§ Order for Third Reading read.
I rise, Sir, to move the third reading of this Bill, and, in so doing, I shall make a very short explanatory statement. The House is aware that many ominous declarations have been made or indications given as to the future fate of this Bill both in the House and outside of the House, sometimes by persons of great importance. I have refrained advisedly, and so have my Colleagues, I believe without exception, from referring to those declarations and indications. Our opinion is that with regard to quarrels and collisions, if they are to arise, the proper rules applicable to the case are contained 1433 in those few and well-known words of Shakespeare—BewareOf entrance to a quarrel; but, being in,Bear't, that th' opposed may beware of thee.I should have wished, Sir, to preserve this silence to the end; but some declarations made in this House have been so explicit that I do not feel authorized so to preserve it. One of those declarations was from an hon. Member, who said that he would not affect to deny that great dangers overhung this Bill; and he evidently spoke on the basis of something more than a mere private opinion, as, indeed, he was entitled so to speak. Another right hon. Gentleman said in the last few days that no practical man believed that this Bill had the ghost of a chance. These are declarations which it is not possible for me wholly to pass by. I shall not regard these statements as declarations founded upon a sound estimate of the facts. I think that they impute to the wisdom of another branch of the Legislature probable conduct such as it is not, in my opinion, honourable to that House to impute. ["Oh, oh!"] That is my opinion. I have no doubt that the noble Lord opposite (Lord John Manners) thinks, on the other hand, that that which the Opposition has not been able to attain in this House ought to be attained by the sheer force of a majority elsewhere, nor do I for a moment complain of his entertaining that opinion; but I am only saying I do not attach weight to these declarations, while I admit them to be made and to call for some notice on my part. As I understand, the plea on which it is urged that we may expect this Bill to be dealt with in such a manner as to put an end to its existence is that it is an incomplete Bill. Upon the subject of the severance of redistribution from the franchise I wish only to say these few and very brief words. A complete Bill has never been presented to Parliament upon any occasion; it has always been incomplete, either with respect to the severance of enfranchisement from redistribution— and many Franchise Bills have been presented without redistribution—or in the sense of dealing only with one of the three countries. Now, Sir, if we had proceeded on this occasion by excluding from our Bill the cases of Scotland and Ireland, I ask what sort of aspect would 1434 such a measure have been deemed to wear, and truly would have worn, in the face of the people of the Sister Isle? It would have been deemed, I am afraid, to bear the character not only of an intention to exclude Ireland from the benefits of such a measure, but of a fraudulent concealment of the solemn reasons for that exclusion. It appeared to us absolutely essential that the three countries should be dealt with as one. With regard to the Franchise Bill itself, and with regard to the charge of Gentlemen opposite that we ought to have united redistribution with it, how do we stand? It will. I think, be admitted alike by foes and friends that we have sacrificed everything we could for the purpose of putting this Bill forward; we have allowed nothing, so far as our choice and discretion went, to interfere with it, and yet here we are with a simple Franchise Bill approaching the final period of the measure upon the 26th of June. I ask, what would have been our condition if, together with a Franchise Bill, admitted to be comparatively simple, so far as we can understand from the case of 1832—I say, if we can only bring a Franchise Bill of the simplest character to its final issue in this House on the 26th of June, what would have happened to this measure if it had included the whole of the difficult and complex matters connected with the subject of redistribution. I am bound to say that in urging this plea I do not stand alone upon my own authority. Only a few days ago a conversation took place in this House with respect to what is to happen next year when we bring in a Redistribution Bill, to which we are pledged, as far as Parliamentary pledges can be given. ["Oh, oh!"] Someone sneers at that. What I mean is this—that it is absolutely impossible, amidst the contingencies of human affairs, to say what sudden, urgent questions of emergency may arise. But these contingencies are extremely rare, and the House has a right to know our intentions with regard to redistribution. That assurance from us was accepted by the House, and the result of it was embodied in the clause of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler), which fixed the date for the commencement of the operation of the Bill, in accordance with assurances we have given that we pro- 1435 pose to deal with redistribution during the next Session. And I think, when an assurance of that kind is given, it amounts to a covenant between the Government and the House. But, Sir, when, notwithstanding that contingency was taken into view, and when the topics under discussion happened to lead to the question of the time a Redistribution Bill would take, one Gentleman, extremely well acquainted with Parliamentary procedure, treated with ridicule the idea that the Redistribution Bill should receive the Royal Assent by the 31st of July; and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith) spoke in less detail, but substantially and exactly in the same sense. Now, I want to know, is it possible for the Government to have a more complete and conclusive vindication of the course they have taken in separating the franchise from redistribution than this—that with the simplest Franchise Bill ever submitted to Parliament we have reached the 26th of June before corning to the third reading; and when redistribution only is spoken of on the opposite side of the House, the proposition is treated with ridicule that the Redistribution Bill should receive the Royal Assent by the end of July. I repeat, as the occasion seems to require it, that for us to have united redistribution and the franchise in the same measure would have been a fraud upon the House and the country; because we not only thought—we knew from our Parliamentary experience that in the present state of Business in the House, and with the habits of discussion and of treatment of Business which now prevail—it would be an impossibility, and we might as well spare ourselves the trouble of having such a Bill introduced. So much for redistribution. With respect to the threats held out, I wish principally to point out that we have acted suitably to those words of Shakespeare —"Beware of entrance to a quarrel." If there was anything suggested to us not incompatible with the objects we had in view, we did not refuse it, for the sake of avoiding such a quarrel, which I should regard as a calamity grievous to the country, bringing into question the Parliamentary institutions under which we have lived so long—a conflict, the results of which, if there are in the country men of revolutionary opinions, 1436 might have been acceptable to such men, but which it was our solemn duty to use every reasonable means to avoid. For that reason, as I contend—I am afraid I shall shock the right hon, Gentleman whose head, I think, I already see expressing dissent—every question that came up, in what we thought the spirit most likely to mitigate resistance, and to obviate a conflict between the Houses of the Legislature. It is true, as I have said, that no word of acknowledgment of this has been uttered; but, on the other hand, we have been told that this is a Bill to insure the permanent existence of a Liberal Government. Is that an equitable or a liberal mode of looking at public questions? Is it a rational mode? Whom are we asking Parliament to enfranchise? Why, Sir, taking England and Scotland—I will not speak of Ireland, because the case is separate—the largest enfranchisement about to be made, as we think, and as you must admit, is the enfranchisement of the agricultural labourers. Is that a proceeding taken by the Government which has in view nothing but the perpetuation of its own Ministerial power? Is there any class in the country which is so liable to influence from above—I do not mean illegitimate influences, but call them, if you like, legitimate and genial influences—is there any class so liable to this influence as the agricultural labourers of this country? Why, Sir, nothing but the greatest misconduct of those over them ever could separate the agricultural labourers from the farmers, the landlords, and the clergy; and yet the Bill which we are bringing in, and which seeks to enfranchise this great mass of men immediately associated with the farmers, landlords, and clergymen, who are the bases of the Conservative power of this country, does not for one moment shield us from the charge of the Opposition that we are seeking to enfranchise those who are, more than any other, our political opponents, for the purpose of perpetuating our own power. Sir, I humbly and respectfully say that that is not a rational argument. Then, what are we to say as to the service franchise? Does that look very like the action of a Government seeking to perpetuate its own power? Are the gamekeepers, the gardeners, the coachmen, who are chiefly, certainly very much under influence, not illegitimate, but, 1437 perhaps, legitimate—are those generally persons who are in the service of Liberals, or are they not, in the enormous majority of cases, in the service of our opponents? This was not forced upon us. We introduced it into the Bill of our own accord, and yet, when we have seized every opportunity of disarming irrational as well as illiberal opposition, we have entirely failed in our object. But, Sir, it has been taken note of in the country. The facts cannot be altered that where-ever we had a question to consider in which, upon the one hand, it would have been open to us with the certain support of the great mass of Liberal opinion to have taken a more advanced course, or where we had reasonable hope of avoiding serious collisions by taking a course of great moderation, we have determined upon taking the moderate course, and we have run the risk of offending for the moment, or at all events of raising questions in the minds of many of our most generous supporters; but we have done it all through, as, for instance, in the introduction of the service franchise and in the preservation, without any limitation except the provision against the illegitimate creation of property votes, of the mass of property votes which already exist. And so, when it was suggested to us, partly on practical grounds, by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, and partly on political grounds, that the introduction of a date for the commencement of the Bill would mitigate its character, and might tend to draw towards us the more moderate of its opponents, we threw no difficulty in the way. We were willing there, again, at the risk of being misunderstood by some of our most ardent and sincere supporters, for the sake of attaining that object which I have described— namely, that we would beware of entrance to a quarrel. I think we have given sufficient evidence of our desire to avoid a quarrel. I am bound to say that I hold the question of this evidence to be matter of the greatest importance, because even the remote probability of a conflict between the two Houses upon such a question as this I take to be the most serious prospect that has been opened during my recollection since the crisis of the Corn Laws was opened to the view of Parliament. I will not undertake to put a limit to the mischiefs and the difficulties which might result. 1438 Most grave I am confident—too painfully confident—they will be. But what the ultimate issue of it will be I have not a doubt. That the duty of preventing it by every reasonable means was the most sacred duty incumbent upon us on this occasion, next to the great business of enfranchising a vast mass of the population, I do not doubt; and the second duty, as well as the first of our obligations, which we have carefully and strenuously endeavoured to fulfil. I beg to move the third reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Mr. Gladstone.)
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE and Lord RANDOLPH CHURCHILL rose together, but there being cries for the former the latter gave way.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I was anxious to follow the right hon. Gentleman after the speech—the extraordinary speech—he has just made. That speech was not a speech upon the merits or the demerits of the Franchise Bill, which we are now asked to read a third time—it was a speech upon the question whether the House of Lords is any longer to form a part of the Legislature of this country. It was a speech upon the question whether the House of Lords is to be at liberty to examine, and to vote upon, and to take any part in the legislation which affects the Constitution of the country, or whether the House of Lords is bound, at the will of a majority of the House of Commons, or something even worse than that, at the will of an imperious Minister, to listen to threats, and, affected by those threats, to refuse to do the duty which lies upon them. I submit that it is not for us to discuss here what course the House of Lords may think it right to take upon any measure which comes up from the House of Commons, and has to be examined by that Assembly; but when the right hon. Gentleman comes forward, and in a most theatrical manner makes a declaration, the meaning of which it is impossible to misunderstand, he is raising an issue which the country must take care to notice, perhaps in a manner different from that which he expects. We have had great reason to question the wisdom and the propriety of the course which the Government have adopted in the matter of 1439 this Franchise Bill. We have had still greater reason to distrust a measure which has been brought forward, as this has been, as an obviously and confessedly incomplete part of a most important measure. I have from time to time had occasion to ask why we should be expected to pass a Bill for the extension of the franchise without dealing with the question of redistribution; and the answers which I have received, the arguments which have been raised, and the indications which have been given, have convinced me that a much larger question is at issue than the mere question whether it is convenient to take these measures together or separately. It has convinced me that we have never been informed, not only of the minute details of the plan of the Government, but of the real meaning and object of the great Constitutional change we have been invited to undertake. We have never been told what is the point at which the Government are driving. If it is the mere extending of the franchise to a large number of persons, oven to so many as 2,000,000 of persons, that is a very large question in itself; but that is by no means the whole question before us. We have to consider what is the intention of the Government; is it intended to displace and altogether dislocate the division of power in this country; and, if so, how, and upon what principle, and with what object is that dislocation intended? Upon this point we have never had any information whatever—I mean any authoritative information—given in this House, either in connection with or in support of this Bill. We have had information out-of-doors, Sir, and of a kind sufficiently alarming. I need not dwell now upon the declarations which we were in the habit of referring to some weeks ago, which plainly told us that this measure was merely the prelude to more important and serious changes in the reorganization and the reconstitution of our electoral system, pointing, as we were told, to manhood suffrage, equal electoral districts, and the payment of Members of this House. All these things were kept dangling before the eyes of the multitude, and before audiences who were pleased to listen to them, and from time time to time they have cropped up in this House; but they were not brought prominently before us. 1440 What we have always said was that it was our duty to our country to inquire what the plan and what the scheme of the Government was, that we might judge of it as a whole before we could pronounce an opinion upon it. What we said when this measure was first brought forward, and when my noble Friend (Lord John Manners) moved an Amendment upon the second reading, was—"We do not ask you to put into one measure the whole of your redistribution scheme— that may or may not be a convenient method of proceeding; but we ask you to disclose your scheme, and to disclose it in such a form that we may have your whole scheme before us." Well, I say we have never had that put before us, and we have never known what is to be done. What we have every reason to fear is that an enormous addition is to be made to the constituencies, that no rearrangement is to be relied upon to be made as to the allocation of the power so introduced into the Constitution, but that those 2,000,000 of capable voters, whoever they may be—and we cannot distinguish the case of Ireland, as the right hon. Gentleman seems to wish to do, from the case of Scotland—are to be turned loose upon your electoral system, and are to have a large voice in the management and the manipulation of that most difficult and troublesome question—the rearrangement of the electoral system. I know that we are told that the Government hope to bring a measure forward during the existence of the present Parliament; but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not take it as a personal reflection upon himself or his Colleagues if we say that we attach only a moderate value to that promise. We do not doubt that they intend to do it; but the right hon. Gentleman knows —and he has indicated it in his speech just now—as well as we do, that that is a matter over which he and his Colleagues can have no such absolute certainty as to insure us from the consequences of a failure of that intention. What position are we to be in if we pledge ourselves and the country to this measure of the extension of the franchise? Now, Sir, I say that the House of Lords is peculiarly bound to look into questions of this sort, and to demand that a case should be made out in favour of the proposed change. I do not presume to anticipate what the opinions of the House 1441 of Lords in reference to this Bill may be; but I do not think that they should be regarded as setting themselves against either the feelings of the people or against the feelings of this House if they demanded that fuller explanations should be given, that more time should be taken for consideration, and that a more perfect scheme should be presented to them to form their judgment upon. I say that those who deny that right to the House of Lords are striking a blow at the Constitution of the country of which I do not believe the people of the country will approve. There is a sort of cool assumption on the part of hon. Members opposite, or of some of their supporters out-of-doors, that in this matter the majority of the House of Commons are speaking in the name and on behalf of the whole of the people of England. I utterly deny that they have any right to assume that position. Where is the evidence on which it is based? When we ask where is the evidence that the people of this country desire such a measure, we always meet with the taunt—"Oh, you will not be satisfied with anything until you see the people coming in a crowd to pull down the Park railings." That is not at all the view which we take. We say, where is the evidence that they desire it? Where are the Petitions in its favour? Has anybody taken the trouble to look at the Petitions? He will see that they are but few. They are not nearly so many as the Petitions presented in favour of female suffrage. If anyone looks into the statistics relating to the female suffrage question, he will find that when you talk about a mandate from the people, there is quite as much a mandate in that case as in this. How is it you are to find out what public opinion is with regard to this Bill if it is not by your elections? This measure, we are told, is a measure dealing with the county franchise. It so happens that since it was introduced we have had five county elections. The first election was for South Lincolnshire, which has a population of 122,000 and 11,000 voters. There was no contest. That does not seem to imply any great interest or keenness for this enfranchisement. In West Somerset the population is 116,000 and the number of voters 9,000, and the majority was 762. In Cambridgeshire the majority was 903. In South Hants, 1442 where the election took place when our discussions were far advanced, the majority was 1,437, and in Mid Surrey the majority was 2,796. There is, therefore, a total population of 817,000, with 66,000 voters, in five constituencies, in each of which the Conservative candidate was carried by a large majority. This is a question of evidence; and I venture to say that whatever class of evidence you give you will find very much the same result—that is to say, that the people are perfectly prepared to examine and discuss the question, and desire to see an extension of the suffrage, but have not bound themselves to follow your plans, though they are perfectly content, and naturally desire that those plans should be fairly discussed, fairly examined, and thoroughly understood before they are brought into operation. I must say that on one occasion the right hon. Gentleman gave some very excellent opinions of his own as to the principles on which redistribution should proceed. But he has given us no assurance whatever that the redistribution will be conducted upon what I may call Constitutional principles. There were very ominous words which fell from the right hon. Gentleman, even in his opening speech—namely, where he spoke as to the great strength which was imparted to the Constitution by the mere admission of large numbers. So far as we can see, the principle of numbers is the only principle upon which this Bill is founded. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman went so far, in speaking of the great strength of numbers, as to import a curious illustration from America, in which he said that the Government of America and the American people would never have got through their great struggle had it not been for the enormous basis upon which their Constitution rested—that is to say, he pointed to universal suffrage, or something like it, as the goal to which his aspirations were directed. Whatever may be the opinions of the right hon. Gentleman, we have no kind of security as to the conduct which his Colleagues will pursue when we come to the redistribution question next year. What will then be the value of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman at the time he introduced the Bill? He gave us then an interesting account as to the principles on which redistribution should be carried out. He told us a great many 1443 things extremely interesting, with which, in the abstract we were prepared to agree. What will be the value of that next year? How far will his Colleagues have advanced by that time? What will be the state of mind of the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War? Will he advance as rapidly as he has done in recent years? A few years ago, when the noble Lord was in Opposition, he told us on the Bill brought forward by the present Chief Secretary that it was a fatal fault in it that it separated redistribution from extension of the franchise. He has entirely got over that now, and over a good many other stages too, which I only refer to as showing that the mind of the noble Lord is a very open mind. Then, we are promised a redistribution scheme. That is, I confess, cold comfort, until we get some idea of what that redistribution scheme is to be. My confidence in a good redistribution scheme is very much shaken by all I have seen and observed. Sir, the right hon. Gentleman has made a reference to the clause inserted upon the Motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler), and spoken of that clause as if it were a great concession. If that is the right hon. Gentleman's idea of concession, I am afraid that we have very little to expect. The right hon. Gentleman has assented to a clause which, I believe, gives us nothing whatever, but which may do a great deal of harm by deluding people into the belief that it does some good. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton has simply put in a clause that which, even without the clause, would be almost absolutely certain—namely, that the Bill shall not come into operation until the 1st of January, 1885. I do not attach the smallest value to that. Those who take any comfort to themselves from that have deluded themselves with vain hopes. I do not, Sir, desire to occupy the time of the House, or that time should be occupied on this last stage of the Bill, when it is about to pass from us, by lengthened speeches; nor do I mean to challenge any Division on the subject. There is no question whatever that we are powerless in the hands of Ministers in regard to any influence that we can bring to bear upon them. I repeat that if the threats of the right hon. Gentleman against the House of Lords are to be held as representing the opinions of 1444 his Colleagues, or the opinions of the independent Party in this House, it is the most serious declaration I ever heard —the most serious declaration that a Minister of the Crown ever made, or that, I venture to say, this House ever heard. I can only hope that the right hon. Gentleman will in course of time learn a little more wisdom, a little more discretion, and a little more respect for the principles of the Constitution.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
Sir, I hope I shall be allowed a very few sentences upon the final stage of this Bill in this House before it passes to that stormy tide which seems to await it in "another place." I have felt it my duty to oppose this Bill at every preceding stage. I have opposed it, not on the ground of its being inopportune at this particular moment, not solely on the ground of its being an incomplete measure; but I have opposed it frankly because I was against what appeared to me to be the vital principle of the Bill —the extension of the franchise to 2,000,000 of voters. But I must frankly acknowledge that I have not seen any political forces, inside or outside the House, which associated themselves with that opposition. We are now at the third reading of the Bill. The Leader of the Opposition has spoken upon it, and not by a single word has he opposed, in the name of his Party, the vital principle which underlies the Bill. The Conservatives in this House, as a Party—I think they will acknowledge it themselves—have not opposed the principle of the extension of household suffrage to the counties. Here and there, there may have been an isolated voice which has made an individual protest; but the Conservative Party in this House have not opposed the principle of this measure. Most of the Conservative Leaders who have spoken outside the House have taken a similar course, and they have attempted to make it plain that any opposition they might offer was to this particular measure, and that it must not be understood that it was due to any reluctance to the extension of household suffrage to the counties. The Leader of the Opposition has spoken to-day of certain elections which have taken place, and he called that evidence of the reluctance of the counties —or of a certain indifference, I ought rather to say—on the part of the coun- 1445 ties, about the extension of the borough franchise to them. I have been associated, more or less, with hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite in opposing this Bill; and I may claim, therefore, to be an impartial witness when I say that I cannot find any evidence of indifference to the Bill on the part of the unenfranchised classes in the fact that the enfranchised class in the counties do not support a measure which may make them divide that franchise with the unenfranchised. But there is a more serious point. Is it not the fact that the Conservative Members who have fought these counties have expressed themselves in the most guarded language as to any opposition they might be thought to entertain to the principle of this measure? I have spoken of Conservatives inside and outside the House; and I, think I may honestly say that my views on this question have not been shared by either the one or the other. This leads me to the conclusion that the country now looks upon the principle of the extension of household suffrage as being accepted, passed, and ratified beyond recall; and I am of opinion that whatever fate may befall this particular measure, or whatever fate may befall the present Government, the country would insist on any Government that came into Office submitting proposals embodying that which is the vital principle of this Bill. We must therefore acknowledge that, subject to questions of time and circumstance, such hopes have been held out that the unenfranchised in the counties almost look upon it as though they have now a clear right to have the suffrage extended to them. In these circumstances, I must confess that, in my opinion, the time for further opposition to the extension of the suffrage has passed, and I have made my last speech against the principle involved in this Bill. Henceforth my duty as a humble Member of this House will be to look to the question of redistribution, and to attempt to co-operate with all the efforts that may be made to render it sure that there shall be a fair and equitable distribution of political power between all the component parts of the country and between the electors, old and new.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, he thought that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who had just gat down, interesting 1446 and important as it was, sank into insignificance in comparison with the speech which had been delivered by the Prime Minister. He did not believe that no such minatory speech as that made by the Prime Minister that evening had ever been delivered to the House of Commons by a responsible Minister of the Crown. He thought that the Prime Minister must have come to the conclusion that that was the last opportunity he would have of addressing the House on that measure. If it were not so, he was sure that the right hon. Gentleman would have deferred till a future occasion those vain threats to the House of Lords. What were the grounds on which the Prime Minister warned, in tragedy accents, the House of Lords not to meddle with this measure? He said that if by any chance the House of Lords threw it out, the result would be a political crisis which might end in the modification of the Constitution of this country. If the House of Lords were henceforth to be considered a Body incapable of modifying or rejecting a measure of that kind, he would assert that the time for that modification of the Constitution had already arrived; and he, for one, would not lift a finger to protect an Assembly that did not dare, when it thought right, to challenge an appeal to the country. The Prime Minister had described that as a conflict, as far as there was to be a conflict, between the two Houses of Parliament. If a conflict was to take-place at all, it would be one between the two Houses, and not one between the House of Lords and the country. If hon. Gentlemen opposite thought that in that matter they had the opinion of the country behind them, the remedy was in their own hands; all that they had to do was to advise the Crown to dissolve Parliament. [An hon. MEMBER: At the bidding of the House of Lords!]—and it would then be seen who was in the right—the Leader of the Opposition, when he appealed to the evidence of the recent elections, or the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who said he was quite certain that he had the country on his side. The Prime Minister said that the Government could not bring in a Bill dealing with redistribution at the same time as they dealt with the franchise, because such a Bill would be of such magnitude that they would have had to exclude Scotland and Ireland 1447 from its purview. ["No!"] That was the substance of the right hon. Gentleman's observation; and if they excluded Ireland, the right hon. Gentleman said they would have been supposed to have been engaged in a fraudulent concealment to the people of that country. That meant that the Government would not have been believed if they had said they intended to pass a Bill for Ireland next year. But if they would not have been believed in that case, why were they to be believed now, when they said they would bring in a Redistribution Bill next year? He took their own estimate of their own veracity, and asked what value was to be given to their assurance? That Bill originated at the Conference at Leeds. The Leeds Conference gave its orders to the Cabinet, the Cabinet gave its orders to the House of Commons, and now the House of Commons wanted to give its orders to the House of Lords. The first two stages of that process had been successful. He earnestly hoped that the third and last stage would not be successful. Personally, he was strongly in favour of that question being dealt with; but if it was to be dealt with successfully they must approach it in a very different spirit from that which had been hitherto exhibited; they must approach it with an anxious desire to preserve the balance of the Constitution; they must not attempt, as they had done, to work that great measure, not in the spirit of statesmen, but in the spirit of electioneering agents.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
observed that the right hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen) had used one expression which, coupled with what had fallen from the Prime Minister, was very significant. The right hon. Gentleman said that the householders of this country must now consider that they had acquired a right. That involved a great change—a revolution, as the Prime Minister had declared, greater than any that had occurred since 1688. Heretofore, in this country, the franchise had never been considered as a right, but always as a trust—a power in the hands of the voter to be exercised for the benefit of others besides himself. He (Mr. Newdegate) looked upon this measure as one which the House of Lords would be perfectly justified in referring to the country, if it were only for this reason—that he felt that one certain consequence of the pass- 1448 ing of that Bill with its complement for redistribution must be, that the House of Lords itself must be so reformed as to be virtually replaced by a Body with power enough and determination enough to insure to the country that no such revolutionary change as that now proposed should be adopted by Parliament without having been referred to the constituencies themselves. If the House of Lords passed that measure, such as it promised to be he said, as a humble but sincere Constitutional Member of the House, that to his mind they would create a necessity for some Body like the Senate of the United States, which should be able to stand between the country and the dictation of a single Chamber, or the arbitrary will of a too-powerful Minister. Freedom was not secured by mere deference to popular impulse, or by merely giving immediate legislative effect to popular impulse, but by securing the reference of every proposal for great Constitutional change, affecting the distribution of power among the different classes in the country, for the mature deliberation of the people themselves. He should never consider this Bill, if passed, valid until it had received the sanction of the people.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
thought that if ever there was a speech less calculated than another to obtain the end which it seemed to have in view, it was the speech which the Prime Minister had delivered that evening. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to forget that Englishmen throughout this country liked fair play, and disliked, above all things, to be dictated to by anyone. The Prime Minister had endeavoured to dictate to the House of Lords; but he (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) was persuaded that dictation would have no effect upon their Lordships. The Prime Minister had vitally changed his mind on this very question since 1866, when he said, on the subject of redistribution in reference to Lord John Russell's Reform Bill, that there was nothing more base or contemptible than the conduct of a Government which silently excluded from the scope of their measure the redistribution of seats, which was only second in importance to the franchise itself. He hoped the House of Lords would take note of that expression of opinion. He ventured to say that the Upper House would deal with this question in a states- 1449 manlike way. The Prime Minister had chosen to override the House of Lords in the matter of purchase in the Army, and now he came down and said that if the House of Lords did not pass this Bill, there would be a quarrel between the two Houses such as had never taken place before. He believed that, looking at the present condition of affairs, the House of Lords would be able to take their decision freely, and they would do that which they believed to be best in the interest of the country. In his opinion, it would be to the interest of the country that they should go to the country to see whether the people were so anxious for Reform as they were represented to be. He doubted very much whether the country would wish in the present state of Irish and Egyptian affairs to retain at the head of affairs the present Prime Minister.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, that the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour) had asked why the Prime Minister had thought right to use words of warning to the House of Lords. The circumstances under which they were placed were very peculiar. Never had a Government been placed in such a position as that in which those who had charge of this Bill had been put by those who opposed it. The words of the right hon. Gentleman were fair words of advice, and the circumstances were that a responsible Member of the Opposition had thought it right to inform them that the Bill was to be put to death. Where was it to be put to death? Not in that House. There was no disguise on the subject. It was the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. E. Stanhope) who stated that every Member of that House knew that the Bill had no chance of passing into law. From what source was this danger to come if not from the House of Lords? What was to be inferred but that some arrangement had been come to that the Bill should not pass the other House? The noble Lord who led the Opposition in the other House had not waited for the Bill to say that the House of Lords had a right to examine this Bill. The noble Lord had thought it right, in a campaign which he had undertaken on behalf of his Party, to address persons outside the House of Lords, and to give reasons why the House of Lords should throw out a Bill, 1450 the merits of which he could not know. If, then, the House of Lords had felt it to be their duty thus to announce their intention beforehand, was not someone in a responsible position in his right to warn them, and to ask them to pause before they took that step; to warn them of the consequences that might follow? He protested against it being said that the words of the Prime Minister constituted a threat. There had been no threat. ["Oh, oh!"] Well, that would be a matter of opinion. Others must judge besides hon. Members who exclaimed so loudly. Words of advice had been fairly given to those who expressed their own opinions freely enough. The recent elections had been referred to; but it must be remembered that all the candidates had expressed themselves in favour of the Bill. They had stated that they were supporters of the principles of the Bill, and were willing to give it their support. They knew that there were responsible Conservatives at Birmingham, under influential patronage, who had decided that opposition to this measure should never be mentioned. The feeling of the country was known. And what was the state of the Benches opposite? Very meagre. If the feeling of the country was opposed to the Bill, ought not that feeling to be expressed by the Conservative Members of the House who were in a position of responsibility, and ought they to shrink from division? They preferred at that hour (8 o'clock) to be engaged in a more pleasant occupation than in defending the country and the Constitution in the hour of danger.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, he would defy the Attorney General to produce any words of a responsible Leader of the Conservative Party in the House of Lords in which he said that he would pledge the House of Lords to pursue a certain course with respect to this Bill. The noble Lord had said that it was impossible to judge the exact course which the House of Lords would pursue until they had seen the Bill; the attempt, however, to separate the two questions of franchise and redistribution would justify the House of Lords in throwing out the Bill. He ventured to assert that the House of Lords would be justified in throwing out the Bill on account of its action with regard to Ireland under the present state of affairs. He asked 1451 the House to look at the present condition of Ireland, and to say whether, when that country was subject to the Coercion Act as a necessary instrument to preserve anything like good order, and life, and property, this was the time when they should play the game of those who were the opponents of law and order. The right hon. Gentleman had claimed for this Bill that it was an incomplete measure, and he had challenged them to point out a Reform Bill that was complete when first introduced. No doubt, other Reform Bills had been incomplete in regard to registration, boundaries, and other matters; but he maintained there never had been such an incomplete measure as this. It was not only incomplete in itself; but it was incomplete in regard to the explanations by which it was accompanied. A great deal had been said with reference to the extraordinary generosity of the Government in meeting the views of those who sat on his own side of the House, as well as the House generally, by accepting the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler). It seemed to him, however, that it was idle to suggest, with the Bill before the House at this late date of the Session, that the normal and natural result of passing the Bill at this period of the Session would have been the same without that Amendment as with it. The Attorney General had referred to recent elections as an indication that the constituencies were in favour of the Bill. He had been present at a meeting of the constituents of the hon. Member just returned for South Hants; and although that hon. Member had said that he was in favour in the abstract of the extension of the franchise, he would oppose any plan which totally omitted redistribution as a part of the Bill. Was he justified in calling that supporting this particular Bill? After all, it was impossible for any one, however strongly he might support the Bill, not to come to the conclusion that the course now taken was legislating with one eye open and the other shut, and that to support the extension of the franchise in existing circumstances without the smallest idea as to how the constituencies were to be arranged or settled was simply dealing with the question in such a way as to hoodwink the House of Commons.
§ MR. HEALY
referred to the action of the House of Lords in hampering legislation, and said it was absolutely impossible to get any of the most moderate reforms passed in the House of Lords with regard to Ireland. He thought, however, that when once the English public saw how a measure which concerned themselves was dealt with their consciences would be aroused, and they might then see how obnoxious a body an unreformed House of Lords might become.
§ MR. WARTON
said, they had heard a great deal about the other House of Parliament, and they had heard the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General try to tone down the declarations and threats of the Prime Minister. He had actually denied that any threat had been made; but he must say that, although he disliked the Prime Minister's politics, to do him justice he thought courage was one of his attributes, and he therefore thought that the right hon. Gentleman would not shrink from saying that he had threatened the House of Lords, and that he meant it. He looked upon the Prime Minister as the modern Gracchus, with all the instincts and aspirations of such a democrat; and he thought it was the wish of those who sat below the Gangway on the other side, together with the hon. Member for Monaghan (Mr. Healy) and his Friends from Ireland—the Democratic and the Nationalist Party—to be led on by the Prime Minister in a crusade against the House of Lords. The House of Lords was as much entitled as the House of Commons to express its opinions, and neither House ought to attempt to bully the other. There never was a majority of the House of Commons which was entitled to as little respect as that which now followed the lead of the Prime Minister. It was a majority which was inconsistent both in its principles and in its practices, and the House of Lords could not be expected to pay it much respect. He thought the power of the Prime Minister ought to be curtailed, because he believed nothing more unconstitutional existed than the extreme power possessed by the Prime Minister. He complained that the suggestions of the Prime Minister were too favourable to Ireland, and did not recognize the just claims of Scotland.
§ MR. SPEAKER
pointed out that the hon. and learned Member was travelling beyond the Question before the House.
§ MR. WARTON
declared that the Government had not made up their minds as to the character of the Bill before they introduced it; and the consequence was that the House had had a perpetual series of surprises throughout its discussion.
§ SIR FREDERICK MILNER
said, he believed there were few Members of the House who would not regret very much the tone adopted by the Prime Minister and the Attorney General with regard to the House of Lords. At all events, it would have been more decent to have allowed their Lordships to have discussed the question before using any threats towards them. The discussion which had taken place on the Bill had been remarkable in more ways than one. It had been remarkable for the obstinacy with which the Government had stuck to the very letter of the Bill as it was brought in. It had also been remarkable for the ineffectual struggles on the part of one or two Members sitting on the Ministerial side of the House to assert their own opinions. These Members reminded him of barnacles clinging to the bottom of the Governmental ship, making a few ineffectual attempts to set themselves free. The hon. Member for South Northumberland (Mr. Albert Grey) had a Motion on the Paper which practically carried out the arguments of the Opposition; but, acting under pressure from the Government, he withdrew altogether from the contest. The hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Woodall) also made a bold show in favour of women's suffrage; but he thought he was justified in saying that the hon. Member knew perfectly well that his Motion had no chance of passing; and he, therefore, had the satisfaction of not offending his great Chief, and, at the same time, escape all risk at a General Election by the terms of his speech. The discussions would also have shown to the country that the Conservative Party were not opposed to anything in the shape of Reform, or of extension of the suffrage to the counties. The Opposition had, however, asserted over and over again that they did not believe in setting so dangerous a precedent as dividing the extension of the suffrage from redistribution. They had some justification in arguing that 1454 from the speeches of the Prime Minister of late years. The Prime Minister, among other things, had said speaking of approaching the subject of redistribution with a view to what was commonly known as "cooking the constituencies," "seeking to destroy the effects of a redistribution of the franchise through a redistribution of seats is making redistribution a most dangerous engine as regards public liberty." That was the danger the Conservative Party had seen in being obliged to trust redistribution entirely to the hands of a Government whom they did not think over-scrupulous. As for himself, he had always been in favour of the extension of the franchise in counties; and he never could see any reason or justice why that extension should not be carried out. Inasmuch, however, as the Attorney General had expressed a hope that the Government would be able to devote the greater part of next Session to the consideration of a Redistribution Bill, he did not think constituencies would have suffered much if they had had to wait another year. The Government could then have devoted the whole of the Session to the consideration of a complete scheme; and he believed that if they had done so, they would have met with a good deal of support from the majority of the Conservative Party. The Prime Minister, in the course of his speech, had said the Liberal Party had shown confidence in the people. He did not deny that the assertion of the Prime Minister was perfectly correct; but, unfortunately, there were very few Liberals on the Ministerial side of the House. A considerable portion of hon. Gentlemen opposite belonged to the extreme Radical Party; and if they were to judge by outside utterances, they had every right to be suspicious of the Radical Party, and the confidence they professed to repose in the people. He was very much struck with a sentence which was let drop by the junior Member for Newcastle (Mr. John Morley) at one of those large Caucus gatherings which were supposed to demonstrate the immense desire and imperative necessity which the people of the country considered there was for the extension of the franchise in counties. On that occasion the hon. Member for Newcastle said—That the future of Radicalism did not depend on the spontaneous action of the masses 1455 but on the way in which the opinions of the masses were manipulated by certain small handful of resolute and convinced men.They had, therefore, a right to be suspicious of the Radical Party; and it was because they were suspicious that the Opposition had endeavoured to urge on the Government the necessity of combining the two measures of redistribution and extension of the franchise. The Government, by the course they were taking, were setting a dangerous precedent, which he ventured to predict Members on both sides of the House would in the future have cause deeply to regret.
§ MR. SPEAKER
then put the Question. The Question is that the Bill be now read the third time. Those who are of that opinion say "Aye." Those who are of the contrary opinion say "No." I think the Ayes have it. The Ayes have it.
§ Bill passed.