§ [THIRD 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. W. E. FORSTER
Sir, it appears to me that the question before us is not the principle of this Bill, but a question of time—whether the measure should be passed this Session or not, and whether it should be passed with or without, before or after, a Dissolution of the present Parliament. It appears to me that the real object of the Amendment of the noble Lord opposite (Lord John Manners) is to render a Dissolution the more probable; and it that be his object I think it is skilfully framed. It says we ought to have the scheme of redistribution on the Table of the House before proceeding to re-arrange the franchise. What does that mean? I think it means an appeal to every interest that would be likely to be affected by the present measure—small boroughs, for example, and dissatisfied Representatives of large towns, with a view to delay the passing of the Bill. Again, if a scheme of redistribution were introduced now, we can easily imagine what an opportunity it would afford for much discussion as to what would be the just share of Members which England, Scotland, and Ireland ought respectively to have. I do not imagine that the noble Lord and his Friends suppose that the 1182 Amendment will succeed in its object immediately; but I can understand that they hope that the prominence that may be given to local questions by the discussion of this Amendment may do something towards hastening a Dissolution; and they may hope that, by their action upon this stage of the Bill, they may make it easier for the House of Lords to take such a course with regard to the Bill as might force the Government to dissolve. For my own part, I hope that, should such action be taken by the House of Lords, the Government will very seriously consider whether it will not be their duty to give that House another opportunity of considering the Bill. ["Hear, hear!"] I rather imagine that hon. Gentlemen opposite wish for a Dissolution. They screw themselves up to that desire, and hon. Members from Ireland below the Gangway opposite wish for a Dissolution also, for I strongly suspect that they have some sort of fancy that they have reached the high tide of their prosperity, and that it would be well to have a Dissolution before the ebb tide sets in. The great body of the Conservative Party, in fact, are, I think, looking forward to such a result. There are special foreign difficulties at the present time. This we do not deny; but whatever may be our opinions on this side as to the way in which they have been met by the Government, we think it is probable that they would not have been more successfully contended with by Gentlemen who sit opposite. I do not intend to mix up any foreign question with the discussion of the Franchise Bill; but it is not unfair to say that Gentlemen opposite may have a feeling that it is an ill-wind that blows good to no one, and that those difficulties may, if an appeal is made to the country, make it more likely that they, the Conservative Party, would get what they, no doubt, patriotically desire —namely, the disposal of the destinies of the country. When the Conservatives lay stress on the feelings of disappointment which may be rife in the small boroughs where disfranchisement is feared, and on the fact that some farmers do not look forward with joyful expectation to the addition of their labourers to the lists of voters, it is, perhaps, reasonable that they should hope for success. I do not, however, believe that they would obtain it. When 1183 an Election comes on, many questions are asked which are not so much asked in Parliament, and there may be questions as to who are the Leaders of the Conservative Party; to what goals are they leading the Conservative Party; above all, what are the principles of the Conservative Party? But I am quite certain that whatever else may be the result of a Dissolution, if there are any farmers who are desirous of staving off the time when their labourers will be given the franchise, and will share with them the right of voting, they will be disappointed; and they may rest assured that the return of the Conservatives to power would not long postpone that time. Everyone who regards the temper of the times and looks back at the history of Electoral Reform must feel that if the Conservative Party defeated this Reform Bill and came into power, and thereby got hold of this Reform Question, the same course would be taken as before, and they would themselves bring in a Household Franchise Bill for the agricultural labourers. Judging from the past, there may be an attempt, as there was upon the Borough Franchise Bill, to bring in some fancy distinctions and side clauses; but if they were brought in, they would be disagreed with, and there would, as before, be a Franchise Bill pure and simple. But in that case, no doubt, hon. Gentlemen opposite would have the control of the consequent Redistribution Bill; and, judging from their past efforts in redistribution, I think that would be a calamity much to be regretted. Anything I may say will not alter the views of hon. Members who believe that the carriage of the Amendment will bring about a Dissolution; and I am so convinced that this is the real object of the noble Lord that I cannot bring myself to think it worth while to take up much of the time of the House by answering the arguments in favour of his Amendment. Those arguments appear to be mainly two, and both of them depend on the supposed disadvantages of a Dissolution after the passing of the Franchise Bill, and before the Bill for the redistribution of seats is brought in. It is quite true that if there was an Election after the passing of this Bill, and before redistribution, we should have some of the county constituencies as large as some boroughs. We should 1184 have the Divisions of Lancashire and the Ridings of Yorkshire competing with Liverpool, Manchester, or Glasgow. No doubt that would be inconvenient; but what is inconvenience compared with injustice? It would be rather inconvenient to the wire-pullers and the candidates; but, after all, it is better for the constituents that they should get their right to vote in company with a very large number than that they should not get it at all. One of the most curious arguments is, that these new voters will be injured in that it is not right to give them votes without accompanying the reform with a redistribution of seats. Well, of course, the anomaly of the present representation will be increased; but it is better that these voters should have votes even among a vast number than that they should have no votes at all. But beyond that I think that argument is rather unfair, as it assumes the truth of a suggestion put forward by the opponents of the measure that the Franchise Bill may not be followed by a Redistribution Bill. Apart from the assurances of the present Government, I believe that any Government would, in the next Session after the passing of a Franchise Bill such as this, feel themselves compelled to deal with the question of redistribution. The other argument that has been used is a complete change of front. It is said—what right hare these new voters to have any influence over the proportionate number of Members, when the redistribution takes place? I say, why not? I hope the Government will bring in a Redistribution Bill, which, by its justice, will commend itself to the House and the country, and which will be passed. No doubt it will have many difficult questions to solve; and, if these cannot be settled without a fresh Election, it is much better that these 2,000,000 voters, who have been hitherto excluded for many years, should have their share in the settlement of this redistribution question. I will not dwell further upon the arguments in favour of the Amendment, the real meaning of which is the desire of hon. Gentlemen opposite to have this question of Reform and Redistribution left in the hands of the Conservative Party; and I do not blame I hon. Members opposite for desiring to produce that result; but they can hardly expect hon. Members on this — the 1185 Liberal—side of the House to join in suck an endeavour. There is, however, another question, which though not raised in the Amendment has been raised in the course of the debate, and that has reference to the inclusion of Ireland. I am not sure that what I am going to say on that point will meet with much approval in any quarter of the House. I think it was a most difficult question to decide whether Ireland should be included, and that it was one not to be decided off-hand; but for myself, so far as I am concerned, after giving the subject my own careful consideration, I came decidedly to the opinion that Ireland ought to be included. But I do not and cannot, deny that there are to some extent pausible arguments against it. The first, of course, is the one pointing at the condition of the great majority of the householders who will get votes under the Bill. They are, certainly, many of them, badly housed and badly off; but that is no reason for their exclusion. As to the Irish agricultural labourers and the small cottier farmers in the West, they, of all Her Majesty's subjects, are undoubtedly the worst off and the least represented of any classes, find, putting these two facts together, I much doubt whether they would have been so badly off if they had been better represented in this House. But their miserable condition is no argument against their inclusion in this Bill. Then, again, they are declared to be uneducated. Although the Irish peasants now are not so well educated as the English, I believe they are as well educated as the English artizans were in 1867; and if the English artizan at that time was entitled to a vote, the Irish peasant is also entitled to the franchise. Then there is another argument used, that of the exceptional legislation at present existing with regard to Ireland; but I do not see much force in that. It in true that we have special crimes in Ireland that require special laws. There are secret societies to contend with, assassination plots to meet, and intimidation to put down; but these are not by the people of Ireland, but by individuals. That is not a reason for depriving the Irish people of their electoral rights. At any rate, if you say political rights cannot be given to the Irish people because of the condition of the country, you should go further, and 1186 establish a state of siege. There is, no doubt, a Party in Ireland which is in favour of disunion and separation from England, who do not conceal their hatred of England, and who, with more or less violence, declare against English, rule and English government. I do not wish to say anything offensive; but I think it will be admitted that it would be foolish to say that that Party is not represented in this House. It is asked, "Why should we increase the power of that Party in Parliament? But that is I no reason why Ireland should be excluded from this Bill. That argument, if it means anything, means this, that the Irish householder is not fit to have a vote because he may be an anti-Unionist, I a Home Ruler, or a Separationist. For my part, I do not think it is just to exclude him on that ground. There is no one more desirous and determined than I am to maintain the Act of Union; but it is, after all, only an Act of Parliament, and it is not an unconstitutional action for any hon. Member, or any number of Irish Members, to endeavour to get rid of it; and, I for that reason, I do not think the argument is a good ground for the exclusion of Ireland from the Bill. I feel certain it would be inexpedient, most impolitic, and most unwise if we do nut allow these feelings in Ireland Constitutional expression; for if we do not, we must expect to have them expressed unconstitutionally. I, for my part, would rather meet the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell), and any following which he might chance to get in this House, in any attempt he may make to change the written law, than to have to support a Government in preventing him or his Successors in establishing, in spite of the Government, his unwritten law in Ireland. I am not at all sure that the hon. Member for the City; of Cork will increase his followers by; means of this Bill; but, however that; may be, I feel certain that a very large majority of the Parliament of the United, Kingdom will be opposed to the dissolution of the Union, and I am also certain that the Irish Government will be in the future, as it has always been in the past, strong enough to put down any illegal action. But, although the result would be the same, let us look at the difference in the two cases—the case in which Ireland is included, and the case 1187 in which it is not; in one case, we should have debates in this House, and, in the other, the necessary employment of force. Well, now, there, are those who fear not merely that the hon. Member for the City of Cork would not only become, as it has been stated on the other side of the House, the "Grand Elector" for Ireland, if Ireland wore included in the Bill, but that by the strength of Party spirit in this country and in this House, and by the constant changes in the power of Parties, he would also become the arbiter of the destinies of the Parliament of the United Kingdom—that he would so make his support useful, that he would be able to get really almost what he wanted by controlling the action of the different Parties. I do not fear that result. I believe that Party men in this House are too patriotic. [Lord RANDOLPH CHURCHILL: Oh, oh!] Well, the noble Lord does not appear to believe in the patriotism of Party men in this House. He may, perhaps, believe in this, that if they are not patriotic enough to avoid such a contingency, there is a sufficient power behind Parties—namely, the power of public opinion—to make them cease from acting in such a manner. The householders of Great Britain would make very short work of any Government who allowed the dictates of a small minority to sway them against the interests of the country. But I am afraid of something very different, and what it is is this, that if these attempts be made, it. will become most damaging, too damaging, for any Party to have the aid of the Irish vote, even for a good object, and it will become very difficult to pursue the course of Irish reform and progress. There is one other powerful and overwhelming argument for the inclusion of Ireland, and that is, I know not how we can struggle for the maintenance of the Union, if we do not make this inclusion. The very idea of union is based upon union upon terms of equality in individual and political rights; and, therefore, if we refuse this inclusion, we must drop the idea of union, and we must either assent to separation, or we must absolutely and openly resort to subjection. Well, then, having very carefully weighed this question, I have come to the conclusion, as strongly as it is possible for me to do, that the Government have done right in including Ire- 1188 land; and I must add these few words, that if it be clear that the balance of opinion is in favour of this course being taken, then to my mind, it is also clear that it must be adhered to; and, again, I confess that I have come to the conclusion that it would be the duty of the Government to resist and reject Amendments having for their object the exclusion of Ireland, from whatever quarter of the House they may come, oven at the risk of losing the Bill, or their own power, or compelling the Dissolution of Parliament. Now, I suppose there will be some hon. Gentlemen who might think that I have omitted one question of great importance in the consideration of this Irish matter, and that is, they would say that this Franchise Bill, if carried out, would cause great discouragement to the Party in favour of the Union, and would, in fact, practically mean disfranchisement to them, because it would so overpower them. I do not wish to lose sight of that matter; but I do not myself believe that their position will be made worse than it is now. I am, however, quite prepared to admit—and here I must particularly ask the attention of the House for a moment—that, as the case stands at present, this overpowering of the minority in a large portion of the constituencies of Ireland is a serious matter, and one that ought to be very carefully considered by the Government in framing their plans in regard to the redistribution of seals. What are the facts? I The statement of the hon. Member for the City of Cork is, that he has the control over the representation of three Provinces in Ireland, and of one or two counties in the Province of Ulster. There was no proof of that at the last General Election, though, considering recent elections that have taken place, there is, perhaps, some ground for that boast. Even granting that, we have this other fact, that throughout Ireland, in the South and in the West, there is a large number, a very large number, of voters who in no way share the opinions of the hon. Member for the City of Cork, and who most earnestly desire to be represented. Now, this brings up the minority question which is before the attention of the public in a way in which I think it comes before us in no other part of the United Kingdom. The minority ought not to 1189 have more than its fair share of representation; but it ought to have something approaching to a fair share in the representation, can only say that I will not now discuss the question how this state of things is to be met; but I think it is the duty of the Government to consider it. The noble Marquess the Secretary of Slate for War said the other night that, after all, the minority, in Ireland must look to the majority in England and Scotland to support them. I am bound to say, however, that that is not an argument that carries conviction to my mind. I entirely admit, however, on this minority question, as upon the general franchise question, that Ireland should not be treated exceptionally; but I repeat that all the arguments in favour of due consideration of minorities are much increased by the consideration of the case of Ireland, and are brought out in great prominence. We must remember that the constituencies in Ireland are so like one another that there is very little of that variety which is found in England and Scotland. Again, I think, we cannot deny that the minority in Ireland is more influenced, or, perhaps I may say without offence, more cowed, by the feeling of the majority than that in England or in Scotland. These are reasons why that matter of the representation of the minority ought to be thoroughly considered; nor can we, I think, altogether forget this fact, that, after all, the real question which divides Parties in Ireland is the question of the Union with this country. That is the real question between the Unionists, those who wish to be connected with England, and those who do not; and while I would not refuse to Ireland her fair share in the representation, or to her householders their fair share, because they may hold views on this most important Union Question differing from mine, yet I do say that the fact that this minority are in favour of the connection with England is no reason why they should be prevented from getting their fair share in the representation. I am afraid I must touch on another Irish matter, and that is not merely the redistribution in Ireland, but the apportionment of votes to Ireland—that is to say, the share which Ireland ought to have as compared with England and Scotland. I confess I am sorry to have to say a word about this 1190 question; but my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—I am so glad to see him here to-night—will excuse my saying that I feel it to be almost necessary, after the statements he made, and also after what was said by my right hon. Friend the senior Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright). I should have been quite content if the effect of the statement of my right hon. Friend had merely been that fair consideration should be given to the claims of Ireland when the Government had to consider the question of redistribution; but I must say that I cannot be committed to the doctrine either that the present numbers of the Members of the House must be increased, or that the number of Members from Ireland must not be diminished, whatever may be the change in circumstances. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham quoted the Act of Union with reference to this particular question. He seemed to think there was a one-sidedness with regard to this Act in one particular Article, which Article was to be as a law of the Medes and Persians; but no other Article was to have the same effect. That argument does not carry much weight with me. The Acts of Union with Scotland and Ireland treated the question of the apportionment of Members in precisely the same manner and on the same grounds. The Irish Act, giving 100 Members to Ireland, corresponds almost entirely with the Scotch Act of Union, which gave 45 Members to that country; and in neither of those Acts—or, at any rate, in the particular Articles of those Acts referring to this question—is there any attempt to bind future Parliaments. Yet there are certain Articles which bind future Parliaments. There are, for instance, the Articles with regard to the Church in both countries. Those Articles are almost precisely similar in their wording; but do not let hon. Members suppose that I think those Articles ought to have prevented the passing of the Irish Church Act; nor let it be supposed that, in my view, any advocate of the Scottish Church would have much faith in its security if he thought its continuance depended on the Act of Union. Any Act of Parliament must be capable of modification according to circumstances, if those circumstances have become sufficiently changed to require such modification. This applies, as it seems to me, 1191 in every case. Scotland has been increasing with greater jumps in the last than it has in several former decades, and it is impossible for anyone to say that it will not go on increasing in similar proportion. Ireland during the same period has been decreasing, both in population and in wealth; but it is said that the number of Members given to Ireland must remain the same. In the year 1707, the number of Members for England and Wales was 513; 45 Members were given to Scotland by the Act of Union, making 558; and 100 were raided in 1800 to Ireland by the Act of Union, thus making 658 Members. At the present moment the number is 652; but the vacant scats might be filled up at any moment almost. There has been a very strong feeling, during the whole of this century, that the number of Members of this House should not be increased. The Reform Bill of 1832 gave eight additional Members to Scotland and five to Ireland; the Reform Bills of 1867 and 1868 gave seven Members to Scotland. This made an addition of 20 Members to these two countries, and the whole of them were taken from England. I do not pay that that was not fair enough at the time; but I do say that I do not consider that that is the condition necessary for all ages in the future; and the fact is worth bearing in mind when we hear it said that there should be a fair proportion kept up between the three countries. The Act of Union is a dangerous illustration for those who say that the Irish representation ought necessarily to remain as it is at present, because it is impossible to forget the principle upon which the apportionment was then made. Speeches which were then made prove that this principle was that the Members should be apportioned in the Three Kingdoms upon a combination of population and taxation. I do not suppose that our Scotch Friends would object to that rule of taxation rather than that of population, for I imagine they would rather gain by it. But, on the other hand, Irish Members would object to it, because it would reduce their representation far lower than anything I have imagined possible; and at once I will tell them I should support them in their objection because it is contrary to my ideas as regards representation, and contrary to the ideas held by a large majority 1192 of the Liberal Party, to look at taxes in preference to human beings. Perhaps, however, I may be allowed to state my opinion that if there are any hon. Members opposite who think they could get a better redistribution from the Conservative than from the Liberal Party, that has not been the doctrine of the Conservative Party hitherto. My right hon. Friend the President of the Pool Law Board (Sir Charles W. Dilke), in a very important speech which he delivered during the Recess, said he thought the registers would be the best guide; and he prophesied that figures would show that Ireland ought to have a share in the entire representation of the United Kingdom which it has not at present. When, therefore, some figures were produced by the Prime Minister in bringing this Bill in, I not unnaturally considered those figures, and found that they arrived at a result which would make a very great change. I myself, however, admit that not only numbers should be taken as a fair test, but I would also take into consideration the number of voters rather than the number of votes. But from this point of view it must not be forgotten that, while England and Scotland have been increasing by vast strides in population, ns well as in wealth, Ireland has been decreasing in both. Questions have been asked as to what is likely to be the case in the middle of next year, when it is supposed that the Redistribution Bill may be under discussion in Parliament. As far as I can discover from careful examination of the Statistical Returns, Ireland ought then to have 91 Members, instead of 105; Scotland 71, instead of 60; and England and Wales 496, instead of 493. There is only one other figure which I think it necessary to trouble the House with, and that has reference to the number of families as shown in the last Census Returns. I allude to this, because the principle of the present Bill seems to me to be family voting—that is, that the heads of families are to have the voting power. Taking it on this principle, Ireland would lose 17 Members, Scotland would gain 11, and England 6 Members. With these facts before us, can you be surprised that we decline to pledge ourselves to the propositions, either that the numbers of this House must be increased or that the numbers of the Irish 1193 Members must not be reduced? How will any Redistribution Bill work? In the first place, some boroughs must necessarily be disfranchised, and their seats given to the counties and the large towns; and, above all, a number of Irish boroughs will have to be disfranchised, some hon. Members say that when we have disfranchised certain Irish boroughs, we must give the seats so obtained to Irish counties or towns, notwithstanding the fact that there may be many English or Scotch counties and large towns which are much more clearly under-represented. I cannot accede to that proposition, Such a proposition may be supported as a concession to Irish Members; but to my mind such a concession would be a very dangerous precedent, especially when we bear in mind the views and the plans of Irish Members. I have already said that I would not refuse Irishmen a vote because they may wish to separate from us; but, on the other hand, neither would I give them more than their share of representation on that account. The utmost that any Irishmen have a right to demand is, that they should be treated on terms of the most perfect equality with the inhabitants of the rest of the United Kingdom; while we, on our part, ought to treat them without fear and without favour. This Bill has been rather cleverly called by the hon. Member for Rutland (Mr. J. W. Lowther), in his very able speech, which shows that in his person we have secured a real accession to the debating power of the House, "a Centrifugal" Bill; and, perhaps, the most plausible argument that has been put forward on behalf of giving Ireland more than her fair share of Representatives is that she is so far away. The theory that the further a place is from London the more Representatives it ought to have may have been a good one in times gone by, but it does not apply now. When the roads of England were scarcely worthy the name, and when it took weeks to get from the South-West of Ireland to Liverpool—as at the time of the Union—the argument might have been a good one that the Representatives should be increased in proportion to the distance from London; but it would be an absurdity in the present day, with our swift steamboats and our railways. The reason, Mr. Disraeli used to say, 1194 why so many places had two Representatives was, that if one were killed on the road, his Colleague might be able to reach London. But what is the state of things in this respect in the present day? We see the hon. Members who represent the Cornish or Scotch constituencies quite as frequently as we do those from any other part of great Britain; and, certainly, the fact that Ireland is some distance from London does not in the slightest degree prevent our hearing of Irish grievances. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister made a special remark in reference to London, It is altogether beyond doubt that, in any redistribution scheme worthy of the name, the Metropolis must get a large increase of representation. Everybody admits that. I do not, however, suppose that London will get anything like its fair share. [Mr. GLADSTONE: Why not?] The right hon. Gentleman says "Why not?" I am glad to hear him make that remark. There is no real reason why London should not obtain its fair share of representation; but I do not think it will, because it can only get that fair share from other constituencies, and they will fight very hard for their seats. Yet, there is nothing in the condition of London that makes it just or reasonable that it should not have its fair share of representation. London is not only the largest City in the world, but it is the most orderly and most easily-governed City in the world, and it is the most law-abiding City, and therefore I fail to see why it should be treated exceptionally in this matter. Why should London be treated differently from the Metropolis of every other country, whether we take those of Germany, France, or Italy? In respect of education and general intelligence, London is not inferior to the other large towns in England. [Mr. LABOUCHERE: No, no!] The hon. Member for Northampton cries "No!" but, in my humble judgment, the charge of want of intelligence cannot be brought against the majority of the inhabitants of London, although it may apply, perhaps, to certain newspapers which are published in it. The contribution of London to the taxes is notoriously far above the average of other English towns. But London is not only the richest City in the world—it contains many thousands of the poorest of the 1195 Queen's subjects. I see no reason why its riches or its poverty should stand in the way of London obtaining its fair share of representation. Indeed, in its poverty, I see a strong reason why it should receive its fair share; because, if it had been better represented, the question of the relief of that poverty might have received better attention at the hands of this House. Indeed, it is more difficult to obtain expressions of public opinion and to get the action of popular opinion in London than in any other part of the United Kingdom; but it must not be damaged by any notion that there is anything in its condition to make it just or reasonable that it should be treated unfairly in the matter. In conclusion, I might appeal to those who, like myself, are very earnest in this Reform matter, but who, like me, may not entirely approve the hints which have been thrown out with regard to redistribution. I will support the Government in its policy of the separation of the two questions of the extension of the franchise and of redistribution, and I shall not be tempted by any amount of argument with regard to redistribution to endanger the Bill. I care so much for the Bill that I will not support, but will do my best to oppose, any Amendment which will endanger it; and I apply that to the clauses of the Bill, as well as to the redistribution question, although there are one or two which I would rather have seen differently framed. I regret that plurality of votes for property is maintained, and that county votes in boroughs are to be retained; but, if the Government feel that, to make any alteration in those respects, will endanger the Bill, I accept their view; and, after all, those are details which are not to be weighed for one moment with the great principle of the Bill, either in theory or in practice. It is true that by the help of these clauses, a few men may keep more votes than they ought to have; but by the Bill 2,000,000 of voters, who ought to have had the vote long ago, will have it now. I will not for a moment disparage the magnitude of this measure. There are some who honestly fear what may follow, and there are others who may have hopes that, by the help of this progress in popular government, they may be able to promote movements for which I have no sympathy, and to pass measures 1196 which I should do my best to oppose. This is not the time, nor the occasion, to trouble the House with the reasons why, on the one hand. I do not share those fears, or why, on the other hand, I think it probable that those hopes may be disappointed. But let me make one remark applying it to all Members of the House. Pride in our institutions is not a monopoly of the Conservative Party. There is, to my mind, a true Conservatism which is one of the principles of true Liberalism. But, depend upon it, that true Conservatism, no more than true Liberalism, would be endangered by the further development of that principle of sell-government which has been one great cause why England is what she is. The doctrine of numbers pervades and must pervade the representative system. That was made clear by the Act of 1867. On the passing of this measure, not property, not interests, but numbers—human beings—will be acknowledged even more clearly than by the Act of 1867 to be the basis of popular power; and in the belief that that basis is the most sound and the most safe that we can obtain, I thank the Government for this Bill, and I will do what I can to secure its passing.
§ SIR ROBERT PEEL
Sir, the House has listened, of course, with a great deal of interest, to the speech of my right hon. Friend who has just resumed his seat (Mr. W. E. Forster). He has done that which was not done by the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain) on the last occasion of this debate— namely, he has referred to the Amendment of my noble Friend behind me (Lord John Manners), and has told the House what the object of that Amendment was. He said the object of the Amendment was to hasten a Dissolution. Now, I apprehend the object of this Amendment is, that which was aimed at in 1866, to induce the Government to give to the House a complete scheme. But my right hon. Friend went on to say that he recommended the Government, in the event of the Lords throwing out the Bill this Session, to give the Lords a second chance. That was a sentiment which was cheered on the other side of the House. It was quite evident why it was cheered. It was because it would give a great number of hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House an opportunity of occupying 1197 themselves in another Session of Parliament—an opportunity which they probably would not have if there was a Dissolution. But my right hon. Friend said that he was convinced that the object of the Amendment also was, if it succeeded, to place the handling of the representation of the people and the manipulation of the redistribution of seals in the bands of the Conservative Party. Why, of course, it stands to reason that, if the Conservative Party succeed in giving expression to the general feeling of the country in turning out the Government, they would naturally have the opportunity of manipulating the representation by the Bill, if they thought it necessary. Then the right hon. Gentleman referred to Ireland. He is, in my opinion, a man of most robust faith. He has given us a dissertation on the state of Ireland, and he said—"I do think that the Union cannot be maintained unless: this Bill is passed and includes Ireland." Now, I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to say that he is one of the most expert political tight-rope dancers I ever saw in my life. He has made that statement; but I cannot help feeling that his speech must have been very displeasing to the Government. I imagine that the Government, in the, midst of their many defeats, in the midst of their military disasters, and in the midst of the political discredit in which they are, must be pretty well sick of the consolation of their candid Friends. What do we find? There is my right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen), the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. Baxter), the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, and there are others on the Liberal side of the House, who are candid Friends of the Government. In fact, to me, coming back to the House as I do, after a brief absence, it appears that all the clever men are everywhere but on the Treasury Bench, and all the corners on the other side of the House are occupied by refugees, who have fled the Government in disgust, and yet, one after the other, they have given us a series of the most compromising reflections upon this mutilated piece of machinery of State Government which is called the Government Reform Bill. I have observed that there is no surer test, no more certain indication of the crumbling-up of a Government, than when they are 1198 assailed by the repeated candid assurances of their quondam Colleagues and allies. Of course, putting aside the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House—which was not particularly lively—I think this debate has worn a rather languid aspect. It is perfectly true that the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary of the Local Government Board (Mr. George Russell) said, on the last night of the debate, that it was high time for him to strike a livelier chord. I respect the abilities of my hon. Friend; but when he talked of striking a livelier chord, the chord must either have snapped in his fingers, or else he forgot the tune, for it was curious to observe how indifferent the House was to the merits of a Bill which had been clearly introduced, not in the high patriotic spirit mentioned by the Prime Minister, but for the purpose exclusively of giving a Party manipulation to the electoral franchise. Now, when I make use of the expression "languid," of course I must exclude the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. The right hon. Gentleman spoke in most unmeasured terms on the last night of our debate, and with a license that would have been more suitable for a platform at "Wolverhampton—[An hon. MEMBER: Birmingham.]—than for the arena of the House of Commons. I refer to Wolverhampton, because the speech which we heard here was almost a repetition of a speech which he made at Wolverhampton. He proceeded to make a speech the most mischievous, the most inflammatory, and, if I may use the expression of my noble Friend (Lord George Hamilton) on Thursday evening, the most ill-conditioned that perhaps ever was delivered from the Treasury Bench by a Cabinet Minister. Why, from his handling of the Reform Bill—and, recollect, he went off on a side issue, and never referred to the Amendment of my noble Friend—one would have supposed that we were on the eve of a revolutionary epoch, for the right hon. Gentleman, in very vindictive terms—and it ought to be remembered that he had as Colleagues the noble Marquess and the right hon. Gentleman, whom I am glad to see in his place again, in that Government of Compromise—made the most direct appeals that I ever heard to the very worst passions that can be engendered by 1199 ignorance, by poverty, or by a sense of injustice. No doubt, his words are ringing still in the uncomfortable ears of the Treasury Bench; but, in my opinion, they ought to be placarded all over the country in order, to show the people the man who is the Colleague of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I will give an extract from the right hon. Gentleman's speech with regard to the delay in bringing in a Reform Bill—What has happened in consequence of the agricultural labourers not having a voice? They have been robbed of their lands, they have been robbed of their rights in the commons, they have been robbed of their open spaces. These proceedings are going on still. The agricultural labourers are still being robbed. We cannot go into a single country lane"—I wish the House to note the maliciousness of what follows—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. But 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.I maintain that this is a direct appeal to mob violence. I maintain that this is a direct holding out of a bribe to the most ignorant classes of this country— ["No, no!"]—not the most enlightened, at all events—as an inducement to support the most Radical section of the Government when they receive the franchise. There is another point to which I would call the attention of the House, and that is the eager disposition of the right hon. Gentleman, as a Member of the Cabinet, to charge his political opponents with having committed robbery, or something worse. We all know that there are charges which he has made with regard to the mercantile classes of this country. If that is the language to which they are treated in dealing with this question, we shall know how to meet it. But, of course, we know perfectly well that, in this Government of Compromise, these extraordinary statements of the right hon. Gentleman will be duly watered down in the proper course by his less ardent Colleagues. A remark was made on Thursday by a supporter of the Government which was worthy of notice. It was that the present Government came into power for two objects. One was to reverse the policy of Lord Beaconsfield, and the other was to pass this Reform Bill. This is not the 1200 time to deal with the reversal of Lord Beaconsfield's policy. It is enough to contemplate the ridiculous position in which, the Government have placed themselves in their endeavours to reverse that policy. But as regards Reform, if they were elected to bring in a Reform Bill, and they have delayed, as my noble Friend the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton) has pointed out, to introduce their Bill till 1884, why have the supporters of the Government been so listlessly indifferent? Why, I can see that they hate it. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke before me had hardly a good word to say for it. ["Oh, oh!"] The real truth is, that "the best House of Commons in this century," as it has been called by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, cannot reconcile itself to this measure. Why is that? Why, because it is evident that the attention of the country and of Parliament is absorbed by the current events of the day. We are all eager for some sound, useful, domestic legislation other than this Bill. We are all anxious for such legislation. The Government had a lesson on Friday night—a lesson which I hope they will not forget. If they do forget it. I trust that the Opposition will be careful to impress it upon them. That lesson shows the sense of the House in favour of some sound useful legislation. I recollect that a Question was recently addressed to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department upon the Lunacy Laws. There cannot be any Question more proper to be addressed to the Government in their present dilapidated condition. The right hon. Gentleman, in his reply, on that occasion, made one of the most sensational speeches that we have had from him this Session. Now, what is the reason of all this? Why is it that this Bill cannot engage the attention of the House? We all know the truth is, this Bill has been thrown upon that Table—has been thrown in our faces—as a compromise with the Radical section of the Government, and in order to redeem a hasty pledge which everybody on this and many moderate Liberals on that side would have been very glad to get rid of. ["Oh oh!"] I speak for myself; but I am certain that I speak the opinions of a great many on this side of the House, when I say that nobody would 1201 be opposed to a fair and equitable measure for the good of the country, if it were proved to be necessary. [Laughter.] I refer, of course, to Reform. But what have we in this measure? It is nothing less than an attempt to assign to 2,000,000 of people, amongst whom are many of the most ignorant—["No, no!"]—certainly, the most inexperienced, in this country, the immediate and the absolute control of the vast machinery of the State. What is the reason of that? The Prime Minister gave us the reason on introducing the Bill. He said that the object of the Bill was to rally, in one solid compact mass, all classes of the community around the ancient Throne. That is very beautiful and very decorative language; but it is entirely different from the language we heard from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. His was an appeal to mob violence. Rallying around the ancient Throne never occurred to the right hon. Gentleman. All I can say is, that if the ancient Throne stands in need of those crude and ill-digested schemes of our advanced Friends, its foundations are certainly not as secure as the Constitutional feeling of this country would wish to see them. I do not think mush can very well be said about this Bill It is so thoroughly incomplete in all its parts; and the right hon. Gentleman the hon. Member for Bradford, in his speech, which, as I have said, was not of the liveliest kind, produced the impression that he was sensible of the paucity of arguments in favour of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the senior Member for Birmingham, in answering the speech of the noble Lord who moved the Amendment, said my noble Friend had not said a word to show whether he was in favour of the extension of the county franchise or not. Is that to be wondered at? Is there anything extraordinary in that? [Laughter.] Why, the Prime Minister, on whose countenance I am glad to see a smile, spoke for two hours in introducing the measure, and did not condescend to give one single good reason to prove the necessity for its introduction. Personally, I object to the Bill, because it involves great and mysterious changes; and, except on the part of a convocation in a county town, composed of a few scientific Radicals, who are as devoid of judgment as of common sense, there have been no knocking at the 1202 doors of Parliament, as I have heard in years gone by, clamouring for some measure of this kind. There is nothing in my humble judgment to induce the present excellent House of Commons to sign a blank cheque for their future political extinction. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman the senior Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) gave us a speech. The right hon. Gentleman always speaks with authority in this House; but his speech was a very disappointing one, compared with his speech in 1866, when he electrified Parliament by the arguments he used; and the reason he now gave was the absence of arguments, which was so great that he claimed to speak with "a little freedom." My right hon. Friend generally does speak with a little freedom. He said he thought there was nobody against the Bill. There was, I think, a good deal of freedom in that expression. He also said that during the last few months there had been more unanimity on this question than there had been on any question for many years; but he abstained from proof, which was the very thing wanting. Of course, that is what the French call a façde parler. In speaking with a little freedom, in the absence of arguments, the right hon. Gentleman brought in the "Old Woman of Warwickshire," who had written to him, as if that had anything to do with the Amendment, and the Conservative Peer who had told him that it was a good Bill. It is not for me to question the propriety of the right hon. Gentleman's aristocratic relations; but, as he said that the hon. Member for the City of Cork was not a fool, he mentioned a category to which, undoubtedly, the "Old Woman of Warwickshire" and the Conservative Peer belonged. And then the right hon. Gentleman went on to say that he took his stand on the Act of Union. Sixteen years ago the right hon. Gentleman called the Act of Union a rotten old piece of parchment; but it suited his purpose then so to describe it. It is a pleasure for me, who have known him for 35 years, to see him taking his stand upon anything. During the whole of his distinguished political career, his attention has been directed to knocking down everything; and it is refreshing to observe the right hon. Gentleman standing up for anything which, at all events, savours in some degree of one of the fundamental principles of the British 1203 Constitution. But when the right hon. Gentleman took his stand, his well known finger of scorn was pointed with a good deal of emphasis to the Irish Benches. As he had said, the right hon. Gentleman said that the hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of Cork was no fool. Anyone must he a fool if he could not read between the lines of the part of the speech which the right hon. Gentleman addressed to the Irish Benches. It was meant to catch the Irish vote. But after four years of blundering, after suppression of the freedom of the Press, and the right of public meeting, after coercions without number, and the most inconceivable errors into which the Imperial Government have fallen in the administration of affairs in Ireland, it is too late to catch the Irish vote. It is too late to win back the sympathies of the Irish people after the truculent vagaries of Radical misrule. Why, they are too late in everything; they are too late everywhere; and I hope they will carry the principle of being too late to its logical conclusion, in becoming nothing more than the late Administration. Taxation and population were the bases of the arrangement tinder the Act of Union: but, at that time, Ireland had one-third of the population of the Three Kingdoms, and now only about one-seventh; and there are now in Ireland 21 constituencies with an average of 378 electors, or only one-third of the number in the borough I have the honour to represent. I am surprised at the right hon. Gentleman putting forward the "for ever" argument. All diplomatic Treaties pledge the parties to amity and peace "for ever," only to be broken at the first opportunity; and it will be so, I hope, in the case of the Kilmainham Treaty. But when it is argued that the Act of Union arrangement must be maintained, it is forgotten that statesmanship must be progressive. It must progress with the progress of events. The question of redistribution is of the greatest possible importance, and Parliament ought not to consider it separately. What was said by the noble Marquess opposite? He seemed to be the victim of uncertain opinions just at the time when the country would rejoice to see him take his stand with a bold and determined front; but he said that the demand of the Opposition respecting the redistribution of political power was a reasonable one, and he thought the House was 1204 entitled to have the general lines of what was proposed by the Government in regard to redistribution. Nothing could be fairer than that, and all the Opposition asked was that what was conceded in 1866 should be conceded now—namely, that the Franchise and Redistribution Bills should be taken together. It is impossible for us to pledge ourselves to a half measure, when we ask to have the whole plan. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham said that the Earl of Derby had probably changed his opinions; but the House will recollect a speech made by the Earl of Derby, in 1866, so conclusive that it never was answered, showing the necessity of introducing measures of franchise and redistribution, and of treating them, together. If there was any force in the argument of the noble Earl at that time, it must have 10 times more force now. It is true the Government have said that they intend to pass this Bill this Session; but I doubt very much whether they will be able to carry out that programme. I am not so sure that there are not Members of the Government who think it will be very difficult. The Secretary of State for the Home Department himself, and the noble Lord the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice), gave us an idea that they thought it was not possible for the Government to pass this measure. The words of the Secretary of State for the Home Department were these—"I am sorry to say that it is absolutely impossible for the Government in its present condition to pass any Bill upon any subject." I admit that the right hon. Gentleman made use of that expression in one of his moods of uncertain temper; but, nevertheless, that was the expression he employed, with a good deal of force. I would wish the House of Commons to bear in mind the speech delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen). His speech was full of the most sensible and pungent remarks. Appealing to the moderate Liberal Party, the right hon. Gentleman said—" I want to know will the Liberal Party be prepared to back the Prime Minister in the pledge given that English boroughs are to be disfranchised in order to maintain intact the existing distribution in Ireland?" I think there was great force and weight in that remark, coming, as it 1205 did, from behind the Ministerial Benches opposite. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter), who may be supposed to represent Scotch opinions and views on this subject, also made a speech—a speech of a candid Friend, of course, because he is not one of those who have left the Government in disgust, but his disgust is that he never was called upon to join it. Speaking as the Representative of the opinions of the Scotch Members, the right hon. Gentleman said that—"Until the Redistribution Bill was introduced they—the Scotch Members—felt themselves unpledged, and would take whatever course they thought best, and unless the Prime Minister was careful about his redistribution scheme, he might find himself in a minority." I must say, however, I dissented from him when he said that he had witnessed the introduction for 30 years of measures of Reform, and that he thought this was the greatest and best of them all. I, like the right hon. Gentleman, have seen every Reform Bill since 1850 introduced into this House, and I must say it is really very curious and interesting to observe the circumstances of the birth and the early decease of all those Reform Bills. I have here a statement of the several measures introduced, with the Queen's Speeches upon them, and it really affords us a lesson. It shows that there is nothing absolutely of very pressing importance to hasten the passing this measure now. We had Reform Bills in 1852, 1854, 1857, 1859, 1860, and 1866. On every one of these occasions the Prime Minister addressed Parliament on the subject through the Queen's Speech. Lord John Russell, in 1852, said—This is the fitting time for calmly considering whether it may not be advisable to make such Amendments in the Act of the late Reign relating to the Representation of the Commons in Parliament.Out he went. Lord Aberdeen came in in 1854. Here was the Queen's Speech—It will also be your duty to consider whether more complete Effect may not be given to the Principles of the Act of the last Reign, whereby Reforms were made in the Representation of the People in Parliament.You will observe that the word "calmly" was dropped in this case, because we were on the eve of the Crimean War. Out he went. Lord Palmerston was Prime Minister in 1857. In the Queen's Speech he said— 1206Your attention will be called to the Laws which regulate the Representation of the People in Parliament, with a view to consider what Amendments may be safely and beneficially made therein.Out he went. In 1859, Lord Derby was Prime Minister. Here was the Queen's Speech—Your attention will be called to the State of the laws which regulate the Representation of the People in Parliament, and I cannot doubt that you will give to this great Subject a degree of calm and impartial consideration," &c.Out he went. In 1860, Lord Palmerston again tried his hand. Here is the Queen's Speech—Measures will be laid before you for amending the Laws which regulate the Representation of the People in Parliament.He was far too cunning to try it, and he remained in till his death. In 1866, Lord John Russell was Premier. Here is the Queen's Speech—I have directed that Information should be procured…. When that Information is complete, the attention of Parliament will be called to the result thus obtained, with a view to such Improvements in the Laws which regulate the Rights of Voting in the election of Members of the House of Commons," &c.Out he went. In fact, with the single exception of the case of Lord Palmerston in 1860, who made a Queen's Speech, saying that measures would be laid before Parliament and immediately dropped the subject, in every case those Reform Bills were dropped, and the Ministers went out, probably, a good deal in consequence of their having introduced them. Why should we not ask the Government to introduce a Redistribution Bill now? It was asked and was refused in 1866. I recollect the present Prime Minister was then the Leader of this House, and introduced the measure, which was an Enfranchisement Bill, without any reference-to redistribution. Lord Grosvenor—the present Duke of Westminster— moved, on the second reading, an Amendment to the effect that it was inexpedient to discuss the Bill until the entire scheme was before the House. There was an eight nights' debate on that, and the Government only rejected it by 6 votes. In consequence of the smallness of the majority, the Government did introduce a Redistribution Bill on the 7th of May. The debate was continued upon that Bill; but the Government was beaten—not upon the redistribution scheme, but upon a Motion 1207 of Lord Dunkellin for substituting rate-able for clear annual value, the Government being placed in a minority of 11, I must express my thanks to the House for the patience with which it has heard me. In the opinion of some hon. Gentlemen opposite this may be a great Bill. In my opinion, it is a most mischievous Bill; and I do hope that the House of Commons, as in 1856, will not!give the Government a Party triumph at the sacrifice of principle. This Bill, believe me, never can satisfy the people of this country. We all know the ridiculous position in which, unfortunately, the Government is placed. This Bill is introduced with the intention to divert public attention from the terrible events that are going on. This Bill, in fact, is intended to throw dust in the face of that growing discontent which re-echoes its murmurs from county to county and from borough to borough in condemnation of the policy of the Government. All that we ask, all that any sensible man, I think, will be inclined to ask, is that, if it is necessary to introduce some rational scheme for the representation of the people, it should be based upon some plan of taxation and population combined. The Government refuse to assent to that. They give us half a measure, a mutilated measure—just as if the Radical Party in this country can off-hand, as they think, amend, improve, and reform a Constitution that has taken generations to build up. Recollect, Sir, we have in the British Constitution a most complicated piece of machinery—perhaps, the most complicated the world has ever seen. It was well said by one of the greatest writers—perhaps the greatest man who ever lived—Happy and well-governed are those States whore the middle part is strong and the extremes weak.If you unduly strengthen the extremes, whether in the direction of an Aristocracy or a Democracy, you will, in my opinion, weaken the leading merits of our Constitution. I am in favour of any fair and equitable measure that may be judged to be necessary. I voted in 1867 for the Bill that was then before Parliament, and I am quite ready to grant political power now to those whose industry, whose intelligence, and whose character give them a legitimate stake in the country; but I shall vote for the 1208 Amendment of my noble Friend because I believe the measure of the Government will subvert the existing order of things, and therefore it cannot add to the welfare, the happiness, or the prosperity of our country.
§ MR. CRAIG SELLAR
said, it was not his wish, oven if he had the power, to follow the interesting and lively argument which they had just heard from the right hon. Baronet; but he was sure the House might be congratulated on the return, after a short absence, of the right hon. Baronet. He know he was speaking the sentiment of very many on the Ministerial side of the House when he said they were delighted to hear from the front Opposition Bench a speech so lively and interesting—a speech, in fact, more lively and interesting than any they had hoard from that Bench for the last four years. But, lively and interesting as the speech was, it only seemed to him to be an additional testimony to the wisdom of the Government in introducing what the right hon. Baronet had called a "mutilated piece of machinery." Had the Government introduced a measure dealing both with franchise and redistribution this Session, there would have been no chance of its passing. If he were to criticize the measure, he would say that, if anything, the Bill was overloaded. In a great Reform such as this the commencement ought to be comparatively small. He had thought all along, and he still thought, that if, instead of one complete and rounded measure, the Government had followed precedents, and had introduced three measures extending the franchise to England, to Scotland, and to Ireland, there would have been less chance of serious hostility or opposition, and that the cause of Reform would have been hastened rather than retarded. But he was bound to say that, considering the comprehensive character of the measure, and the uniformity which it proposed to introduce, it had the merit of being one of the most skilfully drafted Bills he over saw. It was simple and well rounded, and he thought it would be found difficult to assail in Committee, because of the elaboration and care with which it had been prepared. The central idea of the Bill was the establishment of universal household suffrage. That was a good suffrage. It was only right and reasonable that 1209 the man who, by his industry and energy, had acquired a household, and had become the bead of a family, should not be deprived of the benefits of citizenship. But, more than that, universal household suffrage was a reasonable resting place. They had heard in the course of the debate indications of the idea that there was no finality in this question of Reform; but he was glad to hear from the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain) that the basis of this Bill was so broad that it was good enough to satisfy at least a generation. There was no doubt that under this Bill there would be many districts where the houses were very poor, and where the people were very ignorant, and perhaps not over industrious. In future these houses would convey the franchise; but he was bound to say that every year, even in the poorest, and most congested districts of England, Scotland, and Ireland, the standard of comfort was rising, and would be helped by this measure. The franchise was a great educating agency. He believed the gift of the franchise raised a man's self-respect, and, what was more, it raised respect for him amongst those around him; and it would act through the United Kingdom as a stimulus to raise the humbler, the poorer, the less educated and experienced people in the path of civilization. That brought him to what he considered the most original and, perhaps, the most valuable provision of the Bill—the service franchise. The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Jesse Collings) spoke of this franchise, it seemed to him, in terms of depreciation. The hon. Gentleman stated that it would enfranchise a certain number of gamekeepers and a certain number of gardeners. Speaking for Scotland, he knew a good many more gardeners and gamekeepers in that country than the hon. Gentleman did, and he knew there was no class of men in Scotland who were mere entitled to the franchise. This provision would have the effect of giving votes to the cream of the unenfranchised people of Scotland. Indeed, but for it he considered that the Bill for Scotland, and especially for the South of Scotland, would have been a comparatively useless measure. A county with which he was well acquainted, but would not name, and the present electorate of which numbered between 1,000 and 1,200, by the opera- 1210 tion of this service franchise would have the number increased by 2,100, consisting of agricultural labourers, miners, and others, living in their employers' houses. The occupation of houses in lieu of wages was customary in the whole of the South of Scotland, and he hoped to hear from his hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh (Mr. A. Elliot), who, it was an open secret, was mainly instrumental in bringing the necessity of this franchise before the Government, and from his hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire (Mr. Marjoribanks), the condition of things in these counties. He was sure no Parliament and no Government would ever have any cause to regret that they abandoned the old groove in which the extension of the franchise used to run, and that, by means of this service franchise, they enfranchised the cream of the peasantry of Scotland. The provisions with regard to the extinction of faggot votes had been received—he would not say with enthusiasm in Scotland—but they had been accepted. There was no doubt that the system of faggot votes was the curse of the representation of Scotland, and had been since 1832. They would have been glad to have seen a more root-and-branch reform of this system; and if they had had a separate Bill for Scotland, he believed they would have been able to introduce such a reform. But they were a practical people. They knew that the Bill dealt with the United Kingdom franchises of the kind of the 40s. freeholder, and that those franchises were not to be extinguished in England and Ireland, and they accepted it, though they regretted the rather meagre provisions they were to have for the extinction of fictitious voting in Scotland. He could say with the utmost confidence that throughout the whole of Scotland the people welcomed this Bill, and considered it to be the greatest Reform Bill of the century, and they hoped that before the end of the Session it might be safely berthed in the quiet haven of the Statute Book. But they did not accept with equal satisfaction the statement of the Prime Minister as to the probable redistribution of seats. With the most of that statement, however, Scotch Members sitting with him did agree. He was pleased to hear there was no intention of introducing any system of electoral districts; that there 1211 would be no displacement of the old Constitutional traditions of the country with regard to the franchise; and also that it was considered necessary to retain the distinction between the town and county. There could be no doubt that the interests and associations of urban constituencies were not always similar—indeed, that they were sometimes antagonistic to the associations and pursuits of rural constituencies. Of that they had a marked illustration in the recent debates on the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Bill; and it seemed to him that it would be more than a misfortune if the distinction between urban and rural constituencies was not retained. He was also glad to hear the Prime Minister say that he did not consider it necessary that closely concentrated populations should have the same amount of representation as wider and more scattered districts; and, above all, the people of Scotland and their Representatives were glad to hear that there was to be a substantial increase of the representatives for Scotland. But it was with regard to the provisions that were to be made for that increase that their path began to diverge from that of the Prime Minister. The right hon. Gentleman was definite and precise as to the nature of the disease; but when he spoke of the remedy he was less definite —indeed, he was almost vague. He mentioned two alternative remedies. The first was that the small boroughs of the South of England should yield seats to make up the representation in Scotland. But there were only 40 of these small boroughs, and he should have thought that most of them, at, least, would be required to satisfy the wants of London and all the great unenfranchised towns of England and the counties that would want further representation. Indeed, he should have thought that if they were to sweep away the whole of the small boroughs in England, there would hardly be material enough to satisfy the requirements of the unrepresented districts of that country. The Scotch Representatives could not forget how the Bill of 1831 was lost. General Gascoigne's Instruction to the Committee to the effect that the representation of England and Wales ought not to be diminished was fatal to the Bill; and Scottish Members believed that the spirit of that Instruction might exist in 1212 this House in 1884. They hardly thought it was possible that England, with all her generosity, could sacrifice a single seat for Scotland; and they were satisfied that if they trusted to the smaller boroughs of England for additional seats for Scotland, that they should be trusting to a broken reed. The other alternative of the Prime Minister was one which, certainly, appeared more hopeful, but which he thought, from the words of the right hon. Gentleman, he was not very sanguine of himself. It was that a limited addition should be made to the number of Members of the House. Was it likely that the House would assent to an addition to its numbers; or that such a proposal would be listened to out-of-doors? He was aware that there was "no magic, no cabalistic charm," as Mr. Disraeli said, in the numerals 658; it was purely a question of convenience what the number of Members of the House should be. In Scotland they should be only too glad to take their additional Members from this source; but they believed that the House would not readily assent to such a proposal—at least, until it had tried every other source. Now, was there any other source? He must look at this as a Scotch Member, and the answer brought him to the point at which his path diverged from that of the Prime Minister. There was another source, and that was the over-abundance of the representation of Ireland. The Prime Minister stated that he would not reduce the proportional share of representation accorded by law to Ireland. What was the history of the allotment of Members to Ireland? At the Union, the Irish Parliament proposed, and Mr. Pitt accepted, taxation and population as a joint basis, and on that joint basis the number was fixed at 100. At that time the population of Ireland was 4,200,000. In 1832 the population had increased to nearly 8,000,000. The taxation at the Union was £3,000,000, and it had increased in 1832 to £4,000,000. In 1832 seats were added to the five largest cities—Limerick. Galway, Belfast, Waterford, and Dublin; but in 1880 the corrupt boroughs of Sligo and Cashel were disfranchised. These seats, however, were not distributed, and the number remained at 105, that number being fixed when the population was 8,000,000, and being still retained now with a population of 5,000,000. In 1832 1213 one Irish Member represented 73,000 people; to-day each Irish Member represented 46,000; while each English Member represented 54,000, and each Scotch Member 64,000 people, or 18,000 more than each Irish Member. On the score of population, there was really no justice in keeping the law of 1832 intact. Taking the question of taxation, the total amount of taxation of the United Kingdom was £73,000,000, or about £110,000 per Member. England contributed £58,000,000, or £118,000 for each Member; Scotland, £8,000,000, or £133,000 for each Member; and Ireland, £6,600,000, or only £64,000 for each Member, being only half of what was represented by a Scotch Member. According to population, England should have 494 Members, Scotland 71, and Ireland 93. According to taxation, England should have 526 Members, Scotland 72, and Ireland 60; but taking the mean, of population and taxation, which was the best criterion, England would have 510, Scotland 71, and Ireland 77. There were many other ways of looking at the question; but the best argument was provided by an examination of the figures bearing on the subject. Looking at the comparative prosperity and comparative decay in the three countries, in England the population decreased between 1871 and 1881 in 30 counties and in 30 boroughs; in Scotland, in the same period, there was a decrease in 13 counties and in one borough; but in Ireland there was a decrease in every county but two, and in more than half the boroughs. In England the number of inhabited houses increased more than 250,000 between 1871 and 1881; in Wales they had increased by 15,000; in Scotland the increase in inhabited houses was known to be very considerable, though the figures could not be accurately ascertained; while in Ireland the decrease was as remarkable as the increase in the other countries, the number having decreased in every county except Dublin; and although in boroughs there was a slight increase over head, there was a decrease in 16 out of 32 boroughs. Would it be a natural thing to give the larger share of government to the country which contributed largely to the Exchequer and received little from it, or to the country which contributed little and received largely? Ireland 1214 contributed every year to the Exchequer £8.000,000 sterling, and received back £7,000,000; Scotland contributed £9,000,000, and received back £2,600,000. Scotland, therefore, contributed £1,000,000 more and received £4,500,000 less, and was thus £5,500,000 to the good. From any point of view, Scotland was entitled to additional Representatives, and Ireland to less. After all, the strongest argument against the Prime Minister's proposition was the weakness of the defence. The arguments in support of that proposition were not addressed to reason, but to compassion. They were arguments ad misericordiam. The right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) had taken his stand on the Act of Union; but the 4th Article of the Act of Union stated how the 100 Irish Members were to be allotted. There were to be two for each county, two for the City of Dublin, one for the University of Trinity College, and one for each of the 30 most considerable cities, towns, and boroughs. If they took their stand on the sanctity of the Act of Union, the counties of Carlow and Louth, with a population under 100,000, would retain four Members, while the boroughs of Portarlington, Mallow, Downpatrick, Dungannon, Bandon, Kinsale, Inniskillen, and Youghal, with 35,000 all told, would have eight Members. The right hon. Gentleman said the Treaty of Union had no doubt been infringed; but these infringements were with the consent of the weaker party. But suppose the population of Ireland, which was now 5,000,000, were reduced to 2,000,000, which, probably, was the amount of population that, from an agricultural point of view, Ireland was capable of maintaining, would they still adhere to the 105 Members? That argument was addressed rather to the heart than to the head. There was no justice in the proposal that the number of Members from Ireland should not be reduced. It had been dictated by the over-abundant generosity of the Prime Minister; but they must be just before they were generous. When generosity to one part of the country inflicted, or threatened to inflict, injustice on another part, its Representatives could not hold their peace. The Chief Secretary said that the people of Ireland had a very keen sense of justice and injustice in their own affairs. But so had the people 1215 of Scotland. The argument he bad been submitting had nothing to do with the proposal to extend uniform franchise to England, Ireland, and Scotland. He believed that in Scotland the Liberal Party were unanimous in thinking that it was just and proper of the Government to make this proposal. If the extension did not apply to Ireland, Irish Members would have a real grievance—a grievance which would excite sympathy on his side of the House; but While they approved of this proposal, they must enter their caveat against the other proposal of the Prime Minister. He (Mr. Craig Sellar) held himself free to net exactly as he thought right when the question of redistribution came forward next year. He could not support, and had no intention of supporting, the Amendment to the second reading of this Bill. He went further, and would ask hon. Gentlemen opposite if they were acting with their usual prudence in giving an embittered resistance to this measure? A Bill of this character was inevitable, and had been made inevitable by the action of the Conservative Party in 1867. If in this or the other House they threw out, the Bill, would they advance the interests of moderation and Conservatism? The Bill was, no doubt, far-reaching; but it was a Conservative Bill. The statement of the Prime Minister indicated a thorough-going scheme of redistribution, safeguarded by propositions which commended themselves to moderate and practical men. If they threw out the Bill, was there not n danger of throwing out what was moderate and practical with it? At the present moment the country was quiet, because it had confidence in Her Majesty's Government, and confidence that they would pass this Bill. If the Bill were thrown out, would the country remain quiet? It would not. He said that in no menacing spirit—he said it us an indisputable fact. The tranquillity of the country would give way to agitation, and the agitation would not be for a measure which commended itself to moderate men, but for something very different; and they might depend upon it, it would be the "something very different," and not this reasonable measure, which would ultimately find its way into the Statute Book.
§ MR. SIDNEY HERBERT
said, that he had been struck by the words of the 1216 Prime Minister in introducing this Bill, where he had talked of giving a slight sketch of a Redistribution Bill, when the whole House and the whole country was in a state of excitement to hear what the scheme of redistribution was to be. Then the Prime Minister had told them that what he was going to sketch out was only to be taken as his own view. Judging from the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman's Colleagues, he thought that the Prime Minister was right in making that reservation if he was to say anything at all on the subject. It was all the more necessary that they should have before them a scheme which expressed not only the view of the Prime Minister, but of the joint stock company which formed the Cabinet. The Prime Minister had told them that he proposed to take away their Representatives from the small boroughs in the South of England, but that the number of Irish Members was not to be diminished. He would like to ask Her Majesty's Government — if there had been a Member of it present—in what way the conduct of the Irish during the last four years merited the boon it was now proposed to give to Ireland? The right hon. Gentleman the Member' for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) had talked of justice to Ireland; that had been sufficiently answered. Then he had referred to the Act of Union; but in referring now to that Act of Union, not only was the right hon. Gentleman proving himself inconsistent, but he was giving a strong argument to the Irish Members when they asked for the repeal of the Union. What had really given birth to the proposition, contrary as it was to the welfare of the United Kingdom, was the dire necessity on the part of the Government to conciliate the Irish vote; but, judging from the conduct of the Irish Representatives in that House, he doubted whether the Government would gain much by the offer of their bribe. The only result would be the return of a stronger phalanx of Irish Members to wring still more from the Government, from whom they had already wrung so much. It was the duty of everyone who valued the integrity of the United Kingdom to resist such a proposal as had been made. Then the Prime Minister had said that he took his stand on the broad principle that as many capable citizens as possible should 1217 be admitted to the franchise; but he had given them no standard of capacity. It might include universal suffrage, or the admission of women to the franchise, or of soldiers and sailors, or of domestic servants; in fact, it gave no limi whatever. Then the Secretary to the Local Government Board (Mr. George Russell) had given them a most interesting speech, in which he had referred more particularly to the agricultural labourers. For his own part, while he did not deny that the agricultural labourers possessed all the qualities which had been attributed to them, especially tenacity of opinion, he was bound to say, with regard to their political knowledge, that he thought it was somewhat limited. He remembered being on a canvass on one occasion and asking au agricultural labourer was he going to vote for him? The labourer said he was not, as he was going to vote for Mr. Gladstone, and from the next observation he made he showed he believed Mr. Disraeli and Mr. Gladstone were in the same Cabinet. If it had been intended that that class should receive a proper share of representation, he should not have looked with so much apprehension on the proposition; but to give them the power of outvoting all other classes was more likely to prove a curse than a blessing both to them and to the country. The feeling in France among the lower classes of that country just before the outbreak of the Franco-German War was so strong and so warlike that no Ruler could with safety to his Throne have resisted it. The lower they went down in the social scale the greater tendency they would find to excitement of that sort; and it was most desirable that a preponderance of political power should not be placed in the hands of the lower and more excitable classes. Again, the agricultural interest, if that Bill passed before they had a proper scheme of redistribution, would be swamped in many parts of the country, and particularly in counties like Northumberland, Durham, and portions of; Yorkshire, where there existed a very: large mining population. They knew; from past experience that the Party sitting on the opposite side of the House had not that regard for the agricultural interest in those matters to which it was; entitled; and when they reflected on the enormous magnitude and importance of 1218 that interest, its just claims would be seen to be well worth fighting for. For these reasons he should support the Amendment, maintaining that there was no reason why that Bill should be made an exception to the rule which required redistribution to be coupled with enfranchisement, and that it was calculated more than any former measure of the same sort vitally to alter the character of the national representation.
§ MR. CHARLES RUSSELL
said, that the considerations for and against the Amendment of the noble Lord opposite (Lord John Manners) had been repeated with almost tedious reiteration, and he would not trouble the House with more than a passing observation on the general question; but, as regarded Ireland in relation to the Bill, he thought there were special considerations affecting the question which had not, in view of their great importance, yet been brought with sufficient fulness before the attention of the House. He would admit, on the general question, that there were plausible reasons in favour of uniting the Franchise Bill with a complete scheme of redistribution—reasons sufficient to catch the votes of those who were anxious to satisfy themselves that they should vote against the Franchise Bill. But he denied they were satisfactory or convincing reasons to those who believed that the broadening of the representative basis on which the Constitution stood would be a gain on the whole, although the measure of that gain might be greater or less, according to the manner of redistribution. Precedent was against the inclusion of a scheme of redistribution in a Franchise Bill. Convenience was opposed to it on this occasion, and either the present or the next Parliament might safely be trusted to deal upon just and right principles with that question. There had run through all the speeches in support of the Amendment one staple argument, and it was in relation to the inclusion of Ireland in the Bill, and to the prospect or promise held out by the Prime Minister that the present number of Representatives from Ireland should not be lessened. He desired to consider this part of the question in some detail. It was to him astounding that hon. Members, especially hon. Members on the Opposition side, could not see that to introduce a Franchise Bill and not to 1219 include Ireland was a political impossibility, and would be a grave political mistake, if possible. He was surprised hon. Members opposite did not see that such a course would strengthen, immeasurably, the position of those who maintained that, although these countries were a United Kingdom in name, they were not a United Kingdom in reality. The argument took another form, and the impossibility of excluding Ireland was made a reason for postponing the Franchise Bill altogether. On that hypothesis the measure was to be regarded as just and statesmanlike; but was it to be said that large numbers of people in England, Scotland, and Wales, who, on that argument, were entitled to the franchise, should not get it, because some persons considered it would be impolitic to grant equal rights to Ireland? But he desired to put the case of Ireland on much higher grounds. He affirmed that, even if no Franchise Bill were introduced for England, Ireland had a case for special consideration. In, he thought, three Queen's Speeches during the present Parliament, certainly in two, a Franchise Bill was promised for Ireland by the Government of the day, and it had not yet been passed. Was it right, or wise, or statesmanlike, that that promise should remain unfulfilled? He would explain the differences between England and Ireland. In England the borough franchise—speaking only of the principal franchise—was exercised in respect of any rated occupied house, or any separate dwelling in a house. In Ireland it was in respect of a house over £4 rateable value, which was equivalent to £5 or £6 rental, and that rental was equivalent to an £8 or £9 rental in England. In counties in England a rated occupation of a tenement of £12 or upwards gave the right to vote—he was still confining himself to the main qualification—but the valuation in England approximated closely to the rental value. In Ireland it was nominally the same valuation: but, practically, there was a great difference, for the valuation of £12 in Ireland was equivalent to a rental value of £18 or £20. It was remarkable that, while the educational standard in the counties in Ireland was about equal to that in the Irish boroughs, the educational standard of English counties was considerably below that in the boroughs. The best way 1220 to show the different practical results of the existing franchise in England and Ireland respectively was to give a few concrete instances. He was about quoting from a pamphlet, recently issued, on Irish statistics, by Mr. Costello, and he would contrast some of the English and Irish boroughs and counties. Tiverton, which returned two Members, had 1,405 voters, its population being 10,462. The population of Dundalk exceeded that of Tiverton, and yet it had only 414 voters —that was to say, they had equal populations, and yet the English borough had 1,400 voters, while the Irish borough had only 400. He (Mr. Russell) was taking the figures at the time of the last Census. Take Galway Borough and the borough of Boston, which latter, with a population of 300 less, had nearly three times as many electors. The figures were—Boston, 3,043 voters; Galway, 1,024. He could multiply similar instances. With regard to the counties. Take, for instance, the North Riding of Yorkshire, and compare it with Galway. The population of Galway County was 222,000, which population had only 4,800 voters. In the North Riding of Yorkshire, which had the same population as Galway, there were 20,212 voters. Donegal had a population of 205,000, which was about the same, rather less, perhaps, than West Kent; and while the English county had 157,000 voters, Donegal had only 45,000. These were startling results. Then there was the mud-cabin argument, which was ventilated in Dublin by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith). It was simply Mr. Lowe's argument about small dwellings, with a now face. As a matter of fact, the Registrar General's Return showed that, dividing the dwellings in Ireland into four classes, and putting mud cabins in the fourth class, they were only about 6 per cent of that class. The percentage of these mud cabins, too, was greatest in certain counties, the general position of whose inhabitants was not the lowest in the country. He referred particularly to the County Limerick, where the percentage was 15, and to Kerry, where the percentage was as high as 17; but they found in those two counties that low and inferior dwellings were not allied with degradation or immorality of the inhabitants, nor were they coincident with a low educational standard. 1221 In dwellings which were pointed at as of mud, and as having only a few windows, it was to be noted that lowness of physical condition existed with purity of domestic and social life. He came now to the argument that Ireland would be exceptionally treated if she were left her present quota of Members. That argument was not well-founded if they adopted the basis given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster)—namely, that the Members should be proportionate to population. He objected entirely to calculations being based upon the probability of the population in Ireland going on decreasing. Why had it been a decreasing population? No doubt hon. Members in the House, who had had charge of the destinies of Ireland, could answer the question to their own satisfaction. He had every reason to hope that the population of Ireland would not continue a decreasing population. He believed a greatly increased, if properly distributed, population over the country might be maintained. Now, excluding the Metropolitan district, his opinion was that England on the whole, was over-represented. The Metropolitan district contained a population of 3,600,000, and had 22 Members. If it had its full quota of Members, fit the same ratio as the rest of the country—namely, about 55,000 of population per Member—it ought to have 68 Members. What hon. Member had yet said that the London Metropolitan district should get 68 Members? No one said so. The most that was suggested that she should get was 40 or 50 Members. How stood it, then, excluding the Metropolitan district, with the rest of the country? England had 420 Members; she should have 390 Members. Wales had 30 Members; she should have 25 Members. Scotland had 60 Members; she should have 70 Members. And Ireland, excluding the two University Members, had 101 Members; it should have 97 Members, and, adding the two University Members, she would have 99 Members. He was arguing on the ground that the Metropolitan district should not get 68 Members; and, not getting that number, Ireland would be entitled, out of the number which that Metropolitan district would not secure, to at least 4; so that, adding these 4 to the 99, she would 1222 have her present quota of 103, Sligo and Cashel being disfranchised. Therefore, he would say from these figures it was demonstrable that, on her population, Ireland was entitled to her present quota of Representatives. But the claim of Ireland rested on grounds much broader and much more important than these. It, was said that the bulk of the people of Ireland were discontented, and that the effect of the change made by the Bill would be to sweep away and swamp the Loyal Party; while it would enable the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) to come back to the House of Commons with an increased phalanx of followers of a non-satisfactory character. There was no part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Robert Peel) that he (Mr. Charles Russell) enjoyed more than that part in which he adverted to the speeches of two right hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House—the Members for Ripon and Bradford. These two right hon. Gentlemen seemed to hold in commission the office of the "candid friend" of the Government. This much he would say of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford—that if a speech that savoured of want of generosity towards Ireland had to be delivered, he ought to leave it to someone else, He listened with interest, too, to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon, partly because of his great knowledge of a flairs and his great ability, and still more because of the uncertainty that always attended his utterances. There was something inviting in listening to a man and not knowing for certain on which side he would speak or vote. The right hon. Gentleman generally gave his vote to the Government, and his speech to the Opposition; and the Government, he believed, would be quite willing to dispense with both vote and speech. On the point of redistribution as it affected Ireland, both these right hon. Gentlemen were very strong; but what, after all, was the meaning of this argument about the disaffected and the disloyal? Was it that a large mass of the Irish people were dissatisfied with the present state of things? If so, it was quite true; and he would say that the large mass of the Irish people ought to be dissatisfied with much that existed in Ireland. The truth of this matter was that the 1223 Irish people were divided into three classes. There was an extreme Party, who were a small minority, who wished for no change, because a change would destroy their status and importance. There was another extreme Party with extreme views, and who pursued those views by means of which he could not approve. But between those two extreme Parties there stood the great mass of the Irish people, dissatisfied, and justly dissatisfied, with many things that required to be redressed, not unwilling, but anxious, that these should be redressed by Parliament, and not opposed to maintaining the English connection so long as it was apparent to them that they were not sacrificing the good of their country, and the peace of their country, to that connection; but who thought also that Ireland's voice ought to be potent in managing Irish affairs. But then it would be said the so-called Loyal Party would be swamped. Well, he would say little about the Loyal Party. The Loyal Party was mostly composed of the landlord party in Ireland. In their present position, he would say little about them. Many of that Party were at present suffering for the sins of their fathers; and their history was now being written, but imperfectly written, in the records of the Land Commission. This, however, he would affirm of the Loyal Party—and no one who had read Irish history would deny it—that the so-called loyal minority had not been an aid, but a hindrance, to any solid union between England and Ireland. They had been loyal indeed; but this loyalty had had a close relation to their own status and their own interest. But then, again, it would be said that this measure would have the effect of returning an increased phalanx of Members to support the hon. Member for the City of Cork, and a phalanx of an unsatisfactory kind. Unsatisfactory to whom? Since when had it become a Constitutional doctrine that men should return Representatives satisfactory to any but themselves? Were English constituencies to return Members satisfactory to Ireland and Scotland, and Scotch constituencies to return Members satisfactory to England and Ireland? The very essence of Parliamentary institutions was that the people should return Members representing their own views; and surely the day 1224 was past when any persons in that House, and statesmen of any Party, would desire to have hidden from them the real state of things in Ireland. Was there, then, on this Franchise and Redistribution Bill, to be a hocus-pocus, so that the real views of the Irish people should not be made known through the ordinary channel of representation and by Constitutional means? But was it certain, after all, that the hon. Member for the City of Cork would be more powerful with his increased phalanx? Every Party admitted—and he (Mr. Charles Russell) supposed what everybody admitted must be true—that, whether this Bill was passed or not, the hon. Member for the City of Cork would come back with an increased phalanx of supporters. That being admitted, he would ask every reasoning politician whether the hon. Member would be more powerful with 100 Members with a great grievance redressed, or with 50, 60, or 70 Members with a great grievance unredressed? Well, admitting that the worst would happen as to the Members sent by Ireland if this Bill were extended to Ireland, surely it would be true statesmanship and a wise policy for men of every Party to encourage the belief in the efficiency of Constitutional agitation in Ireland, and the hope that redress was possible from that House. He would ask this question—Was it desired by any Party in that House that the fulcrum of Irish politics should be in America? There were only two methods of redress in a free State—revolution and reform. A distinguished statesman belonging to the Party opposite said that, in Ireland, the first of these remedies was impossible, for a great and powerful country. England, was united with one, Ireland, comparatively weak. "Therefore," said Mr. Disraeli—for he was the politician—The first being impossible in Ireland, it was the business of England to do by reform what the country itself, under different circumstances, would do by revolution.These words were uttered many years ago; but they were as true to-day as ever they were. He would say, finally, that the condition of Ireland was exceptional, and that wisdom and justice alike demanded that, on this question of redistribution, she should receive not only just but generous treatment. Why? First, because hon. Members from Ireland, 1225 men holding even his views, did not represent opinions that were popular in that House; next, because they addressed themselves to questions not fully understood by even the most painstaking in that House; but, above all, because they (the Irish Members), always in a minority, had not behind them, backing them up and giving weight and substance to their contention, that influence which English and Scotch Members had of a great public opinion which that House always recognized as a force in that House. He need not say that they had the public opinion of Ireland to back them up; but that was an opinion which rarely arrested the attention of the House—which rarely had any influence there, except when accompanied by agitation—aye, oven lawless agitation! For these special reasons, he would say that, on this question of redistribution, any Government should be slow to lessen the number of Irish Representatives. What was the position in Ireland that day? Englishmen governed in England, Scotchmen governed in Scotland, but Irishmen did not govern in Ireland. An Englishman Lord Lieutenant, an English Chief Secretary, and, by way of variation, a Scotchman Under Secretary; and they governed by means of stipendiary magistrates, who were accountable to them, and not to the people. Even on the Boards of Ireland, which were mainly administrative, the leading posts were filled by Englishmen and Scotchmen. How would Englishmen or Scotchmen like it if Irishmen ruled in England or in Scotland? It was true—strictly true—to say that there was no country on the face of the earth—except it might be Egypt—in which, at this time, the people of the country had so little control in the government of their country as the Irish people. But more; the Government of Ireland was a Government by Governors who were not, and who did not consider themselves, responsible to the people whom they governed. He was not to be understood as attacking persons, but principles. The Governors of Ireland were responsible, and considered themselves responsible, to that House, in which Irish opinion was, under ordinary conditions, little felt, and in which Irish Representatives, even if united, had no controlling voice. These were some of the reasons why the 1226 Irish people were gravely—justly—dissatisfied with the existing state of things in their country. They were also some of the reasons why, upon these questions of franchise and redistribution, statesmen of all Parties should treat Ireland with at least even-handed justice. The Irish problem had taxed, and taxed in vain and for years, the statesmanship of England. It seemed still far from its satisfactory solution, yet its solution was more important for the prosperity of the Empire than any other question, home or foreign. How and when its solution would come no man could tell. But one might at least say, with certain confidence, that one important factor in the solution of the problem would be weakened if, at this juncture, either from perversity, or perplexity, or distrust, Parliament dealt otherwise than with justice and with generosity on these questions of franchise and redistribution with the Irish people.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down had based his whole speech upon the actual fact that Ireland was a part of the United Kingdom, and everyone of his sentences and arguments had sprung from that admission and that fact. Yet when the hon. and learned Gentleman came to deal with the Irish people and their Government, he complained that they were governed solely by Englishmen, who were not responsible to the Irish people, but to the House of Commons. But the House of Commons represented the United Kingdom; and as the whole argument of the hon. and learned Gentleman was based on the fact that Ireland was part and parcel of the United Kingdom, the governors of Ireland were responsible in the House to the Irish people. As to the Bill before the House, it had one great merit, and that was that there was no doubt about its meaning; and that was the point upon which the Prime Minister prided himself when he made his statement on the introduction of the Bill. The Prime Minister had said the Bill was complete in one vital respect—it was absolutely complete as to its area. They had not, however, only to deal with the Bill as introduced; but they had to deal with the matter, as the Prime Minister had said in his introductory speech, negatively as well as affirmatively, and in doing so he found a series 1227 of matters, any one of which would show how far from complete the Bill really was. The Bill—to borrow a word employed by the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Hartington) in one of his Lancashire addresses—was "smitten" with incompleteness. He was not at present going through all those matters to which the Prime Minister had alluded; but there was one particular point to which he must refer, because it had been dwelt upon with so much force and energy by the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down. It was the question of Ireland. Ireland was, no doubt, the part of the United Kingdom in which the Bill would have by far the largest effect; and since the measure was one which vitally affected Ireland more than England or Scotland, they were entitled to ask, before they granted this lowering of the franchise, for a distinct answer from the Government as to how many Members Ireland was to have. In connection with that point, he would also like to ask whether the statement of the Prime Minister was made upon the authority and with the concurrence of his Cabinet? The statement made by the Prime Minister as to his authority was to the effect that he had not the least objection to make a little sketch of his own views; and although he could not commit his Colleagues absolutely, yet, he would not submit them to the House if he believed they were vitally in conflict with the views of the Cabinet. That, however, in his opinion, was not saying much. Then the noble Marquess, too, had felt this same difficulty. The noble Marquess said that the declaration of the Prime Minister was made with the consent and concurrence of his Colleagues, and this view was generally accepted and concurred in by the other Members of the Cabinet, although he did not say that it embodied everything they might wish to be carried into execution, He thought they were entitled—and the noble Marquess would see there was an element of reason in the demand—to ask the Government to make a distinct statement as to what were their views upon this particular point; because upon the question whether Ireland was to have 105 Members or not they were still at a loss to know how the matter stood. The Prime Minister had, it was true, said that the smaller boroughs, of which there were so many in the 1228 South of England, must give way to Scotland and the North of England. But it also appeared that the small boroughs of England were to be disfranchised in order to give Members to Scotland, and also to keep the number of Members for Ireland as they were now. But the noble Marquess had rather modified the statement of the Prime Minister in that connection. The House was, therefore, entitled to have a distinct declaration on the part of the Government whether it was intended that Ireland should retain the 105 Members which she now sent to that House. In the course of debate hon. Members had stated that the number of 100 Members was fixed by Mr. Pitt. The fact was that it was fixed by the Irish Parliament; or at any rate, it was mainly owing to the action of the Irish Parliament itself that Mr. Pitt eventually fixed upon 100, which number was accepted. It was not settled according to population alone, or by the money which Ireland contributed to the common purse. Both elements were taken into consideration. The contribution of Ireland was one-seventh of the contribution of Great Britain, and the population was two-fifths; and, taking the two together, the number was fixed at about one-fifth of the number of Members sent by the constituencies of Great Britain. Five Members were added to the 100 in 1832, for the constituencies of Belfast, Limerick, Waterford, and Galway. But those additional Members were given not directly in respect of contribution or of population; but because of the interests which had grown up in those boroughs, and of the trades and manufactures which had sprung up in them. He had listened attentively to the speech of the hon. and learned Member who had just sat down, who had argued in favour of the numbers standing as they did now. But if they went by population, they found 5,000,000 in Ireland, as against 30,000,000 in Great Britain. In respect of contributions, they found £58,000,000 from England, £8,000,000 from Scotland, and only £6,000,000 from Ireland; so that by no possible combination of the two elements could Ireland claim the same number of Members as she had at the time of the Union. But the hon. and learned Member had argued that if they were to take population, there was London to be con- 1229 sidered, which would be entitled to 68 Representatives. Well, if that line was to he taken, Lancashire would be entitled to about 65 Members; but he did not suppose that she would have that number allotted to her. Then the hon. and learned Member said that London must be struck out of the calculation. Thus the only reason he could urge in favour of his argument depended upon the exclusion of London from consideration. They were, therefore, entitled to a clear answer from the Government on that point. No one had spoken more strongly against Ireland still having 105 Members than the right hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter), or than the hon. Member for the Haddington Burghs (Mr. Craig-Sellar). There was another much respected and honoured Member of the Liberal Party, and a former Member of that House, who had spoken in the same sense. Mr. M'Laren had recently described the proposal as a most extraordinary and dangerous one, which ought to be strenuously resisted. He hoped the Government would take all those facts into consideration, and that they might have from them a distinct and authoritative declaration as to whether they meant to keep 105 Members for Ireland or not. He would now deal with another point. The Bill said that there was to be one uniform household franchise established in all counties and boroughs throughout the United Kingdom; and the Conservative Party were told that if they were opposed to that Bill they were opposed to all Reform; and that as they would have to give way they had better do so with a good grace, and accept the Bill as it stood now. The Prime Minister placed the Bill simply on the ground that it let in an enormous number to the franchise who had it not at the present moment; and the right hon. Gentleman had told the House that to the present constituency of 3,000,000, 2,000,000 were to be added—twice as many as were added in 1867, and four times as many as were enfranchised in 1832; and he went on to say that that was something worth doing. No doubt it was, if you proved that those 2,000,000 ought to have votes. The Prime Minister said the Bill was worth fighting for, simply because it added those 2,000,000. Then the right, hon. Member for Birmingham took exactly the same view. 1230 That right hon. Gentleman said that they were going to call up to the highest functions of citizenship 2,000,000 of men, and that it was just and expedient to do so. No doubt it was if those men ought to have the franchise. He supposed they were all agreed that the franchise was not to be looked on as an abstract right. The very framework of the Bill was against that idea. The only abstract right he (Sir E. Assheton Cross) knew that an Englishman, or the inhabitant of any country, possessed, was that he should be well governed, and remain as free as possible. He had not an abstract right to govern; but an abstract right to be well governed. The Bill was intended to establish a uniform household franchise. But it only did so in name and not in fact, and it would create greater anomalies than already existed. The hon. and learned Member who had just sat down gave instances of that in Ireland, and had complained—justly and properly complained—that there was really a higher franchise in Ireland than there was in England. The county franchise was £12 in each country; but in England that sum much more nearly represented the real rent than in Ireland. In fact, in Ireland, it might be taken that there was really an £18 franchise, and not a £12. After this Bill passed there would be still greater differences between one part of the country and another. In many parts of the country there would be men who were voters, and yet who were inferior in social status and in intelligence to others who had not got a vote in towns. Therefore, the demand for another Reform Bill would come, and the representation of the towns would be lowered to the standard of the counties. He had never been against the extension of the franchise as extension. There was no practical distinction between the great suburbs of great towns and the towns themselves. It was absolutely necessary, in common justice, that those persons should be enfranchised. In his own county (Lancashire) there were 45 places having more than 10,000 inhabitants each, and they did not possess the franchise. They ought, undoubtedly, to have the franchise by some arrangement of grouping or otherwise. If they went from England to Ireland the anomaly would be greater. No one could pretend that the inhabitants of the Irish 1231 cabins were in anything like the same social scale, so intelligent, or so well educated, as the men who had the franchise in the English boroughs. Therefore, by the proposed uniformity they clearly let in a lower class, and what was called uniformity became an utter sham and unreality. The noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) had said the other day that the agricultural interest would be well represented under this Bill, because the agricultural labourer would represent it; and that if the farmer and the landlord suffered from the way in which the labourer exercised the franchise that was their own fault, because they ought to have educated him long ago. Taking the North-Eastern Division of the county of Lancashire, which the noble Marquess represented in everything except politics, he found that the population in Parliamentary boroughs was 178,730, while the population outside the Parliamentary boroughs was 238,355. From that body they had to get the agricultural interest, which was to be so fairly represented according to the noble Marquess. Out of the 238,355 people there were living in eight towns of from 10,000 to 25,000 inhabitants no fewer than 147,000. Those were really borough constituencies for all practical purposes. If the Bill passed in its naked form where was their agricultural interest? The result was that they had only left as a really rural population about. 70,000 persons; so that unless they had a Redistribution Bill which took the boroughs out of the rural population, the 70,000 would be swamped by the 147,000 in towns. Was it not an absurdity to call such, an arrangement as that one calculated to represent the agricultural interest? The Government were on the horns of a dilemma as to Ireland. If the Bill was to go on, he agreed that it would be very difficult not to extend it to Ireland, although not to the same extent. But he, unhesitatingly stated that whatever might be the state of Ireland, the moment they presented this Bill their Coercion Laws should be given up. He did not believe that in the history of the world there was ever a nation where the Government said to the people—"We offer you a freer Constitution than you now possess; but we shall keep the exceptional fetters with which you are bound still on." If they kept these 1232 fetters on the Irish they could not find fault with the latter if they used the power with which it was now proposed to endow them for the purpose of striking off those fetters. If, as the Chief Secretary and other Members of the Government told them, they could not govern Ireland without these penal clauses, then they ought not to extend the franchise in that country. It had been said— "Let these irreconcilables come into Parliament that we may hear their arguments." But if their object in coming was to make Parliamentary government ridiculous, if their avowed object was to bring about a separation from this country, then those who were determined to maintain the integrity of the Empire could not too soon put down their foot and say—"We do not want separation, and therefore we do not want to hear your arguments." The right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Forster) had said that the only remedy for the state of things in Ireland was to give the minority a fair share of political power. But the House had heard nothing upon that point from the Members of Her Majesty's Government. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had remarked the other day, in reference to the representation of minorities, that the system was absurd, ridiculous, and irritating. The noble Marquess himself said it was desirable that the franchise and redistribution should be dealt with in one Parliament, and he also admitted it was desirable that they should, if possible, be dealt with in one Session. The only way to do this would be by a general desire to cooperate. At all events, a whole Session should be given up to dealing with this great question of Reform. Probably, if they had had only this one Government measure with redistribution at the end, they might have been able before the close of the Session to make a considerable advance towards the desired object. He thought that Lord Derby's speech had never been answered. His Lordship, then Lord Stanley, said in 1866—What we really want is some guarantee that the body which deals with the question of enfranchisement shall be in a position also to deal with the question of the redistribution of seats."—(3 Hansard,  1169.)A Dissolution might take place, and then there would be no redistribution of seats. The result would be this 1233 anomaly. There would be an appeal to the country under a provisional Constitution. Some time ago they heard about the question of registration, and it was stated that a Registration Bill was to be brought forward. Had the Government never contemplated what would occur if a Dissolution took place before such a measure was passed? To have a Dissolution on such a franchise as was proposed without redistribution and without a better system of registration would lead to frauds which it would he impossible to check in placing voters on the register. What they really wanted was some guarantee that the same body which dealt with the franchise should be in a position also to deal with the question of the redistribution of seats. Both of these subjects ought to be dealt with in one Parliament, and certainly not in two. It had been said that if a large body of Members in that House determined to ignore Reform there would be an agitation in the country. That was not a fair way to put the matter. They on that side of the House were not against Reform. ["Oh, oh!"] He could honestly say for himself that he had never made a speech against it; but he would not vote for a Bill which did not tell its own story; which pretended to be complete and was incomplete; which affected to be a reality and was really only a sham. If they were to go to the country they would tell the people the truth, and the whole truth. They would say they wanted to see the scheme of Reform in its full extent to which the country was to be committed; and that when it was brought forward they would be prepared to make the best reform which was possible for the interest not of one class only, but for the interest of all the classes of this great community, and the welfare of this enormous Empire.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
Sir. The speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. Forster) was a serious and a weighty one, such as might be expected from a statesman with such a deep sense of responsibility. The speech of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Huntingdon (Sir Robert Peel) was the very reverse. It was flighty; it was amusing; it was illogical. Every Gentleman on this side of the House must be glad again to hear the voice of the right hon. Baronet, and 1234 to admire his style, which has great charms that conceal a multitude of offences in substance. From his speeches at Huntingdon we were led to believe that the right hon. Baronet would take his seat beside the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill), and play second fiddle in that little band of militant Conservatives below the Gangway. But, to our surprise, the right hon. Gentleman has taken his seat on the Front Opposition Bench, among staid and respectable ex-officials. Speaking from that place, his speech does not appear to be altogether appropriate; and the occupants of that Bench appear to be rather frightened at the right hon. Baronet's excesses, and to regard him in a manner which recalls the homely simile of n bull in a china shop. The right hon. Baronet did not add much to the arguments that have been used; but he indulged in what have been called the fallacies of vituperative personality, which were directed against my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, who appears to occupy the proud and enviable position of a lightning conductor to the Government, and to attract to himself and divert from his Colleagues all the vulgar abuse which is in the air. But, in 1866, the right hon. Baronet sat on the Liberal side of the House, and a reference to Hansard shows that he voted against an Amendment analogous to this, although in Committee upon the Bill he voted for the Amendment, which had the effect of turning out the Government. The right hon. Baronet says that this Bill will enfranchise 2,000,000 of the most ignorant part of the population—a description which was cheered by the hon. Member for Mid Lincoln (Mr. Chaplin)—although many of the new voters are identical in condition with many who now have the vote; and it will not be forgotten that the remark and the cheer came from that side of the House. The Government are charged with pandering to the Irish vote; but in the same breath we are told that coercion and the truculent vagaries of the Government will risk that vote, so that the two charges destroy each other. It is curious to trace the similarity in form and substance between the Opposition speeches in 1866 and in the course of the present debate. In 1866, being hostile to the 1235 Bill, and not wishing to meet it with a direct negative, the Opposition produced an Amendment which differed from the present only in this—that it had a Preamble, now wanting, and that Preamble declared that the Opposition were prepared to consider any proper measure of Reform. Are the Opposition more hostile to Reform now than they were then? Precisely the same things were said then as now. The Franchise Bill was declared to be inopportune; it was incomplete; it was not required; there was danger in deferring redistribution, and the existing constituencies would be swamped. In 1866 these assertions were novel enough to produce a certain number of Liberal defections, so that the Government had a majority of only six. The Government felt itself bound to produce its scheme of redistribution; and immediately the zeal of the Opposition for redistribution disappeared, they commenced an intrigue to defeat it, and to throw out the Bill. That intrigue succeeded, and the Bill and the Government were at the same time defeated. The sequel was that the Government of Lord Derby came into Office, and found themselves under the necessity of introducing a measure of Reform far more Democratic than the one which they had thrown out in the previous year. But while their Bill was more Democratic, it contained the most narrow scheme of redistribution over introduced into the House. Lord Derby felt it impossible to carry a wide scheme of redistribution and a Franchise Bill at the same time. That was their excuse for proposing such a redistribution as not only left the existing anomalies untouched, but, in fact, increased them, and made them more conspicuous. It is quite clear that, on the one hand, if a real scheme of redistribution—one likely to be lasting—is introduced at the same time as the Franchise Bill it cannot be passed, because it would accumulate against it the Members for the threatened boroughs, and the passing of such a measure would be rendered impossible. On the other hand, if a measure of redistribution is introduced at the same time as a Franchise Bill, on such a basis as would afford a possibility of its passing, it would be certain to be an inefficient measure, which would not be a settlement of the question. On these grounds I think the Government have, 1236 on the present occasion, acted wisely in not mixing up the two questions in the present Bill, but in dealing, in the first instance, with the franchise. It is said that if the Government attempt to deal only with the franchise now they will not be able to earn a Redistribution Bill until after the Dissolution of Parliament; so that the two questions would have to be deal with by different Parliaments—one elected by the present constituencies under the present franchise, and the other under au extended franchise. If that were so, it would not be the fault of the present Government, whose deliberate intention is, if possible, to deal with the question of redistribution next Session. Every motive of self-interest would certainly impel them in that direction, because no one can for a moment doubt that, as long as a Redistribution Bill is hanging over the heads of certain boroughs in the country, it will certainly not be in the interests of the Liberal Party that the question should remain unsettled. So long as redistribution is hanging over those boroughs it is pretty certain that the Members representing the threatened boroughs will have a bias in favour of the Party opposite. Therefore, it is distinctly the interest of Her Majesty's Government that the question of redistribution should be finally settled before a Dissolution takes place. It will not, under these circumstances, be the fault of the present Government if redistribution is not settled next year. But suppose, through the action of the Party opposite, that redistribution should not be settled next year, and that something should occur which would render it necessary to appeal to the constituencies. In such a case, after all, a Parliament elected under an extended franchise must be ultimately the arbiter. It will determine our Government and our laws, and oven if we carry a Redistribution Bill in the present Parliament, and that Redistribution Bill is not considered sufficient, but is a very small one, it will still be open for a new Parliament to deal with the question again and extend the redistribution. Therefore, I say, that oven supposing that the question should stand over until a new Parliament, I own that I do not, for my part, think that any injury would result to the Constitution. It may be convenient, and it may be far better, that the two 1237 questions should be dealt with by the same Parliament; but I do not see that evil would result to the Constitution from the course being adopted which I have pointed out. I will repeat that it is the deliberate intention of the present Government to deal with the question of redistribution, if they possibly can, during the present Parliament, and in the next Session; and it will not be their fault it they do not succeed in doing so. The question of Ireland in regard to this Bill is a very much more serious one, and I may have to deal with it at greater length. I am glad to observe that none of the hon. Members who have spoken on the Opposition side of the House have contended that Ireland should be dealt with in the Bill now under consideration, Some of the hon. Members who have spoken in opposition to the Bill admitted that if the franchise is to be extended it must be extended in Ireland as well as in England; and although outside the House, before Parliament met this year, it was seriously contended by various persons who represented the Tory Party that Ireland should be excluded from the Franchise Bill, I have not heard a single speaker on the other side of the House who has ventured to make that proposition during the present debate, therefore take it for granted that if the Franchise Bill is to be passed it must be extended to Ireland as well as to England. What has been said is this—hon. Members opposite have used the case of Ireland as an argument against any extension of the franchise at all; and they say it would be dangerous to the Loyal Party in Ireland if any such course be adopted. It has been frequently argued that the extension of the franchise in Ireland will extinguish the Loyal Party in that country. I think the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton) went to a further extreme, than any other speaker on this point. He charged the Government with a deliberate intention of extinguishing at once and for ever the voice of the Loyal Party in Ulster; and he went so far as to say that the Bill would enfranchise barbarism. It has been also urged in many quarters that the Bill should not be allowed to pass into law without some means being devised for protecting the Loyal Party in Ireland. I would venture to ask the House, is it true that 1238 this loyal minority will be completely extinguished if this Bill passes? I do not believe that that will be the case. I speak in the presence of a good many Irish Members, and I have paid some attention to the subject myself, and my deliberate conviction is that it will not extinguish the loyal minority, but that the Loyal Party will maintain its representation, even under an extended franchise, in proportion to its real force in the country. Let me take matters at the worst; let me suppose that the Loyal Party in Ireland is confined to the Protestants in Ireland, with a small sprinkling of the Catholics, which, however, would be hardly worthy of computation. What are the real facts of the case? The Protestants of Ireland are said to comprise one-fourth of the whole population; they are not spread thinly over the whole of Ireland, but are mainly concentrated in the Province of Ulster, and the Province of Ulster contains one-third of the entire population of Ireland. If I except three counties in Ulster in which the Catholics preponderate—Cavan, Monaghan, and Donegal—so large is the number of Protestants that the remaining counties of that Province actually contain one-fourth of the whole population of Ireland, and it would show a majority of Protestants to the extent of 60 per cent. I believe that it is absolutely certain in those districts of Ireland the Protestants, if they are united, will carry all the elections. ["No, no!"] If any right hon. Gentleman opposite is in doubt upon that point I hope he will contradict me; but I think it is perfectly certain that in that part of Ulster, in which the Protestants are in a majority of 60 per cent, they will carry all the elections. If, therefore, the representation be evenly distributed over Ulster, which is not the case at the present time, although it is not far from it, the Protestants of Ireland will secure a number of Members equal to one-fourth of the whole representation.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
I have made some inquiries from Irish Members upon the subject, and I do not believe it is out of the question. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will not dispute the fact that, leaving out the counties of Cavan, Monaghan, and Donegal, the 1239 Protestants in the remaining counties are in, a majority of 60 per cent. There are one or two counties where they are on an equality with the Catholics; but, considering that the Protestant Party have nine-tenths of the wealth and all the influence of the Province, I think it is certain that they would carry the elections in all those counties, and therefore they would secure one-fourth of the representation of Ireland. That is exactly the proportion to which their total numbers in Ireland entitle them. But now let me consider what would be the case if a scheme were adopted such as that which has been suggested for securing the representation of the loyal minority in Ireland, on the assumption I have made that the loyal minority is represented by the Protestant Party, which I hope is not altogether the case, although I assume for the purpose of I argument that they are, and would only secure one-fourth of the representation. I But if the minority is to be represented, the Catholic minority in Ulster would claim a proportional representation in Ireland; and with a view to secure the representation of the loyal minority we could not do otherwise than adopt the same principle in regard to England. Then the House must recollect that there is a large minority in England of Irish Catholics. I have endeavoured to ascertain the number of that Irish Catholic minority, and I find from the Census Returns that there are living in England 800,000 Irish Catholics who were born in Ireland, and there are almost as many more Irish Catholics living in England who were not born in Ireland, but were born in England of Irish parents. Adding these two together in England and Scotland, they amount to no less than 1,500,000 Irish. Catholics now living in England, and who, on any principle of proportional representation, would be entitled to be represented and to have the power of sending Members to Parliament. By uniting these together under any scheme of proportional representation that minority would be able to secure a representation in proportion to that which their numbers entitle them to of about 30 Members. It appears to me. therefore, that the Loyal Party in Ireland have more to lose than to gain by any such scheme as that. ["No, no!"] I say, yes; they would certainly not lose 1240 anything like 30 votes. If proportional representation is followed, they would not be entitled, in any case, to more than 30 Members; and in England, on the other hand, there would be 30 Members returned by the Irish Catholic Party. I need hardly remind the House that the Irish Catholics in England are quite as extreme and equally as Irish as the Irish themselves. ["No, no!"] Hon. Members say "No;" but I venture to assort that the Irish Catholics in our manufacturing districts have shown themselves, in the course of the last three or four years, to be in entire sympathy with the extreme Party in Ireland; and I believe if they had the power of combining or grouping themselves together for the purpose of returning Members, they would return men who would sit and vote with the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell). Therefore, I contend that it is beyond contradiction that any scheme of this kind would be most unfavourable to the Loyal Party in Ireland, and it would give a larger representation to the extreme Irish Party in. This House than are now represented. But are we really right in assuming that the extension of the franchise in Ireland would have the effect of returning an increased number of Members belonging to the Irish Party? Is it true that all the new voters would vote absolutely in the same manner as the present voters in the rural districts in Ireland? I think that is an assumption we are not justified in making. One of the principal features in the present condition of Ireland is that the constituencies consist merely of one class—namely, the tenant farmers. The effect of the extension of the franchise would be to add a large class of agricultural labourers; and I cannot but think that after a time questions would arise of difference between those two classes of persons. As it is, there have been questions raised between them, showing that they have separate and distinct interests; and the tenant farmers have, I believe, not shown any alacrity in carrying out the provisions of the Land Act in favour of their labourers. No doubt the labourers will claim privileges under any amendment of the Land Act which would put them at once in hostility with the tenant farmers, because such privileges cannot be obtained except at the expense of the 1241 tenant farmers. Therefore, it is inevitable that there will be a diversity of interests between these two classes of persons; and my belief is that the effect of giving the franchise to the agricultural labourers of Ireland would have a steadying effect upon the tenant farmers themselves, and that we may see before very long a difference of opinion between the tenant, farmers and the labourers of Ireland. That difference is already beginning to show itself; and I may quote the different policies propounded by the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell), and by Mr. Davitt, as an illustration of that difference. I cannot but hope, therefore, that differences of this kind may in the future have a very important affect upon the elections in Ireland. But this ranch I will say—that if we desire that these differences should exist, and if we hope that some effect may result from them upon the Irish elections, the best thing we can do is to include Ireland in the Franchise Bill. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. Forster) emphasized that opinion, that the only principle you can apply to Ireland is a principle of equity, and that that principle must be applied in all the various questions that are certain to arise under the Franchise Bill. If you do anything to create a sense of injustice and wrong among large classes of the people in reference to the franchise, it is quite certain that you will do your best to unite all classes in Ireland against the Government, and against the Legislature of this country. I do not deny that the question of redistribution of seats in Ireland is a very important, or a very difficult question; but this I will say—that if in England and Scotland we were to adopt the plan of equal electoral districts, based upon numbers, it would be extremely difficult not to apply the same principle also to Ireland. Treating Ireland as an integral portion of the United Kingdom, there would be a strong argument in favour of a reduction of its numbers; but if, on the other hand, you do not adopt that principle—and no part of the statement of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister received more general accord than that in which he repudiated the principle of electoral districts based upon equal areas of population—if we 1242 are not to concede to populous districts and to a concentrated population the full number of Members to which they might be entitled on the basis of population—if that principle be not adopted, and its repudiation was certainly received with general accord by the House, the views of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dundalk (Mr. Charles Russell) is a right one—that you must give Ireland the benefit of the principle as well as England. The necessary complement of any such principle would be that the rural portions of England and the outlying districts—such as Wales, and the Southern and Eastern Counties—would all be somewhat over-represented in proportion to population, as compared with London and the other big towns. Therefore, it may well be that Ireland, being a poor country, not having a concentrated population, but being only a thinly-populated country, will have a right to claim that the same principle shall be accorded to her, and that her numbers shall be apportioned to her on the same principle as the Members for Wales and the outlying districts of England. I will not go further into that argument. I have only alluded to it to show that the whole question admits but of one treatment; and that if, in regard to populous districts, you are going to lay down the principle that concentrated populations in London and in the manufacturing districts are not to have their full measure of representation according to numbers, it may well be a question whether the same principle should not be extended even to Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Lincolnshire (Mr. J. Lowther) actually ventured to say that the agricultural interest in England would be entirely obliterated and extinguished in this country, ["Hear, hear!"] Notwithstanding the cheers of hon. Members opposite, I say there was never a more absurd statement made in this House. Has it ever been contended that the manufacturing interest of this country was extinguished by giving votes to the labouring class? And yet, according to the right hon. Member for North Lincolnshire, if we give votes to the labourers in the rural districts, we shall extinguish the agricultural interest. ["No, no!"] That seems to me to be the logical result of his observa- 1243 tions. Now, the agricultural labourers will have a very large proportion of the votes to be created under the Bill— I think about one-half of the new votes will be given to them. ["No, no!"] That is my computation—that of the total number of votes in the counties under the Bill, nearly one-half will be given to the agricultural labourers. I do not say that that will be so in some counties, like Lancashire, because in Lancashire there is a large urban population.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
I am not able to speak as to what the effect would be in Cumberland; but in most of the agricultural counties of England the agricultural labourers will comprise nearly, if not more than, one-half of the new voters. Why should the addition of that number in the agricultural districts destroy the agricultural interest? The labourers will be as much interested in any question affecting the true interests of agriculture as any other class connected with agriculture. What would be extinguished is the hope fostered by the right hon. Gentleman, that if at some time the Tory Government is restored to power there will be a return to protective duties. ["Question!"] Hon. Members opposite cry "Question." I repeat, that the effect of giving votes to the agricultural labourers would extinguish at once and for ever any hope of returning to protective duties. [Mr. J. LOWTHER: Why?] Beyond all question the agricultural labourers will never be induced to vote for a return to Protection. I fully admit that the questions to which I have just adverted are irrelevant to the main issue before the House; but my remarks have been addressed to the Amendment, which is altogether irrelevant to the question of extending the franchise. The real question before the House is, whether the franchise should be extended to the counties? For my part, I frankly admit that I am not one of those Members of the Liberal Party who desire at an early period to re-open the question of Reform. I was one of those who hoped that the settlement effected in 1867 might be a permanent one—at all events, for a generation. Looking at the immense work before Parliament, much of which still remains 1244 undone, I was not myself desirous that we should spend the best part of two Sessions in again considering Reform. But as time went on, after 1867, it became more and more clear that that Act was not a settlement, and could not be defended on any grounds of justice, logic, or expediency. The very magnitude of the franchise then conceded, which was far beyond the intentions or expectations of its authors, inasmuch as they thought they had got hold of a great principle in personal payment of rates which would limit the number of votes, but which turned out to be nonexistent—I say the very magnitude of the extension of the franchise then conceded has operated to prevent the settlement from being a permanent one. As time went on, it became more and more clear that the question must be re-opened. There were two great classes of the community left out of the settlement of 1867, and during the last few years they have been clamouring for admission—I mean the miners of England and the agricultural labourers. As far as I recollect, those two classes did not demand votes in 1867; and it is only within the last few years that they have demanded the franchise. There was another consideration which weighed with me personally, even more than that to which I have alluded, and that is the present condition of the agricultural labourers of this country. I think it is impossible to regard the condition of the agricultural labourers of the country, and especially of the rural districts of the West and East and middle of England without very great concern. I believe they are the only class in the country of whom it can be distinctly said that, within the last few years, their condition has not only not improved, but has somewhat gone back— ["No, no!"] Hon. Members say "No, no;" but I venture to repeat the assertion on authority which cannot be gainsaid. What is the reason of this non-progression or deterioration of the large class of agricultural labourers? I believe it is not far to seek. The fact is, that for many years past there has been a constant drain of the best men from the rural districts into the manufacturing towns, and those who have remained behind are not equal to those who have left. There has been a constant drain from the rural districts 1245 of all the most intelligent, able, and competent men engaged in agricultural operations; and, as a rule, those who have been left behind have been inferior in point of ability and intelligence. Some hon. Members have said; "No;" but I could quote to them many passages from the Report, of the Commission on Agriculture, and the evidence given before that Commission. I will, however, content myself with only one passage, although I can assure the House that there are many others of equal force. Mr. Doyle, who investigated the condition of agriculture in all the Midland Counties, from Gloucestershire up to Warwickshire and Northamptonshire, says—The labourers, generally speaking, are at present not the younger and more active and intelligent class of men one hears and reads of. A great number of the labourers on farms now are old men, or men of weakly constitutions. The truth is that the younger men are drawn off by other sorts of industry—the result is that the farmers generally tell you, and I think with considerable truth, that none but the refuse, as they put it, of the labouring population is left with them.I can quote 50 passages to the same effect from the evidence given before the Royal Commission as to the state of the agricultural labourers in the Southern and Eastern districts of the country. A remarkable article was published not long ago by Dr. Jessop, a Norfolk clergyman, who had spent many years of his life in that county. This is what he says, after an experience of 35 years of the agricultural labourers—There has been, and there is, a constant drain of the best men from the villages to the towns; and physically and morally a steady deterioration in our labourers has been, and is, going on. This is undeniable. It is deplorable; it is menacing.It appears to me that this is not at all unlikely to be the case. What are the inducements to the labouring man to remain in the purely agricultural districts? He can never hope to become the owner of any portion of the land; he can never hope even to become possessed of his home; he must always be in a state of dependence, and cannot hope to became independent. In many parts of the country the number of large farms have increased, and all the small holdings have disappeared. All the steps by which an agricultural labourer could hope to rise to a higher status have been taken away. What, then, is the 1246 inducement to these men to remain in the rural parishes? The House will see that it is very small indeed; and the result has been that a constant drain has been taking place from the rural districts of the best men; and those who are left behind are, on the average, not so good as those who have gone. It appears to me that this is a very serious question, and I commend it to the attention of the House. After all, the agricultural labourers are the backbone of the labour of this country, and the reserve of the labour market for the manufacturing districts. It is, therefore, a serious thing to know that the condition of the agricultural labourer is so bad. What is the remedy? I do not propose to consider at any length what the remedy is; but what I do say is, that the very first thing we ought to do for them is to give them an opportunity of stating their own view in this House. It seems to me of the utmost importance that we should give to the agricultural labourers the opportunity of stating their case; and, with this object, the very first and most important step to be taken is to raise the status of the whole class by giving them the rights and duties of citizenship, not merely in regard to their local duties, but in the Parliament of the country. It is for this reason I feel convinced that it is wise I and expedient on the part of this House to pass this measure speedily; and I feel further convinced that a measure such as this, giving a widely comprehensive, but yet moderate extension of the franchise, is one of the wisest measures the House could pass, and would be permanently beneficial to the interests of the country: at large.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Sir Michael Hicks-Beach.)
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
Before the Motion for Adjournment is put, I wish to make one remark in the nature of an appeal to the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, and it is to this effect—I think the noble Marquess, and the House generally are anxious to conclude the debate before the Easter holidays; but the probability of that arrangement being arrived at will become exceedingly remote if the debate is to follow the course it has followed for the last three nights. I will not say 1247 a word about the positive inhumanity of the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works in detaining the House to an intolerable length, when he was aware that the Prime Minister had intimated a desire, with a view, Sir Arthur Otway, to your convenience, that the House should adjourn at an early hour. I will not allude further to that matter; but I wish to point out this in respect to the Motion for Adjournment—that the whole, or nearly all the debate, has been entirely monopolized by the two Front Benches, and the right hon. Gentlemen who occupy those Benches generally appear to be under the impression that except, at. The dinner hour, the intervention of any private or independent Member is an unwarrantable intrusion which is not to be tolerated. I think we have the right to appeal to the noble Marquess to protect the rights of private Members in this matter. He must know that everything that has fallen from the First Commissioner of Works has been said over and over again, both by himself and the Prime Minister, and the time of the House has, therefore, been uselessly taken up by the right hon. Gentleman. The First Commissioner of Works followed the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross), who also spoke at great length, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huntingdon (Sir Robert Peel), who followed the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. Forster), have also taken part in the debate tonight. It appears to be the belief of right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Benches that it is their privilege, not only to monopolize the right of speaking, but always to speak at a length not less than au hour and a-quarter, or an hour and a-half. Under these circumstances, I think I ought to make an appeal to the noble Marquess, so that if the debate is not concluded at the time the two Front Benches have arranged to conclude it, I may anticipate any charge of Obstruction and waste of time that may be made against private Members who feel themselves called upon to take part in the debate.
§ MR. ARTHUR ARNOLD
I wish to express my deep regret that up to the present time Members, such as the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Broadhurst), have been unable to participate in the 1248 discussion. The adjournment of the debate was moved on one night by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes), on another by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. Forster), and now, on the third, it has been moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Gloucestershire (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) On Thursday night and to-night, not a single English private Member sitting in this quarter of the House has taken part in the debate, although the interests of many of them will be materially affected by the Bill. I certainly think it would be a great advantage to the discussion if men like the hon. Member for Stoke were allowed to take some part in the debate.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
Before the noble Marquess replies to the question of the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill), I should like to put another to him on another subject. I wish to ask him to be good enough to explain how it happened that no Member of the Government was in his place on the Front Bench between the hours of 9 and 10 this evening during the very interesting speech delivered by my hon. Friend the Member for Wilton (Mr. Sidney Herbert), and also during part of the able speech delivered by the hon. and learned Member for Dundalk (Mr. Charles Russell)? My experience of the House enables me to say that such a state of things is not only without precedent, but it is also, in some sense, disrespectful to the House. I may add that long after 10 o'clock there was no Member of the Cabinet on the Front Bench. In my recollection, it has always been the custom for the Government to be present during a debate of this importance; and I really hope that the noble Marquess, having regard to the antecedents of the House, will take care that there is not a recurrence of this very undesirable circumstance.
§ MR. SEXTON
I do not rise for the purpose of making any complaint on the part of the Members of the House with whom I have the honour to act in regard to the management of the debate. We have not chosen, so far, to intervene in the debate, or to express our opinions on the great questions before the House, or the course which the 1249 debate has taken. For reasons of our own, we have deliberately refrained from addressing the House; and in regard to the future, when it occurs to us to address the House we shall know how to secure a hearing. I think there is some force in the observation of the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) that this debate has been conducted, so far, in a manner which has not been favourable to the rights of English private Members, considering that they are so much interested in the question. The opinions of the two Front Benches are well known, and the course of the debate should have been directed to an endeavour to discover the opinions of the independent Members; whereas we have had the not very edifying spectacle of seeing the debate confined to the two Front Benches, and to those "corner-men," who have been humorously described in the debate as "refugees." I hope the noble Marquess the Leader of the House will give to the appeal or note of warning of the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock the attention which it deserves; and that before the Government endeavour to precipitate the conclusion of the debate they will make an arrangement to secure a fair, full, and attentive hearing for the general body of independent Members of the House.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
When the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck) rose, I thought he was going to reply for the Front Opposition Bench to the charge that had been made against the two Front Benches of monopolizing the debate. That charge, so far as it has any validity at all, applies more to the Front Bench opposite than to the Bench on which I have the honour to sit. I was not present myself at the time alluded to by the right hon. and learned Gentleman; for, as the experience of the right hon. and learned Gentleman must teach him, it is quite impossible to attend during the whole of the debate without having same interval for refreshment. As to the part which has been taken by the Government in this debate, I conceive that it has been somewhat smaller than is even usual in a debate of such importance. On the first evening the only Member of the Government who ad- 1250 dressed the House was myself. On the second evening my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Local Government Board (Mr. George Russell) spoke before the dinner hour, but at no great length. The only other Member of the Government who spoke on that evening was my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain), whose contribution to the debate cannot be called immaterial, seeing that it has afforded abundant material for criticism to hon. Members opposite. On the present occasion my right hon. Friend the First Commissioner of Works has been the only Member of the Government who has addressed the House. I quite admit that it is inconvenient and extremely undesirable that in a debate of this kind an undue share should be monopolized by any particular quarter of the House; but I have found that the Government are sometimes exposed to a totally different charge from the present, and that when they do not take part in a debate they are charged with observing a policy of silence. It is difficult for a Government to take an even course between these two extremes; and all I can say is that it will be the endeavour of myself and my Friends to shape our course so as not to render ourselves liable either to the one charge or the other. As to any arrangements that may be made on the other side of the House, I need hardly say we have no control whatever over them; and I would ask the noble Lord to appeal to his own Friends, with whom he assured us the other day he is on terms of the most intimate cordiality. All I can say is that, as far as we ourselves are concerned, I hope that we have not spoken at undue length.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I think it was high time that the rights of private Members should be vindicated, because it would appear from the remarks of my noble Friend that there has been on this occasion an arrangement, not only as to who should speak, but as to the time when the debate should terminate. Probably the two Front Benches may find themselves mistaken in that matter. Upon the question of adjournment I wish to ask the noble Marquess if he proposes to take any further Business to-night? I understand that the object of adjourning the debate is to liberate the Deputy Speaker from the Chair. I find, how- 1251 ever, that there is a Bill down on the Paper as the second Order, in which great interest is taken; and, as far as I am able to gather, there will be no opposition to the next stage—namely, that the Speaker should leave the Chair, if an undertaking is given by the noble Marquess that the Bill shall not be proceeded with in Committee until after the second reading of the Representation of the People Bill. If there is a general understanding in the House to that effect, I hope there will be no objection on the part of the Government to take this stage of the Bill, which would only keep the Deputy Speaker in the Chair for a few minutes.
§ MR. KENNY
In reference to the second Order of the Day, it is not proposed by any hon. Gentleman sitting on this side of the House to object to the Motion that the Speaker do now leave the Chair, on the understanding that the consideration of the Bill in Committee is not proceeded with until after Easter, and that we have a guarantee from the noble Marquess that it will not be taken on the day the House reassembles.
§ MR. LEAMY
I wish to mention that several hon. Members have left the House under the impression that no other Business would be taken, and I am afraid they will be taken by surprise if they find that this Bill has been allowed to go into Committee. Indeed, it was understood that the House would have been adjourned at a much earlier hour than this. I do not think, under these circumstances, that any further Business ought to be taken.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
I do not know whether I am in Order; but, in answer to the Question which has been addressed to me. I should like to say that I should have been very glad, if it had been possible, to follow the arrangement suggested by the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin), and to take another stage of the next Bill on the Paper. I am also much indebted to the hon. Member for Ennis (Mr. Kenny) for the expression of opinion which he has just given. At the same time, I think an arrangement suddenly proposed, at a time when many hon. Members are absent, might be liable to misunderstanding and imputations of breach of faith. I believe it was understood, after the statement of 1252 the Prime Minister, that it was not proposed to proceed with any other Business after the Representation of the People Bill to-night. Under those circumstances, a large number of Members are not present who might take objection to the arrangement now proposed. I therefore think it would be better, however much we might desire to do otherwise, to ask the House not to proceed with any further Business.
§ Motion agreed to.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
In accordance with the announcement made by my right hon. Friend this afternoon, and on account of the state of your health, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I move that the House do now adjourn. I am sure the House is very much indebted to you for having come down tonight at great personal inconvenience.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Debate further adjourned till To-morrow.
§ House adjourned at a quarter after Twelve o'clock.