§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(The Marquess of Hartington.)
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
, in rising to move—That this House declines to proceed further with a measure, having for its objects the addi- 620 tion of two million voters to the electoral body of the United Kingdom, until it has before it the entire scheme contemplated by the Government for the amendment of the Representation of the people,said: Sir, as in the course of my observations I shall have to run counter to the opinions of many hon. Gentlemen opposite, it, is a satisfaction to me to think that I shall carry with me, at the outset, the assent and sympathy of the whole House in expressing; regret at the absence of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, sorrow at the cause of it, and hope that before this debate comes to a close He will be restored to his place, and to that part in the deliberations of the House to which his genius and eloquence so justly entitle him. I have heard this measure commended for its simplicity. I think its simplicity is owing mainly, if not exclusively, to its many omissions, and if I could lay before the House a copy of the measure complete in all its parts, I believe it would be admitted that, so far from being simple, it is complicated and far-reaching—more complicated and far-reaching than any measure of Parliamentary Reform over submitted to the consideration of the House of Commons. It is admitted that it is proposed to add 2,000,000 electors to the existing constituencies; and yet in this Bill not the slightest hint is given how the addition of that vast number of voters is to be allocated. If I wished to place before the House the most convincing argument in favour of the simple Amendment I have to move, I would content myself with reading the speech which, in 1866, was delivered in this House by the present Secretary of State for the Colonies (Lord Derby). But as that course might not be altogether agreeable to the noble Lord, and might appear to be discourteous to his Colleagues on the opposite Bench, and as you, Sir, might interfere with my reading of that speech, I will content myself with quoting one single sentence of it, and then proceed, with the light, the very dim light, thrown on the Bill and its necessary consequences the speech of the Prime Minister, to make those comments which the occasion seems to demand. After having stated the different arguments, which, he presumed, Her Majesty's Ministers would assign for not laying immediately on the Table 621 their scheme for redistribution, Lord Derby said—It comes to this—the pledge which the Government have given on this subject is simply a pledge to do a certain thing next year, provided that circumstances admit of their doing so, and provided also they do not in the meantime change their minds. …. Who is to answer for the events of the next 12 months? …. Who can tell what question, foreign or domestic, may arise, leading to a dissolution of Parliament after the passing of the Franchise Bill—supposing it to be passed in the present Session—and before the Bill for the redistribution of seats is brought on for discussion?"—(3 Hansard  1168.)This is the only quotation which I will give from "the unanswered and unanswerable speech," as it was truly called, of Lord Derby—believing that it is all-sufficient for the purpose I have in view in submitting my Amendment to the House. The Prime Minister, in his opening speech, appeared to admit that Lord Derby had then great reason on his side; and he proceeded to contend that, applicable as those arguments were in 1866, they would not be applicable in 1881. Certainly, there are great differences and distinctions in the provisions of the two measures. I admit it; I insist upon it; it is part of my case; and there are great differences, and distinctions likewise, in the circumstances under which these two great measures have been introduced. The measure of 1866 was confined to England and Wales. The measure of 1884 extends to Scotland and to Ireland. The measure of 1866 proposed to add something under 200,000 to the county constituencies of England and Wales. This measure proposes to add something like 1,300,000. That measure proposed no important change, either directly or indirectly, in the constituencies or representation of Ireland. This measure proposes a most gigantic and far-reaching change in the constituencies of Ireland, and will necessarily produce along with it an equally great and far-reaching change in the representative system of that country. This measure, in fact, creates the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) the Grand Elector for four-fifths of Ireland. That measure necessitated the very slightest change in the representation of England and Scotland. This measure necessitates, by the concession of all men, so vast a change in the representative system that it is very doubtful whether any borough under 40,000 will retain a Member; and therein I, for 622 one, see a reason why the Government are determined to conceal their policy with regard to redistribution. And now with respect to the differences and distinctions in the circumstances of the two epochs. In 1866 you had the most haleyon peace. There was not a ripple on the waters of Europe, or even of America. The Civil War in the United Stales had come to an end. Ireland was in that tranquil state that the only allusion made to her in the Queen's Speech was a congratulation that she had escaped the cattle plague. With respect to the relations with Foreign Powers, and France especially, there was a notice in the Queen's Speech of so unusual and significant a character that I shall be pardoned if I remind the House of it. Her Majesty was advised, in 1866, to use these very unusual words—The meeting of the Fleets of France and England in the Ports of the respective Countries has tended to cement the Amity of the Two Nations and to prove to the World their friendly Concert in the Promotion of Peace.If last year or this year Her Majesty had been advised to make reference in the Speech from the Throne to the mooting of the Fleets of France and England, in what language would that reference have been couched? Somewhat in this form:—"The meeting of the Fleets of France and England in the harbour of Alexandria has tended to prove to the world their divergence of policy in the promotion of peace." The words of Lord Derby in 1866, to which I have referred, partake of a prophetic character, for the noble Lord would appear to have been looking forward in his mind's eye to the events and circumstances under which Her Majesty's Government, in 1884, have introduced their Reform Bill to a disturbed and startled House of Commons. I have shortly stated the distinctions and differences which exist in the two measures, and in the circumstances under which they have been presented to our notice. The Prime Minister also referred to the distinctions and differences, upon which he laid great stress. In order that I may not appear to misinterpret his arguments or misquote his views, I will ask leave to react that paragraph of the speech to which I have referred. The right hon. Gentleman said— 623The 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 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."—(3 Hansard,  125.)That is, Lord Derby's argument in 1866 has practically vanished. I think that is a mystifying statement. I am not sure that I fully understand its purport; but I assume, if it means anything, it means that when this Bill is passed every house holder, and in Ireland every cabinholder, can exercise his vote, and that, therefore, it is a matter of absolute indifference how, where, and under what conditions, or what his constituency, or the number of Members he may vote for, provided he exercises the franchise. If that be the interpretation of that paragraph and argument, the Bill will do something more than the right hon. Gentleman indicated. He closes the paragraph by saying that the argument of Lord Derby vanishes. If it vanishes for this Session, it vanishes equally for next Session, for the next Parliament, and for even Parliament. How the Prime Minister can have fallen into an argument which is capable ultimately of so vast a development I cannot imagine. Thinking it over I can only find two possible reasons—first, that in the extremity of his argumentative distress no better argument occurred to him; and, secondly, that for the moment he fell into what I may call, without offence, the Birmingham fallacy of regarding a vote as an abstract right and not as a trust. But that would lead him to the position frankly taken up by the President of the Board of Trade of Manhood Suffrage. For my part—and I believe I speak the sentiments probably of the majority of the House—I do not 624 regard the franchise as a right. I do not think we ought to regard it in that light. In approaching a great organic change in the Constitution, we ought to think, not how it will affect the privileges of individuals, or oven of classes; but how it will affect the stability of the Constitution and the well-being of the body politic—the State. And, viewing this great question from that point of view, I must ask the House to consider the direct effects of this Bill as it is presented to us, without any indication as to how the arrangements necessarily connected with it are to be carried out. In the first place, this Bill, as it stands, obviously hands over political power from those who at present exercise it in the counties of great Britain to those who do not exercise it. That I apprehend to be a simple mathematical statement which admits of no contradiction. Secondly, it so enlarges a great number of the county constituencies as to render them absolutely unmanageable. A few figures will show clearly the truth of the proposition which I venture to lay down. The Southern Division of the West Riding contains 766 square miles, and it will, under this Bill, have about 66,000 voters. The South-Western Division of Lancashire will have about 60,000 voters; the South-Eastern Division will have about 65,000. In Scotland, the Northern Division of Lanarkshire will have some 40,000. In Ireland, Cork County, with 2,812 square miles, will have 45,000 voters. County Down will have about the same number, and Donegal about 35.000. I will ask—How are those constituencies, with anything approaching a personal knowledge of the candidates, to elect fit and proper persons to serve them in Parliament? How can any Member canvass a number of voters over that enormous area? How can the necessary expense be mot? Those are only some of the more salient features. All over England we shall have similar, though not so vast constituencies, which will, in fact, render many county constituencies impracticable. Thirdly, this Bill, as it stands, will retain all the small boroughs precisely as they are, with the exception that in Ireland the electorate will be slightly increased. In Ireland we shall still have Portarlington, Ennis, and Kinsale, numbering under 2,000 electors, returning one more Member to Parliament than the great County 625 of Cork with 45,000 electors. So, Sir, in England the anomalies will be almost equally striking. But we are told that, in addition to its simplicity, this Bill will abolish all electoral anomalies; but I contend, and will show distinctly to the House, that instead of removing anomalies in the franchise it will largely increase them. Why? The Bill as it stands bristles with anomalies. The Attorney General told us the other day, in answer to a Question, that the anomaly—he used the word—of the borough freeholders voting for the county would be retained by the Bill. I now approach a very delicate subject, on which I do not wish to express any positive opinion—namely, the question of female suffrage. There, is au anomaly under the present system, and what I want the House to consider is, will not that anomaly be greatly increased by this Bill?—I allude to the position of the female ratepayer. The present position of the female ratepayer with regard to the vote is most anomalous. She votes for municipal, school board, and Poor Law elections; but she does not vote at Parliamentary Elections. This is the position. Now, take the case of one large and influential section of the female ratepayers—I mean female farmers. The Census shows that in 1881 there were upwards of 20,000 female farmers in England. At the present moment not one of these has the vote for Parliamentary purposes. But, then, the labourer whom she pays, whom she maintains, and enables to live in his cottage, has no vote now; but pass this Bill, and what happens? Every carter, every ploughman, every hedger and ditcher, every agricultural labourer who receives wages from the female farmer will have the privilege of exercising the vote; but the female farmer who pays the wages, who sustains the labourer, who is so important a factor in the social economy of the parish, will remain without a vote. Will you tell me that that anomaly will not be greatly increased, and the sense of it embittered to the female ratepayer whom you are going to treat in this cavalier manner? And now I come to consider the most important question which is raised by this Bill, and that is the proportional representation of the Three Kingdoms. On this point we have had a little light thrown by the Prime Minister, though, it was only "the light 626 which half conceals the shapes which it reveals to our meditative eyes." What was the statement of the right hon. Gentleman? Scotland was to gain, England to lose, and Ireland was to remain stationary. England is the only part of the Realm which is not to have justice. And why? Let us look back a little. This Bill, which is to add 2,000,000 of voters to the present electoral body, was based on pure abstract geographical equality. England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland were all to be treated alike, whether the inhabitants lived in cottages, or houses, or mud hovels; whatever their characteristics or qualities they were all to have the vote—the loyal and the disloyal, the victims of outrage and the outrage-mongers and their abettors were all put on an equality. But, then, is representation to follow on the same lines? Are the Three Kingdoms to be treated on the same principle of equality? By no means. Ireland is to be favoured, Scotland is to have justice done; but England—unfortunate, unhappy England—is to be the country which is to receive less than justice. What was the argument which was to justify so preposterous an arrangement? It was said Ireland is further removed from the seat of power than the South of England; she is to have her full number of Members; and, therefore, the South of England must contribute Members to Scotland. I could; have understood that before railways and steamboats were invented. At that rate, Orkney and Shetland ought to have a largely-increased representation. I would call the attention of the House to the effect of these figures, taken from Mr. Bernard's valuable work, which show that Scotland has one Member to every 64,278 of the population, England one Member to 54,216, Ireland one Representative to 51,236, and Wales a Member to every 45,400 of her people. Starting with these figures, and properly amending them in accordance with the most recent official Returns, we should have at Midsummer, 1884, England and Wales with 496 Members, Scotland with 71, and Ireland with 91; and, in face of these figures, I ask whether the scheme, of which we have only had a dim foreshadowing, could be proposed seriously for adoption by Parliament? "Oh," we are told, "Ireland is to maintain her full tale." Scotland is to have, according to the 627 Prime Minister, a number of Members proportioned to her population and wealth; and it is England that is to make the necessary sacrifice for the purpose of providing the supply, in order that Ireland may retain more than her due share of representation. And not only is it England which has to do this, but it is the constituencies in the Southern part of the Kingdom which are to supply the principal part of the needed Members. The figures I have quoted show that if England and Wales are to be sacrificed to fulfil the wants of Scotland, surely it ought to be Wales, and not England, which should make the sacrifice. Wales is the most over-represented part of the United Kingdom at the present moment; and I ask whether Her Majesty's Government will not take away five or six Members from Wales to supply the wants of Scotland; and, if not, why not? The question which will be asked from one end of the country to the other will be as to whether Wales is further off from the seat of power than the North or the extreme South of England? There is, to my mind, some hidden political reason for this taking of Members from the Southern counties of England by this travesty of political justice. Can it be that Ireland is to be bribed into quiet and submission by this undue favour given to her, or that Scotland is to be rewarded for her hitherto faithful adhesion to Radical traditions by this large increase in her representation, and that the South, of England is to be punished, and made to suffer, because the constituencies there have never shown any great devotion to the cause of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and have, in fact, shown a marked disinclination to his policy? Can it be that the South of England is to be treated in this way because Southampton, Salisbury, and Brighton have disapproved the policy of the right hon. Gentleman? I will now proceed to the next step in the consideration of this proportional representation. If Ireland is to be treated with undue favour with respect to the proportion of her Members, how is she to be treated with respect to their allocation within her own borders? Figures show that in spite of the fact that Dublin is by far the most populous city in the country, it is the Province of Leinster that is the most over-represented in the 628 country; and it is from Leinster, if political justice is to rule you in this matter, that Members will have to be taken, and it is to Ulster that they will have to be given. Are you going to do that; and, if you are, will you tell us in what degree and fashion you are going to redress the political inequalities which now exist within the four corners of the Sister Country? Then I go a step further, and ask, how are you going to treat that question which the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister admitted in a short sentence had a great deal to be said for it; but upon which he was very guarded in his utterances—I mean minority representation? The right hon. Gentleman gave the House to understand that for himself he saw little or no reason to change the hostile view he has always expressed upon that subject. If the franchise remained as it is now, I, for one, should have no particular wish to see the minority principle pressed further than it goes at present; but if this gigantic and sweeping addition is to be made to the constituent body, I cannot but doubt that that large body of Members on both sides of the House who have bestirred themselves for minority or proportional representation, and have so much to say for the principle of the scheme which they favour, will insist that it is absolutely essential for the House to be put in possession of the views of Her Majesty's Government upon it. How can hon. Gentlemen opposite, who favour the principle of minority representation, reconcile it to themselves to pass the second reading of this Bill in total ignorance as to the views and intentions of Her Majesty's Government on the subject? How can they hope that in another Session they will be able to place their views favourably before the Government and the House, when the Government and the House alike will have sanctioned and passed a Bill which renders it a matter of indifference to the Government how all these subsequent questions are decided by a majority of the House of Commons? We are told that this question, and the whole question of redistribution, may be safely postponed until next year. I have read Lord Derby's prophecy as to what might happen next year; and I would ask what is the condition of affairs at the present moment? We are watching anxiously, day by day, and week by week, the progress of our second cam- 629 paign in Egypt; and everything we see and hear around us causes us to believe and expect that next year we shall have to consider the issues of a third campaign in that country. In what condition is Ireland now, and in what condition do the Ministry think that country will be next year? The Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland told his constituents, not very long ago, that Ireland at this moment is kept from civil war only by a predominant military force, and by the severe operation of the most exceptionally severe Code that living men ever remember. Next year that exceptional Code expires, and Her Majesty's Government have given us no reason to believe that they have any confidence that next year they shall be able to govern Ireland without a recurrence to, at any rate, many of the provisions of that Code. What is the assurance that they and we have received from the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) on the subject? The Government cannot say that they have not received full warning on this matter. They know better than we do what are the real intentions of that hon. Member and his friends in Ireland on this point. These are the words of weighty warning which he uttered in Ireland on the 11th of December last year—This Coercion Act is running out, and we are living it down. There is one thing that, it is very well for us to remember and to remind English people of—that if there be one fact more certain than another it is that if we are to be coerced again; if the present Coercion Act, or any part of it, is to be renewed; if the Constitution is not to be restored to us, these things shall be done by a Tory Government, and not by a Liberal Government, and shall carry with them, in the shape of increased taxes and foreign wars, penalties in excess of those inflicted upon us.The Government is, as I have said, in the middle of their second Egyptian Campaign. [Laughter] That is the actual position, and right hon. Gentlemen opposite may laugh; but I think if the hon. Member for the City of Cork speaks in the course of this debate he will probably take an opportunity of qualifying one expression contained in the passage I have just quoted, and will say that he did not conceive it possible how far Her Majesty's Liberal Government could have gone in the way of "increased taxes and foreign wars." And it is not the hon. Member for the 630 City of Cork alone who has given us this warning. No doubt he speaks for his Party but there is a very influential personage who has not yet entered within these walls. Mr. Davitt, on the 2nd of March, said that as soon as the Coercion Act expired am the democracy had the power in their own hands under the new Reform Bill they could have the affairs of the country "settled on a just basis." we all know what the Irish democracy moans in the eyes of Mr. Davitt, and we can also form a tolerably accurate idea of what he would deem to be "a just basis" for the settlement of the Land Question. Not many days ago we had in this House a very animated debate, in the course of which the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) gave us another very significant warning, when, in the course of an eloquent speech, he threatened "a fresh crusade against rent." Under the circumstances, I ask, do Her Majesty's Government really think that it will be so easy for them to pass fresh measures of Parliamentary Reform next Session? We have been promised a Bill on the subject of Registration, and the Prime Minister the other day advised a correspondent to wait until that Bill was before the House before he proceeded to discuss important points in connection with it. Therefore, we have a Registration Bill and a Redistribution Bill promised to us next year, unless something happens in the meantime which may render the Dissolution of Parliament necessary. I venture to think that, even if we do not have a Dissolution of Parliament, next Session may be so completely occupied by difficult questions relating to foreign affairs, and the necessity for legislating for the peace and tranquillity of Ireland, that Her Majesty's Government, with the best intentions, may find it impossible for them to fulfil their engagements with regard to those measures. I ask hon. Members to remember—I, at least, am old enough to remember—the agitation throughout the country in the years 1831 and 1832, when there was so much eagerness for Reform. What was the cry then? It was—"The Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill. ["Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members below the Gangway say "Hear, hear!" to that; but what is the cry now? Your cry now is—One-third of the measure, and not more than one-third of it." Do you expect to agitate the country or excite 631 the constituencies with such a cry as that? This measure, as we know, as fur as England and Scotland are concerned, affects almost exclusively the county constituencies. But what feeling has been exhibited in the counties in favour of this measure? Since the Gracious Speech from the Throne, and since Her Majesty's Government have announced their intention to introduce this Bill, we have had three vacancies in important county constituencies, and with what result? So little do the county constituencies on either side care for this measure that not a Liberal candidate was found to enter the field in opposition to my hon. Friend the Member for South Lincolnshire (Mr. Finch-Hatton), who has in a very short time made such a favourable impression in the House. But in West Somerset the Liberals had a distinguished candidate who contested the seat, who had been long before the electors, and who had everything to recommend him except his politics. And what was the result of that election? Can any body believe that there was the slightest feeling in that great constituency in favour of the Franchise Bill? My hon. and learned Friend the Member for West. Somerset (Mr. Elton) will, I have no doubt, support the Amendment which I shall have the honour of moving, and in doing so he will have the entire sympathy of the great body of the electors of the constituency which has sent him to this House. Take, again, the County of Cambridge—that is a large and a very mixed constituency. So little did the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. A. Thornhill). who took his seat to-day, think of the Reform Bill as influencing the opinions and feelings of his future constituency, that he did not even mention it in his election address. And yet the hon. Member was returned by a greater majority than any other Conservative Member has over been returned by for that constituency for many years past. But if Her Majesty's Government believe that the country is in favour of their Reform Bill, why do they not appeal to the country? If they do so, perhaps they may find that support in the boroughs which they cannot find in the counties—although the result of the Brighton contest has not encouraged them to expect such support even in the boroughs as they anticipated. But Her Majesty's 632 Government, instead of appealing to the constituencies, prefer to rely upon the never-failing loyalty of their supporters. They have a never-failing source of comfort in the votes of the hon. Members behind thorn, and to thorn they are always appealing for confidence. Sir, in former days there were long debates on Occasional Conformity. I wonder hon. Gentlemen opposite do not begin to ask for a little occasional reciprocity in the matter of confidence. Lord Lyndhurst once said that confidence was apt to end in credulity; and I put it to them whether they do not think they have now approached that limit? The other night, in the course of a remark able speech, the right hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen), having condemned the policy and the action of Her Majesty's Government in Egypt in four-fifths of a very logical and severe speech, at length drew forth a cheer from hon. Members sitting around him by saying that he would not give a blank cheque to Lord Salisbury. [Cheers.] Ah! Hon. Members opposite cheered then louder than they do now. I do not think that anybody asked the right hon. Gentleman or Liberal Party to give a cheque, blank or otherwise, to Lord Salisbury; but they are asked now to give Her Majesty's Government, not a blank cheque perhaps, but a cheque for 2,000,000, made payable to the joint order of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade and the hon. Member for the City of Cork—a cheque which will have to be honoured before many days are over, without receiving any assurance as to its application. Will they give it? The result will show. We are told that it is most wrong and unjust to press Her Majesty's Government to include their redistribution scheme in their Franchise Bill. Sir, we do not make that demand. We do not ask the Government to insert a single additional clause. But are we not entitled to ask them to give us, in some deliberate, clear, intelligible, and authentic shape, their scheme for the redistribution of seats? We have been told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that these two measures, taken together—I do not stand upon the exact words—are to bring about the greatest organic changes in the Constitution that have taken place in this country since 1689. If that is so, is it unreasonable that we should desire to know how this 633 change is to be effected, how this enormous addition to the representative body is to be welded into, and amalgamated with, the existing system, and how the; classes now represented are to be safeguarded so that they shall not be deprived of every shred and vestige of political power? That is our demand. Can anything be more reasonable or more consistent with common sense? Under the present system of franchise great things have been accomplished. I am not here to say that the present system is absolutely perfect; but I can say that, under the present borough franchise system, labour is amply and fully represented. Even in those agricultural boroughs to which the hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter) alluded, the peasantry are also represented, to a limited extent possibly, but to that limited extent they are completely represented; while by the county franchise, property, and all that property is held to include, is not exclusively, but fairly represented. If it is thought necessary and wise to increase that representation of the peasantry, nothing could be more easily or more satisfactorily accomplished than by increasing the number of agricultural boroughs. The proposal of Her Majesty's Government, however, is to subvert the existing system, and to substitute for it something that will totally supersede it. We say, before you subvert the whole system and substitute a new one for it, let us see what your new scheme is in its details and in its entirety. It is, therefore, in no spirit of terror or craven fear—with no unworthy suspicion of our fellow-countrymen, and with no desire to shut our eyes to the shortcomings of our existing representative system, but as prudent guardians of existing institutions, as faithful Representatives of our constituencies, and as loyal upholders of the integrity of the Empire—that we claim full and complete knowledge and information on all these points which I have ventured to bring before the House, and I will conclude by making an appeal to Her Majesty's Government in the words of the ancient Greek warrior—Remove this cloudy darkness: clear the skyThat we may see our fate, and die at least,If such thy will, in th' open lace of day.'Sir, I beg leave to move the Amendment' standing in my name.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words this House declines to proceed further with a measure, having for its object the addition of two million voters to the electoral body of the United Kingdom, until it has before it the entire scheme contemplated by the Government fur the amendment of the Representation of the People,"—(Lord John Manners,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. JOHN BRIGHT
Sir, I observed in the speech which the noble Lord has just addressed to us several points on which he laid great stress, He began, by reading a quotation from a speech made by Lord Derby from that Bench in the year 1866. I never thought the language important when I first heard it, and I cannot think it is of great importance now, because I have no doubt that Lord Derby has long since convinced himself that he was erroneous in the view he took at that time. Then the noble Lord laid great stress on the state of our foreign affairs. There is one branch and point of our foreign affairs which is distressing, I hope, to both sides of the House; but I might ask the noble Lord whether he could tell any time since he has been in Parliament—and he has been here long—when he would have thought that the condition of our foreign affairs justified the introduction of a measure of Reform from this side of the House. Another thing I observed in the speech of the noble Lord, and it was the following out of the course which was taken in the debate on the introduction of the Bill before the House. The noble Lord has very little to say on the question of the Bill before the House, and a great deal to say about a Bill which at some time may come, which he in a certain way makes pretence of urging violently that it should come, and which I have no doubt he dreads even much more than the Bill now before the House. During the discussion on the introduction of the Bill this was the mode of the discussion. The noble Lord follows it exactly. During the full hour that he has been addressing the House he has not given ns the least idea by any word that he has spoken whether he is in favour of an extension of the county franchise or not. 635 He left that question entirely unsettled. He has dwelt entirely upon a measure which is to him imaginary, but still has its terrors; and he insists upon it that the 2,000,000 of persons to whom this Bill is intended to give the franchise, and who, by a large majority of this House, are deemed worthy of it, should wait and should be unsatisfied until the noble Lord has seen some other measure which, whether it comes or whether it does not come at any time, leaves this fact undeniable—that the 2,000,000 are not enfranchised, as the majority of the House of Commons believe that they will have to be, and soon, and that this Bill, or a Bill like it, if this should fail, must at no distant period—almost immediately—become inevitable. Now, the noble Lord's scheme is the scheme of 1866. That was the kind of scheme which succeeds once, but often does not succeed a second time. Now, on that occasion, we know that the noble Lord and his Friends formed a very convenient combination with certain Gentlemen on this side of the House, and that they carried a Resolution very much like the Amendment which he has now proposed. [An hon. MEMBER: No; it was lost by five.] Practically it is the same thing. The Government were not outvoted; but the effect of that Division showed that the Bill could not pass through the House; and the combination succeeded in doing two things, which, no doubt, would rejoice the noble Lord still more than the object he immediately seeks for. The Resolution, destroyed both the Bill and the Government. But what a triumph that was! We who sat on this side of the House remember the tremendous cheers which almost shook the walls of the House. What happened? The moment the new Government was formed they threw off entirely all their comrades—I had almost said their fellow-conspirators. I have had the most amusing accounts from some of the Gentlemen who were in that cave; and I recollect one of the most distinguished of them told me that if King David had had no better men to put in his cave than the Gentlemen on this side of the House who entered into that combination, he would have fallen a victim to Saul at a very early period. What was the result of that measure? The noble Lord and his Colleagues told us then what a perilous proposition the 636 Government of Lord John Russell had offered to the House, and yet within 12 months they brought in a Bill, and without at first proposing it, but in the hope of carrying some Bill and remaining in Office, they conferred the franchise upon—I know not the number—but upon the whole number of householders in all the boroughs of Great Britain. What the noble Lord says now about this Bill was said then about that Bill. It was not only perilous, but it was fatal. I do not recollect the noble Lord's peroration at that time, or exactly those of any of his Colleagues; but I doubt not it was much like that which he has given us to-night. I do not recollect the Greek quotation; but we were told what tremendous perils we ran by giving the franchise to so many men in the towns, and how shopkeepers, manufacturers, professional men, and all persons of wealth and culture would be swamped by that great addition to the constituency. And yet the noble Lord, having found out that there was not a word of truth in it, takes this course again! I appeal to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen), who was one of those who had fears. He was not one of those who went into the cave; he was much too sensible for that. But my right hon. Friend at that time—as he will acknowledge, and as I think he did acknowledge the other night—had his doubts about that great measure. I do not complain of those doubts, for many honest and sensible men had doubts as to the extent to which that measure went. But my right hon. Friend admitted the other night, as I understand, that the disasters he apprehended had not followed; and, therefore, as I gathered from what he said, he felt not the same hostility to the extension of the franchise now proposed that he might have done if he had not had the experience of the measure passed by hon. Gentlemen opposite in the year 1867. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon, then, may be taken to be one of the converted in regard to this matter. Hon. Gentlemen opposite need no conversion; they were converted in 1867. They had none of the apprehensions of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon. On the contrary, they went joyfully on, following Mr. Disraeli, their then Leader in this House, in support of the proposi- 637 tion which he offered to the House. If they were converted then surely they need no conversion now. The noble Lord endeavoured to draw a picture of terror at what might happen if there should be a General Election after the passing of this Bill, and before any rearrangement of seats had taken place. I do not think it is at all likely that there will he one; but if it is at all likely it will be the fault of hon. Gentlemen opposite, because, no doubt, as the Government have proposed this Bill, and expect and intend to carry it through this Session, so with equal certainty they propose to introduce their Rearrangement or Redistribution Bill next Session; and surely, as the Government and all their Party may be supposed to be in favour of its being carried, if it is not carried, and if the noble Lord's calamities should ensue, it will be entirely owing to himself and his Friends who sit on that side of the House. Now, I am obliged to come to the conclusion that really there is nobody against this Bill. I believe it to be a great Government Bill, drawn up with statesmanlike sagacity and wisdom, and I believe that that is the general opinion of it throughout the country. I might put it to hon. Gentlemen opposite whether they are not convinced that throughout the country, during the discussion of the last six months, there has been a more unanimous expression of opinion in favour of the extension of the franchise in the counties to householders than we have had on any political question for very many years. ["No!"] I think I could prove that if it were unwary to go into proof. But now hon. Gentlemen opposite themselves are not agreed in opposition to this Bill. And it is therefore that this Amendment is proposed. If it were otherwise, why have you not said "No," or agreed to say "No," when the Question was put? Why have you not done what is commonly done, and moved that the Bill be read a second time this day six months? You recollect—many Gentlemen opposite must recollect—the expression Mr. Disraeli used so far back as 1859, when he brought in one of his abortive Reform Bills. I will road a quotation to the noble Lord; I am not sure whether he was a Member of the Government at that time. Mr. Disraeli was explaining what the Government intended by the Bill. 638Her Majesty's Government have given to this subject the most anxious consideration. I may say that if labour, if thought, could assist us to arrive at a proper solution, neither labour nor thought has been spared. Is there any principle on which we can restore the county constituency to its natural state and bring about tint general and constant sympathy between the two portions of the constituent body which ought to exist? We think there is a principle, the justness of which will be at once, acknowledged, … and … we find that principle in recognizing the identity of suffrage between county and town."—(3 Hansrad,  991.)Well, now, are you ready to follow the Leader whom you profess greatly to revere? Are you ready—To bring about that general content and sympathy between the different portions of the constituency bodywhich Mr. Disraeli thought so important that he actually sacrificed two of the most respectable and respected, and honoured Members of the Cabinet rather than surrender that principle? The House knows very well that Mr. Henley and Mr. Walpole retired from the Government of Lord Derby at that time because they would not consent to equalize the franchise between counties and boroughs. It was not exactly on the question of lowering the franchise; but they thought that there was some Constitutional principle involved, and that the county representation should always be maintained, if it could be, as being more Conservative than the boroughs. However, Mr. Disraeli took that view—the Cabinet and his Party, I have no doubt, took that view—and I do not wonder that they do not feel themselves very strong in opposition to this measure. This measure will bring about a general content and sympathy between the different portions of the constituent body." I met the other day—I have heard of two, but I met one—a Conservative Peer, and he said he thought the Bill was a very good Bill. I heard or read an account of a speech by another Conservative Peer, not long ago, and he spoke, not so strongly, perhaps, as I should, but still in a manner which indicated that he thought the Bill reasonable, and that it would have to be granted. If this is so, hon. Members opposite are taking a very reasonable course in not taking any direct objection to this Bill; and I believe that if they moved now that the Bill be road a second time this day six months, in- 639 stead of moving this insidious Amendment of the noble Lord, they would not carry the whole of their Party into the Lobby against it. I say so, because among hon. Gentlemen opposite I am bound to believe there has arisen on this question some glimmering of common sense. The noble Lord had some figures before him. He did not draw our attention to many of them; but I would ask hon. Members to remember one fact. It has been stated in a good many of the publications which industrious men have made lately that there are 150 towns or districts, whose area is so limited as to be like towns, that in the counties are not represented, and that these towns contain a population of more than 1,500,000. These people who live in these small unrepresented towns are just the same kind of people as those who live in the towns that are represented. The householders are of the same quality, the same industries, the same intelligence, educated in the same manner, under, as a rule, the same influences; and if you can give—as the noble Lord himself consented to give—the franchise to ail the householders in the boroughs, surely you need not be so terribly alarmed at the prospect of the present Government's extending the franchise to the counties. Then with regard to the labourers. The noble Lord was speaking of women who are farmers—widows probably. I am told they are very little liked by the landowners because they cannot vote. I had the other day a letter from a lady. The widow of a farmer in Warwickshire, and she said that the only reason why she was not allowed to keep her farm was because she had no vote. However, that matter will be easily settled when this franchise is extended, because it will be so enormous in its numbers throughout the country that it will not be worth the while of landowners to do so foolish and harsh a tiling as to get rid of a woman who is a tenant farmer because she has no vote. The noble Lord drew a picture of what would happen when this lady farmer paid a week's wages—her shepherd so much, her labourer so much, her gardener so much and all these men under this Bill would have a vote and she would not have a vote. I do not know whether he would wish to excite our sympathies for the mistress of the farm, or 640 rather contempt for the persons to whom the vote was to be given. But seeing that those labourers have had the example and presence during part of the year of country gentlemen who exercised great influence over them, and that they live in the same parish with the clergyman whom the State has provided for them—that they have had the advantage, such of them as are not old, of having been educated in what in the counties are almost universally Church schools—I affirm, then, that we have a right to say, and you have no right to deny, that these labourers are themselves just as qualified to possess and exercise the franchise as the vast numbers to whom you gave the franchise in 1867. Now, there is no indisposition to discuss another question, which is the question of redistribution—especially as it is connected with Ireland. In fact, I think that the right hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen) himself, and others, have spoken with more force and more earnestness upon the Irish branch of this question than upon any other. If the House will permit, I should like to ask their attention to the question for a few minutes. Now, objectors to this Bill are objectors who would wish to proceed with the management of Ireland entirely upon the old lines. Ireland has always been treated differently from England with regard to this question, and the object now, and the proposition, is to continue that different treatment. This was done even when there was nothing of that strong assumed disloyalty in Ireland, and nothing of the sore disturbance that there has been within the last three years. During the Government of Lord Melbourne, from 1835 to 1841, on this side of the House the Whig Administration of that day made many efforts to do some things that would be useful and just in Ireland; but all these efforts were thwarted by hon. Gentlemen opposite; and if by any good luck they escaped from this House and made their appearance in the other House, they were very soon rejected and destroyed. But it is upon record that Mr. O'Connell during those years put an end entirely, for a time, in Ireland, to the agitation with which he had been concerned, and gave his most honest assistance to the Government in order that some measures might pass that might 641 tend to the pacification of the country. Those measures were not passed. Until the time when the present Prime Minister became Minister at the end of 1868, there was no strenuous and resolute attempt to force measures of that kind through Parliament. Now this evil policy has been continued. It began, I may say, a couple of centuries ago, perhaps more. But it has continued ever since. It has not been entirely rejected until within very recent years. If there be in the world, or if there be within this Empire, any plot of ground upon which the principles of the Tory Party have had full and undisputed play, that plot of ground is in the Kingdom of Ireland. Well, Mr. Disraeli told us in a very remarkable speech that in Ireland you had an alien Church. What is an alien Church planted among an alien people but a source of irritation and constant outrage? You had then, with regard to the land, a great bulk of the land within not a very remote period confiscated, and the whole under your system of laws in a close monopoly, so that it could never be dispersed among the people of Ireland. Then you had absentee proprietors, who cared little, for the most part, for the education of the people, or for the true interests of the population; who had no sympathy whatever with the religious teachers of the people, and who cared—nobody will suppose I include everybody—generally only for the collection of rents. And then they had a Government in Dublin Castle, which, whether you had an official from this side of the House or the other, from one Party or the other, was very much the same, for it was all carried on through magistrates of one particular colour. We know—Gentlemen opposite know—the House knows, or ought to know by this time, that the Government has been one in Ireland. I any that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) knows that what I am saying is true, that the Government in Ireland has been a Government, until recent times, exclusively composed of Members of the Party of which the right hon. and learned Gentleman is so distinguished a Member. But during all this time their representation was a farce. When there was a county contest in Ireland there was a local civil war; and if you turn to the 642 Blue Book which gives the evidence before the Ballot Committee in 1869, you will read that military officers in Ireland led parties of soldiers all over the counties in order that the peace might not be disturbed. The English people have conferred on them the machinery of the Ballot; and one clear consequence is that elections are much more tranquil than they were in past times. What was the natural result of all this? It is that the people are discontented and disloyal. They have been so for more than 50 years; but as none of us are responsible for anything beyond that time I will confine my observations to that period. In 1884 we have an hon. Gentleman from Ireland, representing one of its chief cities, and of great influence in that country, speaking of himself here as a foreign element. [Irish cheers.] That cheer is not very enthusiastic; but there are no Gentlemen who have repudiated that statement, that they were here as something like a rebel Party. I am coming to an argument on this question, and therefore may be permitted to speak with a little freedom. It is said that there is a Party in Ireland who are in league with persons in a distant foreign country, who, as far as their stupid, malignant, and wicked ideas will enable them, to do it, are determined to make war upon this country. This is not a thing of to-day—it is a thing of 100 years ago. In this House of Commons Lord North, in a speech made on the occasion of the American War, deplored the fact that some of the bitterest enemies of the English Crown were to be found among the Irish people who had emigrated to the American Colonies. This is what I want to ask the House. I would ask my right hon. Friend and everybody who has a doubt in this matter, whether it is worth while going on with Ireland upon the old lines? Is there anything in the political history of this country that is so complete, so painful, and so shameful a failure as the Government in Ireland—not by the Imperial Parliament—for it was as bad, and I am afraid even worse, when they had a Parliament sitting in Dublin. I ask, then, whether we should go upon the old lines, or whether we should try some new line? I am for a new line. You may, if you like, give justice and equality to all your people throughout the Three King- 643 doms; or you may act with injustice and contempt as far as regards the 6,000,000 of people of Ireland. You may rule, as you have ruled for centuries, that great country as if the people were to be for ever as a conquered people; or you may rule them as a portion of a great and free nation. You may keep up your rule by force—and force is the great remedy of the Party opposite. ["Oh!" and "Withdraw!"] Yes; I am sorry to disturb the equanimity of the hon. Gentleman who says "Withdraw;" but really, if he is not acquainted with the fact, he ought to be sitting on this side of the House. I say you may, if you like, rule in Ireland by force—there is nothing you cannot do there by force; you can put down all insurrection and rebellion; you may defy the efforts of Irishmen who hate England, whether they be in Ireland or on the American Continent; you hare power, if you like, to sustain, or even to make more severe, your absolute power for the government of the Irish people. I am speaking now of that power to which Mr. Dillon referred when speaking from the opposite Benches three or four years ago. He said that he appeared hero to carry on a war which he would have preferred to carry on upon an arena not open to him. It is known by every sensible Irishman—there is no hon. Member, however violent he may feel towards us at times who does not know—that what they get from England they do not get because it is impossible for England to withhold it; they know that England could be, if it were possible, more cruel than she has been before; that she has more power to do anything she likes to do; but, depend upon it, that is not the wish of the English people. If ever there was a people in the world who had political associations with another people, and who wish that other people well, it is at this moment the people of Great Britain. But if the ancient lines are to be worked upon, and Ireland is to be by no means tranquillized and united to this country, then I can only wish—to use a simile I once before used in this House—that she could be unmoored from her fastenings in the deep and moved 3,000 miles to the West. I ask the House if there is not another and a better plan, if England does not approve a better plan, and if it will not be more 644 satisfactory to the people of this country if we do full justice and if we have confidence in the full justice with which we intend to treat Ireland in regard to this question of representation? We have removed the grievance of an alien Church. We have given the Irish cultivator of the soil security which he almost never hoped for—a security which is about as good as the freeholds which hon. Members opposite wish they could induce him to buy. If that be so, if we have done all this, what shall we do with regard to the franchise and the power of Ireland in the Imperial Parliament? The noble Lord points to the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell), and speaks of the terrible influence He will exert upon the General Election. I do not believe in those terrible influences; the hon. Member for the City of Cork is not a fool. No doubt he has wishes—honest, good wishes, though in some respects different from mine—in regard to the country with which he is connected; but, depend upon it, you will not be worse off, however complete be the fair representation of Ireland within the walls of this House. If any Party in this House attempts to do what the noble Lord suspects or fears, depend upon it the vast majority of the 550 Members representing Great Britain will find out a way to meet whatever difficulty may be interposed by any number of men, however ill-disposed, who come here from Ireland. My opinion is that the course I am recommending is the only one which is likely and certain in the long run to bring about that change which we all so much wish for. What we desire—what I am sure the Prime Minister desires to do by this Bill with regard to Ireland—is to purchase tranquillity, not by any special sacrifice from England, but by measures which may win her people from disorder, conspiracy, and revolution to a happy union with the three nations in whose name and by whose authority we assemble in this House. Any Member is at liberty to say that the thing is absolutely impossible; I am at liberty to say that I know it to be possible, and I know the other plan to be impossible; that has been tried longer than the lifetime of the oldest among us; and, therefore, I am anxious that the House of Commons should try whether it is not possible by a new plan to unite Ireland to this coun- 645 try as Wales and Scotland are united to it at this moment. I have spoken about the franchise. Two sentences about redistribution of seats. My right hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Goschen) has qualms about it, and the right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) has written a letter which I believe was inaccurate; but it is difficult to be accurate on a matter of this kind, for I find that nearly everybody has a different story from everybody else. I am willing to accept the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, who said, I think, that 96 or 97 Members was the proper number for Ireland, having regard to the comparative population. I am not at all particular about two or three Members. London has a population of 4,000,000, which will soon be more; Lancashire and Yorkshire have more than 6,000,000; London, Lancashire, and Yorkshire have, therefore, 10,000,000, or one-third of the whole population of Great Britain. The Prime Minister did not propose—I think he rather discouraged the idea—to give that population of 10,000,000 a proportionate number of Members; and I should not recommend it—it is unnecessary. How many Members of this House live more than half the year in London? How many newspapers are there not in London giving instructions, using persuasion and menace, and putting pressure on the Government and on all Parties? The influence of London with this vast population, with so many Members of Parliament living in London, with so many newspapers published here, upon the Government is far too great, and I believe is a source of very many and grievous errors which our Administrations make, especially in dealing with foreign questions. Ireland has a certain claim in respect of number, and the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland says that that claim may be fairly met by 96 or 97 Members. The Reform Bill of 1832 added five Members to the representation of Ireland. Two of them vanished, and Ireland has now 103 Members. Have hon. Gentlemen over thought of the Act of Union? The noble Lord did not mention it, nor has anybody else mentioned it; but it has been present to my mind ever since we discussed this question. I say the Act of Union is 646 final with regard to this matter. The Act of Union declares in one of its clauses that the Protestant Church of Ireland is to be united for ever with the Church of England. We know what "for ever" means in such a document. The Act of Union, though it was something like a Treaty, was a Treaty made entirely on one side. It was made by Great Britain the powerful nation, and offered to the Irish nation. I am bound to say here that, notwithstanding the corruption and wickedness of that transaction of the Union, still it is, to my mind, a great proof that there was a sense of justice in the English Government at that time—a sense of justice which is remarkable, and not to be forgotten.—when they put into that Act of Union that Ireland should send 100 Members to the Imperial Parliament. They might, if they had chosen, have fixed it at a smaller number; and there would have been nobody to contest it. But the number was, in my opinion, according to the population at that time, in excess of the then claims which Ireland would have made. [Cries of "No!"] I will not dispute that; but it is my opinion, and it makes no difference to my argument. It, however, makes this difference—that it removes the blame which we pass on Pitt and his Government when we remember that they did an honourable, and even a generous and a just thing, in offering the Irish people the representation of 100 Members in this House. Now, I wish the House to answer me this question. An hon. Gentleman has spoken of the Irish Church. The more powerful party to a Treaty or to an Act has a right to surrender anything which afterwards it believes to be unjust to the weaker party. We surrendered the Irish Church as an Establishment, because we knew it was a grievance to the Irish people, and that it would be an advantage, not to the Irish people only, but to the Church itself, if, as an Establishment, it were removed. What has happened during these three past sad years in Ireland? You never heard a word from any person connected with the agitation—Land Leaguers, Fenians, or whatever they may be—and I doubt whether anything has been written in their newspapers, attacking the clergy of the Protestant Church in Ireland. Is not that a proof that they have been 647 removed from a position which they never should have occupied? I believe that the Bishops and clergy, and thousands of their more intelligent laity, if they could come upon the floor of the House at this moment, would say that it has been an advantage to Protestantism, to Christianity, and to the tranquillity of the country that the Irish Established Church has been removed. The Government of England, therefore, were at liberty to do that, because it was a concession to the Irish people. Then, I say, there is nothing on earth will ever persuade me, except I see it done, that this Imperial Parliament, which is representative of the people of Great Britain, will lessen the just, the Act-of-Union-settled representation of Ireland in this House. The population of Ireland, reduced as it is, is, I believe, very nearly the same as it was when the number of 100 Members was originally fixed. Some hon. Members say that the population of Ireland is diminishing. It has been diminishing up to the present time. I am not quite sure that that diminution is to go on. I shall be disappointed with the operation of the Land Act if it does not, to some extent, retain men upon their farms and in the country. That is rather my view. I have observed with great satisfaction that the name of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) appears in an advertisement which has been forwarded to me as Chairman of the Company which is intended to buy estates and transfer them to tenants; also to remove persons from what are called congested districts into districts where there is room for them. He has obtained the names of three or four Members of this House—I am not sure whether they are not all English Members—and, what is more, he is acting under an Imperial Act of Parliament, and is obtaining money from Imperial funds. That does not look like a foreign element of a rebel Party. It looks rather as if hon. Gentlemen opposite and the hon. Member for the City of Cork were willing to unite themselves with Englishmen—on this side of the House it may be—to take Imperial funds, under an Imperial Act of Parliament, to do that which I hope will help in some degree to prevent the constant diminution in the population of Ireland. If that be so, I want to ask the House whether the statement of my right 648 hon. Friend at the head of the Government was injudicious and unwise? I believe, when the thing comes to be fairly discussed, when the opinions of Irish Members are heard, and the opinion of the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gibson)—for I am not sure that he may not take the same view as I have taken, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman is the Representative of a constituency all of whom have votes elsewhere—I think I may call upon him and his Colleagues to take not a Liberal only, but a just view of this question. For myself, I am determined to stand by the Act of Union. Nothing shall persuade me to vote for any smaller number; and if by reason of the separation of Ireland from Great Britain, the difficulties of intercourse, and the less power they have to influence Parliament and opinion in this country, it be thought necessary by the Government to keep the representation as it is, I shall have no difficulty in supporting it. This I must declare most solemnly—that I think the House would commit a grievous injury, a grievous affront, a grievous insult, and a grievous wrong if they departed from that great Act of Parliament which is called the Act of Union. Upon all the rights which, it guarantees surely the Irish have a right implicitly to rely. I think I have finished everything I have to say. There are two paths open to us—the Union by force and on the old lines, and the Union with justice, and, notwithstanding what hon. Gentlemen opposite may say, with, I believe, at no remote period, prosperity and peace. The one path leads to disloyalty, discontent, conspiracy, insurrection, and anarchy. Our past conduct has led to all those calamities. The line which I would point out to the House is a different one. I run all the risk of doing justice to Ireland. I believe it is only by that and by that confidence that you will overcome the disturbed state of feeling that has been created, and at some not remote time bring Ireland into the same harmony with England that Scotland now exhibits. Sir, this great measure of right which we are now discussing was explained a short time ago and defended in a speech great as the subject with which it dealt. It has, I am convinced, the approval of the vast majority of our people. I trust and believe the House will give its hearty 649 sanction to it, and that it may prove hereafter to be a now charter of freedom and union to the three nations in whose name we sit here, and for whose dignity and welfare it is our duty and our honour to labour.
Sir, the population of Ireland has diminished by some 3,000,000 during the last 50 years, and it is possible that it may dwindle 3,000,000 more in the next 50 years. Does the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) mean to say that when the population of Ireland comes down to 103 it shall still be represented by 103 Members? I cannot help thinking that since hon. Gentlemen opposite have had time to consider the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister's scheme of Reform on its merits—and apart from the artificial aid of his eloquence and power of persuasion—a good deal of the enthusiasm which greeted his opening speech on the subject, now nearly a month ago, must have evaporated. I quite admit that it is welcomed by one section of the Liberal Party with the deepest gratitude; but it is the gratitude with which drowning men catch at straws, because they fully recognize the fact that in this measure is their last hope of prolonging their political existence, and therefore they cling to it with the desperate energy of self-preservation. Now, I think everyone must agree that the necessity for this measure—involving, as it does, such vast Constitutional changes—ought to be very clearly proved; and the Prime Minister has pointed out to us three considerations which he tells us, in his opinion, render this measure necessary, and which have induced him to bring it forward at this particular time. In the first place, it is to fulfil a pledge made by the Leaders of the Liberal Party before and during the last General Election. Secondly, it is to meet the desires of the unenfranchised classes; and, thirdly, it is to add strength to the State. Now, I venture respectfully to submit that not one of these reasons will bear looking into; or, if they are looked into, two of them can easily be proved to be worthless, while the third will be found to be utterly fallacious. Now, with regard to the first reason, we are told that this measure has been brought forward in fulfilment of a 650 pledge. But what about all the other unfulfilled pledges? I hardly think that the present Government—which was brought into power to put an end to war and bloodshed, and to inaugurate a new era of peace and economy—need be so particular about one unfulfilled pledge more or less, amid the multitude of broken pledges which is around them. That fairy tale which so charmed the Mid Lothian audiences has proved to be a tale of unfulfilled prophecies and broken promises, and the Government need hardly strain so much at this one little gnat after swallowing such an enormous number of camels. But we are told that it is to meet the desires of the unenfranchised classes. Now, I should have thought that, on a question so serious as this, it is not the desires of the unenfranchised classes, but the safety of the State, which ought to be considered. But I entirely dispute this statement of the Prime Minister, that this measure will meet the desires of the unenfranchised classes, because the unenfranchised classes number 6,000,000, and the Prime Minister only proposes to enfranchise 2,000,000. Therefore, it is only a small minority of these classes whose desires the Prime Minister proposes to meet. The great majority are to be left outside in the cold, and if this measure were passed to-morrow the same argument would be equally valid and forcible in favour of "Manhood Suffrage" or any other measure of Reform which may be proposed hereafter. We are very often told that the country demands this measure of Reform; but I should like to ask hon. Members opposite what is meant by the country? The country, so far as regards its Representatives in Parliament, means the existing constituencies. Have the existing constituencies shown any great anxiety about this measure? Has York, or Brighton, or West Somerset, or Cambridgeshire betrayed any very eager desire for it? Why, they have every one of them rejected the Reform candidates by crushing majorities. So far as the country has had an opportunity of expressing its opinion, it has declared dead against Reform. If Ministers have any doubt upon the subject, let them appeal to the country, and I venture to prophecy the answer would not be very satisfactory to themselves. But the third reason adduced by the Prime Minister 651 in favour of this measure is the strangest of all. He claims our support upon the ground that it will add strength to the State; but does the Prime Minister's experience of Ireland, during the last four years, bear out this expectation? Does it teach that lowering the franchise will strengthen the Queen's Government in Ireland, and rally the Irish peasantry round the Throne? Why, there is not a man in this House who is not convinced, from the bottom of his heart, that it will do the exact opposite, and that, instead of strengthening, it will swamp and destroy the loyal classes in Ireland. No one knows better than the Prime Minister that Ireland is the rock on which this measure is destined to split. No one knows better than he that his proposals with regard to Ireland have given rise on all sides to a deep and general feeling of apprehension and dismay. He has made a tremendous bid for the Home Rule vote, by holding out hopes to Ireland of a representation out of all proportion to her population and revenue. He has promised to increase the representation of Scotland; and, in order to redress the balance, he threatens to deprive England of a considerable proportion of her present electoral power. England—Conservative England—is to be sacrificed to Radical Scotland and Revolutionary Ireland. The hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) is to be reinforced by 500,000 fresh followers, and the effect of that will be to open up the floodgates of sedition and disloyalty over the one remaining loyal Province—the Province of Ulster. It means the complete and utter overthrow of the Protestant Party, and the handing over that unhappy country body and soul to the anti-English faction. The Prime Minister tells us that this measure will rally all classes round the Throne and the Constitution; but how does this prediction tally with the famous prophecy of the hon. Member for the City of Cork, when he declared last December in Dublin that—This generation shall not pass away until it shall bequeath to those that come after the great birthright of Irish national independence.The prophecy of the hon. Member appears to be approaching fulfilment oven more speedily than he anticipated, for, when he uttered those words, he was not aware that the Prime Minister was about to offer him his powerful 652 assistance and co-operation. Truly, the Home Rule Party have reason to be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government. He, first of all, superintended their political education. He taught them how to bring Irish questions within the range of practical politics, and explained to them the most efficacious method of ringing the chapel bells. He next struck down and ruined the Irish landowners, thereby severing the connecting link of loyalty between England and Ireland; and now, at one stroke of the pen, he raises up fresh forces of disaffection to overthrow the last remaining strongholds of Irish loyalty, and lay them helpless at the mercy of their enemies. The Government has very often lately been taunted with inconsistency; but, at any rate, upon this occasion they have shown a very remarkable consistency in their policy, for the principle of this measure and the principle of the Irish Land Act is one and the same. In both measures the loyal are to be sacrificed to gratify the greed and satisfy the vengeance of the disloyal. The only difference is, in the one they are despoiled of their worldly goods, and in the other of their political privileges. The faithful supporters of the Government in Scotland are to be rewarded; the irreconcilable foes of every Government in Ireland are to be bribed; and they are both to be paid out of the same exchequer—out of the rights and liberties of the English people; and the Prime Minister has explained to us his reasons for this treatment of England, for he goes on to propound this extraordinary doctine—that the inhabitants of London are not entitled to so large a proportional share of representation as those in the outlying parts of the United Kingdom, because the action of political power is quicker in London than in the more distant parts of the country. He lays it down, as a novel principle, that the ignorance and barbarism of the Orkney Islanders or the Mayo peasants are entitled to a fuller share of political power than the cultivated intelligence of the electors of Westminster or the City of London. I shall be curious to see, during the course of this debate, how far the Metropolitan Members agree with and support this doctrine. I only wish to say this one word more. Even if the condition of Ireland were as 653 peaceful and law-abiding as that of the rest of the United Kingdom, it would be a monstrous injustice that wealthy and populous England should be partially disfranchised in order that the dwindling and poverty-stricken population of Ireland should retain that full share of representation which was awarded to her in her more prosperous days; but when, in addition to that, this measure will strike a blow at the integrity of the Empire, and endanger the very existence of the Constitution, it is more than injustice. It is, in the memorable words of the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War, "simple madness." None the less now that madness has extended to themselves; and, whatever be the verdict of this House of Commons, whatever be the fate of the measure in this House, I am confident it will be rejected by the common sense and patriotism of the country.
§ MR. H. S. NORTHCOTE
said, he very much regretted the absence, at that moment, of any Member of the Ministry, not from any feeling of personal vanity, but because there was a question involving a practical difficulty connected with the Bill upon which he should have been very glad to be enlightened by some responsible Minister of the Crown, and that was as to what the practical working of the Bill would be should it pass in the present Session. As he understood it, if the Bill passed it would come into operation on the 1st of January, 1885; but the Prime Minister had told them that it must be supplemented by a Registration Bill, as well as by a Redistribution of Seats Bill. Now, the first registration affected by the Bill would take place in June, 1885, assuming the Bill to pass in the time expected; and the overseers of different electoral districts would prepare the list of names and claims, and submit them for the consideration of the Revising Barristers in September, 1885. From June up to August, they would be occupied in drawing up lists of claims, &c., and in September the Revising Barristers would decide upon their merits. The registration provisions would come into force on the 1st of January, 1886; but new Registration and Redistribution Bills it could not be reasonably supposed would have become law before June, 1886; and the result might be that, in June, 1885, the overseers would be preparing lists of 654 those claiming to be entitled to vote, and they would have the Franchise Bill in operation under the present registration system. If the Registration Bill were not passed until the autumn of 1885, then it would have no practical working until January, 1887; and, of course, a General Election was to be looked forward to before that time. The Election that would be held, presumably in the autumn of 1886, would therefore be fought on a register made up as if no new registration or alteration of constituencies were contemplated. If he might venture to put the matter in a tabular form, he might say that what would happen would be this—first, the present Bill, say, came into force on January 1st, 1885; then, the overseers prepared lists of claims for the coming year in June, 1885; then, the Registration Bill passed and came into effect in August, 1885, and the Revising Barrister decided in September of the same year on the June claims. The now Registration and Redistribution Bills would have become actual law by the 1st of January, 1886; but, as regarded their practical operation, the Registration Bill would not operate until the autumn of 1886. It would be in the latter year that the overseers would be drawing up their claims, and these lists of claims would be submitted to the Revising Barrister. The new List, therefore, would not be completed before the 1st of January, 1887. Well, as they might take it, a General Election would take place, at the latest, in 1886; and the real effect of delaying the Registration and Redistribution Bills to another Session would be, that the next General Election would be fought upon a register which would not represent the new and complete register which the Government aimed at. As regarded the more general questions dealt with by the Bill, he should like to remind the Government that this Redistribution Bill must inevitably and entirely be fought with the utmost keenness and such Party spirit as to very seriously endanger its passage through the House. It was quite possible, if the Government maintained their proposal of retaining the whole of the present Irish representation, that they might be able to retain the whole of the 103 Members for Ireland; but he (Mr. H. S. Northcote) thought that no sensible man could doubt that, in the Bill which they proposed to intro- 655 duce one next year, they would find it necessary to very materially redistribute the seats now held by the Irish Representatives. The noble Lord the Member for North Leicestershire (Lord John Manners), who commenced the debate that evening1, alluded to the fact that three small Irish constituencies would be able to outvote several large Irish constituencies as they at present wished; but the noble Lord did not push the argument quite as far as he might have done as regarded the very extraordinary anomaly of the present system of Irish representation. Taking a rough calculation from Dod, he (Mr. H. S. Northcote) found that there were 23 Irish constituencies at the present moment returning 24 Members to the House, the total of whose nominal electorate was 10,000 all told. But the House would see that those 10,000 electors returned one-fourth of the whole number of Irish Representatives. He did not suppose that, under any measure which the Government proposed, they could possibly allow such an extraordinary anomaly to remain as that 23 small constituencies should return to Parliament one-fourth of the whole representation of Ireland. On the other hand, he could hardly suppose that Her Majesty's Government were sanguine enough to imagine that that proportion of 24 Irish Representatives would allow themselves to be disenfranchised without a very keen struggle; and he thought the Government could have hardly realized what a hornet's nest they would be raising about their ears, if they attempted, in the last presumable Session of Parliament, to carry out a measure which would inflict what the people of Ireland must consider so great a wrong upon them. On this question of redistribution, the only light that had been vouchsafed to them by the Prime Minister had been that Ireland would lose none of her Members, and that the South of England was to be the principal sufferer. But, as a South of England Member, he (Mr. H. S. Northcote) objected very strongly to the doctrine that the interests of his constituents should, to some extent, be sacrificed for the benefit of Ireland. He thought there was one singular and significant omission in the Prime Minister's speech, in that he had made no allusion to the Welsh Members. If they examined the statistics, they would 656 see that, at present, the Principality was over-represented in a degree greater than Ireland, and in a still greater degree than England and Scotland. If this question was to be dealt with on mathematical principles, they ought to be impartially applied. One part of the Kingdom should not be favoured, because it returned Liberal Members, at the expense of another portion in which there might be a large number of Conservatives; and, as a Member representing a constituency in the South of England, he would protest against the injustice of disenfranchising constituencies there, while this over-representation of Wales was allowed to continue. There was another matter connected with Ireland which the Government should bear in mind; and that was that, in any scheme of proportional representation, they would not find their difficulties less if it were intended to take away the small constituencies in Ireland from the disloyal parts and add their Members to the representation of loyal Ulster. The Government would do well to consider carefully their proposals, or they might succeed in bringing in a Redistribution Bill which would be so objectionable as to excite at once the opposition of the Conservative Party, of a considerable section of their own side, and of the Party following the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell). The Government, he thought, should not run the risk of leaving the question of redistribution to be dealt with by another Parliament, for such a grave and important matter as that ought not to be deferred until the last Session in which Parliament would have to sit. The Members for the South of England had a right to ask whether the principles upon which they were to be dealt with were those of total or partial disfranchisement; and, in the case of the disfranchisement of the constituencies, whether they were to be grouped with others of the same size, or whether they were to be thrown into the county districts? He should like to learn, for example, from Her Majesty's Government whether such constituencies as Tiverton, Taunton, Truro, Penryn, and Barnstaple, were to lose their Representatives; whether a grouping was to be made, and the electoral area enlarged; or whether they were to be wholly disfranchised and thrown into the respective 657 districts of the county in which they were situate? The same remarks applied to the small boroughs in Wilts and Cornwall and the South and West of England generally; and he thought the Government would even gain in strength by giving them some information of the lines upon which their Redistribution Bill was going to proceed. If they would give them an approximate idea of what the unit was to be in dealing with this question of representation, it would be more than acceptable. According to a rough calculation he had made from Dod, he found that there were about 70 seats in the United Kingdom in which the population was over 10,000; about 65 where the population was between 10,000 and 20,000; about, 30 where the population was between 20,000 and 30,000; about 25 where the population was between 30,000 and 40,000; and about 40 where the population was between 40,000 and 50,000. He had stopped at 50,000, because he was aware that 50,000 constituted a unit at which a great many hon. Members and others who took an interest in this question of Parliamentary representation thought Parliamentary representation ought to begin. But the House would see that there was an enormous margin between the 70 seats in which the population was under 10,000 and the 230 seats where it ranged from 10,000 up to 50,000; and he ventured to think that the Government would gain materially if they would only indicate whether they were going to take the 10,000, the 20,000, or the 50,000 as their unit. Many hon. Gentlemen might be willing to consider the 10,000 unit a fair one, but would strongly object to see the same law applied to the larger constituencies; and the feeling of uncertainty which must prevail until they had some more definite information on that point from the Government would, he believed, be a greater hindrance to the passing of that Bill than any that might arise from the opposition of the Members for the boroughs that might be sacrificed. Then, again, they were told by the Prime Minister that it would be impossible that London should be represented at all in the House in proportion to its numbers; and the reason given was that, because of the contiguity of London to St. Stephen's, the London Representatives had a more than ordinary oppor- 658 tunity of impressing their views and bringing active pressure to bear upon the Government and the public mind. But that language of the Prime Minister was singularly at variance with that to which they were habitually treated by the supporters of the right hon. Gentleman and that portion of the Press which generally represented Liberal ideas, because they were always told that they must not look to London for the expression of public opinion. If, as they were told sometimes, they had to look to Manchester, Birmingham, or Leeds for robust Provincial Liberalism, as representing public opinion, he thought it was a little hard that London, having these enormous constituencies, was not to have an increase of her Representatives, because they were able to bring such immediate pressure upon the Ministry. And yet, when they brought that pressure to bear, they were enjoined to regard that pressure as not representing the public feeling of the country. There was another point on which he should like to say a word—namely, the idea that if Ireland continued to have its present share of representation no harm would result. It was said that if the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell), as the result of that Bill, had to lead a Party of 70 or 80 Members in that House, there would certainly be intestinal divisions and disunion among them, and that, therefore, matters would be no worse than they were now, for the hon. Gentleman would be then no more powerful than he was now, leading, as he did, from 30 to 40. He (Mr. H. S. Northcote) could not see what advantage Britain would gain if, instead of having to deal with one Home Rule Party from Ireland led by the hon. Member for the City of Cork, it had to deal with two, of 30 or 40 each, one led by the hon. Member for the City of Cork, and the other by the hon. Member for Monaghan (Mr. Healy), or some other aspiring Irish Member. Then, in regard to the storm which was to be raised throughout the country if this Bill fell through in the House of Commons, or still more in "another place," it appeared to him that that storm, if it was created, would be entirely of a factitious kind. He could not see any such state of excited public feeling as undoubtedly existed in 1831, and again in 1867; but, of course, it 659 was quite easy to get up a cry against Gentlemen who might be sitting in "smother place" on this ground—that; Her Majesty's Government and their supporters were willing—as they would go and tell the country—to have given the people something; but that another branch of the Legislature refused the boon. In the same way, it might be possible for one manufacturer to excite feeling against others who were living in harmony with their employés, by saying to his own employés—"I should have liked to have given you a rise in wages; but these other manufacturers will not consent to give a rise to their employés." There was no reason for disturbing the state of harmony and content which existed at present, until they had overwhelming proof that it was generally desired throughout the country. He should have very much preferred if the Government, instead of bringing in this far-reaching and extensive Franchise Bill, had seen their way to deal with the question by the appointment of a Boundary Commission. There was one remark of the Prime Minister with which he entirely agreed. The right hon. Gentleman had instanced the Glasgow shipbuilders, who had to extend their yards further and further down the Clyde until they were outside the city boundaries. He (Mr. H. S. Northcote) would admit that their workmen could not fairly be kept out of the enjoyment of the privilege which their fellows within the city boundaries enjoyed. He should be very glad if, in Ins own constituency, by an extension of the boundaries, a certain number of voters were admitted, whom they would be glad to have as constituents; and he believed in a large number of towns in the Kingdom an extension of the Parliamentary boundaries would be an advantage. He was, therefore, sorry that the Government did not first try the experiment of a Boundary Commission, which he believed would have satisfied the claims of those men who were said to be desirous of obtaining the franchise, and whom it was generally admitted should have it. The Government having brought in this wide measure, it was too much to expect that they could by any possibility withdraw it and substitute another. However, considering the state of affairs, notably in Ireland, he was bound to say that unless this Bill were 660 accompanied by a judicious measure for redistribution, the dangers which it involved so far outweighed the advantages it could confer that he should have not the slightest hesitation in giving his vote with the noble Lord, and go fearlessly before his constituents and defend it.
§ MR. BAXTER
Sir, having voted in support of every measure for the extension of the franchise introduced into this House during the last 30 years, I cannot refrain from expressing the great pleasure and satisfaction which I shall have in voting for this Bill, which, in some respects, is the greatest and best of them all. I am one of those who are of opinion—and have always been so—that each householder should only have one vote, and should simply vote for the house in which he resides; and I dare say it is very probable that our children, or our children's children, will give legislative sanction to that opinion; but I always keep in mind that this is a very old country—the oldest Constitutional country in the world—and I, therefore, have never seen any reason why we should assimilate all our laws and practices to those of the Australian Colonies or the United States of America. Some of our ancient franchises are difficult to defend; but they have come down from an olden period, and are cherished by large classes of the people of this country. What is more, Sir, they have been very useful to the cause of liberty and progress in the past, and they may be found very useful in the future; and therefore I am not at all sorry, although an advanced Liberal, that there is no disfranchisement in this Bill. In my opinion—whatever hon. Gentlemen opposite may say—and there have been some signs to-night of what is to come—it is an eminently conciliatory, Conservative, and just measure; and in my belief, notwithstanding theories of my own, it is the very best and wisest that could have been in present circumstances, all things considered, brought by Her Majesty's Government under the consideration of the House of Commons. I believe that if this Bill passes into law it will settle the question of the franchise in all our time. No doubt, we have heard something about manhood suffrage. Theoretically, there are people who believe that manhood suffrage is the correct principle. I am not here to deny that after 661 this generation, and probably another, have passed away it may possibly be safe; but I wish to say to-night emphatically that, in the present time, long before the great Education Act has had time to have its proper effect, when masses of the people are in great ignorance and utterly unable to give a vote which they understand, it is not only idle, but it is mischievous, to talk of that principle as within the range of practical politics. I shall state very candidly that there are two points on which I cannot concur with the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister in the very able and remarkable speech which he made in introducing this Bill to the notice of the House. In the first place, I hope this House will never, under any circumstances, no matter what may be the temptation, consent to an increase of its Members. The Prime Minister distinctly said that such a contingency was on the cards. The House has too much the character of a mob already, and I rather fancy it would be glad to see a reduction in point of numbers, and I want to recall the attention of hon. Gentlemen who have been some time Members of this House to what took place in 1867. I then had the honour of moving an Instruction to the Committee to disfranchise all the English burghs under 5,000 of a population, in order to give additional Members to Scotland. That was felt in the House at that time to be, and myself admitted that it was, a very high-handed proceeding; and the present Prime Minister looked at it, from a Constitutional point of view, in a very doubtful light; but, all the same, I carried my Instruction by a substantial majority. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Lincolnshire, whom I see opposite, will recollect it quite well—[Mr. J. LOWTHER: Hear, hear!]—and I am sure he will bear me out as to what was the reason. The House could not refuse justice to Scotland. We were very much underrepresented; but so strongly did the House feel that it could not increase its numbers that that Instruction, highhanded as I admit it was, was carried in a very large House. Now, the other respect in which I cannot agree with the Prime Minister, nor with my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, who has spoken to-night (Mr. John Bright), is in regard to the pro- 662 portionate representation of Ireland. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, I know, will say—it has been said in the country since the Prime Minister's speech—that the idea of giving more Members to a distant part of the country, on account of the distance from the capital, was a new idea and invention of his in order to gain the Irish vote. I can bear testimony that that is not the case, because, nearly 20 years ago, I had an argument with the right hon. Gentleman upon this very point. I do not think much of the idea; and, notwithstanding the eloquent speech which we have heard to-night from my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, I cannot agree that, because we, in Scotland, or the people in Ireland, are distant from London, therefore we should have additional Representatives. At all events, any Scotch Member who hears me to-night will bear me out in saying that Scotland wishes nothing of the kind. All we ask in Scotland is, that on any intelligible, fair, rational basis—say, for example, on the basis of taxation and population combined, or on the basis of the number of electors—we should have the same proportionate representation as that enjoyed by other portions of the United Kingdom. I am not going to produce any figures to the House. I am quite sure that before these discussions have ended the House will have figures ad nauseam. Suffice it for my argument to say that, no matter from what point of view the question is looked at, or the manner in which the representation is calculated, there is no reasonable, candid, sensible man in the United Kingdom who will not admit that Scotland is under-represented, and Ireland is over-represented. As for the Treaty of Union, I do not believe any living man in Scotland cares what the provisions of the Treaty of Union are in regard to the number of Representatives; and I am not such a Tory as my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham to stand here to-night and say on no account whatever will I give up the number fixed at the time of the Union. The hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) was candid enough, in this House, to admit that Ireland had six or seven Representatives too many. I think most impartial people who make the calculation will say that, if Ireland had 90 Members, 663 she would have more than her proportionate number; and, certainly, a great deal more than her proportion when the next Census is taken. These, however, are all really details. They do not affect this Bill which is now before the House; and, were it not for the Amendment of the noble Lord opposite (Lord John Manners), probably, Sir, you would have ruled that reference to any such matters was out of Order. I think it is only candid for me to state, and Her Majesty's Government should know, the opinions held by many on this side of the House; but as to making these minor differences—differences about redistribution—a reason for opposing this Bill, or proceeding to embarrass the Government, I cannot understand such a position being taken by any British statesman. I know what the public will say of such opposition. They will say that the men who take that line have a feeling of secret hostility, and are only too anxious to find some ready pretext to give it vent. We stand united in regard to this matter of the franchise. When the Redistribution Bill is introduced, we shall hold ourselves entirely unpledged to take whatever course we think proper and just, and the House will recollect the words of the Prime Minister. He was careful not to commit even his own Colleagues, but spoke his own individual opinion; and probably he and my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham will both find, when this Bill is passed and the Redistribution Bill is introduced, they will be in a minority on the Irish Question. As to the idea of settling the question of redistribution as well as of enfranchisement in one Session, there is no man sitting on the Opposition side of the House who does not know that the thing is absolutely impossible and impracticable. [Mr. E. CLARKE: No, no!] The hon. and learned Member has only been a few years in this House, and if He had heard as many discussions about Reform Bills as I have heard, probably he would be of a different opinion. That being so, I regard the Amendment moved to-night by the noble Lord opposite as merely one of obstruction and delay; but hon. Gentlemen opposite will not succeed in this game. The wisest and coolest heads among them make no secret of their opinion in private that this Bill cannot be opposed. It never could be opposed 664 by the whole strength of the Tory Party. It is too just, too deferential to ancient usages too Conservative in its spirit; and I feel certain that it will be sent up to "another place" by such a sweeping majority that our Friends there—who are not nearly so stupid as some Radical Members say—will think twice before they throw it out. It is not so very long ago since they refused to follow the lead of Lord Salisbury in so destroying the Agricultural Holdings Act that the Government would not have gone on with it; and I, for one, believe the Peers of England have courage and patriotism and sense enough on this far greater occasion to take a similar course. The hon. Gentleman who last sat down (Mr. Northcote) said something of registration. It is rather a dull subject; but I want to say something about it too. I was very glad to hear what the Prime Minister said, in his remarkable opening speech, about the subject of registration; and I feel satisfied that no part of that speech will give greater satisfaction to the House and the country than that part in which he said that the Government had a Bill ready for making the new household franchise a self-acting franchise. I want, however, to correct a mistake into which the Prime Minister fell. Not like his usual accuracy, he said that it had never been found practicable yet to combine a proper system of registration with the franchise in such a way as to make the registration a public and national affair, and not an affair of the individual. The Prime Minister is a Scotch Member, and not only so, but he is a pure Scotchman; and he has quite forgotten—for he must have known—that Scotland has been in the possession for a great many years of that very excellent boon which he is now prepared to confer upon the less enlightened portions of the United Kingdom. More than 30 years ago there was an Act passed for Scotland, by which the whole property of the country was valued once a-year; and about 20 years ago, I think, the Valuation Roll became the Registration Roll as well; and it is now the duty—a duty, I must say, most admirably and punctually performed—of the public officers to see that every man who has a right to vote has his name on the Register. Candidates, political Parties, and agents have nothing in the wide world to do with it. I recollect very 665 well the meeting of Scotch Members in the Lord Advocate's Chambers when that proposal was first made, to make the Valuation Roll become the Registration Roll. All the Scotch Members, I think, attended; and it was soon found that there was very great difference of opinion, the county Members, chiefly Conservative, holding to the old system, whereas the burgh Members supported the change. Mr. Blackburn, then Member for Stirlingshire, said—"If you burgh Members want this change, take it; take the counties out of the Bill, and pass the Bill for the burghs alone." I instantly rose, and advised the burgh Members to close with that proposal, and they did so. The consequence was that when the counties found how inexpensively and admirably the new system worked for the burghs, they insisted on bringing in a Bill to put the counties in the same position. Well, Sir, this, I believe, is a most admirable measure—a measure which, to gather from the speeches made on the other side to-night, is really accepted by the Conservative Party. No doubt, there are Gentlemen amongst them—though, I think, these are decreasing in number every day—who are lamenting the democratic wave passing over this country. [Mr. WARTON: Hear, hear!] The hon. and learned Member for Bridport is, no doubt, very sorry for it; but, nevertheless, he and his Friends must face it. You cannot educate the masses of the people without giving them votes. You must have regard to the suffrages in other Constitutional countries beside your own. Surely history has taught us, in trumpet tones, in all time that Commonwealths are not endangered by trusting the people, but by withholding from them rights. Every measure of enfranchisement which we have passed has shown the wisdom of widening the basis of political power. When I entered this House; 30 years ago, I was strongly of that opinion, and now that my political life is much nearer its close I feel it even more strongly still; and I have no doubt in my own mind that, in a very few days, the present House of Commons will pass this Bill by a very large majority, and show to all the Constitutional nations of the world that this great measure is practically safe, and will soon become law.
§ MR. C. ROSS
said, He must ask the indulgence of hon. Members while he stated briefly the reasons which induced him to support the Amendment now before the House. In the first place, he considered that the Bill was not generally required by the country; secondly, that it was inopportune, and yet did not hold out the promise of finality; and, lastly, that it was incomplete. No hon. Member of the House would assert that, up to the present time, the people had shown themselves animated by any keen desire for the extension of the franchise. He found that popular feeling was represented by 61 Petitions and 2,962 voters. From recent elections, he thought they were right in assuming that there was absolute indifference, if not dislike, on the part of the constituencies to this gigantic scheme. He called to witness the elections in Cambridgeshire, Huntingdon, and West Somerset; and although bye-elections and Petitions might not be absolute indices of the mind of the country, still they were the only indications they had up to the present time. The constituencies seemed to be busying themselves with other matters. They were considering the affairs of Egypt and the Soudan, Gordon's proclaiming peace at Khartoum, and Graham slaughtering the Soudanese by thousands near Suakin, Gordon's offer of a Crown to the Mahdi, and Hewett's offer of a price for the head of Osman Digna. The people in towns were thinking much more of the state of trade, the improvement in the dwellings of the poor, the long-deferred better regulation of the liquor traffic—if the hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton) would allow it—and the enfranchisement, on an equitable basis, of the urban leaseholders. The people in the counties were sighing for relief of local burdens, and the speedy stamping out of the cattle disease, and, perhaps, casting wistful glances hack in the direction of Protection. The second objection he made to the Bill was, that it was inopportune, and offered no final solution of the difficulty. He did not assert that the country was dead to Reform in 1880. Reform was one among many other important questions, most of which still remained untouched, and which would not be advanced one inch by the most drastic reform. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose (Mr. 667 Baxter), in the course of the remarks he had made, spoke of this Bill as one I which would settle the question. He (Mr. Ross) was astonished that a right hon. Gentleman who had succeeded Mr. Hume should have pronounced such an opinion. Once take the ground that franchise was a right, and not a privilege, and why should they stop short at household suffrage? Pass this Bill today, and the agitation for manhood suffrage would commence to-morrow. The Prime Minister, in introducing the Bill, described it as final. He (Mr. Ross) was amazed at such an assertion coming from the lips of one who had been for 50 years a maker of his country's history. The Reform of 1832 was to be a final settlement. Yet 15 years had not passed before the question was once again prominently brought before Parliament by Mr. Hume, who was one of those who, in 1832, had been the loudest to clamour for "the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill." Nor did it rest. Almost annually it was, more or less, the cause of agitation in the country, which was allayed, but not stopped, by the Reform Bill of 1867, and since then they had heard constantly of the assimilation of the franchise. Then as to woman suffrage. If they passed this measure without giving the franchise to women, Parliament would know no rest until the demand was granted, and if they were to deal with the franchise as a right he could not see by what logic they could refuse the suffrage to women. In a country ruled over by a woman, in a country the most brilliant pages of whose history would be found recorded under the Reigns of Elizabeth, Anne, and Victoria, in such a land to deny to women, possessed of the proper qualification, the right to vote was an anomaly which, as reasonable beings, they could only tolerate on the ground that the franchise was not a right, but a privilege. Were they wise, then, to plunge into all the troubled waters of a Reform agitation? Would it not be well to stay on the banks, and finish the many tasks still remaining almost untouched? Lastly, the main objection to this Bill was contained in the Amendment before the House. The cry of redistribution had been raised before, and its justice had been oftentimes substantially admitted; but never was the justice of this demand so palpable as on 668 this present occasion. The greatest transfer of political power that had been made since 1688 required a corresponding re-adjustment of the political machinery, or a catastrophe might ensue. By the Bill they made an immense addition to the electorate of Scotland, they were effecting a complete metamorphosis of the English electorate, and in Ireland they were creating a complete revolution. Was it too much to implore the House to pause ere it took this irrevocable step? In reality, vast and important though the change would be, a Redistribution and Extension of Franchise Bill, taken together as a complete measure, would not give rise to half the anxiety nor cause half the violent rancour of Party feeling that would and must be caused by an ill-judged measure such as the present. Though there might be danger in a complete scheme, the danger would be as nothing compared to that of flinging 2,000,000 voters on to the old system, without providing new channels by which they might give intelligent expression to their aspirations. It might be contended that the House should be satisfied with the sketch presented to it by the Prime Minister of his idea of redistribution; but was the House to pass this Bill on the chance, and in the hope that the sketch of the Prime Minister would, when the shading was put in by the Members of the present Cabinet, meet with general approbation? Even the Premier's sketch did not improve on acquaintance. It disclosed much that was alarming. In fact, the Premier said at once too much and too little; not enough to satisfy, and yet too much to allow them any further peace. The main outlines of his sketch were these—Ireland was to remain as she was; the number of Members for Scotland was to be increased; the North of England was also to be increased; and the balance wanting was to be made up from the South and West of England. Now, upon what fair basis was the South of England to be sacrificed for Ireland? The reason given was a geographical one—namely, that because Ireland was so far from the centre of government, she should retain a larger representation than she was entitled to. He (Mr. Ross) would only say, in passing, that coming as he did from, perhaps, the most distant constituency in the Kingdom, a 669 constituency situated not far from the Land's End—he considered he had a strong claim, not merely to retain the single representation of the borough of St. Ives, but a claim for one Colleague, if not for two additional Members for that borough, It did not want any very great shrewdness, he thought, to see through the arrangement hold out by the Prime Minister to the Irish Members. It might, perhaps, be described as the third volume of the novel called The Kilmainham Treaty. The first volume was entitled Force is no Remedy; the second was entitled The Resources of Civilization, and the third The Reward for Disloyalty. He had no wish to base his argument with regard to Ireland simply on the ground of her disturbed condition. He wished to deal with her as if she were contented and loyal, and he failed to see one single reason for taking seats away from the South and West of England, and leaving Ireland intact. Was it on the ground of population? Even on that ground she was over-represented, and in a few years, if emigration continued at its present rate, she would be immensely over-represented, independently of the increase in the English and Scotch population. Nor was it on the score of Ireland's contribution to Imperial taxation. Still, in order that Ireland might be rewarded, the West and South of England were to be deprived of their ancient privileges. Such was the policy that was held out to the House, as an inducement to pass the Bill. He had never looked upon Esau selling his birthright as a very wise personage; but Esau selling his birthright was a very wise and prudent individual compared with the Members for small constituencies, if they parted with their birthright for the mere indication of such a mess of pottage as this sketch which the Premier had drawn and presented to them. He appealed to Members on the other side, who, like himself, represented small constituencies, and he besought them to pause before they gave votes upon which the character of this Bill depended. Once the principle of this Bill had been allowed to pass, their constituencies would have lost their power, and would become condemned constituencies. Never again would they have the powerful opportunity for doing good that they now had, and he asked them seriously to con- 670 sider this question for themselves and the country. He did not put it on the selfish ground that by voting for this Bill they were committing political suicide. He put it on the ground that they held a great trust for their country and the Empire. As surely as they recorded their votes in favour of this Bill they signed their own death warrant. But that was little. They destroyed the privileges of the ancient constituencies they represented. But even that sank into insignificance compared to this—that their constituencies would reproach them—their consciences would upbraid them—all history would record it against them, that at a time of a great national crisis they had for Party purposes failed in their public duty, not from want of knowledge of the danger into which they might be plunging the Constitution, not from want of ability to avoid that danger, but from the greatest fault that could beset public men—from want of moral courage.
§ MR. E. A. LEATHAM
Mr. Speaker, I think that a great question is never, perhaps, in greater danger than when everyone who addresses himself to its discussion begins his speech, if not with the admission, at least with the persuasion, that it is thrashed out. We are apt to omit, and even to forget, the arguments which have made it great, and so to allow the whole volume of our contention to lose itself in a multitude of side issues. The truth of that remark was never, perhaps, better exemplified than in the success which, for a time, attended the speeches with which Mr. Lowe approached what had then become the venerable question of Borough Franchise Reform. It was not that his arguments were conclusive, but that the answers to them had been forgotten. Now, I think that the question which is before the House runs similar risks. I have observed a distinct desire on the part of hon. Gentlemen to get away from the real point at issue, and to allow the controversy to turn upon secondary considerations. Why do we demand Reform? Our motive is not in order that we may arrive at better government, although, as Liberals, we believe that at better government we shall arrive. Our motive is to redress a great and manifest injustice. We demand this Bill, because you have surrendered every pass of argument that loads up to it, 671 and because, of all the anomalies which beset our electoral system, the exclusion of the rural householder from the franchise is the worst. So long ago as 1859, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) has pointed out, Mr. Disraeli dwelt forcibly on "the feelings of dissatisfaction and distrust" which existed between the two great sections of the electoral body, and his remedy was uniformity of franchise. And in 1860 he stated positively that, in his opinion, you could not admit the working classes to the franchise in towns, and exclude them in the counties. But when we propose to admit them in the counties, how are we met? We are met by speeches which turn entirely upon secondary considerations—like the speech of the noble Lord opposite (Lord John Manners). He had a good deal to say about the inconveniences which must arise if Government should pass this Bill, and fail to pass a Redistribution Bill before the Dissolution. Now, no doubt, it would be better if, when we go to the country, we should have a constituency which does not partake in any degree of a provisional character. But until this whole question is satisfactorily dealt with, that is an impossibility. The constituency is provisional now. It has been condemned by Speeches from the Throne, and by the voice of public opinion. But the real answer to the noble Lord is, that it is impossible to deal with this question in any other way than that in which it has been dealt with by the Government. I put it to the candour of hon. Gentlemen opposite whether it is possible to deal in one Session of Parliament with both halves of this question, and, at the same time, with all the correlative questions to which it is sure to give rise? There was a time when it would have been possible to have so dealt with it; but that was before the insatiable thirst for information seized upon hon. Gentlemen opposite. In order that it maybe possible so to deal with it now, we must have two things. Hon. Gentlemen must renounce their thirst for information, and the Government must renounce their redistribution scheme, and substitute for it a scheme more in accordance with the standard of recent Reform Bills. Now, we dare not hope for the first, and the second we should emphatically condemn. So that the only practical question remaining is 672 which half to deal with first. And I submit that the half to be dealt with first is the half requiring the longest time to come into operation if enacted—this half which requires the registration and revision of voters. Surely, Sir, we must "cut our coat according to our cloth"—we must see first what the new registers will give us, and then redistribute—not redistribute first, in the hope that the new registers will bear us out in what we have done. Nor, from a purely Party point of view, have hon. Gentlemen opposite any right to complain. If the redistribution scheme of the Government could be, in any way, regarded as a counterpoise to this Bill, I could understand the anxiety that the one should be passed without the other. But when the reverse is the case, and when the redistribution scheme is calculated to emphasize rather than to counterpoise the popular tendency of this Bill; if, by any chance, the one should be taken and the other left, it is we, not they, who would be the losers at a Dissolution, and therefore we, not they, who ought to complain. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen) made, a few days ago, a speech which, if it is to be regarded as a speech against this Bill, was a speech which turned almost entirely on secondary considerations. But are we to regard it as a speech against this Bill? My right hon. Friend concluded his speech by a nautical peroration. We heard about the angle of vanishing stability, and the angle of danger. I wonder that we heard nothing of a phrase in this connection, which I am sure must have been upon the tip of his tongue, a phrase which has also sometimes a political significance—I wonder that we heard nothing about "trimming." I read the speech of my right hon. Friend twice over without arriving at its drift. I came, at last, to the conclusion that He was in full retreat the whole time. He conducted his retreat over very difficult ground; he brought off most of his ammunition; but he abandoned all his heavy artillery early in the day. He began by making very startling admissions of a total change of opinion with regard to the working classes in towns. He thus surrendered three-fourths of the position against this Bill, for three-fourths of the persons enfranchised by this Bill will belong to the class 673 whom my right hon. Friend is willing to trust. Let us hope that more mature observation will bring conviction to him also with regard to the agricultural labourer, and that some day we may be edified by the spectacle of my right hon. Friend taking to his bosom, with equal effusion, the man whom he now thinks stands in need of an apprenticeship, like the slave, before he arrives at freedom. The startling admissions with which my right hon. Friend began his speech were not by any means all which constituted his retreat. The retreat became something like a rout when, amid the ironical cheering of hon. Gentlemen opposite, he announced the conditions upon which he was prepared to support the Bill. But though my right hon. Friend was in full retreat all through, from time to time he turned upon his pursuers "versis equis Parthus animosus"—which I hope no hon. Gentleman will translate, "this Parthian with an animus"—and inflicted wounds and anguish upon them. He had a great deal to say, like the noble Lord opposite, upon the necessity of representing minorities, and, because this Bill contains no special provisions for representing the loyal minority in Ireland, he seemed half inclined to refuse it his support. Now, the particular question upon which it is so necessary that the minority in Ireland should be represented, is the very question upon which their views are represented with overwhelming force by the majority upon this side of the Channel. It would have been impossible to have found a more crushing illustration to prove how completely the views of a minority in one part of the Kingdom are represented by those of a majority in another, than the illustration which was produced by my right hon. Friend for our discomfiture. My right hon. Friend appears to have convinced himself, by some process of arithmetic in which I was unable to follow him, that English seats were to be taken in order to swell the representation of Ireland. I was under the impression that the Irish representation was to be left as it is, and I am glad of it, because any diminution just now in the representation of Ireland would be accepted by everyone in Ireland, and by everyone in the civilized world, as a penal act. No doubt, Sir, through the pressure of circumstances—many of 674 which we hope to remove—and of a great dispensation of Providence—which all of us pray may never recur—the population of Ireland has shrunk below its normal figure, and those who are eager to seize upon every advantage are ready with the cry—"Pare down to the lowest possible limits the representation of this disaffected portion of the Kingdom;"—["Hear, hear!"]—and from that cheer I gather that there are hon. Members here who are of that opinion. I do not share those views for many reasons. One of them is that, Radical as I am, I am not such a Radical as to desire to impose upon this country that device of the American democracy, by which the representation shifts with shifting population, so that your representatives may be hero to-day and gone to-morrow. We should never have heard of this proposal, but for the peculiar policy of hon. Members who sit below the Gangway on the other side of the House. Much as I regret that policy, I am not prepared to visit it with such a penalty as this. Still less am I prepared to except Ireland on such grounds from that full and fair Representation of the people which we demand for England and Scotland, and I have the less hesitation in saying so, because I am not one of those who have ever played with the hopes of hon. Members who sit in that part of the House. I regard the obligation to maintain the unity of the Kingdom and the integrity of the Empire as absolute and vital. For this supreme end I would shrink from no sacrifice, and there is no exercise of necessary force from which I would recoil. But the very conditions which would alone justify our having recourse to these extremities, are the conditions which compel us to share with our fellow-subjects in Ireland every scrap of that freedom, and every shred of those privileges which we insist upon for ourselves. It is because we all form part of the same indivisible nation, that we must all live under the same laws and enjoy the same rights. Sir, we must grasp Ireland with both hands—with the hand of authority, no doubt, but also with the hand of patient and scrupulous justice. If we do this, I am sanguine enough to hope that the grasp will soon be mutual, and that the embrace will last for ever. So much for the indirect arguments against this Bill 675 —we have heard very few direct arguments against it—but there is a. strong undercurrent of fear running through the speeches of hon. Gentlemen. Why are they afraid? The people whom we propose to enfranchise are the people about their own doors; they wear their flannels, and they cat their Christmas beef. Whatever they are, they have made them so. They have had the whole moulding and manipulating of this class, they and their forefathers, for centuries. No modicum of information has readied it, except through patent filters of their own construction. As my right hon. Friend (Mr. John Bright) has pointed out—the young rustic still sits at the feet of their Gamaliels. He enjoys peculiar advantages in the form of instruction as to his conduct through life. He knows very well that he has to "honour and obey the Queen," "to submit himself to his spiritual pastors and masters," and "to order himself lowly and reverently to his betters," by which in all gravity we mean ourselves. Do you think that this system persisted in from generation to generation can have left no traces? Ever since the memory of man I may say, you have had this whole class in the hollow of your hand, and yet you tremble in its presence when we propose to give it votes, and would postpone, to the latest possible time, the opportunity for which, no doubt, it yearns of restoring seven-fold into your bosom the blessings which you have heaped upon it. Sir, I admit that when I regard this Bill, I too have fears, but they are not of this type. When we remember how vast have been the electoral changes of the last 50 years; how enormous is the interval which, politically speaking, separates us from the age of rotton boroughs, yet how minute have been the corresponding changes in the great institutions of the country—in the Throne, for example—in the House of Lords, in the Church, oven in the Bench of Bishops, what ought to be the anxieties which should oppress us now? We are approaching the last phase of enfranchisement; what ought to be our fears? Lest the corresponding changes may be too sweeping, or lest they may be too slender? Sanguine indeed must be the Reformer who can call to mind the influences which have hitherto been brought to bear upon the classes to be 676 enfranchised, and which, with ten-fold force, will be brought to bear upon them hereafter; and yet who does not tremble—tremble, Sir, for what? For the great institutions of the country? No; but lest we may have exhausted the whole reforming force which still remains outside the Constitution; lest we may drain, to the very bottom, the vitality which is to be gained from the infusion of the only fresh blood remaining, and yet fail of those reforms which we still think to be necessary and just. Sir, this is the true view to take of the Bill, and these are the genuine fears of those who are earnest but moderate Reformers. But if the arguments of the noble Lord, who usually sits opposite (Lord Randolph Churchill), are to prevail, how long will this state of things continue? The noble Lord says that he will not support this Bill, because there is no force to the front which can make him do so. Whenever I hear that kind of argument I am reminded of what was once said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham. "Everybody," he said, "who does not want reform says that no one wants reform;" and when my right hon. Friend was told that there were few Petitions for Reform, he asked the House whether they knew how many Petitions were presented before the great Reform Bill. "In 1821 there was one, in 1822 12, in 1823 29, from 1823 to 1829 not one, in 1830 14;" and then he turned to hon. Gentlemen opposite and asked—"And what took place in 1831 and' 32? You were flying for your lives!" It is not until the noble Lord is flying for his life; "not," He says, "until the agricultural labourers march on London, and pull down the park palings," that he will support the Bill. And what, I should like to know, would be the position of this House then? We should no longer be the Representatives of the people, calmly deliberating upon what we believe to be for the public welfare. We should have become the whipped pack of a victorious democracy, cringing before a master who had something to forgive, and who might think that he had something to avenge. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance from a Conservative point of view—and I use the word in its best sense—of settling the question now, when all is orderly expectation, and when the argument of 677 terror, which the noble Lord invites, forms no part of our calculations. Now, Sir, there are some hon. Members who are opposing this Bill, not so much because they think that the Bill itself will do any harm, but because it may lead to measures of a much more revolutionary character. The noble Lord opposite (Lord John Manners) has told us to-day that the argument of the Prime Minister tends in the direction of manhood suffrage. We are told that if we once let go our "safe moorings," we shall find no resting-place for the franchise short of manhood suffrage. Well, we were told so before, when we were dealing with the borough franchise. But we did find a logical resting-place short of manhood suffrage. We found it in the ancient franchise of the country, a recurrence to which was advocated by Mr. Grey and Mr. Fox at the close of the last century. Mr. Disraeli contended that the householder possessed relations with the State distinct from those possessed by any other individual, and on that ground he gave him the franchise. In proposing household suffrage in the counties, it is we who are erecting the barrier of principle against manhood suffrage; while you, who cling to a £12 occupation franchise, are in fact holding on by your eyelids to a crumbling ledge which, if there be no logical resting-place in household suffrage, positively overhangs the abyss. It is contended that this Bill will lead to electoral districts. I think we must have a great deal more than anything which is to be found in this Bill before we can persuade the constituencies to surrender their individuality, and merge themselves in an electoral district. There were some attempts in this direction in the last Reform Bill; but they have not been attended with any very marked success. An amusing instance came to my own knowledge. In the West Hiding of Yorkshire there have sprung up, side by side, two flourishing manufacturing towns, and it requires an expert to tell where Dewsbury ends and where Batley begins. By day, the incense of their industry ascends together, and by night, they slumber under the same impenetrable canopy of mutual smoke. Lord Beaconsfield, surveying, probably from some passing train, this vast conglomeration of streets and mills, and churches and chimneys, determined that "they 678 twain should be one flesh," and should return one Member to Parliament. There never was a greater mistake. It instantly appeared that the choice of Dewsbury was the conspute of Batley, and that the man whom Batley delighted to honour Dewsbury felt bound to reject—and this although the same rich river of Radicalism runs through both places, watering and fertilizing both with alluvial impartiality. The traditions and associations which build up and fortify the individuality of great communities are stronger than your Acts of Parliament. You cannot cut and carve an old country like England into blocks and squares, the genius loci is too strong for you. Each county, each borough, has its own political history, and thinks its own political history a vast deal better than that of any other county or borough; and the politicians who would move these ancient landmarks will incur a vengeance as formidable as that which proceeded in the old times from the god Terminus himself. Nor is there any demand for electoral districts in the constituencies themselves. The utmost that they ask for is something like common fairness in the apportionment of Representatives. Give a man a vote, and he cares very little whether he belongs to a small or a large constituency. If to a small one, he thinks more of his own importance; if to a large one, more of the importance of the great community which he has joined; but give him no vote at all, and the whole world of politics goes on outside him, in a country in which politics are everything. And now, Sir, I do not know that I can conclude these few remarks better than by a quotation from one of the speeches of a right hon. Gentleman, now a noble Lord, who used once to be regarded as the arch-enemy of Reform. Mr. Lowe said—The only practical mode of dealing with this question in a manner worthy at once of the dignity of this House and the character of the English people is to guide our course by the light of experience.Sir, it is because this Bill thus deals with it, because it is emphatically the light of experience which is our guide, experience gained in our own country, and from the operation of the very measure which Mr. Lowe condemned, because this Bill is the legitimate offspring of the great measures which went 679 before it—because, like them, it is frank, generous, and effective, building up to the very summit the electoral edifice of the Kingdom, that I support this Bill. Mr. Fox once said—In order that the Government may be strong, the people must make the Government.And then he asked the question—Is confidence to be always against the people and never for them?He spoke those words in support of household suffrage 86 years ago. We ask the same question now. He asked it at a time when English liberty was dead, when the hand of the people had been withdrawn from the sceptre, when the Red Terror still reigned in France. We ask it in very different times. The clouds through which the genius of Fox could penetrate have rolled away. The sky is clear over our heads. The people have justified the confidence of Fox. The British Government is strong because the people have made it. In asking you to pass this Bill we only ask you to crown that confidence, and to redouble that strength.
§ MR. MULHOLLAND
said, that, while joining most cordially in the aspirations expressed for the future happiness of this country, he deeply regretted that his views as to the means for obtaining that end differed widely as the poles from those of the hon. Member who had just sat down (Mr. E. A. Leatham). He (Mr. Mulholland) fully agreed with his noble Friend who had moved the Amendment (Lord John Manners), who had gone over the whole general question, and clearly showed that, in effecting a great change like that proposed by the Bill, the House ought to be made acquainted with the whole of the Government scheme before they committed themselves to any part. He would not, however, follow the noble Lord over the wide area, but address himself to Ireland particularly, and he must say that the proposal to include that country in the scheme was a most objectionable one. A few days ago the Prime Minister, in introducing the measure, said that its object was to strengthen the State. It could scarcely be supposed that that speech of the Prime Minister had been composed before the objections of the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War, to Ireland being included in the Bill, had been overruled in the Cabinet. A Liberal Mem- 680 ber, speaking with unusual frankness, had said that the object of including Ireland in the Bill was to consolidate the Liberal Party, while another hon. Member had said that the object was to induce the Home Rule Party to vote in favour of the Bill. In his (Mr. Mulholland's) opinion, in the present condition of things, it would be a great mistake to throw 500,000 new voters of the lowest and most ignorant class into the constituency of Ireland; and to do so would not be to strengthen, but to weaken the State. Would it not be better to wait a little longer for a Reform Bill for England and Scotland, rather than it should be carried by the assistance of a Party whose avowed object was its greatest condemnation? It was idle to talk of the necessity of identical legislation, when it was only three years ago that exceptional legislation was justified for Ireland on the ground of dissimilar circumstances altogether from England. The principle of household suffrage for Ireland was deliberately refused for Ireland 15 years ago, with the approval of the Prime Minister's Colleagues, and the different treatment of rating was taken into account in fixing the details of the franchise. It was the existence of a large class, too poor for the payment of any rates, that had to be taken into consideration in both cases. Mr. Chichester Fortescue (now Lord Carlingford) stated, in that debate, that he considerered it was reasonable that some limitation should be applied. He (Mr. Mulholland) thought that, under all the circumstances of the case, that was a wise proceeding, and he wished to ask the House whether the circumstances of the case had altered since then? Had there been anything in the history of Ireland during the last 15 years that would induce the House to believe that it would be reasonable now to endow that large class with votes, and thus give it supreme political power? Certainly, there was no deficiency of the popular element in the Irish representation in that House. He would ask the House whether, within its walls, the most extreme views had not been represented? Was it not the case that, over a great part of the country, the representation now was almost monopolized by one class—that it was not only landlords and capitalists, but the middle class, who had no share in political 681 power, and that they were being gradually unrepresented? It was to perpetuate that evil, and to itensify it, that the present Bill, if carried into law, sought to do. He asked hon. Members opposite was it reasonable, could it be for the good of any country, that the classes which possessed the best interests in the State, the most intelligence, property, and education, should be permanently deprived of political influence, and divorced from public life? He had ventured to touch upon this line of argument last year, when he moved the rejection of the Borough Franchise (Ireland) Bill, and he was answered by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant (Mr. Trevelyan), by the statement that all this might be very true, but the Liberal Party had pledged themselves to support the measure when they were in Opposition. Now, He would ask the House, did not that amount to this—that the interests of Ireland were to be subordinated, if not sacrificed, to the interests of the Liberal Party? The elements of which that Party was composed were generally a little deficient in cohesion, and it was not the first time that disintegration had been made the signal for an attack upon the Irish people. He thought experience, as well as the precedents of former legislation, instead of being in favour of this Bill, constituted the strongest arguments which could be adduced against it. Was there any reason to believe that if they were to confer the franchise upon the 500,000 of people to whom it was now proposed to give it, that it would make Ireland more loyal or more peaceable? Was there any reason to believe that the electors they would now enfranchise would exercise the power that would be conferred upon them to strengthen the State? It was only within the week that they had heard an hon. Member there advise the people of Ireland not to pay the lawful taxes, and that advice was deliberately repeated and confirmed by the hon. Member who was supposed to influence the majority of elections in Ireland, even under the present system. He must remind the House that the men whom it was now proposed to enfranchise would outnumber those already entitled to the franchise by more than two to one. The present electorate of Ireland consisted of about 220,000 682 voters, and the estimate for the number that would be added by the present Bill varied from 400,000 to 500,000. And that, no doubt, would really amount to the disfranchisement of all those who were now really entitled to the franchise. Besides this, it was known that certain sections of the Irish Partly would not be satisfied with the Bill, but would merely take it as an instalment, and use it as a means of getting separation and an independent Government. When the Prime Minister proposed, therefore, to put a new weapon into their hands, he must do so with the full knowledge that that power would be used for the purpose of breaking up the British Empire. If the Prime Minister's object had been to make Parliamentary Government impossible, and to prevent the progress of Public Business in the House, he could not have adopted any more certain and effectual means than the introduction of the Bill; for, after providing for the reduction of the quality of the Irish Members of Parliament, he proposed to increase their number. How would the special interests of Ireland be affected by the measure? He was afraid that the special interests of Ireland were generally of minor consideration. Ireland was not even now very prosperous; for how could a country be prosperous in which there was no confidence in the future, where contracts could not be enforced, and whore the majority declared themselves in favour of separation, and were directly favoured by the policy of an influential English Party? What was the class of houses that was proposed as a qualification by the Bill? The last Census stated that, in Ireland, in 1881, there were 66,000 houses of the first class, 422,000 of the second class, 384,000 of the third class, and 40,000 of the fourth class. The fourth class consisted of mud cabins of only one room, and the third class of mud cabins of two or more rooms, so that there were 425,000 houses, or within 3 per cent of half the whole number of houses in Ireland, which were only mud cabins, and yet which were to confer a vote upon their occupiers. It was the first time that mud cabins had been proposed for enfranchisement, and the qualification, he would repeat, was not merely a fair share, but a far overruling share. The Reform Bill of 1867 was described at the time as being a 683 "leap in the dark;" but he would say that this Bill for Ireland would be a deliberate leap over a precipice. Anyone, who had studied the structure of English society in 1867, must have observed that the Reform Bill of that year was of such a nature that, even under household suffrage, there must come a thorough representation of all classes of the nation. But, in Ireland, the lowest class, about to be enfranchised, would, in the case of many boroughs, be as two to one. Then we were told that we had experience of the class of electors about to be added in England to the electorate; but that was not the case in Ireland, because the borough franchise did not extend to that country. He was free to admit that, in many cases, the change in Ireland might not make much difference. Over a great part of Ireland, unfortunately, even the present electorate had shown themselves incapable of resisting the demoralizing influences brought to bear upon them. But, even then, the case might be worse, and the lowest class might be still open to the delusive doctrines placed before them. Now, there was a part of Ireland which had hitherto resisted this influence, and where at least one-third of the population was intensely loyal. It was that portion of the people that must be looked to in the future to leaven the disloyal sentiments of the rest of the inhabitants, and who must be depended on to maintain the Union with the United Kingdom. What was to be done with this class under the present Bill? Why, it would be virtually extinguished. They did not now receive very much encouragement from the Party opposite. In time of difficulty and danger, that class was appealed to; but when the difficulty and danger were over, they were too often discouraged and even insulted. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite must feel, nevertheless, that they were an important factor in the Irish Question. Every political system was, of course, imperfect; but he would ask, what was to be the complexion of the minority for the future? Had the Government any plan or proposition to lay before the House for the purpose of abating the mischief inherent in their plan? One indication had certainly been given by the Prime Minister, as to the principles on which redistribution would be settled; but, so far as his 684 disclosure went, it was not at all reassuring, for it really amounted to this, that no other consideration whatever would influence the Government except the purchase of the Home Rule vote. If the Government were so much swayed by the fear of the influence of the Home Rule Party now, how could we expect, when the Leader of that Party had doubled his following, that they would have the courage to oppose unequal representation? By that time, the political influence of the loyal Party would have become extinct. On behalf of that Party, he would ask the House to decide, on every principle of justice and expediency, that their plan of redistribution should be disclosed, and that the Amendment of his noble Friend should be assented to.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
said, that the speech of the hon. Member who had just sat down (Mr. Mulholland) had been fall of vague alarm. If the observations of the hon. Member were correct—that the persons it was proposed to enfranchise in Ireland were the lowest and most ignorant in the country—it was because they had not been hitherto considered worthy of the franchise. But he (Mr. Collings) declared that nothing so much illustrated the courage and determination of the Government, and he much admired them for it, than the steps which they had taken to mete out equal justice to Ireland. It had been said that the Bill would add 500,000 of the poorest and most degraded people in Ireland to the electorate. But was it not the smaller danger to bring those people within the Constitution rather than to leave them out? Granted the necessity, was it not better to govern a country by ballot-boxes than by bayonets? The latter system had undoubtedly failed, and would always fail; and, surely, it was time that the former was tried in its place. To his mind, the greatest danger was in longer keeping the Irish people out of the franchise which was to be possessed by their fellows in this country. He did not base the claim of justice to Ireland only on the Act of Union. Years ago there was a population of 8,000,000. If there were still that population, no objection on the score of the numbers of Members for Ireland would have been heard of. But why had the population diminished? It was in consequence of the grossest injus- 685 tice and misgovernment on the part of this country; and it was not for England, because the population had diminished, to say that the number of Members for Ireland should be diminished. The Bill was in every respect an honest measure; it was honest on the one hand, and conciliatory on the other. For his own part, however, he should have preferred that the Bill should have swept away all property qualifications, substituting for thorn one uniform household and lodger franchise throughout the country; but all criticism was disarmed at the admission of 2,000,000 voters to the electoral roll to which they were entitled. The Bill had swept away the faggot vote, and had created a now and most beneficial franchise—the service franchise—at which he did not rejoice the less, because it would probably benefit the Conservative Party. Any alarm at the present proposals was unreasonable. In 1832 and in 1867 terrors were conjured up of the results which would follow the Bills of those years; but the success of those Acts had shown that those terrors had no foundation in fact. They certainly were never realized. On the contrary, experience had shown that both those Acts had contributed to the benefit and safety of the nation; and now there was little of such alarm expressed, which was a proof of the general confidence which was reposed in the classes about to be enfranchised. Both the earlier Reform Bills had tended to the safety and the welfare of the nation, and he anticipated great good from the extension of the franchise in the way of the legislation which would be the result of the enlarged electorate. Immediately after the Reform Bill of 1867 came the measure of National Education which was passed in 1870, and which might not have taken place so soon but for the new power in the hands of the electorate. The form and basis of the opposition to the Bill was that it did not contain a whole and complete scheme; but he maintained that a measure dealing with the franchise alone was complete in itself, and had no absolute connection with the redistribution of seats. Indeed, its operation in the increase of voting power required to be ascertained before you could consider the redistribution of that power. No doubt, the two had a consequential reference; but the fran- 686 chise was a measure which was buoyant and would swim, and it was sought by the Amendment of the noble Lord opposite (Lord John Manners) to hang a, stone about its neck so that it would sink and drown. Hon. Members might say what they liked about it; but the country would look upon the voting in that House in only one light—namely, as for and against the franchise. If it were true that labourers and other dwellers in villages did not know how to use the franchise, that would be no reason why they should not have it. The way to teach a man to use a responsibility was to give him that responsibility, and the agricultural labourer would never know the full responsibility of a vote until he got it. American statesmen said—"We must give the negro a vote, in order that he may know how to use it." There was abundant evidence that our rural population would know how to use the vote. At many meetings which he had attended they had exhibited marvellous political instinct and intelligence. A farmer of 500 or more acres wrote to him that the labourers would make as good voters as the tenant farmers. But we had no right to judge whether or no a man was fit to exercise what was a natural right belonging to every man who was of age and of sound mind—namely, the right to exercise the privileges of citizenship. A man who paid taxes ought to be allowed to vote. The Reform Act of 1867 made the Bill of 1881 imperative. No power on earth could prevent the extension of the franchise to the rural districts. Hon. Members opposite had stated that it was a tremendous thing to give the franchise to 2,000,000 of people. That might be so; but it was a still more tremendous thing to hold it from them. In the future how would they proceed to the settlement of the great Land Question without having in their Councils the great body of men who lived, toiled, and died on the land. It was urged that there was no demand for the franchise on the part of the agricultural labourers, and that there was, in fact, no outside pressure in favour of it; but The Labourers' Chronicle contained reports of 414 meetings held in January and February, at each of which the Bill was urgently insisted upon as a burning question. They regarded the measure as a certainty, and they were, therefore, 687 patiently waiting for it. He urged the Government not to be led away by any difficulty, but to go on, and persevere with the measure. No matter what might happen, and however they; might be defeated upon any other question, they were bound to go on and take the sense of the House of Commons upon this Bill, which was the most defined and most solemn of their pledges; to the people of England. If they failed, to proceed with the measure, they would be guilty of an act of treachery to the people of England, and would betray those who were unable to help themselves at the present time. He gave his hearty support to the Bill.
MR. J. LOWTHER
Sir, the House has just listened to a novel Constitutional doctrine; for the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Jesse Collings) has told the Government, speaking with all the authority which he possesses as a prominent Member of the Liberal electoral organization, that, whatever happens, they are to proceed with this measure, and to continue to hold Office, no matter what may overtake them in the way of censure, whether in reference to their policy in Egypt, or any other subject. In the few remarks which I am about to make to the House, I shall endeavour, as I always have done, to approach the question entirely apart from the spirit of Party. I do not mean that I would not be guided by any regard to the political principles which I profess; but what I mean to say is, I will endeavour to keep in view my political principles without being led to the right or the left by mere political exigencies. [Laughter.] I may; remind hon. Gentlemen who laugh that, in my place in Parliament, I denounced what has been called "the Conservative surrender" of 1867. I denounced that surrender, because, in my opinion, it was an arrangement not framed to the, advantage of the community; and, in the same way, I would oppose any Bill, from whatever quarter it might emanate, which, in my judgment, partook of the same characteristics. In that year I could not bring myself, in the language of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright), to be "converted" to doctrines which I have always held in the reverse of favour. I could not see any great charm in what was called "the personal 688 payment of rates." I could not bring myself to entertain so low an opinion of my countrymen as to believe that they would ever allow a paltry, partial, local Vestry Act to stand between them and what Parliament called their rights. I was so far borne out by the result; the payment of rates and other subterfuges vanished. The experience which we have gained since then has, I hope, made us wiser, and we shall not, I think, feel inclined to place any reliance upon the assertion of Ministers. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham made a charge, which, no doubt, he thought most effective, against my noble Friend (Lord John Manners), when he said—"Why did yon not venture to move the rejection of the Bill?" The right hon. Gentleman, with his knowledge of Parliamentary history, must know perfectly well that if my noble Friend had adopted that course, he would have run counter to almost every precedent that can be cited. The right hon. Gentleman must know that, in the case of all the Reform Bills which have been introduced during his career in Parliament, they have been met, not by a direct negative, but by some Resolution or Amendment substantially on all fours with that of my noble Friend. I think I am right in saying that, in 1859, the Bill of the Government of that day was met by an Amendment to the effect that it should not be proceeded further with, on the ground that it limited, to some extent, the privileges of a class who have been somewhat disrespectfully spoken of by hon. Gentlemen opposite—I mean the 40s. freeholders. The right hon. Gentleman, however, I am bound to admit, as the real patentee of the principle of the creation of faggot votes, has not joined so vociferously as many of his Friends in this outcry; but as an historical fact, in connection with the Bill of 1859, he will, no doubt, recall to mind that it was upon the side issue I have referred to that he and others prevailed, and the Bill of the Government was rejected. The right hon. Gentleman has also entered at considerable length into another branch of the subject—namely, the application of the Bill to Ireland. In the right hon. Gentleman's treatment of that branch of the question there was a good deal which did not startle me, because I had heard something not very dissimilar 689 before. The right hon. Gentleman followed up the subject by the introduction of various topics, as to winch it would be presumptuous in me to say how far they are relevant or not; and it would be discourteous to express any personal judgment as to the accuracy of the right hon. Gentleman's allegations. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the Tory Party us having, up to a few years ago, had its own way in Ireland; and he challenged the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) to contradict his statement. Upon that point the well-known dictum of O'Connell, as to the degree of gratitude which the Irish people owe to the Whig Party, is too vividly in the recollection of the right hon. Gentleman to make it necessary that I should go into that matter now. The right hon. Gentleman turned aside for one moment from the conciliatory action which he had recommended to himself for the treatment of Ireland, and the old leaven cropped out when he spoke of the stupid malignity of the wicked men who represented the popular opinion in Ireland. But the right hon. Gentleman said what was more to the point, when he repeated the phrase, already become historical, and emanating from himself. "The Rebel Party" from Ireland were, he said, banded together, avowedly and consistently, according to their own statement, for the purpose of dissevering the connection with other portions of the British Umpire. Though the right hon. Gentleman imparted some information not altogether novel, yet he did introduce some novelty into his treatment of the subject, He said—"By force you can do anything in Ireland." But I think I have Board that "force is no remedy." I commend these words to the amended judgment of the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman proceeded to say, as one reason why his arguments were sound, that the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) was no fool. That hon. Gentleman is exceptionally fortunate; he has the good fortune to differ on some points from the right hon. Gentleman, and still to be exempted from the category in which those who differ from the right hon. Gentleman are generally placed. The right hon. Gentleman, it seemed to me, somewhat mistook the argument of the right hon. Gentleman 690 the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen). The right hon. Member for Birmingham seemed to twit the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon for having advocated proceeding with regard to Ireland upon the old lines. What I understood the right hon. Member for Ripon to do was to ask the House to deal fairly and squarely with Ireland, in common with the rest of the United Kingdom, instead of proceeding upon what he termed the "old lines" of special and exceptional treatment of Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham spoke of 2,000,000 of persons waiting outside the portals of the Representative Body, who are demanding to be admitted; and he asked why they should be kept outside any longer? The 2,000,000 of capable citizens, as the Prime Minister called them the other day, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, on a former occasion, referred to as a residuum.
MR. J. LOWTHER
I heard it myself. At any rate, that is what I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say. The right hon. Gentleman certainly made use of the phrase; but perhaps he objects to the way in which I have applied it?
§ MR. JOHN BRIGHT
Perhaps I may be allowed to explain what it was that I did say. I argued that there was always a residuum in every class, and that, in the poorest class, there would always be a residuum of ignorant and abject persons, to whom probably it would be no good to give votes. But I never applied the word to the working classes, or to any class. I said there was a residuum in every class. I have known a residuum in this House.
MR. J. LOWTHER
The right hon. Gentleman, at any rate, is not alone in that view; but when he spoke of the residuum, he was referring to the class which came between the £6 limit occupation franchise and the householder's occupation franchise as applied to boroughs in the United Kingdom, and he was referring to that class, and to no other, when he spoke of the residuum. By the 691 Bill before the House it is sought to introduce these 2,000,000 of people to the franchise with no reference as to how their votes may be distributed, and the effect they may have upon existing interests. The right hon. Gentleman entirely loses sight of the 3,000,000 of capable citizens at present on the electoral roll. He seems to have no concern for them, but is willing to introduce 2,000,000 more, without any regard as to how far they may swamp the present constituencies. For my own part, representing as I do an agricultural constituency, I may say that the Bill, as now drawn up, will practically annihilate the agricultural interest in Parliament. ["Hear, hear!"] Some hon. Members, I know, hold that to be desirable, and a beneficial ingredient in the measure. I assert that the farmers, whether occupying tenants of land or occupying freeholders, will be practically disfranchised. [The ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir Henry James): No.] The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite says "No;" but, perhaps, his dissent was only meant to be made in a stage whisper which ought not to have been heard. If so, after some others we have heard of late, we may congratulate ourselves on the aside being of so harmless a character. I am certainly prepared to say this—that if you introduce into the county constituencies an element which is altogether disconnected in many cases from the land, and certainly from the occupation of the land, you, to all intents and purposes, destroy the voting power of the occupying classes in the county constituencies. With regard to Ireland, we have heard a good deal from the Prime Minister, and to some extent also from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, as to the reasons why Ireland should receive a greater proportion of Representatives than the rest of the United Kingdom. [Mr. JOHN BRIGHT: No, no!] The right hon. Gentleman dissents. I think he must have forgotten that he dwelt upon the undesirability of disturbing the present numerical representation of Ireland, which comes to the same thing. I do not propose seriously to deal with what has been called the centrifugal system, which has been invented by the Prime Minister. I have no doubt that that system, like many others, has already had its day, and I doubt if we 692 shall hear very much more of it. In these days, not only of railways and newspapers, but also of telegraphs and telephones, I think it must be admitted that, with its compact organization both inside and outside this House, the Irish Representation, so far as what is called the National Party is concerned, represents an interest more concentrated than, perhaps, any other in this House; and to say that Ireland should have a greater representation than any other portion of the United Kingdom is absolutely indefensible. It is, as I have just pointed out, by no means a case of scattered communities, with little or no means of communication among themselves, and yet it is said that, on account of their great distance from the centre of representation, the country ought to be afforded a larger and disproportionate share in the representation. It is well known, with regard to the representation of Ireland, that, if this Bill passes, something like 80 or 90 Members will be practically returned by one stroke of the pen; and, therefore, I think the contention of the right hon. Gentleman, if followed to its logical conclusion, would act the other way. As the Leader of the great Liberal Party, the Prime Minister, when he made his statement, approached this subject of the redistribution of seats in the most timid way, casting furtive glances behind him at his Colleagues. He said he thought he might say that he made the declaration on his own behalf; that, at any rate, he thought he should not be saying anything that his Colleagues would not agree to, though he distinctly declined to pledge himself on behalf of his Colleagues. I should like to know to what extent the right hon. Gentleman does speak on behalf of his own Party, and how far the Leaders of the Liberal Party endorse the Prime Minister's opinion? The right hon. Gentleman is sometimes fond of dwelling upon the fact that he represents a school of politicians who have not a long future before them. I hope the House will not think me guilty of insincerity when I say that we shall all gladly welcome the Prime Minister back among us, and may he long remain. But the right hon. Gentleman talks of men of the future, and disassociates himself from the schemes which may be founded by their means. we have a right, therefore, to 693 inquire how far the men of the future represent the Liberal Party under the guidance of the right hon. Gentleman. If the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War had been present earlier in the evening, although only in a thin House, he would have heard a most interesting and sensible speech from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter). Unfortunately, however, the noble Marquess was not present; and, indeed, the empty state of the House bore some testimony; to the national interest felt in the subject. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose had taken a very active part in the discussions on the subject in a previous Parliament, especially with regard to the representation of Scotland. What said the right hon. Member for Montrose? He said, in distinct terms, that on the subject of the inordinate representation of Ireland, the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham would find themselves in a small minority. Those were the words of an ex-Minister, the Member for Montrose, one of the most loyal of the loyal Members of the great Liberal Party, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman is by no means alone in the sentiments he utters. I think the House has a right to demand, before the second reading of the Bill, some more authoritative statement as to the views and intentions of the Government on redistribution; not merely given in the form of a Ministerial utterance, which may be recalled or forgotten, but within the four corners of a Bill which they are prepared; to place before Parliament. The Government are at present attempting to run the House and the country in blinkers. I think that Parliament has a right to know what are the intentions of Her Majesty's Government with regard to this most important subject. Not only have the Government declined to inform us as to their ulterior intentions with regard to the redistribution of seats, but they have also refused to inform us of their intentions in regard to some important questions that cannot oven momentarily be disconnected from the franchise. The hon. Member who has just sat down (Mr. Jesse Collings) has spoken of the Bill as a complete Bill. [Mr. JESSE COLLINGS: No.] The hon. Member certainly spoke of this as a complete Bill, and I am glad to 694 find that he now thinks better of it. He certainly said it was a complete Bill as regards the franchise; but I would point out that the question of the representation of minorities, the question of the fair and adequate representation of the different classes and sections of the body politic, have been wholly omitted from the consideration of Her Majesty's Government. I, for one, confess that I attach great importance to the fair and adequate representation of minorities in this House. When a Bill was introduced by the right hon. Gentleman who is now Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. Trevelyan), I, myself, placed on the Paper an Amendment, inviting the House to decline proceeding further with the measure until it had before it an adequate scheme for the representation of local minorities. I would venture to urge upon the House another consideration which I am afraid too often escapes our attention—namely, as to how far the introduction of unlimited numbers of one class, and one class alone, would tend to place other classes of the community at a disadvantage. Formerly, in 1866 and 1867, we used to have Question upon Question and Motion upon Motion calling for statistics as to the class in life and the position of various elements about to be placed upon the electoral roll; but I have not heard a word of that in the present discussion. It is taken for granted; it does not matter now what class the electors belong to, so long as they are electors, and will vote for a particular Party in the State. I have frequently ventured to invite Parliament and the country to consider whether it might not be possible to terminate the exclusion of a large class of the community from the franchise without, at the same time, placing them practically in sole possession of political power and depriving all other classes of their due political weight in the Constitution of the country. Now I am frequently told, when I urge that this should be kept in view, that it is impossible to bring it about. Now, I have always thought that it was an old Constitutional doctrine that taxation, and representation should be co-extensive, and that the degree of contribution to the Revenues of the State should; be kept in view when the representation is apportioned; but now I am told that it would be practically impossible to 695 frame any enactment to carry out that view. If I may be permitted to do so, following the example of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, I would make a remark which I have made before, and I would take the liberty of suggesting to the House that this has already been done. An Act of Parliament has been passed for the representation of the people, with the view to the election of Poor Law Guardians, in which that great principle has been kept in view. In that Act, framed by Mr. Sturgess Bourne, taxation and representation have been made coextensive. I see the hon. and learned Attorney General in his place. In reply to some remarks of mine made outside the House on this subject, the hon. and learned Gentleman endeavoured to amuse himself, although I fear he did not amuse his audience, by attempting to make fun of this proposition. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that, according to my proposition, a man would have votes in proportion to the number of pints of beer he drank and the number of pipes of tobacco he smoked. [The ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir Henry James): I did not say that.] I am afraid that I am quoting from a Tory paper, and it may only have the remarks of the hon. and learned Gentleman briefly and concisely; but I did see in The Times' report of his speech some observations very much of the same character. At any rate, it is manifest to the House that it would not be indirect taxation of the kind referred to by the hon. Gentleman when I say that the principle laid down in Mr. Sturgess Bourne's Act might be made the basis of the franchise. The hon. and learned Gentleman and others say—"This is an old Act of Parliament; an old musty-fusty Statute you are dragging up from oblivion." But I maintain, on the other hand, that the principle has worked admirably over since the passing of that Act; and although almost every Act of Parliament and almost every Institution of the Realm have seriously been called in question during the years which have elapsed since that Act was passed, I think I am right in saying that no serious proposal has ever been made to Parliament to repeal the special provision of that Statute which gives plural votes to the electoral body. I am not now speaking, of course, of the subsidiary provisions 696 of that Act; I am not speaking of voting papers, in regard to which I may have something to say at a later stage of this Bill; I am not speaking of every element of machinery connected with it, but only of that great principle that representation should be multiplied and preponderate according to taxation. I am told that the English working classes would never stand so glaring an inequality. It is all very well to tell me that the English working classes will not stand a glaring inequality. I will undertake to say that the English working classes are by no means so permeated with these levelling doctrines which find favour with Continental Socialists, and with a certain section of the Party opposite. On the contrary, I venture to say that nothing is further from the mind of the industrious and intelligent English working man. I am not speaking of your sham working man; those paid agitators dressed in broadcloth—an imitation of gingerbread without the ginger—that working man who never works; I am speaking of the bonâ fide working man. Nothing is further from the mind of the true working man, than that everybody should be dragged down to one dead level, from which neither he nor anybody else should ever be permitted to rise. That, I say, is by no moans the feeling of the working classes of the country. [Mr. LABOUCHERE was understood to say that he had never held that.] The hon. Member for Northampton is far too intelligent to say that; but there are those who have not the acumen and sagacity of the hon. Member. And this I do undertake to say, that the working classes would entertain no objection to having put before them this fact—that by industry, by perseverance, and by discharging their duty in life, they would be, from time to time, enabled to place themselves in a higher position in the electoral as in other scales. That is, however, a matter on which I will not now dwell in full detail. I shall feel it my duty to afford the House an opportunity of expressing a deliberate judment on that issue, but this is not the time when it can be properly referred to in detail. We have heard a good deal in debate throughout this Session—and before the Session began, the note of warning was sounded in didactic tones "elsewhere"—that the Tory Party must beware how it laid itself open to the 697 charge of Obstruction. I do not think that those menaces will weigh heavily with any of my Friends in this quarter of the House any more than with myself. We, Sir, have an easy conscience in the matter. But I will tell the House that I could not, as I have done, lay claim to an easy conscience; if I were to ask the leave of the House of Commons to introduce a Bill which I was positively assured beforehand could, under no conceivable circumstances, be passed into law in the present Session. If I were to demand the unlimited time of the House for the discussion of that measure; if I were to put aside for it other Bills which I might have in charge, even Bills which I and my Friends said were introduced for the purpose of saving human life, or contributing to the welfare of the people; or if I were to persist in urging on a Bill which I knew, as long as the present Parliament exists, had not the slightest ghost of a chance of passing; if I were to adopt such a course, I certainly should be the last to attempt to defend myself against the charge of Obstruction.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
Mr. Speaker, I certainly think it will be admitted that the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. J. Lowther), in the speech which he has just delivered, has successfully vindicated the statement he made at the commencement of that speech, that he would not treat this question in any Party spirit, for I have observed that a considerable portion of his speech was occupied with a condemnation of what he has termed the surrender made by his Friends and Party some years ago. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman, however, on having apparently instructed the Party to which he belongs better than it was instructed in 1867; and I suppose, if I may take the concluding declaration which fell from the right hon. Gentleman as representing the opinion of the Party to which he now belongs, that, whatever may be the fate of this Bill in this House, it is not, under any conceivable circumstances, to be permitted to pass through "another place." That is an announcement which I think the right hon. Gentleman would have shown better discretion by keeping till a later stage of the discussion. The right hon. Gentleman defended the action taken by the noble Lord opposite (Lord John Manners), in opposing the second reading of this Bill, by quoting 698 a Parliamentary precedent, and he said that it had not been usual to meet measures of this kind by a direct negative, but by an Amendment couched in some such terms as those proposed by the noble Lord. He said that had been the Parliamentary practice, and he cited the Resolution moved by Lord John Russell in 1859, in reference to the Reform Bill of the then Conservative Government. The right hon. Gentleman, I think, did not quite accurately describe the Amendment of Lord John Russell, for, if my recollection serves me right, that Amendment stated, very distinctly and clearly, that the objection taken on the Liberal side to that measure was not only on the ground of its interfering with the rights of the freeholders, but it also clearly and distinctly stated that we should be no party to a measure which did not contain any reduction of the borough franchise.
MR. J. LOWTHER
The noble Marquess has misunderstood me. I spoke in reply to the objection taken by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright), who complained of my noble Friend (Lord John Manners) for not having moved that the Bill be read a second time this day six months.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
I am quite aware of that; but what I maintain is, that the Amendment, which was moved by this party to the Reform Bill brought in on the other side of the House, was an Amendment which clearly stated the real grounds of the objection taken to the measure, and which did not attempt to defeat it on a side issue, such as I maintain this to be. The right hon. Gentleman is the first speaker to-night, or during the debate, who has entered a direct objection to the principle of the extension of the franchise in the counties; and he has told us that, in his opinion, this measure, if it be passed into law, will annihilate the agricultural interest. It may be admitted that this measure, if it be passed into law, will terminate the supremacy which up till now has existed at the county elections in the tenant farmers. But the statement put forward by the right hon. Gentleman, that this measure will annihilate the agricultural interest, is a very grave statement, and one which, I think, will hardly be endorsed by all those hon. Gentlemen who sit near him. It is a 699 serious thing to be told by a Representative of the tenant farmers in this country, that a measure which will place a greater share of political power in the hands of the agricultural labourers will be a measure that will annihilate the agricultural interest. Are we to believe that the tenant farmers have so conducted their business—have so managed the agricultural affairs of this country—that a Bill which places some political power in the hands of their labourers—surely no inconsiderable part of the agricultural interest—is one which ipso facto will annihilate the agricultural interest? The right hon. Gentleman has told us that the Constitutional practice is that representation and taxation should go together, and he held out, as a model for our imitation, the Act under which the Guardians of the Poor are elected, and which, he thinks, should be adapted to our Parliamentary system. I was glad to hear that the right hon. Gentleman intends to give practical effect to his opinion, and that he intends to take the sense of this House of Parliament on the subject. I doubt whether the right hon. Gentleman will get more support from his Friends upon that subject than he did when he denounced the Conservative surrender of 1867; but, at all events, if he considers that the principle of Mr. Sturgess Bourne's Act is the principle which ought to guide our representative system, the course which he ought to take is to vote for the second rending of this Bill, and then introduce into Committee the modification he desires. [Mr. J. LOWTHER: I will, if you undertake to accept it.] I cannot undertake to do that. Even, if in the present House of Commons, he is not able to secure the acceptance of this doctrine relating to representation and taxation, the right hon. Gentleman, from what He has told us this evening—that the working classes of this country are not permeated by any doctrine of Continental Socialism, and, as far as I can gather from his speech, entirety approve of the principle he is going to propose—may rest assured and feel confident that if the agricultural labourers and the working classes of this country, animated with the opinions which he has described, have the suffrage bestowed upon them, they will themselves be the first to support him in his endeavour, on sonic future occa- 700 sion, to amend the electoral law, so as to bring representation and taxation into conformity. Except the right hon. Gentleman, I believe there has been no Member of this House who has opposed the main principle of this measure—the extension of the county householders of the suffrage now enjoyed by householders in the boroughs. The two grounds, I take it, upon which this measure is objected to by the Opposition are, in the first plane, its incompleteness; and, in the second place, its inclusion of Ireland without its being acpanied by any scheme of redistribution. As to the incompleteness of this measure, I am prepared to make what may be considered an admission. I fully admit that the reform of the representation of the people in Parliament, or rather the completion of our representative system, is one great object of which the franchise is only a part. Certainly, Sir, I admit that no measure of Reform will be complete until measures have been passed which deal not only with the Franchise, but also with the relations of political with electoral power, in the first place, as regards the Three Kingdoms themselves, and, in the next place, as regards the various districts and areas included within those Kingdoms. As regards the redistribution of electoral power, as between growing and populous districts, and again, as between the great and growing cities of those Kingdoms and those small boroughs which are neither great nor growing, but still possess an almost equal share of electoral power with those greater cities to which I have referred, it is most desirable that all the branches of this great question should be dealt with as nearly consecutively as may be. It is most desirable that they should be dealt with by one Parliament; and I also admit that it would be desirable, if possible, that they should be dealt with by one Parliament in one Session, and, it may be, by one Bill. But there is only one way in which such a thing can be accomplished, and that would have been by the existence of some general agreement upon the subject, some admission on the part of the House generally, that the time had now come when the measure which had been granted in 1867 to the boroughs must be extended to the counties, and by an equally general admission that 701 the most grave and glaring anomalies which still exist in the distribution of political power must also be redressed. Well, Sir, if an agreement of that sort was not an impossibility, no one can doubt, on whichever side of the House he sits, that, sooner or later, the time must come when the extension of the franchise granted in 1867 to the boroughs must be extended to the counties; and no one can suppose that the arbitrary and utterly unequal distribution of political power as between the various districts and communities of this country can be permanent. But, Sir, there has been no indication on the part of the Opposition of any such general agreement, or any such desire to co-operate in the settlement of this question, as would give to any Government the hope and the assurance that it would be possible to deal with those great subjects which I have described within the compass of a Bill in a single Session. The noble Lord who moved the Amendment to-night spoke, it is true, of the great changes in the distribution of political power which would be rendered necessary by the passing of this measure; but a very short time ago the opinions of the noble Lord on the subject of redistribution appeared to be of a most limited character. Addressing his constituents a month or two ago at a banquet at Loughborough, in Leicestershire, He stated his views on the subject of redistribution, at all events, as regards boroughs, and he said—As to the boroughs, there were two anomalies—the first, that great towns had sprung into existence which had no representation. But he wished to point out that when the Conservative Party left Office, they left some 6 seats vacant on account of bribery, and 7 or 8 had been added to the number, making 12 or 14 vacant scats. Well, from the Returns which had just been published, he found that there were 8 unrepresented places which had a population exceeding 40,000; so that they had at their command sufficient materials to put an end to that anomaly.If these are the opinions really held by the Conservative Party as to the redistribution of political power, I am not surprised that there is an absence of that agreement which, as I have said, can alone enable a complete settlement of this subject to be arrived at in one Session; because I think the House generally, at all events, will be quite certain that an overwhelming number of Members of all shades of opinion 702 who sit on this side of the House are unanimous in the opinion that no such paltry redistribution of political power as between over-represented and under-represented communities would, in the least degree, tend to settle this part of the question. The noble Lord, as I expected, relied much upon the celebrated speech made by Lord Stanley on moving an Amendment to the Reform Bill of 1866, and he concluded his speech, somewhat to my surprise, by saying that he did not ask the Government to add a single clause to this Bill, or to embody our proposals in the form of a Bill.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
I beg the noble Marquess's pardon. I expressly asked that the Government would place their proposals as to redistribution in the form of a Bill, so that they might be laid upon the Table.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
Well, whether the scheme is laid on the Table or not, I do not understand that the noble Lord, from what He said this evening, is prepared to insist that this scheme, whether it were laid on the Table in the form of a Bill or in any other manner, should be passed into law during the present Session. On the contrary, he only desires that the views of the Government should be indicated by the scheme of the Government being laid on the Table in the form of a Bill. But the speech of Lord Stanley, to which reference has been made, if it exposed anything, exposed the futility of any proceeding of that kind. We did, or had promised to do, in 1866 what the noble Lord has asked us to do now. We did promise that, before the House was invited to go into Committee on the Franchise Bill of 1866, the scheme of the Government as regards redistribution should be laid on the Table. But did that satisfy the noble Lord or his Friends? Did it satisfy Lord Stanley, who was at that time the mouthpiece of that Party? In the speech to which the noble Lord has referred there is a passage, almost preceding the one which the noble Lord quoted this evening, in which Lord Stanley showed how entirely inadequate such a procedure as that would be. He said—Who is to guarantee the identity of the plan of 1866 with that of 1867? Will the Government themselves say that, in a matter of this kind, they will accept no Amendment, 703 listen to no suggestion, and pledge themselves not to reconsider their perhaps hasty first thoughts? As sensible men, they cannot hold such language; and if they cannot hold it, then we must regard this Bill to be laid on the Table, but not proceeded with in the present Session, as a pure work of fancy, worthless as a practical guide for our action, and attended with this additional inconvenience—that if the Franchise Bill should go through Committee, and if Members disliking that measure, but approving the Bill for the redistribution of Feats, should support the one for the sake of the other, and that afterwards into the other alterations should be introduced, then charges of inconsistency and want of good faith are sure to be made—not, perhaps, deserved, but plausible on the face of them, and which it may not be easy to meet."—(3 Hansard,  1167–8.)But, Sir, the noble Lord (Lord John Manners) now comes down, and says—"We do not ask you to encumber your Bill; we do not ask you to add to it a single clause; but all we ask of you is to let us see, in the shape of the Bill laid upon the Table, what you intend to propose in the way of redistribution." Now, I maintain, on the other hand, that the necessity for combining a measure of redistribution with a measure for the extension of the franchise is less now than it was in 1866. It is less for the reason indicated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in his opening speech. My right hon. Friend pointed out that, so long as you maintain in counties and in boroughs two franchises, which are entirely distinct, the question of redistribution becomes actually a question of enfranchisement. Upon the extension of your redistribution depends the extension of your enfranchisement, and the character and scope of your enfranchising measure must be completely altered as to its enfranchising clauses by the operation of a subsequent measure of redistribution. But when it is proposed to make the suffrage in the counties and the suffrage in the boroughs not, perhaps, absolutely identical, but, at all events, to a very great extent identical, then that consequence does not follow—when the question of redistribution, which we shall have to face next year if this Bill is passed, is one of exactly the same kind as—though, perhaps, larger in degree than—the question of redistribution which confronts us now, and which ought to be dealt with before any redistribution of electoral power as between the larger and smaller borough constituencies. There is, therefore, in my 704 opinion, far less reasonable ground for saying that a measure of redistribution ought to accompany a measure for the extension of the franchise in 1884 than there was in 1866. At the same time, the difficulty of the two measures would be far greater. I am not referring now to what must be present to the mind of every hon. Member who has taken any considerable part in the proceedings of this House during some years past. Certainly, the facility of passing any important measure, much less a measure of this kind, is not greater in the present state of the Parliamentary Business than it was in 1866; and no one can suppose that, in the face of an active and bitter opposition, two measures of this kind, one of which would be successfully run against the other, could possibly have any chance of getting through the House in any reasonable time. Besides that, putting aside that consideration, there is a further consideration. In the Reform Bills which have been introduced up to now, questions of redistribution have, no doubt, excited the warmest controversy in this House, but still they have been, to a very great extent, questions rather of a local than of a national importance; but of late there have been large groups of questions which have excited very great attention in the minds of Members on both sides of the House, which may be classed under the head of proposals for the representation of minorities, or, as it is called, proportional representation. But it is quite certain that, whenever we come to discuss the question of redistribution, we shall have a great number of proposals with that object and of that character which will demand, and, I do not deny, will require a great deal of consideration, and will occupy a great deal of the time of the House; and, therefore, it is also quite certain that a wholly now and distinct class of questions of a much wider and of a more national importance than those which formerly surrounded the question, have sprung up and have added to the difficulty of dealing with the question of redistribution, and have, of course, added to the difficulty of dealing with the questions of the extension of the franchise and redistribution combined. In these circumstances, the Government had to consider how best they could deal with and carry out a work to which 705 they were pledged by the promises they had given when they were elected to the present Parliament, and for dealing with which they thought then, and think now, that the time is ripe. They had also to consider how best they could carry into execution that work which they believed could be settled in a spirit of calmness and moderation now, but which, if delayed, might perhaps lead to dangerous excitement, and might have to be finally settled under conditions in which the public temper was not so calm, so moderate, and so judicial on the subject as it now is. It was, in their opinion, impossible, for reasons which I have stated, to carry through in one Session of Parliament a complete measure dealing with both questions; and it was their duty, desiring as they did to make an effort to settle the whole question in one Parliament, not to sacrifice that which they considered an important and essential object to the vain endeavour to do that which might be desirable in itself, but which, under existing conditions, might not be either practicable or possible. The noble Lord has asked what proper opportunities, in the pressing condition of foreign and domestic affairs, Parliament will have to devote to this subject during the next Session? Well, Sir, I think I may adopt the answer of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright); and I ask, under what condition of foreign, and under what condition of domestic affairs, the Party opposite would consider the time ripe or fit for dealing with any question of Parliamentary Reform? At all events, I think we are entitled, if we are to be met by issues of this character, issues which will, without directly traversing the objects of the Bill, impose conditions upon us which would make our task impossible, to put to them one or two questions. I think we are entitled to ask them whether they do, or do not, now think that the time has come for completing their own work, by extending to the counties the franchise they have given to the boroughs? We may also ask them whether they do, or do not, believe that the anomalies which now exist in the distribution of political power can be permanently maintained; and, if they do not believe that the present distribution of political power can be maintained, we are entitled to ask what 706 conceivable object can be attained by further delaying the settlement of the question? I will state, in a very few words, how far I think that the demand which the Party opposite make is a reasonable demand. It appears to me that there is in that demand an element of reason. While I have endeavoured to show that the attempt to carry, or even to submit, a complete scheme to the House would be to insure the certain defeat and failure of the measure, I think that the House is entitled to know, not the details, not even the extent of the measure which the Government will propose with regard to redistribution, but the general lines and objects of that measure; and such information was, I think, contained in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Speaking for myself, I may say that if I believed that the Franchise Bill were introduced merely as a step to prepare the way for a total reconstruction of all our electoral areas, for a total reconstruction which would involve the destruction of the separate political existence of all but the largest cities and counties, by a measure involving the redistribution of political power between the inhabitants of the great cities and the rural populations scattered over areas of great extent—if I believed this, and that an attempt would be made to introduce some uniform system, such as that of equal electoral districts, then I would not be prepared to support this Bill. I certainly have no desire to see introduced into our electoral arrangements either mathematical exactness, or any attempt at theoretical perfection. We have not endeavoured thus to mould our system in the past, and we are not likely to do so in the future. We have made some progress in redressing the unequal conditions of our electoral arrangements; but we have not been restricted to any cut-and-dried system in our attempts in that direction. Take the case of the Metropolis. We have provided some additional representation for its great population, not by creating one vast Metropolitan constituency, and giving to it a large number of Members; but by dividing it into electoral areas, still too large, still inadequately represented, but yet more manageable than would be one great Metropolitan constituency. Take, then, the case of the manufacturing districts of Yorkshire and 707 Lancashire. We have provided, to some extent, for their claims to an increased representation in a manner almost identical; so that we have divided Lancashire and Yorkshire, which 50 years ago were single constituencies, returning to Parliament only two Members each, in the one case into four and in the other into five districts, returning 8 or 10 Members to Parliament. Take, again, the case of some of the great cities. We have met, to some extent, their claims for additional representation by the enfranchisement in some cases of their large suburbs, as was done in respect of Manchester and Newcastle, when electoral representation was conferred upon Salford and Gateshead. Take, again, the method by which the number of seats required in consequence of these changes have been supplied. In some cases we have proceeded by the total disenfranchisement of the smallest boroughs; in oilier cases by the partial disenfranchisement of some of the larger boroughs; and in other cases by the grouping together of smaller boroughs we have done something to correct the inequalities and anomalies of our electoral system; and similar processes to these will, I conceive, be adopted in the future for the correction of those anomalies which have been brought once more prominently into view, and which, no doubt, have boon increased to a large extent by the great enfranchisement of 1867, and which will be, no doubt, to a further extent increased by the greater enfranchisement of 1884. I do not expect that the sketch which has been given by the Prime Minister will satisfy the Opposition that the Government in Office can have any object in proposing electoral changes, except that of perpetuating its own power and serving the interests of its own Party; but I think we may expect that the declaration of the Prime Minister, made with the assent of his Colleagues, will satisfy those who profess to feel confidence in the intentions of the Prime Minister and his Colleagues. It is said that the declaration is the declaration of the Prime Minister alone, and that it is not binding on the Cabinet. As to that, it will not be denied that the Prime Minister is the most powerful Member of the Liberal Party, and that the declaration which he has made of his own intentions on this subject carries with it a weight which 708 attaches to the declarations of no other man in this House; and, further, I may say that this declaration was made with the assent and concurrence of his Colleagues, not necessarily as embodying the actual definite intentions of the Cabinet—not, perhaps, expressing the personal wishes and desires of every Member of the Cabinet, but still being a declaration generally accepted by, and concurred in by, the Members of the Cabinet. I do not say that the declaration was regarded as embodying everything they might wish to see carried into execution, but as embodying everything that was considered necessary and, under the circumstances, possible. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen), in his speech on the first reading of the Bill, did not advert to the scheme of redistribution as generally stated to the House by the Prime Minister. I do not conceive that that statement of the Prime Minister would, in any degree, conflict with the opinions of my right hon. Friend; for, although we have unfortunately been at issue with him on questions respecting the franchise, I believe that my right hon. Friend is in complete harmony with the Government, and with the Party generally, upon the necessity of redistribution, and that upon a considerable scale. But my right hon. Friend fastened, with considerable impetuosity, on one point of the Prime Minister's declaration, in which he said that, in his opinion, a reduction of the number of Irish Representatives would not be desirable. Well, Sir, that declaration has also been attacked by the noble Lord opposite (Lord John Manners), and other hon. Gentlemen who have spoken; but it appears to me that the declaration of the Prime Minister has not been taken as it ought to have been taken—as a whole, and that it conveys a very inadequate idea of that declaration to pick out one particular portion of it for examination, without taking into consideration the rest. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said not only that, in his opinion, the number of Representatives of Ireland ought not to be reduced, but he also stated that, in his opinion, the principle of remoteness from the centre of government ought to be taken into consideration, both as regarded Ireland and as regarded Scotland; and he further expressed his opinion that the 709 easiest, if not altogether the most advantageous, method of meeting the claims of Scotland and the claims of some districts in England for additional representation, would be by some moderate increase in the number of Members of this House. ["No, no!"] That was the opinion which my right hon. Friend expressed. Well, Sir, if the declarations of the Prime Minister are to be quoted or canvassed at all, let them be so treated as a whole. I am not going to maintain that if the two latter propositions, which, as I have stated, were put forward by the Prime Minister, are not accepted by the House, the whole declaration with regard to that part of the question requires reconsideration also. I have said that I do not wish to discuss that part of the subject now; but it appears to me that a somewhat undue importance is attached to the possible reduction of the number of Representatives from Ireland. I can understand that hon. Members who desire to bring representation into the strictest and most accurate form of numbers may be very anxious to see this principle carried out as between England, Scotland, and Ireland; but certainly, I am not desirous of insisting upon an exact proportion of representation as between the Three Kingdoms. I do not see how it would be possible to stop there. The remaining point to which I have to refer is the question of the extension of the franchise, not only in England and Scotland, but also in Ireland. In my opinion, the inclusion of Ireland may be defended partly, if not entirety, on the same grounds as the extension of the franchise in England and Scotland. As regards legislation affecting the wants and requirements of the people of England and Ireland, I think it is admitted that we have derived great advantage from every successive extension of the franchise, and that the more we have been able to become directly acquainted with the wants of the people as represented by Members in this House, the more have we been able to legislate for the advantage and welfare of the people. Sir, these advantages have been derived in the case of England and Scotland by previous extensions of the franchise. I do not know that there is any reason to doubt, with regard to the representation of Ireland, that results of the same character may be anticipated from placing the 710 election of Members in the hands of the whole people, instead of in the hands of a limited class. But in England and Scotland we have, by the extension of Parliamentary privileges, obtained more than this. I think that we may say that every successive extension has been accompanied by an increase of contentment and loyalty on the part of the people. I admit that it would be rash to expect that any similar result would follow an extension of the franchise in Ireland. The minds of the people of Ireland have been too much poisoned against the Government of this country to permit us to be sanguine as to such a result. On the contrary, I think it possible, as has been asserted by hon. Members opposite, that the immediate effect—perhaps the permanent effect—of this measure will be to increase the number of that Party which is opposed to the British connection, and which has done, in this and in the late Parliament, its utmost to make Parliamentary government impossible. That may be the result of this measure; but I by no means admit that it will be the certain result of it. Some of us may be inclined to take a more hopeful view of the matter. The Parliamentary constituencies in Ireland are, under existing circumstances, extremely easy of manipulation; and, as has been stated in the course of these debates, in a great number of the Irish constituencies the hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell), and those with whom he acts, are enabled almost to dictate the choice of Members. I am not at all certain that the constituencies, enlarged as is proposed by this Bill, will be quite so easy to manage by one political Party as the existing constituencies; but, however that may be, whatever inconveniences may ensue from an extension of this measure to Ireland, I will ask the House to consider what would be the disadvantages of its exclusion. The exclusion of Ireland from this measure would have this effect—it would perpetuate and intensify almost the only real grievance to which the Irish Representatives can now point, an inequality of political rights as between the Three Kingdoms. Not only so—not only would it confer on those who desire to foster animosity between the two countries that of which they stand most in need—namely, a real grievance; but it 711 would also give to them that, which they have not hitherto had in this country—that is, The support of a large and influential part of the constituencies England and in Scotland. We have, as it seems to me, by maintaining the existing system in Ireland, and by excluding that country from the measure which we propose for England and Scotland, all the odium and none of the advantages of a restricted constituency. The question which the House has to consider is, whether, to avoid the risk of the election of a few more Members who will act with the Party which at present follows the hon. Member for the City of Cork, it will risk placing in his hands the great advantage of a real grievance, and a large support of the English and Scotch boroughs? In conclusion. I will advert to one other point in regard to Ireland. It is said that if this franchise is conferred on the Irish people, it will then be impossible to pass for Ireland a measure for redistribution of seats which will give a fair representation to the minority in that country. Sir, I deny that altogether, and I know of no reason why any measure or any principle of redistribution, or of the representation of minorities which may be applied to England and Scotland, may not and will not be applied by Parliament also to the case of Ireland. I do not think it can be said of the House that there will be any indisposition to apply to Ireland the same principle which hon. Members contend should be applied to constituencies and minorities in this country. I myself have not been inclined to attach too much importance to the question which is called the representation of the loyal minority in Ireland at all. To do so seems to me to be, to a great, extent, to ignore the liberal character of the Legislature, and to admit the existence of separate nationalities. Do what you may to protect and give a voice to the loyal minority of Ireland, it cannot, under existing circumstances, I am afraid, possess a large representation in this House. The real representation of the loyal minority of Ireland is to be found, not in any artificial devices, or by any redistribution in Ireland that you may be able to invent, but in the 550 Members for England and Scotland, the vast majority of whom agree more closely with the minority in Ireland than they do with the majority of the Irish Members 712 here. The real protection and the real safely of the minority in Ireland will be found in the English and Scotch representation in this House. But I do not believe there will be any unwillingness or any weakness in applying measures of justice to Ireland as well as measures of fairness and of political equality. I do not think past experience confirms the fear that this House is unwilling to mete out justice as well as fairness to the Irish people. We have passed within recent years, in the face of the opposition of one of the great Parties of the House, two measures which we, on this side of the House, believe to be measures not only of fairness but of justice to Ireland, and we have passed, with the consent of both Parties in the House, measures which we believed to be necessary for the maintenance and the security of peace and order in that country; and I see no reason to doubt that in the future, as in the past, we shall continue in the same course. I am convinced, at all events so far as the Liberal Party in this House is concerned, that when they are satisfied that Ireland has been treated with fairness, and has no grievance to complain of in the matter of inequality of political rights, they will be as ready as any other Party here to extend to Ireland full justice in the matter of those alterations which may be required in the redistribution of political power within that country.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned,"—(Mr. Raikes,)—put, and agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till Thursday.