolute, but rather bewildered, or at the least indecisive."—(3 Hansard,  21.)Those words might be used with substantial advantage on the present occasion. At the present time, when the Prime Minister endeavoured to infuse interest into the subject, he knew he was speaking, if not to an indifferent House, certainly not to an enthusiastic one; and he knew that the temper of the country at the present moment was one, if not of absolute indifference, at least as nearly approaching to one of indifference as could be conceived. The topics that were at the present time most prominent in the public mind were the fate of our forces near Suakim, and the prospect of the Bill for the protection of our flocks and herds from imported disease. The nation had obviously shown little interest in the question before the House. If the votes of the Ministers themselves were taken by ballot it would be found that only a very small minority of them were at all enthusiastic about the matter. According to the avowal of the Prime Minister himself the measure was introduced because the Members of the Government were martyrs to old votes. He did not say that the Government had brought in the Bill without hope; but their hope was poor and unworthy. They had brought it in in the hope of drawing the attention of the people away from their failures and disasters elsewhere; but they hoped in vain. Judging from the speech of the Prime Minister, one would think that the present Parliament was a Parliament summoned to deal with the subject of Electoral Reform. He denied that it was summoned for any such purpose. In none of the electoral utterances of the responsible Ministers of the Crown were there any words to show that that was one of the principle questions which this Parliament was expected to settle. In an eloquent election address, of reasonable duration, the only allusion made by the Prime Minister to the present vast measure was that "there might be a more equal distribution of the electoral franchise." The only reference to the subject in hand made by the noble Marquess the present Secretary of State for War (the Marquess of Hartington) in his election addresses was "that the system of public representa- 150 tion in Parliament was still incomplete." Could such utterances as those be said to show that the present Parliament was returned with a mandate from the nation to consider the subject of Reform? It was the duty of the Opposition to examine at such length and in such manner as they should think concientiously right the character and the details of the measure. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, whose language was generally moderate, had stated that the Bill involved greater changes and reforms than any which had taken place since 1689, and the Prime Minister had that evening used words which showed that he did not shrink from adopting that description of the measure. It was extraordinary that the House of Commons should be asked to consider this great organic change without being put in possession of statistics showing what would be the probable effect of the proposed enlarged franchise. At present the Government seemed to rely on statistics furnished by private Members, for which they were not responsible, and which they could either disclaim or supplement. In 1832 and 1866 ample Returns were laid before Parliament showing, inter alia, the number of those who would be enfranchised, where they resided, and the classes to which they belonged. The present proposal was one whose principle and the groundwork of whose plans had been tossed off lightly by the Prime Minister. Towards the end of his speech he said he would enfranchise 2,000,000. ["Hear, hear!"] Perhaps hon. Members opposite would cheer again when he told them that the Prime Minister was under the mark. ["Hear, hear!"] In dealing with England and Scotland the Prime Minister gave substantial figures; but in dealing with Ireland he stated that he contemplated the enfranchisement of 400,000 persons. According, however, to his (Mr. Gibson's) view that estimate was distinctly and largely under the mark, and he believed it would be over 500,000, and might be not far short of 600,000. He noticed that certain Members below the Gangway on the opposite side of the House cheered that statement; but he did not see any Irish Liberal Member joining in the general hilarity. He saw many difficulties with reference to the County Franchise in presuming an 151 analogy between the class of lodgers in the county and the class of lodgers in the towns, and the Service Franchise, while it might have many things to commend it, would create many intricate and difficult questions. The Prime Minister's speech had one great characteristic; it told them a great deal upon points on which they wanted very little elucidation, and left them absolutely in the dark on many points on which, he thought, they had a right to some guidance. Would the Bill, if it passed in any form, give them a better House of Commons? He did not find that the Prime Minister undertook to suggest that it would. Would it make the legislative machine work more smoothly than at present? Would it simplify the Irish problem? He should be glad to hear any Member who might take part in the discussion explain how. Would it lessen or would it intensify electoral anomalies? Why—even after the Prime Minister's speech—could any man believe that he himself imagined if the present Bill passed it could effect a settlement of the Reform Question for even a period of five years? The right hon. Gentleman had not said one solitary syllable about the principle upon which this Bill was supposed to rest. It was not to rest on the old well-known principle of the Constitution—that representation and taxation should go together. And yet the Prime Minister, with all his splendid courage, would not venture to declare that the Bill would divorce representation from taxation. The right hon. Gentleman had not rested the Bill on the assertion that the franchise was a right. The only approach to a principle he could find in the right hon. Gentleman's speech was what, if said by anyone "else, he would call a platitude of the Caucus, but in this case he ventured to leave unbaptized—that it rested upon the broad basis of the enfranchisement of capable citizens, and the more the better. Was that a principle ever before suggested in any Reform debate as a grave, well-considered ground for a most important change in the Constitution? The Prime Minister was a Nestor in Parliament, and had spoken in more Reform debates than any other living man; and yet he (Mr. Gibson) would venture to say that the words he had quoted would be found absolutely inconsistent, not only with152 every other speech, but with the tendency of every other speech, on previous Reform Bills. No doubt as to capable citizens, the question would be asked over and over again—Will you deny their fitness?" He admitted, as everyone must admit, that many—he believed the majority—of those proposed to be enfranchised were as fit as thousands of those who already had the franchise. He would go further, and say just as fit as thousands who would be left outside the present Bill. Why, the Bill would exaggerate and develope inequalities and anomalies, because there must be left rankling discontent in the hundreds and thousands of men—honest, temperate, capable, and fit—who were fortunately free from the encumbrance of a house. The argument of the Prime Minister prove infinitely too much. It proved that it was right to give the franchise to every man with a house; but every man without a house, although fully qualified in other respects, was not said to be capable of the franchise. There were two branches of the question that the House, from beginning to end of the Premier's speech, waited for something like a clear reference to. Everyone knew from the spokesman of the Cabinet that the Prime Minister was going to bring in a Bill; but what the people of the country wanted to know was, how far the Bill would deal with the great and vital questions of minority representation and redistribution? On the minority question the right hon. Gentleman only revealed one thing—that the Cabinet were not agreed, because he was only able to indicate that whenever the subject was presented it would meet with candid consideration. So that on this question of minorities all that the House got from the Prime Minister was a statement meaning anything or nothing. Had not the House a right to something like a decent frankness on this question? The Prime Minister had passed by what had attracted the attention of the most thoughtful minds in the country—the question of proportionate representation. Everyone going to take part in these debates had no doubt read the literature connected with the subject. They all knew Mr. Hare's plan—a very interesting one—as to which opinions might largely differ; and there were other plans. He gave no opinion on Mr. Hare's plan, or 153 on the otter arithmetical proposals suggested. But he would say that the Prime Minister was keeping back the opinion of the Cabinet on the question, seeing that he had not ventured on the slightest word about it. There was another matter as to which the Government were challenged over and over again to express their views. Did they intend in the large increase that must take place in the representation of great centres of population places—like London, Birmingham, and Manchester, where nine or ten Members might take the place of three or four—that each citizen in those great cities should have as many votes as there would be seats; or did they intend to regulate the sub-division of those great centres so that each man would only be able to vote for one, two, or three candidates? These were vital questions, and he believed that both the House and the country would insist that the Government should no longer keep them in ignorance as to their views with regard to them. The House and the country had not been treated fairly; and he could not but think that the Nemesis which ever attended practices not consistent with the fair play which should always be shown in public life would sooner or later overtake the Government. There was another branch of this great question to which public attention had been directed more than to any other—he meant the question of redistribution. He was not sure that any one calmly considering this matter would not arrive at the conclusion that redistribution was a far more urgent and pressing question than the question of the franchise. It would be found that in the great mass of the speeches delivered in the country—those of the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) as well as of the Prime Minister—the arguments used went really more in favour of redistribution than of the representation of the people. This was a question which affected not only the agricultural labourer but the artizans dwelling in important towns, who might be admitted to the franchise by redistribution when more Members were given to important towns or by the system of grouping. Such a plan would go far to cure all the anomalies which had been pointed out. How had the Prime Minister dealt with the question 154 of redistribution? He had listened to him with mixed feelings—of course with admiration, that went without saying, and he listened to him with great curiosity; and he was bound to say that when that admiration and curiosity assumed more moderate limits, he listened to him with feelings of intense disappointment. He had never in his life listened to arguments that were less conclusive. He never heard the Prime Minister use arguments that were more entirely feeble than those he had presented to the House, and through the House to the country, in support of the extraordinary course he proposed to take in reference to redistribution. The right hon. Gentleman proposed to postpone redistribution until God knows when. ["Oh!"] Hon. Members might murmur; but he was content to rely upon the silence of the Prime Minister with regard to that point. The right hon. Gentleman proposed to postpone re-distribution, not only until after the Franchise Bill became law—which was a very remote day—but also until after a Registration Bill was brought in and passed. That Registration Bill was to do more than any other had yet done, and that was to accomplish registration by some self-acting process. He therefore felt that he was entitled to show that the Prime Minister was literally playing with the House in reference to this question. It was perfectly plain that in reference to this question the Cabinet were not united; because if their conduct were united it was both uncandid and unfair. He had full justification for what he was saying, for he found that when the Prime Minister spoke in reference to this question he made an astounding assertion for a Prime Minister to make who was worshipped by his Cabinet. ["Oh!" and signs of disapprobation from Mr. GLADSTONE.] He would withdraw that statement, as the right hon. Gentleman seemed to know that there were some dissentients. It was, however, remarkable that when he came to speak upon this question—he being the Prime Minister of England, with great authority and experience—he had to say that he was not speaking for the Cabinet and the Government, and that he was giving, not his own plan, not his own deliberate opinion, but a sketch of what he conceived might hereafter be carried out. 155 It proved to be a very curious sketch—a sketch coloured with more method he had never seen in his life. England was known to be the most Conservative part of the Three Kingdoms. Accordingly, it was suggested that Ireland was to be left with its present representation, and that Scotland was to be increased. Nothing was said about Wales for obvious reasons; but England was to supply whatever increase was to be given to Scotland; and inasmuch as the South of England was known to be rather more Conservative than the North, it was from the South of England it was to be taken to supply the difference. He, of course, believed implicitly in the Prime Minister's conscience. [Mr. WARTON: Oh, oh!] Well, he might be credulous—[Mr. WARTON: Hear, hear!]; but he was confident that when the Prime Minister considered calmly his own scheme and his own unsettled state of mind he would arrive at the conclusion that misguided Conservatives might be disposed to regard the workings of his political mind, as he had revealed it to them, with a feeling of acute suspicion. The Government were in this dilemma. Had they a plan formed in their own minds? If they had, they were not treating the House with confidence in not explaining it; and if they had no plan they were presenting to the House the first step of a great Reform measure before they had thought it out in all its most essential particulars and details. It was said that a re-distribution scheme could not be included in the Franchise Bill at the present. But he had read in Mr. Mayne's able pamphlet on "The Coming Reform," a good suggestion, which was this—that if the Government finding, after a calm review of the position, that it would be "wickedly absurd"—to use the language of the Prime Minister—that they should include redistribution in the Franchise Bill, let them just insert a little innocent clause in their Franchise Bill postponing its operation until the other measure was passed. Did not the Prime Minister think the House would be wickedly and absurdly foolish to give the slightest credence to the suggestions he had made as to the possible operations of the Bill? When would they be told the plan of the redistribution measure? Was the measure so much a necessary 156 part of the Reform programme that the Prime Minister was bound particularly to apologize for not presenting it to the House, and yet so independent of it that they were not to be given a statement to guide their action in reference to the Bill now under discussion? It was all very well for the Prime Minister to mean to bring in a Redistribution Bill; but was it not very strange that he did not tell the House when he meant to bring it in, or at least state what were the principles upon which it would proceed? They had been told in the Press that the House would at least be supplied with the outline, if not with the details of the measure; but they had not heard a single word from the Prime Minister as to what he might do. What was to be the basis of the Bill? Was it to be based upon population and electoral districts? The Prime Minister, speaking for himself alone, said his sketch did not go in that direction. At present, variety was the essence of the Constitution. The variety of our Parliamentary system was that which gave it a distinct position among the Assemblies of the world, and that which constituted the rarest element of our electoral power; and if anything verging on "electoral districts" were adopted, it must, of necessity, reduce the country to the dead level of common uniformity. The Prime Minister had not told the House, even by a hint, how many Members must be transferred from boroughs to counties. He should like to know how many more than 60 borough Members the Prime Minister considered would be taken from boroughs and sent to counties? He should be glad to know why 40 or 50 boroughs at present returning Members to this House would be, of necessity, deprived of their distinctive individuality? These were important and interesting questions. The Prime Minister had not told them whether redistribution was to be on the basis of population or taxation. He had not told them whether grouping was to be carried out; and, if so, to what extent. The House knew the legitimate expectations of Scotland; but the Prime Minister had not told them with anything like the detail they had a right to expect whether the representation in Scotland was to be increased. They knew that Scotland expected from 10 to 14 additional Members; but the only answer of the Prime 157 Minister was that its claims should be considered and acknowledged. That might he done by adding one or two Members for well-known Radical constituencies. As to Wales, the Prime Minister was still more cautious. He did not even mention it. Wales was a difficulty in the Prime Minister's way, and in the way of the Cabinet, for whom the right hon. Gentleman did not speak. He was as positive as he could be of anything in the world that there were substantial dissentients in the Cabinet, from the statement of the Prime Minister that he was in favour of not diminishing the number of Members for Ireland. To his mind, that statement of the Prime Minister, blurted out as he gave it, was a coarse and rather transparent bid for the Irish vote. He would give some figures, which, however, he would not discuss. Each Scotch Member represented 64,000 persons; each English Member 54,000; each Irish member 51,000; and each Welsh Member, 45,000. Surely, upon those figures, Wales would lose some Members. At all events, Ireland was in this position—that the Prime Minister, who had some ulterior objects in view, would proclaim that it was the cardinal point of his programme that he would not consider the question of the reduction of the Representatives of that country. These were important points that must be considered in the light of common sense, and in the face of that circumstance to which, no doubt, a substantial part of the Prime Minister's speech was directed, and that was, a Dissolution, which the right hon. Gentleman saw could not be very long delayed. What was the course taken by the Government? It was an inversion of the confidence trick. "Trust me," the Prime Minister said, "because we won't trust you; give me a blank cheque, and let me fill it up as I will." And to-night the right hon. Gentleman used the remarkable words—"We will walk into no trap;" but did he think that the independent Members of the House of Commons were so silly as to walk into the traps that he so ostentatiously spread before them? The franchise, as the Prime Minister had expounded it, was a great maze, and the Redistribution Bill was its clue. The Prime Minister wanted them to walk into the maze whilst he kept the clue concealed in his own 158 mind, telling them that, perhaps, at some remote time, when they were lost in the toils of the maze, he would let them know the clue. If redistribution was to be dealt with by this Parliament how could it be dealt with after the death-knell of the Parliament had been sounded by the passing of this Bill; for the passing of the Franchise Bill would proclaim the unfitness of the present House of Commons as Representatives of the nation. How, then, after that proclamation could the present House of Commons deal firmly and boldly with the question of redistribution? And if the question was to be postponed from this to another Parliament what would be the position? A new Parliament would have to be summoned, elected by the new constituencies. It would have to do this specific work of redistribution, and then in turn must be dissolved. Could anyone imagine a course more intensely inconvenient than to have two Dissolutions in order to avoid the obvious course of dealing with the matter at once? Anyone who had considered redistribution would see that it was one of the largest parts of the Reform Question. It was obvious that it could be worked in any way that the cunning manipulator desired. It might be worked to destroy the rights of the Crown, and to make it impossible. It might he worked to destroy popular rights, or all our political institutions. And, under these circumstances, they were asked to place a blank order in the hands of the Prime Minister to redistribute when and how he pleased. What was the opinion of Mr. Bright in 1866? He said—I could frame a measure which would give a vote to every man in the Kingdom, and redistribution could be so framed that representation would be infinitely worse than at present.And yet they were asked in the face of that warning not to insist upon something like an honest and frank revelation of the workings, so far as they were developed, of the Ministerial mind. All history was against the Prime Minister on this question; in 1832, 1854, 1858 and 1859, and in 1860 the two measures were combined, and in 1866 the House compelled the Prime Minister to combine them, although at the outset he took a line which was more honest than that which he had taken to-night. On 159 that occasion the Premier promised he would reveal the redistribution scheme before the Committee stage of the Bill. What was the puny, transparent excuse which the Premier gave to-night for not doing so? The right hon. Gentleman knew all those precedents better than any of them; and yet he had the temerity to say to the House that this was the first complete Bill that had ever been presented to Parliament. Of course, everything turned upon the meaning which the right hon. Gentleman gave to the word "complete." If complete meant the joining of these two provisions of Reform, it was no answer to say that there was completeness as to grouping three parts of the United Kingdom together; but, so far as he could see, that was the only attempt which the Prime Minister made to escape from the obvious and overwhelming force of every precedent that could be cited. What was the explanation as to 1866 which the Prime Minister suggested? In 1866 there had been some contention. The lines between town and country were in existence, and it became necessary, in order to prevent jerrymandering, to combine the two Bills. But was it not obvious to anyone that it was more necessary now than in 1866? Why, the points of demarcation between town and country were obliterated by this Bill. It would be possible under it for the Prime Minister to call town country and country town; and that very power of so mixing and confusing urban districts rendered it more necessary now than ever that the House should insist upon getting the same frank exposition of what was going to be done. Parliamentary authority upon this question was unanswerable and invincible. Again he would quote Mr. Bright. Speaking at Bradford, in 1859, the right hon. Gentleman said—The question of distribution is the very soul of the question, and unless you get that you will be deceived; and when the Bill is passed you may possibly have to lament that you are not in a position in which you would wish to find yourselves.Possibly, the authority of that right hon. Gentleman was no longer of any avail with the Cabinet now that he had become a moderate man. But they might listen to what Lord Stanley, who was now their trusted and honoured Colleague, said in April, 1866— 160When we are framing that which really is a new Constitution for the country, it is as insane an act to sanction part of a scheme without knowing the whole, as it would be to begin building a palace room by room without an estimate or a general plan, and with only the assurance of the architect that he understands his business.…. Our judgment ought to be free, unbiassed, and founded on full knowledge."—(3 Hansard,  1176.)Now, in the present case, he admired the architect very much; but he would like him to give them, if not full knowledge, at all events something to enlighten their darkness. After 1866 this question passed into the new phase. The present Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. Trevelyan) took it up and brought it into academic prominence, and he commenced in 1872 dealing with the question in a very able and remarkable oration. On that occasion the Prime Minister spoke very differently to what he did now. Even now the right hon. Gentleman did not strike him (Mr. Gibson) as being intensely in love with his own measure; but in 1872 the right hon. Gentleman was coldness itself towards the proposal. He said—It is absolutely impossible that the present distribution of seats should continue.… In point of fact, then, the proposal is not a proposal to be dealt with in a few lines of an Act of Parliament. It is a proposal for a new Parliamentary Reform Act upon a larger scale."—(Ibid.  1911.)But what was changed since then? Why should we now adopt a Bill of a few lines, and relegate the larger measure to the future? In the debate of 1877 the President of the Local Government Board (Sir Charles W. Dilke) said—The wise and the honest course for those of us who desire both reforms (franchise and redistribution) is, then, to connect them in our movement from the first.…There are some of us who go so far as to believe that a redistribution of political power will be found to as greatly transcend in importance the mere extension of the franchise as it does in difficulty of treatment."—(Ibid.  500–505–6.)He (Mr. Gibson) thought those were good sentences; and he would be glad to hear the right hon. Baronet repeat them on the present occasion, even in the form of a pious personal reflection of his own, not binding any of his Colleagues. He now turned to the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War (the Marquess of Hartington), who seemed to have said more sensible things than 161 most public men, though, perhaps, as much could not be said of his performances. But in February, 1878, the noble Marquess said—I think my hon. Friend (Mr. Trevelyan) has done very well to bring these two subjects together under the view of the House, because I believe that whenever the House does proceed to deal practically with this question it will insist, as it has done before, that the question shall not be dealt with partially, but as a whole."—(Ibid.  245.)If there was any meaning in the language of Parliamentary conviction, if there was any meaning in Parliamentary precedent, could the Government suggest any reason, or shape any justification, for the extraordinary want of confidence and want of fairness shown by them in reference to this question to-night? The last excuse of the Prime Minister was one which he never thought to hear at the end of his long career. The Prime Minister said that the franchise was an Imperial question, redistribution a local one; and, therefore, for the sake of the Imperial measure, the local measure must go to the wall. That struck him as being peculiar; because, whatever epithets the Prime Minister might use, it was this redistribution which must ultimately determine the effect of the Franchise Bill. A few words upon Ireland and he had done. It was impossible to mention the subject of Ireland without seeing the necessity and justice of including in the Bill a scheme of redistribution. Anyone who looked an inch below the surface, anyone who did not wish to remain ignorant, anyone who did not wish to shut his eyes to plain and obvious facts, must see that expediency and justice required that, in the case of Ireland, there should be a Re distribution Bill combined with any Reform Bill which might be applied to that country. Was the matter so urgent in England and Scotland that it could not wait until Ireland was quieted down? Was it wise, was it statesmanlike, was it prudent, that at a time when Ireland was administered in such an exceptional way, when the people of the country could not be trusted to guide themselves by the ordinary laws of the country, to throw amongst them such a material for dispute and fresh agitation as this Bill presented? Was it not astounding to find that this time, when loyalty was struggling with disloyalty, should be chosen to forge new political 162 weapons to put into the hands of those who told them in advance that they intended to use those weapons against them? If this Reform Bill passed for Ireland without any Redistribution Bill, the Government perfectly well knew that it must increase the Nationalist Party to something like 90 votes. There must be no pretence of ignorance on this subject. The Prime Minister did not venture to say one solitary word in justification for his action; but the House must have noticed how his eyes were directed to the Benches below the Gangway. Two defences for now dealing with Reform in Ireland had been attempted. It was said a Franchise Bill might, indeed, immensely increase the Nationalist Party, but they would then disunite. Irishmen believed a good deal, but there was a limit to Irishmen's credulity; and when it was said the Party who in Opposition had not got as yet everything for which they were struggling would break down because you made them strong, it was simple nonsense. Another feeble, wretched suggestion that was made was this—that if the majority of the Irish Members who would be returned to Parliament would be for destroying the Union and for separation, it was better to know it at once. He had seen that in various Party papers of great ability; he had read it in speeches of gifted men whom he respected; and he put to them in sober earnest this question—Do not you know that already without waiting for the Franchise Bill? Was it not rank nonsense to be pretending to be waiting for the Franchise Bill, when they knew by anticipation that what he said could not be gainsaid or denied? If there was to be a Reform Bill for Ireland it was absolutely necessary that a Redistribution Bill should accompany it. The Parliamentary problem was grave enough as it was. If there passed a Franchise Bill without the Redistribution Bill it would become stupendous. The matter was too plain. The Government were now nervous before the 35 Members who followed the lead of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) in the House; but would they not tremble before 90? The Loyalist classes in Ireland were not confined to one class or one creed. He made that statement on behalf of his absent fellow-countrymen, from many of whom he 163 differed in politics and religion. The Loyalist class were not confined to one Province or one locality. They were scattered over many parts of Ireland. They numbered one-third, or very little less than one-third, of the whole population. Supposing the Bill passed, what security would the House have—what security would the Loyalists of Ireland have—that they would not be treated with gross and wanton injustice? Was it not monstrous to remove many Loyalists from that House by a Franchise Bill, and in their enforced absence regard the 90 Nationalists, who thus would have a greater share of representation than they were entitled to, as having the right to dictate what the redistribution should be? Human nature was human nature, even in the Island of Saints; and how could they expect that 90 Nationalist Members would not struggle to maintain the rights and privileges which were given to them against their fellow-countrymen who were thus deprived of their political power and representation? If the Government meant an honest Redistribution Bill—if they meant fairly to protect the Loyalist minority in that country, they were bound to say now how they meant to guard that minority. If the Cabinet meant to deal with this question, and not one man, speaking for himself—he cared not how eminent that Member might be—they were bound to have a policy, and not to be shilly shallying without making up their minds. If the Government meant the reduction of the Irish Members, as he believed they did, they were bound now fairly and frankly to avow it. If the Government, however, kept their counsel to themselves, they must expect that their motives would be variously and not very favourably interpreted. Those who were disposed to believe in the future courage of the Government would assuredly doubt their capacity to achieve the task that lay before them. That more numerous class of persons who doubted their future courage would be disposed now to question their present honesty. The question was too plain for cavil; it was too plain for concealment. Anyone who had listened to the speech of the Prime Minister must have been made aware of this fact—that he found it now very hard to deal with 35 or 40 Nationalist Members, and that he 164 was very anxious, by tone, and glance, and manner, to conciliate them. If the Franchise Bill was passed without redistribution these 35 or 40 Members would become 90. Would it not be harder and far more difficult to deal with 90, and to get them to accept a redistribution scheme which might diminish their numbers, and which must diminish their strength? If the redistribution question were postponed, would not the minority suffer? Could the Scottish Members be quite sure that they would get an increase of their numbers? Could the country trust that the Prime Minister would carry out the views that he had sketched without committing himself? Could the country trust the Cabinet that had not yet made up their minds, to make them up at some future time, and to lead them in a safe direction? He thought he was entitled to ask this question—"Could the Cabinet trust themselves?" Had the Government honestly made up their minds that if this Franchise Bill were passed alone and simply, as stated by the Prime Minister, that they would then have resolution and power enough to work out a Redistribution Bill that would, in the case of Ireland, do justice to the loyal minority, and, in the case of the United Kingdom, do justice to the various interests at stake? He thanked the House for the patient hearing it had given to him. The Bill that had been introduced was uncertain in its operation, and it was unexplained in its results. He thought he was entitled to say that the country would demand that that Bill should be made, as far as possible, clear and certain. The Prime Minister must know that the subject he had presented to the House was one involving the widest differences of opinion. He must know that many persons in the House, and more persons in the country, entertained grave doubts as to the scope and the effect of this measure. He must see that this was a question which should be decided in full light, and with perfect confidence. It was only fair, reasonable, and just to treat the Representatives of the people with confidence and with candour. If complete frankness was not shown, and if the questions that he and others had ventured to suggest were not fairly answered, he would ask the country fairly to consider this question:—"Will not this Bill be 165 regarded as a Party Bill—a Bill not honestly framed with a view to guard liberty and secure rights—a Bill assuredly not framed to secure that justice which we are entitled to—that highest form of justice which consists in justice to all?"
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
said, the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson), in his exceedingly able speech, had avowed his uncompromising hostility to all reform, either for England, Ireland, or Scotland. The right hon. and learned Gentleman displayed in the earlier part of his speech a great anxiety for statistics, and complained that the Prime Minister had left the House in darkness as to the probable effects of this measure, because he had not quoted a long array of figures. Now, he (Mr. Fowler) would trouble the House with two figures forming one statistic, which constituted the basis of the arguments hon. Members on that side of the House intended to urge in defence of this measure, which justified them in defending it, which, in their opinion, would relieve the Government from all charges of a "shilly-shally" policy, and which would confirm the determination of himself and his Friends, whether with this Government, or whether with another Government, never to hold their hands until they had accomplished this great reform. Now the figure was this. There were in this country—and he was speaking of England, Ireland, and Scotland, for, after all, they were but one country, and he hoped they would always remain so—6,500,000 householders—persons earning their bread, paying taxes, and discharging all the responsibilities which in a civilized community devolved upon householders—and of those 6,500,000 barely 3,000,000, or less than one-half, had a right to vote in the election of Members of Parliament. Now, that one fact—they might surround it or mystify it with all kinds of speculation and prophecies about the redistribution of political power—was the stand-point of himself and those who acted with him; and he put it to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who had spoken so gingerly about using the word "right," that it was as much the right of the householders who were excluded to have the same franchise as it was of the householders who were included. He believed 166 that they were as capable of exercising political power, and were as largely interested in the State in which they were citizens. He believed they contributed as large a share to the National income as those who were included; and, therefore, he maintained that it was both unwise and unsafe to exclude that class from political power. He believed that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was rather doubtful as to the position of the artizans in the neighbourhood of a large town. He could quite understand the difficulty which Conservative Members felt upon this question, because it was a very peculiar qualification to maintain in that House and in the country that a man's political position was to depend upon the fact whether he lived upon one side of a turnpike road or the other, or on the south or north bank of a river; while some more fortunate fellow-workman more favourably situated, but in every other respect the same, and not a bit more capable of discharging political duties, was able to enjoy political power. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said he thought that that matter might be met by a measure of redistribution. He (Mr. Fowler) would say a word about redistribution shortly; but did hon. Gentlemen opposite contend that the artizan who lived in the suburbs of our large towns ought or ought not to possess the franchise? Of the 2,000,000 whom the Prime Minister had spoken of as being desirous of including, he (Mr. Fowler) took it that one-half were skilled artizans residing in the neighbourhood of large towns; but the other 1,000,000 comprised the agricultural labourers, who not only had political grievances, but had political qualifications, as had been shown in the cases of East Retford and Cricklade to the satisfaction of the whole community. The right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite asked whether any man would be prepared to say that, if they extended the franchise, they would get a better House of Commons? Well, he (Mr. Fowler) was prepared to say that they would. That was what he believed. He was not advocating a change of this kind from a mere desire for electoral symmetry, nor as a mere Party move, in order to help them at a General Election; but because he believed that the House of Commons would be made better 167 by it. They wished for Parliamentary Reform because they believed that Parliament ought to be reformed. They wished to have more work done, and they wanted it done much better; and they believed that one of the glaring defects of the present Parliamentary system was, that a majority of the Members of the House were not in touch with—and did not represent the feelings of—the majority of the people of the country. They believed that this vast legislative machine—one of the most magnificent that the world had ever seen—should not be at the mercy of childish folly; they wished to have Parliament more truly representing the people—to secure that it should do the work in a better way than it had been done hitherto. He was putting that shortly before the House, totally irrespective of any alteration of the voting power, or any question of redistribution by itself. Even assuming the possibility of the Government not intending to bring in a redistribution measure; assuming that they intended to continue the absurdity of keeping the existing constituencies as they were; he still said that there ought to be an extension of the franchise. The right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite was extremely anxious for a redistribution of political power; so were Members on that (the Ministerial) side of the House. They were as much dissatisfied with the present state of things as the right hon. and learned Gentleman was, although, perhaps, not aiming at the same results. It was stated that out of 6,500,000 householders there were only 3,000,000 voters. He would give the House another extraordinary figure, and it was that, of the existing 3,000,000 voters, 1,000,000 returned two-thirds of the Members of that House, while the other 2,000,000 only returned one-third. That was a state of things to which Liberals were quite as much opposed as Conservatives, and they were just as anxious for redistribution as the opposite side. But he did not know whether they were prepared to carry out that work of distribution on the same lines. Their idea of redistribution was that the majority should regulate the policy of the nation; and that the minority should not be able to perpetuate the power they now possessed. He could not understand why a county constituency of 11,000 or 12,000 should be 168 deprived of political power because, by some anomaly, some little borough in the North or South of England possessed the right of returning two Members to Parliament. Therefore, he contended that the more drastic, the more thorough, and the more stringent the redistribution, the better it would be. He had heard the scheme which the Prime Minister had foreshadowed that night, and he thought that that measure would meet with very general approval. The right hon. Gentleman had drawn it upon lines which were in harmony with the views of the great majority of hon. Members on that side of the House, who were not anxious to see London possessing an enormous excess of representation; who were not anxious to see the old lines of the Constitution broken up, or the almost hereditary distinction between town and country abolished; but who did want the effective majority of the electors of the country to have a corresponding representation in the effective majority of the House. He did not think there could have been a more powerful speech in favour of redistribution than the remark made by the Marquess of Salisbury the other day at a public meeting, when he said that if at the last General Election 2,000 electors had voted in a different way from what they actually did vote the late Government would have remained in Office. Now, the actual fact was that about 500,000 voters were polled by the Liberal Party in excess of those polled by the Conservative candidates; and yet so absurd and so grotesque was the present representative system, that by some clever "jerrymandering" with 2,000 voters a most material effect might have been produced upon the destinies of the country, and a Conservative Government have been retained in power. Hon. Members on that (the Ministerial) side of the House were as anxious to prevent that as hon. Members opposite; and they recognized the full force of the Prime Minister's argument that there could not be a satisfactory redistribution until there was a new Register, and they were able to know the forces and the figures with which they would have to deal. The sting of the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, like a good many others, was in its tail, in the reference made to Ireland. It would be 169 a very great pity if the debate was to be confined, as far as Ireland was concerned, to the two classes of Irish Representatives speaking at and against each other. He thought it was time that English Members should have something to say upon the subject of Irish representation. He himself would not accept any Reform Bill which did not put Ireland upon exactly the same footing as England and Scotland. They had committed a great many blunders in their government of Ireland; but he could not conceive a greater blunder than a system of sham representation. There were at that moment 1,000,000 householders in Ireland, and only 200,000 voters. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that the people of Ireland were not fit to be trusted with Constitutional rights, and therefore they ought not to have the franchise. Formerly they were told that these precautions were directed against a minority of the Irish people, who were in hostility to law and order, and that the majority were in favour of the law, and would like to see order maintained. Whatever the state of the case might be, they must either govern Ireland as a Constitutional portion of the Empire or as a Crown Colony. He was satisfied that the people of this country would not endorse the latter proposition; he was satisfied they would never wish to have another Poland. Ireland must, therefore, be governed Constitutionally. They had tried imposing on Ireland an alien aristocracy, an alien Church, alien soldiers and policemen, and confiscation Acts; but they had not tried what the effect of giving them equal political rights would be. In future they must follow the maxim of the old Roman General, and must either treat the Irish people as citizens or slaves. He thought that one of the brightest features of the present Bill was that it treated the people of Ireland as equal citizens. No one had a right to criticize the Representatives that Ireland sent to the House of Commons. If there was to be a representative system, the people of Ireland had a right to send men who would represent them, no matter whether they were 90 Nationalists, or any other class—men who would come to the Imperial Parliament and state their grievances, and let the country be face to face with the situation. Whatever else Ireland had to complain 170 of, they ought not to be put on a different footing from England and Scotland, deprived of their Constitutional rights, shorn of their Constitutional power, and then expected to render the same loyalty to the Constitution. He believed that, so far from this equal treatment being an element of danger in the measure, it was an element that would secure both the support of the country and of Parliament, and that it would produce very satisfactory and beneficial results. In reference to the general measure he would not detain the House. The introduction of a Bill was not the proper time for discussing its details; but he, for one, in reply to the challenge of the Prime Minister, said that hon. Members on that side of the House accepted the challenge. The Bill was, indeed, one worth having. The Bill was a great Bill. It would confer a great boon upon the people of this country; it would tend to strengthen the Constitution; and, in his belief, the more people they had inside the Constitution the better. Hon. Members opposite, who were perpetually telling the people of the country that they were the authors of the measure of 1867, and that the country was indebted to them for the enfranchisement of the working classes, were men who should sanction the extension of the same principle to all other people. He believed that history would settle the question who were the real parents of the Bill of 1867. To judge either by history, experience, or reason, they might fairly conclude, if they had any faith in representative principles or popular Government, or any faith in the people as a whole against individual classes, that the present measure would produce the same results as the Reform Acts of 1832 and 1867. He was in no fear of a Dissolution on that point. The right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite said—"If they could only appeal to the country." There was nothing he (Mr. H. H. Fowler) would like better than to go to his constituents upon this Bill. He believed the country had made up its mind on the matter; and, whether it was this Parliament or the next, he believed they would only be carrying out the wishes of the country by extending the franchise. They might be content to defer until the next Session of this Parliament, or to a new Parliament, 171 the discussion as a whole of a wise measure of redistribution; but he entreated them not to be in the dark upon the point. The right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite said that the people were deluded; that they would not know what either side meant; and that they would he altogether in the dark. If the Liberal Party and the Liberal Government meant anything they meant this—that the majority of the electors were to choose the majority of the Representatives of the House of Commons.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had made a very able and a very loyal speech. He himself was always very sorry when he heard one of the Radical Party make a loyal speech, because he knew that the conjunction of loyalty and ability in a Radical invariably led to the Treasury Bench. He thought that hon. Members below the Gangway had already been drawn sufficiently near to the Treasury Bench; and he should regret if his hon. Friend (Mr. Fowler) were to have his loyalty accepted, and find himself removed from that portion of the House in which he now occupied a seat. The hon. Member had accused his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) of having treated the Radical Party as if they were deficient in intellect. He was sure that the hon. Member must altogether have misunderstood the remarks of his right hon. and learned Friend. He did not think it was open for anybody in that House to slight the intelligence of hon. Gentlemen who sat on the Benches opposite. It was not a deficiency of intellect, but a deficiency of independence, of which they complained. He might call it, if he were not using too strong a word, the prostitution of magnificent intellect to a slavish servility to the Government and a Party. That was what he greatly regretted; and it was a characteristic of the Radical Party of the modern day, which was certainly not a characteristic of the Radical Party of olden times, when its Leader was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright). He thought the Prime Minister must have been a little disappointed with the effect of his great speech upon the House of Commons, and particularly with its 172 effect upon his own side. He (Lord Randolph Churchill) had alluded, earlier in the evening, to the very scanty attendance of the Liberal Party that night upon the Benches behind the Prime Minister. He never recollected, considering what the prospect was before the House that evening, having seen the Liberal Party, and especially the Radical Party, so badly represented. ["Oh!"] He could assure hon. Members opposite, who could not, of course, see the Benches behind them, that there had been most conspicuous gaps, and most deplorable gaps, on those Benches during the delivery of the Prime Minister's speech—gaps which had filled him (Lord Randolph Churchill) with dismay. But not only had he noticed the scanty attendance of Liberal Members, but he had observed, also, the extraordinary absence of enthusiasm among them. The Prime Minister had recourse, as he always had, to all the well-known arts of eloquence; but his recourse to those arts failed to secure the usual response. Time after time the Prime Minister turned round to his Radical followers in order to elicit a little encouragement; but his appeals were received with an obstinate and persevering muteness. Never were the Radical Party so mute as they had been that night. He had been trying to account for the fact; but he could only do so by reference to a passage which was contained in the Royal Speech. The Prime Minister told the House that he was not going to walk into any trap that might be set for him by the Tory Party; but he (Lord Randolph Churchill) thought it very probable that the Radical Party would not walk into the trap set for them by the Prime Minister. In the Speech from the Throne there was this remarkable passage—A measure will at once be presented to you which will have for its principal object the enlargement of the Occupation Franchise in Parliamentary Elections throughout the United Kingdom.Now came the attraction to Conservative Members, and the repulsion to Radical Members—The experience gained during half-a-century by the progressive admission of augmented numbers to a share in our representative system, happily warrant the belief that again, as heretofore, the result of a judicious extension of the franchise will be a still closer attachment of the 173 nation to the Throne, the law, and the institutions of the country.No wonder the Radical Party did not hail that reference to the institutions of the country, because next to the Throne the greatest institution of the country was the House of Lords. That institution has not yet been handed over to the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere). He repeated, that the greatest institution next to the Throne was the House of Lords; and he would therefore ask hon. Members opposite whether they were prepared to place reliance upon the words which the Prime Minister had put into the mouth of the Queen, and if they were prepared to vote for a Bill which would result in making the people still more closely attached to the House of Lords? And not only to the House of Lords. He appealed to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler), who was the respected and honoured Leader of the Nonconformist Party in that House, whether he was going to vote for a Bill which his adored Prime Minister told him would result in the closer attachment of the people to the Established Church of England?—certainly one of the' greatest institutions of the country. If they were to place reliance upon the opinions of the Prime Minister, as expressed in the Speech from the Throne, they could very well account for the comparatively apathetic manner in which this great measure had been received by the Radical Party. He wished to notice now one part of the Prime Minister's speech which struck him as being extremely remarkable, considering that it came from the right hon. Gentleman. He referred to the use which the right hon. Gentleman made of the personality of the Crown. He did not know whether other hon. Members had noticed it; but on six or seven occasions, and especially towards the end of the speech, the right hon. Gentleman introduced the personality of the Crown. The right hon. Gentleman made use of these words—"This Bill the Government introduce to you in the name of the Queen." He (Lord Randolph Churchill) did not believe that such an expression had ever been made use of by a Prime Minister before; and not only did the right hon. Gentleman use that expression, but he made continual allusions to the Speech from the Throne, and the 174 matters mentioned in that Speech as having the assent of the Crown. No doubt the intention of the right hon. Gentleman was to produce an impression on persons out-of-doors, who were not acquainted with the strict Constitutional law of the country, that this Bill was not only the production of the Prime Minister and his Colleagues, but that they had drawn their ideas and inspiration from the highest possible authority. ["Oh!"] No doubt the idea was very horrible to hon. Members opposite; but, with all due submission to those hon. Members, he protested against the insinuation distinctly made by the Prime Minister that a higher authority than that of the Ministry was in favour of this Bill and was pressing it forward. There was also one other little peculiarity which characterized the Speech of the Prime Minister, and which was worth mentioning. Among the new franchises about to be created, and which the Prime Minister held out as a strong bait to his supporters, was one which he had been pleased to call the "service franchise." He thought the right hon. Gentleman might have been a little more candid to the House in reference to that franchise. The right hon. Gentleman had given the House to understand that it was a great act of charity to invent the service franchise; but he (Lord Randolph Churchill) did not know whether the majority of hon. Members were aware that this "service franchise" had been stuck into the Bill merely for the purpose of enfranchising the Scotch agricultural labourers, who would, under the peculiar law and tenure of Scotland, not be enfranchised by the ordinary occupation franchise. The service franchise in reality enfranchised the whole of the Scotch agricultural population. He was not stating this for the purpose of opposition; but he was stating a fact, and he did not know whether the people out-of-doors were generally aware of that fact. The Prime Minister had also entered into a strong defence of the peasantry of this country; but all that he had said in their favour amounted to a statement that they were free labourers. Now, it had never been contended that they were slaves, and he did not understand why the fact of the agricultural labourer not being in a state of slavery gave him, at the same 175 time, the right to exercise the franchise. The Prime Minister had cited the small boroughs of the country as a proof of the fitness of the agricultural labourer to exercise the franchise. Now, the Prime Minister had never represented a small borough. [An hon. MEMBER: Newark.] The Prime Minister had certainly sat for Newark, but it was hardly what could be called an agricultural borough; and, curiously enough, when the right, hon. Gentleman represented it he was a Conservative, so that that could not be taken into the account on the present occasion. He (Lord Randolph Churchill) had the honour to sit for a small borough, which was composed very largely of agricultural labourers; and as, since the Reform Bill of 1867, there had been three contested elections in that borough, his constituents had become more or less accustomed to decide political questions, and might be said to be trained to political life. But having had a considerable experience of agricultural labourers, excluding the agricultural labourers who were included in the borough of Woodstock, he could say, without fear of contradiction, that the agricultural labourer, as a general rule, was absolutely unfitted for the exercise of the franchise. The ordinary agricultural labourer outside the boroughs had no knowledge whatever of the elementary facts relating to political questions, and he cared even less about them. The questions which agitated the agricultural labourer were questions altogether of a petty nature, such as the disputes between themselves and their employers, and questions affecting their cottages, or things of that kind. He would defy the most eloquent or the most ingenious Radical Member opposite to go down to any of the agricultural counties and talk to the agricultural labourers upon political questions with the most remote prospect of arousing them to more enthusiasm than would be produced by reading to them a chapter from the Greek Testament. He said that with the utmost confidence, and he was sure that his experience of the agricultural labourer was much greater than that of hon. Gentlemen opposite, who lived entirely in towns. The Prime Minister talked about the importance of enfranchising the mining population of the country; but he (Lord Randolph 176 Churchill) had always held, and should continue to hold, that almost the entire mining population of the country could be enfranchised by a new Boundary Bill. He had always held that the mining population ought to be treated upon a totally different basis from the agricultural population; and if Her Majesty's Government wished to enfranchise them, they should confine their endeavours to the mining population, without going rashly into the agricultural districts. Then, again, the Prime Minister had stated to the House that this was the first complete Reform Bill that had ever been produced. [An hon. MEMBER: No; just the contrary.] He had taken down the words of the right hon. Gentleman at the time, and he had certainly said that this was a complete Bill. The right hon. Gentleman, having so spoken, proceeded to deprecate any Amendments that might be moved to the Bill, and then to point out, with sledge-hammer effect, what an imperfect Bill it was, using conclusive arguments to show—if he showed anything at all—that the measure was one which Her Majesty's Government ought to be asked to take back again, in order that it might be made as nearly perfect a measure as might be. Among the other things the right hon. Gentleman admitted, or rather broadly stated, was that the Bill did not attempt to deal with the subject of female suffrage. Now, he called upon the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War (the Marquess of Harrington) to declare at once his intention to repudiate such a Bill; because in a speech which the noble Marquess made at Accrington he had stated that the great fault of the Conservative Reform Bill of 1867 was that it did not include female suffrage.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
said, the speech to which the noble Lord referred was misreported. He had never mentioned the subject of women suffrage at all in that speech.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, he was inclined to think that the noble Marquess's memory was at fault.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
said, if the noble Lord would permit him, he would state what the misreport was. He had said that the Bill of the Conservative Government was deficient in the omission of certain classes whom it was desirable to enfranchise. The 177 mistake was that the word "whom" was transposed in the report of the speech into "women," and thus a precisely different significance was given to it from that which he intended.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, he could understand the word "whom" being transposed into "women;" but he could not understand how the most careless and stupid reporter in the world could transpose the word "whom" into "female;" and if the noble Marquess would refer to the report of his speech in The Times he would find that that was the word there given.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
said, he had looked at the report yesterday, and he found that the word "whom" had been transposed into the word "women."
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, he was surprised that the noble Marquess had not made this correction before. It was a very curious thing, because he (Lord Randolph Churchill), among others, had made comments upon the matter before in the country. Nevertheless, the noble Marquess had not deemed it necessary either to correct the inaccurate report or to refer to it in any way. It now suited the convenience of the noble Marquess to correct the report; and all he (Lord Randolph Churchill) could say was that he was sorry the noble Marquess should be liable to have his pronunciation of the word "whom" mistaken by the reporters for that of "women."
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
remarked, that this was the first time he had ever heard the distinct denial of a Member of the House called into question.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, he was quite ready to apologize to the noble Marquess for having misrepresented him; but he would implore the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary not to get excited before the proper and necessary time arrived. He (Lord Randolph Churchill) thought the advocates of proportional representation would have strong reason to complain of its omission from the Bill. The Prime Minister himself admitted that the measure was imperfect in that respect, and the right hon. Gentleman must be aware that there were in the House no less than 120 Members who were pledged to the 178 principle of proportional representation. They had banded themselves together to secure proportional representation, and the prospects of the Bill upon that matter might, therefore, be forecast. Then, again, the Prime Minister admitted that the measure did not deal with plurality of votes, or the representation of the Universities. Therefore, although the Prime Minister had declared the Bill to be perfect, he had himself shown that there were many subjects which it did not attempt to deal with. Then, having stated its defects, the right hon. Gentleman turned round to his supporters and implored them, for Heaven's sake, not to endanger the Bill, because it would give 2,000,000 more voters. "Do not," said the right hon. Gentleman, "move Amendments if you can help it. Do not make a remark if you can possibly contain yourselves, because the Bill gives you 2,000,000 more voters." Now, he (Lord Randolph Churchill) did not believe any Reform Bill had ever been introduced upon such a basis. If they were to accept the Bill because it would give the country 2,000,000 voters, why should they not go still further in the same direction, and accept the figure which was sketched out for them the other day at Wolverhampton by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain), which would add 6,000,000 voters? Surely, if they were to accept the Bill because it added 2,000,000 voters, there was no reason why they should not accept more readily one which would add 6,000,000. It seemed to him that the Government had no longer any care to preserve the variety of representation, or the representation of different classes. They had no longer any care that classes and interests should be represented in the House of Commons, as they had been from olden times. They cared nothing for the old traditions of Parliamentary life, which had distinguished the House of Commons above everything else from all other Representative Assemblies in the world. All they cared for was mere numbers. They proposed to add 2,000,000 voters, and therefore the House must take the Bill. For his own part, he ventured to say that there were other subjects of much greater importance which the Government had better have dealt with before they turned their 179 attention to the subject of Parliamentary Reform. He should have preferred to have seen them deal with the finances of the country in a bonâ fide way, instead of putting up Radical Members to propose insincere Resolutions in regard to the Public Expenditure. Why not devote the Session to a revision of the preponderating weight of taxation which now pressed so unfairly upon the working classes? Or why not have taken some steps to inquire into the cause of the present depression of trade? Considering the remarkable meeting which had been held at Manchester the other day, and the number of labourers who were out of employment, together with the general misery which existed in our large towns, as established by the articles, either written or dictated by the President of the Board of Trade, which had appeared in the public journals, and considering the falling-off in our manufactures, he did not think that an inquiry into the state of trade would have been in any way of inferior importance to this unnecessary attempt to reform Parliamentary representation. He should also have liked to see an inquiry instituted into the state of Agriculture, and also into the question of Local Government and Local Taxation. Why had inquiry into those subjects been postponed? They were subjects which he thought the country would far sooner have dealt with than the question of Parliamentary Reform. The omission from the Bill of the question of redistribution would place great difficulties in the path of the Government, and the moment the glamour thrown over the Bill by the Prime Minister's speech was worn off, the people of the country would begin to see that the omission of all reference to this question was a fatal blot in the measure. The Prime Minister had stated his own opinions upon the subject; but he had been careful to say that they were not the opinions of his Colleagues. ["No!"] At any rate, he understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that he would not pledge his Colleagues to them. Hon. Members opposite, however, seemed to he in a very captious frame of mind. He (Lord Randolph Churchill) did not regard the Prime Minister's statement of his opinions as if it were entitled to exercise much weight upon the House of Commons, except as far as those 180 opinions were useful as a guide to the opinions which the right hon. Gentleman would not hold next year. The Prime Minister had pronounced in favour of maintaining the distinction between town and country, so that they might confidently look forward, if Parliament lasted until next year, to the absolute absorption of the country in the towns. The right hon. Gentleman had pronounced against equal electoral districts, so that they might, with equal confidence, look forward to the early establishment of that principle—that was to say, if they were to judge from the past professions of the right hon. Gentleman and the uniformity with which he opposed them afterwards. The Prime Minister said that a Conservative organ had stated that it would be madness to include in the Bill the question of the franchise as it affected Ireland. Now, what was the Conservative organ that stated that? What was the Conservative organ? That Conservative organ was no other than the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War, who had lost no opportunity of impressing upon the people that any attempt to place England and Ireland on a footing of equality with regard to civil rights would be madness. It was the expression of the noble Marquess that was guiding hon. Members on that side of the House in the matter; and if the rumour had any foundation in it, there was a time during the winter when the noble Marquess entertained great doubts whether the Bill ought to be extended to Ireland. When his right hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Gibson) talked about the Prime Minister being worshipped by the Cabinet, there was great cheering on the Treasury Bench, and nobody cheered louder or more lustily than the Home Secretary. He wanted to know when the worship of the Prime Minister by the Home Secretary began? He doubted whether there was much adoration of the Prime Minister by the right hon. and learned Gentleman during the last Parliament, or whether there was much adoration of him by the Secretary of State for War when the noble Marquess was forced by the Prime Minister to abandon his own opinions as to extending the franchise to Ireland, and was compelled to take the view of the Prime Minister. With regard to those who talked about perfect equality between England and Ireland, 181 he would remind them of the Coercion Acts. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler), who was now in such a gushing frame of mind with regard to Ireland, never gave a vote, or made a speech, against the Coercion Acts.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, he accepted the hon. Member's statement; but, at any rate, the opposition of the hon. Gentleman to those Acts was the least conspicuous opposition that could be imagined. If the Government would repeal the Coercion Acts; if they came to Parliament and told the House they were able to allow freedom of public speaking in Ireland, and that in future it would not be necessary to send the police to the Land League meetings in order to take down the words which the speakers used; if it were not hereafter found necessary to send the military to keep the peace between the conflicting parties; if it could be said that Ireland was in the same state of tranquillity as England, they might then talk of political equality between the two countries. He did not believe that the Bill would pass the House of Commons. Her Majesty's Government had deliberately put off this question of Reform until they were no longer in a condition to deal with it. He did not believe, for his own part, in Reform being dealt with by a discredited and exhausted Ministry. The Government had other matters to engage their attention; the country was thinking of their foreign engagements and their foreign policy. Perhaps to-morrow it would be thinking of the revelations which the Home Secretary had made that night; and, for his own part, he thought the right hon. and learned Gentleman would be better employed in putting in force the powers conferred upon him in the last hours of last Session for putting a stop to dynamite explosions, and in directing more attention to the legitimate business of his Department, than in trying to force through the House a Reform Bill for which there was no popular demand. He believed the people of this country valued peace and honour abroad a great deal more than they did Reform; they valued the security of life and property at home 182 more than the mere right of voting; and he would prophecy that the day would never come when the Speaker would put the Question—"That this Bill be read the third time."
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Blennerhassett.)
I shall greatly regret to see this debate adjourned. On the seven last occasions when Reform Bills have been introduced into this House there has only been one on which the debate upon the introduction of the Bill exceeded a single evening—only one out of seven. The state of Business is very crowded, and three weeks were spent before we got the Report of the Address. Gentlemen are extremely anxious to go forward to other questions, and to reach the time when we may be able to deal with Local Government and other subjects mentioned in the Speech from the Throne. This is a Bill which, in substance, does not involve novel principles, but which carries into effect substantially in the counties what was done by the Party opposite, or, at all events, with their authority, in the towns. Under these circumstances, I should hope the House would be willing to allow the Bill to be introduced, and to fix a day for the second reading, when, no doubt, the measure will be fully discussed.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I observe that the Motion for the adjournment of the debate comes from the other side of the House; but I am bound to say that there are a considerable number of my Friends who are anxious for an adjournment, and who desire to address the House as early as possible. Upon the proposal of Her Majesty's Government, I must say that, considering the magnitude of the questions which are involved in the introduction of the Bill, and the questions that are to be discussed which are not the details of the Bill so much as the omissions from it, render it very reasonable, before the Bill is introduced, that there should be a further opportunity of sifting and examining the Ministerial position. I hope, therefore, there will be no objection made to the adjournment of the debate. I may remind the right hon. Gentleman that when the Reform Bill of 1866 was introduced—I think on the 13th of March; I 183 believe it was as late as that—it was debated for two nights. But, having regard to what I may call the novelty of this measure, in respect of what it omits and what it provides—I do not say it is a great measure; but it certainly is a big measure—considering all these matters, I do not think we make any unreasonable request when we ask that the debate should be adjourned for one more night.
I am very unwilling to seem exacting; but as the right hon. Gentleman states that another night is required, with great reluctance, and with great regret, I shall consent.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till Monday next.