§ [SECOND NIGHT.]
§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [24th March], "That the Bill be now read a second time."
And which Amendment was,
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House declines to proceed further with a measure, having for its object the addition of two million voters to the electoral body of the United Kingdom, until it has before it the entire scheme contemplated by the Government for the amendment of the Representation of the: People,"—(Lord John Manners,)
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. RAIKES
said, that the first sentiment which he took to prevail that evening throughout the whole of that House with regard to this measure was one of sincere personal regret at the absence of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced it. He could assure the House, and those who generally acted with the right hon. Gentleman, that that feeling was at least as cordial and as genuine among those who were usually occupied in combating his policy as it could be among any of those upon whose fidelity he had so often relied. At the same time, he was bound to say that close upon this conviction there followed another as to the enormous embarrassment under which the House laboured in consequence of the absence of its Leader. He might have risen on Monday last, when the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) indicated his proposal for this momentous change, to call attention to the extremely unusual and extremely irregular course adopted on that occasion. The noble Marquess had no more to do with the conduct of that Bill through the House than he (Mr. Raikes) had. His name was not on the back of it. The only names upon the back of it were those of the Prime Minister, the Attorney General, the Lord Advocate for Scotland, and the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant; and he presumed that it was to these Gentlemen that the House must look for any exposition of the course which the Government were prepared to take with regard to the measure. As regarded the other Members of the Ministry, they might, perhaps, be better employed in holding Cabinet Councils elsewhere than in sitting and listening to a discussion in which they were not authorized to speak in the name of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister was Her Majesty's Government; and in his absence they might make a certain amount of impression upon those who sat with him in his Cabinet; but they could not have the slightest hope that any impression they might make upon those right hon. Gentlemen would be likely to affect the mind of the author of the scheme. He had to go back for 895 Something like a century to recall a state of things at all similar to this, and that was when the great Lord Chatham was struck down by indisposition, and was precluded from taking his place in Parliament. The Business of the Government had at that time to be conducted for many weeks by Colleagues who were destitute of his authority, debarred from his counsel, entirely unable to speak in his name, and who, therefore, produced a state of extraordinary confusion in Public Business. This headless Ministry invited the House to embark upon the "most important organic change"—to quote the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—which this country had witnessed for something like two centuries. For the first time in their history they were asked to undertake a complete political revolution at the bidding of a provisional Administration. On Monday last the House listened to a speech from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright). The right hon. Gentleman came forward as the apologist of the Government, and, as far as he could, vindicated the policy which had suggested this measure. He taunted hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House with not having met the Motion for the second reading with a direct negative, and suggested that it was their duty to have abstained from bringing forward an Amendment of an abstract character; and he also reminded them that when Mr. Disraeli, in 1859, brought forward a measure for the purpose of making the franchise in the boroughs and counties identical, he was supported by Gentlemen who at that time acted with him. Whether Mr. Disraeli succeeded in converting his Colleagues and Party to the view which he then held or not he certainly did not succeed in converting the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, who not only made a powerful speech against Mr. Disraeli's proposal, but supported the abstract Resolution then moved as an Amendment by Lord John Russell. He would leave the right hon. Gentleman to settle that part of the question with his own historical conscience. The right hon. Gentleman, on Monday last, posed as an old-fashioned Tory in his adhesion to the Act of Union; but, unfortunately, the old Adam crept out in his remarks, and he could not for- 896 bear having a fling at the Irish Church by telling the House what meaning he attached to the words "for ever" in such a document. The right hon. Gentleman said the stronger party to such a convention might modify it against themselves, but not against the weaker party. That appeared to him to be a most unfortunate argument to use in connection with the Irish Church, for if ever a convention was modified by the stronger party against the weaker that was it. The right hon. Gentleman said that nothing would induce him to depart from the Act of Union. Possibly there was a more recent document from which he would be equally unwilling to depart. He might have cognizance of an unpublished article in an instrument known as "The Treaty of Kilmainham." There were three excellent speeches made against the Bill on Monday last. The first was by his noble Friend (Lord John Manners), the second by his right hon. Friend the Member for North Lincolnshire (Mr. J. Lowther), and the third and best of all by the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War. With regard to the speech of the noble Marquess, he thought that of all the argumentative displays he had ever listened to in that House, he had never heard anything which appeared so completely to show all the weak points of the measure which the noble Marquess was supposed to champion, although, at the same time, it did not seem to have produced any effect upon his own convictions. The noble Marquess admitted that this was an incomplete measure. That was what the Opposition contended. The noble Marquess admitted that the redistribution of seats should be accomplished in the same Parliament, and, if possible, in the same Session, as the Bill for the extension of the franchise. That was what the Opposition said. The noble Marquess further observed that the representation of minorities, and questions connected with proportionate representation, should receive most careful consideration. The Opposition made it one of the principal objections to the proposal of the Government that these matters received no consideration whatever in the Bill before the House. The noble Marquess also said that the sketch of redistribution by the Prime Minister was not a declaration of the absolute conclusions of the Cabinet; but that it represented only in a 897 general manner certain lines of agreement to which they had come. This, also, was a principal objection which the Opposition were prepared to take to the Bill. Then the noble Marquess went on to speak about Ireland, and this was the most interesting part of his speech, because they all remembered that not many months had passed since he spoke at a meeting in the country against including Ireland. On Monday night the noble Marquess said that the extension of the franchise in England and Scotland had generally led to increased loyalty; but he added that it was difficult to expect that anything of the sort would occur in Ireland among the people whose minds had been poisoned by agitators against the English Government. He also, with great candour, proceeded to observe that, as far as he could see, such a measure must entirely extinguish the whole representation of the loyal subjects of Her Majesty in Ireland; but he told the House that the loyal law-abiding classes in Ireland who were unrepresented were to find representation among the English and Scotch Representatives, who were supposed to take an interest in them. That was the argument used years ago with regard to the people of Leeds and Manchester when they were unrepresented. They were told that they would find their representation in that of other important communities, and that they should be content with that sort of representation. Never before, in his recollection, had a Minister supposed to be in charge of the Business of the House made a speech containing so many unanswerable arguments—expressed with all the noble Marquess's characteristic moderation—against the very measure for which he was obliged to stand up. He thought the noble Marquess would have done better had he contented himself with that simple touch of the hat which he gave in moving the second reading. The speech of the Prime Minister in introducing the measure was one of remarkable power and eloquence, and they had all listened to it with the very greatest attention, because it was a great effort of a great man in his best manner. It dealt with the exposition of details, in which, as the House knew, he was unrivalled; and he trusted they might soon again have the pleasure of hearing from the right hon. Gentleman a speech of the same sort in that House. 898 But, having listened to that speech from the first word to the last, he must say that he failed to find one argument or pretence of argument in it in favour of the measure. The Bill was explained with perfect lucidity and great detail; but as for any argument why they were to pass it there was absolutely none. Hon. Members might have thought that that was reserved for the second reading; but, instead of having the right hon. Gentleman to make up for the deficiency, they had the noble Marquess arguing in the manner he had pointed out. He supposed the advocates of the Bill must either base their arguments upon expediency or abstract right. Few would think that this question ought to be determined by considerations of abstract right. Even the junior Member for Newcastle (Mr. John Morley) would hardly take up the position of the rights of man; he would say that it was rather a question of political expediency than of philosophical theory. But the Prime Minister had long had a curious foible in regard to this matter. He (Mr. Raikes) thought he could trace that foible to the ancient days when the right hon. Gentleman represented a nomination borough, and when he seemed to have got into his head the notion that the vote was a personal privilege and not a public trust, and he seemed to regard it as a nice thing that persons who now had not votes should share the privileges of the electors for Newark. The only word in the right hon. Gentleman's speech which had a syllable of recommendation with regard to the measure was the reference to "capable citizens." Did that mean persons capable of performing the duties of citizens, or persons capable of being turned into citizens? Was the House to give a commanding voice to those who, up to the present time, had had no opportunity of showing their capacity? The case of 1867 had been referred to, when it was said that Parliament had legislated in the dark. But Parliament did not at that time legislate altogether in the dark. The persons upon whom the franchise was conferred were accustomed to political discussion and political combination. They had a knowledge of trades unions, and of all the controversies that arose between capital and labour. They had been in the habit of criticizing the Budget of 899 their Town Councils, and of voting for or against their municipal representatives, according as they had made good use of the rates or otherwise. They had been concerned in the management of Benefit Societies. Therefore, although a very hazardous experiment was tried, the question was absolutely different from that of to-day. He was not in the House in 1867, and the measure of 1867 appeared to him bolder and perhaps rather wider than was desirable in the interests of the country. But, in the main, it was sound and had answered. The experience they had had in the borough constituencies was such as largely to justify the prescience of Mr. Disraeli when he had the courage to take that step, and had the unequalled honour of establishing the borough franchise upon a firm and stable basis. The effect had been such that the boroughs had become so Conservative that the Liberal Party had found it necessary to recruit their strength from the counties. Nevertheless, as far as they had gone there were certain tendencies observable in Parliament, on which the Prime Minister himself had enlarged more than once, showing that the extension of the franchise in the boroughs had very considerably modified the character of that House. Still, their ancient forms were preserved; but there had been no doubt that the debates were conducted in a somewhat different manner, and Public Business was transacted in a fashion extremely unlike that which prevailed in the years before the Reformed Parliament met. The Parliaments which sat since 1867 had passed several measures with regard to Ireland which could not have been passed in any preceding Parliament. When they came nearer home, property in this country was reasonably safe; Consols had not been attacked; and the Duke of Westminster's ground-rents were, at all events, hold sacred against invasion. They seemed to have hit the happy medium between general confiscation and ordinary honesty which he supposed characterized the best Legislative Assemblies. They must come, then, as regarded this measure, to the question of expediency, and discarded abstract rights. He did not wish to take up the time of the House by referring at length to the experience of foreign countries. In France they had the spectacle of a 900 perpetual change of Government and of perfect legislative sterility. In this country they did not have a perpetual change of Government; but they had something of legislative sterility. As I that legislative sterility dated from the epoch when they had extended the suffrage, was it unreasonable to assume that the more they extended the suffrage the greater would become that legislative sterility? In America they had a different form of things. American politics were chiefly distinguished by cynical profligacy and undisguised corruption. They had had in that House recently some very edifying harangues. They had heard something of "spoils to the victors," and they might be tending in that direction. If the extent of the suffrage produced the condition of things which was rampant in the United States, they would be acting very foolishly if they were to take a step which no one could justify in order to arrive at that condition. The Prime Minister had said that they were going to add about 2,000,000 or 3,000,000 voters. He did not suppose that the right hon. Gentleman proposed to mislead the House; but what they were asked to do, as far as England and Wales were concerned, was to add 1,400,000 to 900,000 voters, or not 60, but 150 per cent to the present number. If they should do that, they had only to look forward to the uncertain event whether the majority in the existing constituencies would or would not be absolutely swamped. They were going to hand over every county seat in England to a new electorate, which, if dominated by passion, prejudice, agitation, or uncontrollable distrust against those who at the present time held political power, might return a Parliament in which the whole face of the county representation might be absolutely changed. They were told that this proposal was only supplementary to the Bill of 1867; that, as that Bill enfranchised the householders in boroughs, this Bill would enfranchise the householders in counties. That appeared to him absolutely the opposite of the fact. In 1832, as they all knew, there was a great number of powerful Peers and wealthy merchants who had interests in many boroughs. It was proposed by the first Reform Bill to take those boroughs from them; but they were allowed to regain in the 901 counties what they lost in the boroughs. The Chandos Clause gave them power in the counties which they never had before. In 1867 it appeared to him exactly the same process wont on. The middle classes had to surrender most of the boroughs, for which they were compensated by the £12 franchise in counties. The principle acted upon was that property should be represented in the counties and population in the boroughs. Every Reform Bill had proceeded mainly on that basis, and the principle had found no more distinguished advocates than the great men of the Whig Party. How could they say that a proposal to hand over the whole representation of the country to one class alone, to obliterate and disfranchise all others, was in any sense a supplement to measures which it would have been impossible to carry through the House of Commons except on the basis he had stated? It might be a good thing to do away with the property qualification altogether; but if that was their view, pray let it not be done under false pretences. Do not let them come forward and say—"We are carrying out the principles of the Act of 1867," when the effect of this Bill would be to annul the Act of 1867. He thought it well to say one word with regard to the attitude of the Conservative Party as to the rural labourers. It was said they were hostile to the aspirations of the labourers. That assertion could only be made by men who had no regard for truth, or no knowledge of the subject. The rural labourers possessed great virtues and qualities, which made England proud of them; but it was possible that a population possessing many virtues might not be qualified to exercise a very complicated trust. The same might be said of the good qualities of English women at large; but the House had refused to give them an equal franchise with men. He did not believe the rural labourers were the persons best qualified to administer the affairs of this country; and he invited hon. Members opposite to say if they would go to the rural labourers in their vicinity for trustees under a will or of a marriage settlement? They had, then, to confront the question of redistribution. The noble Marquess told them there was no difficulty in dealing with it next year; that the difficulties were not so great as on former occasions. But the fact was 902 the difficulties were much greater now They were asked to pass a measure which involved, as a necessary consequence, electoral districts. It was impossible to avoid that if they passed this Bill, which would change the whole electoral map of England, and disfranchise half the constituencies represented in the present House. After such a measure was passed, what chance would they have of passing a Redistribution Bill? No Minister would be strong enough to accomplish such a task. If they were going to pass this Bill as it stood, and not a Redistribution Bill before Parliament was dissolved, they would never have justice done to the persons they now proposed to enfranchise. They were going to give South-West Lancashire, for instance, with its 65,000 voters, two Members; while they were going to retain for Calne, with 860 electors, and Liskeard, with 750, one Member each. What a ridiculous position this would be to place the voters in! This would give to the people of Calne and Liskeard ten times the influence in the councils of the nation which would be enjoyed by the electors in Lancashire, and thus a difficulty would be created which Parliament would find beyond its power to surmount. Parliament, further, would not be so self-denying as to do justice to the new constituencies if they were to be created in the way which was proposed. The powers of the petty boroughs would prevail; and before he had ended his days it might be expected of the right hon. Gentleman the senior Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) that he would pronounce a dithyrambic eulogy upon the villages in the West of England which returned Liberal Members to Parliament. The Bill would refuse to men of enormous property, or great wealth, experience, knowledge, or public service, any greater weight in returning his Representative to the House of Commons than was possessed by the hedger or ditcher who worked outside his gates; and the Government had the effrontery, when making such a proposal, to say that they were not in a position to put an end to the petty oligarchies whose existence happened to be convenient to Her Majesty's Government. The noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War had told the House that he did not believe that this Bill would lead to the making of electoral districts; but did any reasonable 903 man believe that it would lead to anything else? They knew that the noble Marquess was a man of guileless simplicity. He was the only man in England, he believed, who had doubted whether the Prime Minister would accept Office when the present Government was formed; so perhaps the noble Marquess might be pardoned for another display of this attractive characteristic—namely, a reluctance to believe that electoral districts would be a necessary sequence of the Bill. With regard to the position of Ireland in relation to this Bill, he heard the other day from an hon. Member sitting on the Ministerial side of the House, who was one of the greatest masters of statistics—particularly educational statistics—in this country, that 40 per cent of the people of Ireland could not read and write; and he had also recently seen in the Press a statement based, he believed, upon the Census Returns, to the effect that 40 per cent of the Irish people lived in tenements with only one room; 40 per cent more in tenements containing only two rooms; and that only 20 per cent of the inhabitants of Ireland lived in tenements of more than two rooms. Leaving the political aspect of the question aside for a moment, it was clear, therefore, that the Government were about to add to the existing Irish county electorate of about 200,000 persons other 400,000 or 500,000 of these gentlemen who could not read and write, and who lived in one—or at the least in two—roomed tenements. This, he maintained, was equivalent to the disfranchisement of the whole of the population above those in the very lowest condition. He hoped by the time the Bill was through Committee—if it over got through — that they should have some very decided and marked expression of feeling from the House as to the prudence of placing the destinies of the country entirely in the hands of such a class as that. In Ireland, as was known, the Protestants, who were the wealthiest, the most educated, and most loyal—he did not mean to say that there were not many loyal Roman Catholics in the country—lived chiefly in the Province of Ulster; but there was also a large numerical majority of other persons who lived in houses below the value at present entitling the occupiers to vote, and if they were enfranchised the pre- 904 sent representation would be entirely obliterated by what would practically be an enfranchisement of barbarism. The Government was going, in fact, to silence the vote of Protestant Ulster, for it was doubtful whether anywhere, except in Belfast, the Protestant Loyalists would be able to return Members who would do justice to them. He had dealt with the main points in favour of or against the Bill; but he should like to say a word on the question of whether the Bill was or was not an unavoidable concession to popular demands. Whenever on that side of the House they asked if any proposal made had excited popular interest in the country, they were told that if they wanted an exhibition of popular interest they could have it to-morrow. It was a case of Brennus throwing his sword into the scale; and the right hon. Gentleman the junior Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) was ready to perform the office on the present occasion. There could be no doubt that those agitations were easy of manufacture, and that outrages would be ready to order. Those who had profited so much by the reign of outrage in Ireland would be quite ready to produce, at all events, a tolerable imitation of the same thing in this country. Those who resorted to calculated brutality might, perhaps, wait until argument had failed before they applied it; and the dramatist of the Revolution was not so poor a workman as not to know that the climax should come somewhere in the third act. If their windows were to be broken, and the Members of that House were to be intimidated—["Oh, oh!"] They had not done these things! No; because they were to wait until it was necessary. In regard to the question of opportuneness, he should not say much; but he would allude to a phrase of the Prime Minister, which he had repeated so often that it seemed to have become a sort of fetish with him—that the Liberal Party had always trusted the people more than their opponents had. How did the Liberal Party trust the people in Ireland? Ireland exhibited a wonderful example of Liberal confidence in the people. The Government had abolished the right of public meeting, suppressed the freedom of the Press, and governed the country by means of English bayonets and carefully-selected juries. No 905 doubt the Government had done these things under a sense of public duty; but now they had the audacity to ask the House of Commons, in view of such a state of things, to multiply threefold the elements of disaffection in that country, and to extinguish at once and for ever the voice of loyalty and order in that country. There was, however, an opportuneness in the matter. The Government had declined to take the House into its confidence, and to communicate to Parliament the necessary complement of their scheme; but they were more afraid of the constituencies than they were of Parliament. They were determined, in any case and at any hazard, not to face again the constituencies who returned them to power. They wanted a new constituency, who would be more accessible to their arts than the one which elected the present Parliament. On that side of the House they asked why this question was brought forward at a time when no one had asked for it: He knew that the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. John Morley) recently got up a meeting at Leeds on the subject; but he did not count that as a great representation of popular feeling. They on the Opposition side of the House could not tell why, when the Cabinet was so disunited on the subject, when the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) and the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) had been disputing on the subject on different platforms throughout the country, when the country was facing a crisis daily deepening, and when the political horizon was constantly darkening abroad, the Government had selected this precise mode and method of forcing this measure upon that House. Was it that the Government went forth, like M. Emile Ollivier, "with a light heart," to a work which might be more disastrous than his? He hardly believed that. It was, he believed, a policy of despair. After the battle of Cannæ the Senate came out to welcome the defeated Consul, because he had not despaired of his country. If the Liberal Government believed at that moment that this legislation was demanded of them by some fatality which they could not resist, and that although they saw the danger and felt the doubt, they were yet drifting in this manner, because they had no hope in them of any other method of meeting 906 the difficulties of the position, he would say to them that if they would yet have heart to face their difficulties and their dangers, without recourse to those desperate expedients, it might be possible for them to earn, at least, the credit of the General who earned the gratitude of his country, because they had dared to resist the temptation of political suicide.
MR. GEORGE RUSSELL,
remarked, that he could not help thinking that it was a little significant that the right hon. Gentleman opposite, occupying, as he deservedly did, a position of so much importance in the eyes of his Party, should have been driven, in speaking on the second reading of a measure of this kind, to rely on the trifling technicality that the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington), in moving the second reading, had raised his hat instead of making his Motion formally. When the right hon. Gentleman was forced to fall back upon a plea of that rind, it showed that he and those who acted with him were reduced to the most miserable shifts of exhausted polemics. When the right hon. Gentleman went on to express his sympathy with the Liberal Party for the absence from his Head of the right hon. Gentleman the Head of the Government, he could not deplore that absence more than those who sat on the Government Benches did; and he might, perhaps, add that the same influences that had deprived the Government of their head had almost deprived them of their tail in the person of their humble servant the Secretary to the Local Government Board, he had, therefore, to appeal to the House for a greater indulgence than usual. The right hon. Gentleman had condoled with the Liberal Party of the temporary loss of their Head; but he could not compliment hon. Members opposite on their double headship. Whether the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister was in his place or not, at all events his supporters followed him, and they did not immediately break up during his temporary absence. The right hon. Gentleman had spoken of legislative sterility. Well, in 1867, Parliament passed the Reform Bill; in 1869, they legislated upon the Irish Church Question; in 1870, they dealt with the Irish Land Question, and subsequently they had legislated in refer- 907 ence to Public Education, and to the Abolition of Purchase in the Army. He stopped when he came to 1874, because then the period of legislative sterility commenced. Since the present Government had come into power Obstruction had been elevated into a fine art. The right hon. Gentleman opposite had said that we were going from bad to worse; that every change was a deterioration; that all apparent progress was essential retrogression; and that the more citizens they could keep outside the franchise the better—that the narrower the foundation the safer the superstructure. All that was very suitable matter of observation for the right hon. Gentleman, who had three times unsuccessfully solicited the Suffrages of the working-class constituencies, and who, after a few and evil days of his connection with such bodies, had found refuge in the embraces of a constituency composed exclusively of country clergymen and non-resident M.A.'s.
§ MR. RAIKES
The hon. Gentleman is inaccurate in his statement. I would remind him that I have three times successfully contested such constituencies.
MR. GEORGE RUSSELL
said, that the right hon. Gentleman expanded without contradicting his statement. It was high time for someone to strike a bolder note. The difficulty of the Government lay in the fact that of all the previous speakers hardly anyone had ventured to attack the principle of the Bill. If the time-honoured metaphor of the red herring and the scent had not long been eschewed by even provincial rhetoricians, it would be applicable to the present attempt to draw off attention from what was in the Bill by talking of what was not in it—from franchise to redistribution. He did not in the least underrate the difficulties of the question of redistribution. There was the difficulty of dealing fairly by London and Yorkshire and Lancashire, and yet not unfairly by the rest of the country. The question of redistribution was one of detail, of degree, of application of principle, not of principle itself. On that all were agreed. But the question of the Bill was a question of principle. On that point the Government would not be drawn off from the vital principle of the Bill, which was that every householder should have the vote. With 908 regard to this there were four main criticisms. In the first place, they were told that there was no enthusiasm in the House, and they were bidden to contrast the present time with 1866, which was undoubtedly a very exciting time, a time of much good speaking and much bad voting, when they heard of Caves of Adullam, and Skye terriers, and wooden horses of Troy. But there many reasons for the excitement then and the calmness now. The House of Commons was at that time, on the question of Reform, rotten to the core, while on this subject the present House of Commons was sound as a hell. The House of Commons of I866 had not been elected for Reform; while the present House, if for anything after the reversal of Lord Beacons-field's foreign policy, had been elected to extend the suffrage to the labourer. The Bill of 1866 was full of dangerous points, which might be fatal to the Bill and to the Government; while the present Bill was perfectly clear and simple. It would not be fatal to the existence of any Ministry, and its passage through the House of Commons, at any rate, was perfectly secure. In that House of Commons no one knew of his next-door neighbour whether he was a Reformer or not. In the present House of Commons, if the majority were not Reformers they would not be where they were. Of course, he excepted the ease of the right hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen); but he was one among many, and they had not the commanding personality of his right hon. Friend nor such an obliging constituency. These facts might sufficiently account for the comparatively quiet and business-like attitude of the House of Commons with regard to the Bill now under discussion as compared with the excited atmosphere of 1866. The right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken asserted that there was no enthusiasm for this Bill out-of-doors. They were asked—"Where are your big meetings?" as if they could convene them at any moment. In point of fact, they had no need to convene them, because they had been held over and over again. There was the great Conference assembled at Leeds last autumn. That was no mere fortuitous concourse of atoms; it was an assemblage of deputies commissioned by the organized Liberal opinion of the country. That great meeting, by an 909 overwhelming majority, pronounced in favour of dealing with the franchise first. Since his right hon. Friend (Mr. Trevelyan) carried his Motion in 1877 in favour of the extension of the franchise to the agricultural labourers, Resolutions had been passed at every Liberal meeting in favour of that extension; and, as far as the Liberal Party was concerned, its verdict had been given over and over again. Reference had been made on various occasions to the waning interest in this measure, as evidenced by the decreasing success of the Government at bye-elections. He was one of those who hated to underrate a defeat; and he was as ready as anybody could be to allow hon. Gentlemen opposite the maximum of satisfaction from recent Ministerial disasters. But, while they admitted the fact, the causes of it might be matter for speculation. They were told there had been a marked defection among Liberal voters. He was not prepared to say so. Rather he was disposed to look at the defection in the growing distrust on the part of the electors in the fidelity of the present House of Commons as regarded Reform. It was incumbent upon them to make it clear to their constituents, to whom they were so deeply pledged, that they were as resolute, as keen, and as united in support of Reform as their forefathers were in 1832, and their Predecessors in 1866. A third argument against the Bill was used much more sparingly than cither of the two to which he had referred. They were told by some persons that the agricultural labourers were not fit for the vote. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke last made a warm profession of affection and respect for the agricultural labourers. He echoed those remarks. He had lived among them; he knew them; he respected them; and, what was considerably more than the right hon. Gentleman could say, he represented them. Hon. Gentlemen who had visited his constituents could bear witness when he said that the agricultural labourer yielded to none, either in his eagerness for political knowledge, his zeal for the principles which he had espoused, and his unfailing steadfastness to those to whom he had once given his allegiance. But the most important point was that they were voters already. The hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter) did good service the other night 910 by pointing out that there were five boroughs which comprised altogether 600,000 acres. That which he represented (Aylesbury) comprised in all some 68,699, out of which 65,597 were exterior to the borough proper. It contained over 4,000 electors, of whom more than 3,000 belonged precisely to that class which it was now proposed to enfranchise. Out of the whole of these 4,000 electors, and they were nearly all polled, there were only 29 spoilt votes, including the blind, the sick, and the palsied, and the vote of a certain country clergyman. The reason it was known that he had spoilt his vote was that when he came out of the polling booth he said—"I have no need to claim the protection of the Ballot; I crossed Russell's name out and ran my pencil through it." They were told that such voters would be led away by charlatans, by faddists, and bogus candidates, and men of straw, and that wealth and education would be not only not qualifications, but objects of hatred. Well, the electors of Aylesbury manifested their hatred of capital by electing the head of the great financial family of Rothschild, and their hatred of intelligence and culture by returning the humble individual who was now addressing the House. The fourth point which had been repeatedly urged was that even if the agricultural labourers were fit for the vote they had not asked for it. They were told that the labourers were knocking at the door of the Constitution so feebly that their knock could not be heard. But it was not always safe for them to knock loudly. It was not safe for them to pronounce too plainly their political views and hopes. When they were voters they were bolder. In the great majority of villages the official who used to be called the "black recruiting sergeant," the clergyman, the squire, and the farmer, forgetting for the moment their mutual antipathies, united and banded themselves together in order to preclude the agricultural labourers from the attainment and the exercise of political power, and from the formation and expression of political opinions. They were the employers of labour and the dispensers of charity, and "charity covers a multitude of sins," including the blackness of political intolerance. Two or three years ago there was a Conservative banquet at Aylesbury, and a farmer, who was 911 an enthusiastic Conservative, asked one of his supporters to go with him to it. A political meeting followed. The bill of fare was peculiarly extensive and attractive. It included a speech from the hon. Member for Leitrim (Mr. Tottenham), and it would be admitted that a speech from the hon. Gentleman was of itself a satisfying meal. Lighter refreshment was supplied in the form of a speech by his hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Northcote), and he was not sure that there was not some mention in the menu of a discourse by the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett) on the affairs of Eastern Europe. One of his (Mr. Russell's) constituents was of the farmer's party of labourers, and when he had been driven safely home he went to the Dissenting minister and gave an account of the proceedings; but added —"I did not believe what they said." "Then, as it was a free meeting," said the minister, "I hope you got up and told them so." "Not such a fool," said the man; "I should have had to walk home if I had." Which things were an allegory. The agricultural labourer was capable of forming a right judgment in polities; but in nine cases out of ten he had not the means of expressing it, and where he had it was not safe for him to speak. From that bondage they could not deliver him; but they could put him in a position to deliver himself. That was the work to which the Government had set their hands, and they would not be deterred either by open opposition in "another place" or dilatory and evasive criticisms in the House of Commons. They were resolved, so far as they could encompass that end, that the agricultural labourer should be no longer either serf or cypher; but a free man and a self-governing citizen.
§ MR. CUBITT
said, that the Prime Minister, in introducing the Bill, had stated that fancy franchises had been killed by a playful remark of the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright). It was strange that the right hon. Gentleman had not remembered that there was one fancy franchise which the House had established—namely, the lodger franchise. No franchise had been received with greater favour, and from none were greater results anticipated. He could only find, in the various debates in which that franchise had been discussed, one hesitating adverse criti- 912 cism. Sir George Cornewall Lewis said that the lodger franchise would bring on the register a population, mostly working men, who flitted about from one place to another, and who were, therefore, little qualified to vote for Members of Parliament. On the other hand, the proposal to give votes to lodgers met with the warm approval of Mr. Disraeli and Lord Derby. At last, in 1867, that which had in several Bills been introduced as a fancy franchise was incorporated in a Reform Act. A useful Return, presented on the Motion of the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. A. Arnold), had given the results of the lodger franchise in the Three Kingdoms. In Scotland only 323 lodgers were found on the list, and of those 173 were in Glasgow, out of 63,716 electors, and 50 in Edinburgh. The remainder were scattered by twos and threes in the other constituencies. In Ireland 1,213 lodgers had votes, of whom 1,082 were resident in Dublin, in consequence, mainly, of the exertions of the Home Rule Party. In England there were 21,918 lodger votes oat of 1,651,732 electors. Of these there were 379 in Liverpool, 115 in Manchester, 120 in Leeds, and Birmingham, notwithstanding the exertions of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain), only rejoiced in 72. Out of the 21,918 lodgers in England 15,690 were in the Metropolitan boroughs. In Westminster there were 3,774, or one-sixth of the total number of lodger electors in the United Kingdom. It was remarkable that the increase in the number of lodger electors in the Metropolis coincided with an increase of effort and of success on the part of the Conservative Party in the Metropolis. But the main result had established the fact that the lodger franchise was almost entirely an election agent's franchise, for it was hardly possible for a lodger to get his name on the list of voters without the aid of an agent. There were no fewer than five forms of claim for lodgers; and it was mainly on the ground of the difficulties with regard to them which had arisen that the stringent penal clause, introduced by the late Member for Cambridge (Mr. Marten), had been introduced into the Registration Act of 1878. It was found that the great number of false claims and fraudulent declarations required a 913 sure remedy. In the view of those facts, it must be admitted that the lodger franchise had proved a complete failure. Some convictions in the Metropolis for tampering with the claims of lodgers allowed that the penal Act had not put an end to all difficulties. He should be glad to hear from the Government what means they had found of making the lodger and the service franchise self-acting? If the Attorney General had been able to accomplish this, he would prove a great benefactor to the country. The reason for extending the lodger franchise to the counties appeared to be that uniformity of the occupation franchise in boroughs and counties would prepare the way for electoral districts, although the idea of electoral districts had been repudiated by both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for War. The only difference it would leave between borough and county constituencies would be that the borough freeholders generally would have votes for their counties. He would give two or three examples. The effect of the Bill would probably be to raise the number of electors in West Surrey from 8,400 to about 20,000; and in Guildford, which was probably deemed, there were 1,542 electors and 154 freeholders who would still vote for the county. The electors in South Hants would probably be increased from 10,510 to 30,500; and the division included Portsmouth, with 18,112, and Southampton, with 7,464 electors; while in the two boroughs there were 3,000 freeholders who would vote for the county. But in South Norfolk there were 7,417 electors, and in Norwich 13,131 and 732 freeholders, and these freeholders voted by old custom in the city, so that in this division of a county there would be identity of the county and borough franchise. They were really and truly coming to electoral districts, although Ministers said that was what they did not wish. He would support the Amendment of his noble Friend the Member for North Leicestershire (Lord John Manners), or any other Amendment hostile to the Bill. He did not believe that they had sufficient experience of the working of the Reform Bill of 1867. The Election of 1868 gave a Liberal majority, which was lost in 1874 and regained in 1880; and keen observers believed that a General Elec- 914 tion now would result in another reversal of the country's last decision. For the first time they had had a Government who had prided themselves on reversing the foreign policy of their Predecessors; the present Government's domestic policy might be reversed by their Successors; and so they might go on, until they got into great confusion. For those reasons he supported the Amendment, and he hoped the Bill would be shipwrecked either in that House or the House of Lords.
§ MR. SPENCER
said, he was anxious not to lose the opportunity of stating how very keenly he felt the importance of passing the Bill, and how great was the desire for it in the country at large, and certainly in that part of it which he represented (North Northampton). Those who thought otherwise could not be conversant with the feeling of the country. All the conferences and meetings that had been held had spoken out strongly in favour of the reduction of the county franchise. It might be that there had been no extraordinary excitement about the Bill; no Park railings had been knocked clown, as some noble Lords seemed to expect; there had been no visits to the Home Secretary by Presidents of Reform Leagues; still, all the same, there was a feeling in the country, and if Ministers receded one jot from the position they had taken up, a great agitation would probably ensue—not "to order," as some hon. Members had suggested, but as the spontaneous expression of public opinion. If the country was supposed not to be in favour of the Bill—it it were a bad Bill for the country at large—how was it that the noble Lord (Lord John Manners), instead of moving the Amendment, had not moved the rejection of the Bill altogether? He suspected the reason was that the noble Lord knew what an enormous force such a Motion would put into the hands of the Government at that terrible time—the next General Election. The noble Lord also knew that if the Conservatives came into power they would have this incubus on their future policy—that the country was in favour of Reform, and that they had denied the necessity for and the desirability of Reform. The country had made up its mind to have this Bill, and he had no doubt that, in the long run, the measure would be passed. The Cam- 915 bridgeshire Election had been put forward as a sign that the Bill was not wished for by the country. He expected that some portion of the large majority which the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. A. Thornhill) secured was obtained by hon. Gentlemen telling the farmers that if the labourers had a vote they would be entirely swamped. The part of the country which he represented was very much in favour of the Bill, not only for the reasons he had given, but also because Ireland had been included in the measure. Many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite had made strong remarks with reference to the manner in which the Bill proposed to deal with Ireland. He did not share the feelings of fear which had been expressed, and he was quite certain that the inclusion of Ireland was not a cause of alarm. If Ireland had not been included, he thought that the country would have shared that feeling of injustice which Irishmen of all sides in politics would have felt at the strong slap in the face which would have been given to that country by the Liberal Party. The Government, he rejoiced to think, had not given way upon this point. The fears and terrors of hon. Gentlemen opposite would not, in his opinion, commend themselves to the constituencies at the next Election. Notwithstanding what had been said, he could not help thinking that the agricultural labourer was quite as anxious for the welfare of his country as any other member of the community; and, considering the spread of education, that he was quite as well able to exercise the privilege of voting as the more exclusive electors in days that were past. There would be a great deal more power and force in the vote of an elector when they obtained an extended electorate. He should be glad to give his vote against the Amendment and in favour of the measure of Reform now before the House, chiefly because he wished that there should be no invidious distinction made between England, Scotland, and Ireland.
§ MR. J. A. CAMPBELL
said, that, in supporting the Amendment, he had no wish to oppose any well-considered measure for assimilating the borough and county franchise, provided it was a complete measure, embracing redistribution of seats, and giving a promise that all classes of the electorate should have 916 a fair share in the representation. The Bill before the House was, however, not a Bill of that kind, and never professed to be. It was entitled a Bill to amend the Representation; but it dealt only with one part of the subject—the extension of the franchise—so that its title was a misnomer. The House had been already informed of the precedents and authorities that supported the contention of the noble Lord who had moved the Amendment. No answer had been attempted to the application of those authorities to the present case, except this argument—that the separation of the two parts of a complete measure was not of such consequence now, because after passing the Franchise Bill the Redistribution Bill would not make any further change in the franchise. But the question of what the constituencies were to be was quite as important as the question of who the voters were to be. It required to be kept in view from the very beginning, in any satisfactory treatment of the general question of the representation of the people. If there was to be any separation of the two parts, the Bill for the redistribution of seats ought to have the first place, rather than the second place. Lord Stanley, speaking in I866, said—You cannot deal conveniently or satisfactorily with the question of the extension of the franchise in boroughs and in counties—but more especially with the question of the franchise in counties—unless you know what is to be the nature and what is to be the extent of the constituencies you are about to create. … What I contend for is simply this—that we ought to know what the constituencies are to be as regards their nature and extent before we settle the question of who is to vote in these constituencies. … I believe that we ought to take the question of the redistribution of scats before we take the question of an extension of the franchise."—(3 Hansard,  2059–2061.)Now, he failed to see that those words had lost any of their force because of the difference between the proposals of the present Bill and those of the Bill of 1866. For instance, he would ask the House to consider the proposals of the Bill with regard to Ireland. The electorate there was to be increased threefold; and, in the words of the hon. Member for Kerry (Mr. Blennerhassett), "this was making a complete transfer of political power from those who now possessed it to the new electorate." It seemed essential, before the House com- 917 mitted itself to such a change, that information he given as to how the increased electorate was to be arranged, and under what conditions as to voting it was to exercise its privileges. The hon. Member for Kerry warned the House of the danger of allowing those who held extreme views, who, he said, were 65 or 70 per cent of the population, to have the whole power in the representation of Ireland, condemning to extinction the political energy and public life of the minority. That danger could only be averted by a fair and just scheme of redistribution. Of the two parts of the scheme of the Government, it seemed to him that redistribution was more urgently called for than the extension of the franchise. They had heard it stated that there was a demand for a Reform Bill. But that demand had mostly come, not from the agricultural population, but from people in towns. The grievances which had been heard of were mostly such as might be remedied by redistribution. The anomaly of one man living on one side of the street and having a vote, while his comrade in the same circumstances, but living on the other side of the street, had no vote, was to be remedied by an extension of the boundaries of the borough. Even the case cited by the Prime Minister of a considerable population which had gathered about shipbuilding yards on the Clyde, some miles below the municipal boundaries of Glasgow, was a case calling for redistribution rather than for a reduction of the county franchise. It was the case of an unrepresented urban population, with urban and not rural interests, and their enfranchisement was to be sought rather by joining them to other town populations than by admitting them as county voters. But the Government themselves plainly admitted that redistribution was inseparably connected with, and, in fact, was a part of, the subject which this Bill opened to the House. Why, otherwise, was it that the Prime Minister gave them a sketch of his own ideas as to redistribution? Was that not an admission that an exposition of a large enfranchising scheme would be incomplete and insufficient without some explanation which went further than merely informing the House who were to have votes? But while the sketch presented was enough to justify the House in asking that the entire scheme 918 contemplated by the Government should be placed before them in outline at least, it was not enough to satisfy their demand. It was an admission that they were right in asking for information as to what was intended; but it failed to give that information in a sufficient or satisfactory manner. The sketch was unsatisfactory both in form and in substance. In form, because it was not given as from the Cabinet—it did not come as binding on the Cabinet. It was true the Prime Minister stated that he would not have submitted that sketch if he believed that it was vitally in conflict, with any of the opinions his Colleagues entertained; and the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War had strengthened that statement by speaking of the Prime Minister's sketch as submitted with the assent of his Colleagues, as a declaration generally accepted and concurred in by the Members of the Cabinet. But why should there not be some information more definite and unqualified than that? It was only reasonable to suppose that the Government had considered what their entire scheme was to be. If they had, why did they not make a statement to the House? This Reform measure was to consist of two parts. Why should the House be asked to commit themselves to the first part without knowing what the second part was to be, especially as the first part might be entirely changed in its effects according to the manner in which the second part was dealt with? The Prime Minister had said, with reference to a demand on the Government to tell its plan for redistribution, that the Government "did not intend to walk into any trap." But as regarded the sketch of redistribution which had been put forward with the view of satisfying them, the House might say that without the positive assurance that it bound the Government they must decline to regard it as offering any pathway that was certainly clear of traps and pitfalls. It was said that redistribution was too difficult a subject to treat in conjunction with the extension of the franchise. He should have thought that its difficulty would have been the very reason why the Government should have endeavoured first to deal with that part of their scheme. To show that it was not a subject impossible to deal with, the House would shortly have in their hands the Bill 919 of his right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Wigtown Burghs (Sir John Hay), in which it would be found that the subject was treated in a thorough and comprehensive way. But the substance, as well as the form, of the Prime Minister's sketch called for some remarks. One portion of it was re-assuring enough, where he said that the distinction of town and country known as burgh and shire was to be maintained. But was there not a danger of that distinction being lost if the Franchise Bill were passed before the redistribution scheme was considered? If it should so happen that there was a Dissolution of Parliament after the passing of this Franchise Bill, but before a Redistribution Bill was passed, large suburban populations and many small towns which, under a Redistribution of Scats Bill, would be included in borough constituencies, would vote in the county, outnumbering, in some cases, the proper rural electorate. As an illustration, he might state what the result would be in the case of Glasgow. The population within the Parliamentary borough of Glasgow was 488,000; but there was a population in the suburbs of 186,000. If this Representation of the People Bill was passed the suburban population would receive the same privilege of voting as those now had who lived within the borough; but if the redistribution scheme were not passed they would vote in the counties of Lanark and Renfrew, and not in the town. The Parliamentary borough of Glasgow, with its population of 488,000, had a constituency of 68,000. In the same proportion the suburban population that would be enfranchised by this Bill would give a constituency of 26,000. That constituency was considerably larger than the whole present constituency of the two counties within whoso bounds it now resided. The constituency of North Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire was 18,000; and if this Bill passed, there would be added to it—without taking into account the smaller towns—a suburban Glasgow constituency of 26,000. But the great blot on the Prime Minister's sketch was the proposal that had been so often referred to, of retaining the number of Irish seats undiminished. He was quite aware that representation had not been given strictly according to population, and that the highest authori- 920 ties on the subject did not propose it. They had not yet come to equal electoral districts, and he trusted they never would; but if they were to have all classes fairly represented they must have a certain variety in their constituencies, even although the borough and county franchises were assimilated. The three Divisions of the United Kingdom contained populations that were approximately similar. There was the same need for variety in constituencies in England and Wales, in Scotland, and in Ireland; so that, though population was not the only thing to be taken into account in distributing seats, the respective populations of the three countries might fairly be taken as affording some guide to the number of Members to which each country was entitled. On that ground it could be said that England and Scotland were under-represented, and that Ireland and Wales were over-represented; and yet the proposal was that Ireland should retain its present number of Members, and that a few Members be taken from England and given to Scotland. Nothing had been said by the Prime Minister to justify this exceptional favour to be shown to Ireland. He hardly thought that its distance from London would really be insisted upon as a reason for it, especially in the absence of any proposal to give more Members on that account to the far North of Scotland. Therefore, it was impossible to avoid the conclusion that the proposal was simply a bid for the Irish vote. He could well understand the difficulty of bringing in a Representation of the People Bill for Great Britain that was not to apply to Ireland; and he could also well understand the feeling of alarm of those loyal to the Union at the idea of extending the franchise in Ireland under present circumstances. Many said this was not a time for such a measure for Ireland; and the conclusion one would be led to was to doubt whether the present was a good time for a Franchise Bill at all—whether it should not be deferred to a later and a safer time. But if they were to legislate on the subject now, and if Ireland was to be admitted to the same privileges, why should not Ireland be subjected to the same conditions, as the other parts of the United Kingdom? If favour was to be shown, why should it be shown to Ireland, which, on any 921 grounds which could be held to have a bearing on this question, had the least claim to be favoured? Since the Reform Act of 1832 the population of England and Wales had increased from 14,000,000 to 27,000,000, and that of Scotland from 2,333,000 to 3,750,000, while that of Ireland had decreased from 7,750,000 to about 5,000,000; and yet the proposal was that whatever happened to England and Scotland, Ireland was to have its present number of Members continued undiminished. Passing from the question of population, let them look at the statistics recently furnished of the contributions of Scotland and Ireland to the Exchequer. Scotland contributed last year to the Exchequer £9,138,000, and Ireland £8,195,000. On the other hand, Scotland received out of public money during the year £2,665,000, whilst Ireland received £7,000,000. He did not say that; these grants to Ireland were unnecessary or ill-bestowed; but he said that, the two countries showing such differences, in their relations to the public Exchequer, it was altogether unreasonable to place Ireland in a more favourable position with regard to representation than Scotland. What was the object of a Reform Bill? To amend the representation. But for what purpose? For the purpose of securing better government for the country. But they could not look for good government if all classes, minorities as well as majorities, were not fairly represented in the House of Commons. A Household Franchise Bill, if it stood alone, might place the power wholly in the hands of the most numerous class of householders. He thought it was no want of charity to say; that the most numerous class was not necessarily the best qualified to govern the country. They might be capable citizens, but they could not claim to be the most capable. Until they know what the intentions of the Government were as to the redistribution of seats, it was impossible to forecast the effects of the present Bill—whether it was likely to lead to salutary reform or to make a dangerous revolution.
§ MR. ANDERSON
said, the hon. Member for the Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities (Mr. J. A, Campbell) had confined himself to the stereotyped; views of his Party on this question by attacking only the redistribution part of the measure. He had no wish to an- 922 swer that, at least at present, but to refer to the historical sketch they had in the earlier part of the evening from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes), in which he drew a picture—he (Mr. Anderson) believed it was only a fancy picture—of the way in which on former Franchise Bills the two Parties bargained away the political power of the people to suit or defeat each other. He did not think that such bargaining over really took place; but he wished to point out that the right hon. Gentleman spoke of it not only as having taken place, but spoke of it as approving of that kind of thing. Well, that was exactly the kind of thing that hon. Members on his side of the House did not approve of—namely, bargaining away the political power of the people, without proper reference to the people themselves, whoso power was to be dealt with in that way, and that reminded one that this mode of bargaining followed out the principle of the Tory Party, that the franchise was not a right of the people, but only a trust. The noble Lord the Member for North Leicestershire (Lord John Manners), the other night, stated that in the broadest way, when he said it was the Birmingham heresy that the franchise was a right and not a trust. Whether it was a heresy or not, it was not confined to Birmingham, because they in the North shared it thoroughly. They looked upon the franchise as the inherent right of everyone of full age and sound mind in this country; and it was for those who denied any class their right in that respect to show good and cogent reasons for it. No doubt society had a right to protect itself against criminals and lunatics; but they were the only ones who should not exercise the right. It had been tried to show that women should not possess the franchise, but he thought with very doubtful success; and he thought that women who were to obey the laws and pay the taxes, the same as men, had the same inherent right to have some say in the election of those men who made the laws they were bound to obey. He did not think those who had argued against the admission of women had made out their case for exclusion. There was also the class of lodgers. They had an attack on the lodger franchise from the right hon. Member for West Surrey (Mr. 923 Cubitt). There was no doubt that the lodger franchise had been a failure; but he thought all would admit that it ought not to be that. There was a very extensive class of lodgers all over the country who were thoroughly well qualified to exorcise the franchise, and who ought to have it; and if the lodger franchise was now re-arranged, and all its difficulties and technicalities removed so as to make it more easy for intelligent lodgers to obtain the franchise, it would be no longer the failure the right hon. Member described. Then, beyond that, there was a large and floating population, not now included, that would be embraced under manhood suffrage. They said, not without some reason, there were difficulties in the way of including these; but they were difficulties, not in the way of denying them the rights, but in denying the expediency of including them, on account of the almost impossibility of getting their names upon any register, so that it should be known they voted once, and once only. These appeared to be great difficulties in connection with any extension of the franchise beyond household suffrage; but they surely did not apply to agricultural labourers. There were agricultural labourers, certainly in Scotland, if not in England, who were abundantly suited to exercise the franchise intelligently. The noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) went to Edinburgh last winter, and attempted to tell a Scotch meeting that the Scotch agricultural labourers were not sufficiently intelligent to have the franchise; but the meeting only laughed at him. They who had had parochical schools for 300 years in the country had an intelligent people all over the country; and the agricultural labourers were, perhaps, even rather better fitted to exercise the franchise intelligently than those in towns. If the agricultural labourers in England were ignorant, whose fault was it? It was the fault of the parson and the squire, who had had them under subjection for hundreds of years, and who, in order to keep them in subjection, had been keeping them in ignorance. That alone was the reason why; but the franchise was a great educator, and if they once gave them the franchise they would before long know well how to use it. The hon. Member who had just sat down gave Glasgow as an illustration against the Bill. It was really one of the strongest 924 that could be given in its favour. In Glasgow they had a population of 500,000 in the burgh, 250,000 immediately outside the burgh boundaries, and another 250,000 a little further a field; so that altogether there was a population of 1,000,000 in this centre of industry. These men might be said to be interchangeable. They went with their employment. They were this year working and living within the burgh, next year they had gone with their work into the counties. They had a vote when they were living in the burgh, and why should they be deprived of it when they went to live in the country? They had not become less intelligent; but yet, by their stupid law, the moment they got out of the borough they lost their vote. He did not think much greater injustice could be done than that, or that there could be a better argument for the extension of the franchise. When they lived in the counties they could not have a vote for the reason that they were not living in a house of.£14 a-year, and that was another injustice they suffered from in Scotland. He did not know where the Scotch Members were in 1868 when they submitted to that; but in Scotland their county franchise was £14, and in England it was £12, and he had never been able to see any reason for the injustice. As it was an injustice, the best way of getting quit of it would be to adopt household suffrage altogether. The hon. Member who had just spoken said a good deal about the redistribution scheme as it was to apply to Ireland. The Scotch Members, of course, felt a great deal about that. They were anxious to give the fullest justice possible to Ireland; but, at the same time, they felt they required justice for themselves also. They had not got justice at present, because, according to population, they ought to have 71 Members instead of 60. He certainly thought if they got 71 Members they might be content—["No, no!"]—but he did not think they could be content with one single Member less. If the hon. Member opposite wanted more he did not object; but he did not see where they were to come from, and that was his great difficulty about the justice to Ireland. If Ireland was to maintain her present number of Members at 105, he did not quite see where Scotland was to get the 11 extra she ought to have. The right hon. Gentle- 925 man the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) the other night spoke very strongly about maintaining for Ireland the number given to Ireland by the Treaty of Union; but Ireland had at present five more. She had three actually; but she had a right to fire more than were given by the Treaty of Union. According to population, she would only have a right to three less than was given by the Treaty of Union; and if they could not prevail on their Irish Friends to come to a just measure of the population and be content with the 97, and allow Scotland to have the other eight, he hoped, at least, they would be content with the number awarded to them by the Treaty of Union, and surrender the five given them in 1832, when the population was a great deal larger than now. Then there was another source from which they might possibly hope to get a few Members; but, so far, it had not been hinted at by the Prime Minister, or anyone else. Although this Bill was not to abolish any existing franchise, the franchise to which he was alluding might be abolished by means of the Redistribution Bill—he meant the University franchise. [Laughter] Hon. Members might laugh; but he, and a great many people, looked upon the University franchise as a mere device for giving certain classes a double vote. They looked upon a single vote as the right of a man, and that double votes were not his right. Of course, if England surrendered her University seats, Scotland would surrender hers equally. He much regretted that certain Members would, by that means, lose their seats, who were at present great ornaments to the House; but he thought that the grievance of giving certain persons a double vote ought to be got rid of. The only other subject he would allude to was that of proportional representation. He had been asked to sign a document approving of this, which had been signed by many Members on both sides of the House; but he disapproved entirely of proportional representation, and the attempt to represent minorities. If hon. Members who signed it had as much experience of minority representation as he had they would not be so anxious for it. The best way, and the only correct way, of getting minorities represented was to abandon the system of having double and triple constituencies. Let them abandon the very large consti- 926 tuencies as well as the very small ones, and have moderate-sized constituencies, with only one Member for each. If they adopted that system, they would have minorities represented in what appeared to him to be the only fair and proper system of minority representation.
§ COLONEL WALROND
said, that he was glad to have the opportunity of stating his reasons for giving a cordial support to the Amendment of the noble Lord (Lord John Manners). It was estimated that about 2,000,000 of new electors would be added to the electoral roll, and the consent of the House was asked to that increase without any scheme of redistribution being presented. There were many Members on the Conservative side of the House who did not object, in principle, to the assimilation of the borough and county franchise, as it seemed to them but natural such a measure should follow the Bill of 1867. He, however, would not give a very willing assent to it unless it was accompanied by a redistribution which would insure a due maintenance of the distinction between borough and shire—a distinction which, in his opinion, ought to be maintained. He fully admitted there were many anomalies under the present system; but he was willing to remove them. There were, however, many things in the present Bill which he would shrink from. If it were desirable that the county and borough franchise should be assimilated, they ought to ask whether that was the proper time for the change; and he was quite convinced it was not the proper moment, and that it was not a wise or statesmanlike policy to bring forward a measure which was to include in it the reduction and extension of the franchise in Ireland. Something like 400,000 or 500,000 voters would be added to the electorate of Ireland. Now, the essence of the Premier's speech, as he understood it, was that they were to enrol capable citizens by means of this Bill; but would everybody entertain the idea that these 400,000 new voters in Ireland could be called capable citizens? His own definition of a capable citizen was a man who went quietly about his daily labour and was a loyal subject; but of these 400,000 additional Irish voters fully two-thirds would be men whom it would be impossible to call law-abiding citizens. It might possibly be argued that it was very wrong to bring in 927 a mere temporary Bill for England and Scotland, and he rather agreed to that. When the franchise was extended he thought it ought to be extended to the three countries, and that was a strong argument in favour of the postponement of the measure. They would be taunted that they desired no reform; but he could not think there was any very great desire in the country for this measure at the present time. No doubt, it was desired in large towns where there was no direct representation, and among the mining population of the North and in the suburbs of those boroughs, where there certainly was a hardship which ought to be redressed; but to say that the rural population desired this change was, in his opinion, incorrect. He represented a constituency (East Devon) largely composed of agriculturists, and with a large town in it. He knew that in the town of Torquay there was a strong desire that a measure something like this should be brought forward; but he had not had a single Petition from the rural districts, and he believed his Colleague had had only one Petition—and that from Torquay—that this measure should pass. He had looked through the latest summary of the Petitions, and he found that up to Saturday there were 61 Petitions only, and, with two or three exceptions, they all came from Scotland. The Premier had said that household suffrage was generally desired in the counties; but in the West of England he thought he had shown that that was not the case, except among the town population. No doubt, however, the Birmingham Caucus would soon manufacture Petitions enough to show the feeling of the rural population. Among farmers he believed there was a feeling of alarm, not at the prospect that the agricultural labourer would receive the franchise, but lest their interests should be annihilated under this Bill. Without redistribution the agricultural interest in the counties would be swamped by the urban voters. The principle which had been hitherto invariably recognized in the extensions of the franchise would be obliterated. The hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson) said he was entirely in favour of electoral districts and manhood suffrage; but that was not the general feeling of the House. Anyone who was in the House during the discussion of the last Reform Bill would know that 928 both Liberals and Conservatives accepted the principle that there should be a distinction between town and country. In 1859 Lord Derby defined the distinction as being, as regarded the counties, that property was the basis, and that in the boroughs numbers and residence was the basis; and Lord John Russell himself said, with regard to that speech, that the expression was clear, the authority high, and the argument conclusive. The Government might say they had no other alternative than such a Bill as this; but he believed that if they could appoint a Boundary Commission to enlarge some of the present boroughs, and also to group certain of the small boroughs together, the real requirements of the case might be met in that way. Gentlemen on his side asked that the present Bill should be postponed until a complete scheme of redistribution was submitted to the House. There were some Members of the Government who were in favour of electoral districts, manhood suffrage, and payment of Members, although, from a desire to work with their Colleagues, they kept their more extreme doctrines to themselves. The proposed service franchise, he believed, would be popular in many quarters; but he could not quite understand it, and he thought it might create great anomalies. If he built a lodge for his coachman, his coachman would have a vote; but if his coachman lived in his house he would have no vote. That seemed rather a hardship, and he suggested whether all for whom the taxes were paid might not have a vote. He also considered it right not to allow faggot voters to be created in future, and the Prime Minister had exercised a wise discretion in not disfranchising those now upon the register; but he hoped some Amendment to the Bill would be brought forward by which female suffrage would be introduced. Something like 25,000 or.30,000 women were farming their own land; and he thought it very hard that when they were proposing to enfranchise the labourers they should refuse these women the franchise. The Prime Minister had deprecated what he called fancy franchise; but he thought it would not be at all difficult, if the House could agree, to give votes to all who had a certain amount in the savings bank, or who paid a certain amount in direct taxation. Without saying anything more upon the 929 Bill, he wished to add that there was nothing in this Amendment which negatived the principle of Reform. It simply expressed the fooling which Lord Derby expressed in 1866, when he said the House did not know that the Government, if they had made up their minds with regard to redistribution, would not change their minds. They had been told that the scheme of redistribution could not be brought forward at the same time with the Bill. He believed, however, that in the Reform Bills of 1832 and 1867 the details of the redistribution scheme were joined to each Bill, which in one case contained so, and in another case 60 clauses, while the present measure only contained 12 clauses. There was no reason, therefore, on that ground why the scheme should not be brought forward now. So far as the House knew it was intended to take Members from the boroughs of the South of England and give them to Ireland, a measure which he considered would be utterly unjust. They had heard a great deal about justice being meted out to Ireland. He was as anxious as anyone to see justice done to Ireland; but he certainly protested against that justice being conferred at the expense of England. It was quite certain that if the population or the taxation of Ireland were considered relatively to that of England and Scotland, Ireland should lose in any scheme of redistribution 10 or 12 Members. In his opinion, therefore, it was absurd to say that Ireland was entitled to 105 Members. He believed that the whole of this Bill was simply meant as a sop to the Irish vote. It was a sop, not only to the Irish vote in Ireland, but to the Irish voters in the large towns of England. It was well known that if there was an appeal to the constituencies in a short time, many hon. Gentlemen opposite who had Irish voters among their constituents might find it very hard to please them. Upon all grounds, therefore, he contended that piecemeal proposal was inopportune. As Lord Derby said in 1868, redistribution ought rather to come before extension. He objected also that there was no finality about this proposal; and, in the words of the Prime Minister, he urged that the constant agitation of organic changes diminished the stability of their institutions, and tended to disqualify England for the performance of 930 those great duties which she had to discharge for herself and the world. There were so many persons who had just claims to be enfranchised left outside the purview of the Bill, that he was quite certain in a very few years the House would have to all do this work over again. It was, therefore, an unfortunate circumstance for the country that the House should be asked within a short period to re-open this question and discuss another Reform Bill. He cordially supported the Amendment of the noble Lord.
§ MR. MELLOR
Mr. Speaker, I think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Walrond) who has just spoken has somewhat needlessly alarmed himself about manhood suffrage and electoral districts. As I understand the Bill, there is nothing in it which points to anything of the kind, and there has been nothing in the speeches delivered in this debate which tend to that conclusion. The speech of the noble Lord (Lord John Manners) who has moved the Amendment was one of considerable power; in every way worthy of the occasion, and of the great experience of the noble Lord. But I cannot understand why, if he anticipates all the mischief which he believes will result from this Bill, he moved an Amendment of this description, which is in the nature of a dilatory plea. Why did he not say boldly that the Bill was a mischievous one, and that it ought to be at once rejected? Can the noble Lord, in moving this Amendment, have reflected upon the magnitude of the interests with which he was dealing? Two millions of householders in the United Kingdom, at the present time, are without the franchise. I can understand hon. Members considering that to add 2,000,000 to the voters of the country is a serious matter; but I hope that those hon. Members will also remember that it is an equally serious matter to keep 2,000,000 of householders out of the franchise, if they are entitled to it. Either it is very wrong to admit them, or most unjust to keep them out; and if I anticipated half the evils from admitting them that hon. Gentlemen opposite have done, I would unquestionably vote against the Bill itself. The only excuse for the course taken by the noble Lord that I have heard was given by the right hon. Gentleman who spoke after him 931 (Mr. J. Lowther). He said that this Amendment was according to precedent. Sir, I can understand the value of precedent, if the unwritten law of this House were in question; but how can precedents be of any value when the question is whether a Bill of this kind should be passed or not? It is either right or wrong. If it is wrong, and the noble Lord said that it was, then, in my opinion, he was bound to move its rejection. Now, Sir, the speakers who followed him have contrived to drag Birmingham and the Caucus into this discussion, although the noble Lord wisely tried to keep them out. It is said that, according to what they call the Birmingham heresy, the franchise is looked upon as a right, whereas it ought to be considered a trust. Surely, if it is a right, there can be no question that every man, woman, and child in the country is entitled to it? If, on the other hand, it is called a trust, where is the responsibility, and who is to rail the trustees to account? Why, non-voters are not even entitled to inquire how those having the franchise voted. I have always understood that the franchise has long been considered to be a privilege, conferred upon those that, in the opinion of the nation, are capable citizens. The position of the labourer in this country has, for many years past, called for the attention of statesmen; and I am surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes) speak so stongly against his being entrusted with the franchise. That right hon. Gentleman can hardly have considered the statement in 1867 of Mr. Disraeli, whom I suppose hon. Gentlemen opposite would call a prudent and far-seeing statesman. In 1867, quoting a speech he made in 1852, he spoke as follows in this House, with respect to the Reform Bill of 1832, which took the franchise from the freemen:—I have also another objection to this Bill. I have often said to this House—I repeat it now, and it is the expression of a deep and sincere conviction on my part—that I think in the construction of that remarkable law, the Reform Act of 1832, them was a very great deficiency, which consisted of a want of due consideration of the rights of the working classes to the franchise. … Under our old system, by the suffrages of the freemen, the political rights of the labourer were acknowledged by the Constitution. We virtually destroyed those rights."—(3 Hansard,  1200.932 Again, Sir Robert Peel also pointed out that—You will find the labouring class, whose Parliamentary rights you are now destroying, will take the opportunity of claiming again those privileges which you have thoughtlessly taken from them.Surely it cannot be said that those two statesmen did not give a great deal of attention to the subject. It is true that the present proposal is to give the franchise to a much larger number than at that time And hon. Gentlemen talk about appealing to the constituencies! Do they suppose that if this Bill were thrown out upon such an excuse as this, and the constituencies were gravely told that 2,000,000 of people were denied what they consider to be their right, on the ground that the way in which they were afterwards to be locally arranged was not introduced into the measure, that then the constituencies would be satisfied? Why, Sir, the noble Lord has actually told us that the labourer was sufficiently represented at present—that he was represented in agricultural boroughs. And this he afterwards qualified by saying, "that is as far as it goes." He then said that recent elections had shown that no interest was taken in this question. As to the election for West Somerset, I claim to know something about that, as I live there, and I can tell him that this question was never made the principal subject. But I can also tell him that many electors expressed very strong views with regard to faggot-voting in West Somerset, where it actually happened that one tithe-rent charge had been divided amongst 33 Bristol Tory merchants, who had nothing to do with West Somerset, and never came there except to vote at the elections. But what did his argument amount to? Why to this, and this only—that some of those who had got the franchise themselves wanted to keep, and did their best to keep, others out. This is a question not so much for those who have the franchise, as for those who have not and who now desire it. Something has been said about there having been no agitation on the subject. Agitation, Sir! Why has there been no agitation? Because the people believe and trust in the justice of Parliament. Why should they agitate, when they believe that they will get the franchise without? The English labourer, to begin 933 with, is not accustomed to agitate. He has no means nor many opportunities of meeting his fellow-labourers for the purpose. But if this Bill is rejected, and if what they consider their just claim is refused, does anyone doubt that a very strong feeling of indignation will arise throughout the country, and agitation enough to satisfy its strongest lover, or any hon. Gentleman opposite? It has been suggested in the course of the debate that these claims could be met sufficiently by enlarging the boundaries of boroughs. But, in my opinion, no advantage would be gained by that. By that means, you would only take a large number of voters from the counties and put them in the boroughs, and how could you go on always extending the boundaries? Men are attracted by superior wages into the towns, where they acquire votes. They are in constant communication with their friends in the country, who remain without, and great dissatisfaction is caused, both in the country and also to the enfranchised householders of the towns, by the exclusion of their friends. But not only by this is great dissatisfaction caused. In the borough that I have the honour to represent (Grantham), working men, machine makers, and such, often go to the other unrepresented towns in Lincolnshire—such as Gainsborough, or Sleaford, or Spalding—and what do they find? Why, they find as soon as they have stepped across the borough boundary of Grantham to live for a time elsewhere, they have lost their votes. If this is the case with regard to Grantham, what would hon. Members say about Nottingham, where, if a man crosses the street, he may lose his vote!. The man's wages, house rent, and all remain the same. He wants to vote for the county where he lives. How can you, in the name of justices prevent him? The noble Lord tells us that the constituencies would become unmanageable. I say so much the better. We want to get rid of management and canvassing, and all the evils that this system leads to. He quoted South-West Lancashire, which, he said, would then contain 60,000 voters. Weil, but he must have forgotten that such a constituency would be no larger than Liverpool, Birmingham, or Glasgow, and very little larger 934 than Lambeth or Finsbury. Surely this was a very small argument to use, to induce the House to reject a Bill of such I magnitude. Important as it is, still hon. Members opposite are not satisfied with it, and are now trying to get rid of it on various grounds, but amongst others, because it contains no scheme for redistribution. Why, Sir, would any Prime I Minister in his senses have brought in a redistribution scheme when he wanted to carry a Franchise Bill, so as to raise every element of discord against him? Is it, indeed, the object of hon. Gentlemen opposite to make extension of the franchise impossible, while some of them profess, or have professed, to be in favour of it? Surely this shows that the noble Lord tried to get rid of this Bill by a side-wind, because he knew that he could not collect the enemies, open and secret, to the Bill if he moved its rejection. Sir, we want nothing but what is fair and honest in the way of redistribution. For my part, although, of course, I wish the supremacy of the Party to which I have the honour to belong to be maintained, I do not wish seriously to weaken the Opposition. I think this House most likely to promote good government when there is a sufficient Opposition. But, Sir, how have we been treated in this matter? Why, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge, who spoke to-night, said that we kept outrages to order! I indignantly repudiate, for the Liberal Party, that it has ever been or is the Party of outrage or disorder. We seek to obtain our ends by reason, and not by violence; and I think that the right hon. Gentleman never made a greater mistake than when he condescended to use such language. Sir, everyone must be conscious of the difficulties connected with Ireland. Certainly I am. But I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible to legislate on this subject for one part of the United Kingdom only. We ought to deal with the whole, and try to do equal justice to all. By doing so, you will bring Ireland to the belief that this country is now, at all events, willing to treat her fairly. Sir, I sincerely trust that this House will come to the conclusion that the Bill ought to be extended to that country; and that, in the interests of all 935 who love peace and order, this Amendment may be rejected and the Bill read a second time.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said, he took a slightly different view of this question from that of some of his hon. Friends near him, in as much as he was not opposed to the extension of the franchise to agricultural labourers. On the contrary, he was one of those who thought that it was impossible to maintain that artificial distinction which at present existed between voters in the towns and a similar class in the counties; and, as he could not see the principle upon which the distinction was based, he felt that it was only a question of time when that barrier should be broken down, and when the vote given by the Bill of 1867 to householders in towns should be extended to counties. He did not agree with those who argued that this would be a greater leap in the dark, large as the numbers were it proposed to enfranchise, than that of the measure of 1867. The Conservatives certainly had no reason to regret the enfranchisement of 1867. His own constituency was a working-class one, and if he were not able to appeal to the working men it would be useless to show his face there; but the fact was that the number of working men who supported him increased 50 per cent between 1867 and 1880. He was aware that Conservatives could not compete with Liberals in the bribes which they held out to that class; but the working classes were beginning to discover that there was a considerable amount of difference between promises and performance, and would resent the deception practised upon them merely for the purpose of catching their votes. He would, therefore, ask his hon. Friends not to lose courage at the prospect of the extension of the franchise as now proposed. It might, no doubt, entail a considerable amount of additional labour upon hon. Members, for a great deal of attention would have to be paid to the wants and wishes of the people, and that, perhaps, was one argument in favour of the Bill. Of one thing he was certain—namely, that there was no class of the community that showed more gratitude for services rendered to them than the working classes. He would say unhesitatingly that he was not opposed to the extension of the franchise to the counties; on the con- 936 trary, he had always felt it a mere question of time that this proposal should be carried. He thought, however, that it was wise to withhold what he believed to be an act of abstract justice to the county householder until he had shown by his education that he was entitled to it; and he could not help thinking that, considering the time which had elapsed since the passing of the Education Act in 1870, it was not unnatural for the Party opposite to think that the time had now arrived when the franchise might be safely extended to the county householders. That being admitted, it was desirable, in his opinion, that the been should not be granted owing to pressure from outside. There was, he believed, no strong feeling either inside or outside the House with regard to this measure; but, at the same time, he could not agree with those hon. Members who believed that the recent county elections were any indication of public feeling with regard to it. Then, with regard to Ireland, the question was one of great difficulty. They might well hesitate before extending the provisions of the Bill to Ireland; at the same time, it was difficult to see how they could deal with one part of the United Kingdom without also dealing with the other. On the other hand, there was not one Member of the House who could be ignorant of the effect in Ireland of this extension of the franchise. A great number of the voters it was proposed to enfranchise could neither read nor write; and the extension of the franchise to such people could not be viewed without the gravest apprehension. Neither could Government disguise from themselves that by this extension of the franchise they were giving it to those who did not belong to what might be termed the Loyal Party in that country. On these grounds, therefore, he thought it would have been wiser to defer this Bill a little longer until things were in a more settled condition in Ireland. Another difficulty in omitting Ireland was that justice could not in that case be obtained for England and Scotland; because, as a matter of strict justice, it was evident some seats would have to be taken from Ireland to provide for the additional seats required for England and Scotland. As far as what the Bill included was concerned, he was in favour of it. In many respects it was distinctly 937 Conservative. It retained the property qualifications for the county voters which many on his side of the House feared would be taken from them. Nor did he object to the service franchise. Indeed, he hoped that the principle might be extended, because there were many besides the class it would enfranchise who were perfectly fit to enjoy the franchise, but who would not have it under the Bill. Like many others, he objected not to what the Bill included, but to what it did not include. An hon. Member opposite, who had spoken of redistribution, had said that they could afford to wait till that question arose; but he thought that was a vital part of the question of the franchise. It had been contended that distance from the seat of Government was a reason for having larger representation. As a Member for the Metropolis, he altogether objected to that argument. He thought it was admitted on all hands that in any redistribution of seats the Metropolis had a very large claim for an increase in the number of her Members, both as regarded population and wealth. But, according to the Prime Minister's argument, referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright), he was afraid that so far from any addition being made to the number of her Representatives she would be deprived even of those she had. The right hon. Gentleman had asked the House to look at the number of Members London now had, and the influential newspapers in which the public opinion of the Metropolis was represented. If that argument meant anything at all, it meant that there was no necessity for any further representation in London; but to that he entirely objected, as having no basis in justice. The redistribution scheme shadowed out by the Prime Minister meant the taking away of Members from Conservative parts of England, and giving them to Liberal constituencies in Scotland, while disloyal Ireland was to be rewarded by being allowed to keep Members to which it was not entitled at the expense of England and Scotland. This he considered was a monstrous injustice. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham was for retaining the present Members in Ireland, because it was a plot of ground on which the wicked Tories had so long 938 worked their wicked will; and he was, therefore, in favour of governing Ireland on new lines. The Government of which he was then a Member had passed two of the strongest Coercion Bills ever known. Were these his new lines? He argued that the Representatives for Ireland had a diminishing influence; but no Representatives had ever shown that they possessed more. They had forced the Government to deal with the land in Ireland in a way in which land had never before been dealt with in any country, and they had forced the Government over and over again to pass remedial legislation. The real reason for retaining Irish seats, he believed, was apparent to everybody. It was another element in the history of bribery and corruption which had for years past been practised by the present Government with a view to obtaining what they never would obtain—the support of the Home Rule Party. He was in favour of an extension of the franchise; but he should support the Amendment of his noble Friend, because he thought the House ought not to be asked to pass a Franchise Bill without having also at the same time the redistribution scheme before them. It would, in his view, be a gross anomaly to pass a Bill which would involve an appeal, in the event of a Dissolution, to constituencies which were neither the old nor the new ones. If the Government, instead of promising a Bill for Municipal Reform in London—for which there was no cry—had been content to deal with both branches of Parliamentary Reform, there would, he thought, have been a general desire in the House to arrive at a settlement of the question. The fact was that the Government did not dare to introduce the Redistribution Bill, because, by so doing, they would have alienated the votes of several Members whose seats would be taken from them by the Bill.
§ VISCOUNT EBRINGTON
remarked that Liberals were sometimes taunted with difference of opinion; but nothing could be more divergent than the speech they had just heard, and that in which another Member of the Conservative Party (Mr. Raikes) had opened the debate. He (Viscount Ebrington) wished to give his hearty support to the Bill as a Representative of one of those semi-rural constituencies which the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. George Russell) 939 had so eloquently described at an earlier part of the debate. At the same time, he wished to reserve complete freedom to himself as regarded the supplementary measure of redistribution, He regretted that the House had not had better assurances from the Government that they would seek to avoid a happy-go-lucky General Election with the new electors and the old constituencies. He was glad to hear from the Prime Minister that the old lines would be observed in whatever re-arrangement might be made; and still more glad to hear from the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) that the views put forward by the Prime Minister did not represent the settled determination of the Cabinet; and that if it appeared the proposal to increase the general number of Members, and make the distance from London a factor in determining the number of Representatives, did not receive general approval, they would be reconsidered. The universal cry in the country was for more work and less talk in Parliament; and he could not think an enlargement of the number of Members would be likely to diminish the amount of talk or increase the amount of work done. An increase of Members in England and Scotland would be dearly bought if obtained at the expense of giving to Ireland more Representatives than on any computation, excluding the question of distance, that Island was entitled to. He spoke as the Representative of a borough which, under any possible scheme of representation, must lose at least one of its Members. There were a good many such in the South and West of England; he believed he might say that the people there know very well that they had more separate representation than they had any fair claim to, and he believed they would acquiesce cheerfully in a scheme of redistribution which would give fairer representation generally to the United Kingdom. But they knew well that there were plenty of small boroughs in Ireland which did not oven, for their smallness, contribute in due proportion to the Exchequer; and he did not think the English boroughs would be at all satisfied if they were treated on a different footing from the Irish ones. He himself had no wish to lose his seat in order that the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell) might retain his; and he did not think the country would consider it 940 had made a good exchange if it lost the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney) and retained the Member for Mallow (Mr. O'Brien). Unless the redistribution was framed on some such scheme as that he did not see how the Government could fail to have sufficient spare seats from Ireland to be able to provide sufficiently for the claims of the North of England and Scotland, after giving Ireland all she was in fairness entitled to. If, as the right hon. Gentlemen the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) had suggested, Ireland could be moved across the Atlantic, the number of Members she would have in Congress was the exact number to which her population entitled her—namely, 33 or 34. He trusted that the Secretary of State for War would not throw his great influence against those who desired in the Redistribution Bill some scheme for giving the loyal minority in that Island, or any other substantial minority in any part of the Kingdom, that share of representation to which its numbers fairly entitled it.
MR. J. W. LOWTHER
observed that the House had been treated to a somewhat remarkable scene that evening, and perhaps it would not have been out of place if some hon. Members who had taken part in the debate had changed their sides of the House. Some hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House had spoken in favour of the Bill, while they had heard from hon. Members opposite many arguments in favour of the Amendment of the noble Lord (Lord John Manners). He had listened with pleasure to the admirable speech of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. George Russell); but that hon. Gentleman had really put aside altogether the question which the House was now called upon to discuss, and had indulged in a headlong speech in favour of the Bill. The hon. Member had told them that the House had been elected for the express purpose of dealing with this great question of Reform. If that assertion were true, he should like to know why Reform had been kept in the background for the last four years? Why was it that a moribund Parliament was so suddenly called upon to deal with, this great question? The question had been much discussed whether there was any considerable feeling in the country in favour of Reform; and hon. Members opposite had pointed with triumph 941 to the fact that great Conferences had been held in favour of the Bill at Leeds, Newcastle, Manchester, Bradford, and Bristol. He acknowledged that all those great towns were places to the expression of whose opinion the House would give every consideration; but it was somewhat startling that on questions admittedly affecting agricultural more than urban, interests, they should be referred to the great boroughs and cities of England. The hon. Member for Aylesbury, in attempting to explain away the inconvenient results of the late elections, said that Liberal electors had not come to the poll because they were not satisfied with the Government on account of their not having introduced a Reform Bill earlier. He should have thought if that were the case that the electors instead of remaining away from the poll would have rushed to it, and have returned men who would have insisted upon a Reform Bill being brought in. While he agreed with the noble Viscount who had just sat down in a portion of his remarks, he agreed in other respects with the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ritchie); for, in his opinion, the measure—if a measure for the extension of the franchise was to pass at all—was an extremely moderate one. He was glad to see that the faggot voter was to be abolished; and he was glad to find that the 40s. freeholder was still to be retained on the electoral roll; above all, he was extremely glad that Ireland should be included in this measure, and should receive the same extension as England and Scotland. But when he had said so much he had gone as far as he could on the road with hon. Members opposite. They had it in the Prime Minister's own words that it was desirable that the two great measures of Reform and Redistribution should be dealt with by the same Parliament. The right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) had told them that this House was not a debating society; that they were there to pass practical measures; and that in discussing them they must, to some extent, endeavour to foresee what the result of those measures would be. If this Bill passed it was impossible to shut their eyes to the fact that a Dissolution might occur before the end of the year. If so, Gentlemen would be going to the 942 country and asking the support of constituencies which were shortly to be abolished. It might be thought that Members on the Opposition side took too sanguine a view of the time of this Dissolution. But it must be remembered that in 1874 a Dissolution was announced almost without the knowledge of some of those who sat on the Treasury Bench. They could not hide from themselves that Dissolution or no Dissolution, was a question that rested in the mind and will of the Prime Minister—a mind and will in which that House was not apt at times to place implicit confidence. They must consider what would be the result of an appeal to the constituencies if this measure were passed before a Redistribution Bill became law. He had been at the trouble to look into the figures contained in a Return moved for last year by the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. A. Arnold), and on comparing several constituences he had come to the conclusion that the probable electorate of the future would be one-seventh of the population. Taking that as the unit, he found that the West Riding of Yorkshire Southern Division had a population of 497,000; and assuming that one man in seven had a vote, the probable electorate under this Bill would be 71,047. That Division returned two Members; but the four boroughs which existed in it—Dewsbury, Huddersfield, Sheffield, and Wakefield—had an electorate of 71,596, and they together returned five Members, while the Division of the county, with almost exactly the same number of voters, returned only two. In the Eastern Division of Cornwall the population was 135,170, the probable number of electors would be: 19,310, and they would return two Members; whereas the borough of Liskeard within it, which returned one Member, had only 770 electors. Again, in the Western Division of Cumberland there was a population of 135,663, the probable number of electors would be 16,519, and they would return two Members; while Cockermouth returned one Member with only 1,071 electors. A great many similar results might be shown, and lie would trouble the House with one additional example on account of its magnitude and the lesson it convoyed. The South-Eastern Division of Lancashire had been mentioned. The population amounted to 534,435; the 943 probable number of electors would be 76,348, and they would return two Members. He found that certain boroughs, with 76,865 electors, returned no less than 86 Members. Surely this would be a most extraordinary anomaly. Reform was a means to an end, and not an end in itself; and, he asked, what was the end at which the Government aimed by this measure? He ventured to say that not one word fell from the Prime Minister in his eloquent speech which could give the House an inkling of the object he had in view. The hon. Member for Wolvorhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) said it was desirable to return a better House of Commons. [Mr. H. H. FOWLER: Hear, hear!] He supposed, however, that the hon. Gentleman was one of those who, in 1880, were loud in their protestations of the extraordinary ability and intellect displayed by the House of Commons which was returned in that year. They had not yet been told what great measure was to follow the sweeping away of the Corporation of London. There was only one which, to his mind, loomed darkly in their path, and that was the severance of Ireland from Great Britain. This was the question that would have to be faced at no very distant date; and were hon. Gentlemen opposite prepared to say it was necessary, in order to deal with that question, that the agricultural labourers should be introduced into the polling-booths of this country and of Ireland? The position of Ireland in regard to redistribution of seats was different now from what it was when the Prime Minister gave the assurance that Ireland was to retain her present number of Representatives, for they had since had a statement from the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington), whose mission seemed to be, to some extent, to explain away the declarations of his great Leader. The noble Marquess informed them that the proposition was only part of the whole of the scheme, and that it depended on the acceptance of the other two proposals—namely, the centrifugal theory propounded by the Prime Minister, and the increase of the number of Members of that House. If in this debate one thing had been more generally approved than another it was the condemnation of those two proposals. The Irish Members only desired to be treated with jus- 944 tice; and if justice showed that they were only entitled to 93 Members, he believed they would be the first to say—"Let justice be done." If the suffrage were extended downwards, to use an expression of the Prime Minister, he thought it would have a deplorable effect on the character of the Members returned by Irish constituencies. In conclusion, he would quote from a speech by the Prime Minister, who, on the 11th of May, 1864, said—What are the qualities which fit a man for the exercise of a privilege such as the franchise? Self-command, self-control, respect for order, patience under suffering, confidence in the law, regard for superiors.He regretted to think that none of these virtues, or, at all events, very few of them, could be attributed to the class of voters which this Bill proposed to enfranchise in Ireland.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
I cannot help thinking, Sir, that the prevailing impression left upon the minds of all those who have listened to the debate this evening will be a certain sense of its unreality—at all events, on the side of the Conservative Opposition. That feeling of indifference to the discussion may, of course, be due to one of two causes. It may be that they have reason to know that, whatever may be the fate of the Bill in this House, it is going, when it loaves this House, to a strange and inhospitable country, from which it may never, perhaps, safely return; or, on the other hand, they may feel that it is a Bill which is so urgently demanded by the country, and so generally popular, that it is perfectly useless for them to kick against the pricks. But, whatever may be the cause, the unreality of the Opposition has to-night been conspicuously manifested. Take the speech to which we have just listened, with so much interest, from an hon. Member (Mr. J. W. Lowther) who we hope may become as popular a Member of this House as his distinguished Relative. But what has he told us? In the first place, he has told us that it is a very improper thing to introduce a Reform Bill in a moribund Parliament. I should like to know how it is possible to introduce a Reform Bill in a Parliament which would not immediately become moribund on its passing. A Reform Bill has this peculiarity—that it is fatal to the Parliament in which it is car- 945 ried. The hon. Member went on to say that this is an extremely moderate Bill, and I naturally thought that he would follow that declaration of opinion by a statement of his intention to vote for it. Then he went on to say, very differently from everybody else in his Party, that what he particularly approved was the inclusion of Ireland in the provisions of the Bill. The hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ritchie) also made an admirable speech, so far as four-fifths of his statements were concerned. Four-fifths of his speech were dedicated to expressing his concurrence with the main principles of his Bill. But the remaining fifth of the speech, if he will pardon me for saying so, was a very halting defence of the course which he intends to take in voting against a Bill of the principles of which he approves. It is quite true that he gave a reason for voting against the Bill—namely, that his Party were unable to offer bribes to the constituencies. He does that Party great injustice. So far as I can judge, they are at least as able to make promises which they find it difficult or impossible to fulfil as any other Party in this House. But, no doubt, the tone and temper of the speech of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets were dictated by the fact that he represents a populous constituency; and the speech itself differed very much from the tone adopted by the right hon. Gentleman who sits for a learned University (Mr. Raikes), who was more acrimonious in his comments on his political opponents than any other speaker has been during this debate. But even the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge had hardly any thing to say against the merits of the Bill which is before the House. I venture to say that he spoke quite as strongly against the Reform Bill of 1867 as against the Bill of 1884. Sir, I think the House will agree with me that the reticences of this debate have been quite as remarkable as the utterances which have distinguished it. We are now engaged on what is practically the fifth night of the debate on this great proposal. Four nights were spent in the introduction of the Bill. [Mr. R. N. FOWLER (Lord Mayor): Only two.] Two nights? I beg pardon. I am glad to be corrected by the better memory of the Lord Mayor. We are now engaged on the fourth night of the discussion of 946 a Bill which is of the greatest importance—a Bill for the extension of the representation of the people. And during the course of the debate we have had ample criticisms, and many and interesting opinions expressed upon the details of an imaginary measure which is not before the House; but we have had no definite or authoritative statement of the opinion of the Conservative Party as to the merits of the Bill actually before us. The noble Lord the Member for North Leicestershire (Lord John Manners) concluded a very eloquent speech by a poetical quotation, in which he put the demand of the Conservative Party for more light as to the intentions of Her Majesty's Government. I admit that that is a very reasonable demand, and the Government will do all in their power to elucidate this great question. But surely there ought to be some reciprocity. Surely we have some right to appeal to the Opposition to give ns some clear idea of their opinion upon this great measure of national interest which we have submitted to them. We propose to call up to the exorcise of the highest functions of citizenship 2,000,000 of men, and we ask you to say whether you think this a great, just, expedient, and beneficent object? We ask you if you are prepared to put trust in the people, or if you still fear them, as you have feared them on so many previous occasions? And, if you do not fear them, are you prepared for an immediate extension of the franchise? We ask you whether the Bill goes too far, or not far enough; who is it that you are willing to enfranchise, and who is it that you doom for an indefinite time to political nullity? These are fair questions to put, and I think the country would like to have an answer. In default of any answer—and we have had none yet—we are forced to resort to inference and supposition. I admit that we have good grounds for inference upon the subject. We have the Amendment before the House. It asks the House to decline to enter upon the consideration of the Bill until it has before it the full scheme of the Government with regard to redistribution. The inference which I draw from that is this—and I think it is a fair one—that the I Conservative Party do not admit that the extension of the franchise is either a good or a bad thing. It may be good, 947 or it may be bad, according to what accompanies it, or to what is immediately to follow. In fact, the position of the Conservative Party is like that of guests at a Lord Mayor's Banquet—the Conservative Party are, of course, frequently guests, and enjoy the hospitality of the Lord Mayor—who should refuse to say what they thought of the turtle soup—the Lord Mayor will pardon the suggestion—and who decline to pronounce whether it was turtle or conger until they have tasted the venison: We take issue with them on that subject. We say the extension of the franchise is a good thing in itself; that it is desirable to include the largest number of capable citizens within the limits of the Constitution, whether or not you follow that up by a scheme of redistribution. We say that no scheme of redistribution can possibly make the extension of the suffrage bad, although it is quite possible you may have a scheme of redistribution which may most materially detract from its value. I should like to test that contention, not by reference to a hypothetical position of things, but by reference to what has taken place in the past. Consider what has been the result of the last Reform Bill, for which the Conservative Party are continually taking credit. How did that affect the constituencies? I will take, in the first place, the borough of Sheffield. In I866 the number of electors in Sheffield was about 8,000. In 1867, by your Reform Bill, you increased the number to 30,000—nearly four-fold. But you made no change whatever in the political power which you gave to the borough of Sheffield. It had two Members before the Reform Bill of 1867. It was entitled at that time, by virtue of its population and wealth, to four Members; but you still only gave it two Members. In the case of the borough of Sheffield, therefore, there was au extension which was not followed by redistribution. In Wolverhampton, in 1866, the number of electors was 3,000. In 1868 it was 15,000, so that the increase was five-fold. And yet there was no change made in the number of Members. What you did in the case of Wolverhampton was to redress one great injustice You redressed it within the limits of the constituency; but you left untouched the other injustice which concerned the relations of Wolverhampton to other constituencies. As far as 948 you went you did well. You would have done better if you had gone further; but you satisfied an acknowledged grievance. Lastly, I will take my own borough, because it illustrates rather a different case. Birmingham, in 1866, had 14,000 voters. In 1868 it had 42,000. There are now over 60,000. But while you increased by the Reform Bill of 1867 the electorate of Birmingham 300 per coat, you increased the representation by only 50 per cent, and you accompanied that miserable and inadequate increase by the absurd, ridiculous, and irritating minority vote, which, although it has never succeeded in stifling the true voice of the constituency, has, nevertheless, been a constant source of objection and vexation. Birmingham, at the time of the Reform Bill of 1867, was entitled to six Members, and you only gave it one Member more, and accompanied the gift by a scheme which deprived the majority of the electors of one-third of their power. But with all its defects, the Reform Bill of 1867 was accepted by Birmingham as a satisfactory measure, and as settling one great branch of the Reform Question. Well, since 1867 the people of Birmingham, like those of all other boroughs, have been more loyal, more orderly, and have taken a keener interest in political affairs than they ever did before. If you declare now that a Bill for the extension of the suffrage without redistribution is an evil thing, which ought not to be tolerated, you are condemning your own Reform Bill of 1867; because in 1867, in the great majority of boroughs, you gave extension of the franchise without redistribution, and in others the redistribution was so insignificant as to fail to meet the case at all. There are two great grievances in this Reform Question which remain to be redressed. There is, in the first place, the grievance of those who have no voice at all under our present system—the grievance of the many householders and fathers of families who pay rent and taxes, who are bound to perform every political obligation, and who are, nevertheless, denied the first political right of citizenship. That is the greatest of these grievances; that is the grievance which, by the Bill, we seek to minimize and to reduce to the greatest possible extent. There remains, no doubt, another grievance—the griev- 949 ance of those who have the vote, or will have it under the Bill, who may complain hereafter that their vote has not the full power and value which is given to the vote in other parts of the country. ("Hear, hear!" from the Opposition.] Yes; I am delighted to hear that cheer from the other side of the House. That is a still more important branch of the subject. We are asked how we are going to deal with it; and we have replied, by the voice of the Prime Minister, that without attempting logical completeness, without any unnecessary disturbance of old traditions, without obliterating the distinction between town and country, we will, at the first opportunity, bring in a Bill which shall be a great and generous measure of Reform, and which, if it does not entirely remove the existing anomalies, shall do so to such an extent as shall settle the question, at all events for our time and generation, and shall leave no room now for further agitation. In all that I have said hitherto I have been arguing on the assumption that, on. The part of the Opposition, there is no settled determination to oppose the passing of this Bill, but merely an honest desire to be assured that by it and the succeeding measure we are not going to create any new anomalies, and that we are going to make a settlement which will be satisfactory to the great bulk of the population. ["Oh!"] I admit that that is a very large assumption to make. Yes; that the Opposition is animated by an honest desire to see a satisfactory settlement of the question. No doubt it is a large assumption; but there is another assumption which I think the House is bound to take into view. If I were to suppose that the Opposition were really hostile to this extension of the franchise, were distrustful of their fellow-countrymen, and were not willing to extend the limits of political freedom, while, at the same time, they were unwilling to commit themselves to any irreconcilable antagonism to the people to whom, at no distant day, they may have to appeal for support; if I were to imagine that on this question they were "willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike," what would be the policy I should attribute to such an Opposition? What is the natural course they would take? I suppose it would be their business—it would be their interest—to minimize the im- 950 portance of the Reform proposed for the acceptance of the House; to deny altogether the interest the country would take in it; and, at the same time, to magnify and exaggerate the gravity of all the complications which might arise while it was under discussion. I assume that they would take every opportunity to delay the discussion of the Bill by interposing debates upon every conceivable subject and at all possible times; and, above all, I conceive they would strive to stifle the consideration and deliberation of a Bill which is a very simple measure, raising but few questions of principle, which could be easily decided, by endeavouring to import into it the consideration of an elaborate scheme, full of details, which might easily arouse and perhaps offend local susceptibilities and local interests. That seems to me to be the course an Opposition would take in the circumstances I have described; and that is the course the Opposition has taken in reference to the present Bill. I am sure the country will not be slow to draw the natural conclusion. [Mr. R. N. FOWLER (Lord Mayor): Try the country.] We are not left entirely to inference in drawing our conclusions as to the attitude which is taken by the Opposition in reference to this Bill. The objections which have been made are not confined absolutely and strictly to its incompleteness. We have heard again to-night from several Members the old allegation that the country is apathetic, and that there is no pressure on the subject. The hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ritchie) says, very wisely as it seems to me, that even if there was no pressure that would be no reason for not dealing with the matter. This is one of those subjects which have to be decided, to a large extent, by questions of expediency and justice; and in doing what is expedient and what is right we ought not to wait for pressure. On this point I should like to quote the opinion of a statesman who lived 50 years ago, and who took a great interest in the subject of Reform. I refer to the first Lord Durham, who, in 1836, said—It is the duty of a wise statesman to examine the objects the people have in view and have determined to obtain, and when he is satisfied of their justice he should not wait to be forced to the adoption of such measures; he should 951 not do it upon expediency or upon compulsion; but he should grant them freely and cordially, for a been granted on compulsion loses half its grace, and often half its value.I have quoted the opinion of one of the elder generation of statesmen, because I want to contrast it with the opinion of one of our modern statesmen. I want to contrast it with the latest product and most satisfactory development of that-Tory Democracy of which we shall hear a good deal in the future, which is represented in this House by the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill). It is an utterance of the noble Lord to which I propose to direct attention. I pay the greatest attention to everything he says, for two reasons—in the first place, because I believe the noble Lord always says what he means, and sometimes means what he says; and, in the second place, because I find that what he says to-day his Leaders say to-morrow. They follow him with halting stops, somewhat unwillingly, but they always follow him; they may not like the prescription he makes up for them, but they always swallow it. Speaking at Edinburgh, on December 19, 1883, this is what the noble Lord said on the subject we are now considering—If I saw the agricultural labourers of Great Britain in a great state of excitement over this question; if I saw them holding vast meetings, collecting together from all parts, neglecting their work, contributing from their scanty funds, marching on London, tearing down the railings of Hyde Park, engaging the police, and even the military, I should say to myself—'These men have great and bitter grievances, which have not been represented in Parliament, or which have been neglected by Parliament, and they know that if they had the franchise these grievances would be no longer neglected, but they would be represented and remedied. They have made up their minds to have the vote. The fact that they have made up their minds to have the vote shows pretty well that they will know how to use the vote; and if we wish for peace, order, and stability in the realm of Britain we had better give them the vote. And on these grounds, and on these grounds only, would I consent to equalize the position of the agricultural labourer and the town artizan.'I must say that I think this is a very remarkable utterance; and it appears to me to be a direct incitement to violence and outrage. If it had been made in Ireland by an Irish Member, I feel certain that it would have been denounced from those Benches as a direct provocation to crime and disorder.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
I am not quite certain whether the Government would not have found it necessary to take notice of it. But for myself, all I can say is that I protest absolutely and entirely against language of that kind; and I think it is a fatal lesson to teach the people of this country, or any class in this country, that the only way by which they can obtain redress of their grievances is by violence, pulling down railings, and by engaging the police. Although there have been no riots up to the present time—nothing to satisfy the noble Lord—yet I think there have been ample signs of the opinion of the country and of the interest taken in this question. The last Recess was distinguished above most Recesses by the activity of the debate which went on during its course; and, on the whole, I am afraid I must say that our opponents were more active than we were. They had more time at their disposal, and they were the attacking party. On the whole, they held, I believe, more meetings than we did. I am not going to lay stress upon our meetings. You say they arose from a mere mechanical agitation. Meetings of thousands of representatives from all parts of the country, and meetings equally numerous in localities, are regarded as the creatures of the Caucus; while the meetings of the Constitutional Committees, held in the public-houses, are recognized as the free and full expression of public opinion. They are the free and full expression of the public-house opinion, I have no doubt. But what I want to point out is, that at these meetings, whether held in the open or in public-houses, in not a single instance throughout the whole of the Recess, as far as my memory goes or my knowledge extends, has there been a single case of a solitary resolution having been passsed condemning the extension of the franchise. Our meetings, one and all, passed resolutions unanimously, or by vast majorities, in favour of the extension of the franchise. Why have you not accepted the challenge? You say you are certain that the country is with you. Why, then, did you not pass resolutions to that effect at your meetings, and call upon Parliament to discharge this question from its thoughts and give its attention to other 953 business. As far as I know, in not one single case has any resolution hostile to this Bill been passed even at a Conservative meeting. If hon. Gentlemen opposite are really in doubt as to the opinion of the country, it is a doubt which I am inclined to think will be removed before the discussion is finally closed. I do not think we shall be able to gratify the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill). I do not think we can get up outrages to order, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes) amiably imputes to us. That is not our line. That is not to our interest, and it has never been our policy. In the time of the late Government, when public feeling was greatly excited. I am not aware that any prominent Member of the Conservative Party was molested or even insulted by his political opponents. It was not the Prime Minister of that day whose windows were broken by the mob. It was the windows of the right hon. Gentleman now the Prime Minister of this country, and I do not suppose they were broken by any Liberal organization. I have no doubt, although we cannot get up outrages, we shall be able to show the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge that the opinion of the country is, at all events, made up in reference to this matter. We were told the other night by the right hon. Member for North Lincolnshire (Mr. J. Lowther) that this Bill had not the slightest ghost of a chance of passing in the present Parliament. I do not know how the House understood that statement. To my mind it was something like a veiled menace, and the House of Commons is deliberating under a threat, veiled, no doubt, in this House, but one which outside takes a more open character. At the Lord Mayor's Banquet, at which reporters were not admitted, it has been mentioned that Lord Salisbury said he would advise that this Bill should be thrown out, if it over reached the House of Peers. I do not know whether right hon. Gentlemen opposite admit the accuracy of the statement which has been made; but, at all events, it was strongly confirmed at another banquet on Tuesday, where reporters were present, at the Constitutional Club, presided over 954 by Lord Cranbrook. [Lord RANDOLPH CHURCHILL: Conservative Club.] Oh; I thought Conservatives were "Constitutional." Well, at a Conservative Club, not Constitutional—presided over by Lord Cranbrook, who said that the House of Lords would appeal to the country when the Bill came to them from a decaying and discredited House of Commons. I look forward with cheerful eagerness to the time when an appeal will be made, when I have no doubt ample satisfaction will be given to right hon. Gentlemen opposite as to the opinion of the constituencies. It is not merely said that the country is apathetic. We are told the time is inopportune. I should like to know when the time would be opportune in the minds of the Tory Party for a measure of Reform. I would undertake to have drafted a Resolution any time in the last 10 years, which would command the united support of the Tory Party, declaring a measure of Reform inopportune at that particular time. This matter was brought before the House on the 13th of May, 1874, by my right hon. Friend the present Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (Mr. Trevelyan). It was opposed, on the ground that it was inopportune, by Mr. Disraeli, who was then the Leader of the House, who stated that its inopportuneness arose from the fact that an attempt had just been made to start a national union of agricultural labourers, and the labourers were in a state of excitement, which was not favourable to the impartial consideration of such a measure. In July, 1875, the matter was again brought before the House of Commons. This time the Trades Union movement of agricultural labourers had settled into a normal condition, and there was no particular excitement. But the measure was still inopportune. It was inopportune, because the House of Commons were told it would delay the great social measures of the Conservative Party. On the 30th of May, 1876, the expression was again used. At that time the country had seen something of the great social measures which the Tory Party had it in their hearts to pass, and that excuse would not pass muster a second time. The Conservative Party was rather hard up for an excuse. They did not declare it inopportune; but they said it was really indecent to bring forward a Motion fur a third time which 955 in the same Parliament had been twice condemned by large majorities. I confess it scorns to me the time is never inopportune to do a just thing. The difficulty I have is in justifying the delay which has already taken place. Since 1867 there has been an immense advance in the condition of the people generally. They have had full experience since then of the advantage and absolute safety of trusting the people at large. Education, one of the most important factors in this matter, has made gigantic strides. The number of children in attendance at school has tripled since 1867. The old order has given place to the new. A generation has arisen which, I believe, compares favourably in every respect in education, in patriotism, and in political intelligence, with those who were enfranchised by the great Act of 1867. Then I ask the House how long they think, even if the Opposition is now successful, they can continue to close the portals of the Constitution against those who are claiming an entrance—how long can we refuse men who are compelled to perform all the obligations of citizens, without having the right of citizens to which they are entilled? We were told only at the beginning of this year by Lord Salisbury that we were on the threshold of a time when a great addition must be made to the country constituencies. Why should we not pass the threshold? Why wait on the threshold? What is there in the question that should keep us knocking at the door? These, of course, are only preliminary objections to the extension of the franchise. The objections in principle have still to be considered. We are told that this Bill, if passed, will annihilate the agricultural interests. Well, that is a most extraordinary statement. When you proposed to enfranchise all the artizans in the towns, I am not aware that the manufacturers said that their interests would be annihilated by the political rights you gave to their workmen. They thought—and thought rightly—that the interests of themselves and their workpeople were identical, and they rejoiced that their workpeople were to be permitted to exercise Constitutional rights. Why, then, is the agricultural interest in a different position? Is it pretended that the interests of the landlords and the interests of the tenant 956 farmers are interests which are hostile to those of the agricultural labourers? That is a very dangerous admission to make. For my part, I say that the greatest of agricultural interests is the interests of the men who till the soil. Those are the interests which we ought to care for, and they are interests which will be advanced by this Bill. They are interests which have been too long neglected and ignored, very much to the injury of the class concerned. What has happened in consequence of the agricultural labourers not having a voice in this House? They have been robbed of their land. [Cries of "No, no!" and "Withdraw!"] I repeat that they have been robbed of their land. ["Prove it!"] They have been robbed of their rights in the commons. ["No, no!"] They have been robbed of their open spaces—["No, no!"]—I do not say intentionally, with any desire on the part of this House or of those who were answerable fur those proceedings to injure them, but in ignorance of their interests and rights, for which, unfortunately, they had no spokesman in this House. And, Sir, it may be said that these proceedings, which I have characterized in language not a whit too strong, have now come to an end. Not a bit of it; they are going on still. The agricultural labourers are still being robbed. ["No, no!"] You can hardly go info a single country lane in which you will not find that the landowners on each side of the road have already enclosed lands which for centuries have belonged to the people, or that they are on the point of enclosing it. ["No, no!"] There is no protection against the steady absorption that is continually going on of open spaces which belong to the people, but which are gradually being included in the estates of the landowners. That is not all. It is not merely with reference to the land that this injurious operation is going on; it is going on also with respect to the endowments of the poor. There are in all Darts of the country endowments which have been left, and which for centuries have been employed, for the benefit of the poor. They have, no doubt, in many cases been abused; and it would be right that the employment of those funds should be altered and amended. But it is not right that that should be going on which has been 957 going on with the sanction of the majority of this House, with the authority of Parliament and under the direction of the Charity Commissioners—namely, the transfer of property, which in many cases transfers from the poor to the rich the funds that were intended for the poor. ["No, no!"] Right hon. Gentlemen opposite are very eager and not very courteous in interrupting me. In what I am saying now I am not bringing any charge against either Party in this House in regard either to the robbery of the land or the robbery of endowments. I take shame to the Liberal Party quite as much as to the Conservative Party. We are both to blame; but what I argue is, that these wrongs would never have been committed had the agricultural labourers had a voice in this House and been able to speak. Another objection that has been taken has been embodied in an illustration of the noble Lord the Member for North Leicestershire (Lord John Manners), which I think not altogether felicitous. He said that this Bill was a cheque for two millions, drawn payable to the order of the President of the Board of Trade, and the Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell). In the first place, I would ask the noble Lord, if this is true, why on earth is it he does not come forward like a man and vote against the second reading of the Bill? If it is going to have an effect which he considers to be disastrous in the highest degree, why does he propose a mere shirking Amendment, which expresses no opinion whatever upon the merits of the measure? What possible scheme of redistribution can ever be devised on the other side of the House which will reconcile the noble Lord to such a result as he describes as necessarily following an extension of the suffrage, unless, indeed, he thinks he has got some patent process by which he can take away with one hand what he gives with the other, and by some ingenious arrangement, or mis-arrangement, of boundaries destroy the whole effect of the measure, and destroy the political influence he gives? I said the illustration was infelicitous. The noble Lord spoke of a cheque drawn for two millions. I do not think the cheque is drawn to my order; but, Sir, the cheque is for the enfranchisement of 2,000,000 of capable men. The notion of the noble 958 Lord is that they will proceed, on the receipt of that cheque, to endorse it to my order and the order of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell). As far as I am concerned, I am flattered by the good opinion the noble Lord expresses of my influence in the country; but his argument comes to this—lie refuses to give the franchise to anyone who he is not certain beforehand will support the Tory Party, and, above all, will renounce the President of the Board of Trade and all his works. I think he cannot be serious in what he says in my case. The noble Lord referred to the influence the hon. Member for the City of Cork would obtain. His terror of me is simulated; but I have no doubt he is sincerely afraid of the hon. Member for the City of Cork. He described that hon. Member as likely to become, by this Bill, the Grand Elector over four-fifths of Ireland. I think that happily describes the present position of the hon. Member. Nobody denies the great influence the hon. Member at present exercises over the constituencies of Ireland; but I am certain that this Bill will make no material change in that great influence. But, in any case, whether it does or not, unless the House is prepared to abandon all idea of a Constitutional treatment of the Irish Question, and all idea of a representative system in Ireland, let us take care that the representative system there shall be a reality and not a sham—not a mere fraud and imposition upon the public. We may like or dislike the opinions held by the majority of the Irish people; but we cannot suppress those opinions; and, under these circumstances, it is to our interest, it is wise statesmanship and sound policy, that those opinions, however unpopular, should, at least, be represented in this House, and we should tempt the people of Ireland to bring their grievances to a Constitutional test, and not force them, by driving them into secret conspiracy, into a desperate course. Agitation is always legitimate so long as there are grievances to be redressed; and the grievance of Ireland, in this matter of the franchise, is a great and an urgent grievance. It is not merely a grievance in the same sense in which it is a grievance in England and Scotland. It is not only a grievance in the Irish people being badly represented; but it 959 is a greater grievance in the odious distinction it makes between the Irish people and the people of Great Britain. Let us see what the fact is. In Great Britain, excluding Ireland, one in 10 of the population have votes; in Ireland only one in every 25; there are, therefore, two and a-half times as many electors in proportion in Great Britain as there are in Ireland. The result is that the position of Ireland at the present moment, with regard to the franchise, is worse now than was the position of England and Scotland before the Act of 1867. Ever since the Reform Bill of 1867 we have gone on complaining that it was insufficient for our purpose, and yet during the whole of those 17 years the Irish people have had to put up with a representation worse than that which existed before that measure became law. It is the merest folly, and a matter of serious danger, to perpetuate inequalities of this kind; and those who attempt to maintain them are really the best friends the Irish agitators have, for it is they who will sharpen their weapons of attack upon the British connection. As regards the Government, our intention in this matter is clear and manifest. We have declared our intention in our speeches and in the Bill. Anyone who will look at the Bill, and see the way in which it is drafted, will see that it would be a Tory difficult, if not an impossible thing, to take Ireland out of the Bill without reconstructing the measure altogether. That is an indication of our intention to stand by the Bill. The noble Lord (Lord John Manners) referred to the cry heard so frequently at the time of the Reform Bill in 1832. We adopt that cry; we ask for "the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill; and we will not accept a position which would either increase the anomalies and inequalities which now exist between the Three Kingdoms, or which would maintain and perpetuate them. Then there is an argument which I almost regret to find used at all in the debate in reference to the Irish vote—it is what I may call the mud-cabin argument. We are told—and I am afraid truly—that half the country population in Ireland live in mud-cabins. That, no doubt, is very deplorable. But I want to ask hon. Gentleman whether that deplorable state of things is likely to be remedied by refusing to give to 960 the inhabitants of the mud-cabins in Ireland an articulate voice to express the misery and wretchedness of their condition? We have heard a good deal lately about the dwellings of the poor in the large towns of England, and I am afraid we have not much to boast of in that respect in comparison with Ireland. I am afraid it has been sufficiently proved that the condition of a great portion of our population, numbering even millions, is such that they live in a state which is repugnant to humanity, and under sanitary conditions which make morality almost impossible; and they are, in this respect, at all events, in a worse position than the inhabitants of the mud cabins in Ireland, in that our fellow-countrymen, instead of being surrounded by open spaces and living in the free air, live in poisonous courts and stifling dens, from which they cannot escape even into the fresh air. It is to people living in these conditions that the Conservative Party have given votes, and have not scrupled to enfranchise as householders or lodgers. Every one of these people living in the dwellings I now speak of—every one of them—is entitled to claim the vote either as householder or lodger; and, that being so—[Interruption.] I do not know whether the hon. Member who interrupts me does so because he thinks I am going to complain of the Conservative Party in this respect. On the contrary, I accept what they did, and approve of it. You did well when you enfranchised those people; and if there is now any hope for them to escape from the condition of misery in which they live it is because they are beginning to find their feet and to make their political influence felt, and because there is political danger in the neglect of their wrongs. Why should you not do the same for the mud-cabins? Why should you not find some remedy for the miserable condition under which they live; and if you do so it will be of advantage, not only to themselves, but to the whole community. Before sitting down there is only one further observation that I wish to make. It has been said, with reference to a statement made by the Prime Minister, that he declared he was in favour of maintaining the existing numerical proportion of the representation of Ireland. This statement has been received with very 961 strong dissent by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. [Mr. BERESFORD HOPE: On both sides.] Well, but not to the same extent on this side. I have to deal with the arguments of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite; and I was going to say that I have followed those arguments with the greatest interest, with the keenest sympathy, and with general approval. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are really to be congratulated on their newly-fledged enthusiasm for logical completeness in any scheme of political redistribution. It appears, according to them, that each district of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland should be strictly represented according to the number of their population. [Cries of "Hear, hear!" from the Opposition.] I am delighted to hear that that is the opinion of the Conservative Party. It is of no use for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) to shake his head; for I did not say that the right hon. Gentleman said so. Other hon. Gentlemen on his side of the House have said so. I am delighted to find such an advance towards Radical opinions on the part of the Conservative Party. How far will they carry this opinion of theirs in favour of electoral districts? It is good for Scotland; it is good for England; for Wales; for Ireland—is it good for London? Is it good for Birmingham? [Mr. T. COLLINS: No.] The hon. Member for Knaresborough—I hope he carries his Party with him—draws the line at Birmingham. I will give up Birmingham. Is it good for Liverpool. Manchester, or Glasgow, and many other great Provincial cities? Will he carry it out in thorn, and will he then tell us what is the difference between the view which he and other Members of his Party are prepared to support, and the view which appears to them so monstrous, when coming from the President of the Board of Trade, that we ought to give an equal value to every vote? When it is said I am in favour of equal electoral districts, I do not care a straw for equal electoral districts; I care for the principle, and not for the method. I can easily devise a much better method than equal electoral districts for securing what I require. ["Hear, hear!"] I am glad to see that hon. Gentlemen opposite have confidence in my ability; 962 and I only hope they will put it to the test. What I care about is that one equal value shall be given to every vote in every case. It has a great bearing upon the question raised by the Prime Minister. There is a large Irish vote in many of our large towns—in London, Liverpool, and other places—as hon. Members on both sides know, sometimes to their advantage and sometimes to their cost. I say on both sides of the House, because, however hon. Gentlemen opposite may denounce the conduct of the Liberal Party in this respect, I have never found a Conservative candidate at all slow to ask, invite, or even truckle to the Irish vote. Now, I want to ask hon. Members to bear in mind that if they are going to demand that in Ireland Irish opinion shall be limited strictly to the exact proportion to which its number entitles it, then, at least, they ought not to refuse to Irish opinion in our large towns the full value of the vote to which, by number, it is entitled; but they ought to give to Manchester, to Liverpool, and, above all, to London, the full proportion to which their numbers entitle them. I may conclude the remarks which I have ventured to address to the House by pointing out that the issue before the House is really an extremely simple one. We propose to widen the foundations of our political institutions. We propose to associate the largest possible number of capable citizens in the work of government. We are at least as anxious as hon. Gentlemen opposite to proceed, at the earliest possible moment, with the consideration of the next and still more important step of redistributing political power. But we will not consent to jeopardize the success of these great and beneficent reforms by coupling them together, in the vain hope that thereby we may conciliate opponents who are hostile to both. I hope the House of Commons will be true to its pledges and its traditions, and that this Bill will pass with a great majority. Then, perhaps, the House of Lords will be true to its traditions also. In that case let the nation decide between us; and I, for one, have no fear of the result.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
In the last sentence of the speech of the President of the Board of Trade, the right hon. Gentleman spoke of conciliation towards his opponents; but there was 963 not much conciliation in the speech we have just listened to. Considering the great national importance of the question before us, I think I never listened to a more ill-conditioned speech. The right hon. Gentleman has brought charge after charge against us; he has accused us of truckling to our opponents, of offering bribes which we were afterwards unable to fulfil; and, by way of climax to his accusations, he has charged us with the wholesale robbery of the agricultural labourers, without a particle of evidence to support his accusation. Then, to extricate himself from the difficulty in which he was placed, he went on to say that he spoke not merely of the way in which we have robbed the labourers of their land, but also the poor of their endowments? But who was it who robbed the poor of their endowments? What is the Act under which that robbery is being carried out? It was one of the very first Acts passed by the Reformed Parliament of 1868, and one which had been opposed by the Conservative Party. The object of that Act was to take away their endowments from the poor, in order to devote them to secondary education. We have done our best to ameliorate the provisions of that Act; and now, after 16 years, down comes the right hon. Gentleman, and, with his characteristic inaccuracy, he associates us with wholesale robbery. The right hon. Gentleman has said there is an unreality about this debate, and he also implied that there was an earnest and burning anxiety out-of-doors for this Bill. Now, I can speak with greater authority on that point than the right hon. Gentleman, having, with my Colleague, addressed many gatherings of our constituents, and both of us having, on every occasion, informed them of the course we intended to take on this question. Nevertheless, neither my Colleague nor myself have received a single remonstrance from our constituents on the subject. The right hon. Gentleman has declared that it was the duty of the Opposition to express an opinion on the merits of this Bill, because, no matter what the scheme of redistribution might be, it was essential for us to express our opinion on the enfranchisement of the labourers in counties. During the Recess the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War and the right hon. 964 Gentleman played the game of contradicting each other at every public meeting that either of them attended; and, again, on the first occasion on which the right hon. Gentleman has spoken on the subject in this House, he flatly contradicts his noble Colleague. On Monday night the noble Marquess, speaking in this House, said that if this Bill would lead to electoral districts he would not vote for it. So closely is the question of enfranchisement associated with the redistribution of seats, that if the Bill leads to a certain form of redistribution it ought, oven in the opinion of the noble Marquess, to be rejected. So much for the unanimity of sentiment in the Cabinet. The right hon. Gentleman said he would give the House information as to how this redistribution is to be carried out, and this was the information he gave us. He told us the Government would take the first opportunity of introducing a generous measure of Reform, which would settle the question of redistribution for a generation. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that lie does not care what machinery is employed, provided that it only secures what he requires. What is it that lie requires? Well, we know what the right hon. Gentleman wants—namely, manhood suffrage and the payment of Members.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
I wish to correct the noble Lord in reference to what I said. I said that what I required was that an equal value should be given to the vote in every case.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
The right hon. Gentleman used the words—"I do not care for the manner, provided I secure what I require;" and we know very well that he wants manhood suffrage and the payment of Members; and he wishes, if he can, through the machinery he has established in England, to obtain as complete a monopoly of political power everywhere as he and his friends have secured in municipal matters in Birmingham. The Opposition are not prepared to aid and abet the right hon. Gentleman in securing what he wants; and, therefore, we have determined to support the Amendment of my noble Friend the Member for North Leicestershire (Lord John Manners), and will oppose this Bill until we have from the Government some indication of what the lines are on which their scheme 965 of redistribution is to be drawn. In the various speeches that have been made from the other side of the House it has been always assumed—and the right hon. Gentleman from first to last assumed—that the Opposition are prompted by unfair and underhand motives in the course they are taking. Now, supposing I can show that the course we recommend is in accordance with precedent and usage, and that any departure from what we suggest must be accompanied by the gravest possible inconvenience, and even attended by subsequent national danger, shall we not, then, be able to give a reality and a substance to our objections which will entitle them to fair consideration on both sides of the House? What is our great objection to the particular method of procedure adopted by the Government? In the first place, it is entirely contrary to precedent, because I do not believe that there has ever been any serious attempt to introduce a Reform Bill at the close of the life of a Parliament. Such measures have invariably been introduced at the commencement of the life of a Parliament; because the nearer it was to a General Election when a Reform Bill was brought in by a Government the more danger there was that the object of its promoters might be to strengthen the influence of their own Party than to effect a real and permanent improvement in the national representation. And when the Government who adopt this course, in the teeth of all precedent, are a discredited Government, whose policy has everywhere failed, and whoso only hope of rehabilitating themselves lay in suggesting some sweeping and organic change, the inference that they are attempting to affect the impending Election ripens into a certainly. If this Bill passes in its present shape, it seems to me that it would do three things. It would, first, indefinitely impede and postpone the redistribution of seats; in the next place, it would lead, by its novel enactments in the one direction and by its obvious omissions in the other, to a most audacious manipulation of the electoral system for the benefit of the Party in power; and. lastly, by unfair arrangements in respect to Ireland, it would render it more difficult for the Loyalists in that country, and the English and Scotch Members, to maintain hereafter the integrity of 966 the United Kingdom. If these objections be real, all the gibes and sneers of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade will be of no avail. They are substantial objections; and I will venture shortly to recapitulate them. If this Bill passes in the present Session, it is a matter of absolute certainty, about which there can be no question, that a General Election must take place without a redistribution of seats. ["No!"] The hon. Member who contradicts could never have thought out the matter. It does not admit of argument. There is no time this year for a Redistribution Bill. Next year you would have to introduce a Registration Bill; you would also have the remanets from the present Session, and—what is far more important—you would have to renew the Prevention of Crime (Ireland) Act. Will the hon. Member on the other side who interrupted mo say how, if the Government have to introduce a measure so repugnant to hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, they will also be able to pass a Redistribution Bill next year, which may possibly curtail the representation of Ireland? It is, therefore, a matter of certainty that a Redistribution Bill cannot pass next Session. Then, can it pass in the seventh Session—the sole remaining Session? Upon that point we have an opinion of no ordinary weight—that of the Prime Minister himself. Speaking in Mid Lothian, he predicted, with almost prophetic accuracy, the position of this Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman said—We have arrived at the time wherein, according to the fixed and invariable practice, I think, of the entire century—nay, even of more than the entire century—there ought to be a Dissolution. The rule—and the wise rule—of our governors in other times has been that although the law allows a duration of seven years to Parliament, it should not sit to transact more than the usual Business of six Sessions. And you will see, gentlemen, the good sense, I think, of such a rule. It appears to be founded upon this—that the operations of the seventh Session would be likely to descend as to their moral level below the standard of the earlier portions of a Parliament, that the interests of the country would be more liable to be compromised by personal inducements, and personal inducements not in relation to the country at large, but in relation to particular groups and cliques of persons—in relation to what are sometimes called harassed interests. And matters of that kind would be likely to bring about a bartering and trafficking in public interests 967 for personal ends if it were made absolutely certain that in so many weeks, or in two or three months, the Parliament must be dissolved. Now, out of this has grown a rule; I am far From saying that rule is a rule mathematical or inflexible; for some great public or national reason it is perfectly justifiable to depart from it—but what is the public or national reason for departing from it now? None at all. I defy the most ingenious man to suggest to me any reason whatever for departing from this rule, which has been in use through the whole of our lifetime—I believe even through the lifetime of your fathers and grandfathers. I do not believe the wit of man can give a reason for departing from it except this—that it is thought to be, upon the whole, for the interests of Her Majesty's Government. That, I say at once, is not a legitimate reason for departing from the Constitutional rule.The Prime Minister, therefore, makes it a matter of absolute certainty that no Redistribution Bill can be carried by the present Parliament. Now, what is the objection to dissociating the redistribution scheme from the extension of the franchise? The President of the Board of Trade seemed to think that the only object of the Conservative Party, in objecting to dissociating the one portion of the scheme from the other, was to stop the measure of Reform altogether. But why did our ancestors always object to dissociating redistribution from Reform? Why was it that the Parliament of 1865 associated them? The object, I think, is perfectly clear. The extension of the franchise will always be popular with the people, because it proposes to give something, while a redistribution scheme is unpopular, because it takes away something; and, therefore, it is only by associating the two together that you can get rid of the objections of those whom you propose to disfranchise. Every argument that has been used as to the length of time a Redistribution Bill will take if associated with a Franchise Bill is a conclusive argument, because if it takes so much time to pass a Redistribution Bill, when associated with reduction of the franchise, it will never pass if it has no propelling power behind it. The proposal of Her Majesty's Government, if the House will excuse the expression, appears to be an idiotic proposal; because it is equivalent to this—Supposing a railway manager had to run a very heavy train, and for the sake of convenience split the train into portions, putting the locomotive power in the first portion and all the guards and the brakes in the second. The result would be that 968 while facility would be given for the movement of the first portion of the train the second would remain stationary. So, also, in this case. The first part of the scheme once carried, the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) and his Friends would be a sufficient impediment to the carrying of any Redistribution Bill hereafter. If an Election is soon to take place on the increased electorate which this Bill would give, I wish to point out to the House the absurd position in which the House of Commons would be placed. I am sorry to weary the House with figures; but as the question is so important it is essential that I should place some before them. At the present moment there are 151 urban districts unrepresented, with a population of over 10,000 inhabitants each. Exactly one-half of these districts are in Lancashire, Yorkshire, and Middlesex. There are 44 in Lancashire, 16 in Yorkshire, and 14 in Middlesex. What is the proposal under this Bill? These enormous masses of people, numbering in the aggregate 1,500,000 persons, are to be pitchforked into half-a-dozen constituencies, every single one of which is already under-represented. These constituencies would be absolutely unworkable. I will take, as an illustration, the case of my own constituency. The present number of electors on the register is about 42,000, and under the Bill now before the House that number would be increased to about 80,000 or 100,000. In the neighbouring county of Buckinghamshire there are three boroughs — Buckingham, High Wycombe, and Aylesbury, of which we had a humorous description to-day by the Secretary to the Local Government Board. These three boroughs, in the aggregate, would have a population equal to half the number of electors in Middlesex, and they would return double the number of Members. The two Members returned by Middlesex are Conservatives, while the four Members for these small boroughs are Liberals. I have already pointed out the effect of splitting the measure in half, and how seriously it must affect the General Election. At the present time there are 142 borough Members who represent constituencies of under 5,000 voters. Every one of those constituencies, if numbers are to be taken into consideration, ought to have their representation 969 curtailed. But they are not to be touched; and why not? They return 89 Liberal Members and 53 Conservatives, giving a majority of 36 in favour of the Government. By the counties in England 175 Members are returned; 122 of those Members are Conservatives, while only 53 are Liberals. They are much under-represented, for under this Bill, with the exception of Rutland, every county constituency is over 5,000 voters; but no proposal of any kind is made to increase their representation. The result, therefore, is that in this Bill the Government gain two points by declining to disfranchise where the ought, and thus preventing their following from being reduced; while by declining to enfranchise where they ought, and where the population requires it, they diminish the following of their political opponents. If the representation went by population the county of Middlesex is entitled to 36 additional Members, Lancashire to 32, and Surrey to 15. The Prime Minister has been kind enough to tell the House one of the principles which ought, in his opinion, to regulate the Redistribution Bill. It is the principle of centrifugal representation, which has been already referred to. What is the political effect of that principle? England is the most Conservative portion of the country; Wales, Ireland, and Scotland are the most anti-Conservative; but Wales, Ireland, and Scotland are further off. Owing to the distance of these countries from the Metropolis, their representation is to be favourably considered. England, because it is Conservative, is to be under-represented; Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, because they are anti-Conservative, are to be over-represented. I could scarcely control my countenance when on Monday last I heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) giving as a reason why London should not be entitled to additional representation the fact that London has a powerful Press. The right hon. Gentleman seldom makes a speech on any public platform in which he does not take the greatest praise to himself for having assisted in removing the taxes on knowledge; and it is, therefore, strange for him to argue that because London has a powerful Press it is not to be fully represented according to its population. The unfortunate pecu- 970 liarity of all these flimsy arguments and suggestions is this—that in every single case they tend to favour the prospects of our political opponents, while in every case they damage those of the Conservatives; and, under such circumstances, I think we should, indeed, deserve to be called the stupid Party if we allowed a Bill of this character to pass, which, under the plausible pretext of enlarging the electorate, manipulates in the most audacious manner the present electoral arrangements to the advantage of the Party in power. Supposing, what is almost a certainty if the Bill passes, that the next Parliament is to be elected under it, before any scheme of redistribution has been carried out, the next House of Commons would find itself such a monstrosity as regards the difference between Members representing boroughs and those representing counties, that no authority could be claimed for its decisions. I have made a calculation, and I find that, adding to the existing county constituencies the proposed addition under this Bill, each county Member in the next Parliament would, on an average, represent over 12,000 voters, while each borough Member would, on an average, represent less than 6,000. So that you will have reduced your representation to this mathematical absurdity—that if 50 county Members went into the Lobby against 99 borough Members, the 50 county Members would represent a larger population than the 99 borough Members; but, unfortunately, borough Members are mostly Liberal, while the county Members are chiefly Conservative; and therefore this Bill was intended, neither more nor less, to pack the next House of Commons, in order to deprive the Conservative Party of that representation which its wealth and its numbers entitle it to. The noble Marquess informs us that it is impossible to bring in a Bill dealing with redistribution until the Government are in possession of further material facts and figures. What do they want more figures for? They have the population Returns, and if we assimilate the franchise throughout the counties those population Returns would afford amply sufficient data for a Redistribution Bill. When the noble Marquess says the Government are not in favour of electoral districts, what more accurate Returns do they want than those already 971 in their possession? The House must bear in mind that no promise or pledge of a Minister—I speak with no personal disrespect—is of any value whatever unless it is embodied in an Act of Parliament; and although the noble Marquess may solemnly assure us he would oppose the Bill if it tended to electoral districts in the next Parliament, we may have the President of the Board of Trade coining down with a Bill carving the whole of the United Kingdom into electoral districts. Constitutionally, agreements made in one Parliament are not binding in a subsequent Parliament. We, therefore, have no guarantee as to the principle of redistribution unless it is associated with the Franchise Bill, or that we may not be ultimately compelled to accept the proposal of equal electoral districts which Her Majesty's Government now repudiate. To meet this difficulty my right hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Gibson), on the first evening this Bill was introduced, suggested to the Prime Minister that there should be a clause inserted in it to the effect that it should not come into operation until the redistribution scheme has passed. Anybody who watched the Prime Minister's face when that proposal was made must have a pretty good idea of the purpose for which the Bill has been brought in. The Prime Minister at once repudiated the suggestion with warmth, as much as to say he had not been 50 years in Parliament, managing delicate political matters, to be caught with such a device as that. There was one part of this Bill which no one connected with Ireland can ignore. What will its moral and political effect be on that country? The Bill, if passed in its present form, will practically establish hovel franchise in Ireland. The Prime Minister advocates the Bill on the ground that the men to be enfranchised are "capable." But I am curious to know what the poor cottiers of Ireland, who inhabit these "hovels," are capable of? The great majority of them cannot read and write, and a large proportion have never travelled 10 miles from their homes. The only thing I am afraid they are capable of is hatred of England and animosity towards all things English. Her Majesty's Government is composed of men of ability; but what are their facts and proposals? One-third of the 972 population of Ireland is loyal, as the Government know, and yet they are deliberately making proposals by which nine-tenths of the representation of that Island is to be given over to the disloyal. You are doing everything in your power to strain the Act of Union in favour of disloyalty in Ireland. The first speech I ever heard the senior Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) make was some 16 years ago, in this House, and it was one in which he spoke with supreme contempt of the Act of Union, describing it as a musty piece of parchment. On that occasion the Union stood in the way of the disestablishment of the Irish Church; and now, 16 years afterwards, the right hon. Gentleman has made the discovery that the Act of Union is so inviolable a document that the very letter as well as the spirit of it must be retained, because a literal adherence to it will give the Irish people a larger representation than they are entitled to. But what would be the moral effect of this Bill on the loyal population of Ireland? The Government know perfectly well that they could not have brought in the Bill a year ago and applied it to Ireland. Why is Ireland quieter now than it was 18 months ago? It is because crime has been put down by the co-operation of the loyal population with the Government, and in return for that the Government are now about to give the franchise to those whom, on former occasions, they have excluded from the jury box. The return you make to the loyal population is to swamp their political influence by the wholesale enfranchisement of the very man who has threatened their lives hitherto. I am afraid the Loyalists in Ireland are not disposed to put more confidence in those who negotiated the Kilmainham Treaty, because they will see that exactly the same reason which induced the Government to betray them on that occasion, when they only desired to get the support of some 30 Members of Parliament, would induce them to go further when they have to deal with the 90 followers of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell). We are told that if we exclude Ireland we shall create a grievance there. You are creating a tenfold greater grievance by what you are now doing. What is the franchise? What is it but a means to 973 an end, and what is the end but separation from England? Will it be in your power to refuse that separation, which nine-tenths of the people you propose to enfranchise as capable citizens will demand? I do not always approve of the utterances of the President of the Board of Trade; but there is a very remarkable passage in a speech which the light hon. Gentleman made some years ago. Speaking at Liverpool, on the 25th of October, 1881, he said—Unless the Government of the country are prepared to accept the idea of the secession of Ireland from the Union, and the Severance of the two countries, I think the time had come I when the Government was bound to assert its authority. Now, is this question of separation one upon which there is any difference among us? I assume we are prepared now. as we have been all along, to consider impartially every just claim, to remedy every proved grievance, to endeavour to govern Ireland, not according to English prejudice, but according to all those most patriotic and intelligent among the Irish people. Are we ready to consider the Union itself as a standing grievance, and are we prepared to admit that the question of reparation is an open one between us? I say, for myself, that I am not prepared to admit that it is possible, either in the interests of this country or in the interests of Ireland, that there should be created a hostile Power within striking distance of these shores. I suppose the first result would be that independence would be the signal for civil war, in which we should be forced to take a side. But, if this were avoided, Ireland independent must always be jealous and afraid of England. The greater power, the commercial supremacy of the latter country, would always be a subject of anxiety and alarm to the smaller. Ireland would be crushed under the weight of military and naval expenditure, which it would have to maintain in order to secure its separate existence. We should find our burdens enlarged in proportion. The two countries would be a standing menace one to the other. Sooner or later the condition would be intolerable, and we should have to commence the struggle anew. Ireland would have again to be reconquered, and England would be ruined. I am not prepared to face these contingencies; and therefore I say, Liberal and Radical as I profess to be, I say to Ireland what the Liberals or the Republicans of the North said to the Southern States of America, the Union must be preserved. You cannot, and you shall not destroy it.These are very grave words. But are not the Government putting it outside their power to make them good? If you say to the Irish people you are capable citizens and deserving of this extension of the franchise, and nine-tenths of the persons returned to Parliament ask you for this separation, how can you refuse it? What was the policy announced by 974 the senior Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright)? He commenced by saying—"Force is no remedy. I object to the old policy. I wish to proceed on new lines, and to deal more generously with Ireland;" and when at last he was forced to face the contingency that 90 of the hon. Gentlemen who would be sent from Ireland would make government impossible through this House, he replied—"Oh, if the worst comes to the worst, the 550 Englishmen and Scotchmen will find a, way to stop the 90." Well, Sir, what is that but force? You will ultimately have to undo that which you are now inclined to do; but in how different a position will you be placed? It would be fairer and more straightforward to say plainly to the Irish people—"We do not consider you entitled to this growing franchise; and until you can give some guarantee that you will not use it to our detriment and harm we will not give it to you." The noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War said, a year ago, that it would be madness to give increased self-government to Ireland, until we received from the Representatives of the Irish people some assurance that this boon would not be misused for the purpose of agitation, and for the purpose of weakening the authority and power of Parliament. But, so far from receiving any such guarantee, these Gentlemen openly say that they are in a state of war with the British Government; that they have not the material force on their side now for giving effect to their views. In this House the greater the control which is exercised over the acts of the Government the better for the State; but nothing in the world would be easier. These 90 Gentlemen holding these views will be able to render government impossible, and they know it. They will have their thumb, so to speak, on the whole administration of the Empire, and you will be forced either to accede to their wishes, which means civil war, or else once more reconquer Ireland. Now, this seems to me to be the very melancholy position in which you will be placed with your large majority in this House. The right hon. Gentleman the senior Member for Birmingham used almost un-Parliamentary language with regard to some Irish Members—he described them as rebels; then the noble Marquess said it was an act of madness 975 to extend self-government in Ireland. Then, what are we to think of the policy of the Government which makes these rebels supreme in this House? Sir, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking in the country, made use of an illustration, in one sense happy and in another sense unhappy. He said that the changes which would shortly have to be considered in that House were greater than any which had come forward since the Revolution of 1688, which had conferred inestimable benefits on England. What was the result of that Revolution? It established civil and religious liberty in England and Scotland, but it created civil war in Ireland; Ireland had to be subjugated, and civil and religious liberty there was crushed under a Penal Code. It seems to me that the changes alluded to by the Chancellor of the Exchequer must unquestionably produce a condition of affairs in Ireland from which nothing but force can ultimately deliver us. Sir, I think I have shown that our objections to this proposal are reasonable, and that they rest upon facts and arguments which give them reality. The President of the Board of Trade threatens us with agitation for our opposition to this Bill; he applies such language to it that I suppose he hopes that agitation will follow. Well, Sir, I am not afraid of agitation. In the past the Liberal Partly were foolish enough to associate the franchise with a pecuniary benefit to those who were enfranchised; and the result was that after the passing of the Reform Bill in 1832, the country was shaken to the centre by the Chartist Riots which were directly the result of that Bill. The present Government associated their advent to Office with the revival of trade, and that revival of trade has not occurred; and the people whom you now propose to enfranchise are sensible enough to know that it is outside your power either to improve the trades or industries in which they are engaged, or, as in the past, to make good the bribes you have offered them. It has been said by hon. Gentlemen opposite that the Liberal majority was so great at the last Election that even the manipulation with which, as I have shown, this Bill might be connected cannot affect the impending Election. The hon. Member for Wolvorhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) estimated the Liberal majority 976 at the last Election at 500,000. It was nothing of the kind. All the statistics on the subject which I have seen put forward are absolutely illusory, because they count not the voters but their votes. That was the case at the last Metropolitan Elections. I am satisfied that the transfer of 5 per cent of those who voted as Liberals last time is sufficient to give us a majority from one end of the country to the other. Well, Sir, we are threatened with this agitation by the Government. The only way to make that agitation effective is by a Dissolution, and here I will refer to that point in a speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, delivered in Mid Lothian—for his speeches there refer to every conceivable subject, and are worthy of the attention of the Liberal Party. The right hon. Gentleman said, referring to the late Government—Why, gentlemen, are they not anxious to obtain the judgment of the country? It is surely plain that they are not anxious. If they were anxious they would follow the rule and dissolve Parliament. It is plain, therefore, they are not anxious. Why are they not anxious? Have they not told us all along that they possess the confidence of the people? Have they not boasted, right and left, that vast majorities of the nation are in the same sense with themselves? Oh! gentlemen, these are idle pretexts! It is an instinct lying far deeper than those professions that teaches them that the country is against them, and it is because they know that the country is against them that they are unwilling to appeal to the country. Why, gentlemen, an absolute appeal to the public judgment, when there is a knowledge beforehand on the part of those who make the appeal that the answer will be favourable, gives additional strength to those who make that appeal. If it be true, as they will say, that the country is in their favour, I say that with the favourable reply that they would receive to their appeal, they will come back to Parliament far stronger for the purpose of giving effect to the principles that they know to be true than they are at this moment. They know that as well as you do. They know perfectly well that a favourable reply would strengthen their hands; they know perfectly well that an unfavourable answer would be the end of their Ministerial existence; and it therefore requires no great wit on our part to judge why, when they have reached the usual and what I may call the Constitutional period, they do not choose to make an appeal at all.Sir, I will recapitulate in two sentences my objections to this Bill. I object to it because it cannot settle, and will retard, the settlement of the question which it pretends to promote; I object to it because it invokes the Imperial machinery of Parliament for the worst partizan uses 977 and because it makes the advocates of separation and rapine the sole representative authority for Ireland. These are the objections which I have to this Bill. We regard them as weighty enough to entitle them to the consideration of all right-thinking men; and, therefore, we are determined to do the very best in our power to oppose a measure which, under a specious disguise, contains so many germs of political dishonesty and national danger.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed. "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. W. E. Forster.)
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
Sir, of course I do not intend to make any objection to this Motion; but I think it is desirable that we should consider whether it is possible shortly to come to some arrangement as to the probable conclusion of the debate. I believe it would be extremely desirable, and I think it would be reasonable also, that it should be terminated in the course of next week—that it would be a very great convenience to a large number of Members of this House, not only that it should be so terminated, but that within a reasonable time there should be an understanding on the subject, so that they could make their arrangements accordingly, and avoid the risk of being absent from the Division. If there could be an arrangement that Monday and Thursday would be sufficient for concluding the debate, that would, of course, be most satisfactory. If, on the other hand, a longer time than that is required, I trust the House will be disposed to consider whether some additional time than that at the disposal of the Government may not, in the course of next week, be devoted to it. I see on the Paper Notices of several Motions on subjects which have been discussed frequently during the present Parliament—namely, the position of Bills coming from the House of Lords, and the question of canning over Bills from one Session to another. I venture to hope that the House may appeal to hon. Members not to proceed with the Motions I have referred to. I do not ask the House to come to a decision at this moment. We shall put the Bill down for to-morrow, not in the hope of being able to proceed with it, although, of course, we should ask the House to continue the debate to- 978 morrow evening, if there were any chance of bringing it on at a reasonable hour. At all events, the placing of the Bill on the Paper to-morrow would enable us to make some proposal or announcement that might be for the convenience of the House generally.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
Sir, I am sure the feeling of the House is to forward in any reasonable manner the convenience, not only of the Government, but of Members generally, with regard to this debate; but I am equally sure that the suggestion contained in the closing words of the noble Marquess as to the Bill being able to come on tomorrow is one which is rather likely to retard than promote his wish. The noble Marquess must remember that private Members have already during this Session been obliged to give up their time for Government purposes in a manner neither satisfactory to them nor to the House. The noble Marquess must feel that after what has occurred there is a certain amount of sensitiveness on the part of private Members; and that if an appeal is to be made to thorn with any hope of success it ought to be accompanied with some compensation. The Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) relates to a subject of very great importance, and one which is of corresponding interest to a large number of Members. I think it is both unreasonable and undesirable that there should be an opportunity for the discussion of that Motion. No one, I believe—not even the noble Marquess—thinks that this debate can be renewed before Monday, which day, probably, offers the most reasonable opportunity for considering within what time it can be closed. There are a great number of hon. Members who have yet to speak, and it is only reasonable and fair that they should have an opportunity for so doing. On the other hand, I fully recognize the fairness of the desire that the debate should be concluded before the Easter holidays; and we on these Benches shall be most ready to promote any arrangement to that end which will not interfere with the rights of private Members.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Sir, the right hon. Baronet appears to be under the misapprehension of supposing that the Government intend to bring forward the discussion on this Bill to-mor- 979 row. My noble Friend has stated that the Bill will be put down to-morrow, in the hope that this may afford an opportunity of coming to some understanding as to the time when the debate will be brought to a close. There is no doubt that if the debate can be concluded next week, it would be greatly for the convenience of hon. Members on both sides of the House; and the House is also aware that it is very desirable, if not absolutely necessary, that the Financial Statement should be disposed of before the Easter holidays. We do not wish in any way to force it against the wishes of the House; but we think that for the convenience of Members on both sides who desire to make their arrangements for the Easter Recess there should be an understanding on this subject at the earliest possible moment. If we cannot arrive at that understanding, then we must do the best we can without it; but I think it far better that hon. Members, who will have time to consider the matter, should take the opportunity of the Bill being mentioned to-morrow to indicate the arrangement they would be disposed to a assent to.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
Then I understand that the Bill will be put down to-morrow, not for the purpose of the debate being resumed, but simply for the purpose of its being mentioned?
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Debate further adjourned till To-morrow.